faith Negro Spirituals otherworldly

Raising Otherworldly Youth


The word is so frightening. We could go down the list of all the reasons why the thought of being associated with the word “otherworldly” sends people running for the door. We all know those reasons, enough said.

But I have never been one to allow others to co-opt my faith. No one defines me for me, defines my thinking for me, defines my faith for me — certainly not popular culture, the media or right-wing conservatives. If that were the case, I would have given up being called a “Christian” a long time ago. I never would have embraced being a “youth” when I was young. I would have disassociated myself with what it means to be “American” a long time ago. I would even have n shaken off the terms “African American” and “Black woman” a long, long time ago.

We must teach young people that none of us has the “luxury” of living into someone else’s definition of us. We are all required to think, to work it out, to define ourselves with integrity even if that process involves great struggle. The most dangerous thing in the world, for instance, is the “Christian” whose idea of what it means to be a Christian has been defined by popular culture, talk-show hosts, media, fiction (even good fiction!) — defined by other. At the end of the day, at the end of your life, you will be held accountable for how you define yourself, and your definitions are played out in your daily living.

So, I embrace the word “otherworldly.”

For me, it does not mean:

  • being so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good
  • being so holy that you can’t get your hands dirty with the things of life
  • walking with your head in the clouds, separated from “them”
  • being out of touch with reality and how people live their lives, the challenges they face each day, their hopes, dreams and fears
  • being judgmental, narrow and one-dimensional
  • being holier than thou
  • being without sin!

Being otherworldly is what you end up doing when you throw your WHOLE SELF in to God’s way.

  • It’s having enough courage to not allow the world to determine who you are, whose you are and how far you can go.
  • It’s what you are doing when you give your life to be “conformed to the image Christ…”
  • It’s what you are doing when you heed the call to not be conformed to this world, molded, shaped to this world, but to be illogically transformed out of the molds and shapes this world presses upon you — not by exercising power over someone else, but by the “renewing of your mind.”
  • It’s what you are doing when you stop thinking like the world expects you — yes, YOU in particular — to think; hoping like the world expects you to hope, dreaming within the bounds the world expects you to dream….when you stop “acting” like the world says people like you are supposed to act.
  • It’s what you are doing each day when you live your life saying, “I’m looking for a miracle…let me be a miracle for someone else.”
  • It’s what you are doing when you live your life everyday expecting, looking for, working to bring about communities where the last will be first, and the widows and orphans and those on the margins of society will experience the love of God through you…

That’s what it means to be “otherworldly.”

A new generation needs “otherworldly” faith. It is the only way they are going to grow beyond the narrow expectations that this world has for them. It’s the only way our world is going to survive the next hundred years. We need young, visionary and courageous youth who are bold enough to step out of time; who are bold enough to exchange the world they have inherited with the world that can be.

Our time expects every black boy to end up in Jail or on the Basketball Court.
Our time expects every black girl to end up a poor single mom, to become a Video Girl, or an over-achieving super woman.

Equally, and just as dangerous, our time has narrowly defined and confining expectations for White boys and White girls; Latino boys and Latina girls; Asian boys and Asian girls….

Otherworldly faith is about stepping “out of time” with the world, business as usual, long-held biases and the shackles of low expectation — and “into time” with a God who expects, hopes for and requires so much more from us all.

One of my favorite Negro Spirituals serves as the theological foundation for this incredible exchange of worlds. The slaves understood Jesus to be one who got his hands dirty. He ate with common people, cast outs, and the marginalized. He welcomed women of “questionable character” and poor children into his presence. He was concerned about people’s health, whether they had eaten; not just their spirits. When faced with a blood-hungry mob ready to damn a woman to hell, he wrote his judgment in sand that could be washed away –forever etching into the people’s memory how we all are broken and we all deserve “the second chance.” The way of Jesus represented a world slaves would gladly exchange for the world they faced every day.

Adults who are working with youth are most privileged.

If you are mindful, if you take advantage of the teachable moments, if you learn the art of whispering into their spirits about the call of this “other-world” – you will get to see for yourself, up close, the birth of a new world, a new thing! The prophet Isaiah says,

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Isaiah 43:18-19

You will get to see young people beginning to shake off the former things and learning to participate with God in the fashioning of a new world.

The best way to get that other-world right now is to live the way of Jesus in this world – right now. Give up this one, and take on “the otherworld.”

In the morning when I rise,
In the morning when I rise,
In the morning when I rise,
Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus, give me Jesus,
You may have all this world:
Give me Jesus.


By avoiceinramah

Following The Way. Wife, Mom, Pastor, RevSisterGirlfriend, Advocate. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman. I believe another world is possible.

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