Who Gets to Talk about Black Women’s Bodies, A Flow Chart

8 11 2015

Black Womens Bodies Flow Chart





Racial Reconciliation is for the ENTIRE body of Christ so I’m Redefining What It Means

12 08 2015

I’m in a place of psychological shift. The way I think is being altered, and I’m happy for it. I hope that as I get older, I get wiser and I learn how to constructively question things I have believed in order to enter into new and truer forms of belief. I don’t want to believe blindly, but I want to build belief based on how I build and live my life.

For me, I believe in racial reconciliation in the church. It is something that entered my mind ten years ago and has never left. It is something that has entered my mission six years ago and has revealed itself as a true demonstration of church.

But I may be a rare being. I am a black woman highly aware of racial, gender, sexual and class dynamics. I spent a portion of my childhood, teens and early twenties in black churches (which I am sure holds its own degrees and rankings of how “black church” I am). But that has been my experience. Have I always fit into said black churches? I would argue that I never have. As a Nigerian, it is hard not to remain an outlier or to become the link back to Africa so many are desperate for they don’t realize they’re limiting what my connection with them could be because of it. So I have always been either outsider or a means to the inside, back to Africa. Neither way have I been particularly useful to or connected to the history of the black church in the United States.

But my story took an odd turn in my mid-twenties. I joined a white church in hopes to be part of the nearly impossible mission of the church to be reconciled to one another. And the area I am most interested in doing so is through race and ethnicity.

Ephesians 2:12-16 is a key text in reconciling work, but many miss its great power. It demonstrates the power of God to bend time – many overlook this and skip to Jew-Gentile relations (we’ll leave that conversation for another post). This movement is too quick if it overlooks what time is doing and meaning for the church.

Eph. 2 talks about the reconciling work that Christ has already done that we are living into in the present – though it has already been done. We are currently trying to live into the past and future in the present. We are thus trying to figure out how to live into the reality Christ has already set before us – we are trying to make what has been will be. Reconciliation is about transcending time, moving beyond the past while requiring it, living into the future all the while not knowing it that well. We need a more complex understanding of racial reconciliation – at the bare minimum to honor how time is working in our conceptualizing of it. But we stick with our simple strategies of what some (mainly white) people have guessed it should be. The emphasis on what time means to reconciliation should place our attention of what the “we” means as well.

We (majority and minority churches alike) often fail to understand how we’ve constrained racial reconciliation to moments of white solution-creating if we think (or buy into the notion, yes, even through rejecting it, that) racial reconciliation means minorities entering into white church spaces. It seems a bit offensive to reduce Christ’s redemptive work to the project of white churches assuaging its guilt of having no intention of not remaining white churches.

So this brings me to my question: If racial reconciliation is not neo-missions or neo-colonial in it being created by, conducted within and made for white churches, what is it? If all churches minority and majority became involved in constructing the articulation of its being (as it constitutes what being church even means), can racial reconciliation look different than what white churches have believed it to be which has forced many minority churches to avoid it? What if racial reconciliation is not based on a relationality of “white to everyone” else, but of “everyone else to everyone else” (Gentile to Gentile)?

Shouldn’t racial reconciliation then be steeped in the social, religious and political? If we follow a religious Lord whose purpose was to exist in a political world and overcome it and a social Lord whose purpose was to exist in a religious world and overcome it and a political Lord whose purpose was to exist in a social world and overcome it – how should we be?

Redefining Racial Reconciliation

Shouldn’t racial reconciliation, in its true form, in its only form declare, “Black Lives Matter”? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches make living wage and economic equality its top agenda? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches have at its forefront the issues of its women – as we are all one body? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches take into account that political, social life and religious institutions can create balance or imbalance between races and ethnicities (in its denominationalism, polities, and practices) – and move to dismantle the oppressive mechanics of this? Racial reconciliation in church should influence voting, social causes, our relationship to wealth and security. Shouldn’t it challenge all of us to our cores? Shouldn’t it be a means of discipleship?

I am advocating that the notion of racial reconciliation be stripped from white churches as their project and be claimed by all churches as church mission and make up. Racial reconciliation should look more like the Civil Rights Movement (which the earliest black advocates and creators of the focus of Racial Reconciliation in churches were pushing for) rather than “Unity Day” at church. Racial reconciliation in church is precisely that force of good that lives primarily outside of liturgy and spills into the street, into the education system, into court rooms, into businesses and political offices. It engages any and everything that affects race – and friends, everything affects race. Thus, I want to submit my own definition of racial reconciliation.

Racial reconciliation is a movement of justice, love and community generated within but not limited to the Christian church seeking to really live into the redemptive work of Christ on social, political, economic, gendered, sexual and ethnic and racial levels (as racial includes notions of marginality). It aims to live into the new creation on earth that the work of Christ has already established, by attending to these areas that need catching up, in tangible ways towards equal and loving relationship with each other. Some could designate it as movement towards the reality of living into the Kingdom of God. In its most basic form, it is the work of beholding others in awe and majesty as the Lord does us.

Thus, to be clear: all churches should be engaging in racial reconciliation or reconciliation in general as it is discipleship. This means that some already are; but they are not the church bodies who claim it in their words. They claim it in their living. May white churches let go of their desire to have the power to name and may the entire body of Christ open its eyes to the parts of its body who have spent their lives learning how to master the art of life abundantly.

If we all don’t have a hand in what racial reconciliation means in the church, we are not the church.





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.








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