My experiences in life so far have taught me that most people of all stripes love titles of distinction. Frankly, I don’t care for them. I can be responsible and do the work I need to achieve the objectives I want without a title to make me feel or sound important. It may sound contradictory to say this as a recent Political Science Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and early career post-doctoral fellow and college professor at Wake Forest University. I may also be privileged to be disinterested because I have attained a certain level of status. But on my journey, my personal benefit from titles and status has been a very inconsistent venture.
On the course of my brief professional life as a college educator, I have been shocked into multiple realities: the juxtaposition of obsequious deference and painful rejection that I’ve experienced for the exact reason in relationships both old and new: my name is now Dr. Jaira J. Harrington. When folks discover my title, occupation or education status, some people practically bow at my feet or temper their words to use their best vocabulary, perhaps to impress me. I don’t know if they’re aware that they’re behaving this way. But, it is frightening the way some of us beg for the acceptance and approval of a mortal human being and it outclasses our daily relationship with an all-powerful, eternal God.
On the opposite pole, others outright reject my status and don’t give me any respect at all. Yet, someone else in the same position (or even of lesser status) would be honored without hesitation or fumble. I find the parties in both instances are mostly men. All in all, people across the board don’t know quite how to receive me. All the while, I’m still trying to figure out how to present myself. At the hazard of being a walking stereotype of the pretentious, haughty and arrogant academic, I often undersell myself to make others feel comfortable.
Yet, in a short period of time, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what I do. It only matters who I am that God calls me to be. Being an unapologeticly Black woman with a Christ-centered purpose and people-serving attitude, I am a threat and offense to the status quo of a racist, patriarchal, sexist and increasingly narcissistic “me-me-me” society. Individually and collectively, the church’s role in maintaining these structures of racial and gendered oppression and impediments cannot be overlooked. Sisters, brothers and others, we are participants too. By being participants, we are also active in our own destruction. But that can change if we are willing to deeply reflect on our purpose and realize the power that we have because we are called to be different.
As Believers, we are cities on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). Any effort to make others comfortable is a royal waste of time. Alternatively, any effort to have our service work seen by others is an obstacle to true relationship with God (Matthew 6: 1-4). Our time is better served to focus on God and the work itself God has purposed for our lives. What is your Godly purpose?
Upon deep reflection and commune with God, I have discovered that service through education, academic research, writing and community-building is the daily, tireless work of my life. That just happens to mean I need to be in university settings at times and people call me “Dr. Harrington”. However, Jesus reminds us all in Luke 22: 24-30 that there is no title that is greater than that of “servant”. No matter what status we attain on earth, the highest calling is when the heavenly Father can pleasantly smile on our life’s journey to say, “servant, well done.”