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Spiritual Growth

Taking Up My Cross: A Lenten Reflection

By Kendra Dunbar

Deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. Peter is like so many of us trying to remain faithful, cautiously faithful. I imagine Peter wanted to protect Christ; he did not want him to be killed and subjected to rejection from the priests and elders. How often do we want to slow things down for a moment, take a break, re- strategize so that we can come up with a safe plan. Risk the least and be happy with the results. However, Jesus makes it clear that Peter must not stand in the way trying to protect him. “Get behind me Satan,” Jesus implores. Jesus makes it clear that Peter must follow him, and in the following of Jesus there is no promise of safety or human comfort. Following Jesus means to give of one’s life for the gospel.

Cape Coast Castle
Photo by Kendra Dunbar.

For me, the gospel is about liberation and redemption, salvation and justice. The gospel compels us to live righteously, or in right relation. This is my burden, this is the cross I am compelled by the gospel to take up in order to follow Christ. As a Black woman growing up in the United States of America, my cross is a part of the Black freedom tradition. My cross, my struggle or burden, is born out of the crosses of those who came before me: the familiar names of Ida B. Wells, Marcus Garvey, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Stockley Carmicheal. These names stir within me and help me connect with the divine foretold to us in scripture.

Nicki Giovanni wrote a poem which can be found in The Selected Poems of Nicki Giovanni. This poem illuminates some of what it means for me to pick up my cross.

The Funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.

His headstone said
But death is a slave’s freedom
We seek the freedom of free men
And the construction of a world
Where Martin Luther King could have lived
And preached non-violence

This poem illuminates the contrary notion that freedom can only be found in death. This is one that many cling to, hope in death. But what happens to ourselves, our communities, our commitment to live for the gospel if we only find hope for freedom in death? This gives shape to my cross: my cross is to carve out a space to redefine what it means to be free on earth as

Cape Coast Castle
Cape Coast Castle was the final departure point for Africans being sold into slavery. Photo by Kendra Dunbar.
it is in heaven. My cross is to fight for a church that can be in right relation with all communities. My cross is to work with young people so alienated and pushed out that hope is a slogan, an unrealized dream, but never a state of being. My cross is to help create a world where Martin Luther King could have lived and preached non-violence.

I invite all of you to find a poem. Think about your cross, not the cross you want to carry, but the cross that connects you with the divine. This is probably the last cross that you want to carry, the most inconvenient of crosses. How does it feel to carry? How does it relate to your community? What is its meaning for the communities of the world? How do you live it? How don’t you live it?

*Kendra Dunbar is an executive with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Last Updated: 04/07/2010

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