Rewritten heritage

October 23, 2005 at 11:08 pm Leave a comment

I met Darlene seven months ago. She’s 64, with a wrinkled chocolate face, long black braids, and a thick Jamaican accent. She has a spring in her step that belies her age, and a girlish grin that induces in me an automatic glow whenever I see her.

Behind Darlene’s youthful sparkle, though, lies a painful story. Her family is living out a vicious generational cycle of despair. Of her four children, one is in jail, one just lost a teenage son to suicide, and another looks to be suffering the effects of extensive drug abuse. Since none of her children are stable enough to adequately care for their own families, Darlene is struggling to hold down her housekeeping job at a Mariott hotel while simultaneously raising 9 of her 20+ grandchildren under her own roof.

Brokenness is her heritage

I was looking yesterday at the youngest addition to Darlene’s extensive family—her great-granddaughter Erica, who has an impressive crop of kinky black curls for being only four months old. Erica’s mother, LaToya, is only 21, but the young woman already has two children by different fathers. Neither of the fathers is in the picture any more: The first man is long gone; the second is serving out a prison term for beating LaToya. So LaToya is a single mom, living from week to week on her social security check, dropping her children off at Darlene’s house on the weekends while she goes out to party.

Frankly, Baby Erica’s prospects look dismal. She’s growing up in a setting in which education is not a strong tradition, in which stability of any kind is in short supply, in which a sense of concrete vision beyond the next two weeks is exceptional. As she grows older, Erica will probably struggle to understand the concept of something as basic as the nuclear family—after all, she seems destined to share the fate of most of her cousins, who have a hard time keeping straight exactly how many brothers and sisters they have, let alone which siblings actually share the same mother and father.

This is Erica’s heritage. And unless the cycle is broken, it will likely be the legacy she leaves to her children as well.

…but faithfulness is her new heritage

In light of Erica’s situation, it suddenly struck me yesterday why the Old Testament Bible stories are so important. I have wondered, sometimes, why we repeat ancient tales that represent a world so different from our own—what is it about them that is so necessary, and so powerful? After all, my culture is far removed from that of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the stories of Israelites and Egyptians and a whole army meeting its end in the Red Sea are very distant from me.

But I realized all of a sudden that the stories are significant because they are a different heritage. The story of Israelite history is a story of God stepping into the course of human events and creating a new legacy to replace the legacies of brokenness and despair that would otherwise define us.

Though we may be heirs only to a shattered and anguished past in human terms, we have received the adoption of sons and daughters into a new heritage. There we gain an alternate history, a rewritten past, a reshaped and noble legacy from which to draw.

I suppose Erica will still be defined by her history, but it can be a different history now. She’s numbered among a chosen people, who, though fickle, are led by a constant, faithful God. In place of her heritage of desolation, she has been given access to a heritage of faith, a heritage of blessing in distress, a heritage of expectation in spite of circumstances.

This new heritage may not wipe away her world’s hurts, but it grants to Erica a birthright of faithfulness in spite of her circumstances. And because of her new heritage, Erica can someday leave a different legacy.

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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