Culture

Jade’s Faves Features: Coriama Couture

Amazing initiatives have the power to bring amazing people together. This past fall, I facilitated a Beauty Breaks workshop session on style & resilience. [Beauty Breaks is is a life-giving and innovative series on Black beauty & holistic wellness, founded by artist Amina Ross (who is one of my favorite people, truly)]. Coriama Couture was also presenting on affordable grooming & beauty practices. [You can click here for the recap].

Since that time, coriama couture has taught me a great deal about the ways in which we can de-stigmatize sexuality, beauty tips for Black women / femmes (especially ones that can fit my budget), and more. Of course, I wanted my readers to meet her too and get a chance to see her work! Text below is largely her own, used with permission, in order stay true to the heart of her work & mission.

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Photo Credit: Kamali Whitney, 2015

Coriama Couture is an Artist, Activator, and Aesthetician who utilizes the ABCS (Art, Beauty, Culture, and Sexuality) to encourage radical dialogue and community building. She sees the ability to explore and challenge taboo topics within culture as a rite of passage; a necessary element for liberation and freedom that should be celebrated. Currently, she is curating a community popup forum called sex KiKi and hopes to encourage more radical dialogue and safe spaces for queer black femmes* in Chicago and beyond. sex KiKi is inclusive space that privileges the spectrum of black femininity so trans* and cis women are welcome, as well as allies.

Her work primarily serves femmes of the Black diaspora, ages 21+, as she notes:

The Beauty Industry is constantly bombarded with images of a European aesthetic, the policing of the black femme body, and an overall lack of resources for us. For example, the beauty industry is saturated with beauty advisors who often don’t know how to color match for foundation or choose to tell black femmes anything (in terms of beauty practices / products) to get our dime. In addition, we already deal with economic oppression, so the resources we have might be limited and contingent upon what is necessary to live.

In this field, sometimes I deal with community members (black femmes) who prefer to only see white colleagues / beauty advisors to find the proper cosmetic products. My hands-on experience has been that this may be connected to deeper issues of acceptance (and internalized pop-notions of “beauty”). I have much compassion for that, since I have had to deal with my own issues with embracing my black beauty.

Honestly, I believe your trauma can often be connected to your work! I grew up with serious self-esteem issues. I hadn’t grown into my full lips and feared my melanin. The beauty industry happened to be one of the first places I landed a job; since my temper in my younger years caused me to switch jobs often.

Now, I believe that beauty is a tool for empowerment. I continue to challenge myself to utilize it for that purpose and not to mask insecurity (as it can be / has been used). I encourage with warmth and enthusiasm. I always lead with kindness and compassion in these situations because I have been them and see myself in this process toward liberation. I am still undergoing the decolonization of my own lifestyle and mind, as well!

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Educating & brow mapping at Beauty Breaks workshop, Photo Credit: Ally Almore, 2015

Coriama Couture is also the curator for pop-up community forum, titled, sex KiKi. In regards to this area of work, she says:

“Sexual liberation is really important to me. Sexuality was always apart of my life. In my late teens, I can recall enjoying lesbian porn (the good kind; there is a difference)! Yet, there can be a lot of trauma that comes with being a sexually free person. People can equate / conflate freedom with having no boundaries at all, which isn’t true!

Oppression and internalized oppression is also a part of the battle when it comes to sexual wellness and conversations about sexuality. For example, we can deal with some very problematic ideas – about gender, gender roles, notions of what family is / can be, harmful views about homosexuality. I’ve also seen misogynistic views expressed, even coming from cis-het* (cisgender, heterosexual) black femmes in the space (I understand much of this phenomena as a coping mechanism, to somehow fit into the constraints of the patriarchy while simultaneously being denied access). These challenging conversations have their pros and cons but ultimately, I believe are powerful and pivotal when breaking the mental chains of colonization”.

Her advice to readers:
“Exploration is apart of growing and sometimes the worst judgements we experience are the judgements we put on ourselves. It can be liberating to do things for our own lives! Keep a beauty journal, a sex journal, or just journal. I feel fresh and renewed each day that I decipher my own thoughts from those of others. The more I worry about others, the less effortless my life becomes… the less I am able to live on my own terms. This process is difficult but I feel less anxiety living this way.

Find rituals that help ground you – music, chanting, dancing, or bitching in front of the mirror for 10 minutes to get the bull out! Hey, it works! Lastly, don’t be scared to explore another lifestyle option. I’ve found that hetero and married doesn’t always equal happy and in love (as is often suggested). So, we have to be sure to love on our OWN terms”.

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Facials, brow waxing, and refreshments from coriama couture’s Wax Day Off

Check out more of her work on http://www.coriamacouture.com/ and if you live in the Chicagoland area, check out sex KiKi or Coriama’s Wax Day Off! 

What the [Cuss] to Say While Suffering?

“When did you begin experiencing Writer’s Block”?
“After the election…”
“How does that feel”?

I get it. The point of therapy is to talk about our thoughts and feelings – the ones that threaten to undo us subtly, bit by bit. Breaking our resolve in increments. Or the ones that come flooding into our minds and hearts before we can even catch them. Knocking us on our asses. Forcing us to see them.

But I did not want to talk about this.

“It sucks. Like, it literally just sucks. You can make up all kinds of philosophy about why Trump’s election sucks. Sure, we are reckoning with the practices of White supremacy in new ways due to his impending office / administration. We’re also reckoning with the fact that he doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – in a literal sense, he doesn’t seem to know what a “President” does. But no matter how many angles I take to look at this – the bottom line is that it sucks. How do I feel? I feel that it sucks… on a deep, subconscious level”. 

I always imagine my favorite writers sitting at their desks with a steaming hot cup of tea or coffee. I imagine their well formed thoughts – sounding immediately beautiful all the page. I also know this vision is oft-times, a scam.

And I thought about my friends who must address people after “the Tower” has crashed: after all of our constructions about the world we live in have been violently toppled. I thought about the friends who write and preach – who create art and engage in direct action. And I thought, “So, what the (expletive) does one say…”

Especially now that the one thing I don’t want to say is even the name of the newest President-to-be. I figured if his presence could be absent from my written world, perhaps I could deal with it a bit more in the material world. I also know that vision is a scam.

I found my words this evening, as I reflected on a Dharma talk by Buddhist monk Ajahn Achalo (Peace Beyond Suffering). In “Waking up to Deeper Peace”, he explains that the monks begin the morning chant that goes a bit like this:

“Birth is suffering”

Acknowledging this, he asserts, is a step toward less suffering. (I’ll be reflecting on this for a GOOD while).

As a note of review, I was raised in a nondenominational Christian tradition. While we had some view of suffering (especially the suffering of Jesus), there were also implications that “if we lived right” there was also a chance of circumventing this type of thing. Another popular theory in that space is our experiences of suffering were due to cosmic battles between Light & Dark. Thus, it flowed that all suffering – from cranky coworkers to cars that ran out of gas – were game to be included in the endless “tricks of the enemy (the Devil)”.

I moved away from these theories long ago, in my teenage years, but that doesn’t mean they have left my subconscious. So, I battled with my thoughts: What in the literal and figurative heavens were the Deities DOING? I heard many theories on that question in the weeks that followed. Some were okay. Some, I understood and believed (’cause no one can tell me that White supremacy isn’t demonic). Others were… well…

There is immense pressure to explain away why things happen the way they do. On both a spiritual / cosmic level. And on a material level. To a large degree, I appreciate this. Let’s be clear: I spent a good amount of time constructing a theory of my own work that is based on Critical Race Theory and sociological concepts. In that respect, I can tell you precisely why this happened – this upswing of fuckery…

Yet, as I reflected on the dharma talk I realized that right now, the message (for me) is to first acknowledge the suffering and the potential to suffer due to circumstances BOTH inside and outside of our control. Internally facing the fuckery that is to come is… It’s brave. It readies us. It steadies us. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight against it. But as someone who does a lot of “addressing”, I’m feeling rather done with the empty platitudes of “It’s going to be okay” and “The Deities are in control”. Perhaps, they are. But that does not provide me with any “today” comfort.

Right now, my synopsis and synthesis is…
This sucks. 

This present moment. Sucks.
And at the same time, I’m still here. As my good friend, *Jae says, “I’m still. the fawk. here”( say it aloud until you get it 🙂 ).

My amazing friend Alicia just got back from Standing Rock, in solidarity with the Water Protectors. From the trip, she found this beautiful mural by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, in Oklahoma City, OK:
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So, the inhale on which I acknowledge “This sucks”, becomes the exhale that “We’re here”. And because of this, our intentions and commitments for moving forward are important. I believe this deeply.

So, I’ve spent some time lamenting, some time doing some deep facing-of-fears, and some time making my commitments a bit more clear. I can’t say that this will help you, reader, as much as it does me – but that is my sincere hope. Join me in these commitments, if you can, and let’s see what we can do together:

And neither are you.

Creation in the Time of Death

“They ain’t tryna’ to see me shine, shine
Bullet on my time, time
But fuck it, I’ll live forever…” -NoName, Telefone, Track: Forever

One of the hardest questions I’m asked is, “What is your creative process?” It’s even more difficult to answer from where I’m sitting in history today.

At this moment, I’m alive in a nation of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. At this moment, #BlackLivesMatter is the rallying cry – the reality that we deserve to live and to thrive. This cry has consistently been met with the pithy and subversively racist #AllLivesMatter cry – diverting focus from those whose Black bodies are being ripped from our Black souls in these United States of America.

At this moment, I’m alive but grieving the death of Korryn Gaines – a 23 year old mother whose home was broken into by the police – after her on some bullshit traffic violations. This encounter ended with her murder, the wounding of her son, and her story obscured and picked apart.

At this moment, I’m alive but grieving the deaths of Joyce Queweay, who passed because her boyfriend and his friend thought they would teach her a lesson about “submission” to male authority. She was murdered. And at this moment, I’m grieving the death of Skye Mockabee, a transwoman, murdered and left in a parking lot.

My sisters are being murdered. My brothers are being murdered, too. And everyone’s fighting about the fucking details.

And someone’s asking me about what my creative process is. Now.

I’ve never been more sure of the importance of writing, rapping, singing, sharing personal and cultural pain, joy, healing, lament, and strategy. I’ve never been more convinced that the writers of color are called to be the griots, healers, and purveyors of cultural / ancestral knowledge. There is necessity of creation in the time of death.There is something healing about the practice of wrangling cohesion from chaos – even if the healing happens only in the Self.

But this shit is heavy. It gets heavy. And it BEEN heavy.

“What’s your creative process?”

These days? Cry a bit. Write. Wipe tears. Cry a lot. Stop crying. Feel numb. Writers aren’t made of numbness. Stare out the window, and look at what is alive. Trees. Birds. The moth that just settled on the window. Write a bit. Stop writing. Allow my sisters to sing and speak to me…

“And I’m afraid of the dark
Blue and the white
Badges and pistols rejoice in the night
And we watch the news
And we see him die tonight” -Noname, Telefone, Track: Casket Pretty

Allow my sisters to write me through:

Erica Thurman’s, Black Folks Are Dying and I Just Keep Buying Lipstick. And Crying: On the Emotional and Economic Expense of Existing Through Trauma
The Churched Feminist’s, Litany For Black Children Who Became Collateral Damage
Brittney Cooper’s, Connect The Dots: For Korryn Gaines, Skye Mockabee and Joyce Quaweay
Nicole JhanRhea’s, Korryn Gaines I Speak Your Name

Try really hard not to play the videos or recount the events. End up doing both of those things anyway. Hoping that somehow they could live forever. Knowing that they will, somewhere, even if in the Remembrances of their Stories and the Saying of their Names. Lavishing sisterly love on them, carefully listening for the lessons they want to teach me, and wishing them well from the other side – from this fucked up plane of reality.

 

I Didn’t Choose Mystic Life, It Chose Me! (Also titled: Inheriting Mysticism from Other-mothers)

Monday – Group Meditation and affirmations
Tuesday – Chat – “Sounds like your sacral chakra might be out of balance. Let’s see if there are any exercises we can do to help with that”
Wednesday – Too-good-to-be-true coworkers lovingly refer to me as “The Apothecary” – known for having an assortment of herbal teas at the ready to ease things like stomach discomfort, lack of focus, headaches, and so on. 
Thursday – Text from friend: “Thanks for letting me know about the sage! It seems like things are looking up”
Friday – *Research on contemplative practices rooted in my cultural heritage

Many of my friends refer to me as “mystical”. I grew up in a pretty theologically conservative (yet, sometimes subversive) place for most of my childhood. In that space, we were discouraged from that which we could not easily understand through literal readings of Biblical text.

Yet… at the same time…

My other-mothers, who are now my ancestors, taught me to have a life filled with mysticism.

My godmother, Lynette, was one of the joys in my world. She became my mother’s best friend when they were both in the fourth grade. She was a consistent force of love in my life. She passed when I was 12 years old. For years, after my dear Mother woke up early, kissed my forehead, and set off on her long commute to work, I spent the remaining hours before school at my godmom’s house. She made sure I was washed, dressed, fed, and that my hair was neatly arranged before I went out.

She lit a candle for me everyday, so that I would have something delicious to smell, first thing in the morning. She regularly brewed me cups of Lemon Zinger and Raspberry tea, and introduced me to new blends when she could. I learned mindfulness from her as we sat at her dining room table, slowly sipping, sometimes listening to music – mostly, just being present.

My godmother believed that what the earth offered us was good. My mother, a medical professional, taught me about biology, different types of medicines, and their effects on the body. Simultaneously, my godmother, a children’s occupational therapist, took me to orchards to pick fruit and taught me their properties. She explained the usages of tea and the benefits of the probiotics in yogurt. She made things from scratch and believed in the healing of laughter.

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Circa Age 5-6 at Net’s Home

My grandmother was serious about God. She grew up in the Baptist church, in the lineage of the Reverend Lewis Rice, who helped to form  African Zion Baptist Church,  with “a group of free Black families” in 1852. She would often tell the story of how she was “born again” in her 40’s – converted towards a charismatic, nondenominational, Evangelical display of belief in God. When I wasn’t home, I accompanied her almost everywhere – to her home town of Charleston, West Virginia, in the summer, through her everyday errands, and to countless tent services and churches during their Revivals and Healings.

My grandmother believed in God and in spirits -in benevolent angels and vicious demons. She believed in the power of anointing with oil and the symbolic protection of a Cross drawn on the foreheads of her grandchildren. She believed that healing could happen through prayer and “laying on of hands”. She took me to places where I might encounter healing energy. She hid me in her car, armed with snacks and a coloring book, during services that intimated that an evil spirit might be nearby. She would stand watch and pray.

Afterward, she told me that when I’d encounter an evil spirit, I would know it by my “gut” and by the Spirit. She gave me rides through our city, casually making conversation about where she believed the warlocks and haints might be. She taught me to be vigilant against that which would steal my joy and peace.

When I got older, when I learned more, when I started using “big girl” words like hermeneutics and epistemological, I found a great deal of her expression of belief to be a bit odd and a bit “problematic”. I craved and loved the intellectual rigor and on visits home, I would share what I’d learned with my Gramma. She would smile deeply and genuinely, saying:

“Jadey-Mae, sometimes I don’t know what you’re talking, but you sure are talkin’ it good”. 

For a long time, I distanced myself from this type of faith and mysticism… for so many reasons. It took me a while to see the deep spirituality in what my Grandmother and Godmother were offering me – even if we didn’t verbalize these things in the same way.

As I grew older, I began making my own tea blends to assist with some of my ailments (ginger/licorice root/cinnamon & clove for stomach upset, chamomile and lavender for sleep), and I thought of my Godmother. I learned about chakras and practice of reiki – energy healing – by the hovering or laying on of hands and I thought about my Grandmother. I recalled the way she would whisper prayers and rub our backs, lingering on those places where she felt a bit  of tension. She was the first person to verbalize the importance of regarding our bodies with loving and healing touch.

I learned about mindful meditation, and then, circled back to the shared moments at the dining room table with my Godmom. I made decisions and reflected on my Gramma’s lesson that I’d know what would serve me well “from my gut’s response” to a person, place, thing, energy, spirit. I began buying essential oils for varied reasons (eucalyptus for cold / flu season, lavender for calm) and mapped it with my Gramma’s Christocentric understanding of “The Oil”. What I gained from Gramma’s impartation is that not all energies are good ones, and that I must be vigilant against that which would harm me. What I gained from Lynette’s impartation is that slowing down, meditating, stretching, brewing, were all gifts that could center me throughout my life.

In the year 2016, I opened up a chat with my good friend and asked, “Gurl, people swear I’m mystical. They might be right”. Her response told me that I was probably the only one still working through this fact (lol)! I responded offhandedly, “I didn’t choose the mystic life – the mystic life chose me” and then I realized what I said was true.

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Delivering the Invocation at Princeton’s Black Theology & Leadership Institute – Photo Credit, Dr. Regina Langley


I talked about these experiences with Ebony Janice of the Free People Project on her vlog. You can view that here!

Featured Image Credit: Createherstock.com

 

 

 

Notes on Survival & Advocacy: Reflections from the Goose

It’s been quite a while, and I’m so grateful ya’ll are still rocking with me! This post will feel more like a stream of consciousness for a LOT of different reasons. So, it’s important for me to be up front about at least one of them in the beginning.

America’s history of White Supremacy is still snuffing out Black Lives and the lives of People of Color in this state.

I was preparing to co-facilitate a session on Re-Encountering Beliefs & Forging New Faith Identities at the Wild Goose Festival when I heard the news about the state sanctioned murder of Alton Sterling. (Pause. Collecting breath. Breathing deeper). While I was there, the news about the murder of Philando Castile broke. I was out in a mountain town, in the woods of Hot Springs, NC, which meant I had limited wifi and could not see the videos. Yet, the grief that I felt… that most POC (people of color) felt… at yet another life killed, brutalized, and terrorized by White supremacy was overwhelming, consuming. (Pause). Grief, disappointment, anger, and pain hummed as both an internal monologue and as a community dialogue in the midst of the teaching we had to do, the life we had to live, and the outpour of ideas & stories about faith, spirituality, & justice.

“People of color see spirits where others don’t”. 

I said these words friend as I walked through the beautiful landscape of Hot Springs. It was quiet and night was falling. I sat between peace and grief. Peace at the comfort that nature often brings. Grief that this land was stolen from Indigenous Peoples; that their stories have been misconstrued and the names of their landmarks fundamentally changed. Grief that these trees had likely marked sites of death for Black bodies. Grief that I would go home to the streets where blood was still crying out. Spirits.

I usually have to do some type of small ritual when I’m entering a new space, and Hot Springs, NC was no different. Although I grieved, the space also felt sacred, holy, blessed. (I don’t think that was a coincidence as there were so many ministers, shamans, contemplatives, and healers there). I needed to learn how to decolonize this space in my mind, so I focused my intentions on doing that when I arrived on the first night. In this tension between grief, struggle, and enlightenment, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about inward (and outward) survival and the conditions necessary for life in the times of death. So, I’ll share as much as I can remember and articulate.

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Notes on Survival

  1. Feeding the Body. Engaging the Body.
    There are so many great resources circulating about both self care AND direct action for people of color and accomplices who are doing the work of justice during this time. Yet, one of the things that I have yet to see is a gentle reminder to feed your body. (This is not to say that it doesn’t exist… I’ve just not seen it yet). Wild Goose Festival held a LOT to see, do, talk about, respond to. As an extrovert, my first instinct was to immerse myself in the talking & doing pieces. However, there was a gentle nudge to sit with my schedule and prioritize feeding my body as a non-negotiable, for as much as I was able / had the resources to.

    Like many, I work in the 9-5 hours. Then, I go home and work in the evening hours on other projects. On the weekends, I’m off supporting a friend or trying to take time to do all-of-the-things. So, oftentimes, feeding my body is an after-thought or completely neglected altogether.

    I have a very interesting relationship with my body, as I live with chronic illness. Yet, I gained a very real physical balance once I committed to feeding my body and REALLY listening to what it wanted / what it was telling me. If it was time to eat, I ate. If my body felt like it needed to be engaged in a walk (despite chronic pain in my feet), I did what I could to engage it in that way (stretches, medicine, and loving touches to the areas I felt the most pain). Engaging with my body in this way felt very radical to me for two reasons. The first is that it gave me a moment to de-compress from the effects of capitalism on the body, which scholar, Johanna Hedva (love. her.) talks about in her work with the Sick Woman Theory (2015):

    Sick Woman Theory maintains that the body and mind are sensitive and reactive to regimes of oppression – particularly our current regime of neoliberal, white-supremacist, imperial-capitalist, cis-hetero-patriarchy. It is that all of our bodies and minds carry the historical trauma of this, that it is the world itself that is making and keeping us sick.

    The construct of capitalism-over-personalism means that often times, we see our bodies as “good” when they are able to produce at high levels, at all times. This, I believe, is what makes us skip meals, work past times of work, and push our bodies to dangerous spaces for the god of productivity. This, I believe, is what makes practices such as touching our bodies lovingly seem superfluous and unnecessary.

    The second reason why this was so powerful as a survival strategy hearkens back to Baby Suggs’ sermon in The Clearing, written by Toni Morrison (Beloved, 1987):

    “Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh.

    With this passage, Toni Morrison goes on to articulate the effects that racism has on our bodies. You need only look at the news to see how racism kills the physical flesh either immediately or chronically (through healthcare discrimination, chronic anxiety and trauma). Thus, our intentional choice to feeding the body, take it for walks (if possible), stretch it, and listen to what it needs are powerful practices of love and survival. Being in the physical space of the Wild Goose Festival this year really drove this lesson home for me.

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    Image credit: Createherstock.com

  2. Feed Your Soul
    One of the things that I appreciated the most about Wild Goose was that it gave so many opportunities for us to feed our souls. There were sessions on all types of topics: justice, spirituality, theology, etc. There were prayers offered throughout the day and a station for spiritual direction. There was engagement with nature – water, earth, trails, hills. Yet, I found that my soul felt the most “fed” in brilliant conversations with new friends and in the times I purposefully spent alone, reflecting or walking. [Sitting in silence was hella uncomfortable at first, but I learned to appreciate it]. There are a great deal of resources on caring for your body and soul, so I’ll offer just a few of my favorites here.

Black Bodies Need Love Too: 7 Resources for Self Care, Amani Ariel, 2015
8 Basics of Self Care, Nicole Jhanrea, She Blooms Black
Caring for Ourselves as Political Warfare, Adrienne Marie Brown, Adaku Utah, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Susan Raffo

Notes on Advocacy & Action

  1. Speak. 
    Before co-facilitating the session and doing the work that I was there to do, I needed to re-read Audre Lorde’s words in Sister Outsider.

     “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?”

    This is a passage I come back to over and over again. One of the things I wanted to talk about at the festival was honoring the spiritual practices that the Black church taught me that help me to thrive, daily. Yet, I also wanted to talk about what it felt like to move away from strict, literalist, non-inclusive theologies & practices as well. That was what that particular moment called for.

    This particular moment in the blog-o-sphere calls me to speak on what helps me to survive and to do advocacy, in the hopes that this provides helpful frameworks for others. The more you challenge yourself to speak, the more you push back against those voices that silence you (internally and externally). This is not a new concept, it’s simply one that at least I need to be reminded of very often.

  2. Reflect on the space of advocacy that you can contribute to.
    Two of my favorite recent pieces of writing have been ’26 Ways to be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets’ (Anderson, et al; it’s brilliant) and Candice Simpson’s ‘We All Have Work to Do in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement’. Seriously… read those. 

    One of the things that has been so disheartening is language that suggests that we all need to have our physical bodies on the streets. This is something that has really been hurtful as someone who would love to be on the streets, yet has chronic illnesses that make that pretty difficult to do. So, while appreciating and supporting the essential work that people are doing in the streets, I’ve also had to find what advocacy looks like for me – in relationship to what is going on elsewhere. Two of the things that I’ve found powerful are 1) holding safe spaces for people of color (in my case, this happens most often digitally), and 2) sharing our thoughts / stories and adding my own thoughts / stories when appropriate.As a writer and someone trained in Theater, I understand the deep impact that stories have. One of my favorite African proverbs is, “Until the lion has (their) own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story”. The intellectual and artistic work that we do to create, reframe, reinterpret, and even critique stories is SO important. To be clear, these stories do not have to be shared to PROVE our worth. These stories have to be shared, written, reflected upon because they hold our collective and community wisdoms. These are the things we’re talking about, reflecting upon, critiquing and improving. Advocacy, for me, includes sharing the writing, the art, the scholarly work, the notes, etc. of people of color because it amplifies our voices in a general context but it also provides spaces of mirroring, recognition, and wisdom. (I found it very serendipitous that the theme of the Wild Goose Festival this year was Story, as I began to think about what advocacy looked like for me). Sharing the stories of others also checks the ego. It’s important to actively remember that liberation requires the contributions of many people. It’s not just your work that needs to be centered, because your work doesn’t hold all of the collective wisdom.

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Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Reflections from the Goose:
These days, I’m honing in on practicing gratitude in the midst of grief. So, I want to end by saying, ‘Thank You’. For those of you who contributed financial resources to ‘Get Me to the Goose’, thank you. The session went well and I hoped to have made you proud of your investment in me. Thank you to all of the speakers, storytellers, musicians, mystics, and contributors who gave of their time and their expertise. Thank you to the people of color who held space while we collectively grieved and planned. Thank you to the allies who stood at the perimeter to make sure the space was uninterrupted. Thank you to the Mystic Action Camp, who allowed me to share a creative, magical, and healing lodging space with them. Thank you to those who invited me to speak. And finally, thank you, readers. Ya’ll are the realest and the trillest.

Image Credit, Createherstock.com

Chance the Rapper Got Oil*: What I’m Learning about Faith via Coloring Book

Oil* – (working definition) The concept of ‘having oil’ occurs in many Black church contexts and is attached to both the practice and the praxis of anointing someone with oil. To ‘have oil’ means to carry a special anointing or grace to do whatever it is that you have been charged to do.  Although this is primarily used in scenarios where people are offering musical gifts (singing, playing an instrument, etc), this also could mean that a certain person has a particular way about them that facilitates freedom, openness, and joy.

Chance the Rapper got the oil.

Chance the Rapper released his newest mixtape, Coloring Book, last Thursday, and suffice it to say that I was. HYPE. There are two rappers, currently, that have my unending support. These two rappers that could release an album, a literal coloring book, a designer line of Sharpie pens, a recyclable fork (you get the gist) and I. would. buy. it. Those two rappers are Kendrick Lamar (whom I’ve already written a considerable amount on) and Chance the Rapper.

I appreciate Chance’s overall musicality, the way he hears songs and how it is evidenced in his interpretation. I appreciate his flow and how he communicates emotional realities alongside clever rhymes. However, I also appreciate Chance…

Because churchy folk know churchy folk like real recognize real.

Let me give you an example. When my partner played Chance’s ‘Good Ass Intro’, from his previous Acid Rap mixtape, I immediately noticed both the piano stylings and the shout / bump track looming in the background.

praise-dance

^My FIRST inclination, when I heard the Good Ass Intro – you cannot deny the ring-shout realness.

In his SNL debut of Sunday Candy, Chance was both musically signifying a Sunday church service and alluding to a sacred text, namely John 6:51, where Jesus tells the people to eat the bread that symbolizes his flesh.

But Chance reached oil* status with Coloring Book. Let’s talk some specifics:

On the record, Chance channels a practice of many Black church spaces by taking a mainstream Christian contemporary tune and adding on vocal / cultural / musical signifiers i.e. re-interpreting  Chris Tomlin’s How Great is Our God . (I cracked up because my previous church sang it with those exact harmonies).

It was an intentional choice to feature Kirk Franklin, one of the absolute game-changers of 90’s gospel music. We also saw Chance add the lyrics on Fred Hammond’s chorus of  Let the Praise Begin to his song, Blessings.

Chance demonstrated some of this oil* in his lyrical content, which explicitly acknowledges his understandings of the Divine:
“Jesus’ Black life ain’t matter / I know, I talked to His Daddy”
“I do not talk to the serpent / that’s that holistic discernment
(Come through, Chance, and channel the favorite word of church mothers across the States).

Discernment

Apart from these specifics, Chance has oil because he can teach us a great deal about faith and spirituality. I find in Chance’s Coloring Book, a creative and freeing way to engage with the Divine – outside the proverbial lines of how Christianity (as an institution) prescribes. It is, in my opinion, a healthier way.

I grew up in a church context that loved to focus on  “going right or getting left”. For those who are unfamiliar, this meant doing things the “right” way, according to the standards and edicts of the church or being abandoned in the case of a literal rapture. Needless to say, I was a bit stressed in my youth about what it meant to be a ‘good Christian’.

In 2010, I begun a very long crisis of faith. By 2011, I realized that you can’t just pray those things away. You can’t just place a few Scriptures over your already crumbling theological frameworks. There aren’t enough church services or pithy sayings to adequately address the angst of reconsidering your expectations of the Divine. By 2012, I realized that relationships between humans and the Divine have always been complicated (to say the least).

So, in Coloring Book I hear Chance the Rapper alluding to a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a human in relationship with the Divine. Coloring Book invites us into a conversation about a faith that affirms us. Through this lens, we are not just spiritual misfits waiting to be judged – but that there is the possibility and reality of mutual love and respect. As one example, Chance offers:

I speak to God in public, I speak to God in public

He keep my rhymes in couplets

He think the new shit jam, I think we mutual fans

Blessings, Repraise

Coloring Book illustrates a faith context that has space to dialogue about the sexual, the juke, the twerk – the sensual, the drink and enjoyment – the social, intimate relationships, family, romance, geographic context – and the transcendently spiritual. Coloring Book is a working theology of what it means to live.

Featured Image Credit: Youtube.com, Cover Art for Album by Brandon Breaux 

 

#Lemonade: Was Bey in My Art Therapy Sessions? (Also Titled: Beyonce Did That, Also Titled: “Who The F*^% Do You Think I Ih…”)

“Let’s try not to discount anger as a valid emotion…”
“Expressing anger is okay. How can we do that with color and imagery?”
“Let’s try to answer: How did the emotion of anger assist you in the moments that you needed it to? Did it protect you from something? Did it make you aware of something?”
“Let’s talk about why you choose the image of the woman’s clenched fist for your collage?” – My art therapist.

“Who the f&&% do you think I ih….?!” – Beyonce, Don’t Hurt Yourself

Ya’ll. Ya’ll.

I think sitting with art is important. Reflecting on art is important. Unpacking the nuances of art is so important… and Queen Bey has given us A LOT to unpack in her latest work, Lemonade. I will refer to Evelyn from the Internet to break that down for you briefly:

The strong imagery and the odes / poetry / healing songs for Black women that she presented in Lemonade are still dealing with me at a heart-level at the moment. I would love to write an intellectually-based thinkpiece on how meaningful this work is in the entertainment industry (you can read Dr. Birgitta Johnson’s reflections on that here). I would love to break down all of the images that she’s used to signify to and conjure for Black women (you can learn about that by following #LemonadeSyllabus on Twitter). Yet the response that’s come up for me has been a very personal and emotional opening.

It would take countless hours to express my feelings about the entire project. This project was about the interpersonal and sociocultural relationships that Black women hold. This project was about healing and wholeness for Black women. This project was about finding ways to rebuild. However, what spoke to me the most was Bey’s expressions of anger and grief. The songs and imagery for ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ are still dealing with and working on me.

Here’s why seeing that was so powerful for me:
I was raised churchy church. (I’ve written that sentence at least 4 times on this platform). I was raised within a setting that taught that we were to be “slow to anger”, that “fools give full vent to their anger”, and that “anger resteth in the bosom of a fool”. It was a bit more socially acceptable to see men giving voice to their anger, both inside of that context and given the patriarchy that America so adores. However, it was not as socially acceptable for young girls and women to express emotions of anger, rage, wrath. These were seen as destructive and out of place.

So, I learned to stuff my anger. I learned to swallow it whole and throw up smiles and forgiveness without accountability. I did this most often in my romantic relationships. #TellYoBusinessThursdays

“When you play me…. you play yo’self” -Beyonce

It’s taken years of learning ways to nuance Scripture as well as art therapy to learn how anger can be an absolutely important emotion. This emotion tells you, “Something is wrong!” It tells us when someone has been mistreated, duped, left behind, or taken advantage of. It moves us to action on their behalf or on our own behalf. It reminds us that when one of us is mistreated… it doesn’t often bode well for any of us.

“Who the f&&% do you think I ih….?! You ain’t married to no average b!tch, boi…” – Beyonce

I joked with a friend that I wanted to get that quote re-interpreted as a tattoo so that I could walk around and people would immediately remember who they were talking to.

Petty flowchart
Image Credit: @PettyFlowcharts, Instagram aka my petty side project

It’s no secret that women of color are often ‘presumed incompetent’ (Gutiérrez et al, 2012). We have to prove what we are saying is valid in our professional lives and our personal lives. Our brilliant work is often quoted without citation or attribution. Our labors of love are often taken for granted. We are often expected to bend into painful shapes due to toxic masculinity, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression [see: for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, The Color Purple, Salt Eaters, the entirety of #LemonadeSyllabus, and the oral histories and lived experiences of Black womyn].

While it may seem that ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ orbited around the storyline of romantic betrayal, Beyonce was crystal clear in incorporating quotes from Malcolm X. She is also speaking to a palpable, documented, and lived sociocultural reality on a broader scale.
Before Bey showed us images of healing, she showed us images of anger and wrath. I appreciate her for that.

Blogger, writer, and scholar Ebony Janice has always said, ‘Beyonce knows‘.

I’ll add that Bey knows that mis-recognition and mistreatment by American society and by those who claim to love us brings about grief and anger. Through Lemonade, she shows us that anger is an absolutely valid emotion to feel and to express after being mistreated. She also shows us that finding space to express anger is a step that cannot be skipped on our journey to wholeness. We cannot simply rush toward reconciliation without dealing with what ‘is’. Before you can see the possibilities of lemonade, it’s okay to find healing spaces to lament over them sour @$$ lemons.

Image Credit: Youtube.com, Beyonce “Lemonade” Preview Review

*Please be sure to download the #LemonadeSyllabus! It is a resource, curated by Candice Benbow, that holds 200 resources (including books, articles, music, film, etc.) to further unpack the themes of Beyonce’s Lemonade. I’m so honored to have been asked to contribute to this work and encourage you to download and share!

Download here: www.candicebenbow.com/lemonadesyllabus

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“Sensitive About My Shhhh…”: Communication & Critique in a Digital Age

One of my favorite quotes from Erykah Badu is from the beginning of her song, Tyrone, where she explains, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my sh!t…” It was the first time I’d heard someone acknowledge the connection between our art and our heart, so explicitly. In that way, this simple declaration affirmed me as a sensitive soul, as well.

I was a bright, loud, but sensitive child. At the time, I thought that sensitivity was a detriment. As I grew into womanhood, I learned to be responsible with my emotions and learned that fierceness and sensitivity aren’t always dichotomous. But I knew that I’d still have to work through being “sensitive about my sh*t” in an age where our thoughts, art, and work exists on public spaces… or can easily BECOME public through shares and screenshots.

You should know (especially if you’re a new reader) that I’m no stranger to critique. I started in Theater (*flashbacks to training that included 30 seconds to convey a convincing character and 2 minutes of critique if your character choices were whack or nonexistent). Then, I got a B.A. in Integrative Arts (no one knew what that meant – it involved Writing, Communications, Theater, Theater Makeup, Sociolinguistics, some other random things, conversations with the Dean about how should explore without pressuring myself to do it all, a balance of support and concern from my folks, and a lot of asinine questions about what the degree equipped me to do. To which I answered, “Integrate some art”).

The side-eyes grew ever-increasing when I graduated in the midst of a recession with my newly minted degree, created a fledgling independent project that involved painting art onto shirts & apparel…

Betty Boop Shirt

… did Background Vocals, volunteered in campus ministry (diversity initiatives), worked for a data entry company (because …credit card interest), and started writing for a magazine start-up. I knew my path included getting an M. Ed to work in the field of College Student Affairs (not many people outside of the field knew what that meant either! And when I had to shift from creative writing to academic writing… the word ‘critique’ won’t even begin to tell it all. That first paper feedback sent me to bed at 6 pm).

I became passionate about identity conscious initiatives in Higher Ed, started 5 blogs, got scared or complacent, shut them down, started a 6th one, and began to contribute to more public platforms. I was finally putting my words into the world with some measure of consistency. Along the way to balancing life as an aspiring scholar – practitioner – creative soul, I fell into the wormholes of comments sections. Every artist that’s ‘sensitive about their shhh’ needs a plan for what to do with critique, comment sections, and general communication in a digital age.

So, this post is for those who put art, scholarship, practice, and work out into the world. This post is for anyone who is navigating communication in a digital age. In many senses, this post is for me… and if you are helped along the way, we should grab coffee and encourage each other more often!

A Working Draft for Sensitive Souls Navigating Communication in a Digital Age

    1. Be clear that things shared in a public sphere are up for critique.
      I know you may have intended an outcome with your art or work… but it won’t always be received it that way. Embrace the fact that work is up for critique the moment you push ‘Publish’. It’s a part of the package. Embracing this empowers you because you aren’t side-swept and surprised every time you experience critique and you can learn what feedback is useful and what is trolling.
    2. Understand that a critique and a clap back aren’t the same thing.
      In a status to my Facebook-cousins-and-friends, I noted something that I knew I needed to share here:
      “Every critique is not a clapback. Both can sting. But you will know which is which by its ‘fruit’.You can take critique and grow. You can inquire about the person who gave the critique and when it’s healthy, they can and will offer expertise and wisdom. You can even discard critique when necessary (critiques vary in usefulness, based on many factors).If there’s anything I’ve learned from grad school and writing in public forums, it’s that critique and clapback aren’t always the same thing”.I’ll add here that clapbacks are fiery rebuttals. Critique can be multifaceted. Critique can follow a clap-back (ask me how I know :)), so it’s important to discern when there are differences between the two.
    3. Get feedback from people who know a great deal about the topic you are writing about.
      Since 2015, I’ve been sharing more of my writing in spaces where there are women of color who are a great deal more established than I am. We are from all walks of life, span multiple fields, and hold the knowledge of quite a few generations. Words cannot describe the joy I feel when someone who knows a great deal about what I’ve written, affirms my work. Yet it is also VERY valuable, when they give me the…giphy
      They care enough about me to not have me ‘in these streets’ looking a fool. And for that, I’m grateful.
    4. Get feedback from people who know you personally!
      They are your cheerleaders and advocates. They can help you to ensure that the voice you’ve presented in your work, art, etc. really sounds like you. And if it’s a really good friend, they can also help you to…
    5. Check your intentions for creating.
      Sometimes, I have small moments of clarity after a long night’s drive. On one such occasion, I micro-journaled, “Many times, we have already set a conscious or unconscious intention when we communicate i.e. to share information, to express a question, to inspire, to posture, to manage perceptions, etc. It’s okay to check in with and explore those intentions. Because if, at any point, our great, DEEP need is to be lauded as ‘right’ then we’ve likely shut ourselves off from transformative dialogue and a possible learning experience”. Understanding why you’ve created or proposed a work in the first place helps.
    6. Finally, understand that some people just won’t understand or appreciate your work and that doesn’t mean you should stop working. (Or as my Mother would say, “Toughen up and carry on”).
      Learn how to filter all of the external feedback that you get. Some of it is useful. Some of it is not. Some of it you probably shouldn’t have read in the first place (ask me how I feel about most comment sections). There is great temptation to hide when we feel our work is misunderstood. However, there is also the opportunity to hone our craft a bit more, learn from others, to exhibit resiliency in moving forward, and most of all… to reap the internal benefits that come from creating.

Since this is a working draft, let me know what you would add to this list! How do you navigate communication & critique?

Image credit: commons.wikimedia.org, Post inspired by Ms. Badu

On Benevolent Sexism & Purity PR

Brelyn Bowman, daughter of pastors Michael & Dee Dee Freeman, was recently married to her sweetheart, Tim Bowman. What makes this story noteworthy is not only their status as big names in particularly the DMV Evangelical Christian circles, but is also the fact that on their wedding day, Brelyn Bowman presented an OBGYN approved certificate of purity to her father, Pastor Michael Bowman.

Brelyn Bowman first took a covenant of purity given to her by her father which included strict discouragements from intercourse, rubbing, petting, etc. at age 13. A few days after the wedding, which featured high profile guests on the Evangelical Christian scene, Mike Freeman Ministries posted the picture that has been rotating through my timeline non-stop, since yesterday. It depicts a father and his daughter, both beaming, and holding the Certificate of Her Purity which states that her hymen was completely in tact.

My response comes with the full understanding that up to this point, Brelyn Bowman’s sexuality has been both physically and emotionally scrutinized. To be clear, the purpose of this post is not to scrutinize her or her personal decisions even further.  Brelyn Bowman’s decision to remain abstinent prior to marriage is something that is her choice to make and hers alone. A woman’s sexual ethic is hers to decide. However, understanding purity culture in Evangelical spaces begs us to dig a bit deeper. And as such, stories like these hearken back to a few deeper themes that can be problematic:

  • patriarchy & the church (including the policing of women’s bodies)
  • the PR that is attached to women’s sexual choices and bodies

1) Benevolent Sexism & The Body
In many Christian Evangelical churches, the policing of women’s bodies is normalized and spiritualized as ‘God’s design’. In the case of the Bowmans, Pastor Michael Freeman posted the picture of the certificate with the caption:

Who knew that a pic like this would get so much negativity but a natural man will not understand things of the Spirit for they are foolishness to them!!! ‪#‎meetthebowmans‬‪#‎readyourbible‬‪#‎prayingforyou‬

Supporters chimed in via social media sites stating how they might want their daughters to do the exact same thing. And herein lies the opportunity to  discuss benevolent sexism. Glick et al (2000) defines benevolent sexism as “a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women’s subordinate status to men (p. 763)”.

Let’s break this down a bit given what I’ve emphasized above. Again, the thing about this type of sexism is that it’s “subjectively positive”; it’s coded in language that sounds good to the ear. You might hear this type of rhetoric in sacred spaces that espouse that it’s God’s design for women to be led by men… in order to PROTECT the women. The first element of benevolent sexism is the element of protection: protection of women’s assumed fragility, purity, and sanctity. Online news sources allude to Brelyn’s promise of virginity to her father at thirteen years of age. Given the Evangelical line of thought that the father protects & provides for the family (trust me on this… you can analyze these things when you’ve gotten some distance from those spaces), this sort of covenant / contract / promise might sit squarely under the guise of a father’s protection of a daughter’s purity.

The second element of benevolent sexism is the element of idealization. Each post and picture sets up the idealization of the docile, virginal, “pure” body. The comment sections are filled with statements about incorporating these practices and tools into women’s Bible studies and girl’s groups. What might be causing this? Scholar, Rose Weitz, talks about institutions thriving on the use and subordination of women’s bodies as docile, in order to ensure that these spheres can continue to be male-dominated (2001). Even if this was not the intention, we cannot rule that out as a possible output. We might consider that her partner had no such procedures done (nor did this seem to be an expectation, given the couples’ wedding video). We might also consider the fact that the very act of remaining pure was not credited to Brelyn and her partner, on paper. It was acknowledged and credited to the patriarch, on the tangible certificate. Regardless of the intent, it’s important to consider Brelyn’s bodily and sexual choices were put under what many Evangelical spaces would call ‘a covenant’ at the age of 13. As an adult, it was then her choice to verify and prove that those terms were fulfilled. However, the final certificate was presented to the patriarch. And it’s worth it to sit with that & to think about the implications for other families that will follow these steps. For women & girls, we have to ask ‘Do these particular forms of ‘protection and idealization’ of purity and chastity (when used as a means for celebrating a marriage vow to one man & a covenant promise to another man) serve to ‘justifiy women’s subordinate status to men’? And if the answer is yes, is this something we want to perpetuate within our sacred spaces?

2) When Purity Becomes PR The purity business is a thriving one: there have been books, seminars, Bible study materials, and families that have spent thousands at jewelers for purity rings in every shape & style. The messages of ‘remaining pure’ that are particularly geared towards women are really nothing new. In this particular case, pastors reached out for press coverage of Brelyn Bowman’s story in order for it to go viral.

If you know anyone in TV, radio or any major blogger that would be interested in Brelyn’s story have them contact us – that way, we can get this message of purity out to our young people!

Posted by Dee Dee Freeman on Monday, October 19, 2015

Again, the decision to wait is to be commended, as it is uniquely her choice to make. However, with media stints on Bossip, Media Takeout, and more, the question then becomes… what makes purity PR so appealing? When did the sanctity of a couple’s sexuality & sexual choices (be they abstinence, celibacy, or intercourse) become fodder for the media? Because while this is an interesting piece to write on a fascinating story, there is one, final, remaining question… why is this something that we all know about… to even write about?

Resources:
Tannenbaum, M. (2013)The problem when sexism sounds so darn friendly. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/psysociety/benevolent-sexism/

Glick, P., Fiske, S., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J., Abrams, D., Masser, B., Adetoun, B., Osagie, J., Akande, A., Alao, A., Annetje, B., Willemsen, T., Chipeta, K., Dardenne, B., Dijksterhuis, A., Wigboldus, D., Eckes, T., Six-Materna, I., Expósito, F., Moya, M., Foddy, M., Kim, H., Lameiras, M., Sotelo, M., Mucchi-Faina, A., Romani, M., Sakalli, N., Udegbe, B., Yamamoto, M., Ui, M., Ferreira, M., & López, W. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79 (5), 763-775 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.79.5.763

WEITZ, R. (10/2001).“WOMEN AND THEIR HAIR: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation”. Gender & society (0891-2432), 15 (5), p. 667 – 686.

The Evolution of a ChurchKid (or An Analysis of My Collected Church Fans)

I am the proud owner of two church fans. Yes, like… old school, we-don’t-need-no-music-or-air-conditioner church fans. But what they represent reaches beyond my upbringing in “a nondenominational church with charismatic leanings and (the perception of) clear doctrine on everything from Genesis to Maps & References”. These two fans, how they vary, and how they ended up in my possession speak to the evolution of a churchkid.

I. Fan No. 1: The ShePreaches fan

One of the church fans I’ve got is from an amazing organization called ShePreaches, founded by Rev. Neichelle Gudry. You can see their mission directly on the church fan below:

11102949_10108438973306734_810029384610910314_nThis fan came into my possession when I attended their Good Friday service. It’d been a while since I’d stepped into any formalized sacred space. [At this point of my life, I realize that sacred spaces, on an individual level can be as varied as the coffee shop, to a spot along the lake, to the home that you live in… but in this instance, I’m talking about a church / chapel / place of worship]. This fan, for me, represents the years of unraveling the theology I was taught, searching sacred text for images of God as an advocate for the marginalized. It represents making my way through a fear of disconnection to the Divine because I had so. many. questions. For God. About God. About life. About theology. About everything. It represents the gentle prompting I felt to build another, sacred, online Space to address questions like, “How have fundamentalist concepts of gender / gender expression impacted our understanding of dating rules, standards, practices that we learned in our churches?” It represents overcoming the long, heated, arguments with an ex, who served in ministerial capacities, about the ethical obligation for churches to allow women to pastor & to preach. It represents my path to a truer faith: one that knows it doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t feel pressured to in any way, shape, or form. Or, as blogger, Katey Zeh put it:

“I (didn’t lose) faith. What I have lost are my desperate attempts to articulate my faith in a simple, logical, and convincing way. Letting go of this need has created space for faith to come in…”

10931117_10108440261170844_3716966510252661557_n

In my entire life (and I do mean EN.TIRE), I have been involved with ministry. To clarify, what’s true and real to me is that ministry is a) sensing a need, b) feeling a pull or call to address that need, c) growing internally from your service to that need, and d) authentically walking along the spiritual process of life with people.

Sometimes, this was formal ministry and sometimes it was informal. I spent a great deal of my childhood on the children’s choir, reading the church announcements, and eventually preaching sermonettes as a teenager. I could literally feel that I was being primed for formal ministry.

In college, I served as the official Director (and the unofficial chaplain) of a gospel choir. After college, I volunteered to assist in the diversity initiatives of a campus ministry. A few churches invited me back to preach (at the same time my previous partner suggested that women should not preach because… 1 Timothy 2:12).

However, I was raised in a home of independent thinkers, so in retrospect, it really is no surprise that I went through a foundational crisis of faith shortly after college. I declined speaking / preaching engagements, left my church, and began attending a super Reformed church with intellectually rigorous sermons. Perhaps, subconsciously, I thought that somehow I could intellectualize away my doubts & demons through the exegesis of the men I called pastor. I sang alto on the praise team and attended weekly Bible study small groups. It wasn’t too long until they asked me to minister in the capacity as a leader for one of the weekly groups (they didn’t believe in women pastoring but had no problem with women “ministering”).

But. then. came. grad. school. My already unraveling faith began unraveling even further. Though I was studying higher education, the intellectual rigors and encouragement of critique & analysis fostered the freedom to critique my own theology, as well. At first, this was absolutely petrifying, but the feeling gave way to a freedom I’d never known. It was the freedom of knowing that I was NOT alone in thinking that interpreting theological texts & affirming doctrines which supported exclusion of ALREADY marginalized groups was… well… problematic. It was the freedom to discuss truth & Truth. It was the understanding that the way we interpret ANY text (including Biblical text) has a lot to do with our sociocultural lens. [From what I hear, this is very similar to what happens in seminaries]. And all of this was happening alongside writing M. Ed papers on identity development in higher ed & a break-up with my ministry-boo. Ha!

So, at that time, my refrain was, “Don’t ask me to speak. Don’t ask me to sing on the praise team. Don’t ask me to watch the kids in Sunday school. Don’t ask me NAN (nothing / anything)”. So, the church I was attending at the time simply encouraged me, talked with me, and invited me to eat with them [I could get really deep here on how this is the work of the church as well, but #wordcount].

However, as time went on, I felt “called” in a very different way: to provide space for people who were asking similar questions and exploring new theologies. This wouldn’t happen in any huge, major way. It would happen in a quiet corner of cyberspace. It would be ministry that really didn’t feel like ministry at all… just a way to work some things out in my own life & encourage others along the road, if possible. And so… on a Good Friday night in April, receiving the fan that says, “She Preaches” felt like nothing less than an affirmation.

II. Fan No. 2: The Grits & Biscuits Fan

I wrapped up my hair, slapped on some of MAC’S Ruby Woo lipstick, & found my high-waist skinny jeans for the night out. A friend and I walked into the dimly lit club, floors sticky with spilled alcohol, and eyed the bar. Before we entered, they gave us this:
IMG_20150916_085506As stated on their website, Grits & Biscuits is “a premiere entertainment concept that celebrates the southern experience through urban music, cultural connections and nightlife moves in a down home environment”. What that really meant was a lot of Ludacris, Mystikal, Trina, Lil’ Wayne, etc. and wear your comfortable shoes because #twerkteam. After ordering drinks for both of us, the DJ said, “I have a suggestion… don’t use your church fans until you REALLY need them. It’s gonna get hot in here. You’re gonna be dancin’ & sweatin’. So don’t use the church fans until you REALLY need them to preserve the integrity of your church fan…” He let the beat rock a little bit, grabbed the mic again and said, “These church fans are Jesus-approved… let Him use ya”. And everyone danced harder.

I was able to “preserve the integrity of my fan” until the dance floor got absolutely packed: so packed you could hardly even dance anymore. At that point everyone was more-or-less pulsating to the beat or counter-beat. By the end of the night, my fan was well-worn. Right after the Project Chick track (ya’ll remember that song?), the DJ joked, “We got all kinda Black professionals in here… professors in here, doctors, lawyers, dentists, orthodontists in here… twerkin on Saturday, fixing my (expletive) teeth on Monday. It’s a judgement free zone… I’ll see yawl tomorrow at church too”.  Then, as soon as we left the club, the valet asked, “Why ya’ll leaving so early? Ya’ll got church in the morning?”

Once upon a time, this would have caused SO. MUCH. dissonance for me: church fans + twerkin’ + churchin’ on Sunday morning. (This might have made YOU uncomfortable when you read it)! But I could not deny that the thread of getting to church in the morning was present alongside the absolute turn-up on Saturday night. I also could not deny the irony that THIS particular church fan found its way to me as well. Receiving this on a Saturday night, reminded me of writer & preacher Candice Benbow’s Third Commandment of Red Lip Theology:

3. Thou shall twerk. 

We are taught that we should not own our bodies. We are taught that any expression of sexuality is deviant and demonic, despite the glory that is Song of Solomon. We must reclaim our bodies from the theological oppression that suggests our agency is sinful. And so, we must twerk. Twerking is theology and praxis at work. It allows us to reclaim our right to be, without seeking permission or validation from anyone. It enables us to take ownership of who we are and that ownership is a divine right. Misinterpreted as simply a lower body act, twerking is a full body movement and experience. You have to twerk your mind before you can twerk anything else. It was Paul who said, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind”. En Vogue said it this way “Free your mind and the rest will follow.”

If I could describe the feeling of watching everyone completely enraptured in dance, I would. But I can’t. Not with words. Yet, I do know that I needed to be there… just as much as I needed to be at the Good Friday service last April.

III. On Monday morning…

I looked at the ShePreaches churchfan in my living room & the Grits & Biscuits churchfan in my car. Two physical reminders that the sacred and the secular really aren’t that far away from each other. Two physical reminders that reshaping your theology requires you to take risks: to analyze in written / spoken forms and to take those moments of expression on the dance floor (aka the turn up). Even if you’ve got church in the morning. Especially if you’ve got church in the morning.