Chealsia Smedley: [00:00:00] Do you know who you are? The you who is connected to the people and stories that came before you and how that shapes where you are today and even where you’re headed. What about how that relates to the kingdom of God? I think we all get to a point in our faith when things get complicated. Whether we’re wrestling with doubt, deconstructing, or simply going through the motions, we experience tension when the ways that our Christian traditions and the ways that they’ve given us to view the world come in conflict with what we’re actually experiencing. So, if you wrestled with this, how you’ve been taught Christian faith and how some of those things aren’t sufficient enough to hold the complexity of life or even of your own identity? I think we feel this tension, and we know that Jesus wants more for us. So how do we look back so that we can reconstruct and move together toward wholeness? Where do we even begin?
Chealsia Smedley: [00:01:19] Welcome to the Created For podcast, a space where our everyday lives intersect with God’s redemptive story.
Michele Davis: [00:01:26] Where together we learn from diverse voices, explore our unique callings and pursue communal flourishing.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:01:32] We’re your hosts, Chealsia Smedley.
Michele Davis: [00:01:35] And Michelle Davis.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:01:36] Today, we’re talking to Jimmy McGee. He has a background in sociology and anthropology and 30 plus years of ministry experience. Jimmy currently serves as the president and CEO of the Impact Movement that’s committed to raising up leaders of African descent on college campuses. He describes himself as unashamedly a follower of Jesus, unapologetically Black and dogmatically multiethnic. Jimmy is someone who, when I hear him speak, I just want to keep learning more from him because I know that he has spent his life learning and growing from people who have come before him. I know that his faith is rooted in reality. There’s something really firm and grounding about the way that he lives out his walk with Jesus that is so different from the ethereal, aspirational ways that faith is often talked about. And so today, my coworker and friend Silverio and I talked to him about some of these questions that I stated earlier, and I’m excited for you to listen as he challenges us. And calls us into a deeper experience of the wholeness, the shalom that Jesus came to give us now.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:03:13] Hey Jimmy, thank you so much for being on the Created For podcast today. I’m so excited to talk to you. First kind of contact with you was back in February. You spoke at a Black staff conference that was called Harambee. And just the things that you shared about wholeness, about a life of flourishing, felt like balm to my soul in that moment. And so, yeah, I’m excited for our audience to hear from you. But first, at that conference, you introduce yourself as a fractured dude. These are like kind of quotation marks, a fractured dude that God’s been putting back together your whole life. And so, I would love if we could kind of start by you introducing yourself, by sharing what that means to you to be fractured. And then one example of how God’s been putting you back together.
Jimmy McGee: [00:04:06] So, thanks for having me. I always knew I was Black from the very beginning. I grew up in Chicago. Uh, to be fair, I was born in Milwaukee, but I was raised in Chicago. So, in my mind, I’m a Chicagoan. And both Milwaukee and Chicago, and Boston have these things in common. For many years, they fought to be the most segregated cities in the country. So, race is very polarized in that reality. So being Black was something that I immediately understood. The second part of my identity is that I grew up in an urban space. I’ve never lived in a suburbs. I was never born in the suburbs. I was born in the heart of a city. And even right now, in the city of Atlanta, I live by the central in the heart of of Atlanta. So I’ve always been an urban person. And I think the third part of me, uh, very significant at a very early age, I became a Christian, and I’ve been a follower of Jesus all my life. And so as I began to mature, especially as I got into collegial space and started adulting, I began to see those those three parts of my life did not come together very well. Um, and I think, I think Black and urban came together better than Christian to the other two.
[00:05:35] And it took me some time to realize the diet I was on and the kind of Christian space I was on didn’t, didn’t necessarily bring all three of these things together. The way I look at it, there’s a verse in Ecclesiastes about three strands are not easily broken when they’re together. And I thought the theology that I eventually grew into when I moved and graduated from college to Atlanta brought all those realities together that I can say without a doubt about being Black, being urban, being Christian, this is exactly who I am. And when I say Black, I do say mixed blood because, in this country, it’s very hard to find multiple generations of Black people in the United States who are not mixed blood, that they have something in their blood that is not African. That’s me. And so, I feel like I’m very whole now in all those places. I’m very much at peace and saying that they’re not siloed, they’re not disconnected, they’re not detached. But I find them all being pulled together and connected together right now. And I could say I’ve felt that way for most of my adult life after graduation from college. And that’s been a great gift for me, and I think a gift for me that I’ve given to my sons and to my family.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:07:03] Thanks for sharing all of that. I think it’s really beautiful and encouraging just to hear about all of these coming together. I think for me, one is being, being mixed, right? Like I’m Black, my dad’s Black, my mom’s half Black, half Italian. I can like some of those fissures of, like, ‘where’s my identity? How does that kind of fit?’ I can relate to some of that. And then I think a lot of Christians of color, in general, have been kind of given this narrative of, okay, my Christianity and my ethnic identity, there is a split there, or people are experiencing that split. And so, can you talk a little bit more about what that was like for you?
Jimmy McGee: [00:07:47] I think in terms of the Christian overwhelming theological cultures, there’s no room for us to really understand and unpacked the reality of what it meant to be a whole person in the Kingdom of God. So more often today, in today’s expression of Christian thought, they talk about this one as a spiritual reality, and then they also talk about sin. It’s very ethereal. It’s very immaterial. But that’s not the way the scripture is. It came from the Middle East. It didn’t come from the West. It didn’t come with this preoccupation with thought like the Greeks. It came out of this reality of integration that they can see mind, body, and soul as attached. And so therefore, if, if being spiritual is such a big thing, then why is the resurrection such an important part of people’s theological belief systems? They want to continue to talk about how Jesus is alive and how he is the resurrection. And one day, we’ll all be resurrected. Yet most of the theologies, I would argue, very detached from everything else that is material. Uh, and I would say it’s left from the vestiges of the intermingling of colonialism.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:09:12] Right.
Jimmy McGee: [00:09:13] That actually manipulated the expression of sharing the faith for material gain. It was not about introducing Jesus to populations that did not know him. It was about introducing Jesus to populations that did not know him to exchange. As one person said back in the day, ‘They gave us the Bible, and they took all the land.’ It was this reality. And so, what I discovered as they’re going back into scriptures and then unpacking, uh, other authors, other expressions to realize, oh, wait a minute now, my faith is whole. My faith does see me as Black. Oh, wait a minute now. It’s okay to be urban. You find that also in the text. And so, I didn’t necessarily rely on mainstream evangelical thought to inform this. I had to do a lot of work. What I find today is people are not willing to put that work in. They want people to give it to you. I don’t think that is as satisfying as you putting in the work yourself to get, to get an agreement that you’re at peace with, in your soul, in your mind, and in your being. I think once you get to that place, and you can live. I think that’s where the wholeness began.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:10:26] Yeah.
Jimmy McGee: [00:10:26] Because I began to see Jesus grow and mature and every aspect of my life too.
Silverio Gonzalez: [00:10:34] So, Jimmy, as you say all that, my question then is, as you hear young people talk and there’s this struggle with deconstruction, and people are decolonize their faith, why are you still Christian? What draws you to Jesus right now? And how would you encourage other people to kind of pursue that Jesus?
Jimmy McGee: [00:10:56] There’s a big thing about Jesus that I really appreciate, that he can handle conflict and dissonance. He is not disturbed by people asking questions. God is not intimidated by to people who like the Syro-Phoenician woman, who He said, ‘Well, I didn’t come for your population right now. I came for Jews.’ Of course, I think he knew he came for her too. But I think the conversation we’re, we’re benefiting from when he says, ‘Does the father give the children’s food to the dog?’ And then the woman comes back, ‘but even the dogs get the crumbs from the children.’ That was a really profound answer. That tells you how big and broad and deep and profound Jesus is. He’s engaged people who’ve been in dark, depressed spaces, and he himself modeled what it’s like to be in dark, depressing spaces through his time of 40 days in the wilderness to his moments in the garden. So, I’m never intimidated by that. When I get ahold of reading Jesus in the scripture, I discover he’s much bigger and much broader than what is often preached on Sundays or what is talked about. So that part is safe. The second thing is we got to be honest with history. And that’s what I find that today’s generation of people want. They just want to know; can we really engage history honestly? And I discovered that today’s Christians don’t do a good job of engaging history. I mean, you guys are hosting this podcast in a, in a part of the country that’s banning books.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:12:34] Right.
Jimmy McGee: [00:12:34] And is also policing education like African American studies. It’s ridiculous. And, and then many of the people who supporting those type of legislations are Christians. And I’m just saying it’s wow, no one policed God through the people He authored His chapters to protect us from a real sober view of Abraham. Right? Or sober view of David. Or sober view of Samson and all these people. We actually see their lives, and we can see that they can live cat-raggedy lives, and yet God can use them for redemptive purposes. Well, then, why can’t we look at the the evilness of our nation and hold two truths together? That, yeah, the fathers of the Constitution had some profound truths that was really above where they were in their station. And yet this government also killed many people, not just Black people. We can talk Native. We can talk Asian. You name the population. It’s been done.
So, what I can say to you in terms of why am I a Christian is because I can hold the fact that God still draws straight lines with crooked sticks. I can still hold on the fact that even though for a small period of history if we look at the long period of history, that mankind manipulated our Christian faith with colonialism to commit genocide, to steal land and resources, and still know that God will bring judgment on all these realities because He continues to use broken people who are redeemed from broken systems to live out His glory. So that’s why I can do it. You know what? I’m a Christian, and I’m not ashamed of it, but I’m also a decolonizing one. And, and I put that as present tense, not past tense, because I continue to decolonize my faith as I’ve been.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:15:06] Yeah, and I think that’s really important when we’re talking about looking back at history. One, to even begin to know how to recognize those things and name them. I’ve just now started that journey of realizing, like, oh, there are these things that are happening in my faith, things that I was taught to believe, and this is because of what we’re talking about in the past, this colonization through the means of Christianity. My question then to you is what’s at stake for us when we don’t do that when we don’t look back?
Jimmy McGee: [00:15:43] Oh, no. Now, see, now we’re getting very serious. So, you got to realize, I believe the scripture is true, that there’s nothing new underneath the sun. I think there’s two things at risk. The first thing is at risk is this question you opened up about wholeness, but that wholeness is not just an individual aspiration. I think if it’s only an individual aspiration, then we find ourselves syncretized into same problems of today’s Christian faith, that everything is individualized, that that it’s foolishness, because the scripture doesn’t see us that way. I want to tell you I’ve been doing this journey with this Shalom pilgrimage of realizing how fragmented and broken our Christian faith is. So, I’ve been personally trying to do a collage and put together all the pieces because all they gave me was a little bit. It wasn’t nothing, right? It wasn’t nothing to give me hope for a changing systems. It wasn’t nothing about redemption. It wasn’t nothing about the Kingdom of God. It was all about me. It was very syncretized to an individual benefit. It was nothing but capitalistic evangelism that you get saved so that you can go to heaven and your life will be okay. Well, that ain’t the Kingdom of God, and that ain’t what the world is about. I think the other part of it is we began to lose people.
Silverio Gonzalez: [00:17:07] Yeah.
Jimmy McGee: [00:17:08] And I think assimilation, I think, is, is about as strong of a current and a reality in the 21st century as it has ever been before. I would argue that assimilation is more profoundly powerful now than it was even in slavery. Because in slavery, if you even look at the stories that just emerged. Let’s look at Roots by Alex Haley and the idea of Kunta Kinte being taken from Africa and brought here and how he remembered all those words from his Mandingo language. And then he began to teach his daughter. His daughter then taught Chicken George, and then he passed down. And then that legacy of realizing this and then his ability to understand freedom and that attachment caused him to realize, yeah, they named him Toby, but his name was Kunta Kinte. In today’s world in theology, I would say the last 50 years has been incredibly influenced by theological education. And what it’s done it’s pulled us away from the Black church. And I’m not saying that this is all conservative. I’m saying this liberal, progressive, and conservative. I think if you go to some of the liberal institutions, its, they, they also miss other aspects of my Africanness. My Africanness recognizes the God of the universe, my Africanness understand metaphysics. It understands the spirit world and the power of God in that place.
I feel like discipleship and the way we talk about our Christian faith, we’re in this place where we’re just homogenizing people to this one expression that people are discontent, and it’s doing it to the two, I think, to the destruction of everybody, not just to the minority. So, everybody loses in this process. And we do not reach the imagination of what we find in the scripture. You know, when you look at Revelation 7:9, since we haven’t gotten there, at least I don’t think we’re there yet right? Where all these different tribes and who’s speaking their different languages and their different cultures were expressed before John at the throne of God. The only thing they had in common was white robes. And no, they weren’t a part of the clan. So if you look at that process, you see all that is being lost. And so, there’s no memory now, Chealsia, that what you’re asking now, what’s going to be lost? Uh, I’m afraid for our Black kids. It’s going to be a problem or for all of us. I mean, it’s not a Christian faith that I would encourage people to be a part of.
Silverio Gonzalez: [00:20:00] Yeah, so, something you’re hitting on that’s really important is you’re drawing maybe our minds to see that the diversity of cultures and our expressions of the faith are actually a gift to each other, right? That it’s that there’s a value in recognizing your Africanness as a contribution to the faith as a whole, to other people, to people who are not African. What would be your encouragement to other minorities as they’re kind of wrestling with their own identities, and they’re trying to find ways to think about how that fits?
Jimmy McGee: [00:20:32] You know, I find that God Himself, being the Creator, He has weaved in parts of His creation and His personhood in almost every culture. So, redemption is not just something individual. He, He’s redeeming people. Right? And so, He’s redeeming cultures. Yes, there is a sinful part of cultures, but there’s also redemptive parts. Let me give you a couple of examples. Some years ago, what changed my life significantly was my introduction to a word shalom. I knew right in the very beginning as I began to grow when I became whole, I discovered working in campus ministry, that there was something wrong because there was a focus on evangelism, discipleship, and missions. And then things like multi-ethnicity will always come afterwards. Those are the highest values. Everything else was secondary or even third. They weren’t important in God’s economy. And I’m like, No, that’s not true. But again, as an anthropologist now, since I see God as circular and not linear, I see that all of this is attached. The theology frames that we’re a part of are very linear and very sequential, and so it doesn’t account for developing things that they don’t deem important.
What I discovered was that shalom theology, what you find in scripture, you can find it among the Cherokee people. It’s called the harmony ethic. This idea of commitment to harmony. And then after that, you discover, oh, wait a minute, now, I found it in South Africa in ubuntu, which says, I am because you are. I would argue that if we keep pressing this, this argument, we keep pressing at this, we’re going to find that this, this expression of shalom is very global and that God has put His DNA, He has put his fingerprint upon cultures all around the world. The problem is the colonialism spirit and our Christian ministries that we always think we’re bringing the good news. We’re translating this way to understand God and this particular fashion. That ain’t right. I’ll be the first one to tell you. Now, does that mean it’s risky, what I’m saying? It surely is. But that’s okay. It’s been risky following Jesus all my life. And so that’s the idea that the reason why I love him is because I’m not stagnated. I can, I continue to discover more about Jesus today that I didn’t know 20 years ago.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:23:24] Yeah, this is so encouraging. So I spent the last eight years in Slovenia and now working with Created For, and I’ve realized, and even just being Black, being mixed, coming to terms with my own ethnic identity in these last few years and everything that’s going on, all of this, I’ve, I’ve had so many conversations with people where I feel like when I say these things, there’s a lot of pushback of God’s making a new ethnic identity or like assimilation. Like I think that people conflate assimilation with unity. And I want you to talk about how that is not the same thing. Does that make sense what I’m asking?
Silverio Gonzalez: [00:24:10] Like, it doesn’t sound like you’re saying.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:24:12] It doesn’t sound like you’re saying that.
Jimmy McGee: [00:24:14] No, I’m not. No, I don’t believe. I don’t believe in assimilation or not. I get, I get where you’re coming from. I mean, I don’t see anything good in that kind of comment. And I’ve been confronting that all my life. I mean, I just saw someone, I mean, I remember looking, reading at a book because you can’t find Christian bookstores anymore. They’re very rare. And I stopped going to Christian bookstores because they didn’t have a lot of good content. So, you go to Barnes and Noble and I remember picking up a book, and the author started saying, I’m a Christian first before I’m Black. And I said, oh, you got you got some problems. I said I don’t think I even want to read your book because you ain’t figured. You ain’t figured out who you are yet. I mean, if you were created Black, that means the way you worship God is the way that He has created you. I create, I worship Him in the act and in the power of how He has created me. But not many people are saying this. I would argue that today’s expression of Christian faith is extremely gnostic. And it’s not that.
Silverio Gonzalez: [00:25:27] Can you explain that? Some of our listeners might not know what that is.
Jimmy McGee: [00:25:30] Right, so it is something that comes out of the first-century contention in the scriptures. All of John’s writings talking about it, or even Peter. Him who we’ve touched and felt. It was this idea of gnosticism that Jesus was the man and Christ was that holy part. And we worship him. And the idea when we become Christian, then we put all of our attention on the spirit, and the body is not that important or valuable. Well, that’s not true. Why would we put all this time, certainly in the scriptures, to talk about the resurrection? We know that’s not true. And we’re not even talking about it as a New Testament reality, because the scripture says, because you know I’m gonna tell you this, I had read the book a couple of times. Job said, ‘My Redeemer Lives.’ And he said, ‘In my flesh, I will see Him.’ So, this reality of, of, of detaching saying the most valuable thing to God is spirit is a lie. The person sitting at the right hand of the Father is Jesus with his human resurrected body. In fact, the scripture says in 1 John 3 that when we see him, we will be like him. That’s the beauty of it is, because that means I can walk through walls, I can go to places real quick, but I can still eat fish. So I’m never going to miss catfish and hushpuppies and greens and cornbread, all that stuff. I’m totally down for this process. And so, what they want to affirm, they always want to affirm this idea of the spiritual reality. And what they want to do is create this imaginary space that alleviates us from living in the world that we’re in now. That ain’t true. That ain’t what the scriptures ever did.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:27:19] That reminds me of things I’ve heard you talk about, about how we’re dealing with vestiges of slave religion.
Jimmy McGee: [00:27:25] Yes.
Silverio Gonzalez: [00:27:26] Yeah. As I think about it more and more and reflecting on this reality of slave religion, it seems somehow that this message was sort of used to, to, to justify slavery and to justify mistreatment of the body. But it’s had a negative effect on white brothers and sisters and their faith because, as a result, they’ve even sort of dehumanized their own experiences in some ways and almost minimized the resurrection in their own theology. And it’s had an adverse effect. So, can you, can you tell us, like, as you think about this, this vestiges of slave religion, like where are you seeing it besides this? And what should we be doing about it?
Jimmy McGee: [00:28:09] Colonization did not spare anybody. Everybody was a victim. Okay, everybody. Let me give you one example. When they started bringing Africans to this country and William Katz’s book, Breaking the Chains, they made a decision right very early on that they would not introduce the gospel to Africans because they knew if they did, liberation would come immediately. So, what did they do? They did a couple of things. One, they created the Slave Owners Bible where they extracted every single incident of liberation or freedom or rebellion. Gone, like chunks of, I mean, like, you can’t have the Pentateuch. You can’t have the Egyptian thing going on. You can’t have it. Much of the captivity going. It’s just gone. And then they kept certain parts of it. And then they created mythology in their theology, talking about the, the, the sin of Ham. And that’s why Black people are oppressed in this world because they’re cursed because of Noah cursing his son. Foolishness. They didn’t stop there.
Then they started introducing Jesus. They said, well, we can, we can introduce God now to our oppressed people because we need them to know that the God that we serve has ordained them because of Ham’s curse to this plight. And so, their liberation is in the afterlife, in the by and by. And so, they thought they were getting all free. They can oppress people and exploit people and commit genocide. It’s interesting. They were committed to dominion. An empire living when the scriptures never gave them that permission. And then they committed us to oppression, to that state to say that heaven is a place that we have our liberation. It’s foolishness. It’s foolishness. But see, the oppressed people knew it because God is still bigger than them because we began to read the scriptures. And we also began to read and can sing songs in our oppression, everybody talking about heaven and always going there. Those are songs that we sing when we’re picking cotton. We had songs, and we had prayer meetings that created a liberation of the soul, now. And that gave us hope for the by and by. But the by and by we were assured of. But we knew God wanted liberation now. Henry Highland Garnet, before the Civil War, at a meeting, I think with the presbytery, said slavery is a sin. It’s a sin, and every slave owner is in sin for owning slaves. But being a slave is a sin, too. And every slave should throw down their plowshares and walk away right now because they are in sin by being compliant, compliant to the oppression. And the oppressor is in sin for oppressing these people. And that was powerful. But how many times do you hear about Henry Highland Garnet in any Bible studies that you’ve been a part of? It’s your first time?
Chealsia Smedley: [00:31:28] Right, this is my first-time hearing this.
Jimmy McGee: [00:31:29] Really?
Chealsia Smedley: [00:31:30] Yeah.
Jimmy McGee: [00:31:31] And then we, we talking about Denmark. Denmark Vesey. You heard of him?
Chealsia Smedley: [00:31:36] Nope.
Jimmy McGee: [00:31:38] Oh, my goodness. Gabriel Prosser, you heard of him?
Chealsia Smedley: [00:31:41] No.
Jimmy McGee: [00:31:43] Well, you heard of Nat Turner, right?
Chealsia Smedley: [00:31:45] I’ve heard of Nat Turner, yeah.
Jimmy McGee: [00:31:48] All right. Thank you. Those two brothers preceded him.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:31:51] Uh huh. So, wait, how do we? Hold on, can you help us, though? Like, ’cause I’m over here saying, no, no, no. I don’t think I’m the only one.
Jimmy McGee: [00:31:59] Oh, no. There’s plenty of people. I know it.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:32:01] How do we find these people?
Jimmy McGee: [00:32:04] I think that I’ll tell you how you get it. There’s two ways that you need to get it. And evangelicalism manipulates this, too. The first way is you need to find elders to spend time with. I mean, that’s what we used to do as African people is to oral history. You learn so much. Let me tell you something, you talk about wholeness, I didn’t get there on my own. God has truly blessed me. I’ve gotten maybe 17 mentors in my life.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:32:36] Wow.
Jimmy McGee: [00:32:37] 17. I’m not done. That means if I see you, I see a value in you. I’m coming after you. I want to learn from you. I’m going to eat up what you got. I want to continue to grow. One of my mentors, Dean Trulear, professor at Howard Divinity School, a Morehouse grad, he introduced some of these people to me. And then all he did was, he let me loose. I started reading. I couldn’t stop reading. And then I kept learning, and I kept learning. And I discovered that what I was getting, I needed to branch it out further and deeper and broader. And that’s how you start it. So, I started meeting with people, and I didn’t come with an agenda all the time, and I didn’t come asking them 20 questions. I asked him maybe 2 or 3 questions and let them talk. I took all the notes. As good anthropologist, you never take notes in front of people. You listen as much as you can. I got to go to the bathroom, and when you go to the bathroom, you then write all your notes, so you don’t forget that stuff. Then you come back to the conversation.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:33:44] And then they stay comfortable, is that what it is?
Jimmy McGee: [00:33:46] Well, I mean, the idea is it’s hard to have a fluid, organic conversation when people got a pen and paper in your hand. But if you’re paying attention, then you go back, and then if you forget, all you gotta do is call them up and say, ‘Hey, you know what? I was trying to look up. Who was that dude? Was it Henry Highland Garnet, or was it the other Henry guy?’ ‘Oh, no.’ ‘Oh, is that one? Okay, cool.’ And then I began to discover that the kind of Christian faith that we were discipling people in did not give this type of nutrition. They didn’t introduce this stuff to me. And I’m not even talking to Cone or Black theology stuff. I’m talking about stuff that predated Cone. They don’t put stuff like that. You cannot ask the oppressor to give you truth to free you. I’m talking about in Christian evangelical circles.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:34:38] Right now.
Jimmy McGee: [00:34:38] Why would they do that? Their, their goal is to conserve. That means they want to entrust you to preserve what they already have in place. They have no desire to give you information that is not going to keep what they already have in place. So why would they give that to you?
Chealsia Smedley: [00:34:58] Yeah, that’s good.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:35:10] So the first thing is finding elders.
Jimmy McGee: [00:35:13] Finding elders.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:35:14] What’s the second step?
Jimmy McGee: [00:35:16] Now, preceding that is being curious. So, you got to continue to ask your question. When people give you stuff, you got to ask them, okay, what did they give me? And then you ask the second question, what didn’t they give me? That’s just as important. But that’s the harder question to find out because what they didn’t give you has as much intent as the intent of what they did give you. You got to have both of those questions in place. Just like those white people did when they enslaved us and said what we’re not going to give them is this.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:35:50] Right?
Jimmy McGee: [00:35:50] It was intended that we’re not going to introduce Moses in that story. That was just as thoughtful as said part where slaves obey your masters in, in the Paul’s Epistles. See, so you’ve got to learn to have discerning abilities and critical thought and work. I can’t say that enough. So, it’s curiosity. It’s mentors. And then you got to go to places that everyone tells you not to go. And you read things and not to be afraid. Here’s the thing that Tom Skinner taught me. He for me, he’s at the top of my list of influences. He said, ‘All truth is God’s truth.’ I think he got it from somebody, and I believe that. And so, if you’re really serious about this, somebody needs to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Somebody needs to go read People of the Lie. Those are good books to read. And you need to know that God was saying truth when the Christian folk couldn’t do it. He used the heathen for it. I mean, let’s be honest. If we’re really frank if Christian folk are held captive by a colonized faith, do you think God is sitting up in heaven saying, ‘I’m stumped? Oh, my God, what am I going to do?’
Silverio Gonzalez: [00:37:10] No,
Jimmy McGee: [00:37:10] No, no. He uses people for His glory. So, when the Christian folk who say they love Him don’t do it, the heathen write it, and they do it well. So, you don’t have no foolish sense of saying, well, don’t read that book because it wasn’t a Christian author. Oh, God was writing through the dude because the Christian folk didn’t have the wherewithal to do it.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:37:33] Yeah, we need to change this narrative that we’ve been gobbling up.
Jimmy McGee: [00:37:38] You’ve been bamboozled.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:37:40] Yeah, I’ve been bamboozled. So, in the midst of this, because, like, I’m hearing you talk and you even before you were like, my ancestors were able to see through. What?
Jimmy McGee: [00:37:52] Absolutely. Yes.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:37:53] And then I’m sitting here, and I’m like, wait a second, but I wasn’t able to. How would you encourage someone who is sitting here experiencing this conversation?
Jimmy McGee: [00:38:01] I actually don’t have much patience, Chealsia, for you to get where I am now. In the time I got here, I need accelerated growth. I need you to move. I actually took this job with the Impact Movement because I wanted to pour into staff and accelerated growth. But it’s been hard. That theology is overwhelmingly, profoundly powerful because the theology is so fragmented. And it’s so it’s so infused and infiltrated by the empire. And I would say by colonization that to deconstruct it, which we do over and over again anyway. I mean, every time you grow, I mean, everybody knows in order to build muscle, you have to break down muscle, right?
You deconstruct muscle to build more muscle. Right? That’s what you do in the gym. Well, we do this as we grow as people, as adults, we grow, we deconstruct, and we reconstruct. That’s not bad. In the Christian world, it’s like, uh oh, wow, you’re doing something bad. Ooh, scary. No, grown people do stuff like that. And that means when you talk to me as a grown-up, I ain’t talking to you like some seven-year-old kid that just met Jesus yesterday when his mama told him about Jesus, and I prayed with her. No, I’m a dude that’s a little bit longer that I can see how Jesus can get down and influence Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, all those people. And then, I can see and connect the dots of why I should read a book called Remembering Slavery, which I would recommend to you. It is just a catalog of just stories of just being with people who were slaves to tell their stories. See, that’s the kind of stuff that today’s generation need to get, and you got to go get it. And let me tell you something. People are dying around you. You got to go get it.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:40:03] I wonder if part of the reason why or at least this is my own experience, I think. And when I was in high school and college, the way that my history was shown to me was only negative. It was only trauma, only despair. That as I was going through life dealing with trauma, in my own experience, it was like, I can’t, I can’t be traumatized by reading this book right now. And so, how would you encourage someone to even do this in a hopeful way?
Jimmy McGee: [00:40:35] What I’ve learned is one of the things that we missed out of this is making sure that there’s parity with resilience and grit. Because trauma has always been around, right? I mean, come on, sis. Your life is hard, but I can tell you this right now, you ain’t never picked 100 pounds of cotton in a day, right? Did you? Now, I want you to think about just a little cotton balls you get that already been picked. And you, you make 100 pounds of that and feel what your back and your hands will feel like when you’re pulling it off a prickly bush. Right? There’s a trauma in that story, but there’s a resilience and a strength in that story, too, that caused him to live and survive past that. So, I would argue that you’ve got to, you got to see that there’s trauma, but there’s also resilience and hope. I mean, there’s trauma in the cross. There’s nothing about knowing Jesus that’s not traumatic. The dude said, if you want to follow me, you got to pick up a cross like I had mine, and you got to pick it up and die. That ain’t nothing attractive about that. But that’s what he says disciples do. Right? He said, ‘Sorry, you need to pick that up. So, there’s nothing, so you’re going to have to remove the idea that this is trauma-free life, that that’s gone.
Silverio Gonzalez: [00:42:17] So something you’ve said that I think is really important that you, you highlight that maybe it’s different from the kind of conversation I’m used to hearing is you don’t separate struggle, pain, and trauma from flourishing. I hear you saying that if we want flourishing, we have to accept the hardship of the cross and discipleship and what Jesus calls us to.
Jimmy McGee: [00:42:45] Let’s talk about this. We know that sin when it came into the world, detached us from God. Now, that’s the most simplest, rudimentary space, but actually, it detaches from our human relationships. It detached us within ourselves. It detaches from the earth. I mean, it’s detached us in multiple ways. What I find that evangelicalism itself also detaches us from our own kinship. From our ethnic identity. It doesn’t connect us. It detaches us. That’s bad, and that’s why you got to do all this work.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:43:23] What gives you hope in the midst of that?
Jimmy McGee: [00:43:25] You know, there’s two things I would say. One, I have personal responsibility. One of the things I do not want to do, I don’t want to die with all the information and the relationship that these mentors gave me. I don’t want them to die inside of me. I’ve got to get it out of me. One of the smartest Black people who I feel is one of my mentors, and I met him when he was dead, was W.E.B. Dubois. He’s brilliant. Another guy I like is Kwame Bediako, who started an African theological institute in Ghana. He’s brilliant. He was an atheist who said, ‘When I came to faith,’ he says, ‘I don’t want to give the missiological Calvinistic view of faith.’ He created an institute for the whole African. That’s a bad dude. Yeah, but they don’t talk about that people over here, right? So, all I’m saying is that’s the hope.
The hope, you know, is that there’s so much out there that is there for you. Where do I start? Well, why don’t you start with this one little easy essay? One of the most profound essays of the 20th century. And read the Letter from Birmingham Jail. You read that letter, and then afterwards, I’m going to give you something else for your dad. I want you to go read No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu. And what you discover is, oh, South Africa and Birmingham. Same story. Same Christian people. Same theology. Same problem. We’re going to talk about a whole bunch of other stuff, but I’m just giving you a little bit.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:45:01] Yeah. I just so appreciate you and the things that you’ve shared, and even just that leaving at the end of you’re not the only one. There’s nothing new under the sun. Like there’s so much hope in knowing that there are people who have lived through things way harder than the things that we’ve lived through that still echo our own experiences today. Yeah. So, Jimmy, thank you so much for being here today and all the things that you shared with us. We have a lot to take away. But one thing that we’re asking everyone is for someone who wants to experience wholeness and participate in God’s redemption of their community, what is one takeaway from this conversation?
Jimmy McGee: [00:45:47] Wholeness is like a horizon. It’s ever before us. I don’t know anybody who’s ever reached a horizon. Now, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean you don’t become more whole. That is what you do. I am more whole today than I was when I graduated from college. I am more today than when I started doing campus ministry. I am more whole today than when I first got married or when I became a father. The truth of the matter is I am more whole. What gives me the privilege and the courage to speak is because I’m more whole, and that the anxiety and the fear is not to say something that people would not like. The anxiety and the fear is to knowing the moments that God gives me an audience that I don’t say what He’s given me the responsibility to say because I’m whole. That’s what wholeness is about. But here’s the deal. Here’s the deal. That means the distance from this conversation and the way I’m living is not far. That means I’m not saying something to you that I’m not living. I’m putting the work in. Right? I’m putting the work in because I want to grow. I’m doing that work now. So that means I’m not talking to something ethereal or something conceptual that you will never do, or you’ll never see me doing that ain’t the way I figured life was. I told you I follow Jesus and the thing I love about Jesus is that every concept that he put in front of us, he actually lived it out for me to follow. So, I don’t have to have to worry about the judgment on my life is can I live up to the things that he gives me to grow in? Can I live up to the wholeness of where I am? That’s what it’s all about.
Chealsia Smedley: [00:47:41] I hope this conversation encouraged you as much as it encouraged me. Knowing that God makes us whole. And that, that’s a process that he’s continually calling us further in and further up into wholeness. Jimmy gave us a lot of personal work to do here, but I’m reminded that it’s never individual. It’s always communal. It’s always together. And so, what a privilege it is to discover what it means to be a full whole person in the Kingdom of God and invite others into community where we uniquely reflect and value God’s glory and reconnect to the ways that God made us to live together. We follow Jesus’s lead in this work of shalom, and that’s also exciting that he’s already shown us the way. And so, what’s your next step to experience the things like freedom, peace, love, and wholeness to seek it out? Not just in heaven but here and now.
Michele Davis: [00:48:53] For more ways to continue journeying with us, hit subscribe in your favorite podcast app. Check out the show notes for any links we referenced and then go to cru.org/createdfor for a guided reflection based on this episode.