The question that follows me as I move through the world as an African American Anglican priest, who identifies deeply with Black culture, is how did such an anomaly occur? How did I move from the Black Baptist tradition of my childhood to a form of ancient Christianity as mediated initially through the Church of England, but which has been given fresh vigor through the revivals of East Africa and other parts of the Global South? Was I disgruntled with my upbringing? Was there some fatal flaw in the heritage that formed me? God forbid. I remain convinced that the Black Church is the glory of American Christianity, a light that shines in a history too often darkened by compromises of the gospel for the sake of greed and power. The Black church is not perfect, but it is a modern miracle.
Any telling of my story will eventually climax with the events of this night (Maundy Thursday) over 15 years ago. I tell this story now to remind us of the importance of what we do this night and to testify to the power of the liturgy to do gospel work if we trust the wisdom bequeathed to us.
This story begins in college. College, for me, was largely an experience of disorientation and separation from what I knew. the University of the South (my college of choice) took me far from the Black Baptist tradition. The school and the surrounding town were largely white with no real opportunity to experience the kind of worship that could speak to my soul like the gospel choirs I knew. In addition, it is much easier to ignore God in college than to seek him out. Therefore, I did what most college students foolishly do. I let a few religion courses and my own desires create insurmountable theological problems. Apparently, these theological problems could only be solved by adopting a moderate form of religion that neither inspired a transformation of life nor provided comfort in times of trial. It never ceases to amaze me how modern biblical and theological scholarship managed to construct a form of Christianity perfectly suited to the modern temperament. I speak of a Christianity in which we can know very little about God and what we do know is that God doesn’t want us to take any of this too seriously. Put simply, I drifted with the current of the culture replacing the received wisdom of the church with fleeting opinions of an increasingly decadent and confused society.