Petrified Flowers was released on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 during a time in our country’s history that has been referred to as Racial Restoration. I would like to call it Racial Reckoning, but I don’t believe a full reckoning has come. In my mind, true restoration hasn’t been fully realized either. My word choice might be attributed to that fact that my tendency as an African American woman is to consciously choose verbiage that won’t be construed as threatening. “Reckoning” has an ominous ring to it. I’m constantly fighting the urge to be fully emotive for fear of being labeled as an angry Black woman.
Petrified Flowers is about a grief and disquiet that permeates the life of an African American girl until God enters her purview and cloaks her anxiety in His love and His wisdom. He restores Iris and her entire family. In the span of just two years Iris travels through three different spheres of American life – she is an upper middle-class minority, then she walks as an impoverished majority member. Finally, Isis is propelled into a utopian school where children are seen for who they are inside, and directed to work hard, serve, and positively impact society. I believe every child should exist in that third sphere.
As people begin to read Petrified Flowers, I keep hearing how “timely” the publication is. And, since I’m being brave and fully vulnerable here, I must confess. I hear the characterization “timely” differently, depending on who says it to me. The first time a white sister complimented Petrified Flowers that way, it was like a lash on my heart. It split me wide open. I wanted to reply defensively, “Yes. It’s been timely since 1619.”
My good friend Laurie O’Connor, author of Live ABOVE the Chaos, recently gave a talk as part of a Bible study series she wrote - One Gritty Blink. I always learn something new when Laurie speaks. And, this time I learned about the “Six Selves” Communication theory. The theory goes like this; there are six selves involved in every interaction:
· what A thinks of B
· what B thinks of A
· what A thinks B thinks of A
· and what B think A thinks of B
I don’t know about you, but that feels exhausting to me. It reminds me of when I was a kid. If another kid tried to interrupt a conversation, we’d sassily say, “This is an A, B conversation, you can C your way out of it.”
All jokes aside, while even reading this theory feels way too entangled to me, I recognize it’s also totally accurate. For example, when a white sister tells me Petrified Flowers is “so timely,” I immediately think issues of racial injustice have just now sprung up for her because she saw a news clip, or read an article on the internet. The inequality my people have been experiencing for centuries is new to her. She thinks this is the perfect time to publish a book about it because she is finally interested in reading that kind of book. The truth is, I have no idea what my white sister is thinking, or whether she has been attuned to racial injustice for her entire life.
When a sister with African roots tells me Petrified Flowers is “so timely,” I assume that she is thinking what I am thinking – enough white people are finally waking up, and so they will be more likely to purchase Petrified Flowers, and to sympathize with the plight of Iris and her sisters. This book is yet another avenue toward the recognition of, rejection of, and reparation of racial justice.
The truth is, I have no business interpreting these statements differently based on the color of my sisters’ skin. When I do, I am no different from the people that I accuse of seeing me as Black first. The truth is, Petrified Flowers is timely for all of us – Christian, Black, white, young, old, female, and yes, even male. It is timely for poetry lovers and those who have been reluctant to delve into the complicated web that poetry weaves, with its multiple definitions and myriad interpretations. Petrified Flowers is an illustration, inspired by God for such a time as this.
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Special Note: Laurie O’Connor graciously allowed me to use her name and her teaching in this post. Laurie is a dynamic teacher of the Word. You can follow her, subscribe to her blog, and purchase her book at https://www.oaksministries.com/