The Great I Am – Stef Renee
Written by Stephanie Renee on December 13, 2014
Holidays always pose a unique challenge for the unchurched. Choosing to believe or worship outside of the usual Black Christian conventions makes you subject to plenty of whispered prayers for deliverance from your heathen ways, or bold-faced challenges to your daily walk. I separated from any official Sabbath practices during college so I’m used to it now, and brace myself for the uneasy conversations. But when the narrative makes it way onto worldwide movie screens, it gives me a chance to soapbox a bit about God and the way we present divinity.
I played the role of Mama in a production of Hansberry’s “A Raisin In The Sun” my freshman year at Penn, and was fascinated by the confrontational scene that ends in a smack to Beneatha’s face with the line “In my mother’s house, there is always God.” Because, in my abuela’s house, there was always a Black God & Goddess. Now in 70s DC, there were very few things in my life that weren’t Black. But I was always fascinated by the idea that, in most cases, every mythical or reverent image in my life looked like my family. God, Jesus and the disciples, Santa…you name it. My very first trip outside of the country was a convention in Mexico with Grandma, and in addition to picking up some lovely silver jewelry, we spent a day drinking in images of the Black Madonna on a tour of tiny churches in the pueblo of Taxco. As my eyes absorbed the beauty and wonder of it all, Grandma said gently and insistently, “This is who we are.” This is who we are. Divine. Beloved. And Black.
I sat through a preview screening of the Ridley Scott film EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS last week. By now, you’ve probably heard the public outcry about the abundance of European actors in the lead roles, representing both Egyptians and Hebrews. However, as the final credits began to roll, I saw that Ridley Scott dedicated the film to his late brother, Tony. And suddenly it made sense: in order to be able to relate to God, many of us need to see a familiar face for context.
Some of Ridley Scott’s casting and storytelling choices in EXODUS were quite problematic for me, but I am not a white British male. In the head-and-heart-space I create for The Higher Power, there is more feminine energy, more melanin, more overall Africanness. Because I learned years ago, surrounded by the quiet whisper of Spanish-language prayers and adorned in gold and silver trimmings, that this was who I am. A Creator’s child. Me and Jesus, brother and sister, equally capable of miracles. So, as siblings, of course our narratives are similar. Our looks, familiar (see what I did there?).
I don’t have to like Ridley Scott’s take on biblical narrative, but I can intellectually understand why his presentation differs from mine and give him room to work it out in his own terms. His epic film will do little to undermine my self-perception or my approach to belief and worship. I am quite comfortable with my great I Am.
And for those of you who missed last week’s Diggin’ In the Crates focus on funky holiday music, here’s a link to the Spotify playlist (unfortunately, the Sammy Davis Jr. rendition of “Jingle Bells” wasn’t available):