Black Male, White City, White Church

Years ago, one Sunday afternoon, the City on a Hill worship team got together to meet one another and discuss the vision for the upcoming year. Everyone didn’t get to see each other that frequently because we served at different times. During our hangout, I remember having this conversation with one musician I rarely connected with: 

“Did you grow up in church?” 

“Yes”, she replied. 

“Oh, what kind of music did you grow up playing?”

She answered, “Oh you know, normal Christian music.”

Normal Christian music.

At this moment everything froze, you know, like in the movies as the character narrates in the background. The narration went something like this: “White evangelicals are not the Christian baseline or lens through which everyone else views the world. What exactly do you mean?” Snapping out of my gaze, I kindly asked her what she meant. The irony is, I already knew — artists like Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, etc. In hindsight, I could have vexatiously responded like, “Oh, you mean negro spirituals?” But I’m sure that would not have been the Christlike way.

That is what it means to be black in Boston at a white church — living uncomfortably with new cultural norms while pursuing your neighbor in love. 

I grew up in a diverse community in California. It was not until I came to Boston that I understood that my culture is “other” and not seen as uniquely American. W.E.B. Dubois, a renown American sociologist, describes this dual identity as double consciousness, the individual sensation of feeling as though your identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult or impossible to have one unified identity. Double consciousness forces blacks (me) to not only view themselves from their own perspective, but to also view themselves as they might be perceived by the outside (read: white) world.  

The sense of looking at oneself through the eyes of others in my career and at church makes tired one’s soul. And several times over the years at CoaH I’ve had to “pump myself up” to be a part of community instead of leaving to find another church thats comfortable. You know, like a black church. But this is where God wants me to be and I’ve grown here. So that means I must add my perspective and help people see more broadly what Christ’s church looks like.

Black people are a bit more expressive in worship (okay, maybe a lot more). We like rhythm and clapping makes us feel like we belong. We like all kinds of music, but when the church does gospel it acknowledges that our cultural experience is “normal” too. Just because there are only two single black people in church does not mean that they should date. That’s not the way it works. And oddly enough, black people don’t grow up eating casserole. Who would have thought?  

Cultural indifference greatly divides Christ’s church. As we pursue Christ together, my prayer is that we understand and celebrate our cultural differences so that the world may know that Christ is truly working among us.  

From your brother with love,

Emmanuel