My Classism: (Christian) Othering through Food

11 11 2013

I’m in a confessing mood (or perhaps season), so here goes!

What’s the connection between my comprehensive look of surprise and disgust when my grandmother eats a two week old stew from the fridge and that moment when I make a (not quite) joke about my church’s potluck being all brown (casseroles, starches, and desserts) and lacking “any” green? What is happening when in the communal and sacred space of meal sharing at church, someone labels their food “socially conscious quinoa”?

Othering.

Othering holds them in common because othering is happening.

In moments of not-so-great decision-making, I and others in those moments of consumptive superiority have othered those that we care about – through food.

But I’ll speak from my perspective alone since I can only confess what I’ve done.

In my food othering, I have taken that which often theologically signifies inclusiveness despite class distinction and have made it the latest exercise in classism. I have turned the great feast into a space of reservations only fueling the reservations of fellow Christians to desire to be church with me. I have turned a meal together into something it was never intended to be – about me.

And I do this not realizing that I am tearing others down, but I do it in a fleeting attempt to self-name. I do it for no one other than myself. I want to name my perspective important and enriching.

But I and everyone else knows that this food-othering has nothing to do with the food.

I desire to be recognized not because of my food choices, but because something about my food choices reflect my quality of life. What I do and do not eat speaks something about my intelligence, my morality, my ability to be human properly. If I can make the right choices over and against so and so, then I win. I am ultimately (subconsciously) judged as the smarter one, the better one, the more intelligent one in this (non-existent) competition. Something about my perceived quality of life renders me in competition against my family and church.

I neglect the fact that this so called quality of life is only a melancholic myth and really an exposé on my own insufficiencies.

My disapproval of people not following in my nutritional footsteps (or to be honest, my attempt to follow the latest eating trend) disturbs any chance of life with everyone. I let food fantasy disrupt the chances of community.

And, again, the sad part is that it is all in my head. This mentality that I subtly try to push on others through my disapproving looks, or biting words, or conscious decision to not eat certain things because “It’s not good for your health,” “It’s not organic,” etc./“insert classist comment here” only speaks to my shortcomings that I try to push off onto others.

It is not that “they” have managed to do eating wrong, it is that I have managed to misunderstand food and the table as a place where I meet God in meeting with others. I have managed to allow the vanguard movements around food culture to dismantle the Christ movement demonstrated in the moments surrounding food, and not the food itself.

I have missed the purity of communal eating not being in the food itself, but in being with the people with which I am blessed to have food.

I have missed the fact that my grandmother eats what I would not because she has been taught to not waste food if one has the opportunity to have it. And I missed the opportunity to sit with her as she ate and ask her stories about her life. Instead of a communal moment, I saw her food choice as a place of generational (and if I may be honest, cultural) difference. I uplifted my fabrication of difference in the face of communal opportunity.

When I make wise-cracks about the fact that there is fried chicken instead of roasted chicken at the potluck, on a basic level, I’m just being a jerk. But on a deeper level, my comments are not about the food or the people who brought the food. My comments are about me and the fact that I find it most important to create class separation rather than see the special moment I have to eat a meal with and be in relationship with someone who I call my brother or sister in Christ.

I don’t have it all figured out, but I imagine the best thing to do is to call out what needs to change so that others can join in in keeping me accountable.

But I also hope to spark another movement. I know that food culture is important in Durham, but I really do pray that we don’t let this food trend get in the way of what food could mean and has always meant in the church: it signifies togetherness and making sure everyone has enough, not a middle-class cultural trend of showing off our retro-something awesomeness (aka trying to “find myself” through following the latest trends – so a word of advice would be to learn myself in hearing what God has said about me and what my family, friends and church loves and cherishes about me. When I leave discovering my own identity to my own devices, I trend, I shop around, and I falsely think that I am the sole author of myself).

So maybe we can let Jesus and the church be, not awesome, but certainly bigger than us and our classist practices – just this once. Okay, or forever.





(There is No Longer) Male and Female: PCOS and the Theological Aesthetics of Femininity, Part I

2 11 2013

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus
Galatians 3:28

I know that this scripture is considered out of context, but I am okay with that – just bear with me as I do some reflecting.

I am a prime candidate for make-up. I have black marks and what my father told me, in his fatherly duty to reassure his thirteen-year-old daughter that she was not becoming or was not at her root, a man. Lying to me – calling them “heat bumps” – so that I could survive the space that was middle school and petrifying to an overweight, African, and frankly, marked and scar-faced young girl going through puberty was the best thing to do.

I am a prime candidate for make-up because I have hair growing on my face. I have hair elsewhere whose growth I cannot control, but the aesthetic space that any girl can make her own personal canvas is her face. And when puberty happens and her body begins to tell her who she is for the rest of her life; that is scary. But what is scariest is that the time when she begins to find out how her face will look for the remainder of life contains a mustache and a beard. It contains hair that only men should have.

But she’s a woman. She is female. She is anatomically female, not a bit of this and that, but she is one thing.

But her body is confusing this message.

If it is s set in stone, then why is she dealing with what her male peers are?

Why is her chin scarring? Why does she have a faint trace of a mustache? Why does the hair on top of her barely grow and shed in chunks? Why? It is because she has this annoying hormonal imbalance called PCOS (more on this in a future blog post).

I wrote a post a few years ago about why I don’t give in to make-up. To make a long story short, I am not interested in the work and function of make-up. I think the idea of the face as a canvas is a fascinating one, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t understand make-up as a corrective (or “enhancer” as some like to name it). I want people to see my scars, because when they see my scars, they see me in my entirety – blemishes and all. They also can Jesus more clearly (but more on this later).

I have more thoughts on this that will make themselves known in due time, but right now I am in a place of confession and I confess the obvious – I know my face is a strange, unexplainable, and even masculine thing to experience (And I’ll call it what it is – if it is not readily identifiable as female, it becomes a thing). I cannot help it. And I also choose not to hide it. Because it is part of me and part of my story. It contains secrets to my understanding what kind of woman I hope and claim to be.

But further, I am seeing and hoping to hear more about how it is helping me understand the God I serve and worship.

PCOS is, like a said, annoying, but it can teach me so much about what it means to be a woman and a creature of God. Please journey with me as I reflect.





Still Black, Still in the South, and Still a Woman

18 08 2011

* Warning: These are my initial  thoughts. Things can change after some sleep and time to process, but alas, I  am avoiding both to get down my thoughts now*

 

Being a Student

In  a class I took a few semesters ago, a student was recalling a point he made in his weekly writing assignment about the role of white women and the power they possess in the difficult journey of Harriet Jacobs.

Unfortunately, a few pompous students pounced on his point arguing that the dynamics he saw
did not exist in the narrative. But they did. Because I wrote about it too but never had the courage to speak up in that moment and stand beside him.

Watching “The Help” painfully reminded me of what was there in the narrative of the seemingly helpless white woman that no one truly saw that day.

 

Being a Woman

I don’t think I’ve EVER felt this emotionally or physically queasy after watching a movie, than I did after watching “The Help”. Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help” is a story about one young white woman’s quest to tell the stories of the black female maids in 1960s Mississippi, or as they are commonly referred to, the help.

Skipping the plot summary and all, I just want to put this out there. The movie’s point is pretty clear: black female voices need to be heard about the injustice and blatant racism they encounter. The subconscious point is also clear: no matter how many victories and feel good moments the movie invites us into, the larger narrative points to the reality that black women are still the help. They still reside in the social constructs and constrictions of being black in arguably the most racist state of the South.

I get this.

What I don’t get is what to do with these feelings.

Ironically enough, white women are painted as the faces of evil in this film. So, from the first moments of the film I found myself asking, “Should I hate white women?” What is even more ironic is that white women are also the heroes and protagonists of the film. So, I had to ask myself, “Should I hate some white women and love the others?” Or perhaps, I should love the white women who don’t belong and end up being the crucified of the bunch. The awkward, educated but socially conscious prophetess. The economic outsider, but innocent innovator.

What do I do with all these white women and the complex psyches they fight through? And what do I do with the warm fuzzy feelings that these white women help paint in a socially horrific movie?

Directly after the movie I found myself telling the brave souls who went to see it with me, “I found myself ready to let go and cry at the touching moments, but then my conscious slapped me awake to the larger reality that no matter how many sappy moments this movie possesses and professes, black people’s lives still suck.” Please forgive my bitter language.

But it’s true. Their life still sucks. Their life still sucks even after they get a portion of the book’s earnings, even when they get a signed copy of the book, and even when something is finally done for them for once. Their life still sucks. They’re still caught in the web of racism, and hate, even after they’ve worked their entire lives to dispel the false rumors that garnered hate in the first place.

Yes, the larger narrative still looms: these women are discerning the best way to live life in hell. And in my opinion, hell is still hell.

Being African

What I do greatly appreciate about this movie is how my perspective has been broadened and challenged. As one who grew up in the cross-hairs of the African perspective and African American church, I’m starting to see why the black church is so important to many of my peers. I thought I knew, but I’m starting to see how much more there is to learn.

As a black person I felt extremely uncomfortable throughout the entire movie. But I have a pass. I don’t come from slave descendants. My grand and great grandparents did not deal with what the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of my peers did.

The black church has concrete significance. It was a way to survive hell on earth. It was where God dwelled when Satan loomed in the law, and the people and the churches of the Jim Crow South.

The things I challenge within the black church today like tradition of dress and even some points of theology were not in question. They were clung to. They were life.

I see that now, and hope to continue to see it as I figure out what role the black church plays today.

Being Christian

I love how this movie did a great job portraying the evils of segregation within the principles of Christian people. How outrageous the whole thing is displays the genius of this movie. Yes, Christians believed that their prejudice and hate was genuinely the right thing to do for their well-being and the well-being of their families.

Being a Christian in “The Help”, in a sense, portrayed the nuclear family as the church that needed to be protected, kept holy, kept clean from the influences and “diseases” of “others.” The community became constricted, the Bible a handbook of supremacy and domination, and the church monolithic. And white-washed.

How the white church saw the black church was never really engaged, which I would have loved to see portrayed. I imagine that it would fit comfortably within the narrative: expressing a complicated love and even more subtle disgust and hate.





On Holy Week and Strange Feelings

25 04 2011

Today has been a weird day. Let me qualify that, last week was a weird week, and it has continued to haunt me.

Not just today, but the whole week has reeked of a strange, odd, putrid cacophony of holy, disrupting, and human, high frequency, spiritually strange occurrences.

I’ve been severely disturbed. By myself and by my Savior. Not once did I feel at ease this past week. It’s odd, or maybe not so at all, because Holy Week just passed, Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday. This timeframe commemorates the time when Jesus, well-received by his people, moved quickly from someone celebrated to someone abhorred. His status disintegrated from beloved to belittled.

On a Friday, He was brutally murdered. Mocked and spit upon, His flesh was stretched to the tearing point. His wrists did tear as nail spikes were driven through them. The tendons in his feet were punctured as more nail spikes were driven through them. And all this ripping, and mailing and tearing happened so that Jesus would remain, so that Jesus would not move, so that His stretched, beaten, bloody body could not get down from, or away from a fateful death intent on suffocating the life out of Him slowly, and out of His body. Out of His Body.

A tortuous death.

In a strange way, I feel like I’ve been dying too. It being a “death” is the only way it is remotely similar to Jesus’. Other than that, it has just been emotional, and dare I say it, a type of spiritual discomfort.

Last Sunday, it all began with a funny mood. Since Palm Sunday, I do not know how to explain how I have been feeling outside of “weird”. Nothing felt normal. Still, nothing feels normal.

Maybe it’s because I knew that it was not a normal week. Maybe I knew that many years ago, something happened to someone else’s body that was not normal. So my body responded, and reacted, and refused to feel normal too.

Maybe, for the first time in my twenty-five years on earth, I was starting to learn what it would mean to feel, experience something strange happening so that something new can happen to and through it.

I pray that my body and spirit are experiencing a post-mortis affect of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

I don’t know. I still feel strange.

Maybe it’s supposed to be this way. At least I pray it’s supposed to be this way. I pray ease and comfort are rarities and that my spirit and soul continue to co-existence in a resurrected reality.





The Valentine’s Day Challenge

14 02 2011

The Valentine’s Day Challenge:

Think about someone you don’t particularly care for, that you often forget about, or that you tend to ignore.

Send them love through an e-mail or call affirming their worth and value.

Because even if you don’t remember them unintentionally or intentionally, they are worth your love since you are worth God’s love.

Pay it forward. Especially when you don’t want to.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!





My Problem with “Valuable” Friendships

2 02 2011

 

 I have a huge problem with the word, “valuable”, especially when it comes to relationships. I hear it tossed around so much, that I believe it has lost the power and appeal it was intended to have and has adopted a completely destructive (albeit well-intentioned) meaning. “Tomi, you’re friendship is valuable to me” doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, precisely because of the word “valuable.”

When I hear valuable, I hear abandonment. And I think I’m right in hearing this, for when things are labeled “valuable”, they are abandoned, untouched, left alone for fear of some outside force or circumstance altering or affecting it. I don’t think “valuable” and “friendship” or “valuable” and “relationship” should be the same sentence anymore. Yes, I’m calling for a divorce.

If “valuable” implies importance and value, then the subsequent actions attached to the word valuable shouldn’t apply like they do. China dishes are valuable so they are rarely used. Diamonds are valuable so they’re rarely worn (well, sometimes). Expensive furniture is valuable so they remain unused in that sitting room that no one really sits in. Let’s face it, valuable has become code for “used rarely”.

And that’s where my problem lies. Friendships and relationships can’t be “used rarely.” They must be used often, especially in circumstances where they can get messy, damaged or broken because that is the point of their existence, to last and to last well. This, to me, is the definition of valuable: often used so as to experience its longevity.

I mean, when I think of something or someone having value, I can’t help but turn to Jesus. Jesus is the epitome of what valuable meant and still means. His value rested not only in who He was, but in how He still lives. He was tested and beaten severely and proved valuable. He died, but His value came in His re-living. In Jesus we have the space and the opportunity to re-examine value. Value is something that is not kept aside and protected or ignored (because that’s just what we do with it), but value is something that is used, often, even brutally, and still lives.

Herein lays my frustration with friendships. If a friendship is valuable to you, use it. Don’t use it when you need to fill you “black friend quota” or your “I hang out with a Muslim quota” but use it because you want to, you need to, and you need it to move forward another day a changed and better person. If that’s not what your friendships are for, stop lying to yourself and others.

I urge everyone who is reading this to be honest with yourself and release people and yourself from the torture of neglected friendships. They hurt and are not serving a purpose as something valuable should. If a friend means so much to you that you are actively a friend back to them, keep it. If not, make it clear that you have a good association, but stop abusing the word “friendship”. If you want to honor someone’s value, be around them, be with them: love them in this way if you truly consider their heart and their soul “valuable.”  

Let’s stop hurting people, especially in the church. White lies aren’t the Christian thing to do.





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:19-20)

23 12 2010

Proverbs 3:19-20

19The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;
20by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down the dew.

 

This passage does something very important for Christian doctrine and theology; it places wisdom at the genesis of creation. It gives wisdom a role in the beginning of the beginning whether it was an active or observatory one; wisdom gets a role.

The language “by wisdom” makes me think of a path, a passageway, a way. My mind hears “I’m in Virginia by way of Nigeria” or “This wonderful meal was made by Tomi” and so on and so forth. “By” denotes a means to arrive at a certain result or destination.

 

What is amazing about wisdom is that it is the Lord’s way to creation and new things. It is a witness to the foundation of the earth. It is the means through which God’s creation lives. Wisdom is rooted within the earth. It is beginning of creation. When God said to “Let there be light”, wisdom was not only present, but had a role in her presence and existence. By way of wisdom, God founded the earth. This lovely masterpiece that we touch and taste called earth was made by wisdom.

 

And wisdom doesn’t work alone, understanding is her revelation on the earth. The Lord, by way of wisdom and understanding created creation. Wisdom and her revelation to those on the earth is the life-Creator. Doctrine pushes back against this: only God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were present during creation. And this is still true. Without getting into the  debate of whether Jesus is wisdom (which I heard before) or the Holy Spirit is, perhaps we can agree that wisdom had to be with and work with the Lord, and that the Lord works through wisdom to bring creation into fruition.

 

Perhaps Jesus is wisdom and our seeing Him walk on earth, the genesis of our understanding of the God He is and points to. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is wisdom and our learning how to listen to her, understanding God through the pneumatic whisper of God’s guidance, comfort and correction.

 

Whatever we may believe or hear or learn about Who wisdom is or could be, one thing is clear: the land, the skies, the universe and seas all respond to the Lord and the Lord’s wisdom. God is power. God is control. God is genesis. God is the beginning. God has the ability to be before being itself.

 

And wisdom was present with God in God’s being. To me, wisdom has to have some power too to exist when existence came to be. And if we are urged to follow, heed, and embrace wisdom, I think we are given a scary but beautiful assignment. I believe that we are given the assignment to accept God’s self into our daily decision-making and existence. Which is amazing!

 

God wants to be a part of our everyday, our mundane and monstrous events and decisions and feeling. God wants to be in every single moment of rejection for God’s sake, every time someone loves us genuinely, every single bit of this creation called life. God, by wisdom, wants to be involved in our lives, to be the loving Parent of children who are just now beginning to realize who we call Father and Mother.

 

Prayer: Lord, be in our everyday so much so that we can’t make life choices without seeing You. It’s in Jesus name I pray, Amen.








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