Sitting in the Margins: A Year in Review

This week kicks off a brand new year for the students at the Candler School of Theology and I really can’t believe that this time last year, I was a first year student, bright eyed, bushy tailed (read: haired!) and eager to start on a new journey.

I remember posting this status on the first day of orientation:

August 22 Facebook Post

Then, I didn’t know how all of my experiences had lead me there, but I knew that the pull from God to go that direction was the right thing to do. It didn’t always make sense, but I was sure that I was on the right track.

Throughout the course of the year, my ideology about God and people would change drastically. The embedded theologies that have been with me for decades began to shift as I read and searched the history and context of familiar texts finding new meaning in them.

Ideas I had about “certain people” and varying “ideas” were dropping, shifting, molding, and taking new shape.

Some folks told me I was “losing my Jesus.”

I just laughed. If the only knew that what was happening behind the Tweets, Facebook posts, public worship, and every day life was drawing me closer to Him.

In the last year, I’ve been broken, depressed, lonely, fearful, afraid. I’ve been displaced and, for a moment, I was living out of my car. Months later, that same car was repossessed. Relationships were  broken and my pride and ego was crushed to pieces. For a very serious moment, I considered dropping out of school and thought that I had made a horrible mistake trying to pursue God in such a “grandiose” way.

How could a path so certain be filled with so much brokenness and figurative (and literal) death?

The answer was right in front of me: God was desperate for me to experience something much more than a change in theology or continual exercises in critical thinking. He wanted me to experience what it truly meant to be a part of the marginalized.

I am a marginalized person; I am a Black woman and a single mother who uses public assistance to keep things afloat. My position in the margins have always been there. My marginalized seat as a Black single mother who is on public assistance is well worn, but the experiences in the last year have introduced me to what it is like for families to scramble to find emergency housing and what the working poor face as they have limited transportation and must rely on the kindness of others and public transit to travel around the city for work and school.

As I found residence in a new section of “The Margins”, parts of my elitist, privileged views were revealed. They were ugly. I became one of those whom I once turned my nose up at, who I had no patience or compassion for. My degrees didn’t matter, neither did all the blessings that I was afforded over the years. God leveled the playing field. He made me see things the way He sees things.

Once God restored me with a place to call my own and a little cash car I was able to buy with a whole bunch of favor (and unexpected funds), I realized that everything I had experienced, as brief as it had been, was enough for me to have a newfound compassion and understanding of what the heart of God is. It taught me that this life we have, these things we possess are nothing — they have no weight — and they are never to become a place of comfort for us.

God kept me when I wanted to quit — when nothing was making sense but I was still required to keep moving forward.

During the most desperate of times, God ensured that my pride (that I held soooo tightly) wouldn’t hinder me from being able to receive from people He brought to me to help me.

All of the furniture I own, every dish, bed, and pot, was given to me — for free. (Remember this? Yeah, good seeds come back.)

A number of other things have happened that have blown my mind — all kinds of opportunities — that have made the last year’s pain just a distant memory. Weeping may endure for a night… (y’all know the rest!)

There are so many things I could name that has changed in the last year, but the thing that I can say that has changed the most is this:

I treat people differently.

I try not to use my “Christian privilege” to make people feel inadequate or less than. I try not to take scripture out of context to appease my own fears and insecurities about my misunderstandings of others.

What I’ve learned in the first year was simply how to treat people better: the estranged, the outsider, even myself.

I could attribute a shift in theology for that. I really could. But, as we know, there’s no greater teacher than experience, right?

As I begin year two in this journey, I am desperately seeking vocation. I am trying to understand what God wants me to do with my life’s experiences — and show me how to shape them into purpose.

I know things won’t be easy this year and year two will present its own set of problems. But I am thankful for where I am in this moment.

I’m also very thankful to the friends, family, classmates, professors, staff members, and even strangers who kept me moving forward when my feet felt stuck in the cement.

Thank you.

Here’s to year two, y’all!

Keep an eye on this blog for conversations about what I’m learning this year — and tell a friend!

On the Chase,

Alisha L.

4 thoughts on “Sitting in the Margins: A Year in Review

  1. Kelly Dotson says:

    Loved reading this Alisha……I had noooo idea you went through all that last year and kept a smile on you face and kept on singing……You are beautiful inside and out! Looking forward to another year on the journey with you!

    You Rock!

  2. Barbara Ann Jackson (@lawgraceorg) says:

    I commented regarding your article about Daniel in April here: “Catchin’ Feelings: A Man Named Daniel.” I described some terrible things that were happening in my life. I indicated I lived a Daniel-Jeremiah-Gideon-Paul type of life, which means suffering. Suffering for religion, and because of religion -must Jesus bear the cross alone. If one’s suffers for not cooperating with God’s house being used to help people become rich, God is with him or her, but nowadays, church folks think their suffering because somebody questions improprieties. If I met a person who was entering Seminary it would be hard to understand why they’d waste their time –unless for foreign missions; it doesn’t seem necessary in today’s black churches. In fact, it seems no Bible knowledge is a good thing.

    Most likely, unless it is a membership of 50-100 not-well educated people (educated folk eventually flock to mega churches as ‘knowledge puffs them up’), here’s what you have to look forward to when you finish:
    -Entertainment churchianity
    -People who want to be cozy, but not inconvenienced
    -People who think serving God means their offerings, being in cliches, feeding the poor and staying distant from them, paying a staff person to visit the sick so church members don’t have to bother with getting involved with each ‘like that’
    –keeping distant from the “have nots” refrain from sharing information that can help them better themselves, as helping them would impact federal grant dollars
    -Soul winning / evangelizing –not happening with cozy, at ease in Zion people
    -Bolt for the door after benediction without seeing / hearing if a fellow member has a sorrow, burden, situation possible shed light, give ride home, or hug \ yet if the ‘first family’ (whatever that ridiculousness means) has some situation, no amount of time is too much to expend <<helping pastor's family not such an egregious thing, if the family worked along side the congregation instead of behaved like royalty.
    -Organized religion operating more like businesses and money laundry, than building the Kingdom of God –and the church members don't care one bit, as long as they received good entertainment.

    **In light of the foregoing samples, what person who is truly "seeking first the kingdom of God. . ." is NOT finding him or her self vexed and / or disenchanted with what is being marketed and packaged by money-changers who lead churches? And no, I am suggesting stop serving God, but I am saying that FEW ARE CHOSEN from the many who watch, compliment, and read your post. Ask them how many people they have discipled –even led to Christ, and its a different story. Or, ASK THE AVID church goer, someone who goes every Sunday, who thoroughly enjoys it and wouldn't miss it, ask that person 10 minutes after leaving their wonderful church service: What did they hear, know, learn about God? It's more likely to get an answer about what certain people wore, and the "feelings" they get. That's another problem, they don't know too much Bible, so they seldom get where you coming from if your a doctrinal person -more hassles. Study to shew themselves approved, is not going to produce a good feeling so NONE of that.

    For good reason the ministry Jesus was nothing like the gratifying churches of this era. Indeed, I have a log in my own eye. So, I don't need additional carnal 'leavening'.

    • Alisha L. Gordon says:

      Your list of seminary entitled “things you have to look forward to when you finish”, actually gave me much joy and some good laughs! While I can presume you were very serious about your qualms regarding seminary life and the life to come after seminary, I have to say that many people go to seminary and never pastor or preach. They enter into other fields like medicine or nonprofit work, journalism, or some other field. The great thing about earning your Mdiv is that it is interdisciplinary, you can marry your passion for God with whatever your gift may be — and use it to serve the world!

      A lot of people have issues with the modern church and how far away it has gotten from Christ’s original intent (what was the original intent anyway?) so you raise some valid points about that! I hope things have gotten better for you since April!
      Peace + Blessings!

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