What good can come from Detroit?

What good can come from Detroit? May 27, 2009

skyline You probably won’t have a hard time believing me when I say I often    have to ask myself, “is this blog more appropriately expressed in my private journal or should I just click that “publish” button over on the right?”  I guess this one fits into both because for some reason I’d really like to share my totally bizarre experience today.  Like any other day, it was a fluctuation of emotions.

Today, I started my 1st set of exams towards becoming an ordained Minister of Word & Sacrament in the Reformed Church of America. If someone had told me everything that would have to be accomplished before I would actually obtain my Masters of Divinity along with this entirely long & complicated outside process of pursuing ordination I’m not sure I would have done it.  The Masters program alone is a whopping 96 credit hours in addition to that you have to do 3 years of an internship, preach 12 times at various local churches plus hours of exams and papers for the ordination piece.  It seems I’ve entered this crazy world full of pressure and expectations, and I’ve always felt, well, sort of sub-par.

Today, after I took my 1st exam on Theology -which wasn’t all that bad I must say- one of the Pastor’s said to me, ” you are very sharp,” (and no he wasn’t referring to my fabulous personal style) and “theologically impressive.”  He spoke very highly of my exam and I kept thinking there must be some mistake.  I.E. maybe, I’ve B.S.’ed really well this time.

All of the uncertainty his comment brought, got me thinking about a conversation I had with Dave the other day about my grades for this semester.  I got an A, A-, A, B & B-.  I was trying to explain to Dave how I didn’t really deserve one of those “A’s” when he finally grew frustrated and asked me why I couldn’t just accept the fact that I earned an “A” grade in that class. I just looked at him all annoyed inside because the truth is, it’s hard sometimes -still!- to believe that I am capable of doing anything successfully.  Usually if I’m being seemingly brag-o-docious on twitter, my blog or FB about some accomplishment in my life it’s because I’m actually proud of myself, usually shocked and trying to enjoy the moment before I start doubting again what I am and am not capable of.  I always hope I don’t come off braggy b/c it’s not at all.  In actuality I struggle with self-esteem issues more than a lot of people I know ~ it’s just that… well, … I’ve been accomplishing quite a bit lately.

So, today after that 1st exam and with the 2nd one breathing down my throat I took to my journal feverishly trying to get to the bottom of all this.  Sure, sure I was called “stupid” as a kid, but what else?  I’ve pondered that one a 1,000 times over.  But I sensed God nudging me to look deeper into that even still.  My white half-brother didn’t just call me “stupid” frequently and consistently for a number of years, but he said I was a “just a stupid little nigger,” which actually accomplished 3 things: 1) “just” implies, ‘you are nothing more than…’ 2) implying my stupidity & 3) implying that being stupid was also related to having a black father & being a biracial child.  This was etched in my brain as surely as riding a bike or learning the alphabet was.  Those things never leave you.

There is not a day in my life I haven’t had to fight the internalized racism which has burrowed itself so deeply in my psyche.  The subtle messages of society, my private white Christian School and my big white Christian Church did nothing but hammer the point home: “ya’ll are inferior, don’t you get it?!?!”  I got it.  I got it.  And I’ve struggled many’o’days to un-get it.

As a lot of not-so-nice folks pondered about Jesus, “what good can come from Jerusalem?” I’ve also wondered, “what good can come from Detroit?”  Sometimes I feel as broke down in mind, heart, body & spirit as a lot of people think Detroiters are.  (As an aside, I will never get over how much people don’t like Detroit, the city, the people, the culture-it just hurts my feelings to the core).  But it’s my hood, it’s where I’m from.  It’s the one place on earth that said, “HEY! You are NOT stupid! Your one of us!”  And people wonder why I found more safety in Detroit than in the wealthy suburban enclaves.  Do the math.

I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Anyway, my mom also threw out the “stupid” word every now and then.  Except, she would always say it in Italian.  And that too, made me start to “act stupid” even when I knew the right answer.  I knew it brought at least some level of attention.  (Which one could argue is not stupidity, but strategy).

In any case, it’s an identity I’ve taken on.  I’ve fought & fought & fought & it still creeps up, still reminds me that I’m just…  Or am I more?  At this age and stage of life I’m not just now asking that question, but at this age and stage of life I am asking, “if I am more, and I am extremely capable of accomplishing good things, why do I still feel stupid and struggle to believe in myself when I am surrounded by a constant bombardment of affirmation every time I open up my mouth?”  Outside of that horrendous -and actually stupid- Honesty Box post the other day, I’ve had quite a steady stream of encouragement in the last 3-4 years to keep writing, speaking and letting God do whatever he will with this bizzare set of giftings he’s given me.  Giftings that throw me somewhat in the limelight and then left to wonder if I actually deserve to be in it.  (I.E. I always feel so sheepish, slightly ashamed & embarrassed when someone comes up to me & says “hey, I read your blog, how is your book coming?”  “Why would any one think I, Grace Biskic can even write a book or get it published -leave me alone!” And I respond, “it’s fine, thanks.”)

After my 2nd exam, my Pastor gave me wonderful affirmation and I was just tearing up wanting to ask him if it was all really true.  “I’m not like an intellectual you know,” I said.  He said, “well, that wasn’t very clear to me today, you sure act like one.”  I told him I always feel stupid.  He was surprised.  We talked.  It was nice.  I felt internally conflicted.

Anyway, after it was over they called us forward, clapped for us, congratulated & gave us certificates.  It was all sort of unexpected to me because again I didn’t grow up in the RCA & I have almost no idea what I’ve gotten myself into!  After I sat down I read it, it said:

Grace Biskie has a provisional certificate of Licensure.  Be it known that Grace Biskie ….yada yada yada… and that we the Classis of South West Michigan are well satisfied with her gifts, piety, and qualifications to preach the gospel… and resolve that Grace Biskie is hereby granted a Provisional License to preach the gospel of our Blessed Lord and Savior during the coming year.

As I read it, I said a little prayer under my breath, ‘thank you.’  I don’t know why exactly God plucked me out of Detroit to involve me with InterVarsity -which I ADORE- or why God led me to this seminary or to become an ordained minister in the Reformed Church of America (which is really out of left field) or why on earth God made me smart *gasp* or capable of being an engaging speaker, or writer or whatever! I just don’t know!! I don’t know!  But, I am trying to say, I know that good can come from Detroit*.  And, I guess, I mean I think, and I know -sort of- on a head level, that my brother was just wrong. And I know that my insecurities should never keep me from trying to do great things.

So, I’ll keep going.  And sometime before I’m 38 years old I’ll have Masters of Divinity degree and I’m sure I’ll be standing up there with cap and gown wondering how I fooled everyone into thinking that I was capable enough to finish, but after I eat a big ole chocolate fudge cake from Big Boy’s I’ll have to go back and read this blog.

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