I love the writings of W.E.B. DuBois (The Souls of Black Folk, 1995) and have had his words come to mind countless times over the years. He talks of a “double-consciousness,” a surreal sense of feeling as though you have more than one identity. Mr. Dubois laments, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—-an American, a negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
I have intimately identified with Mr. DuBois’ words over the years. Anyone who is in a minority status, is vulnerable, or feels low in status or power can relate to the concept of double-consciousness. When I lived in New York, I always felt a surreal sense of being a “New Yorker and a Christian.” Those 2 identities didn’t mesh and although my allegiance was to my God, I continually was told in overt and covert ways that I was to keep that “part” of me to myself. It was a peculiar sensation to be a follower of Christ and yet have that part of my identity be denied. Likewise, I grew up in a patriarchal church, where the attributes of males were lauded and prized. I was a woman and a Christian but my “compassionate, discerning” feminine identity was not valued or affirmed. It was a peculiar sensation.
How many other people feel this twoness; this peculiar feeling that they are part of a whole but not valued or included on the inside? What about the widow(er) or the single individual? Does our culture value married relationships over individuals? How about the poor, who live in a prosperous nation? What about the people of diverse nationalities that continue to pour through our illustrious gateways? What about children? They have so little power and clout. And what about the people with disabilities? When our mental or physical health is no longer optimal and some part of our bodies prevents us from functioning as well as another average person, do we feel as though we no longer hold value as a contributing human being? And let us not forget other diverse populations who may feel this twoness: The elderly, those who have limited education, and on and on the list goes.
Two overarching themes come from these musings. First, we need to move beyond ourselves and always be looking to see who is on the outside and needs to be drawn into the fold. You feel as though you are on the outside? Good! Then work to draw others into a tight grouping of people that feel like they belong with you and the others that you draw into community. It is in “community” that we are strong, supported, and have a sense of belonging. Secondly, as human beings we will always have a sense of “double consciousness.” We are meant to feel this way until we truly see our one and only identity in Christ. It is only when we come to know the one true God and see how intricately he formed us on an individual basis, endowed us with His attributes, gifts, and characteristics, and poured His love into each one of us on a minute-by-minute basis that we are going to understand the depth of our value and membership in His family. It is only after we see ourselves through the lens of God’s adoring eyes that we will lose the “double-consciousness;” the sense that we don’t measure up to some capricious ideal that other human beings have foisted and propogated upon one another.
I have long felt a double-consciousness. It is part of the human condition. We humans do not know how to properly love each other because we do not understand how God first loved us. So we jostle and vie for position, attempting to dominate and subvert one another. We forget one thing, however. Our membership is not in being an American, or even in being a member of the human race. Our TRUE membership is in being a daughter or son of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our membership comes when we submit our will and accept our rightful place in God’s Kingdom. There is everything…… and nothing peculiar about it!
Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)