PC: KSB

Why I shaved my head

Last August, just before the solar eclipse that crossed the entire nation, I shaved my head as a sign of mourning the sins of racial and social class inequality in the United States.  I had in mind the way poor people in this country are treated on structural levels, for example.

The way black teenagers have to fear for their lives when knocking to ask for directions to school and it’s not an isolated incident or unfounded fear; the way black and white men are given vastly different court sentences; the way the KKK was allowed to riot in Charlottesville this summer, a century after the Jim Crow Era; the way low income families are ripped out of their decades-old trailer homes to make space for expensive, new developments, because the Denver owners lusted for more money; the sin of gentrification – the list goes on.

At the time, I was reading the Biblical book of Amos, which references a solar eclipse and the shaving of heads because of the nation’s sins of injustice and inequity, similar to the ones I mentioned above. God convicted me as I read this timely passage, so as a prophetic move, I went to the hairdresser and asked her to shave curly locks, which are such a part of what I perceive to be my beauty and identity.

As much as we may often be going for style, women’s hair is not merely a part of our bodies or attire; it is symbolic. From owning your afro during the Harlem Renaissance to going natural as a black woman in the American workplace today, many women can identify with this.

Today I stumbled across this article from the New York Times. It discusses the politics of hair and references gun control activist Emma Gonzalez as well as the fierce warrior women in Black Panther, both with their buzzed heads, and it’s worth a quick read. So is the book of Amos, which remains relevant to the USA.

A few passages stand out:

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
    and detest the one who tells the truth.

You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.”

-Amos 5:10-15, NIV

After referencing much doom and punishment, Amos 8:3-10 (NIV) continues:

 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
    and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
    that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
    that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
    boosting the price
    and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this,
    and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
    it will be stirred up and then sink
    like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
    and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
    and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.”

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

God does leave space for repentance; the nation can change. Then there can be hope.

But since August, things have only gotten worse here: established immigrants expelled and new ones not accepted, violating God’s welcoming way of treating foreigners throughout the Old Testament; low and even middle income families in a bind with insurance (I currently have none and my family had to move to a co-op type of plan in order to maintain any); the continuation of the urban camping ban in Denver, which prevents many homeless people from covering themselves in the night; and so forth.

My curls are growing back, a sign of beauty and life. But will America also grow in righteousness (justice) or love?

 

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PC: KSB

To my teen and tween self: I see you

Dear Katelyn,

I see you. You and the one other outcast sit alone at the lunch table. She is a caring, fun, spirited, and beautiful junior high girl, as are you, and your classmates are being jerks by not accepting you two. Keep looking up. She will help you carry on and be a close friend.

I know you are ignored in the hallways and given the silent treatment when you try to make up for whatever wrong you may have committed, though I do not believe there was any because you are so sincere and only want things to be right between you and your peers. Don’t let them silence your voice or deny your worth.

You are different, strong in personality, and unwilling to conform or deny your interests in order to fit in. This is admirable. You are also pure in heart, sweet, diligent, and passionate, and you long for friends. You try so hard, yet you are favored only by teachers in the classrooms. These adults see your diligence and maturity, but they do not see you crying as you leave the building each day. But I see you, girl in grey.

So do a few upperclassmen, who, when you are a freshman, think you are cool enough to go with on barefoot hikes at Sleeping Giant and visit your house, sing with around campfires at their houses, and invite to their graduation parties.

Once, one of them will even notice you at the lunch table and join you to see what is wrong, cleverly protecting you from a girl, one of your bullies, who tries to get the juice. These upperclassmen are awesome, and they think you are, too. They will pour their lives into yours.

They see you and believe you are worth knowing.

When you hit this year, your freshman year, when things are slowly on the incline, you also will see the younger outcasts and reach out to them; you always do. You do not want to be alone, and you know they do not deserve to be ignored because they are different than their cliquey peers.

As you skip ahead in school, you will make good friends with your new classmates. Senior year will be truly fun, loaded with memories, and your new classmates will encourage and care for you, because they are true friends and you have mutual relationships. They will push you towards Jesus and health and hold you to high standards out of their love for you. You will do the same for them.

College will be the best, so set your hopes high. It is always best to dream. From day one, your college peers will appreciate your quirks and interests. They will have their own, such as obsessing about geology, having a special ability to make alien sounds, and knowing how to say “I’m so beautiful” in nine or so languages. You will appreciate these fun things about them, too.

You will change your name at this fresh start, and you will thrive in your relationships, Skye. You will remain compassionate and empathetic, with an eye for the outsider. At the same time, you will find your place in the in betweens.

One last note, dear Skye: As an adult, you will still meet people who treat your poorly, even some who will remind you of your junior high bullies at times. Try not to reciprocate. Don’t retreat into a shell or ignore them when it is hard to keep trying and trying. Do your best to be understanding. Love them regardless of how it turns out.

Stay pure in heart, embrace your differences, and remember who you are: a beloved daughter of God.

Stay pure in heart, embrace your differences, and remember who you are: a beloved daughter of God and, of course, a Bennett. And you progress on this journey called life, don’t forget to have fun as well! You’ll make your mama proud.

I see you, girl in purple, full of worth. I see you.

Sincerely,
Your twenty-something self

PS – I stumbled across this song by Hunter Hayes last week, and it nearly brought me to tears. It was healing, as I pray this blog will be for you.

View from Panera, PC: KSB

Computer access, Global Ubuntu, and future topics

Dear friends,

I’ve missed writing for you, and I apologize for my inconsistency in posting. I haven’t had a working computer in about a year and do not have WiFi at home, so I’ve been using library computers. What a blessing public resources are! However, now that I am working full time (praise God! See cover photo for view from my workplace), I have not had the luxury of computer access but once this past month.

Thankfully, I did have the privilege of writing for Global Ubuntu, an up and coming nonprofit that focuses on cultural exchange through a variety of programs. They’re starting off their vision with a blog. I wrote about an intelligent, compassionate, resilient man named Dieum, from the beautiful city of Goma, DRC, in the post “How the piano man became my best friend.” I should be hanging out over there a bit more in the future as well. Head over there to check it out and see what else my friends at Global Ubuntu are doing!

If you have any topics you’d like me to write about here, feel free to leave me a comment. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you folks soon!

Love,

Katelyn Skye Bennett

selfie PC: KSB

PC: KSB

The way of peace is a way of life

Basic principle of Anabaptist belief #10: Peace modeled by the Prince of Peace.

Anabaptists believe that the peace position is neither optional, marginal, nor related mainly to the military. On the basis of Scripture, Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships. We see peace and reconciliation—the way of love—as being at the heart of the Christian gospel. God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers. The way of peace is a way of life.

Are you interested in practical theology, putting your faith in action, and experiencing the overflow of the Holy Spirit? Today we’re discussing radical peace from an Anabaptist Christian standpoint, which I recently discovered, resonated with, and found to be incredibly beautiful. Welcome! Let’s dive in together.

2017 Rally on WRD, PC:KSB

PC: KSB

Peace isn’t shallow or complacent. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, suffered literal, bloody death for the sake of reconciliation, so that we sinful humans might live at peace with the one and only righteous God, here and for eternity. Our souls can rest because we don’t have to worry about our status with God anymore. Instead, we are now commanded to do as has been done unto us. This ministry of reconciliation is powerful and mandated for all Christians, or “mini-Christs.” Anabaptists believe that the peace position is not optional, not marginal, and not related mainly to the military.

This peace, a result of having God’s Spirit dwelling in us, also extends from our spiritual life into the physical world we live in each day. Peace seeks justice, harmony, the wellbeing of others, particularly those who are not physically or societally “well.” (The sick don’t need a doctor, after all.) And it does this without violence; it loves instead of hating or taking revenge. Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships.

Isn’t that beautiful? Here we have Christians – and not only individuals but also on a structural, organized level – standing up against violence, including violence towards marginalized people. One need only look up their missions work to see that this is true.

To renounce violence in human relationships is to agree that domestic violence is a sin, and to recognize that the physical, verbal, and emotional violence breaks the King of king’s heart. Moreover, rape is a sin, it is never the survivor’s fault, and the intense violation there breaks God’s heart as well as the survivor (usually a woman)’s body and potential place in society.

Gun violence by anyone, gang violence, massacring towns with machetes and drowning the victims, the prolific abuse of power to violate marginalized and poor people – these are sins, and they go directly against the holistic peace or Shalom God intends.

My rapper friend Blackman Bausi (see “The world changers“) always says that peace is love. Amani ni upendo. This means working together towards harmony, against violence, towards lasting solutions. He’s a big proponent of that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his home. And the Anabaptists agree: We see peace and reconciliation – the way of love – as being at the heart of the Christian gospel.

IMG-20180104-WA0003

Blackman Bausi and I in Goma, a few days after recording “Give Me Hope,” a song crying to God for hope as we work for justice and peace. Photo belongs to KSB and Blackman.

Again, this call to peace is not something we can choose to ignore. Not if we’re trying to honor God and walk in step with his Spirit. Turning the other cheek instead of retaliating, standing up for those who cannot fight for their own rights, putting others first, persevering… God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey.

Jesus put his status on the line for people who needed his physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Some responded in kind, with love and dedication, and others left him without so much as a thank you. Jesus put his bodily life on the line for people who spat in his face, tore the flesh off his back, and made him out to be the worst kind of criminal when he was actually offering chance at redemption and reconciliation with their Creator.

And some of his disciples, including contemporary Christians, undergo similar fates. But what kind of faith, hope, or love do we have if we do not live our lives in thankfulness and obedience to the Lord who went through hell to bring us to himself? And there is blessing at the end. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers.

I find that different Christian denominations and faith streams inform each other’s understanding of God and his Kingdom. In this case, the Anabaptists put it well. The way of peace is a way of life.

 

 

Lawson field, PC: KSB

Confessions of a formerly racist woman

A busload of college students preparing for summer ministries filed into the open room that evening, abandoning the Midwestern winter air. We were entering a space of lament that MLK weekend. Mostly we sat, stood, or bowed in silence, allowing God to heal us from ways we had been sinned against throughout our lives. We let ourselves grieve.

But as we did this, the Holy Spirit showed me something ugly within myself, a way I had sinned against others. It was disgusting and shameful.

I knew God could and had forgiven me, but that didn’t stop my heart from pounding and burning with a pressure that only comes when the Holy Spirit is compelling me to do something. That night as I kneeled on the carpet, God was telling me to publically confess my sin.

I stood up in the silence, shaking.

The roomful of students preparing to share the Gospel in cities across the US, hostels throughout Europe, and countries in the Global South listened as I confessed my sin aloud. I had failed to understand the Gospel I proclaimed, though I did not realize that yet.

I told them I was harboring racial prejudice.

Though not intentional and not directed towards people I knew personally, because I was able see my friends as full humans, I was prejudiced towards black people. I had internalized the belief that they were less intelligent than me, a white person. I was racist.

Four years ago last night, in the dim room at that retreat center, God turned my life around again. I’d been “born again” at age five, when God rescued me from a life stuck in sin and welcomed me into his Kingdom; baptized at ten, which was a marker in my life though not particularly life-changing; and now God was saving me again from a life of racism.

Instead of rejecting me, my peers listened with respect. Some thanked me. And when I returned to campus a few days later, I jumped into a life pursuing racial conciliation.

Through sociological education, relationships with gracious people of color, the love and conversations of the Office of Multicultural Development, events put on by Solidarity, I began to fight my ignorance and racism in order to love others better.

Where I had once been afraid of protests, I joined campus demonstrations combatting racial injustice. I began to use my writing and social influence to teach other white folks about racism, however subtle, unintentional, “innocent,” systemic, or blatant it may have been.

The focus of my life had shifted completely, all thanks to God. He helped me to love my black brothers and sisters. He saved me from the miry bog of ignorance, prejudice, racism and gave me a new song.

As a white person, I still benefit from the systems of racism in the United States. That means I am still racist in a sense. Moreover, I am still ignorant: I have years of racial understanding and conversation to catch up on, and there are things I may never fully understand because I do not experience them.

But that doesn’t stop me from striving to see things from other people’s perspectives, listen to and believe their experiences, research racial justice in order to share knowledge and support communities of color, and generally live my life in a way that esteems my friends and fellow Americans who are a different race or ethnicity than me – and not out of guilt but out of love and a sense of what is right or just.

I say none of this to glorify myself but to celebrate the way God transformed my life, saving me anew, in the hopes that he might open your eyes as well, if they are closed in the way mine were. I am forever grateful to God for this.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.

Blackman Bausi in concert, photo from his Facebook and used with permission

The world changers

I scroll through the staff page of another American missions agency and notice, not surprisingly, that the leadership is almost entirely composed of white men. From talking to some of these people and organizations, I know their intentions to share Jesus’ love are good, but the undervaluing of Christians of color in American missions disappoints me.

The commonly held idea that only white Westerners know the “true Gospel” is also heartbreaking, especially since Christianity was birthed in a region of brown people and is exploding in the Global South today. In fact, let me tell you about a few Congolese men I know.

Baraka. PC: KSB

Baraka, PC: KSB

A former English student of mine, my friend Baraka, told me about his passion for missions the very first time we conversed in the yellow painted room after a class. Quiet and earnest, he shared his heart to see Muslims know Christ Jesus. “I love them. I want to show them God’s Word,” he shared.

Baraka is studying theology in his country. Like many Congolese people, he knows over a handful of languages, including a bit of Arabic that he has learned in order to share the Gospel more effectively. He’s looking for missions agencies even as you read this.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Then there’s my best friend Dieum, whom I met through our church choir in Goma, eastern Congo. His dream is to be a doctor, pastor, and singer who uses his skills around the world and before the throne in Heaven. He is dedicated to seeing the sick healed and is particularly interested in the nervous system. His devotion to his studies is paired with a knack for making others laugh, and the atmosphere transforms when his fingers meet a keyboard.

My mentor-friend Dedi, who began Love of God Ministries under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and with encouragement his family, is perhaps the strongest example I have to give of a Congolese Christian with global impact. He is known in several countries for his faith and ministry, all through the Holy Spirit’s miraculous connections. Although his situation is humble, he has selflessly poured into me, teaching me about prophecy, the Holy Spirit, and faith. His life is wrapped around his ministry, the call God has placed on him.

Feed.bennett.Christ.18.01.15 Blackman1

Blackman Bausi, photo used with permission.

Of course, people do not have to leave their home country to have an impact in God’s kingdom. Blackman Bausi is another man of God working within his country of Congo. He has not gone out to do missions but is using his rap music to transform the lives of local, underprivileged youth through his foundation. He himself was born of rape, but Jesus redeemed his life and gave him a voice to speak for those without one, particularly women and the youth “heroes” he is now reaching. I am privileged to have collaborated with him and to join him in this work now as an international volunteer.

The meeting point of our five lives is Un Jour Nouveau, or Africa New Day, a Congolese organization that strives “to equip, educate, and empower each man, woman, and child in Congo to bring about cultural change, both individually and as part of a community, to enrich and provide opportunities for growth for future generations.” The goal is for change to come from within Congo, and the organization teaches Biblically-based principles of peace and leadership.

UJN also includes a Gospel-loving church. God’s work through UJN is showing incredible fruit, as the school and church have multiplied in recent years. As evidenced above, my friends from there are passionate about sharing the Gospel in their city, country, and around the globe.

And fun-fact: Although this blog post focuses on men of color, UJN was co-founded by a married couple, so one of the leaders is a woman. The principal of their primary school is a female friend of mine, and I know other incredible women in leadership there as well as men. Most of the Congolese people that I know who are interested in or able to pursue missions outside their country are these men, however.

UJN at night, PC: either Dieum or Daniel

UJN at night, summer 2016. It has expanded since I was last there. PC: either Dieum or Daniel

Some Christians go out, some stay put, and all have the opportunity to contribute to the work of God. Black men like these four gentlemen – Congolese men in their early to mid-twenties, dedicated to peace and Jesus’ Gospel though from a country that is torn apart by endless violence – are some of the leading examples of faith, ministry, and missions in my life. God is using them powerfully to impact other Africans, Asians, and North Americans.

God is using people of color, including those from the Global South, to renew the missions field.

PC: KSB

God is faithful: a year-end reminder

Every day is an opportunity to thank the Lord. For his faithfulness to stay with us and to keep his promises and guide us in our call; for his goodness to want our best and warn us of harm, to provide for us, and to bless us with sweet gifts; for family and a hospitable American and Congolese community of faith; and for his love that never leaves even when we stray, we bless the Lord.

2017 was yet another crazy year. I moved multiple times and had the opportunity to travel in and outside of the United States while undergoing significant transitions in life. One of these transitions was graduating college, a huge testament to God’s faithfulness. God saw me through all this and provided incredible old friends to stick with me from college through the distance as well as new ones to love me in my Denver home.

It was also a year of creation, as I began writing for the Denver VOICE in June and released several song collaborations, which you can listen to here:

My favorite blog posts of the year from this site fell in September.

The call God has given me to live in Congo (three years ago as of this coming MLK Day weekend!) and my deep desire to work with refugees remain the same. My goals in this direction do as well, and I hope to make significant progress in 2018. Despite discouraging, disorienting, and downright dreadful circumstances in the second half of this year, I can see God’s goodness. I remember his promises to me.

As the hymn below declares, I know God’s hand will bring me home, even to Congo, by his good grace. He has brought me to where I am now, and he will remain faithful.

 

*Updated on Jan. 02, 2018, to include “Gatherer,” which was released just before the new year.