1 Thessalonians Chapter 5: Verses 21-22
Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil
Last July I was baptized. Some of what I remember are how I opted out of the baptismal gown, how quick the dip was, and how members of the church started to sing wade in the water after I was done. But probably the thing I remember the most is how different my life became after that. Once I made a promise to accept Christ I immediately started making the changes I thought I needed to make in my life. Changes like not cursing, not saying God’s name as an expression and reading the Bible everyday. Bigger changes like what exactly I believed and how life works, were just beginning. Unfortunately my understanding of the religion of Christianity and of life in general was (and still is) very limited. Many times being “Christian” means being a person who does good and not just a good and decent person. Decent people still make bad decisions and hurt other people. I have come to realize that the action of doing good is a lot more important. Doing right by others meant I had to focus on doing right myself. So that is what my heart and soul is trying for. But the process of figuring this out was a long and hard one. Especially when trying to figure out what exactly is the right thing to do.
“Doing good” turns out not to be such an abstract concept. In fact, the reality is a lot more familiar. In the beginning of my time as a baptized Christian I was focused on being the “say it loud, say it proud” kind of person, the kind you see on street corner and passing out pamphlets. Church was supposed to be this big celebration cause, hey, even if no one listened to me, I knew I was right and that my sins were done. I had made it. Songs were to celebrate our victory in front of the vague and obvious evils in life like drugs, sex, money, and cable television. Fortunately my social education at Jones in regard to questioning everything taught me to look behind every curtain to find the “why”. In this case, figure out why these evils were labeled evil. Fortunately firsthand experience is not always needed, but an open mind and empathetic heart is. For example, if you know someone got burned by putting his or her hand in the fire, you understand you probably shouldn’t do it. However I wouldn’t stop at just not doing it. I would ask, why’d they stick it in the fire in the first place, how does the flame burn you, what scar does it leave afterward. Certain evils then start to have much more familiar faces.
However, something else that I figured out, is that some evils aren’t as obvious or as general. I can’t designate “acting like a good person” separate from playing video games, or laughing with my friends, or texting on my phone. It’s funny but I found that being good in fact was defined by all the “extra” activities that I did outside Sunday and church. And also I found new ways of thinking and looking at life and how we all live it.
If I bring up the subject of racism, sexism, capitalism or politics, and it’s everyday appearance in my and everybody else way of life, I feel that I am being a good person. Why? I’ve realized that these general and horrible things underline many of the things we do and think. In fact, these issues aren’t as obvious as a slur here and an open insult there. Usually, like in the case of institutionalized racism in daily life, I end up attempting to educate myself on centuries long and extremely complicated fights about issues that seemed really simple. An example? My hair.
My hair use to be permed and in shoulder-length braids. The hair in my braids was mostly extensions. When I went away to college I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, a fantastic book that I recommend that everyone should read at some point in their life. Some things that this book taught me was how ingrained my feeling of inadequacy about my hair was in my outlook. It just seemed normal. Birds flew, bees buzzed, black girls got perms. However a look at why I put perm into my hair was revealing. To sum it up, to have “coarse” and nappy hair is always considered wild, unprofessional, ugly, etc. And that’s because it isn’t straight. In a culture that has taught me that I am not as attractive as the silky haired blondes on TV, I had swallowed hook line and sinker that my hair had to be “tamed”. Even though my daily life, I rarely thought, “Oh I want my hair to look like a white girls, that was my mindset. People including kids from the age of 5 to teens to adults, have told me up front that my hair used to be so pretty and that now I don’t look female. The whole term “good hair” should show everybody what I mean. Good hair usually describes long and straight hair. Some people have said, it’s just a fashion but categorizing good hair and bad hair says something else entirely. Having short and essentially “black” hair is supposed to be ugly. I decided though that any hair on my head was to be appreciated, because it’s me. Some people tell me that my short and kinky hair looks too “black”. But my question is, what’s wrong with being black? Why is being black being ugly? Well, I just decided to be beautiful.
Now this is not an attack on anyone that does or does not have a perm. But my point is that for me, I decided that there was nothing wrong with my hair. There is nothing wrong with having straight or nappy hair. But I wanted to let my hair and therefore myself just be without making it into something else to be beautiful. This is what I mean by questioning everything. Something so seemingly simple as hair can be a lot more complicated and given some serious thought. It is our everyday activities that can reveal how we think of other people and ourselves.
Now this “hair explanation” probably seems a little self centered. But think how many girls are told their hair is ugly because it isn’t long or straight enough. How many teens have been teased because their hair is “too nappy’ or even the reverse, black teens whose hair is straight are attacked for being too white. How many commercials on TV feature long and straight haired girls looking beautiful? How many natural haired black women do you see on music videos, magazines, or commercials? This all helps shape how our young women think of themselves whether black, white, Latino, whatever. And this is also, to me, important in forming my idea of whether I am doing good or not. Am I helping a young black girl be strong in who she is or am I, even silently, reinforcing the stereotype that long straight hair is the only hair that can make her beautiful?
Many subjects that seem small, like hair, can be factors in knowing how to treat people like they are worthwhile human beings and not people who aren’t as pretty, aren’t as American, aren’t as smart, aren’t as rich etc. Looking at what is going on behind the scenes, to me, has been one of the most important things I feel that God has taught me. As kids and teenagers, we have the responsibilities of attempting to figure out both our parents world and our own. We can’t figure out where to go if we don’t know where we’ve been. Fortunately we have help from young adults that went through the same thing. One thing you figure out as you get older is that everything changes and that we inherit the world that our parents lived in. Someone who put that into song is Lauryn Hill. Now since I am getting up there in my years, I am not sure how many of you still remember Lauryn Hill, but I found that she really connected with youth because she was one herself at the time. One of her songs comes into mind called Everything is Everything.
I wrote these words for everyone
Who struggles in their youth
Who wont accept deception
Instead of what is truth
It seems we lose the game,
Before we even start to play
Who made these rules? were so confused
Easily led astray
Let me tell ya that
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
After winter, must come spring
Everything is everything
Sometimes it seems
Well touch that dream
But things come slow or not at all
And the ones on top, wont make it stop
So convinced that they might fall
Lets love ourselves then we cant fail
To make a better situation
Tomorrow, our seeds will grow
All we need is dedication
I remember as a kid, loving that song. But as a teenager, it started to become more of an anthem then just a good song to listen to. I remember her especially saying, let’s love ourselves and we cant fail to make a better situation. Making sure that we ourselves we are being treated as someone worth something can give us a better idea of how much others are worth as well. “Love others as you love thyself.” Meaning, don’t put yourself or anyone else in the gutter. It’s a hard thing to learn within the context of school, friends, significant others, and people we just cant stand. However if you need help, some of the best people you can ask are sitting right here. Even as we question and take steps in this world that we live in, we can still ask for help from people our age or older. Sometimes even kids can give a untouched and raw insight because in their minds are the reflection of our culture. So let’s be the ones who not only can say “I’m a Christian” but someone who God and those who may or may not live within him can proudly say, they’re good people.