I remember the first time I realized I possess a Southern accent.
I was a freshman sitting in a small, ten-person class, the lone Alabamian in a course on a novel written by an Alabama man about another Alabama man.
It wasn’t until a fellow from Ohio gave his input in the discussion, my words following shortly behind his, that I discovered the culprit. I heard the harsh twang of my words for the first time and was internally terrified, yet couldn’t quite stop the flow of my speech.
Never have I ever been so aware of my differences, of the things that separate me from the rest of the world outside of my Etowah County, Alabama bubble. Every moment since then has been leading to a search for others who feel this way, but on a much larger scale, to reconcile them to a sense of belonging and home and security.
After discovering the Southern shadow over my words, I dove into the world of religious studies, not due to any apparent connection, it just so happened that way. But this week I found the bridge between the two.
Desperate to get out of the small-world mentality surrounding the Southern stereotype, other cultures have always grasped my attention. The dress, the languages, the behavioral differences, the variety of what is considered normal, religious studies helped immerse me with the rest of the world and truly develop a heart for the nations.
In a random class on ancient Greek religion, a class I only registered for because no other REL courses fit my ~perfect~ schedule, I learned about the false stability we, Americans, live in. As I read Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s “The Past in the Present” for an upcoming presentation in the class, my mind shattered.
Trouillot challenges the sturdiness of the definition and content of history, of The Past. He writes that what is defined as history has much to do with the connection between the person defining it and a particular event, not the historicity of the event itself. Historians hold authority to choose what is considered historically important and what gets to be left behind and ultimately forgotten through the years. History isn’t this stable, secure definition of everything that’s happened over the generations of human life. It’s a constructed, flawed fabrication that a non-objective person, one just like us, thought up. Yet we, Americans, cling to it–something I would’ve argued until very recently.
Another religious studies class, Politics, Culture and Religion in the Middle East, taught me that borders, government and power aren’t secure and stable, either. Americans argue when our systematic electoral process ends with results we voted against, while people in Iraq pray they’ll be able to fight off today whatever rebel group attempts to overthrow the government that was instated just a few months ago. Israel and Palestine fought for decades, and continue to fight, for sound, distinct borders, a place to call home. People groups and nations all around the globe fight for freedom of speech, unfiltered access to information.
When I registered for Perspectives of the World Christian Movement at my local church, I didn’t expect it to connect so well with my “secular” religious studies classes. I didn’t expect to be taught three times a week about the unstable conditions around the world, the people who are continually devalued and unauthorized in their homes, the nations who are considered such by one country, but denied that label by the next. I didn’t expect to care. I didn’t expect to lose my own security.
There’s no way I would’ve guessed that I would learn about history as a constructed idea, definitely not that it would have any kind of affect on me if I did. I didn’t know, nor did I really care to know, about the countries around the world who have nothing–no borders, no government, no inalienable rights –to cling to.
But can I tell you I’ve seen Jesus in an entirely new light because of it?
The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama should not teach me about the love and grace and unparalleled stability of Christ, but it does.
Hearing about the lack of security in the lives of people–of actual, living, breathing, working, caring, scared, strong, beautiful, funny humans–across the globe probably should make me doubt the stability I find in the U.S., but it does.
Maybe reading about the term “history” as nothing more than that, an arbitrary term, shouldn’t terrify me about what has happened that I don’t know about, what’s happening that I’m unaware of and what will happen that I can’t imagine, but it does.
These feelings likely shouldn’t drive me to joy, peace and comfort, but they do. They drive me and call me and push me and literally force me to look at who Jesus is, the Son of God, the Hope of man, the only Way, and fall onto Him.
Y’all, I can’t do it. I like to think I’m strong (those who know me can attest to my aggressiveness), but, man, has this wrecked me and made me realize how weak I am. All of this foundation I was so sure of, it’s all turned to sand over the course of a week and a half. My world is crumbling around me, I can picture it literally doing so if I close my eyes for too long, but I stand secure. Not because of my strength, not because of my lack of care, not because of my ignoring the truth I’ve been exposed to, but because of Christ alone.
“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” has never been felt so deeply by my heart as it has in recent days. In light of all I’ve read and discussed and cried over in the last week or two, I see how powerful the strongholds of Western culture are. I finally see how we’ve built up these huge fortresses to block out the Light, creating our own beautiful, powerful, secure life apart from the chaos around us, apart from the truth. We don’t know it yet, nor do we really care to know, but Truth will infiltrate, and God, do I pray it does. Quickly.
May everything around you turn to sand so you can see and experience and know the strength and love and mercy and grace and might and stability of our Savior. It hurts like hell, but man is He secure and strong and steady and sure to save.