Continuing February's recognition and commemoration of Black History Month, Pastor Adam Hoskins shares a story of brokenness and ongoing redemption while encouraging us to sit at different and uncomfortable tables to meet Jesus through others.
Adam is the Worship Director at Sanctus in Ajax, an alumnus of Tyndale, and a member of the "House of Common" team. He and his wife Michelle and their two children live in the GTA.
Well, thank you! Take that mask off. Oh, sorry. That's nice. Thank you Tyndale singers, George, thank you so much for inviting me here, and greetings to everyone who's here in person in chapel, and for those who are online. It's a really great honour and privilege for me to be here. Friends, I don't have much to say today. I'm not a gifted teacher. And I've quite frankly struggled to put these few words on paper. However, I'm here, and it is my privilege to be before you in this capacity. I'm honoured to have this audience because I love Tyndale. More than anywhere at this school. I've considered the Chapel to be my home. I spent several, seven tremendous, but arduous years trying to get a BA in Human Services. And I was fortunate to work on campus in several roles. But my favourites were coordinating the musical worship for settings like these, although I spent all of my time at the now demolished, Ballyconnor campus. It's good to be back, especially in this capacity with all of you.
I take it I've been brought in for Black History Month because, well, let's be real... But in truth, I've always struggled with topics of black history. I must get this out of the way to stave your expectation. I have no black leaders to tell you about, no inspirational stories of runaway slaves who returned to free others, or people who stood in the face of adversity. All I have is a story of brokenness, ongoing redemption, and a reckoning of who I am, in a world that sees me as different.
My story starts in Scarborough, the greatest of the six boroughs, and arguably the most diverse. I was born to an engineer, and a former nurse, who navigated immigration from Jamaica, to England, and then Canada. When I was born, neither of my parents were followers of Jesus. Through my birth story, my parents came to faith, which I find absolutely incredible. My childhood, like many others can be marked by extracurricular sports, music, and the typical Jamaican-Canadian first-generation experience. It would be great to stop here and to say that nothing has changed from my early years until now. But we all know how life goes.
After my father's death, when I was 12 years old, things changed for me. And I had to come of age and needed a role model who looked like me and understood who I was, and whom I was becoming. My mother did her best to surround me with people who could push, push me in a direction fitting for a young man. But none of these men had the lens of being black. I grew up with many questions regarding good and evil, right and wrong. Every effort to help in the way of faith came with the subtext that somehow my culture, or expression of worship, and theology, were part of a problem. And turning to Jesus meant giving up parts of my culture, so I could follow Him. I don't fault my family or my community in any way, as I know, every good thing about me has started with them. But it has brought me to the point of reflection. I penned these following words from a place of wonder, introspection, and a desire to leave a legacy that embraces my heritage entwined, with my faith. So here goes my letter. "Dear Jesus, I'm writing these notes and letters to you, because I was asked by an old friend to speak at my old University. I have to say, I'm deeply honoured to be here, but I'm a little confused. The truth is, that I've never had to think about something like this, reflecting on black leaders that have shaped me, and influenced me. I'm having a problem finding good black leaders who were invested in my life, and whom I can learn from and model my life after. You see it's not that they don't exist, maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places and have the wrong expectations. Over the past few years, I've been brought to a place of reckoning, and I don't think this has come as a surprise to you. You see, Jesus, 2020 was a rough year for some people. For many people. We're in the midst of a cultural moment that I thought was no big deal at first, but as time has passed, I realize it has been it has had more of an effect on me than I thought. I've been brought to a place where I must reflect on my skin colour, and what that means to me. And to be honest, it's obvious how cool black people are in culture. But I'm a bit confused about your church. Let me explain. I've been a part of your church for most of my life, while becoming one of your followers at 18, remember. Everything I have learned about faith has been taught to me through a semi-whitewashed influence. I'm not trying to discount the examples of my black family around me, still, the structure of your church, the way that seems widely acceptable to worship, even the vocabulary I use have made my faith experience seem like being black is an anomaly. And being white is the norm. Maybe it's because I live as a visible minority, but that answer hasn't settled with me. You see, I'm not a hater of white people or European culture. But I wonder if I'm considered a minority in your Kingdom. It's difficult enough being a minority in the culture that I live in. And I'm just curious, that if this is a temporary thing, or if this is 10,000 years, and then forevermore thing. Jesus, I have some real questions. I have some real questions for you and for the leaders that you set above me."
"Why is it so difficult for your people, who are called by your name, to stand with those who are hurting? Who are broken? Who are oppressed?"
"Why do people like me feel like we have to earn places at tables that you've set? I know it's a big complex situation, but you're a big complex God, and we've seen, and we the people need a revelation from your timeless words for these time sensitive issues. Jesus, I wonder what you think about coff culture, and how it permeates the church? Sometimes I wonder, why the culture, why the culture, have people like me, sorry. Sometimes I wonder why the culture have people like me being demonized, but the same standards don't apply to my peers. I can't help but wonder how culture, born out of pain and oppression, fits into your kingdom? And that if I'm reading the Bible correctly, which I hope I am, it seems like that's actually the exact place where you'd be found. I guess my ramblings come down to a simple question. How much of my blackness do I have to lose, to be washed whiter than snow?"
As I wrote this out, I could hear the words of my Saviour whispering to me. "He was despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. And as one from whom men hide their faces, He, He was despised, and we esteemed him not." That's Isaiah 53:3.
While I have many questions about what we consider good and beautiful in North in the North American church, I can't help but feel in the nearness of the Messiah, as I ponder these things. It's as though the name Immanuel takes on a new meaning, as I contemplate the marginalized people of colour and society. Jesus wasn't a person of privilege that leveraged his status to gain power. Instead, he was the lowly son of a carpenter, without a place to lay his head. We don't get the image of the glorious Saviour, until after the idea of the blaspheming, irreverent, low-class teacher. Maybe this Jesus is closer to the BIPOC experience than I remember. And perhaps He is more acquainted with our grief and pain than we give him credit for. As I continued my stint, I read hints that Jesus wanted to meet me in my culture, and not want me to give up my distinctive qualities. I don't hear the Scriptures say to me, I don't see your colour. Or you're just like my white friends. Instead, it's that same voice that calls out "there is one body, but it has many parts". But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We are all baptized by one Holy Spirit, and so we are formed into one body. It didn't matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same spirit to drink. So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts. First Corinthians 12. My Jesus understands that the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, the darker the flesh, the deeper the roots. I shouldn't have to give up any of my blackness to be part of this heavenly Kingdom. Finally, I reached my expression of faith. All parts of this body have been plagued by false teachers, a prosperity gospel, the infiltration of witchcraft and ancient ancestral practices. I don't have to be ashamed of black Christendom. A myriad of circumstances has led the exploitation of, has led to the exploitation of my ancestors and many others, which in turn have shaped the way our churches look today. Still, there's beauty in the brokenness. And like all of you in this room, I have a rich heritage of faith and theology. What may seem intimidating at times, charismatic, or even exotic. To the uninitiated, uninitiated in us, is no less valid and sacred than the European cultural norms of faith. This way of worship may be an anomaly here. But Jesus, your kingdom is vast. And there's room for every expression of worship from hearts that are rendered to you.
I wanted to share this with you because I'm on a journey of rediscovering belief and trust in Jesus in my skin. If there's a lesson in this for you, I'm not exactly sure what it is. But for the first time, I feel like Jesus sees me as a person of colour. And before he asked me to sit at his table, He's come to sit at mine. Happy February.
My friends, as you go, I want to bless you. I bless you, that you would have the courage to sit at different and uncomfortable tables and to meet Jesus through others that don't look like you. God be with you and go in peace.
— End of transcript —