In 50 years we are going to look back at 2016 and wonder what happened. We are nearly 4 years removed and are already looking back with awe and confusion. In many ways it felt like a turning point. A turning point not just for the country but for many of us personally. 2016 was a big year for me. It was an eye opening year. It was a tumultuous year. At the time, many of us were asking if this is the worst year ever. In many ways, it was a year like any other, full of ups and downs and just another piece in the fabric that weaves together the quilt of our lives.
A lot happened in 2016. Brazil and South Korea impeached their Presidents, there was a failed attempt at a coup in Turkey, North Korea conducted missile and nuclear tests, Brexit, the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and Russia interfering in the U.S. Presidential election just to name a few. So much happened that year. In many ways it felt like we were all, globally, on a downward spiral.
The biggest story of the year of course was the election of the 45th President, Donald Trump. After a year and a half of a campaign built on hatred, fear mongering, broken promises, and stoking racial tensions, a majority of the country agreed to make him President.
His election was more revelatory than anything else. It allowed you to see where people stand. It allowed you to see how much they actually cared, if they did at all. He put things out in the open. He gave people a platform to voice their opinions, no matter how evil they were.
As Trump fueled racial tensions, things on the ground got worse. There were several high profile killings of unarmed black men and women by the police. Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, and Keith Lamont Scott are just a few of the names that reached the national news cycle.
It felt as though racial tensions were at an all time high. Between BLM and Alt-Right groups clashing at various protests, it felt like we were on the brink of something terrible. Churches had to figure out how to navigate these waters. Black churches had their way, white churches had theirs, and those who sat in the middle had to figure something out. Many black people in white Evangelical churches felt alone and alienated. I did.
When I first joined my church it was a breath of fresh air. Being a native New Yorker in a church full of transplants had its hiccups but it was fine. Connecting was weird and felt unnatural but I was certain that the power of the Gospel would allow us to bridge the gaps that divided us. After all, we were all one in Jesus. It shouldn’t have mattered that I was a city boy who liked inside things and a lot of my fellow church goers were suburban outdoorsy types. It shouldn’t have mattered that I was black and most of them white. It shouldn’t have mattered that I grew up doing church and experiencing life in a different way from everyone else, but it did.
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police back to back. It was a Tuesday and Wednesday. Work was really busy for me Thursdays and Fridays which meant by the time Sunday rolled around, I never had the time to fully process what happened.
It was in the midst of worship I broke. We were singing Psalm 126 by Bifrost Arts and the chorus hit me.
Although we are weeping
Lord, help us keep sowing
The seeds of Your Kingdom
For the day You will reap them
Your sheaves we will carry
Lord, please do not tarry
All those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy
These words hit me like a ton of bricks. I wept like a baby. Snot pouring, unable to see, and wheezing. I hadn’t cried like that in more than 20 years. Through my tears though, I could see it was business as usual. That only exacerbated the pain.
I became aware of just how different life was for me and everyone else in that room. These killings didn’t affect them. Their families. Their friends. It was just another isolated incident. After church people asked me questions about the weather and brunch as though nothing happened. There was no one I could talk to. I was completely alone. No one even asked if I was alright.
I had already been feeling down. I was in that weird place in life where it felt like nothing was going right. I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything, my career was going nowhere, and I was failing as a husband.
I left a career in finance to join the nonprofit world. At the time, I was about a year in and couldn’t figure out if I had made the right move or not. My wife and I were starting to talk about having children and here I was making no money in Brooklyn. I felt that pressure many men feel when they’re unsure if they can take care of their families or not.
I was terrible and leading my wife in prayer and reading of the Word. That Ephesians 5 washing my wife with the water of the Word wasn’t and honestly still isn’t my strength.
Being the introspective person I am, I retreated into my own thoughts. This lead to feelings of isolation and then this event was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was all alone. It felt as though I had no one I could turn to. My wife was there and if not for her, I don’t know if I would be.
3 years later I look back on 2016 with different eyes. Being slightly removed from it while also still feeling the very real effects has given me a fresh take on the year.
One big thing that happened for me is I realized I didn’t have many black Christian friends. I needed to seek out spaces and people with whom I could talk and relate. A friend of mine pointed me to the LDR conference in St. Louis. This conference is a space for black people who traffic in majority white churches.
When I first went to the conference in 2017 I got to enjoy some beautiful black worship, talk about being comfortable and proud of my blackness, and just feel whole. This was a good time for me but it also made me sad. I shouldn’t have to look forward to an annual conference in order to feel refreshed, loved, and known.
I have since become even more unapologetically black. Jesus never asked me to sacrifice my blackness to be counted with him and my church and other spaces shouldn’t either. I do very little code switching these days. If I have to put on a face to be in a space, then it’s probably not for me.
I’ve been pushing my church to care about racial justice and diversifying our congregation. The attempts have been unsuccessful, frustrating, and met with resistance. I have grown weary but while I am there, I cannot quit fighting. It is an issue that is too important to our Gospel witness, I just don’t know if I am the one to bear that cross much longer.
The biggest thing for me since then has been the fight for joy. Discontentment has always been an issue I’ve battled. I’ve been fighting since then to see God as enough and not look to other things. This is why I fight so hard for true community. I understand that having people who understand where I am and what I’m going through is pivotal. People I can talk to about life and my struggles. People with whom I can share my hopes, dreams, and fears. 2016 really made me realize how much I need to be around other solid Christians. It also made me realize how important it is that my local church understands me.
2016 was a tough year. Personally, professionally, and globally we were all going through it. I think we will look back in 50 years and on many levels ask, what were we thinking? I don’t know where I’ll be 50 years from now but I hope to look at this time and feel joy because of where God has brought me from.