Narrative Harmony

Cousins’ fundraiser poster features a collage from “Mapping Soulville” created in collaboration with her neighbors. Proceeds support the expansion of the project into other historically black NYC neighborhoods in 2017.

Brittanie Richardson is an artist and activist working to abolish sex slavery. Her latest project is the Art and Abolition Movement.

My ability to believe pretty much anything is probably biggest asset as well as my greatest flaw.

It’s great because I am the best at “Your dreams are valid. You can be anything you want to be if you just believe” and all that. I have a pretty amazing job thanks the whole “believe it, achieve it” narrative.

But it also kind of sucks because I have the ability to jump to the very worst of conclusions and create the absolute worst-case scenarios in my mind. And in that moment they seems completely real to me.

Like, if I call my girlfriend at 10pm Kenya time to say goodnight and she doesn’t answer, there is no way she is in the bathroom, or on another call, or didn’t hear her phone ring. Oh no. She’s dead. Definitely dead.

So this ability makes me a fantastic actress, but it makes me a pretty terrible human being.

Needless to say, when I was introduced to a religion based entirely on your ability to believe I was so game. A religion, based entirely on your ability trust in things you can not see and believe far fetched stories like a virgin/getting pregnant/ by the “Holy Spirit”/and then giving birth to a baby/ who is also God..?

Yes! I’m like, that shit so gangsta! God is fierce! Way fierce. Like fiercer than Beyoncé fierce. I believed. I believed hard. I believed with everything in me. I never doubted. Not even once. Not to brag, but for the first couple years I was pretty much the best Christian ever. I believed without a doubt that sometimes God turns water into wine at weddings and makes bread fall out of the sky….

But the thing that really got about this fierce Beyonce’-like God was that not only does He perform these badass miracles, but somehow He also loves me. The whole love thing completely wrecked my entire life. A God who passionately and unconditionally loves me in all my weakness and brokenness and annoyingness and assholeness and overactive imagination havingness, God loves me. It was love that drew me to Jesus. Everything else was just icing on the cake. And that belief in a radically loving God kept me “good” for a while… Until it didn’t anymore.

I run a non-profit organization in Kenya called Art and Abolition. I care for girls who have survived sexual violence as a result of poverty. My girls have lived lives where in order to have their basic needs like food and clean water met, they have had to allow men to rape them.  I have seen and heard terrible things over the last few years since I have been in Kenya. I’ve watched girls sell their 10 year old bodies for a bowl of rice and beans. I’ve listened to an 8 year old tell me about how she was smuggled into a brothel and handcuffed to a bed while men funneled beer down her throat and gang-raped her. All so that she could buy washing powder to wash her school uniform. That child is now my youngest daughter.

It only takes a certain number of child rape stories to turn you from a hippie-dippie-miracle-believing-overactive imagination having-Jesus freak into a… whatever I am now. My work made me view God differently. My work made my needs change. I stopped needing the Jesus that allowed me to imagine my way to euphoria when suffering was too much to bear, and started needing a Jesus that was ever present even in the midst of suffering. Because suffering exists. It’s real. And I don’t understand why, but God doesn’t always rescue us from it.

People kept preaching to me that “God always rescues us from suffering” and “God always provides” and “God would never let His children beg for bread,” but day after day and night after night I was holding little girls in my arms, their tears wetting my t-shirts, girls for whom God didn’t show up. When they cried out to God to rescue them from rape nothing happened except more rape. They were begging for bread and even sacrificing their bodies for it. So after years of being the perfect Christian, that’s when the doubts starting rolling in, or should I say tumbling in, like an avalanche. Slowly but surely “God always provides” turned into “God sometimes provides”. Getting drunk on the wine of the Holy Spirit turned into getting drunk on actual wine. Often. I started noticing things about Christianity that I’d never noticed before because I was too busy believing. Things like all-male pronoun usage for God, and racism and classism and homophobia and patriarchy. And just as quickly as I had fallen in love with this unconditionally loving Jesus, I started having trouble doing what I do best: believing.

And that is what has brought me to where I am now: the sweet and painful place of authenticity. Accepting the reality of my girls suffering and the reality of their lives has also forced me to accept some truths of my own. My girls and I have a few things in common. Firstly, like them my childhood was riddled with sexual abuse and having to use my tiny body as bartering tool for love. Secondly, I was also begging God to deliver me from something and He didn’t. I was begging Him to deliver me from myself. I’m queer, very queer. To put it in the words of one of my best friends “I’m the gayest person on the planet and everyone is over it except for me”. So for those first blissful years I prayed and prayed the gay away. I even dated an amazing man and tried to love him and become his wife, but I just couldn’t. As wonderful as he was something was off. And overtime I’ve come to accept exactly what that was.

The reality is this: I am queer and I always will be. Suffering exists. God has no gender despite our pronoun usage. Children are raped everyday. A person dies of hunger every four seconds and thousands of those people are Christians who were believing for God to provide. And somehow, in the midst of all of that, God is still good. When He shows up and when He doesn’t, He is still good. I don’t understand what that means but I know that it is true. And even what I think I know changes, but God never does. Love never does. Love never changes. And for now that’s just enough for me.

This post originally appeared on HOLAA!

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