“But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
1 Corinthians 12:31
We all know the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Growing up as a poverty-stricken African-American male, let me be among the first to say that is absolutely, so not true. Certain words and labels, verbal and non-verbal, have a way of destroying human personality, causing emotional and spiritual death.
Thanks be to God. The church is capable of teaching us a new language of justice, peace, reconciliation and love. The church is at its best when it uses the language of the one who set his face toward Jerusalem to show us “a still more excellent way.”
My journey into learning how to speak and live this language began when two young Seventh Day Adventist field workers came into my neighborhood (literally on foot) and made an invitation that changed my life. They came into my neighborhood where labels and words were used to beat us down. They came into a neighborhood where the twin injustices of racism and classism were the poisoned air we breathed.
The language of the more excellent would be front and center as we walked into the clubhouse for my first staff retreat as senior pastor of a cross-racial appointment. It was the perfect place for the church to dream and vision about mission and ministry. We could not have asked for a more pristine setting, immaculately manicured landscape with grazing horses.
The dress code was super casual; therefore, I wore my standard blue jeans, sneakers and Duke Blue Devils hat. Upon entering the clubhouse with two-liter bottles of Cokes underneath my arms, I was immediately asked if I was the caterer. I’d heard that tone and seen that expression enough to clearly understand what was happening. However, before I could say a word, the Holy Spirit showed up.
A voice behind me spoke without hesitation, “No, he’s our pastor!” In the face of an everyday racial stereotype, one of many that I’d grown up hearing, the church stood up and dared speak the language of “a more excellent way.” It was truly a gift that gave my heart courage and hope. I was their pastor who just happened to be African-American. It was a significant word spoken to both community and church.
What Do You See?
What do you see when you look at me? I am so much more
than the color of this skin. Who or what told you I could be
judged by such? There is so much more beneath this hue
of pigment, we’re all kin.
If you’d dare remove the labels taught you from birth maybe
you would see beyond the surface of race. What of ebony
skin makes you cringe when I am anywhere near, sensing
hatred instead of grace.
What do you hear when I dare speak my dreams? Are
they just empty powerless words void of meaning with no
authority to sustain? Spoken hopes no matter how eloquent
are pipe dreams buried beneath words, of disdain.
How dare he dream where there is no possibilities of
making that spark of passion take root. Dreams, dead,
murdered without a mumbling word. Why speak what will
be trampled underfoot.
“Don’t take it personal!” Can’t you see personality is all
I have left? Do you wish to take that as well? It slips
away under your relentless menacing gaze that speaks
words enough to kill.
What do you see when you look at me? I am invisible
without a future until another person truly sees me
through the haze of society’s labels. I am a child of
God wrapped in the creator’s will.
By Leonard Fairley
Gracious God, as we travel through this season of Lent, give us the Holy Spirit that we might truly see one another through the eyes of Jesus Christ. Give us Holy speech that we might speak the language of the “more excellent way.” Amen.