If #all lives matter then don’t #black lives matter?

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism

I am struggling with how to express what I am feeling. We are a week or so away from the terrible terror attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. This was a horrendous incident. What makes it even more awful is that the two young men who carried out the attack at the magazine office were targeting a specific group of people. They were targeting journalist who pride themselves on being able to exercise free speech. It is hard to believe that in 2015 that there would be anyone that was against free speech, but many are. Because there are those who oppose free speech, violence occurs.

Gathering of LCCN

Gathering of Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria

Now of course the ideal of anyone being affected by violence breaks my heart. But, what bothers me almost as much as violence is injustice, racism, and prejudice.  I am mentioning injustice, racism and prejudice because sometimes it seems to me that our media is suffering from some inherent, maybe unconscious prejudice. Or maybe, it is not actually the prejudice of the media, but the prejudice of our culture. In the US, it seems, we live in a culture that is not ready to be equally concerned about those who are black.

This was brought to mind as my news feed on Facebook between January 4 and 7 began showing me news articles from across the world of a tragedy in Nigeria. There was a massacre in Baga in Northern Nigerian. This massacre was carried out, the reports said, by Boko Haram. My google alerts were blowing up with this news. Yet, there was nothing on ABC, NBC or CBS. Yet, on the morning of January 7 when the attack on Charlie Hebdo began, every major news outlet was covering it. It was not until January 9 that I saw a mention of violence in Nigeria on Good Morning America. Maybe I was not paying attention and missed something, but I don’t think so.

These tragedies were happening almost at the same time. As people in Paris were being held under siege, thousands of Nigerians were being terrorized. Many were killed and it took days for me to see the story from Nigeria in mainstream media. How as a brown person am I supposed to feel?

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Archbishop and bishops of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria and me.

Perhaps the reason that I feel some kind of way about this is that western culture is left in the dark about much of what happens on the continent of Africa. Or should I say, seems to prefer to remain in the dark. The Ebola crisis doesn’t mean anything until westerners are in danger, civil strife is ignored unless westerners are hurt….do not black lives matter? As I work and walk with the people of Madagascar, West and Central Africa I see the image of God in black faces; I see the light of God in brown smiles; I see worth, value, talent and intelligence; I see so many gifts of God, just as I see  the gifts of God in my western friends. All lives matter, all lives are gifts of God. That means that #blacklivesmatter.

I hope you agree as I continue to be westafricabound.

Tribal dress for a celebration in Nigeria

Tribal dress for a celebration in Nigeria

Race, Skin Color, Ethnicity …. Across Continents Part I

Bantoura, Toubob, Pulaar…..

I have been called each of these things in the last few months. Bantoura means white person in Hausa. This is what a group of children yelled as Dana and I visited a school in Nigeria. I thought they were just talking about her, until they ran up to me rubbing my skin.

Andrea and Dana in Nigeria

Andrea and Dana in Nigeria

In Senegal, I was referred to as Toubob, that means foreigner and most often is used to talk about those of European ancestry. But not exclusively, it can mean someone from somewhere not Senegal. I didn’t mind this so much once I understood.

In Senegal, I am also sometimes mistaken for someone who is Pulaar. This happens especially when I am dressed in brightly colored African clothes. I was in a fabric market in Dakar with Rebecca and Anne buying cloth and a man came in and began speaking to me in Pulaar. Of course, I didn’t know what he was saying and Anne laughed because she understood him and engaged in a dialogue. I have been given the name Penda Baa, by my Pulaar cousins in Linguere. They have owned me, adopted me and said I belong.

The issues of race and belonging are issues that I struggle with as I do this global work. I believe these are struggles of many of us of the African Diaspora. Am I African? Am I American? Am I both? Can I self define?

Who am I?  What I am? are questions I have been asked while on the continent of Africa. I have shown photos of loved ones and some are surprised, others say of course….because my loved ones come in varying shades from the lightest, light to the deepest brown…..My son and grandson are a perfect pecan brown, while my beloved grandmothers are one a deep coffee color and the other the color of the cream for that coffee.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to speak to those gathered for the synod meeting of the Lutheran Church of Senegal. As I spoke to them about their strength to overcome the obstacles they faced, to be self reliant. I talked about my experience. I told them about my coffee colored grandmother and the strength of a community descendant from those enslaved.  I told them I was a descendant  of those who were taken from Africa’s shores. I said that those who survived the middle passage, my ancestors, were known for the strength to withstand obstacles.

Speaking at Lutheran Church of Senegal Synod Meeting

Speaking at Lutheran Church of Senegal Synod Meeting

As they looked at my light skin, this puzzled them; so I told them that my ancestors were also Europeans, those  who owned the boats and traded in people from the African Continent. This is the truth of our lives, those of us who are called African America.

I would like to explore some of these realities. Please walk with me as I discuss some of the issues of race and belonging from across continents.

I am westafricabound.

Dust

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Driving through Nigeria in the middle of the Harmattan, I am struck by the starkness of the landscape. Everything is dry, dust is like a heavy film everywhere on everything. At first it is hard to breath; then your nostrils and lungs become use to it. There is hardly the sight of green anywhere. Experiencing this barren, starkness reminds me that Lent is approaching. Ash Wednesday is at hand and the marking of foreheads with dusty ashes in the shape of a cross will soon take place.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday was always an intense time for me as a congregational pastor. It was the day when there was a steady stream of people coming into the church. There was usually two services, one at noon and then one in the evening.  In between the services, random people who hadn’t been to church in a long while would come in and ask “pastor can I get some ashes.” Why would anyone want to be reminded of their mortality?

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

The day was particularly challenging and emotional during the part of the worship liturgy when the young people would come to the altar rail. Children that I had baptized,  teenagers that I had confirmed, would come–even mothers would bring their small babies to have that cross of ash etched on their foreheads. It was a solemn moment for me, these were my kids, and here I was reminding them of the inevitability of …. well you know. Using my thumb to mark this cross on their foreheads was different than marking a tiny forehead with oil at baptism. It was different than that fragrantly traced mark that held the smell of oil of clove and cinnamon and signaled a beginning–an entering into a new life. This dusty stark mark was a reminder of death.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

As I sit writing, the reality that we are fragile, mortal human beings is right in my face. I am thinking of and praying for those who I have come to know in this short time working globally and how many of them are experiencing the fragility of life. I think of those who are holding the hands of loved ones attempting to stare down disease and sickness. I pray for those who are experiencing the struggle of getting to the other side of hardship. Tears fill my eyes just as they did when I marked the foreheads of those babies, my children. My heart breaks at the thought ………

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Yet, as I sit in this early morning darkness, I am reminded not only of life’s fragility, but the meaning of the cross.

Yes, Ash Wednesday, the forty days of Lent serve as a time for us to remember our mortality, our fragility, our helplessness in the reality of sin and death. Yet that sign, that mark on our foreheads, that cross is a promise of life, of love of a future. Yes, we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return; we also remember the life given for us on a cross.

Driving through Nigeria, at first glance  all I can see is desert, bareness, hard solid rock formations, dust all around, but even in that dust there is new life.

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I am westafricabound.

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