As I continue to face the challenges of living a new life in a new land, I was recently reminded of a question presented to Prof. Howard Thurman many years ago, which he described so vividly in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited. The question he was asked was this: “Why are you HERE?”
Dr. Thurman, then dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University, had led a pilgrimage of students to India (where he later met Mahatma Gandhi). Since the journey was a kind of ambassadorship opportunity for the students, there were visits to various schools. During those visits, Dr. Thurman also had the opportunity to meet with the principals of the schools and upon one such visit he was asked point blank, “why are you here?
The man continued by questioning his motivation for coming halfway around the world to the subcontinent of India representing Christianity as one of African descent who had experienced so much suffering at the hands of fellow “Christians” in America. The principal stated many known facts about the religion of Christianity in America; how the men who bought, transported, and sold slaves—Thurman’s ancestors (and mine) were Christians; how Sir John Newton of “Amazing Grace” fame had been a slaver; and how living in a “Christian” nation had brought nothing but tears and heartache for centuries and then years into the present time for people who look like us. As a Christian Mr. Thurman, “why are you here?” (Do you honestly hold to that “Christian” story?)
Why are you here, Freda Marie? Where is Christ in the Christianity that you proclaim?
I often must remind myself that Jesus of Nazareth was not sent to the earth to establish Christianity; that he was a good Jewish man of his time who fulfilled the purpose of the commandments of YHWH by living them out. I remind myself that the Christ, I am following is the foundation of the story that has been passed down from a people who knew both hope and suffering in their lives.
I hold to the Christian story, because I was taught to hold to that story by the lives of my parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and even neighbors around me. They held to the story because they held to Jesus as Christ in that story all the while living out hope and suffering as well. They taught me how to do the same. I have learned that it’s not just the story, but the reality of the ever- Present ONE who keeps me holding on. I have come to know him and to experience his presence continually in my life. It is through his embodied Presence at The Church of the Redeemer, and life as life presents itself to me, that I hold on. Challenges may abound; but life is STILL GOOD! ???? And that’s why I am here.