Let me be frank I guess and explain one of my dissonances I go through. See, not too long ago, I went through a profound transformation where I disavowed our differences and instead have been trying to build a bridge based on humanity’s connectedness. I want to believe in all my heart that we can transcend our divisions and instead hang on to our oneness.
But it seems this goal of mine is all the time being tested and challenged by the mendacity of the present moments. As I try over and over again to bleed from my system the insidious labels that were given to humanity to fracture us and in the process incite antipathy for others, I run over and over again into these very labels. It’s like I’m trapped by the gravity of these isms, the more I escape them the more they draw me in.
I think people know that I don’t refer to myself as black for the same reason I refuse to call others white. These are artificial dissections of humanity which don’t stand up to the test of reality—for no man on this earth is black or white. Moreover, I know the devious nature of these words, why some were called “black” in an attempt to dehumanize and others were called “white” in order to elevate and in that paradigm splinter all of us into islands.
But good God how hard it is to disavow these labels and artificial creations when this whole world it seems is hell bent on fitting people into boxes. Moreover, I myself am still captive to these conflicts. I mean as I disavow the word “black” I concurrently hold near and dear to the identification of Ethiopian. True enough the former is a deep insult and the latter is a cherished name that appears in the bible endless times. Regardless though, am I not contributing to the same divisions when I embrace my Ethiopian roots with such a fervor.
While I do not push my faith on people, I nevertheless have no problem professing my belief in God’s existence and that I am at my core a child of God just like the rest of us. But then the conflict kicks in, this is where my faith collides with endless questions. To this day, regardless of my acceptance that I am saved not by my works but through the grace of my savior Yeshua, I have a hard time accepting that others who don’t believe like me will not be extended the same grace. I believe in my heart that my father God is a graceful and loving creator, but then the brokenness around me makes me question His providence has been my shield and my shelter; I have felt God’s kindness and benevolence to the point where I can’t disavow His existence even if I wanted to. Being a non-believer is easy, the harder task is believing based on what I have felt and witnessed only to be still nudged and gnawed by doubt.
So then I arrive at the core of this missive. I guess my conflict at this moment is a nexus between identity, faith, and finding consensus in the midst of chaos. Is it possible for me to believe that humanity is one, that we are equally blessed and equally yoked with burdens? Or am I fooling myself by thinking that I can rise above the very things that divide us? How do I arrive at a peaceful coexistence within my mind that we are all one while the world is busy pushing me into the arms of our differences?
Yesterday, for example, a debate came up about Ethiopia’s place in the bible and this dude brought up the fact that Jesus was “white”. Now in my heart, I know that the color of Yeshua is irrelevant, what matters is His teaching and what his sacrifice represents for all of us. Ah but my mind had other ideas for I was quickly drawn into a useless debate about what Yeshua was and in the process I started pointing out fact after fact that obliterated the point my Scottish friend originally made. I was like a Gatling gun spitting out bullets of knowledge; that Bathsheba was Ethiopian and so was Ruth and oh Sheba was also Ethiopian and then connected this lineage forward to Jesus.
It goes without saying that I made my point, I won the debate because he could not refute my statements—what I was telling him I could back up with more than just my words. I was victorious but a few hours later I felt defeated. I realized that I fell into the same pit that I keep preaching against. Instead of using the bible to unite and find common ground, I was actually using passages and biblical facts to bludgeon this man into submission. In an attempt to pacify his arrogance I got all arrogant with it too as I reveled in my conquest. A few hours ago, I realized that I had just made a mockery of my aspiration as I got divisive for the sake of proving points and enhancing my ego at the cost of another human being.
So then which is it, how can one side of me believe that the truth of Ethiopia (which by the way was the entire continent of what we now call “Africa”) is tethered wholly and fully to Israel and that we are the children of Yehuda (tribe of Judah) while all the sudden trying to disavow the divisions that are at the core of humanity’s plight. How can I at one hand say we are all children of God while holding in my heart that Ethiopia will one day “stretch forth her hand to God”?
I guess what I am saying is that as much as I have grown and have made strides away from smarts and took steps towards wisdom, I still have a ways to go. These conflicts within my mind of at once believing we are one people while still holding on to the constructs that divide humanity will one day work itself out. I kind of know the answer; we are all children of God and all of us are unique but that does not mean we are any less special or loved.
We live in an age of information and media, the more we advance the more it seems we devolve into the pettiness of our differences. This is what is tearing at the core of our common hopes and connective dreams, the thought that others who are not like us must be against us. In this paradigm, contempt becomes a coping mechanism, a way to deal with “others”. But one day we will realize that we are all siblings, that we are all tethered to a creator who is greater than our differences. When that time comes, maybe we will have peace on earth and maybe I can stop being conflicted between identity and our likeness—for we were all made in His likeness and that is the love that is universal in us.
We come from one source and in time we will return to that oneness, until then we just make incremental progress towards love and away from the antagonism that have been inculcated in our minds over ages and generations. But until that time comes, maybe we can do less to change the world and more to just know ourselves. For if we understand that love lives in us all and we accept that love and understand we are loved, the love we feel within us can flow outward to the whole word. And this is how we change the world, love within eventually grows to love that will leave no one without.
Funny how God works, as I was thinking of another bible verse about getting rid of these divisive labels forced upon us that fracture us, my friend Thomas Herring mentions a verse that flashed me back to a verse I read a long time ago. How God will give us a new name and in the process renew us with His love.
Maybe in the end it is not our job change the ways of the world but instead wait patiently for His promise. What mankind has done since the tower of Babel and the endless ways we create names that splinters us from our oneness, it will be God who will give us a new name and in the process give us the blessing of fikre (love), desta (happiness) and selam (peace) that we all yearn for.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” ~ Revelations 21:4
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.