by Karris A. Golden—
It’s difficult for me to separate my religious faith from my personal identity. The feeling that I am Lutheran has been with me for as long as I can remember.
Not surprisingly, I want my daughter to feel Lutheran too.
I admit this desire gives me some anxiety. That’s because I have a healthy understanding that children go their own way. Pushing something too much, too hard and too often can result in rejection.
I began to identify with Lutheranism when I was in early elementary school. It resonated with me, even as I was exposed to multiple denominations and belief systems.
When the time came to take responsibility for my own faith formation, I didn’t feel as if there was a choice; I was simply Lutheran.
At the same time, I was growing into my identity as a person of biracial heritage. I searched for people I could model myself after, but few people were identifying themselves as biracial. Instead, much of the advice, warnings and admonitions I received went something like this: It’s best to pick a label, to make things easier.
The thing is, the way I describe my heritage didn’t seem like a “choice,” or a label to be picked. It wasn’t about what others see. It was about who I am. With one parent of European descent and one parent of African and American Indian descent, identifying solely as one or the other would feel like a denial.
From this experience—and because my faith and my heritage are important to me—I understood that I must tread lightly as far as how I’d impact my daughter’s sense of identity. While I could teach and provide resources, I knew I could not impose my beliefs on Zoey. Nor could I be heartbroken if her decisions did not mirror my own.
One of the tools I consider a godsend, Luther’s Small Catechism with African Descent Reflections, was edited by the Rev. Dr. Joseph M. Bocko and released in 2019.
I call it a godsend because the book was introduced to me as Zoey prepared for her Affirmation of Baptism. John Potter from Living Lutheran had asked me to write a news story about it. The assignment to delve into such a resource felt like the Holy Spirit was thumping me on the heart.
Only that morning, I had prayed for the words to talk to Zoey about how feeling Lutheran influenced my biracial identity.
I was anxious about her upcoming Affirmation of Baptism. I wondered if she felt Lutheran. Did she simply agree with what she thought I wanted to hear?
If she did truly feel something, like I did, would she always?
I also wondered if she felt biracial—if I had presented enough experiences and influences for her to believe she embodies all her heritage. I worried: Did raising Zoey as Lutheran in a predominantly European descent congregation make it “easy” for her to blend in? Given that the population in our area of the United States is predominantly European descent, would it have been better to raise her in a different denomination—one that is predominantly of African descent?
This was one of those big conversations I feared messing up. I wanted to ensure that I organized my thoughts, said everything I wanted and appeared low-key.
The new catechism resource reminded me that the guide rails were laid long ago. “What is the Christian faith?” “Who is Jesus Christ?” “What has this one God done?” “Where do we learn about Jesus?” The catechism follows the style and format of Martin Luther’s original work on religious beliefs, practices and rituals. The contributors to the African descent edition infused the text with stories, examples and explanations from those who span the spectrum of the African diaspora.
The brilliance of Luther’s format struck me anew when I read answers in the voices of Lutherans from the African diaspora. As Lutheran Christians, our shared history is based on Luther’s explanations of our beliefs and faith; the catechism demonstrates the way we live as Christians. We read the Bible together, learn the stories and retell them, year after year. We see ourselves in the characters, seeing our own sense of time, place and culture in the experiences of those who lived long ago. We create our living communities of believers around the things we know to be true.
Karris A. Golden is a writer and speaker from northeast Iowa. She has written “On Faith,” a weekly column for The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, since January 1999.
This article is from the May 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
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