Living Left-Handed in a Right-Handed World
I once heard a young White guy ask Dr. John Perkins, “Why do they leave the community?” His question was a response to John’s comment on the ongoing trend of Black Americans who leave the Black residential community once they experience any degree of upward mobility. My immediate thought was, "He obviously didn’t grow up poor.” The young man who asked the question lives in one of Chicago’s toughest and poorest neighborhoods. However, it’s important to point out that unlike many of his neighbors, he’s there by choice to help rebuild that community, with the economic freedom to create a comfortable life for.himself there, as well as the economic Freedom to leave.
I grew up in the rural southeastern part of North Carolina (poor, which is only relative to my American context). I can remember thinking very early on that I would one day make a living for myself and when I did, I would indeed leave my poor neighborhood. I had no thought of staying in my dilapidated community in the name of righteousness. No way Jose! I wanted my piece of the American pie. Someway, somehow, poverty felt as inherent as my blackness, and therefore I was cursed by God. While I knew I couldn’t change being Black, I wished I could change being poor. I wanted to be free from it—blessed, not cursed.
I wanted what I saw as freedom through my childhood lens. I remember playing a childhood game in the projects that I grew up in, whereby my friends and I looked through magazines, and the object was to be the first to claim a luxury car or house as your own. In my mind, to have some of those finer things in life meant you were experiencing freedom.I suppose that the luxury car and house that we claimed first represented the fruit of the good life.
I now realize that we live in a right-handed world of materialism that is driven and maintainedby a god named Mammon, or, should I say, “capitalistic greed.” The gospel of this type of capitalism demands that you pursue it with all your heart.
For a poor Black girl, my halfway decent test scores caused my grammar school teacher to pay a mild amount of attention to what classroom I ended up in. By the age of nine, without a single person in my family being a college graduate, I dreamed of college—but not because I valued education. Rather, I reckoned that a college degree Was this poor girl’s only lucky "ticket" out of poverty. I always made sure I took the necessary courses to get into college.
God came near me during my junior year of high school and it was then that I began to live a life that exemplified Christ as my owner. It was my mother’s life with Christ that influenced my own spiritual life. I had watched her love the Lord her God with her whole heart ever since I could remember. However, I was pretty frustrated with her lack of zeal for this right-handed world.
She put forth no effort to either move us into the nicer neighborhood or drive us in a finer car. In fact, the first opportunity she had to purchase a brand new vehicle of her choice, she chose a new station wagon style sedan that was “good on gas” and would “last at least 100,000 miles.” Clearly, riding in luxury and style was not high on her list of priorities. She was a single mother of three, working a minimum wage job as a textile seamstress. We lived very modestly and she often quoted the verse about the love of money being the root of all evil. Blah, Blah, Blah!
I went about the business of judging her for lacking ambition and questioned her understanding of the Scripture. At the same time, I was on a quest to search out the Scriptures voice on this modest living and stuff. I had become hip to some fresh ideas about Christians and money.through some novel preachers who were becoming popular. Boy, was I surprised. The Jesus I met in the pages of the Bible was opposed to the one I’d heard about from those novel preachers. This Jesus sounded like the one my mother loved and talked about.
About my second year in college, when I began to acknowledge the inconsistencies in my new-theology about jesus, I fully embraced the Jesus of my mom’s experience, and he fully became my Lord and Liberator. He baptized me in the liberating water of his love and drew my heart to his heart. Thereafter, he caused me to understand that I was not cursed or estranged from God because I am Black and grew up poor. He made me see and know that I have always been on his mind. Moreover, the oppressed, the poor, the infirm, the prisoners and the brokenhearted of the world are all in the forefront of his mind. Furthermore, those who love and follow him love and serve “the least of these” just as he did.
This was precisely the freedom that I needed but didn’t know I needed. It is the freedom my soul was longing for all along. The freedom I received through his radical love was to stop conforming to the pattern of this right-handed world that I live in. The Holy Scripture was the mirror that I gazed into for a reflection of who I truly am and who I am becoming: left-handed. I discovered the Bible to be alive and active and I was engaged in every page as I became conscious of the revolutionary Kingdom of God.
I never really chose a career nor took a specific career path. I discovered the discipline of sociology by mistake. Without a college and career counselor to assist me, I wrote “sociology” as my intended major because it sounded like what I was looking for. When I had dreams of escaping poverty, I did have dreams of who I’d be. Like many children, “who I’d be when I grew up” would change seasonally. How ever. in the fifth grade I discovered Oprah Winfrey's autobiography and after reading every page, knew for sure I would be a talk show host. I completely identified with her experience of up in poor rural Mississippi. She was just the rags-to-riches type of inspiration I was looking for. By her example, I knew I could be Black in America and still escape the curse of poverty. But, I grew older and hopefully, I grew wiser. Oprah, I discovered, is the exception, not the rule.
The more my heart became enamored by my mama’s Jesus, the more I saw this Western world for what it truly is: full of injustice, centered on oppression and - blatantly at times and always institutionally - racist. While this is how I felt, I lacked the grace I desired to articulate what I felt and saw.
I was genuinely interested in understanding more about the concealed oppression of Western society and exposing its true colors to everyone I met. I also wanted to help others like myself escape the throes of this type of world. So, in Truth and Harriet Tubman, my calling found me and I realized that i am to live out my left-handed existence telling the truth and helping other captives escape to freedom.
A sociology discipline turned out to be a good accident for me. It was just the type of discipline I needed to help me grapple with the realities of this world. It was painful too. Sometimes, the truth of the subject matter was so painful that I vehemently rejected it. It forced me to confront myself and just how much I had been infiltrated by this right-handed materialistic world. So, many times I rejected some of the professor’s legitimate ideas because they were too “radical” for me, maligning them as “non-Christian” and, therefore, mandating my rejection. To be honest, according to the conventional Christianity of the West, their ideas were indeed “non-Christian.” I also must admit that many of their ideas were very similar to the sayings of the Jesus I met in the pages of the living and active Bible.
I would often leave class emotionally overwhelmed because the subject matter caused me to dig deeper past the illusion of this right-handed world. The illusion states that everyone in the world has a meal every day, has access to quality healthcare, is protected by the laws of the land, has equal and fair representation in the systems of government, has a family that is whole, has equal access to quality education, lives in a safe community where the police serve and protect them, and has adequate housing - in short, a world with liberty and justice for all. While it has no righteousness in and of itself, I found that the discipline of sociology endeavored to tell-it-like-it-is about the systems of the world and express how the people in the systems relate to each other.
i am sure that my experience at the university was really my mama’s jesus, who is now my Lord and Liberator, at work in my life, as he would not allow me to ignore what was being presented through the various subjects. I believe he was extracting from me the conventional type of Christianity that many of us in the West are given, while transforming my heart and mind about him, the people around me and myself.
He took me through this paradigm shift that led me to spend one summer in Chicago’s inner city, working in a Christian context among the poor. The following summer my Lord took me deeper into this left-handed world of his. He led me into this left-handed world of his. He led me to spend a month in the country of Nigeria, along with four other African Americans, in a Christian context.
Oh, how my worldview was challenged and changed! These two summers birthed in me an urban and global consciousness. I saw for the first time how far reaching social and economic oppression really is. I went on both trips with one of the largest Christian mission organizations in the world. I was there with them to speak to the spiritual oppression of the people. I, in turn, received more than I gave. I was challenged to confront my own spiritual oppression, which caused me to hid behind “Christian piety.” I realized that I had ignored how past and present political, social, religious, and economic oppression were all a part of the people’s condition. this was a pivotal time in my life. It was not about some ideas I’d heard in my classes. It was now what I had experienced for myself for the first time outside of my rural context of social and economic oppression.
The Kingdom of God was enlarged for me. The Kingdom of God was deepening the roots of my consciousness about the world in which I live and the type of Christianity that I practiced. My heart was filled with compassion to love and serve just as Christ loved all those who were oppressed.
When it became time to think about what I’d do past graduation, thorugh prayer I decided to give my life to the calling that had found me. The sensible s thing to do then was immediately go to seminary - Right? For me, Wrong. It would be some time before I knew this. I took a job in corporate America in my home area of North Carolina in order to save money for a seminary in Chicago. Unbeknownst to me upon taking the job, the company was headquartered in Chicago. Eventually, the company moved me to Chicago from North Carolina and I thought this was an answer to prayers of how I’d pay off some immediate debt and go to seminary too. I went into corporate America knowing I was not there to stay as it was only a means to an end.
In Chicago, I became a part of a community of Black believers who were living out their faith in the same Jesus that I met, and in a way similar to my same calling. Among them were a few elders (seniors) who have been living left-handed for over 40 years. They made themselves available to me, for me to glean from their experience and wisdom. I attended seminary by sitting at their feet.
Although they are scholars by profession, they possess a deeper wisdom that is not of this right-handed world. These elders reinforced what I’d been learning from my mother, the life-giving Scriptures and the university. They also inspired me to keep going in my quest for a more authentic spiritual life in a synthetic world with its synthetic religion.
The most important influence the elders had on me was encouraging me not to compartmentalize who I am: Black, Christian and female; and what I’ve experienced: being American-bred, a descendent of Africa, and raised in a single parent Christian home in rural poverty. I was encouraged to embrace the Whole of who I am and all that I have experienced, and to trust Christ to use all these to make me a wounded healer, like him, for his kingdom.
After seven long years in corporate America, I felt stuck. I was making decent money. I had earned three promotions. I was relatively comfortable. Life was predictable. And I was miserable. Why? This was the very thing I had dreamed of as a girl. I was successfully escaping the poverty I’d known as a child. I lived in a high-rise apartment on the Northwest side of Chicago. I drove a nice SUV. I was on the inside track to more corporate promotions and upward mobility. However, I was still restless.
What had happened? I had become fully immersed in this whole other reality called the Kingdom of God, which I have affectionately called the left-handed world. Just like my mother, I lacked zeal to learn how to write with my right hand.
For me, I know the left-handed world is not a geographical location or a particular career, but it’s within. The place of C.R.E.A.M. No, not the song by the rap group Wu Tang Clan. See, they tell the truth about the right-handed world when they say, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” The place of “C.R.E.A.M.” That is of the left-handed world is where Christ Rules Everything Around Me, including me. That’s what I’ve come to know as life in the Kingdom of God: love and freedom expressed in community through individuals just the way Christ—who is love and freedom—became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
I began to feel a sense of urgency like never before. I knew my time in corporate America was done. So, in January 2004, I left corporate America to work for Christian Community Health Fellowship. The pay is three-fourths of what I earned in corporate America. The perks are perhaps fewer. However, this is a promotion in every way and it truly cannot be compared or measured by either monetary value or perks. My calling and passion are growing into a quest to share my experience with as many as I can, particularly students. I want to share my experience in the belly of Mammon, capitalist greed. I want to share my ongoing struggle for freedom in this right-handed world, with the kingdom of God within me.
Jesus talked about this struggle for freedom before he left his disciples. I find solace in his words as I keep going. He said,
I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. (John 16:33, The Message)
Keesha Moore was former CCHF staff. God has given her a deep kinship and love for her people of African descent. She annually travels to Kenya, East Africa, with Sankofa Student Ministries (SSM), a Christian ministry. SSM reaches out to African and African American college students and young adults throughout the state of Illinois.