Keeping the Vineyard


By Brandon Morgan



Song of Solomon 1:5-6


“I am dark, but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
Like the tents of Kedar,
Like the curtains of Solomon.
Do not look upon me because I am dark,
Because the sun has tanned me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
They made me keeper of the vineyards,
But my own vineyard I have not kept.”


In this opening to the Song of Solomon, we see a maiden who longs for the King’s love, someone who yearns for his affection despite her tanned complexion from the work in the fields.


This Scripture strikes me not simply as a Christian, but also as a person of color in the United States. There are occasions where I trace the eyes of those around me on the train, at get-togethers, and even at church services. Although the thoughts that arise differ, the sentiment remains: “I am dark, but lovely.”


“I am dark, but lovely.” These words resonate with me. In spite of the injustice; in spite of the sideways looks and comments; in spite of the enhanced self-consciousness that comes with being a person of color in the society we live in: “I am dark, but lovely, and the King greatly desires my beauty.”


We need to do some work as the body of Christ. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that the most segregated place in the United States were congregations on Sunday mornings. Now, if that’s not true in the makeup of the body, it certainly is true in the culture of services. Regular service practices don’t tend to be reflective of the make-up of congregations, which is really a shame. There’s a tendency in churches that use terms like “multiethnic” or “diverse,” yet services tend to bend to practices of a majority culture. There will be a few international nights sprinkled throughout the year, but I don’t think this plays to the strengths of a diverse congregation. If there’s anything that I’ve learned about strength and unity in the church, it’s this: unity does not lie in conformation but in transformation. When we humble ourselves and allow Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves, and love the differences (no matter how difficult), we have something truly beautiful. The Church then becomes a body that can speak truth into a variety of areas because it’s not a homogenous mass, but a body with different functions and different perspectives. But I digress.


This article is not meant to be a diatribe against the church, but it is meant to demonstrate how I found something in the midst of my culture, in the midst of my “Blackness” I didn’t expect to find. Resurrection.


Growing up, my father always taught my older brother and me that “it was a White man’s world, and we had to get with the program to get ahead.” I don’t blame him for planting such a pernicious thought in my mind, but it certainly had an effect on us. So as the years progressed, I learned to walk as two different men in one body. One was Brandon, plain, pure, and simple. The other was a semblance of a man I was taught would be palatable to the world.


The first Brandon, the plain, pure, and simple Brandon, would emerge among family, certain friends, some places, but especially as I moved to Boston his presence began to dwindle more and more. The other Brandon, which I’ll simply dub the “Semblance,” began to step forward more and more in order to “get ahead,” in school, career, church. For example, there were times where I would disagree with what someone would say and for very good reasons. But I would hear the Semblance whisper: “Let it go. Better to not make a scene. Disagreement leads to being argumentative. Being argumentative is perilous because an argumentative Black man is perceived as a threat. Threats will always be dealt with swiftly. So, Let. It. Go.” The Semblance was highly self-conscious of everyone and everything. After all, it was better to blend into the majority culture than be alone.


But alone was what I became as I took on the personality of the Semblance. Only my close friends saw the true version of me, and sometimes they didn’t even get the full picture. But one day something happened.


I felt like God was leading me to quit my job as a teacher, a profession where I was performing well, albeit overworked and stressed. So, I stepped out in faith and submitted my two weeks’ notice. It’s funny. When we take that step of obedience, we expect God to split the sea in two to provide for us. And he does. He just has his own sense of timing (remember Jehovah Jireh, “The Lord Provides”, was first coined when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son). Anyway, I was looking for a full-time job, while working odd jobs to maintain a living in Boston.


During this time, death to self was imperative (though it took a bit to get there). If any kind of selfishness crept to the center of my being, I would quickly fall into despair and self-pity, loathing my existence and hating the God that allowed me to suffer this, especially after I was obedient in turning in my notice. I remember one of the jobs I had during this period was being a residential advisor for summer camps. I was building bunk beds for various rooms in the residence, and I stopped hammering, and said to myself, “I have my graduate degree, and I went to an Ivy League school. God, why is this happening? I worked too hard for things to turn out like this. I gave up too much of myself to reap this.” There was certainly a perspective God had to change.


Through this refining process, something interesting happened. Over time, I resorted to the Semblance less and less. It was being starved of opportunity to take root anywhere. The circumstances were grinding it to powder. With the hard-fought, experiential knowledge that everything comes from the hand of God, I knew I didn’t need to be someone I wasn’t anymore, which led to something else. True joy.



Joy in the knowledge that I am what I am by the grace of God, and it was he who made me and not me myself. I began to realize there was a certain resilience that comes from being Black in the United States and facing systems of oppression and discrimination. And when these systems don’t break you, there is something beautiful about that. There’s a deeply fought for wisdom that comes from “going through” those situations that reveals the King. I’m not saying these systems of oppression and discrimination are God’s will. I’m just saying there’s something about a disadvantaged people being oppressed by their neighbors that God is really drawn to.


It was through the process of dying to self and God resurrecting me that I saw the truth. When I see my brown skin, I see two things. I see beneath it the blood of a people that endured generation after generation to ensure I have the opportunities I have today. The other thing I see is a great strength and endurance that comes by being a person of color. And enduring hardship while serving God is something that is pleasing to him.


For the Shulamite woman in the Song of Solomon, she mentioned how the sun had tanned her because she unjustly had to take care of everyone else’s needs and couldn’t tend to her own. She saw it as disadvantage; “Do not look upon me because I am dark.” However, I think the disadvantages brought her a certain wisdom that others may not necessarily have. And I believe this was one of the things that drew the King to this character.


Whatever disadvantage you’re facing, know that as you endure it while following the King, it’s a developing beauty that he greatly desires.



Brandon Morgan
Saved by grace, Brandon seeks to love God and others well. Despite falling short in life, he has been blessed with good people in his life and a loving relationship with Christ. He serves youth in the greater Boston area through mentoring, teaching, and coaching. Brandon enjoys climbing, reading, writing, and spending time with good friends.


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