Letter to Darius~”One Who Maintains Possessions”: The One Who Comes After

James Baldwin often wrote pointed letters as essays.  In The Fire Next Time, he writes such a letter to his namesake nephew.  It is a letter to help him navigate race, the psychological effects of racism, and to give him an overriding ethic by which he might be saved from his own self loss caused by hating back.

In likewise fashion, this letter is to an imagined African American young man whose sexuality will cause him to be at risk of the same things but in response to his  church’s response to the politics of sexualities as well as his own that he holds close who share the abundance of pigment with him.

Dear Darius,

I have started this letter several times to you in the hope of your existence.   I call you Darius, the one who comes after me.  I call you Darius because this means “one who maintains possessions well”.  To you I entrust the all that I have for you to hold in a community that I can envision but which does not exist.  It is a community that I give to you to name, to call into existence.  To keep and hold the experiences of black men who love God who love men. It is a community I have longed for, one that my associations assume already exists.

I see you in the church pew amongst the sea of black, brown and beige bodies at the age of 6 or 7 dangling your feet to the sway of the music.  I notice how your eyes linger on your blink as the singer holds a soaring note invoking the Spirit of God to come here now.  How your head rolls to the right and your eyes slowly open, as if in a everlasting trance of a single moment, when the singer gasps for the breath to sing on.  I see how you jump to your feet to clap a syncopated rhythm in response to the choir’s exuberant gospel refrain.  And just last week I felt your heart yearn as your soul responded to the spiritual you are way too young to knowingly sing truthfully, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen.”  And yet the furrow of your brow told me that you will know of what you sing.

As I see you, I see me.  I want you to know that someone sees you.  I don’t just see you sitting there, I see you in all your possibility.  As you grow you will be tempted to believe that your possibilities are limited.  In your blackness you will struggle with the sense that you are inferior, that something is wrong with you, that you are wrong to be who God has created you to be.  When you feel that way and don’t know why, stop and take a look at the world.  You will see that your grandfather’s mother and her ancestors before have wondered the same thing.  They have wondered why this feeling of less than when that’s not what the soul feels.  Know that it is not your blackness that offends but what your blackness represents.  It represents resilience, ingenuity, beauty, honor and history at its best.  But those things are also what pains those who would have you doubt yourself.  For they resent your resilience, begrudge your ingenuity, defame your beauty, want to replace your brazen honor with shame and have tried to erase your history.  But these things they will never have.  These things they can never have.  Through Middle Passage, through slavery, through midnight journeys north, through Jim Crow, through forest canopy lynchings, through fire hoses and dogs you still have those things we have always truly possessed that make us who we are and not who others would have us to be.

So hold onto those things, Darius for they are yours hold and to keep.  But you must hold tight.  For those around you would have these very things wrested from grasp.  They too see you in the rapturous ecstasy of what it means to be loved by Christ alone.  They too witness your reckless abandon in loving the one who loves you more than any other.  They too know of the trouble you see and will begrudge you the journey you have yet to travel.  For they will tell you that you must abandon the ways of your being if you want to associate with them.  They will whisper in darkened corners as you grow, wonder and whisper why you bring no woman home to love for their approval.  They will laud your singing and passion for the Lord, expecting you to serve at their whim while they accept you as sinner and guess at the sin in you they hate.

Whether you choose to stay or leave, neither revile nor revere them.  Honor the love of the man you choose to hold.  Honor the love that Christ has instilled in you to share as part of your gift.  Do not revere those who would shame you by recreating their way of being in the world.  Do not conform to what is their ideal; one man, one woman in service of procreation for the Lord.  Do not revile them as you choose a different path, your path as dictated by the Spirit’s guidance in your life; love in honesty, love with open heart, love to find your help meet as God has always intend you to find.

Darius, you may wonder where does your blackness and your loving of same gender cross paths in this address to you?   I tell you, do not allow the bigotry against your blackness from outside of your black family wrest away your possessions.  Do not allow the love of God’s chosen for you to be wrested away by your black family and out yonder beyond them.  Empathy may be the better part of valor.  For with empathy you see the result of the hatred of your blackness relived in the hatred of your sexual being.

For in our blackness, we have learned to perpetrate on others the hatred of our oppressors.  And this is an unintended allegiance to the powers that be will be inflicted on you unless…

Unless you find your power to witness to your possessions…Your possessions will have you witness to the struggles that have allowed you in your blackness to come this far…They will have you witness to all of your oppressors from the place, the mountaintop, from which Martin called for civil rights.    They will have you witness to your own kind…those who love like you, who look like you, who live like you…They will have you witness of a forgiving love because you will be armed with the right way of loving past the hatred and into the love that will make this world as God intended.

Like me you have been outside and are looking for a place to be.  For your sake I need to tell you these things and so I write you today.   Malcolm X tells us, “We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”[1] Love who you have been created to be!  Let this be the place from which you measure all else, Darius.  Your self is the most prized possession.  Not that you are to hold onto it as a dear possession to the exclusion of all else.  You are to hold it, love it, protect it and listen to it.  It will guide you through many turns on this journey.  You are not alone.  Build this community for me Darius.  For I am jailed in the trappings of my own psyche and must continue to break free of the hatred from without that is blocking me from the love that is within.  I give my hope to you.

The love of Christ and all that is holy is my prayer for you.

[1] A Declaration of Independence, Malcolm X, March 12, 1964.  “Teaching American History.Org.,  http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=1148 (accessed April 2, 2011)

A Love that Would Not Let Me Go

When we tell our stories, we are transformed. When others hear our stories, they are transformed. The story telling for Project Union Responds stirred up the Union community. We were stirred up because sharing our stories was an action of liberation, affirmation, by re-claiming our selves, our bodies, and our faiths. We were stirred up because sharing our stories required us to reflect on how we had been (and still are) harmed. As a community we received, held, and honored all that has been stirred up in us throughout the process; specifically during an evening, candle-light service on Wednesday, October 13, 2010, in James Chapel.

The following is a copy of the reflection offered by Barbara L. Rice. Ms. Rice has a master of counseling and is a first-year, master of divinity seminarian here at Union. Her employment portfolio includes working with LGBTQ youth. As a community, we are graced by her presence and voice.


A Love that Would Not Let Me Go

When Zach was a child I loved him. When Elizabeth was a child I loved her. When Luke was a child I loved him. When Erica was a child I loved her.

[Hosea 11:1–12] is one of those passages of scripture that I have always been drawn to, never fully knowing why. I’m sure my 16-year-old interpretations of this text were age appropriately simplistic and egocentric. But there was something in my initial and naïve draw to the passage that was innate—that was calling me back to some womb-like recognition of my connectedness with a love that would not let me go. I would not have used those words, but there was a desire to ingest these images into my being. I wanted to know that type of security, that type of love. I wanted to watch an old home movie of God bending down to feed me when I was a toddler. I wanted to see, feel, and touch these cords of human kindness and bands of love. I wanted to know that they would catch me, would hold that space, would keep me safe. And I wanted the people in my life to know and feel that security and love in their own lives.

And I think in many ways those bands of love were very real in my heart and in my life. At the risk of being stereotypical, I was very much a tomboy, and it was considered cute to run around in my baseball uniform all year long. And I was always picked fairly quickly in the process of choosing kick ball teams in elementary school. I would occasionally be called dyke, but had no idea what it meant, and I didn’t care. I had friends because I learned early in life that if you listen to people they tend to like you. So, I could fit in pretty well and for the most part was spared the personal pain of bullying.

As I grew into adolescence I had that familiar gnawing sensation that many of you can relate to – that sense that something about me just wasn’t right. And it would creep into my thoughts now and then, this utter terror, that there might just be some tiny chance I was gay. This nightmare sat in the back of my mind and would rear its head, and I would think that if this is in any way true then I probably didn’t deserve to live. This belief that, if I were indeed gay, I would be unworthy of taking up space on the earth, mostly came from my family narrative which was passionately homophobic in the name of following Jesus. So, if this secret, this nightmare, was possibly true then it would mean that I was beyond the point of any repair.

And so I would sit with these images that I sought out in the Bible—pictures from Isaiah of loving protection amidst storms and scary things, the intimacy of Mary washing Jesus’ feet and his defense and love for her, and then this one in Hosea of having been known and loved intimately since babyhood regardless of my attempts to escape. And I would try to connect with that love and tell myself that this was enough, and tell myself that I could get through this life devoting all of it to God, and that I would be given the strength to keep myself together (i.e. not fall to the temptation of living in that ‘lifestyle’) until I died and could experience ultimate union with the Divine. My life was full of sports, friends, mission trips, school work, and service clubs. By all appearances I was a pretty happy teenager and as long as I could keep the terror silenced or distant then I was OK.

I wasn’t externally tortured for being gay, but I was internally tortured. I’ve thought about this a lot these last few weeks. I can’t imagine what I would have done if there had been this added layer of ostracism, of being targeted, or being ridiculed. I truly do not know that I could have survived that, and I look around at my friends in this room, not knowing each story, but knowing that for many of you it was a struggle that words can’t capture. And I sit with gratitude and awe realizing you have survived.

In my therapy practice in Greensboro, NC, I had the privilege of working with many teens and adults struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation. Their struggles were often based on their understanding of what religion or the Bible said about same gender love, but they inevitably faced peer and family ostracism. In doing trauma work with my clients incidents of extreme bullying would often come up, and these memories would be so vivid that, as they were described to me, I felt like I was there. It was as if in their description I could see, hear, touch, smell and taste the terror, the fear, the punches, the tears, the shame. As if their spirits had been branded like cattle, we would work together to deconstruct the internalized messages left by these incidents. We would work to untangle and heal those messages, until they could become scars as opposed to gaping wounds, and we would work to take away the powerlessness of the memories.

However, the consequences of some of these marks can’t be avoided. I think about a 26-year-old gay man I worked with who suffered such horrendous bullying and abuse in high school that he stopped going to school to avoid being tormented, which led to him eventually dropping out altogether. He completed his GED and now works a minimum wage job while trying to go to community college at night. He struggles with just making it day to day—not only financially but also emotionally. He stays in relationships with fairly abusive partners because, as he would honestly share, if he didn’t have a partner with whom to live he would be homeless. The bullying and peer abuse that led to him dropping out of school has left its mark and he is trying to dig his way out, and it’s a long, dark path.

I recall checking my voice mails early one morning before work, and listening in heart breaking horror, as I learned that a queer mutual friend of several of my teenage clients had hung herself the previous night. I was familiar with this girl, who had committed suicide, because they both frequently spoke of her. When I saw these two clients that same day, they were both obviously wracked in pain with all the things that go along with the ones left behind by suicide—what could we have done, why didn’t we see this coming, why wouldn’t her parents get her help? But, as if that wasn’t enough, one of the girls, who also identified as queer, sat sobbing on my sofa as she told me how unsympathetic her parents were to this devastating loss. By her reports her parents were not at all accepting of her orientation, and did some ridiculing of their own. So, the night my client learned of her friend’s death she was hysterical, and went to her mother for comfort, only to have her mother respond by saying, “well, that’s what happens to gay kids, they end up hanging from rafters.”

Well, I’m here, we’re all here, to say ‘no.’ That’s not the inevitable fate of gay kids. Swinging from rafters, jumping off bridges, shooting themselves in the head… this is not the unchangeable fate of our queer kids!

How I wanted to transmit to these clients, to my friends, and so many others, a sense of the tenderness of God’s love, of these totally devoted images such as this passage from Hosea. I wanted them to know that they too had access to a love bigger than all this pain; that they too could tap into a love that would not let them go. This is our job – to take this love to the people, to be living examples of this determined devotion.

As some of us have been telling our stories for the video, I’ve wondered about who didn’t make it among us. Who would have been here, sitting with us now if they could have made it a little longer? How has God grieved for the lives cut short due to hate? Who are we missing? What ghosts are among us who dreamed of seminary and theological education, but who didn’t survive the crucible of a queer childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood? Where would they be sitting right now? How would they enrich our community and our lives here at Union? Who would be their boyfriend, girlfriend, their partner? Who would be their best friend on the hall? And so I look out at your faces and am filled with gratitude that you made it, that we have the chance to become the beloved community; that we have the chance to share our stories with each other. I also am grateful to have made it, and grateful that I have been able to cling to my daughtership during dark times.

And out of Egypt I called my daughter. Out of Egypt I called my son. Out of Egypt I called my child. Daughtership, sonship, beloved child…. What does it mean to be called out of Egypt, out of bondage, out of slavery? What does it mean to be called to freedom, to life? Sometimes we prefer the bondage we know over the freedom we don’t know. But we are called, if we can hear – and I believe we can hear when something inside of us is ready to hear – to take the first steps of a journey towards freedom. Sometimes that first step is a commitment to find support, to find somewhere you can be honest.

For me I heard the call towards freedom one day in 1997. I was a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship,a conservative parachurch ministry, and I reached a point after years of being in reparative therapy, where I could no longer live with my internal incongruence. I reached the point where I didn’t care if I was indeed going to go to hell, because I was already in hell – my life was hell, my internal struggle had driven me to the brink of again wanting to be on the other side of this existence into the next one, just wanting Jesus’ arms around me. So I picked up the phone and called my supervisor. And, as I suspected, I was asked to resign, I was then asked to leave my non denominational church, which led to loosing most of my friends, and my family relationships experienced a type of death from which they have never fully recovered. And, it was in this wilderness space that I spent a lot of time reading and praying and wrestling with what to do. Regardless of what others said, what did God say? Could I still have a relationship with God and live this earthly life in a way that honored all parts of me, including my sexuality? I had wanted to be in vocational ministry since early childhood, and I thought that dream was over, and I was not sure who I was without this dream. I knew I did not want to live without a palpable connection to God, because to me that has been the only thing that gives life meaning. So, I decided I would take the first step. I would just move forward with what I could, and live, and see what happened. It was kind of an experiment because I was out of options, other than suicide. Of course what I found was more connection with God, and that God did not forsake me, but met me in ways I could have never known without taking that first step.

In this way, I was experiencing something similar to what Hosea describes at the end of the 11th chapter: “They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes.” The freedom of flying, even though you’re trembling. The sense of soaring even though you’re shaking – but heading to your true home. I happen to believe that home is always and only coming home to that love, that Divine love, that claims us and declares us perfectly made. In essence I believe coming home is a kind of coming home inside of ourselves, to rest in the love that waits for us there. As these tragedies in our queer community have moved us to share our own stories, as we have been moved to do anything we can to give a struggling kid hope for one more day, I have come to feel that we can become, that we are becoming the beloved community. And I believe it is from that grounded place that we move out into the world to serve, to stir, to rage, to liberate, to mourn, and to ultimately heal. As Hafiz said, “God revealed a sublime truth to the world, when He sang, ‘I am made whole by your life. Each soul, each soul completes me.’”

When Tyler Clementi was a child I loved him.

When Billy Lucas was a child I loved him.

When Seth Walsh was a child I loved him.

When Asher Brown was a child I loved him.

When we were children God loved us.

—Barbara L. Rice, MS LPC

©2010 Project Union Responds. Reprinting available with permission.

Sucker Punched

I am fifteen years old and have decided to run track. I’m no good but figured I should give it a shot anyway. I get up one Sunday morning before church for a run in Dover, NJ. After a two mile or so run I am about 5 blocks away from my home and I stop at a red light to check for traffic. A red car barrels up the street and screeches to a halt, “You are going to be the next Atlanta murder, victim nigger!!” is screamed at me by a car load of 5 white men. One of them starts to get out of the car and I start running for my life. The car’s tire burns rubber and the smell of that tire hits my nose and I am more scared for my life now then ever. Behind me as the car speeds up I hear the men in the car laughing hysterically. I jump over a fence and cut through a parking lot to lose them and run so fast…As I am running an image comes into my head that I just can’t get rid of–I see image of my mother and brother with their throats slit. I cry and run, my body on automatic pilot because I can’t see a thing. I run up the stairs 3, 4 at a time to see my mom sleeping peacefully, and my brother sleeping like an angel. I tiptoe to the farthest reaches of the kitchen and cry for 40 minutes.

You see this is the time when no one knew how or why little black boys and black teenagers were disappearing and turning up dead in Atlanta, GA. Those five white men in that car have no idea how much they scarred me that day. And even if they were to ever apologize, I’m sure they would say, “It was just a joke.”  You see they had the privilege to joke about things like that. That was their reality.

One person’s idea of reality can be so hurtful and damaging to another. And I must say, Mr. Beck, listening to your take on Liberation/Black/Theology (I lump them together because you did) I felt sucker punched. You have single handedly given millions of people permission to hate and distrust Black me simply because you seem to enjoy wanting the world to live in your reality.

I feel very much like that scared fifteen year old again. I can’t get the image out of my head of vitriolic hate speeches coming my way again. I can’t get the image out of my head of people in the name of democracy stepping on others dreams just to get ahead. And yes, Mr. Beck, it is this serious to me, I can’t get the image of dead black bodies turning up in swamps and city alleys out of my head. You give permission for hate, Mr. Beck. And whether or not you know it, I am the one who suffers for it. Me, this Black man, this African American, this Same Gender Loving human being who, as tired as I am, must keep fighting for survival because with each word you speak you unleash the hounds of hatred–against me.

I applaud my fellow seminarians and seminary President, Serene Jones for responding to your diatribe of intentional misinformation regarding Liberation/Black/Theology. I couldn’t watch more than ten minutes before my eyes streamed with tears for what you are doing to this country.

Please do come to Union, Mr. Beck. At least then you will have at least three years to try to digest the information we study, the Bible we try to live, the love we try to spew. If your staff can digest Black Theology in one day with the help of one person then you all deserve a theological scholarship to Union.

By the way, let’s clear up a couple of things. Mr. Beck, the Good Samaritan is a parable…Jesus’ teaching tool. Stick to Jesus’ script if you are going to use it and don’t add your take. It’s stood this long without your take on highway maintenance in the Roman world. The other thing, while we’re on the Romans. Be careful the way you spit out how the Jews killed Jesus and he would have come back to get ‘em. That’s the way you think, don’t put that on Jesus. And the last time I looked, it was the Romans that stripped Jesus, beat him, nailed him to the cross and pierced him in the side! No Jewish person had that much power under Caesar.

And one last thing, while my stomach is still in knots, while I still fear for the safety of those I call my own, and while I know that your work hurts me more than you will ever know…this one thing I can say:
I have nothing but the love of Jesus Christ for you and hope the Holy Spirit will crack your heart wide open so that you see the simplest words of social justice that Jesus ever spoke, ‘Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself’. If you can do this one thing for Christ, Mr. Beck, then you will see that everyone deserves to live in the bounty of God’s creation.