Something About That Name
By Olivia Pearl Marbury
January 24, 2024
We wrap ourselves in that name as a source of protection. Freedom is in that name. Healing is in that name. Shout it — for there is something about that name.
Run across the room, raise your hands — step. The body is a vessel for praise. Use it with all your might. Let it shutter in your bones like fire. Like fire, run! For you are free! Freedom is in that name. Healing is in that name. Power is in that name. Shout it — for there is something about that name.
I was raised up with that name: Jesus.
As soon as I spoke, nights ended with the Lord’s prayer and the tune of Jesus Loves Me. I was taught not to pray like it was a routine but to really speak to Him. Each night my parents crouched down around my sister and I’s twin beds — surrendered.
Saturdays were reserved for children’s choir practice, and every Sunday Morning we’d scramble to get to church on time. I’d often dread itchy pantyhose and matching dresses with my sister. No matter how hard I tried, my slow pace and frequent whining never prevented us from getting to church. My parents allowed us to enter church as annoyed as we wanted; we never left the house of God feeling the same way we came.
The church was where I was surrounded by my people. Sunday Morning was nothing short of a ritual.
Though the pastor urged every lost soul to come as they were, no one ever did. The ensembles made for a colorful crowd. The pews were full of hats that housed perfect press-and-curls reserved for the glorious day and knee-length skirts accompanied by three-piece suits.
The entrance into the sanctuary was never lonely. After a million welcomes, good mornings, and hugs, the choir — first serenading us outside of the doors — boomed when we finally stepped into the sanctuary.
I never dared touch a door. They opened at the white-gloved hands of the ushers, who escorted us with order and a smile to the perfect seat for four. The choir bellowed in a way that only we could in God’s house. Shout! Screams and wails of worship filled the room.
My church had a smell. It had mints and popsicle fans, and the Holy Spirit took form in rhythm — hymns and gospel speaking life into those who had seen so much of it.
Gospel music was in our bellies. There was no elaborate band, just the talents of a pianist and drummer with tambourines aiding in Total Praise and joyful noise.
Our music held life. Transcending beyond notes and lyrics, the voices of worship encouraged us; no matter the circumstances, we were Blessed and Highly Favored. Something about the music was different — it was spirited.
The pastor moved our congregation just as the choir did — speaking life through crescendos and perfectly timed pauses.
“Can I get a witness?”
There was no such thing as strangers in the church, just visitors, brothers, and sisters. The pastor urged the congregation to turn to their neighbor and say “Neighbor, Trouble Don’t Last Always.” The service ended in a proclamation that each person be blessed when they come and go.
The Black church was more than just a community. It was kin. It was family. It was looking out for each other because my mother knows yours.
I was known as the daughter of Charlotte and Anthony — ah, the Marburys, our family unit, a part of a beautifully woven quilt of support.
Faith was one of the few things passed down in our history. The spiritual trumped the physical. My family may have lacked the prestigious connections and trust funds, we were all invested in spiritually beyond comprehension.
As a church kid, there was no such thing as leaving early. I’d sit back in the volunteer breakroom and listen to light post-service conversations shift into deep reflections and prayers over one another. The pastor and his wife not only offered prayers but answered them through action. Love was on display through the investment of time to instill what was necessary for every Black life: hope.
I remember going to a church in my white neighborhood when, God forbid, we’d be too late for our church home’s service. Their Jesus was different. They whispered that name, and that name demanded composure. There was no shouting, only swinging melodies. Their church’s building was 10 times bigger, yet it felt so empty. No hugs here, maybe a handshake or a wave and smile. I didn’t dare speak or shout “amen” in agreement. Their pastor never asked for one — just calm hmms.
It was as if they didn’t need to shout the good news of freedom through Jesus, but that they themselves were the true embodiments of it. The true strong hands of white purity were where their Jesus had bestowed birthrights of superiority and perfection, equating Him to their whiteness.
What shocked me the most weren’t only the points uplifting aggressive evangelism or passive belittling of those from other faiths or backgrounds. It was the silence. They never addressed real issues of oppression — oppression which their silence uplifted.
Our Jesus was different because our struggles were different. To go through so much but still yell out that name — “Jesus” — is power. . It’s liberation, it’s necessary, it’s survival.
Dr. James H. Cone, the Father of Black Theology, merged and intellectualized the Black identity and Christianity during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, when the question of whether the faith was a “white man’s religion” was raised. Cone argued that God was on the side of the oppressed; liberation and freedom were nothing short of Jesus’ own story. The story of Jesus, although perverted by the majority, is related to the Black experience at its core: the resurrection represents the ultimate act of liberation.
Liberation was on full display in my church home. The God we served was worthy of praise in every form, no matter how loud, grandiose, or “out of place” it seemed. We had no other choice BUT to shout that name!
Our Black existence, and pride and strength within it, was found in a world that demanded the opposite. Life was nothing short of a miracle. In the house of God, every Black body belonged to no one but God.
My church was a place where freedom was found within a world where we had to beg for it.
Our spirituality merged with His greatness shifted the atmosphere. He saw each shout, each burst into tongues, and each fall out for the radical faith it was in the midst of circumstances where it seemed irrational.
At the core of the Black church is survival, and though our faith was shaped by the unique experience of race, it didn’t omit internal issues.
The world around us constantly challenges the Black identity, experience, and the very worst, humanity. The church had to prepare the youth for life outside its walls. Preparation was demonstrated in the form of tough love: breaking down in order to be built back up and earning mercy by enduring hardship. These unfortunate attempts of guidance snowballed into weeds within the garden of the Black church.
The church is made of people, and no one is perfect. This fall from grace and perfect sanctification didn’t disguise itself for long.
Gossip after service from women I once looked up to made my ears perk up as a teen. The adults expected to set an example failed to, and sealed the deadly sins they had allegedly turned away from with a “Girll, did you hear…?”
I’d constantly question the standards for women and the bizarre concern and near obsession of “purity”. I saw the consequences of a ruined reputation when one fell short of expectations created by people, not God.
Comfort I once found within the community I had grown up in shifted into fear of missing the mark of perfection. Fear is powerful, and in my case it turned into resentment.
The weeds within the church overtook the seeds of faith that were once planted in my life. The unanswered questions, instilled shame, and the constant over-spiritualization of personal suffering and trauma combined with fear – church hurt.
The hurt I experienced from a place where I first found true, full love was an unexplainable pain. It wasn’t until I encountered Him personally that I truly grasped the One I had been introduced to serve.
Calling on that name Jesus wasn’t a way out of life’s issues. Faith was a personal tool of relief that went beyond my own understanding, and most importantly: it was my choice. That name commanded doors to open that I’d never dream of. Calling on it divinely positioned souls in my life at the perfect time and place. By getting to know Him in silence and true devotion through prayer and meditation, I experienced Him outside of the church.
The church is now somewhere I run to when I need a hug only a grandmother can give. A place where God’s grace shines through His people, and where His image is made apparent through His craft that he is so clearly obsessed with.
Christ is my Firm Foundation but the church was the home built upon it. No matter the dysfunctions of any household, there is no place like home.
My identity is still strongly rooted in the seeds my parents planted. I still end my nights with the Lord’s prayer and Jesus Loves Me before bed. All because there is Something About the Name Jesus. ■
Layout: Olivia Wallace & Melanie Huynh
Photographer: Shreya Ayelasomayajula
Stylists: Mariana Aguirre & Miguel Anderson
HMUA: Frida Espinosa & Srikha Chaganti
Models: Jordyn Jackson & Genesis Pieri