Jehovah-Jireh's Supernatural Provision

Dear Readers,

Making ends meet is not easy for me. Throughout my early twenties, I’ve struggled financially more often that I care to think about sometimes. I have almost always lived paycheck-to-paycheck. I’ve had moments of not being able to pay rent, times where all I could buy to feed myself was tuna or Vienna sausages (SUPER GROSS!). I’ve had seasons where I didn’t have money for the laundromat or for a MetroCard swipe. Times have been tough for me, and it’s easy to blame myself for this. It’s harder to think about the competitive job market in NYC, the lack of diverse jobs in Augusta, the fact that down here who you know is more important than your degree/experience. I’ve had to bite my tongue and check my heart when I hear of friends with Associate’s degrees making money I’ve never made. And I’m a Master’s student. I have to give up the “should” to God, because really, He doesn’t owe me anything. He doesn’t owe me a job where I make 40k. God has promised to provide for our daily needs, and He always has. I’ve heard stories of people randomly receiving checks in the mail, or having friends gift them money or necessary goods. I’d shrug my shoulders and think that this could never happen for me.

A week before COVID-19 became a problem in my area, I was hired at the most prestigious childcare center here in Augusta. I was excited to begin working. They offered the highest pay I’ve been offered here, and I felt that this was such a blessing! Then COVID-19 showed up in Augusta, and I couldn’t and can’t go to work. A childcare center is the perfect breeding ground for diseases, and when you take into account children’s inability to maintain strict hygiene standards, as adults can, I knew I couldn’t risk it.

While thinking and stressing about how to survive in the midst of this chaos, and seeing my bank account dwindle as I purchased groceries and cleaning supplies, I received an e-mail. I get an e-mail every day showing me what mail I can expect that afternoon. I saw that I had mail from Augusta Plastic Surgery, where I had my breast reduction in November 2019. My immediate thought was “Oh great, they’re going to bill me for something. They forgot to charge me back then and they want money now. Awesome…”

Later that evening, I checked the mail, opened that envelope, and saw a check for $825. That was exactly what I paid them back in October. They had mentioned that if insurance covered everything, I’d get reimbursed. But after 5 months, I didn’t think I’d be getting anything back! I got ALL of it back, EXACTLY at a time where I needed that money to survive before I can begin work again.

Readers, I am astonished at God’s perfect timing and His abundant provision. Like the disciples, I forget about His goodness and promises. I sometimes find myself wondering, “Well, once this money is gone, and if my school is still closed, what will I do?” Then I remind myself. I remind myself that He has been faithful in providing my daily needs. He has gone beyond that and been extravagant with His gifts to me! I remember how a friend randomly gave me a check for $500 last summer. I remind myself that He will always provide, and I don’t have to stress about it. It’s not all on me. God has promised it and He will fulfill that promise.

Sometimes I feel like I’m my own husband. I work hard, take care of the home, and have to do everything to take care of myself. But, I don’t have to be my own husband. God is; like a good husband, He provides for my needs. He is so good to me. Always good.

Readers, don’t give up. The Lord is with you!

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Compassion, Not Contempt

Readers,

As I continue working in the medical field, I witness ever deepening contempt for patients with pain that can’t be fixed with the right exercises or prescriptions for medications. A lot of patients with back pain also carry depression. Many have anxiety. Some even have traumatic brain injuries and may behave in ways we fear, don’t like, or don’t understand.

My heart breaks deeper every day when I hear and witness how patients with this type of brokenness are treated by healthcare providers. My job recently had a physical therapy patient, who is a veteran with a traumatic brain injury. She wasn’t herself anymore. She would mutter incoherent things and rope people into long conversations that didn’t end until she was finished speaking. It was hard to communicate with her, granted, if one doesn’t have experience working with people who are different. But for people who are healthcare providers, who have seen any and every type of person, she should not be such a disruption. She should just be a patient who needs a little more time and tenderness of care.

But this is not how she was treated every time she arrived at our clinic. I’d walk by the physical therapists’ section of the office and hear their curt responses to her repeated questions and comments. They were tired of her from the moment they met her.

After a few weeks, she was discharged from physical therapy. She no longer needed to attend, which was great! We call it graduating from physical therapy. As she left, the two physical therapists came out and high-fived each other saying “She’s gone! Yay!”

I said nothing.

One of them remarked to me, “Gabby, I’m sorry you had to deal with that for so many weeks.”

I looked at her and acted like I had no idea what she was talking about. “Are you talking about that lady?”

She replied, “Ohhhhh yeah. That LADY.”

I was silent for a few seconds and offered, “I think she has a traumatic brain injury.”

That gave her perspective and she immediately changed to a more serious tone. “Yeah, she has a TBI.”

“Right,” I continued, “so she can’t help it. I try to have grace and understanding for those situations.”

“Oh yeah she can’t help it! She can’t even help herself.”

I looked at my computer screen and went back to work as they went off to lunch.

Later that night, I almost broke down in tears at the thought of what it must be like to have to live with a traumatic brain injury. To not be yourself anymore. For each person you interact with to express frustration and disdain for how you are, for how you have been injured.

This should not be!

Brokenness should prompt compassion, not contempt. And for those who are in fields where broken people are prominent (like the medical field!), be sensitive to other people’s differences. My God, if you had to live with a life-altering injury like that, wouldn’t you want someone to show you some compassion?

Be compassionate as He has been compassionate with you.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Birthing New Life on Passover 2020

Readers,

I’m someone who often dreams dreams that I know come from the Lord and they usually involve some type of rebirth or new life. During college, I’d often have different dreams about destruction, the end times, or demons/Satan. Why this happened so often, I do not know.

Throughout the past couple of years, most of my dreams from God are about missions, new life, marriage, pregnancy, and birth. On December 31st, 2018 I dreamed that I gave birth to my third child whose skin glistened and glowed. He was a holy child. I birthed him myself, with no help from medical professionals, and no husband by my side. Other women giving birth in the same room gathered around me and talked me through the birthing process.

I knew that God was going to do a new thing in me in 2019.

Here we are in 2020. I’m now an MDiv student, a full-time worker, FINALLY a licensed driver with a new car, and I’m currently in talks with leaders at my church about the ways I can FINALLY serve there. So much has changed and I have grown in ways I didn’t think possible after the brokenness I’ve experienced.

Then I had a dream.

On February 28th, 2020 I dreamed that I had a baby with nothing but a skeleton and veins inside of my womb. It had no real body at all and as I birthed it, it fell apart and washed away like water. It was actually covered in water and completely disintegrated. It was already dead, but it wasn’t like a baby who had once been alive and had died in my womb, like a stillborn. The baby had always been dead, but it kept growing inside of me. As the baby left my body, the skull got a little stuck inside of me and someone needed to pull it out for me. Once the baby left me, I was sad about losing my only baby and then suddenly felt something move in my belly. I was scared and surprised, grabbed my belly and found out I was pregnant again. Oddly enough, the baby wasn’t due yet, although it was in my womb at the same time as the other baby. I was told that the first baby needed to leave so that the second baby could take over and begin to grow. I was thrilled at the thought of having another baby and being a mother.

I asked when the baby was due.

It is due on April 8th.

April 8th, 2020 is the beginning of Passover.

I have Endometriosis and PCOS, two reproductive diseases that give me a 50/50 chance of ever getting pregnant and if I do, there is a substantial risk that I’ll miscarry. It’s difficult to think about what life will be like as a mother or what it would be like to be pregnant, especially when I know that this may not be possible for me. I have prayed for women with fertility problems and seen them carry a healthy child to term. I know of the women in the Bible with fertility problems and know that I’m not alone in that. The Biblical matriarch Sarah struggled with fertility and look what God did for her. I’m in a long line of strong women of God with actual or potential fertility problems.

I must trust that God will make me a mother somehow. It’s easier for me to trust in the possibility of adopting a child one day rather than believe that God will give me a biological child. This is a part of my brokenness as a woman. I deeply desire marriage and children, which has not been easy to admit, and the thought that it may not happen saddens me. I used to mock women who openly declared their desire for marriage and motherhood, because I thought it was anti-feminist and that marriage and motherhood were prisons for women.

I no longer think this way and find myself yearning to be a wife and mother as well as a pastor with a thriving ministry.

I’m praying into the deeper meaning of this dream and trying to discern what could possibly be birthing in me on April 8th, 2020. I await the Lord’s revelation with expectation and giddiness, because I know that the Lord will do a mighty work in some area of my life.

I trust him with April 8th, 2020 and with my fertility.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Mental Health Stigma in the Latino Community

Readers,

I struggle with anxiety and depression. As a millennial, I feel like most of us do and we’re often misunderstood by older generations when we share our mental health struggles. We’re lambasted as lazy, spoiled, entitled overgrown kids who don’t know how to live life well or be responsible. We’re anxious because we have too many life choices. We’re depressed because we think we deserve everything handed to us on a silver platter and if we don’t get our way, we throw a fit like the big babies we are.

Whew. This type of judgement that breeds condemnation damages countless young people who feel trapped inside of their brains and don’t feel like they have an escape to a hopeful future where they can openly express their pain without fear of backlash from people who willfully misunderstand them.

We’ve heard a lot about millennial culture and how we struggle with mental health issues. How other generations disparage us for revealing our pain. Millennials know they can rely on each other during these tense moments, because at least other young people understand.

Latino people are a different story. In many cultures, mental health is not real. In Latino culture, those who claim anxiety and depression are exactly what older generations think of millennials: lazy, spoiled, entitled, and childish. If you’re Latino and young, forget about it. You’re the worst. You’re depressed and anxious because you’re too American. They say that mental health issues were created by white people and to claim that you’re suffering from them is to try and be white. Suffering mentally is a sign of privilege because our parents and grandparents had to work until their backs broke. They never had the time to be depressed. We lazy young Latinos have far too much time on our hands and that’s why we say we’re depressed.

You’re depressed? Ponte las pilas.

You’re anxious? Pa’lante como el elefante.

Spanish speakers are quick to come up with a dicho in order to silence our very real and valid fears and questions.

When we say we’re scared, we’re told not to be, that being scared is being weak.

When our men cry, they’re told to stop crying like a little girl, or a woman.

The solution to our “mental health problems” is to work harder and be grateful for what we have.

And, if our family is religious or spiritual, we should also pray to God and that cocktail of prayer, work, and gratefulness will heal our mental brokenness. Medication is not acceptable.

This doesn’t always happen.

The suicide rate in Puerto Rico has skyrocketed after Hurricane Maria. People are killing themselves at rates previously unheard of for the island. They feel stuck on a poverty-stricken and destroyed island while the government seems to not care about them. You can read about that here:

Latina girls have the highest suicide rate in this country. You can read about that here:

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/latina-suicide-rate-girls-epidemic-reasons

I am one of those Latina women who experienced suicidal thoughts for a few years throughout my adolescence and early 20s. If I did not have a Latina mother who understood mental health, I can’t say for sure that I would still be alive.

People of color need the space to be depressed, anxious, and have other mental illnesses that aren’t so trendy, understandable, or safe.

We deserve the space to recognize that our ancestor’s pain flows through our veins, and that we’re predisposed to trauma because of their suffering. When we suffer from mental illness, we may feel shame because we think of our abuela who came to this country with nothing, working until her back broke, and never felt depressed.

This is the Latino narrative. We’re hard workers. We don’t get depression. We push through. This has created a toxic culture of shame among the mentally ill Latino population.

We need decent health care, Spanish-speaking and culturally-sensitive therapists who will dive into aspects of our lives that are unhealthy. One of those aspects is the way our culture understands mental and emotional health. We do not see the physiological basis for mental health issues and will treat these illnesses as either demonic possession, laziness, privilege, or genuine insanity. We all know that one tio or tia who is labeled as “el loco ” or “la loca.”

We’ve created so many reasons for mental illness because we don’t understand it.

It’s not being white to seek mental health treatment. It’s not an entitlement issue. We’re not “locos” or “locas” for having suicidal thoughts. Far too many of our parents, tios, and tias would benefit from mental health counseling although they do not see it or know how to begin to approach that conversation.

This issue is multilayered and so dense that a single person cannot break through. It will take the power of the Holy Spirit to show Latino people their mental and emotional brokenness, our trauma, and our deep need for healing. The Spirit will have to open up the Scriptures for us and change our theology so that it more closely aligns with Christ’s heart and makes space for seeking mental health counseling in addition to prayer.

I believe God will do this work.

You can send me a message and speak with me if you need someone to vent to and you have no one who understands.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-8255

The Breakthrough (Shower Crying)

Readers,

I have a confession to make. In the spirit of honesty, and of the desire to consistently be and be known as a truth-teller, I must come clean.

Prior to last Sunday, I hadn’t truly felt God’s presence or felt close to Him in months. I didn’t even feel much desire to read Scripture or pray to Him. I was going to church every Sunday, feeling that pull during the service to run back to God, but as soon as I’d come home and the worries of the week would begin, that pull would loosen its grip on me and I’d sink back into mediocrity and complacency.

I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. I’m a seminary student! I’ve been a missionary in India! I’ve dealt with demons attacking me both on their own and through human vessels! I’ve prayed for miraculous healings and seen them come to fruition! I’ve led people to faith and discipled young women! I’ve prayed for a job and gotten one the next day! I’ve prayed for wombs to open and sure enough, they opened!

But in this moment, I felt nothing. When I used to sense God calling me to grand things, and was able to see what He was doing and how He was working, I recently didn’t even feel His presence or hear His voice at all.

I felt no sense of a call, no pull, nothing.

What the hell was I doing in Augusta, Georgia? Was the work I did meaningful at all? Why was I having such difficulty at school? I was earning incredible grades, but I didn’t see myself changing at all. I felt tired, overworked, emotionally and mentally drained, and done with it all.

I was tired of fighting for a call I didn’t think existed anymore.

I didn’t see the point in fighting for a life that couldn’t ever be mine.

Then I took a break from social media for a week. I have a tendency to scroll through Instagram, envying other women’s bank accounts, achievements, bodies, hair, relationships, and makeup skills. I think to myself, “If only I had what she had. Then everything would be different.” This is the besetting sin of the Enneagram Four: Envy. If only, if only is a common refrain my brain sings to me when I survey my life and find it lacking. Lacking in what, exactly? It had been hard to name it, but now I think I can: community. I lacked community with other believers. I lacked communion with myself and with God. I abandoned social media for a week, amazed at how much more free time I had, and terrified of what would come to my mind when I finally paid attention to how I was feeling.

It was during this social media break or fast, whatever you want to call it, that I more deeply understood how distant from God and from others I had become. I was especially distant from myself, just going through the motions of daily life without checking in with myself. I was in deep need but had no idea how to begin to reconnect with myself, my Father, or others.

I spoke with my pastor a few times and she encouraged me, reminding me that the way is open. God’s right there. He’s here! He’s inside of us and all around us. The kingdom has come. We just need to take that next step. She acknowledged that the enemy was diligently working to destroy me, as so many things in my life had recently fallen apart. She prayed for a fresh indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I hoped that this powerful woman of God’s prayers would begin to ignite the change in me I couldn’t imagine for myself.

Fuller Theological Seminary recently hired a Latina chaplain. I hadn’t ever met with a chaplain before, although I believe that this is my calling. It’s a bit strange, when I think now, how little experience I had with chaplains (no experience!) and yet I knew and know that this is my calling, or at least a part of my calling. It’s truly beyond me and proof of this being in God’s plan for me, that He planted this idea in my head and this desire in my heart long before I knew what a chaplain was. That story will come later.

I made an appointment to speak with this chaplain and when we finally spoke, we spoke for an hour. She told me that chaplains are a non-anxious presence for people dealing with crisis and concerns. I felt in crisis. She was deeply understanding while I was blunt about my anxiety and depression. She encouraged and inspired me to press into my Latina identity, recognizing that we all view Scripture through our cultural lens, and that God made me Puerto Rican for a reason. She honored my ethnic identity and didn’t tell me to stop focusing on it and solely identify by my Christian identity. For a Christian of color, it is impossible to do this.

Fuller Theological Seminary has no female Latin professors and no Black women professors. Fuller Theological Seminary, a diverse seminary committed to the Great Commission, does not have black or Latin female professors. See? There’s something there. Christians of color are multifaceted people with multiple identities, particularly if we are women. We can’t escape our ethnic background or our gender. We must learn what God has for us with it and roll with it.

I told this chaplain that I hadn’t felt God’s presence in a while and that I felt little desire to spend time with Him. Rather than say that God feels distant because I chose to walk away, she uplifted me and reminded me that sometimes God is silent. Sometimes we are being tested. Sometimes we deal with such brokenness in our fallen world that we find it incredibly difficult to maintain strong faith and be consistent in our spiritual disciplines. Our spiritual life ebbs and flows, like any other relationship does. She also remarked that Fuller’s quarter system is not conducive to healthy students and that almost every student she speaks with experiences the same disconnect from God. Fuller’s students are overworked, burned out, and feel distant from God while we write papers about God. Fuller has the longest MDiv program in the country, about 120 credits, and is rigorous. Suffice to say, I certainly thought I was the only one experiencing this. While taking classes, I felt like I was sprinting through concepts that need to be learned over time, not in 3 days. I didn’t know that my seminary’s academic culture could cause some of this stress. Fuller is extremely difficult. Not everyone makes it. Many people graduate with an MDiv, but may find themselves unchanged or cynical from their seminary experience.

She thanked me for my honesty and prayed for me, saying that she was glad that I felt dead, that I felt numb. Because what comes after death? Resurrection. This astonished me. She was glad? This experience is a part of my marathon toward Jesus? This happens to other people? I’m not a fake Christian? I haven’t lost my salvation?

No longer did I feel the overwhelming weighted blanket of shame on my back, pressing me into myself in self-disgust. I felt hope. Hope presented herself as a small ray of light in my mental darkness, but she was there! She felt familiar and she reminded me that I once knew her well. She hadn’t left me. She had been obscured by the fogginess of my brain, but she was always there, waiting to be uncovered and explored with anticipation, no matter how tiny.

That following Sunday, during worship, my pastor approached me and asked how I was doing.

“Meh,” I replied.

“Let it wash over you,” she encouraged me.

I did. The best way I can explain what happened is by saying that something broke in me during that worship service. I don’t know exactly what it was, but some type of oppression or stronghold or darkness broke. Its power over me broke. It happened during “Nothing Else” by Cody Carnes, a song my church has recently adopted for worship. The lines, “Jesus, You don’t owe me anything” and “Take me back to where we started” knocked me out! I silently sobbed and stood there, overwhelmed by God’s presence and power.

I went home and after working out, took a shower and listened to Christian music for the first time in a while. Immediately I began sobbing and crying out for Jesus. I just screamed His name over and over again, feeling my body shake, and sensing something inside of me coming together again.

This brought to mind a dream I had as a teenager, a dream I now know to have been prophetic. In the dream, I stood on one side of an extremely high wall, looking up in an effort to see beyond the wall, although that was definitely impossible. The wall seemed to extend to the heavens. I stood on that side of the wall with countless other humans, all looking up, all screaming one word: “Jesus!” We called out for Him to save us. I woke up before He made Himself known.

During that shower, while I cried and worshiped, I felt something in me being restored. I knew that I was being healed, and I also knew that I would need to choose that healing over and over again because the darkness would continue to call me back, thirsty for my soul. Throughout my life I will have to always choose Jesus, every day, because the darkness beckons for my brain to submit to its evil power. Following Jesus and receiving His healing is a daily decision that is often hard to make, especially when our brains need His healing touch so we can think properly and choose the life He continually offers.

In the week since this encounter with God, I feel a renewed desire for Him, and for holiness. My ears are beginning to hear His call again, and are beginning to break it apart, piece by piece, understanding which piece is for right now and how to fully press into it. I’m learning how to claim what is mine right now and what will be mine in His time. No guilt. No shame.

I’m still struggling with controlling my sexual desire, my dark thoughts, my tendency to take offense to small things, my feelings of rejection, and my distrust of other humans. The point is that I’m struggling against it now, not just allowing these things to rule over me. I acknowledge that these issues come from my past as an abused child, and as a sexually assaulted young woman, but they need not have the final say in my life. I will not cower in shame, refusing to speak about my issues, but I’ll name them and then relinquish them into God’s healing hands.

Readers, there is hope. The Christian life isn’t about seeking that emotional high that often comes from well-produced worship performances or saying that we’re all perfect now that we’re saved and that we’ll never be tempted to sin again. It’s about being human, honest, open, and secure in the knowledge that Jesus has saved us, is saving us, and will save us at the end of all things as we know them.

He has saved us from being separated from God now and at the end of all things as we know them. He has brought the kingdom to us and extended His hand, inviting us to partake in His kingdom in this life. He speaks truth into the dark places in our minds and makes sense of the pain we experience in this fallen world. He lays a table before us, filling it with all we need, making sure there are more than enough chairs for each person to be included. He reunites us with fellow humans with whom we’ve been at odds, creating family where there was once animosity. He completely inverts traditional power structures and systems, challenging us to reconsider how we think and live. He asks us questions, wanting us to discern how we can best live as spiritual beings in human shells, both individually and collectively.

He is life, and He shows us how to live, now that He’s given us His eternal life.

This is what I’m fighting for. This is what matters. This is what I must choose each day.

Join me in this fight and find your life.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Scrupulosity (Religious OCD)

Dear readers,

Imagine waking up every morning and going to sleep every evening believing that you’re going to hell, even though you love Jesus. You believe this because although you’re a Christian, there’s still something missing. There’s something wrong with you. You didn’t pray the prayers correctly. You had a bad thought about your mean teacher or a scary, intrusive thought about hurting your mom and that means you’re bad. You’re bad, inherently evil, and you’re going to hell. Even Jesus can’t save you. How could He when you’re so aware of the devil’s influence in your life? Just look at how frequently the devil appears in your thoughts.

You hear him call to you throughout the day, demanding that you worship him instead of Jesus. And you’re scared. You don’t want to worship the devil! You love God. C’mon now! But the thoughts keep coming. Sometimes, and you’re ashamed to admit it, a thought that praises the devil will pop into your mind. That sets off a slew of thoughts and prayers where you beg God for forgiveness, ask Him to heal your brain, and to save you from the devil.

In an effort to avoid experiencing one of those thoughts again, you preemptively protect your brain from attack. If you were speaking these words aloud, it would sound like you were muttering to yourself, and you’d sound crazy. And you’re not crazy. Right? Sometimes you’re not so sure. You’re a filthy sinner, that’s for sure. How could you not be? Look at your brain. Look at yourself. The words run throughout your brain all day, like a song played on repeat. “I rebuke Satan and I love Jesus. I rebuke Satan and I love Jesus.”

You begin to think you may actually be crazy.

Can Jesus love and save someone who is crazy? Someone who is so broken at their most basic level? Can such a sickness be healed, especially when the church dares not openly discuss mental illness? Is it mental illness, demonic influence, or both?

How will I know if I don’t talk about it?

Readers, what I’ve just described is my personal experience with Scrupulosity, or Religious OCD. It’s a psychological disorder that inflicts intense mental affliction on its targets. People with Scrupulosity find themselves agonizing and obsessing over religious or moral issues, and then acting out in compulsions in order to relieve their guilt. An example of this is my intrusive thought that I was actually a devil-worshipper, and a disgusting sinner in general. Then I’d repeat prayers/phrases in my head and aloud to make myself feel okay again. I’d read the Bible for hours and listen to Christian music for comfort and to convince myself that I wasn’t going to hell.

It’s a horrible mental illness.

I learned Scrupulosity’s name just a few months ago, when Audrey Assad spoke on Instagram about her own history with Scrupulosity. I found myself in tears as I related to each symptom she listed. Finally! I wasn’t crazy! The devil wasn’t taking my soul all those years ago!

But, he was certainly trying.

I believe, at least in my own case, that my experience with Scrupulosity was a strategic Satanic attack, a demonic oppression, bent on destroying me and pulling me out of the race toward Christ. I’m sitting in Panera as I write this blog post and the song on the radio just said, “The devil, he’s a liar!” Country music, you know. But they’re right. The devil is a liar. Everything that he said to me when I was fifteen and dealing with depression and anxiety was a lie. How he concocted the falsehood that I was deeply evil and destined for hell is astounding. He probably pulled from my history as an abused child and combined that with my lack of theological understanding and low self-esteem in order to destroy me.

And he almost did. Suicidal thoughts plagued me and they’re common for those with OCD.

Although I discussed this mental health issue to a certain extent (because of shame) with various therapists I’ve had throughout my life, no one ever called it by its name. In fact, after discussing this with my current therapist, I learned that hardly anyone knows about Scrupulosity. I suffered from it for years and no therapist could tell me what this was. I learned about it on Instagram. Instagram.

We have to do better. We have to call Scrupulosity what it is. Religious OCD. We, in our own ignorance, often prescribe more religious rituals for those who suffer from this, not knowing that this prescription can actually do more damage than good in the hands of someone with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Yes, it is important to discuss spiritual warfare. Very important. It’s also necessary to talk about mental health and get those suffering in a therapist’s chair pronto.

Jesus heals.

I can attest to that.

And therapists are good.

I am proof of these two truths.

I encourage you, if you find yourself resonating with my story, to research Scrupulosity and contact a therapist who specializes in OCD. Talk to your pastor or spiritual leader. And know that you’re not alone. Healing is possible and it CAN come to you! Open your arms wide and receive Jesus’ love and healing power. He’s got this and He’s got you.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

To My Body with Endometriosis & PCOS

In the morning around 3 AM, when I typically awake from a weird dream, I feel you there. Always there. At times you present yourself as a twinge in my pelvis. Other times, you scream at me and stab my ovary. If I laugh or cough, you stick me with a knife.

What have I done to deserve this? Have I done anything but love you?

I remember when you first came to me at night. I was 11 or 12 and had just gotten my period. I was in bed and couldn’t move because of the pain. I screamed, crying out for my mother to bring me Tylenol, but she couldn’t hear me from downstairs. I couldn’t move. You paralyzed me in pain and fear. Why were you so angry? Was this normal? I felt like my body was not my own. It had been taken captive by something my Puerto Rican female family members wanted to celebrate: my period. I could not celebrate what seemed bent on my destruction, and so I lamented instead.

Before I knew your name, I knew your pattern. Once a month, for at least a week, you’d arrive under the guise of a menstrual cycle. The school nurse probably knew my cycle better than my middle school mind could. I’d squirm in my classroom seat for hours, doing the best I could to survive and focus on the teacher, until I could bear it no longer. Sitting in that hard plastic chair, wrapping both arms around my stomach, and rocking back and forth could not stop the throbbing. Eventually I’d gingerly slip up my hand, whisper and seek permission to go to the nurse, grab my belongings, and head out the door. I always took my books and bag, knowing that she wouldn’t send me back to class.

I’d take my time walking the empty halls on my way to the nurse, overwhelmed with the isolation I felt. Sure, slipping out of class every once in a while was a welcome break for me, but often I’d have to leave my favorite class, English with Ms. Fahy, and I hated that. I felt left out. I hated that my body dictated every single thing I’d do and feel while I was on my period. It controlled me and kept me from practicing my passion: reading and writing.

Upon arriving at the nurse’s office, I’d slowly reach up my hand and hesitatingly knock on her door. “Come in!” I’d gently open the door and she’d see me, instantly knowing what was wrong, but she would still ask. I’d supply the same, tired response, “My stomach hurts a lot.” “Do you have your period?” she’d sweetly ask, eyes full of warmth and compassion. “Yes,” I’d admit, eyes cast down, believing that my period was my shame (thanks, patriarchy). She’d immediately put me on the cot, then give me Tylenol and a heating pad. When I’d bleed through my pants, she’d call my mother to ask for fresh clothes. At times, when she could see how I suffered, she’d call my mother, explain the situation, and recommend that she come to collect me. Mom always would. Sometimes other kids would pass through, getting bandages or ice packs, and they’d cast a sympathetic glance over my deeply pained body curled in the fetal position. After a while, I’d keep my face turned to the wall so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact. They’d walk by me and I’d listen for their footsteps to disappear, then I’d release the self-conscious breath I’d always hold when my vulnerability and pain were on display.

You made me feel like an other. I didn’t belong. My period didn’t come like it did for the other girls. With me, you were angry and vindictive. You kept me home from school, home from activities, and eventually, as an adult, home from class and work. When I sense you coming now, when you present yourself with that familiar twinge in my pelvis, I brace myself. I stock up on super overnight pads with wings, purchase a fresh bottle of extra strength Tylenol, indulge in a little chocolate when the mood strikes, and prepare for the first two days. I obsessively check my period-tracking app before the big day, hoping and praying that its predictions would prove true, when the first day of my period would fall on a weekend, and false, when it would fall during the week.

“What if my period comes when I’m at work?”
“What if the pain is so bad that I have to leave?”
“What if I forget Tylenol or pads?”
“What if I bleed through my pants?”

I wish you’d go away and die. I’ve been praying for years for you to be restored. Now, I’d rather you die a quick death, leaving me to have a normally-functioning uterus and life. I hate that you cause cysts in my ovaries, forcing me to plant myself on the sofa, pressing a heating pad firmly on my pelvis, trying hard to not deeply breathe. I pray that the cyst dissolves and doesn’t rupture or cause an ovarian torsion, forcing me to go to the hospital and spend money I don’t have. Even simply breathing hurts with you.

I hate that because of you, I have a 50/50 chance of never having children.

With you, sex might be painful for me.

I might need a hysterectomy sooner than normal because of you.

I don’t like anything about you. I wish you’d go away forever. I know of a woman whom you tortured for 12 years and with the touch of Jesus, you left her. He cast you out of her body. I pray that He does that for me, and that you go back to hell, where you belong.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Encountering God in an Ambulance

On Thursday morning at 1 AM, I awoke hearing my mother scream my name in a tone I had not heard before. “What?” I asked, shaking off sleep. “I’m hemorrhaging!” I sprang out of bed, ran to her, and saw blood all over the floor. I dialed 911, gave them directions (our apartment complex is hard to find), while my mother began to panic. She hyperventilated, paced around the room, and kept saying that she was hemorrhaging and scared that she would die.

When my father had a near-death experience three years ago, I wasn’t there to witness it. This was new territory for me. She pulled a poncho over her head, slipped on some shoes, and was able to walk down three flights of stairs to wait for the ambulance. I threw bleach-stained sweatpants on, grabbed my phone and keys, and ran down the stairs after her.

She stood outside, crying “It keeps coming, Gabby” over and over again while looking out into the night. I saw nothing but panic in her eyes. She had that empty, glossy look you find in soldier’s eyes after they’ve experienced brutal battle. She was also a soldier who had seen too much blood. She began shaking, saying that she was going to pass out, and I wrapped one arm around her, trying to uphold her with my weak arms, and had my phone in the other hand, ready to call 911 again, if necessary.

“Stay with me, Mom. Stay with me. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. They’re coming. They’re coming!” As her knees began to buckle and I felt her pulling away from my grasp, I firmly grabbed her, refusing to let her fall. “C’mon, Mom! Stay with me! Look at me! Focus! They’re coming! Hang on!”

I can’t begin to explain the terror and trauma of seeing your mother like that, knowing that you in all of your young frailty are the only person who can help her, and not knowing when the damn ambulance was going to show up. So you pull stuff out of the air, or out of your faith, declaring that she will be okay when you aren’t sure. Proclaiming that as Jesus healed the woman with the menstrual problem in the Bible, He would heal her bleeding problem. A part of me knew she would make it, but another part of me, the part that doesn’t trust God as a good Father, feared that this was another trauma He would allow in my life, to teach me a lesson. That part of me is deeply broken.

The ambulance came. The EMTs thought I’d follow them in my car, but they didn’t know me. I sat in the back with her, looking at her exposed legs completely covered in her own blood. Her shoes were filled, overflowing with blood. Her vitals were surprisingly good. I obeyed as she frantically commanded me to call every person who knows us, who loves us. I can’t remember whom I called that night, because there were so many. God has blessed us with a bountiful community of praying believers and friends who do great things like come over and help clean up the blood after she’s home safe. Thank you.

Sitting in the ambulance, thinking how I’d never sat in a vehicle that went so fast before, looking at my mother in her helpless state, the tears began to poke through. Before that moment, I had been in survival mode, protecting mode. My only thought was to protect my mother. I didn’t have to switch it on; it came on as soon as I saw her like that. In that ambulance, after I called and texted everyone who loved us, I looked at her. I didn’t think I’d ever see my mother like that. I knew that one day, if God gave her the time, I’d see her old and in a hospital bed, but I didn’t expect this. Who does?

“No llores”, she said, giving me a little smile and telling me not to cry. Even when she didn’t know if she’d live or die, after experiencing a type of trauma I cannot imagine, she still cared about how I was coping. I commanded the tears to go away until a better time, when I could be alone and let them flow. They obeyed.

In the hospital, as soon as the doctor walked in, I knew she would be okay. His presence was at once strong, gentle, warm, firm, and light. God had walked in the room in the form of an older black male doctor. I thanked Jesus for bringing this doctor to us, as women of color typically aren’t believed when we go to the doctor. I knew that this man, who knows what it’s like to not be believed or valued, would absolutely do every single thing he could to work out the problem and solve it. He did.

Mom had a clot that had grown around her sutures after her hysterectomy. As the sutures dissolved, so did the clot. The huge amount of blood that ruined her clothes and carpet came from one clot. We got home around 6 AM and I took her to see her gynecologist that afternoon. They held each other, tearing up, and her doctor apologized for not getting up and going to the hospital when the ER doctor called her throughout the night to consult her. Mom came away feeling comforted. Her doctor left with a lesson learned.

When someone in need calls, run to them.

I’m still processing all of this. Friday at work, it was difficult for me to focus on my job, as my mind kept reverting to Thursday morning. I was tired in every possible way and I just wanted to go home and hug my mom. I was grateful for the church sister who came over to help clean, because I knew I couldn’t clean her bloody bathroom. I’d break down. Writing this piece is helping me remember exactly what happened, how we felt during each part of the morning, and the moments where I most clearly saw God’s hand.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

A Stubborn New Yorker Living in Georgia

After a year and a half of surviving and beginning to thrive in Georgia, I’m finally ready to begin openly processing my experience as a multi-ethnic Puerto Rican New Yorker living in Georgia. I don’t live in Atlanta, where my experience would be more upscale Southern and comparable to living in New York. I live in Augusta, the second-largest city in Georgia, and home to James Brown and the Masters Tournament. Augusta is a city that sort of yearns to advance, change, and garner the respect that Atlanta does. Augusta rejects the negative connotations she has as a more traditional Southern city, if anyone actually thinks of Augusta at all. People fly from around the world to visit Atlanta. Has anyone ever heard of Augusta, unless you love golf?

Augusta wants to change while simultaneously demanding respect for the ways that she is uniquely Southern and old-fashioned. You can still buy peaches and boiled peanuts on the side of the road, and find incredibly inexpensive home cooking from family-run restaurants where you sincerely are treated like family. A part of Augusta doesn’t want to change and she sometimes resists outside influences on her culture. But with Fort Gordon, Augusta University, University Hospital, and New Yorkers who come here after their lives fall apart up in the Big Apple, it is hard for native Augustans to maintain their strong grip on their insular traditions. Who is a part of the group? Who is held at arm’s length because they’re different? Community needs to be redefined. Different people continue to move and make a life here, bringing with them their own unique cultural practices. The push/pull of this delicate dance is strong and sometimes tense.

For me, leaving the cultural melting pot that is New York City, being forcibly uprooted by my Almighty Father, and dropped into the hot, socially conservative Southern city of Augusta was nothing less than traumatic. I do not exaggerate. I didn’t want to live here. There are still moments of resistance for me, moments where I cry out to God with one question: “Why?” Earlier in my journey of adapting (not assimilating) to Augusta the question was more like “What the heck, God?” or “Seriously, God? Are You for real right now?” The tone of my question has altered, but I still wonder why I’m here, particularly when I so often do not have eyes to see the way the Lord is working in the small things.

Throughout my first four months in Georgia, I experienced four racist attacks. In New York, throughout all of the first 24 years of my life, I probably experienced three blatant moments of racism. We know that microaggressions are a daily occurrence for most people of color so I won’t factor them in. I’d lose count. I’m talking about blatant racist attacks. Throughout 24 years in New York, I experienced that three times. Throughout four months in Georgia, I experienced that four times. Let that marinate and lament with me.

Here’s what happened. An EMT, who was supposed to be helping me, yelled at me about how Affirmative Action is unfair, a man in a gas station told me that Trump was going to send me back to Mexico, a man in Goodwill followed and harassed me for speaking Spanish to my mother, and a man at a bar/restaurant said that he wanted to build two walls: one to keep out the Yankees and one to keep out the Mexicans. By the way, only older white men attacked me. Whew.

Knowing that my very existence as a Spanish-speaking woman in a brown body was offensive to people, I began to fear going to more traditionally Southern parts of town. I completely stopped speaking Spanish in public, which broke my heart. It made life easier to protect myself in this way. I needed to feel safe. As the attacks kept coming, I began to fear white people in general, particularly men. The thought of a Southern white man violently verbally harassing and threatening me was almost too much to bear and, in an effort to protect myself, I began assuming that they hated me until proven otherwise. When the men I met turned out to be kind, sweet Southern gentlemen, I was pleasantly surprised. Yet in my mind they were still the exception to the rule. Southern white men were violent, unsafe, and not to be trusted.

This PTSD from experiencing these racist attacks caused me to be unable to trust Southern white men enough to befriend them. I assumed the worst intentions with everything they said. I made mountains out of molehills, so to speak, and would become deeply offended (and feel unsafe) by mere word choice even if the content of what they were saying was valid. Here’s an example: while speaking about immigration with a Southern white man (already a tense topic), I became disgusted by his use of the word “illegals” to describe undocumented Latino immigrants. For me, it was a horrendous slur. For him, it wasn’t a slur by any means. It was the only word he knew to describe them. Does anyone in Augusta, even the intellectuals and well-educated, use the word “undocumented”? That’s New York talk. Unless one has been exposed to woke folks and a lot of ethnic diversity, it is unlikely they will know that word at all. I held him to the impossibly high standard I’d hold myself to on this topic and that was deeply unfair. To that man, I sincerely apologize for not having eyes to see you as wonderfully as God has made you. God has torn the veil and I see you now.

I assumed that woke people had to speak like me and think like me. Exactly like me and the way I was taught by other Christian activists. Anything unlike that way was a problem. I say all of this to explain how deeply trauma and PTSD can alter our brains and visceral responses to something we view as a threat. When you are in survival mode, everything can be a threat and so you must preemptively attack in order to make it through. You will be surprised at how different you have become after experiencing that type of trauma. I hardly recognized myself. I was angry, moody, distrusting, easily annoyed, arrogant, and close-minded.

If you combine this emotional and mental stress with a horrendous call-center job and lack of transportation, this is a perfect recipe for depression. That’s exactly what happened to me last summer. I fell into a somewhat calm depression, where I stopped feeling anything. I felt neither pain nor joy. I could not reflect on old memories of fun times in New York and India without feeling loss. Neither could I imagine that God could have anything for me in Augusta, Georgia. I kept my mind numb with Netflix and junk food. I hated Georgia and Georgians. I wanted to go back home to New York and relive the life I once had. But, that’s impossible. We can’t go back. We can either stay stuck where we are or move forward.

I realized after a few months that I had to take back control over my life, while recognizing that God is guiding my path. I got my driver’s license. I got a car. I started seminary. I lost 20 pounds. In a few days, I start a new full-time job with a Christian employer. I still ask God why I’m here in Augusta, particularly when I can’t see a clear way for me to serve at my church in the ways I feel I’m fashioned to serve. I’m tempted to just resign myself to a quiet life of working, going to church, and seeing friends. I would eventually get married and raise kids. But, is this quiet life the kind of life God has called and is calling me to? I feel both yes and no. While my tendency in life is to run from hard things, to feel small and scared of being stomped on, I sense God calling me to stay put and press on. To bloom where I have been planted. To keep working, to be consistent, faithful and holy. To wait for His call to proceed to the next step. To just live and to love Him regardless of what position or title I have or do not have.

Would I recommend that other New Yorkers move to Augusta? Not really. I think this experience has been so perfectly crafted for me that this type of cultural shift and cross-cultural work is only for those who need growth and challenge in this area. But, after a year and a half of living here, I can say these things with a clear conscience:

  1. Most people are not blatantly racist.
  2. But, they do have a racial bias. Everyone does. This bias will come out in microaggressions and ignorant comments. Despite the ignorance, it’s imperative to seek out the good intentions and gently teach.
  3. Some people do want to unlearn previously held stereotypical beliefs about others. Others do not even see that they hold prejudiced views and will not respond well to your challenging that, even if it’s gently done. This goes both ways. I was like this.
  4. All people are broken in different ways. Some of my pain comes from the ways my brown body is offensive and open to attacks from Southern whites. A lot of Southern whites carry pain related to their generational poverty, lack of education, and even their accents. I often hear Southern folks degrade themselves and call themselves “hicks”, saying that their accents are uneducated and ugly, and lamenting that they don’t have the educational qualifications they want to advance themselves. And they may not know how to begin to achieve them either. While this pain is different, it is pain and it is the pain they know and live with every day.
  5. The warm weather here is just a delight, unless it’s June-August (and sometimes May and September, let’s be honest) and you want to die because you feel your skin literally baking.
  6. The tea is SWEET and the old ladies are sweeter. They’ll call you “gorgeous” every time they see you and you will feel loved.
  7. All jokes aside, there is serious kingdom work to be done in Augusta, Georgia. I can see the potential areas of growth for these folks. I see deep segregation in the church. I see profoundly devastating educational inequity. I see traditional gender roles being misused to keep women silent and in the home. To keep them out of the pulpit. To keep men feeling as if the whole world is on their shoulders and that they can’t be soft or gentle. That they can’t cry. I see ignorance about mental health care from people who would beautifully benefit from it. I see a strong resistance to new ideas and change, yet at the same time, a tender curiosity about different folks. There is much to be done if people have eyes to see and hearts set on pursuing God’s kingdom.

This New York apple is living the Georgia peach life for now and until God calls her away, if He does. My daily prayer is that God helps me to remain faithful and holy, to experience deeper levels of personal healing, and to find my place in His work in this city.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Review of “Can I Get a Witness” by Brian K. Blount

Brian K. Blount’s Can I Get a Witness?: Reading Revelation through African American Culture explores the specific ways readers and hearers of John’s Revelation can view and understand the text in light of African American history and culture. Blount believes it is imperative to read and write multiple interpretations of Scripture, as one particular perspective cannot hold all of the absolute objective truth, nor can it actually be objective at all. Throughout the history of Biblical studies, scholars have pushed a historical or literary-only lens, thereby ignoring cultural or contemporary readings of the biblical text. This has created an ideology of supremacy for this particular hermeneutic, which is often pushed by elite, academic, white men. Women’s and people of color’s readings have not been viewed as valuable and authoritative as the historical and literary readings produced by these elite men. For Blount, this is where cultural studies begins to shift the narrative and throw open the previously narrow door to welcome different voices. But, this does not mean that any interpretation can be valid simply because it comes from a voice previously silenced. Blount is clear that our interpretations are considered and refined in community with other voices (Blount 35). Through conversation, we begin to put together the puzzle a bit more each time we look at it.

            Blount begins chapter one, “The Revelation of Culture”, by explaining what culture is and how cultural studies can provide a diverse space for different voices to come to grips with Scripture in community, but without their individual voices being silenced or held against one objective standard, as no such standard can exist. For Blount, culture is a particular way of life and various cultural practices (Blount 8). Culture is not merely language or food, but the diverse ways people think about work, family, and religion. Cultural studies is not the study of the cultures history deems worthy, such as European culture, but the study of the different ways of life and cultural practices of various people groups. Blount believes that two concepts must undergird cultural studies. He writes, “First, cultural studies argues that culture must always be studied in relationship to the place it occupies in history” (Blount 9). Second, cultural studies acknowledges that our societies have been unequally divided among various lines of class, race, and gender. Culture is where this division is resisted. Reading Scripture through a cultural studies lens ensures that we read the Bible interpreted by different voices and also that we read the text with the intention of discerning the practical and specific ways it can apply to our unique contemporary culture. Here we are not reading backwards into the text to try and reconstruct what the first century Christians must have understood about Revelation. It is not possible to do that, Blount argues. We are 21st century readers with our own cultural backgrounds. We cannot objectively read Scripture. We will read our respective cultures into the text while thinking we are reconstructing John’s culture. We cannot do this because we are not first century Christians. Instead, we can read Revelation now and interpret what this text means for us in our particular time and place. This requires participation on our part. Blount says, “The cultural studies interpreter doesn’t merely sit on the sidelines and record the struggle, she participates in it” (Blount 11). We read not to reconfigure ancient meaning, although this is one way to read the Bible, but we read to know what this text has to say about discipleship for us today.

            The second chapter, “Can I Get a Witness? An Apocalyptic Call for Active Resistance” fleshes out the ways that the Black Church historically have prophetically called for active, non-violent resistance to unearned and undeserved suffering and injustice. Just as John’s Revelation provides images of great creatures crying out praises to God, so do black pastors and preachers call out God’s praise while simultaneously calling for their hearers to respond in active witness. Blount knows that this sounds political, and it is. He makes no apologies for this and uses the word multiple times to describe what John’s Revelation urges us to do with our time on earth. In light of Jesus Christ’s lordship, no other response is possible. Blount says, “John’s call to witness to that lordship is the religious, ethical, and very political expectation that naturally follows” (Blount 38). While some have interpreted the text to signify that the expectation is endure suffering and sacrifice oneself, like a martyr, Blount sees things differently when he views the text through the lens of the Black Church. The goal is not to suffer and die for the sake of suffering and dying. The goal is to become such a bold witness to Jesus Christ’s lordship that suffering and dying is an inevitable repercussion, depending on the context in which one lives. If Jesus Christ’s claim to lordship and witness with His life and teachings caused His death on the cross, we also have to follow Him with the knowledge that this outcome is possible for us as well.

            Blount argues that to follow this call in John’s Revelation, we must actively participate in active non-violent resistance. The call is not to passive resistance nor is it to ignoring injustice under the guise of focusing on Jesus, as those with privilege say. Blount says, “The oppressed do not see any dichotomy between God’s love and God’s justice” (Blount 32). We focus on Jesus by boldly asserting that there is no God but God and God’s Son is Jesus. Caesar is not God, nor is the United States of America God. We owe our allegiance to God, not the United States (Caesar). When we start witnessing to this fact, we will face backlash from those whose hearts do not truly serve and love God. Some of those voices may come from inside the church. But by participating in this resistance, we find liberation. Liberation has been the visceral cry of the Black Church since her inception, hundreds of years ago on American plantations. The Black Church has always recognized this call to peaceful resistance, as they have recognized themselves in the text when they read and heard about the Israelite slaves. They read their particular culture and context into the text and found comfort and inspiration for their own lives. The goal has always been liberation, first from slavery, then from the heinous conditions under Jim Crow, and now under systemic injustice and personal slavery to sin. The Black Church has not been afraid to be called political, because that is exactly what they are and have always been. Blount writes, “In a world where owners punished slaves for participating in unauthorized and unsupervised worship services in the late night woods or slave quarter root cellars, the very act of worship was an expression of political defiance” (Blount 42). This political focus on liberation prompted the Black Church to do everything in their power to escape slavery, to resist Jim Crow, and to strengthen black folk throughout the centuries. Today, the Black Church may be considered somewhat less outwardly politically active, focusing more on personal piety. Blount says:

While some churches continued efforts of social and political activism, others, focused on the rewards of the heavenly world, directed their energies toward the spiritual condition of African Americans. And yet, even here, there was a liberative emphasis (Blount 23).

The Black Church will be free to worship their God and live with full rights as human beings created and loved by God. Historically, they have not been afraid to be political, because their very act of survival and development of their unique culture is a political act. Political resistance undergirds the Black Church.

            Chapter three, “Wreaking Weakness: The Way of the Lamb” treats the long-held belief in Jesus Christ as a mild and meek lamb, who suffered unearned and undeserved injustices, and who, in turn, demands us to follow Him in the same way. Blount, and the critics he interacts with, staunchly disagree. Blount even argues that this “hermeneutic of suffering” has damaged black folk and the movement toward liberation. Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross, and His way will be our way. Blount says, “God commands them to fight the way the Son fought; his way will be their way. This is why it is crucial to determine precisely what that way is” (Blount 72). By superficially glancing over African American history, it is easy and natural to assume that the kind of suffering they suffered and continue to suffer is the way that Jesus Christ has determined for them. They suffered under white ownership, so they are suffering with Christ. But, Blount directly opposes this reading and argues that this has created a belief in the Black Church that any suffering is the suffering foretold by Jesus Christ, and so it must be patiently endured, all the while hoping for redemption at the end of all things as we know it. This is not the full picture. Blount argues that this thinking caused slaves “to believe, through white teaching and their own internalization of white spirituality that their unmerited suffering was God’s chosen tactic…” (Blount 72). They believed that their suffering as slaves was the way that God’s kingdom would come and all would be redeemed. Blount continues, “The end result was a spiritualization of Jesus’ suffering and death that mandated that slaves similarly surrender their own lives for others” (Blount 72).

            This hermeneutic of suffering has deeply hurt black folk and has seeped into different Christian groups as well. Suffering, in and of itself, is not desirable. It is not honorable or to be pursued by any stretch of the imagination. God is not a sadist. Jesus Christ is not a masochist. Suffering is an inevitable result of being a bold witness for Jesus Christ, and it is to be borne as Jesus Christ bore His suffering. In this way, Jesus Christ’s suffering was earned, but not deserved. Attempting to establish any kingdom other than Caesar’s would warrant punishment. General suffering is not to be borne, neither can it be glossed over with a spiritual lens in an attempt to justify injustice.  Blount explains:

…this hermeneutic of sacrifice led to the deradicalization of the Black Church in the period following Reconstruction and on into the Jim Crow era. The church was so desperately focused on spiritual salvation and the identification of its own struggles with the redemptive crucifixion of Christ that it either dismissed or accommodated itself…to the savageries of racist separatism and hate (Blount 73).

If black folk in the church see their suffering under an unjust system as their cross to bear, as their suffering given to them by God, as their way of identifying with Jesus Christ’s suffering, then liberation in this life will not come. By focusing on personal spirituality and future redemption alone, all hope for present liberation from systemic injustice and hate is abandoned. Black folk will not fight for their rights as humans if they believe their suffering is spiritually refining them and is a way to identify with Jesus Christ. Following that line of thinking, they are being Christlike by continuing to silently suffer as they do from systemic racism and oppression. In reality, they are being passive and not following Jesus Christ’s call to be a bold witness to the fact that there is no God but God and God’s Son is Jesus Christ. Suffering as a result of that witness is an entirely different type of suffering. As long as black folk continue to believe that being hated for their skin color is their cross to bear, they will not reach any liberation in this life apart from personal salvation.

            Chapter four, “The Rap against Rome: The Spiritual-Blues Impulse and the Hymns of Revelation” creatively expresses how black music has always echoed John’s call to active, non-violent resistance. Black music has also prophetically echoed the praise that all humans and creatures will sing in heaven. The four types of black music Blount treats are spirituals, blues, gospel, and rap. Spirituals and gospel are more obviously linked with the Black Church, but Blount shows how blues and rap stem from the former music styles and still contain prophetic calls to liberation, although that call to liberation varies in content. Where spirituals and gospels are more clearly aligned with God and the Black Church, by calling for redemption and proclaiming God as their redeemer, blues and rap also call for redemption without necessarily acknowledging that God is the one who needs to redeem. Weathered and worn under consistent generational suffering, some black folk who sing the blues or rap have professed the need to rely on themselves to bring about their freedom. Tired of a church that may be preaching that their suffering is spiritual and determined by God, they take their lives into their own hands and try to find respite through drugs, alcohol, sex, wealth, and violence. By not having control over some of the most basic aspects of human life, such as safety and human dignity, they may try to construct this control by controlling the one aspect of their humanity they can: their sexuality and its expression. This has manifested in unhealthy ways. Blount agrees that misogyny and violence punctuate blues and rap, and create undesirable expressions of self-governance. Blount also laments that much of rap and blues misses what undergirds spirituals and gospel: transcendence. Blues and rap typically lack a transcendent hope that their suffering will be redeemed someday or that their situation in life could even change in the present. This lack of transcendence can create a pessimistic, passive attitude in those who build their lives around this type of music. Ultimately, black music aims to fight. That fight can be against injustice, against personal sin, against the white folk who have oppressed them, and sometimes against a God who has been taught to have given them this cross of systemic suffering.

            Blount’s text is a groundbreaking and deeply informative treatment of Revelation in light of African American culture. He undertakes a difficult topic and manages to make it accessible for non-seminarians and seminarians alike. This is a result of his emphasis on cultural studies, as he mentions in chapter one that a scholar of cultural studies aims to study and then present her findings before average, everyday people in order to see genuine change and advancement. Blount covers wide expanses of ideas, such as the definition of culture and the history of how it has been historically studied, and even explains how Tupac Shakur’s lyrics are prophetic and linked to the history of the Black Church. And yet his work does not read as if he is trying to cover too much material. He spends exactly the right amount of time on each topic and fleshes out every point with care. This text should be required reading for all Christians, and particularly for ones who are black and/or work with black folk.

            A way for Blount to expand on this excellent primer would be to provide tactile, practical examples of what it can look like for black folk to stand on the shoulders of the historical Black Church and boldly witness for Jesus Christ. It would also be helpful to further expand by adding something to help church leaders, black and non-black alike, begin dialogue in their churches on the topic of cultural studies and the damaging hermeneutic of suffering. Many of us have grown up in a context that has taught that all suffering is to be spiritualized and borne. This has led to the spiritual and physical enslavement of far too many Christians. It would disrupt the entire Western church should Blount further the conversation in this way and, as he argues that John’s hymns in Revelation are fighting words, I think Blount would be up for the fight.