Journey toward bold

By Rev. Marie Onwubuariri

In our contemporary society, including our ministerial culture, busyness seems to be secretly valued, even as we superficially criticize our commitment-packed calendars. Many who have felt the swell for the current state of racial tensions in our nation simply struggle with finding the time to do anything about it. Certainly there are those who have intentionally chosen not to engage, for a variety of reasons. We cannot forget those who are sacrificially heralding inspiring calls and leading through prophetic action, making clear the invitation for others to join the movements. Still there are others who want to engage, are willing to make the time, yet are still discerning their particular point of entry, space for maximum learning and appropriate realm of impact.

It is with this last group that I empathize. As a post-1965 naturalized Filipina-American now committed to serving a wholly diverse region of American Baptist churches, I would be lying if I said I know exactly how to enter into this conversation at all times. Yet I know I must, and I have been, and I am, and I will continue to…enter in, that is. It has been a long journey, still going, because to “enter in” is to first know from where I am coming; for me, as with many, that place is complex.

Culture hides more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants.
─ Edward T. Hall

What I am convinced of is that our discernment for God’s will in our lives is stunted, clouded, elusive to the extent that we are unwilling to examine who we have become, not only as children of our creative God, but particularly as products of our culture(s). Our hearings, our interpretations and our opinions of the news stories are determined by the cultural systems that have formed our values, beliefs, norms and expectations. Likewise, our responses to the resulting swells and calls to action of the current day, if any, will creep up or dissipate according to these same systems. As sociologist Edward T. Hall points out, this fact is so, whether or not we realize it.

So, to my sojourners, I encourage you to include efforts of self-examination in your discernment, particularly as we seek our higher purpose in this racialized context of the United States.

As you discern how God will call you to enter into the imperatives of the day, the following are questions for you to consider:

  • How are you hearing the testimonies of the victims’ families and of the authorities?
  • What painful stories from your own history are called forth as you listen to the racial tensions of the day? What emotions surface? How are these manifested in your physical body?
  • What don’t you understand? What questions do you have of the people whose lives are now made public for all the country to scrutinize?
  • Are there points of resonance on various sides of the news stories? Where are you excluded?
  • What values can you appreciate? Where do you differ, and what difference do these differences really make?
  • As you see yourself entering in, where are you and with whom do you stand, even as you reach out your hand toward another?

Following is a poetic expression of this journey toward “bold,” in which I have engaged for the past several years. The Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:21-28 has informed my commitment to works of justice. In this journey, I have come to face who I have been taught to be, who I am, as defined by others, and who I am still called to become. Some of my deepest intrinsic values have been challenged, and I have been inspired to take on actions that still may not fit just right. And so it is with the journey toward bold.

My sister in this scripture was a woman with her “back against the wall,”1 to borrow a phrase from Howard Thurman. Fueled by the dream for a healthy living daughter, she endured through an ethnically-tense encounter with a Jewish teacher-agitator and his followers, interrupting their own righteous mission against the backdrop of the oppressive empire.

What we see today are African-American males with their backs still against a wall, causing many to cry out; many of Jesus’ disciples are within auditory range. Still there are other desperate cries, and many of Jesus’ disciples are within auditory range of these as well. Our initial responses may be limited by our cultural norms, but our ultimate cultural boundaries need not be rigid.

I pray that we answer, we respond, we enter into shared spaces, willing to go to the walls, to the margins, even if awkwardly, for the Gospel Incarnate has done so for us.

May our faith be that great.

Rev. Marie Onwubuariri
Regional Executive Minister
American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin

1 “Jesus and the Disinherited,” Howard Thurman, 1966.


Wala Hiya (No Shame)

Words to the Canaanite/Syro-Phoenician Woman

Can I just tell you?
I have watched you from afar, and,
well, my reactions have gone from
disdain, to
anger, to
seeking understanding, to
resonating, to
all out admiration

At first I couldn’t get over that you were actually yelling
After him and his barkada, his friends
Like, what made you think your troubles were even worth his time?
And to yell, like you had no sense?
“Have you no shame?” I thought to myself.

And then when he called you a “dog”…
It wasn’t directed at you but anger I didn’t even know I had
just flooded me. Like, that slur was never really in my story
but yet it is, it hints at my kababayan – my countrymen
And there you were, taking it, standing your ground and knowing
that wasn’t the last word.

So I wanted to know why?
I wondered how many times did you have to duck in between talking heads,
just to get to the door?
How many people had you already gone to to try to state your case, to get some help?
And how many times had you been ignored, before all there was left to do was to cry out,
to yell and forget about your tone of voice?
How many times, my sister?

’Cause I know what it feels like to be at your breaking point.
To just let lose what was inside all the time
I know what it feels like to just scream when your family is in danger
You don’t even try, it just happens. You never knew you could get that loud and frenzied.
No shame anymore.

I don’t want to tell your story, but can I ask,
was it just about your girl?
or was there more behind your shouts?
was there more you were trying to say?
was there something you were trying to change?
What else made you hopeless enough to come out of yourself?

’Cause there you were,
Taking it like a champ
Fallen down yet head held high
Wala hiya…no shame…no more.
And victorious…for your family, for your people, for you.
Just Bold. Matapang. I never learned that word until I studied you…Matapang!

Can I just tell you?
I have watched you from afar, and
eventually I found myself right there
next to you…

─ Rev. Marie Onwubuariri

Permission for reproduction or use of the poem can be emailed to [email protected]

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