From Sandra to Nicki

28 07 2015

Given the racially charged climate in the United States today, something as small as black women’s words can aggravate ego and catalyze death. What is occurring when a black woman uses her words on behalf of herself?

When a black woman speaks, believe her. Inquire what lives in her words. Something is there behind them. A work is happening. Revelation is occurring: the question becomes whether we are interested in revelation outside of ourselves.

Here’s a piece I wrote for Marginalia on why black women’s words matter in every context, including within popular music and at traffic stops.

Thanks in advance for the support and constructive engagement!





What Sandra Could Say

24 07 2015

Because her story made its way into my dreams last night and rested on my mind this morning, I thought to honor Sandra in the best way I knew how, through poetry. This is not nor ever will be a perfect expressive effort. I didn’t know Sandra nor do I know the details of her life. But I know she was a black woman who in her assertion of her humanity was overpowered by forces of violence and evil. Thus all of us must face her story, face reality, change reality, and #SayHerName: #Sandra. #BlackLivesMatter

“What Sandra Could Say”

I am not a monkey

I do not need to be made one

I do not need to be tail-ed

I do not need to be in a cage

And I certainly do not need

To hang from anything

 

No

I will not be quiet

I will demand my humanity

In my own language

In the dialect of self-respect

 

I will translate your racism

In my nouns of disbelief

In my defiant words of my purpose

In my movement

Towards your ivory cage

Which I will severely rattle

With the words of who I am

 

Know

I am here to free you too

My tongue is freeing this nation

From assuming that I am a

Different type of animal

Than you





Why Reconciliation Isn’t Working: Ramblings on the Church’s Unwillingness to Leave the Jim Crow Era

22 07 2015

 

Black Live Matter

Amuse my wonderings.

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We are in a dangerous place if one of the first questions in our theological process isn’t: What is this for? Variations of this question are acceptable: Who is this for? What am I doing this for? Towards what am I believing?

These questions are important to consider because oftentimes theory and praxis in the church are more distant than many of us want to admit. Our churches are behind – not necessarily the progress of the world (I’ll try to locate the article I read some time ago naming how churches were decades behind “the world.”), but the progress of communities in particular time periods.

The church is not behind the world. Today, the world is quite murderous and muting towards minorities, people of color, and women (class is interwoven here too). The church isn’t too far off from this. Thus, my concerns for the church’s anachronistic existence. The church of today seems more like a newly postcolonial entity (not in terms of progressivism, but in terms of existing directly after the “end” of colonialism). A colonial mentality is quite affirming, once we think about it:

“I’m here to show you how to do Christianity like me!” –  Read: I can bring my entire self into your religious world, and fully exist there, something I will not allow you to do if you choose to enter into my own.

“Of course you are allowed to keep your traditions! They are so culturally rich and beautiful!” – Read: Your traditions, your cultural and literal languages will be tolerated for how I perceive how beautiful and unique they are. Never mind that your first language will have to be English and mainline or evangelical churchisms. Your music, your church language, your church mannerisms will be tolerated but cannot be your primary language in my religious space, my religious space that you are laying down a lot to be a part of in order to fully be present in my space that refuses such silliness.

But what happens when a church does not reject an oppressive postcolonial existence is…nothing. Or rather, progressive nothing. Majority churches today are too afraid to name that they might still be Jim Crow-ish. Integration was never minority initiated. Many minority churches are its offspring. Many majority churches are its mother.

For a (hoping to be) postcolonial and non-racist society and its church, this is terrifying. No one wants their church to be of the Jim Crow era. But this is precisely what syphoning how much attention, if any, to attend to the scary reality of being black or a person of color today means consistently and constantly (Shout out to those who will also get physically ill when they see a police cruiser!).

I guess the question for me is, which is stronger? Being more scared of being labeled as currently living into a racist legacy or being terrified that your Christianity tiptoes the line of progressivist idolatry? Are you scared that your faith might get a bad rap or that it might not be faith at all?

For me reconciliation asks and wonders communally: What does it mean to bring your full self to church, to be your full self in church? How is that facilitated? Who should facilitate such a lofty miracle? To be scared of these questions of the persons asking these questions is to worship the terror of being wrong. Jesus wanted liberation. For all. Who gets to determine what our liberations look like?

Bradley Wright’s study on church welcomeness based on race was eye-opening for me. His work brought up questions for me around a question that I am not sure churches doing racial reconciliation are willing to ask or even aware to ask: Is our church interested in being fully integrated?

This is a difficult question to hold because it seems terribly antiquated: it is a question of the Civil Rights era, and no church today wants their purpose, mission and practice to ask fifty year old questions. But they should be, because they are tending to a problem that has lived much longer than that. The church is stuck in a pre-Civil Rights era; this is a problematic ontology, because it illumines how non-church the church is, how the church is in fact not being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What is racial reconciliation then? And further, if Christ has done the reconciling work, what are churches actually doing? I wrote a paper last year that argued that from an evangelical standpoint racial reconciliation is more a spiritual mandate than tangible desire (Emerson and Smith’s Divided by Faith was helpful). It is practiced for spiritual well-being instead of true love-work. In this then, minorities become the platform on which the majority can perform their fantasies and secure their salvation.

I wonder what the anti-integration character of churches aiming to do reconciliation means today. In many ways our faith is for us, for our salvation, monuments to support our good beliefs, this is the complex truth. But if faith does not explore how much it should be for us, it remains about us. Can something that we enter into with our well-being in mind turn our hearts, eyes, ears, minds, words and actions towards others? Only time will tell. Until then, I challenge you (yes, you who is reading) to ask if your church has left the Jim Crow era. Is it fully integrated? If not, why? If you are in a church of the majority and this is the case, wonder aloud and often, is this the Gospel? (Please, let me know if you have a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote for this line of questioning…)

If churches trying to do reconciling work of the racial sort are afraid of their vocal minorities and the heart-wrenching questions and challenges that the Gospel they (minorities) know encourages and brings to the forefront, I’m not sure if they know the Gospel. If churches not doing it but interested in it are afraid of Latin@ prophets and American native truth-tellers, black accountability, and Asian calls to repentance – do it anyway. Do it afraid, do it terrified, do it hurt, pained, pushed, and ultimately allow yourself to be changed. Do the Gospel anyway.

The Gospel is revolutionary, radical, and averse to power. Lay down your obsession with power, your loyalty to comfort, your fear of addressing white fragility, your tears that shut down minority questioning and opposition, your “but” arguments, your “I’m tired of this” mentality and join in. The weary work of wellness is upon you. In fear, exhaustion and pain – embrace it.





Shooting en Sanctum

20 07 2015

EmanuelAME

I am convinced that death haunts spaces of retreat (click to see more of my piece at Mudroom).

Unfortunately too many people know that respite is a fleeting thing. Bullet holes serve as reminders of this.

In 2012 a hole was torn into my heart. And again in 2014. And again and again. The racial violence permeating national news was too much to handle; so my heart bled, wounded, hardly consolable and never fully given enough time to heal before the next black death. This summer, for my sake and everyone around me, I needed to take a break. I thought it best to do the two things that would move my heart towards healing: writing and retreating – together.

So I did. But day two into this healing adventure, I discovered anew that hearts with holes cannot not bleed, as death forced its way back in front me reiterating its permanent and painful presence. The horrific massacre at Emanuel AME reminds me that suffering will never stop speaking. She will advocate for her voice to be heard – and so I must listen and join in her wailing and telling, lamenting and speaking, supporting her and thus being thrust into the world of ecclesial, political, communal, familial and personal accountability.

Our hearts reminds us that its bleeding is that which keeps the church feeling, in tune with suffering – living. A bleeding heart is a heart attuned to life’s beauty and ills. No one wants it. It hurts too much, but it opens the church’s eyes to pain and the aching realities of its fractured body, its spilt blood.

The deaths of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Ethel Lance sparked a necessary interruption in the church’s compliance and silence practices and will prayerfully be part of the legacy of racism’s defeat, especially within the church.

Their deaths are our interruption. We should never take them lightly; in fact, we must let them interrupt us daily. Let us continue to hear them speak. I’d love your thoughts and opinions of death’s haunting nature at the Mudroom blog.





Theological Mammyism: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of a Tired Black Female Christian Scholar

19 07 2015

Another post I decided to bring back as it explains my voice and my experience

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Theological mammyism[1]

Noun, verb, ontological stance

Definition:

  1. An illness of benevolent oppression or practice. Feigned righteousness. Symptoms include a desire to do the right thing, to be involved in social justice in pre-prescribed ways, the majority’s power of choice in deciding to involve parts (of their choosing) of their life into the lives and realities of others when they find it most convenient and most opportune.
  2. An act of theft. Behaviors, acts, actions and processes by which majority persons’ theological points, positions or standpoints are expected to be made to feel cared for, attended to and affirmed by black persons as original or new – particularly points that originated from black persons that they may or may not acknowledge.
  3. An act of assumed subservience and service. The aura and attitude of those in a position of power expecting black people to present their black theological in a manner that is acceptable to and digestible for them. It may not exceed these persons of power’s comfort levels, but must maintain a quality of service to their egos and fantastic image of themselves as justice-oriented, not exercising power and privilege, or down with minority’s causes. Simply put where being a person in power, a person who is the majority is expected to be theologically catered to, unruffled, affirmed as thoughtful of others while it is primarily aimed to preserved a certain sense of righteous self.

I am mad, no I am angry. Because theological mammyism has not been called out by those in power amongst their own in real, tangible, uncomfortable, willing-to-be-disowned by family and friends ways. Jesus said kinships will not be the same. Why isn’t this taken seriously? Why are kinships of power and influence still intact, often untouched? Where is the kingdom in that?

Power provides itself a safety net, and it’s called their own. When power has the choice to involved itself in minority life but return to its haven of power, of its own people, it is still power, but now it is power thinking it is dressed in robes of righteousness. The risk is calculated.

Many of us don’t have the choice to throw caution to the wind when we step into another’s life. We are totally bare, totally exposed, waiting for those in power to do the same.

I am so tired of it.

It is everywhere. Especially in those who swear they do not exercise it.

I should not write when I am angry or tired, but oftentimes this state of being is when ideas flow out in their actuality and thoughts take on their truest form.

I am tired.

I am tired of colleagues and friends in power expect me to walk around with a satchel of cookies waiting for me to congratulate and applaud them when they do something good towards those deemed the other, good that should not be considered and is not extraordinary, good that should be done by Christians anyway.

I am tired of being a Girl Scout.

Theological mammyism is present in every person of power presenting the powerless’ ideas back to them as if they came up with it. It can be a theological version of “Columbusing.”

But it is something so much more insidious and sneakier and smaller yet powerful than that. It is making the powerless feel uncomfortable, as if they’ve gone too far when they express themselves in full truth, full anger, full rage. It is a mechanism of shutting another down. It likes black feminism/womanism/any expression of black female theological positioning when it is useful for a paper, but it is afraid of black feminism/womanism/any expression of black female theological positioning when it asks to be taken seriously in real life. It is theological power uninhibited that affirms and evangelizes the liberation theology that it can understand, but firmly rejects the facets of it that it cannot fathom because it is hitting a bit too close to them, to their “only sometimes” racist friends, to their bigoted parents and beloved ignorant grandparents who “know no better.”

Theological mammyism needs black persons to let people in power know that their family is excluded from reform – that they get a pass because of the generation they grew up in, the neighborhoods, they were raised in, the fact that they were poor and lived amongst blacks or Latinos so their off-handed comments are okay.

Theological mammyism doesn’t like the black theology that is angry and has a right to be so. It likes the thought-provoking ideas of it, just not its manifestation in real life, in real practice. That is too hard. Theological clashing with real life is too painful for those in power. Never mind many others live in states of perpetual pain.

Theological mammyism is the desire for those in power to be coddled by black persons, to be told that they are right, that they are in, that they “get it,” that they are “cool with us.” It is the ontology and practice of those who seek affirmation with no sign of reformation or no desire for repentance that will actually cost them position, friends, family. It is a position that costs them nothing while it costs the powerless everything. When did theological practice cost nothing or even little?

The sad thing is, no person in power is exempt from it. Everyone in power is implicated within it. Especially, especially, especially those who think, even for a moment, that this post is not for or about them.

The test for a theological mammyist is whether they will run to or run away from a conversation such as this. Only time will tell.

More later when I gather my heart and head and of course, hear your thoughts.

[1] Term coined by Tomi Oredein. It is constantly evolving and being made richer by conversation with colleagues, but remains an original idea still in formation.





10 Things Churches Need to Do Racial Reconciliation

16 07 2015

  10 Things Racial Reconciliation

I’m laying everything that I (think I) know out there because deep down in my soul, I think there’s something to this racial reconciliation thing in churches. I believe in it as one expression of the work Christ has already done for us (there’s also gender, sexual, economic, etc. forms that fit under the notion of “reconciliation” as a whole as well). I really, deep down believe it.

What the church should be asking concerning racial reconciliation is not “How can we reconcile to one another?” but “Do we even know that we are reconciled?” In other words, when we pause to think about it, we are working backwards. Reconciliation has already happened; we are merely trying to catch up to it in real time. We are trying to catch up to the reality that Christ has already set before us. Our reconciliation attempts are outdated moments where we hope to stumble upon a way of being that propels us into the truth of Christ’s redeeming work.

So we mess it up, because none of us have the answers. The best we have is the difficult opportunity to learn what it is literally as we go. We learn about its complications church bombings and shootings, we learn about it staunch history in denominational splits. We allow death, pain, suffering and loss to be the lamentable good of our reconciliatory consciousnesses. They are lamentable teachers.

So, no, I do not have a template for you. But I have thoughts, ideas, inklings, the best that I can do that I hope will do the work of drawing us away from death. And maybe that is how we should think about what it is we are engaging in in the risky calling of racial reconciliation. It is the dangerous work that we do together on and with each other drawing us all away from death, thus it will require the most intense focus on those closest to or living in death. It is hard for white people and minorities at different levels, for different reasons, requiring different amounts of commitment and sacrifice. It is work that feels like death in order to draw each other away from death – death that can look like racial injustice or white privilege, economic disadvantage or false perceptions of boot strap mentalities, death that can look like “I am worthless because society has told me so” or “I am worthwhile because the society those like me built still tells me so.”

So without further ado, here is a painful and honest list that churches need to do racial reconciliation:

1. A serious desire to do it

This means that white churches cannot set the example for what reconciliation looks like, because they’ve never done it before. But neither can minorities. What is crucial to hold near is that minorities should take the lead – not because we know anything more, but because we know what being reconciled to someone does not look like, and it does not look like white power in ecclesial form. Those who have the most experience on the underside is…well, experienced about the underside. If racial reconciliation aims to level out what life means and can offer to all, it must be a student of the underside.

2. A majority minority congregation (or at least half minority congregation)

Minorities remaining minorities does not make any sense. If it did, then I’m not sure it’s racial reconciliation. Here it is wise to take a page out of the book of the Civil Rights Movement – white people joined a black majority and bold people of color and their allies in the faith were a force so strong that they made major moves in changing the political landscape of the country. Pay attention to where, why, how and through whom change has happened. And again, become a student.

3. Righteous anger as a staple (and even requirement) in the reconciliation agenda

Anger is a part of reconciliation. Let me say it again: Anger is a part of reconciliation. If you plan on doing reconciliation by running away from, concealing it or snuffing it out – I would call your practice reconciliatory supremacy, not racial reconciliation. Anger can be attached to pain, hurt and suffering, thus when it is ignored as a barrier to reconciliation instead of an aspect of it, pain, hurt and suffering is ignored. And what is reconciliation for if it is not mending work? To deny someone the full range and scope of their feelings in light of their experiences is to deny them their being. Let me say that again: to deny someone the full range and scope of their feelings in light of their experiences is to deny them their being. Don’t do that – unless you’re okay with supremacy.

4. A minority-created or minority-led reconciliation ideation    

Basically minorities need to be the primary visionaries behind what reconciliation could look like for that body. That’s it. Will it super-structured and neatly mapped out? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is that people who experience the “racial” part of racial reconciliation most intensely get to name their own solutions, get to take charge in efforts to work through things that might have been plaguing them for most of their lives.

5. Leaders willing to hold minority pain without becoming fractured, impatient, insecure, or feeling (egotistically) threatened

Hopefully taking seriously the suffering of others should fortify resolve. Yes, despair is kin to resolve and needs adequate space to live and breathe, but resolve should have the final say. Being pained towards action should be the driving force of leadership in churches called to racial reconciliation. If the truth is painful, this can mean one of two things: 1) Your heartstrings are pulled where you feel a mixture of hurt, shame, but ultimately painful clarity. Something is clicking within you about what spaces of power you occupy and need to surrender; 2) Your heart is hardening and you’ve hit your discomfort limit and may or may not use language of not feeling safe (and yes, the majority using safe language in a space difficult to exist in as a minority is power language), feeling that what is occurring is reverse racism (also a poor showing of power), or that race is brought up too much (avoidance = power, seeing a trend?). Either way, painful truth is an important discerning tool for the minority; it shows quite clearly whether someone is in or out of the reconciliation efforts.

6. Minority leadership

Half of the leadership should be minorities, because (cough, cough) they have experience being a minority and might have an idea about what is important to minorities – not to “bring or draw more in” but to be considered equally as the church. Minority leadership is not a gimmick or advertisement, but a practice of a church who has minorities who also should be seen as part of the church. This notion is not novel; it is civil and just to allow minority voices to have presence in their very own church.

7. Minority context

Because, let’s face it, minorities will not come to white churches to be their reconciliation “project.” Churches need to be in spaces where it can know a variety of people. If a church is in a diverse space and still attracts white people, that is a warning sign that some type of barrier is in the way whether it’s denominational, racial, economic, cultural, etc. Something needs to be named and teased out, honestly named and adjusted.

8. Built in time and space for minorities to retreat 

Reconciliation exceeds being a job. It is lifestyle, and thus for people who think about and/or have experienced powerless a great deal of time, it can be a life drain. Minorities do not want to be around people in power operating in their power all of the time. We need breaks. We need retreat. We need time and space to be around those like us where we do not have to teach others how to see us and others. Space to simply be away is important. It may look like attending another church, it may look like a minority caucus within the church or with other churches. Either way, it is necessary for sanity and the presence of minorities to continue in reconciliation work.

9. Willingness to have desires dissected

Everything will be questioned on a large scale: Why are we doing this? What does this mean for us? And on a small scale: Why do I feel like I want to leave? Why is this so hard for me? Have I always lived in supremacy? How do I unlearn it? Reconciliation requires everyone, minorities included, to be unmade from harmful and inaccurate depictions of the self and others. If you are raising a family, this will be heightened as you are literally passing along your life lessons to your family. This is scary ground to be on, but necessary.

10. The courage to risk denominational exile  

If churches aren’t asking why minorities cannot thrive there, but can thrive amongst their own, they miss the opportunity to see where privilege might be built into the structures of their denominationalism. But this is a silly point to list as most are not willing to risk “that much.” Reconciliation is not an agenda, but a way of being church. If churches are not willing to take the ultimate risk and be church away from or outside of denominations with tainted histories and present practices that favor some over others that it is not willing to address, then that church is not ready for all reconciliation as a way of life requires of them.

Risk of angering and stepping away from their denomination if they do not advocate for just reconciliatory practice – this is the most dangerous practice. The security of a denomination is basically a god. Funding, support, progress, placement, even community are all perks of denominational affiliation. To have the heart to risk angering or leaving a denomination is a risk most are not willing to take. But when reconciliation does not fit inside denominational confines, the rubber must hit the road. If one’s denomination is built on majority ethnocentricity, which, if we’re frank, many mainlines are, hence black and immigrant churches, it should be a candidate of things that need to be reformed in your church’s life.

When it gets down to it, all ten things can be summarized in risk. Risk hurts, costs a lot a lot of the time, and has a slim chance of reward. It is not good business practice especially with such low return rates. But it is the stuff of our faith. To avoid risk is to claim identity as a church that simply isn’t true.

This entire list can be summed up as “risk as faith.” Racial reconciliation work takes both. Faith in this form will take on the uncomfortable form that it was intended to be. Faith was never meant to be easy, pleasant or fun, but true. And what is truer to the Christian faith than battling the ways of the world – the church world, where comfort and power dressed in the holy linguistic garb of “love” reigns. “The world” is not out there, but in here – the world is in our churches, churches that can learn a lot about what some in the world get right about loving our neighbor as ourselves and thus fighting and putting comfort and safety on the line for their just treatment. The world is internal; it is in us. Until churches pursuing racial reconciliation acknowledge this fact and get treatment for it (minority spaces being one form), it is running in self-righteous circles. The world is not a place or people who need us as the church to save it, it is the moment in ourselves where we fail to see another equally, and choose to attribute this feeling to sin. It is missed opportunities to try to do better in some strange hope that the Spirit will make us better and move us towards wholeness. Racial reconciliation is a terrifying proposition for terrifying and terrified people. I have no idea why, but it seems like God wouldn’t have it any other way.





Racial Reconciliation Power Check

16 07 2015

So, I also deleted this post for fear of being too controversial. Glad I’m over that…

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Racial Reconciliation Power Check photo

Those invested or involved in racial reconciliation in the church, consider if you recognize the following in yourself. In trying to do reconciliation those in power need to be aware of the following:

1) Excuse-ing: where those in power ex-cuse themselves out of a situation they perceive as too hard, uncomfortable or difficult. Excuses become the language one speaks as permission to leave these situations. But they fail to consider the whole church; they fail to imagine how it is for those with less or no power.

2) Wall-retreating: emotional oppression where the angered, upset, critical, observant minority is perceived as too emotional or mean and thus unhearable and/or one to run away from. The person in power hits a wall, but instead of deciding to pick up a sledgehammer and join their minority brother and sister to knock down that wall, they retreat from it, giving up, or worse yet, decorating the wall while vehemently denying that it is a wall. They instead call it a foundation – a foundation they are proud of because ironically, and horrifically, they helped build it.

3) Selective solidarity: identifying with an oppressed group on some level, but denying their truths on another level, or, bypassing oppressed groups in front of them completely in order to join with others they have fantasized helping full ignorant to the fact that this solidarity operates in a mode of exchange: I, the person in power find myself or secure my morality in helping poor (insert minority here), where (insert minority here) have minimal desire to enter into this contract but see the potential to have some of their needs met, so reluctantly and strategically agree. Survival becomes evident on both ends, the question becomes surviving what?

Racial reconciliation is amazing and nearly impossible because it leaves absolutely no room for bull, no space for lies, and no time for theological mannequins.

Either you do it or you don’t. And to be clear, “doing it” implies actually entering the throes of knowledge alerting you to the fact that everything you thought and much of what you think is reconciliation actually is not.

Racial reconciliation thrusts those in power towards having different teachers, teachers that they cannot pick and teachers who care less about how truth hurts feelings and more about how hurt feelings perpetuate injustice.

Reconciliation is not for the faint of heart. It is for all Christians, though – many, unfortunately, who are faint-hearted.

Where might help come from? Jesus, of course. But let’s not also forget that the body of Christ is present in the church – therefore, I encourage those in power to explore the body they are part of. Perhaps they might realize that they are a fingernail instead of eye, a knee cap instead of a arm, an eyelash instead of a torso.

What wonders would body exploration bring? But of course, we must recognize that even “exploration” is such a loaded concept in itself.

 








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