A Zebra Without Stripes

I grew up a white American child in Kenya. A doubting, struggling, fearful Christian with bold, unwavering, evangelical missionary parents. As an adult, I’ve straddled the worlds of conservative Christianity and liberal academia, red states and blue states, flyover country and elite coasts, America and Africa. I can navigate a cocktail party or a tent revival, a mansion or a mud hut, in English or Swahili. I tear up at Oh Say Can You See and Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu. I swell with pride watching Simone Biles and Eliud Kipchoge. I’m not a real Kenyan, I’m a proud but slightly queasy American, I’m too heathen for evangelicals, too Christian for heathens, too conservative for liberals, and increasingly, too liberal for conservatives. I usually fit in on the outside and never quite can on the inside.

I used to feel I was without a culture, without a true home, that I was a zebra without stripes, to use a traditional African metaphor. 

But I’ve discovered none of us are really without stripes, however dislocated we may feel, nor are any of us, no matter how integrated and nurtured we are within a particular culture or community, born with a full set that suits us perfectly.   

We paint our own stripes, and we choose who we allow to paint with us.  We erase and rewrite and edit until we are each a unique creation that is a fingerprint of our experience.  It’s a process that never ends, and none of us are ever complete or finally home in this life.  The best we can do is to forge honest relationships with other painters and find family where we can.  

So here, I explore what that means and my experience crafting an identity and following a path of faith paved with love, joy, and peace instead of fear, judgment, and shame. I love Jesus, but I have some thoughts about his followers, specifically the white evangelical world of my upbringing. I will strive to share what I have learned, what I’m still discovering, and what I see happening in the American church. I’ll try to approach it without falling into the same self-righteous condemnation I grew up loathing.

But I will fail. I will repent. I will try again.

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