This post is a truncated version of a testimony I shared back in 2005 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Over the course of the last seven years (has it really been that long…), my thoughts about this subject have changed a bit; but the underlying motivation for understanding has not. My passion for this topic is derived from my life experience; and I believe the Lord wishes to use my life experience in some way to bring Him glory. When thinking on the things that change when you become a citizen of the Kingdom of God, this subject matter is the first to come to my mind, because it is the most personal. As much as I desire to avoid this topic, it burns in my heart and cries out for me to give voice to my thoughts…
“My first identity is that I am a Christian.”
I am a child of the living God. Before I call myself a woman, an African-American, or any other identity marker that I may choose to describe myself, I must first say that I am a Christian. But the fact is my Christian identity intersects with the other identities God has given me. I am indeed an African-American – and that means something in our society. I am indeed a woman – and that also means something in our society. But I must always consider the meaning of these identities within the context of my identity as God’s child. In fact, my adopted status before God must shape how I define the other things that mark my identity in this world.
I’m not going to focus on gender, although that topic could occupy me for years! I will settle on another complicated topic that looms large in my life: racial/ethnic identity. When someone asks me to describe my life experiences, I always say that I have lived in what I have come to call “the fringe”: between two worlds, yet feeling as though I belong to neither one.
A bit of background: Anyone who knows me knows I am very fair-skinned. My fair complexion has always bred questions regarding identity. These questions usually come in one of two forms – pure curiosity, or mean-spirited ridicule. A particular friend likes to “joke” about my complexion by calling me a White girl. This is neither curiosity nor cruelty on his part; he is just trying to get a rise out of me because he knows it drives me nuts. But the underlying question – are you really Black? – echoes through my mind whenever he utters those words, even if that is not the intent behind them. It is the question that has been asked of me in myriad ways over the course of my life.
My identity in Christ is indeed the defining factor of my existence; but it does not negate my cultural and ethnic heritage and history. That history is still very real; it has not disappeared simply because I’m now a Christian. In order to see a person, you must see all of what makes that person who they are. My identity in Christ means that the meaning and impact of my ethnic heritage on my life must be redefined based on the reality of the cross and my membership in the household of God. This is the case for all who belong to God through Christ. And this is where I settle and find my foundation, although the living it out can be rough sailing at times.
I have more to say, but if I go down the path I want to take, this post will be too long. I’ll continue this thought stream tomorrow.
Until then…grace and peace…