Sometimes in public restrooms while washing hands and checking for mustard on our shirts, women will stare with each other in the mirror and complain about their hair. Not so long ago, in these social situations my own complaints were adamant and plentiful. My hair’s too wild, I’ve tried everything and nothing keeps it down, when it’s short I look like a chrysanthemum and when it’s long I look like a crazy person etc.
One day during coffee hour at my former church someone mentioned how they loved my hair which triggered my well-rehearsed “I hate my hair” monologue. A few minutes later, the only African American member of the church sat down next to me and asked if I thought her hair was ugly. Genuinely confused, I asked why she’d think that. “Because your hair is like black people’s hair.” She said.
It was as if a trap door open up under my feet and the rational Laurie fell through the floor. I replied brusquely that my feelings about my own appearance were mine and had nothing to do with her, I finished my coffee cake like an automaton and stomped out.
It wasn’t until last year at an Anti-Racism training the Bishop required all clergy to take that this moment, after years, resurfaced for me. Two African American elder stateswomen of the Diocese, who had a part in shaping my priesthood, talked about their hair and specifically, white people’s curious response to it. Suddenly I was back at the table with that church member in front of the coffee cake I ate but didn’t taste.
Why had I flown into a rage at the woman who had the courage to gently ask me if my problem with my hair was that it was too black? Did I think my hair was ugly because I was another white person having weird reaction to black hair? I flashed on my most prized toy as a child: a Ballerina Barbie with a golden, silky, shoulder length bob. I spent hours running my fingers through that synthetic hair and feeling ugly.
Suddenly, there it was in front of me- my own racism and self-loathing bound together like conjoined twins with a shared heart.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus makes his first appearance in a synagogue and while he is teaching a man with a demon cries out “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24) It’s no coincidence this demon is the first character in Mark’s Gospel to say Jesus’ name aloud and that it knows, right away, before anyone else that he is “the Holy one of God.”
That’s because demons always know better than anyone else who Jesus is. When he’s not around its easy for them to hide, incubate and camouflage themselves as xenophobia disguised as patriotism, or dress up in playful sounding phrases like “Boys will be boys”, or burrow down like a tic into someone’s soul and suck the life blood out of the oblivious host for forty years. But when Jesus shows up the demons rotten teeth, their scaly lies, their smell of mold are all exposed. Sometimes they make bargains, like the demons who wanted Jesus to let them enter the herd of swine. (Matthew 8:28-34) Sometimes they disappear to return at a more opportune time like Satan in the wilderness (Luke 4:13) and sometimes they just rage, but when Jesus comes there’s no pretending any more that they aren’t there.
When we turn to Jesus I think most of the time we are asking for comfort but not for change. If it’s really Jesus we want, we can’t have one without the other, and sometimes is hurts.
There’s a Spiritual called “Fix Me Jesus” and just those words are more than half of the song. I think it might be the most perfect prayer there is. You can listen to it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw46rUkLPt0
The Reverent Laurie Jean Wurm