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To Write About the Living: Excerpts from “Mothering”

This piece was offered as a reading / storytelling piece for Mothering, “a program of performances queering the construction of mothering as an action rather than an assigned and gendered role”, organized by artist Amina Ross, hosted by Compound Yellow.  

It is hard to write about the dead. And it is hard to write about the living. To offer a rendering of them that is not solely romanticized, not solely demonized. To tell you that, like everyone else, they were-are complex. To express how the complexity showed up in them… “as told by” me.

My biological mother is alive and has recently discovered emojis.

My “other-mothers” – women who took me to school and picked me up when my mother worked early morning to late in the evening, women who enabled my sweet tooth by teaching me to make strawberry icebox pie & buying cream puffs each Thursday for an after-dinner treat – both dead. Cancer, both times.

For a long time, I have been pondering how to share “mother” with the world, hoping that by providing some kind of access, the world might better understand me. Hoping that I might better understand myself. What you are about to hear are some snippets of things I have written throughout the years and in recent months – perhaps we can connect these pieces, together…

*Names have been changed & in some instances, facts include fiction to protect those living who deserve this protection

I was 13 when I found out that my Mother hates Mother’s’ Day.
“Because who can REALLY say who the day is for, who is a mother & who is not, who qualifies to get a card & who does not? And why should I be asked to choose whom to celebrate: my mother or my mother in law – spending the day with one OR the other? And if I’m spending the day with them, then how shall my children celebrate me?!”


Those who do not know my mother might think this is about the logistics of a holiday. But I know better. There was a critique in the tone of conversation – just missing the words that I use in written posts & during brunch with my friends:
“on capitalism and adding profit to reproductive capability, on policing modes of mothering & leaving out or being forced to choose among with Patricia Hill Collins calls ‘other-mothers’, on the patriarchy my father had internalized – asking her to relinquish her time with her mother (a biological mother of one) so that she could be more present to the celebrations with his mother (a biological mother of 8)”

Years later, when I’d come home from grad school, I would try such words out on my mother and she’d listen if it caught her interest. I would try them with my Grandmother and she’d up from her coffee, slowly, saying, “Jadey Mae, you’re talking so good but I don’t know what you’re talking about”. Needless to say, this changed my public, externally-facing writing style.

At 13, I learned that after presenting Mom with her card, I could go over my friend’s house and eat the slightly under-seasoned food that their barely teen aged children prepared for them. I would place my napkin neatly in my lap and say, “Happy Mothers Day, Mrs. Stevens”, as she opened up the gifts that her children bought her. She opened them slowly, animated, delighted, and tickled to find whatever was resting in the bottom of the bag.

Age 9 – Philadelphia, PA – Sunday Morning – Church Name: Redacted.
As we walked in, the ushers held out one box of white roses and one box of red roses. “If your mother has passed, please take a white rose. If your mother is alive, please take a red rose.” I asked, “Which mother?” They looked at me as if it wasn’t a shared cultural practice to be raised by multiple women, femmes, femme-identified persons, non binary persons…

And how could I take that red rose when my friend Valerie, also 9 years old, was left with the option of the white rose, pinned to her chest – a reminder. I decided that if I ever had a church, a church of misfit mystics looking for the Divine, there would be no red or white rose choices. Take a flower, if you’d like. Leave a flower, if you’d like.

I was still regularly going to church when I was 19. I was trying to find a theology that fit this spiritual eclecticism that I was quickly encountering inside of myself. “On this Sunday, we want to acknowledge all of the mothers.” Let us say that by 19, I’d inherited the side eye of my mother.

The pastor said, “If you are a mother, would you please stand to be acknowledged.”

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck…” I whispered this under my breath… briefly considering whether I should begin speaking in tongues lest Mother Gail hear me cussin’ in the sanctuary. (I didn’t. Some things you just don’t play with).

As much as I tried to block out the voice of my mother in my head, she was there just the same: “Because who can REALLY say who the day is for, who is a mother & who is not, who qualifies to get a card & who does not?”

What about my friend Alicia? She had a baby that year but they shamed her during the pregnancy because she was unmarried. Should she now stand to be acknowledged by the same people? What about Mrs. Dempsey? She asked us to pray that she and her husband conceive this year but if she didn’t stand this year then…

…And my godmother, who didn’t want to be partnered. She called my mother every day with updates on how the adoption process was going. It seemed like all things were moving ahead, but her son just wasn’t here yet. The women who were biological mothers and did not want to be. The persons who mothered past time, space, and even biology.

“WHO APPROVED THIS?”

I thought I said it in my mind but then I heard my friend lean over and say, “Chiiiiiile…”

Now, I am closer to 30 than I am to 19 and it has crystallized in some ways for me, as it did for my mother. Mothering is complex and contextual. There are nuances upon nuances, and nuances beneath those. There are those of us who have had to learn, as Audre Lorde said, “to mother ourselves” (1) – maybe at certain points in our lives and maybe our entire lives (2).

I’ve decided to contact my mother after the dust has settled from reading this piece. Currently, we are struggling to decide who gets to mother me. For there are some moments where I really need her to mother me. And there are other moments where… [redacted]. I believe this is what we have been arguing about lately, even though it typically masquerades as being about faith, spirituality, living arrangements, or a piece of juicy gossip that a stepsister told her regarding one of my post on Facebook.

Yet, I want to know more about my mother because of her life before me, her oldest, and because her face implies that she has stories that she hasn’t told quite yet. When I call her, I think I’m going to say, “I know that you hate this day. But I also know that you appreciate a call on this day.  Life sets up such delicious ironies. And none of them are comfortable with being denied”.

1. “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches. Berkeley: The Crossing Press, 1984.

2. Gumbs, A.P. (2010). “We Can Learn to Mother Ourselves: The Queer Survival of Black Feminism 1968-1996” (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/

 

What I Mean When I Tell You that Ability is Constructed & Temporary

And one day it was hard to walk.

Chronic illlness & chronic pain are realities that consistently sit in the background of my mind & the forefront of my body. However, everything seems so heightened since the recent calamities of the American healthcare system (deep sigh).

Fortunately, I have a social media sphere that seems to be familiar with the terms ‘ableism’ and have the basic understanding that living a ‘good life’ cannot and does not prevent pre-existing illnesses & conditions. However, there always seems to be the ghost of what is often difficult to name, to reason through, to accept.

Ability is constructed. Ability is temporary…

Or in the words of Wendell’s 1989 feminist theory of disability:

“Our culture idealizes the body and demands that we control it. Thus, although most people will be disabled at some time in their lives, the disabled are made “the other,” who symbolize failure of control and the threat of pain, limitation, dependency, and death. If disabled people and their knowledge were fully integrated into society, everyone’s relation to her/his real body would be liberated” (p. 104)

I admit that I have often relied on this meaning. It’s understandable. It’s feminist (and even with all of the issues I hold with particularly White feminism, this piece is still helpful for me – or as my Grandmother would say, succinctly, “It helps to chew on the meat and spit out the bones”). It works for illustrative purposes, especially now, when we can see that reproductive issues go in and out of ‘covered’, ‘uncovered’, ‘ability’, ‘pre-existing condition’ (another deep, deep, deep sigh).

Yet I must also admit that this is only the beginning of the phrase’s personal meaning for me (even though I comment on the construction of ability and the temporary ability of our own bodies about four times a month, at least). This essay is a personal attempt to go a bit further.

I.
I am the child of a medical professional. I’ve seen my mother come home, take off her coat, plop down on the couch… only to receive more illness-related phone calls from friends & relatives.

“My daughter has a persistent cough…”
“My grandfather fell down the steps two weeks ago, and now…”
“This is kind of embarrassing but I’ve had these symptoms of…”
She was direct. She would refer. She knew that some symptoms would pass and others would not. And the trembling voices on the other end of line betrayed that no one ever expected that they would be the ones who would have to call her for advice. Until they were.

Ability is constructed. Ability is temporary…

So, I learned how to listen to the subtle shifts of the body including which coughs would pass & which coughs were precursors to larger threats. She taught me to read vital signs & good breathing techniques for when shots were being administered. She tutored me in discerning when there might be signs of ‘wellness’.

“Look at the face, Jade. What do you see?”
Perhaps, more fat. Fuller cheeks. More or less dilation of the pupils. More hair. Less skin abrasions. And so on.

Some days she would come home & I would smell blood, faint cigarette smoke, and Lysol lingering on her coat. On harder days, I could smell that she had been close to someone who was experiencing physical decline, decay, or death. I’ve known my mother to be proficient in stalling these effects.

II. 
I called my mother, first thing, on the day that it became difficult to walk. My father, former gymnast, taught me how to wrap my feet with tape & bandages to construct better support. My mother told me to when to ice them, when to administer heat, and how many NSAID’s were too many NSAID’s. “There’s a good chance that this will go away, but there is also a small chance that it won’t… keep watching it.”

Whenever I’d visit, she would sit on the bed and take my feet in her hands. She would press her palm to the balls of my feet & stretch them upward. She followed each stretch on the sheet that my physical therapist printed. I winced. She prayed. We both tried to breathe through each movement.

III.
My family went to the beach on holidays when I was a teenager. I spent hours in the water, wading in to breast level so that my feet barely touched the sand. I stood-swam-floated for hours with the assistance of the water. Yet, back on land, my feet struggled against me. My mother offered her arm to me for balance but the 7 minute walk still took 25 minutes in total. We walked in silence for most of the way, both a bit baffled (one of the few times I’ve experienced my mother that way) because one day (it was a day in September), it was just hard to walk. And this persisted in June. My feet could not hold me as they once did, so the muscles frayed instead. The cortisol shots, intended to offer relief, only deepened the pain. Mom cut the silence: “It’s time for you to consider a wheelchair.” I still hear echoes of this phrase in my mind at times.

IV.
I was a teenager and I resisted the wheelchair. My only concession was renting one when we’d go to amusement parks, malls, or other places where I knew it was inevitable that my feet would fail me. My mother couldn’t understand why I was resisting so much and why I put both of our bodies under such strain. (The wheelchair was easier for both of us since I wouldn’t have to hold onto her arm in order to continue walking).

I didn’t really understand my resistance either, until this year, when I read a perfect description in Maranda Elizabeth’s piece on magic, pain, & trauma:
“my feelings (were) all tangled up with internalized ableism and fears about pain (will it get better? will it get worse?)”

Those things were paired with the way I’d seen people patronize me in the wheelchair, the doors & rooms that seemed near impossible to get into, and the people who watched with confusion and (sometimes) disgust upon discovering that I was, in fact, able to stand to transport into and out of the car. I wish I had the words then:

Ability is constructed. Ability is temporary…

One day my father put a cane in my car. I found it when I was unpacking. There was a sword inside of it.

V.
“Breathing in, I see chronic pain.
Breathing out, I smile to it”.
(a personal adaptation of the meditation practices written by Thich Nhat Hanh in No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering)

This year, I’ve made it a point to take more baths. Of course, baths can be very helpful for pain management but suffice it to say, I’ve taken it to another level this year: rose petals, epsom salt, crystals, white noise or a podcast playing in the background.

On one such occasion, I was listening to a dharma talk (the name of it escapes me now). The teacher noted that every morning he chanted about the suffering of life & the impermanence of all things. This made me feel like I could breathe.

I understood chronic illness and ability as constructed in a much deeper sense when I began to study Buddhism. A key tenet in the Buddha’s teaching is that all is impermanent. Everything. The configuration of our relationships. Our daily life. Our bodies. All changing constantly. All impermanent.

I grew up with a strong sense of Christian ‘striving’. (Let me be clear, I do not think that this completely coincides with the teachings of Jesus’ embodiment, but perhaps I’ll do some writing on Jesus, chronic illness, & the impermanence of the physical body at a later date). I grew up in a church tradition that suggested illnesses could be mitigated and even eliminated by sufficient prayer & belief. My Grandmother was fascinated by healing services (both televised and real-time) and she would take me when she could. I began thinking about transcending the body at an early age & still contend with Christian theologies of what it means to heal. Some, I accept. Others, I reject.

So, it’s accurate to say that in this sense, Zen Buddhism gave me a much-needed break from all of this processing: Your body will change because everything changes. Give up the delusion that it won’t.

Noted.

VI.
And one day it was easier to walk.

Except if it gets too cold. Except if I have been standing too long. Except if I’m wearing flat shoes (very ill advised in my case). Except if I danced too hard.

And if I wear the boot when I sleep. And when I hang my heels off the curb to stretch them before I continue walking. If I take off my shoes under my desk & roll my feet on a small, green tennis ball. If I wear my inserts. If I park close.

And some days, it is easier to walk just because ability is temporary

This piece was inspired by (life) and Maranda Elizabeth’s writing on magic, pain, & trauma. Please read that piece because it is beautiful.

Toxic Concepts I (Un)Learned from Church – The Devil is in the Unknown

This post is a part of a larger series, which can be viewed here.

Let me tell you about one of my favorite people on this side of the sphere: Ebony Janice of the Free People project. In addition to her vlogsjustice work, and philanthropy, Ebony Janice is the author of a few books. #PutyourfriendsonFriday

The point is that in one of these books she coins the term #ChristianDemonicFilter. This is the notion that everything that is not EXPLICITLY in the Bible with EXPLICIT EXPLICITNESS in all EXPLICITRY… is not just unknown… it’s demonic.

And anyone who grow up under the influence of folks who interpreted the Bible literally knows exactly what I’m talking about:

Under this type of teaching, you begin to (either ignorantly or arrogantly) think that the only acceptable spiritual practices happen within the confines of Evangelical Christianity.
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This post is not intended to debate on whether malevolent forces are real. It’s to share a personal understanding: the devil, demons, and / or malevolent forces are not involved in every thing we do not OR willingly refuse to… understand.

When I was in high school, there was a “minister” who came to prominence by the name of G. Craig Lewis and Ex Ministries. In high school Bible study, we watched one of Lewis’ dvds (lol) in which he posited that hip hop music & artists were demonic. As in… literally transferring demons through our “ear gate”.

Ya’ll think I’m kidding. I can feel it through the computer screen. Yes, this is a real dude. Yes, he really taught such drivel. And yes… this was the topic of an entire high school Bible study. #IdontlooklikewhatIbeenthrough (LOL).

It seems far-fetched now, but I can see how this type of teaching came to prominence at the time. It was the time where everything, anything could be cause to cry out “Demonic”! And unfortunately, some of this rhetoric still persists. It often confounds me.

For more on this, consult Bartlett’s 2006 work, Rachel Pollack’s 1998 work, and Katz & Goodwin’s 2015 works (to name a few).

As a note, if it was not clear, these same spaces are where some of our chakra centers are!

Given this logic, we could also have an entire conversation here on the ideas of cultural arrogance / dominance that comes from Christian religious privilege. Because these are practices that have also been in place for thousands of years. For now, I will say that this is a thing… and folks have to do better about acknowledging it – and fixing it.

According to this logic, there are thousands of trap doors – thousands of levers that the enemy can pull. So, as you can imagine, this gives way to a dominating fear… a fear that renders people incapable of exploring anything outside of their own understandings of the Bible (oooorrr their pastor’s understanding).

This simply wasn’t a sustainable way to live for me. The concept was toxic because it bred fear, constant penance, and even a bit of arrogance. And this is not the type of person, I believe, we are actualized in the earth to be.

I’ve benefited from a variety of spiritual practices through the years but in the past 3 years I have been increasingly vocal about it. My friends will tell you, if you come into my home with low vibes… we’re doing an aura cleansing at the door. Saging or burning palo santo happens at least once a week in my home and as we speak, my crystal is charged to assist me in the work I’m doing on my crown chakra.

I’ve learned to sit in meditation and it’s absolutely necessary and non-negotiable for me to do this. It calms me, grounds me, helps me remember why I’m here. And I do all of this in addition to prayer and other forms of charismatic spiritual practice I grew up with in the nondenominational (but Pentecostal-leaning) Black church (the irony is that those things aren’t spelled out literally in the Bible either… they are a product of cultural / ancestral lineage i.e. shouting, “catching” the Holy Ghost, etc). These aren’t necessarily “new” practices for me – it’s simply that for a while, I had to go through the process of being unbothered. It is through pursuing these practices that I have found no slippery slope – simply more expressions of & languages for the Divine / G-d in my life!

This year, I decided to fully embrace the things that once caused me inordinate (and unnecessary) amounts of fear. I decided to trust that God was within me; that God would guide to me the things that served me… and away from the things that would harm me. This year, I decided to pursue the “spiritual technologies” that called out to me the most (Lomax, 2016).

Through reading & speaking with various ministers & healers, I also began to understand a bit more about my social location as a Black American Christian. Perhaps you can imagine my *mind-blown* moment, when I realized that in a not-so-distant-past, Black ministers were often diviners as well. There was room for spiritual syncretism (and there still is, in many traditions). For example, in the 1997 text Conjure and Christianity in the Nineteenth Century: Religious Elements in African American Magic, Chireau unpacks:

“For generations, magic has persisted in black culture, often obscured but deemed compatible with other spiritual traditions. Its widespread appeal is attested to by numerous accounts describing conjuring relics, supernatural rituals…among African American churchgoers. From slavery days to the present, practitioners and clients of the magical arts have moved freely across ecclesial boundaries, drawing copiously from the symbols and language of Christianity”. (p. 226)

Yet, given all this, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been asked “But are you still ‘saved’ (in the Evangelical sense)”  more than enough this year. I’ve realized that this question is not necessarily about me and that it is, to some level, socialized into people. On an individual level, there will be (and are) practices that we may be uncomfortable with. However, I think it’s time to (at least) consider that there’s toxicity in believing that everything unknown, unexplored through evangelical Christian lenses or fundamental Christian lenses = demonic.

Read the rest of the ‘toxic concepts’ series here.

Additional Resources:

Yvonne Patricia Chireau. (1997). “Conjure And Christianity In The 19th Century: Religious Elements In African American Magic”. Religion And American Culture. Volume 7, Issue 2. 225-246. http://works.swarthmore.edu/fac-religion/38

Lomax, T. A. (2016). “Technology of Living” Toward a Black Feminist Religious Thought. The Black Scholar, 46(2), 19-32.

Toxic Concepts I (Un)Learned from Church – On Sex & Throwin’ It In a (Prayer) Circle

“Once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now”. – Sue Monk Kidd

“What are the heavy truths that are yours now”? – Journaling exercise

In the past, I’ve chronicled the toxic concepts that I have unlearned from church and / or church adjacent spaces (campus ministries, study groups, etc.).

Today, I’m picking up the series with three more posts on toxic concepts I unlearned (because…word count).

Toxic Concept: Women’s sexuality can be and SHOULD be treated as a commodity, define her level of “purity”, and only be used in the service of gaining & keeping a husband.

Lena, a youth group minister*, sat us all down for one of her infamous ‘talks’. You never really knew what to expect from Lena, so the best course of action was to brace yourself for whatever was coming. In this talk, she took out a box of tissues:

“If I need to wipe my nose, then I use one of these tissues”. She feigned wiping and dramatically dropped one to the ground. “Now that I’ve done that… who wants to use this tissue”.

Of course, the room was enveloped in silence and stares.

“Some of you want to be hoes in the hallway and sluts in the stairwell. But once it’s gone, it’s gone. Once it’s used, it’s used. Have some more pride and dignity in yourself. You ought to carry yourself in the manner with which you want to be treated!”

Humming under the surface of my consciousness, I learned that having sex (and moreover, having it freely) would bring my worth down to the size of a snotty, used tissue – fit only to be discarded.

If you’re not familiar with this type of rhetoric, then this example can seem pretty extreme. To be clear, there are many spaces where similar analogies are made: “Your virginity is a gift – you don’t want to give your husband an opened gift”. Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye (and icon of the Evangelical Christian movement in the early 2000s), likened virginity to a rose. “Losing it” or giving it away would result in all of the petals being plucked off – there would be nothing left to give for your someday-husband.

So, I learned to be afraid. Afraid of my own body and its desires.
I learned that good Christian women “keep their legs closed” (as if that’s the only way to… you know what, let me not get ahead of myself) until marriage and that THIS would result in procuring a wonderful husband – and at that point, he would be provided with access to your body as a gift, an unused tissue, a fully blooming rose.

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I know it sounds like… a lot. But it is this rhetoric that reinforced what we now refer to as ‘purity culture’.

So, why am I writing about this again and why am I writing about this now? First, because this culture still exists and is now being further distilled down / spread abroad via memes. (Help us, Jesus). Second, because many Black churches have adopted, repackaged, preached, and profited off of these ideals. (Help us, Jesus).

It suggests that women who do NOT make the choice to abstain until marriage are unclear about their body’s worth. Not even THEIR INTRINSIC worth. The worth. Of their body. Yikes.

But perhaps most importantly, I bring it up now because these beliefs have such harmful ramifications in day-to-day life. These ramifications are things that some of the people I love are STILL living with & through. The No Shame Movement chronicled an entire chat  regarding some of these lasting impacts.

I want to tell you about the countless moments of attempting to comfort friends who really & truly felt like / feel like “losing” their virginity means losing their greatest “commodity” and “asset”. (Shudder). I want to tell you about the private spaces I’ve curated with the help of some good friends – in order to address the feelings & even questions that come up when you’ve grown up with this type of toxic belief. I could tell you about the women I’ve known who married hastily – simply because they had sex with their partners and felt that penance meant marrying that person.

I could tell you about the panic attacks that came over me in waves – even after I knew that my sexuality wasn’t a bargaining chip. Even after I knew I could make my own decisions about my sexuality AND have a secure relationship with the Divine. Even after I knew that my virginity wasn’t just some commodity for a husband to enjoy. And I want to tell you that I’m not the only one who experiences this – that after healing from this, I went on to curate private spaces for other women to process unlearning this shame & to ask basic questions about sex & sexual health after the gaps that abstinence-only education left in their path. I could tell you, from first-hand conversations I’ve had, that sometimes your body has to unlearn the trauma of this toxic concept… has to learn how to experience pleasure without guilt. But the word count it would take would be too great for just one post…

So, I’ll end by sharing a story about its ramifications in my own life.

A friend of mine is doing research on this very topic (and it’s going to be amazing when it comes out). I’d agreed to help out with a research query she had – and responding opened up my own experience to me in a way I’d never considered before. I told her:

I saw the toxicity of this belief first-hand when I ended up in a pretty bad relationship with an aspiring minister. I was beginning to do more formal study into this topics at the time, which really wasn’t agreeing with this partner. So, asking for what I wanted resulted in being seen as “domineering” and / or a temptation to deviate from the Gospel. I listened to their stories about they repressed their own sexuality and was told that even passionate kissing paved a way to the slippery slope of eternal damnation. (This is not hyperbole). It was clear that the only circle I was going to be throwing it in… was a prayer circle.

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The hilariously awkward Netflix show, Chewing Gum, does a great job of showing this type of dynamic

Who knows whether that choice was actually mine – I was too busy worried that my “feminine wiles” would steer us “off the path”. Hashtag the patriarchy is a mind-fuck.

Of course, over time, I had to re-imagine my role in that relationship (read: chile, we broke up – Mama didn’t raise no fool). But after debriefing this period of time, I realized two major things:

1) My partner got this from somewhere. They got these notions from the pulpit, from their Bible college, and from their socialization into male privilege.

2) This didn’t just happen to me. 

There is an unbalanced pressure on women in religious spaces to view their sexuality as nothing more than a commodity – something to preserve and give away in service of a husband. Given the huge industry that purity culture makes through selling rings, books, and multimedia efforts – sex is selling – even the lack of it.

So, what I’m saying is this… and this alone… WHENEVER we feel we have the right to be prescriptive about every woman’s body & sexuality… we’re already in the wrong. And although not under the same circumstances, it’s still helpful to ask the question that James Baldwin posited (one that gets me free every. single. time): Who benefits?

Who benefits from the mass sexual repression of women? And how does it point to making money off of our bodies?

Ending Notes:
In the pursuit of answering this question, do feel free to check out Dr. Tamura Lomax’s work on religion & the erotic, NoShameMovement.com, and the #Blackchurchsex thread on Twitter.

*The title “throwin it in a prayer circle” stems from a popular meme which made its rounds on Twitter & Instagram

This post is a part of a larger series. You can read the other posts in the series here.

Toxic Concepts I (Un)Learned from Church – White Jesus, Colorblind Savior

This post is a part of a larger series, which can be viewed here.

Toxic Concept: Jesus’ cultural context doesn’t matter.
(read: Jesus didn’t have a color)
(read most often as: Jesus was White)

“The Christian Church has tended to overlook its Judaic origins, but the fact is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew of Palestine when he went about his Father’s business, announcing the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited

Last week, I saw the Fences movie for the second time. It was my favorite play when I studied Theater and I cannot overstate how amazing Denzel Washington & Viola Davis were in that film. However, one thing that I could not miss came through the set design. Just above the sink where Rose (played by Davis) would peel potatoes and wash dishes was a rendering of White Jesus.

Yo…

This was such an interesting set choice because in my lived experience (and you might be able to argue that in the experience of many Black Americans), White Jesus is a part of the walls of many of our elders’ homes. Not all. But enough to have been chosen as a part of the set design for Fences.

In my own upbringing, White renderings of Jesus moved like a ghost in the subtext of my religious heritage.

Now, to be clear, my parents are committed to our cultural heritage. In other words…

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They told me about where Jesus was born, pointed to it on a map. They made it clear that given his sociocultural context… Jesus was not White. My parents aren’t theologians.

Neither am I.

However, most of my friends are theologians. They say the most brilliant things I’ve heard and that is not debatable. 🙂 On one such occasion, I reposted a thought from Dr. Ashon Crawley which directly discussed the social impacts of imagining Jesus as White.

In a manner of min…seconds, someone piped in with a case for White Jesus, Colorblind Savior. My first (internal) response? “Chile… my ancestors did not die for this”. *Rolls eyes and rubs temples

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I’ve known, deeply and intimately, the ramifications that primarily White Jesus, Colorblind Savior has. When I got to college, I attempted involvement with campus ministries. Campus ministry at a predominantly White institution often means… welll… predominantly White theological understandings. I don’t want to mince words here: it was, overall, a demoralizing experience.

When Jesus wasn’t being rendered as White, He was off – busy telling me… through them… that my own culture & ethnicity did not matter – under a gross misinterpretation of the Galatians 3:38 text. 

It wasn’t until years later, when I read Howard Thurman’s 1948 text “Jesus and the Disinherited”, that I realized just how much Jesus’ own sociohistorical and cultural contexts made a difference. Or that I realized just how harmful and dishonest rendering Jesus as primarily White is.

To render Jesus as White is to say that the various times He was referred to as Jesus “of Nazareth” can be erased right out of the text… right out of what his lived experience was… It means missing out on how hard they TRRIIIIIEEED ITTTTT in the book of John 1 (verses 45 & 46):

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (NSRV)

tamar-braxton-you-tried-it-o
And you don’t get the “try” if you don’t get that Nazareth held its own social location. As did Jesus.

The toxicity of the White Jesus concept is that it allows Jesus’ personhood to be invoked right along efforts of American conquest & the subjugation of people of color – the purposes for which the social construct of Whiteness was built upon in the first place. Putting a construct of Whiteness onto Jesus is certainly convenient when you’re trying to justify a notion that the Divine affirms the genocide, stolen land / resources, and enslavement of people of color. Pft.

Put in other terms by Dr. Crawley:

“i sometimes forget and ask myself what would white evangelicals do if they finally realized, in earnest, that jesus was not a white man. but then i remember: white evangelical christianity has already rejected the biblical jesus. they do not believe he was a palestinian jewish man, they believe he was white with sometimes blond hair. and such a rejection of his personhood – he certainly would be a POC in modern parlance, though it’s an anachronism of sorts – but such a rejection, the continued need for him to be white, goes hand in hand with the continued need for him to be capitalist, sexist, homo- and transphobic. white evangelical christianity remade jesus into an image that would allow for conspicuous consumption, for manifest destiny, for the genocide of indigenous peoples, for the enslavement of black peoples.
what we’re noticing now with folks like paula white and vicki yohe are simply the extension of a quiet displeasure, a sorta disdain and contempt with difference itself. it ain’t new. but folks are gonna have to choose if they’re gonna sing with them still (like travis) or make a different kind of stand”

In my own life, I’ve found the concept to be toxic because in addition to all of this… the notion of primarily White Jesus, Colorblind Savior is demoralizing. It denotes a ghastly racialized lack of imagination: that the imago Dei – the image of God – can be found in people of color. It denies that the Divine exists, yes, even outside of the construction of Whiteness. When it is suggested that Jesus had no color at all, it is a gross erasure of his humanity AND the humanity of those who come from his sociocultural context.

I’ve seen how conceiving Jesus as primarily White allows us to continue building up  and excusing away Christian conferences that are the antithetical to intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1995). It allows us to ignore how our current political landscape has employed White Evangelical Jesus & White Evangelical Christianity towards further subjugation: the stripping of reproductive rights for women, the taking of sacred lands via pipelines, and as Kieryn Darkwater so eloquently describes… all under the guise of  “Taking Back The Country For Christ” .

So let’s all be clear:

“Jesus was an actual person.
That means he had an ethnicity, nationality, and cultural background. Because all people who walk the earth do”

And this sociocultural location was as a Palestinian Jew.

The quoted text above were words I literally had to say to someone. Just a few days ago. In 2017. And so, this notion bears repeating.

For more on this topic, see John Pavlovitz’s post, “Dear Jesus, You’re Fired From American Evangelical Christianity” (2017) and read you some Howard Thurman (like literally everything… anything).

This post is a part of a larger series, which can be viewed here.

Feature: Sojourner Zenobia, Healer & Performing Artist

I met Sojourner Zenobia during one of the community events she curates called Stillness: A Meditation for Women & Femmes of Color. It was my first time engaging in group meditation (of any kind) and it was certainly my first time seeing something so targeted towards my own sociocultural identities. This was back in July… and I have barely missed one of her meditations since that time. Sojourner has helped to facilitate for so many women / femmes of color (myself included) “a spiritual return”. From Sojourner, I learned that there was space to dig deeper into my individual self, spiritual self, and sociocultural self – at the same damn time!

It is in this moment, given the shit-show of this current election season and all of the feelings that are surrounding the upcoming inauguration, that I find Sojourner’s words to be incredibly helpful and timely. So, I want to e-introduce ya’ll to a woman who has become a sister and teacher to me this year. [Text below is largely her own, to preserve the intent behind her words].

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SOJOURNER ZENOBIA began practicing Samatha (peaceful abiding) meditation in 2004 at Naropa University a Buddhist inspired school. In 2006, Sojourner received a BFA in Interdisciplinary Performance and a minor in Buddhist studies. She has studied vipassana (insight meditation) at Amaravati, a Theravadan Monastery in England. She currently a resident artist at Life Force Arts Center in Chicago where she studies energy work through strengthening ancestor/guide relationships and vision journeys. She facilitates a bi-monthly meditation for women and femmes of color at the Shambhala Center in Chicago’s West Loop.

As noted above, her work  in both guided meditation and performance art centers women and femmes of color. She notes:

“I have been in ‘spiritual’,’New Age’ communities since 2004. These communities, more often than not, are populated by white people who have no consciousness of anyone else’s experience but their own. Spiritual practices tend to center the individual – this leads to the valuing of one’s own bliss over dismantling any ingrained perceptions and actions that are oppressive to marginalized groups. Since there are generally only one or two token people of color (POC) in these spaces it might seem that there is no need to expand ones understanding of spirituality beyond a personal agenda – which is projected onto the world as a “saving grace”. Often, if token POC have anything to say about their personal experience (and sociocultural realities), they get into a cycle of having to convince masses of white people in this community that a) they are telling the truth and that b) the white spiritual bubble will need to change completely in order to actually have an impact on anyone other than themselves…

I left these communities highly traumatized and with a damaged sense of self worth. This is why I create spaces where ain’t none of that”.

*(This is where your friendly narrator-blogger pauses to snap and YAAAHHHS all over the screen)
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Sojourner finds inspiration for her performance art and meditation practice through / from formative life experiences:

“I grew up in white spaces. I had one particular ‘last straw’ experience and I looked around saw that I was surrounded by whiteness. I was very hurt. I read bell hooks’,Rock My Soul: Black People and Self Esteem and it revealed everything I had ever felt about being the token black my whole life. I embarked on a healing journey that included the trauma of my mothers lineage around self worth and power. I decided that I wanted to cultivate my art and my spirituality to hold space for my black self. In doing this, I can offer my findings to black and brown femmes who are deepening their own self healing work.

The Stillness Women and Femmes of Color meditation is a place where women and femmes can come and workshop themselves. I do have very clear ideas about the mind. I do believe that silent meditation is a clear and effective way to know how our minds work. When we can see that, we have more options beyond habitual patterns. However, I also don’t like telling people what to do in regards to their spirituality. I think there are infinite ways that people can talk to spirit. No person has the same experience of being in a body. So, this combination of training the mind and opening to spirit gives us access to our inner worlds.

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Sojourner Zenobia, in performance mode!

I think our bodies hold all of the wisdom! All of the secrets! In our world, we (especially brown and black bodies) are forbidden from going inward unless it is in a way that is super controlled through religion or media. I want to give our bodies back to ourselves. I hold spaces where women and femmes can listen deeper than we ever do to “The woman who whispers”- Luisah Teish. We sit in meditation, light candles, draw our hearts, ask questions to grandmothers, write letters to past selves and fall in love with breath. I hope people will grow this space of creative self and community love. It will give us ways, never seen before to protest, love, express, resist and evolve.

Her advice to readers is something I will also follow – ESPECIALLY in the weeks, months, and (4) years to come. It is:

Pause.
Slow down.
Cut your pace in half.
take your bath.
restore…
These slower places are where spirit comes to us.

dismantle busy-ness. If possible, make self-care a part of what is making you “busy.”

The inner voice will scream.
Loud
everyday, telling us what we need.
If we never slow down, listen with them, create with them
we lose the opportunity
to become who we came here to be.

To learn more about Sojourner Zenobia and her practice, visit http://www.sojournerzenobia.com/

Click here for more information on / to get involved with Stillness Meditation for Women and Femmes of Color.

“Tried (It) Again” – Examining ableism & homo-antagonism in Burrell’s sermon

Let’s talk about what’s going on in the Black church, at present.

On Dec. 30th, I spent an evening-to-morning good time with my gurls from my college years. It’s not often that we get to see each other, so we spent most of the night sharing life updates and talking about almost every topic under the sun. Despite those good vibes, I woke up late the next morning (read: early evening) to a barrage of texts & inbox messages about singer & pastor Kim Burrell’s homo-antagonistic sermon.

My initial response was anger.

My thoughts swirled for days after, as I reviewed the sermon itself, her subsequent faux apologies, and many spot-on analyses from friends, peers, and colleagues.On a personal level, I needed to wait to weigh in. Far too often, the name of the game is to “cover xyz topic first” and in this case (like many others), there are far more connections to make – and some of the connections take some mulling over to explore or even articulate.

One such connection, for me, included Kim Burrell’s display of both homo-antagonism and ableism in her recent sermon. She begins the clip by lambasting the LGBTQI community with a barrage of insults and accusations of “perversion”. She, then, goes on to use Andrew Caldwell – recent internet sensation best known for the viral clip from the COGIC Convention in which he states he was “delivered” from being gay – as an example. This is where she implicates that sexuality and disability are both at the whim of ‘spirits’; and / or and indicator of ones relationship with God.

Burrell states:

“Mr. I Am Delivert with all these different types of spirits… on Jimmy Kimmel… you see what the enemy is looking for?… The minute somebody comes out with a deaf and dumb spirit… a mute spirit… one that can’t even talk… and that has a perverted spirit says that ‘I am delivert’ and makes it all the way to Jimmy Kimmel. You think the enemy isn’t trying to make a mockery of the church?”

To be clear, her sermon was primarily (read again for emphasis) antagonistic for community members within the LGBTQI community. This was her key focus, and the reason why she has been / is being uninvited from many opportunities.

However, what she also did as (a perceived) “aside” included situating gender identity, next to disability, next to sin. The implications here are HUGE – because in this, she implies that both LGBTQI identities as well as disabled persons are inherently possessed by spirits / dealing with sin.

Inclusive Jesus, help us.

Dr. Fiona A. Kumari Campbell (2007) asserts:

“A chief feature of an ableist viewpoint is a belief that impairment (irrespective of ‘type’) is inherently negative and should the opportunity present itself, be ameliorated, cured or indeed eliminated. What remain unspeakable are readings of the disabled body presenting life with impairment as an animating, affirmative modality of subjectivity” (p. 5-6)

Thus, Burrell’s sermon included statements which were both homo-antagonistic and ableist. Whether or not this was intended is beside the fact.

We ought to know that it is highly offensive to even use the phrase “deaf and dumb”. It is even an issue to suggest that the ways in which folks walk through the world (as it pertains to both queerness and disability) are due to “spirits”. So, to check* her (a colloquial term, rooted in AAVE, which means to correct and / or unequivocally challenge) via social media on one aspect, without examining both is something we can’t afford to do.

Surely, we ought to understand in 2017, that being LGBTQI does not involve or imply a spiritual shortcoming (as resources, please refer to Darnell Moore’s works on this, Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’ 1999 text Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s 2015 text Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, and then some…).

Surely, we ought to understand in 2017, that being disabled does not involve or imply a spiritual shortcoming (refer to Belser & Morrison’s 2011 article, What No Longer Serves Us: Resisting Ableism and Anti-Judaism in New Testament Healing Narratives).

Surely, we ought to be able to see that in this instance (like so many others), further marginalization happened from the pulpit – and as a minister of the Gospel – this should not be so. At this point, we need to understand that systems of oppression are inextricably linked – especially when we cannot / refuse to see its connections.

Additional Resources & Notes:
Belser, J. W., & Morrison, M. S. (2011). What no longer serves us: Resisting ableism and anti-Judaism in New Testament healing narratives. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 27(2), 153-170.

Campbell, F. A. K. (2008). Exploring internalized ableism using critical race theory. Disability & Society, 23(2), 151-162.

*Title references Kim Burrell’s 1997 album & single by the name of “Try Me Again”

*This essay is posted with special thanks to those affectionately know as my “e-cousins” for helping me to flesh these thoughts out more fully

Photo credit: The MEPR Agency via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-ND

Educator’s Heart-Check: Resisting Complicity in the Dehumanization of Students

It’s been a while since I’ve written here and I truly miss it. However, it’s the start of another academic year, and the place that I go from 9 to 5 (and sometimes later) is a university. Typically, my after 5 life involves writing, but at the start of an academic year – my after 5 life involves carbs and early bed times.

In the university context, I work with students who are far too often pushed to the margins and treated as the afterthought in higher education practice and policy. You can see that trend nationally. So, I work. Hard. To bring their concerns to the forefront. To mine the institution for resources that will get them through to degree attainment. To explain the labyrinthine processes that institutions hold.

We do what we can, “from where we are”. We open our doors. We come early and stay late, sometimes. We look at their faces and we are deeply familiar with the tight spot they are in: the crux of opportunity and consistent microaggressions. We empathize because it was us. If we are people of color, it often is us.

I’m always thinking about the ideas of institution, academia, and education. I’m always thinking about the similarities and differences of those words, especially as someone who a) spends a lot of time assisting students in navigating academia and b) as someone who spends quite a good amount of time around academics in my personal life.

I believe that there is an opportunity for growth and change wherever knowledge, education, and educational services are being created and critiqued.

So, in this context, ‘institution’ is a space where, as my colleague often says, we co-labor with students in navigating “the world as we wish it were, and the world that is”. And it ain’t always easy.

The words of Paulo Freire always challenge me. I read them in graduate school and each year, they come back and hold me accountable to what my eyes have read:

Unfortunately, those who espouse the cause of liberation are themselves surrounded and influenced by the climate which generates the banking concept*, and often do not perceive its true significance or its dehumanizing power. Paradoxically, then, they utilize this same instrument of alienation in what they consider an effort to liberate.

Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1993 p. 66

(*Freire uses the term “banking concept (of education) to explain the type of education which asserts that the “teacher” knows all, and the students’ primary job is to learn from the teacher. The banking concept is an extended metaphor where the educator “deposits” knowledge into the pupils, and the pupils are expected to regurgitate that knowledge. Freire argues that this is inherently oppressive. On the contrary, education that asks students to question, solve problems, and engage in continued dialogue around what they learn, is liberatory. I’ll be transparent here – I’m making an argument that student services work very similarly. See Ch. 2 in Pedagogy of the Oppressed

It bothers me when I encounter academics who say they are here for educational equity – yet also want to be seen as the sole purveyor of knowledge (or, a certain kind of knowledge). I attended a recent meditation on the topic of “The Call-Out Culture”. In this meditation, I realized that it is far too easy (for me) to call others out.

So, I’m not focusing deeply on what is already easy for me to do. This year, I’m doing my internal work. Beyond the programs, the tasks, & to-do’s, I’m asking my “ownself”:

  • What are the ways (in which 😉 I perform academia in order to alienate others? How can I anticipate the ways that academia can alienate students and what can I do to foster a more equitable experience?
  • Are my own initiatives / educational practices / ways of providing student services inherently humanizing –
    • Do they recognize the identities of my colleagues and my students – and make space for their expertise?
    • Have I diversified my knowledge sources in order to foster more humanizing initiatives?
    • Do they implicate that someone else’s liberatory learning experience can only be found in me / my initiatives / my work / my knowledge base? If so, what can I do to rectify that?
  • In what ways have I been “influenced by the climate that generates a banking method” not just of education, but of student services as well (Freire, p. 66)?
    • As I provide student services, am I expecting that students will simply parrot back to me what I have already told them?
    • How can I engage in deeper dialogue with students about “the world as we wish” and “the world that is”?
    • Have I taken a sufficient pause – have I soaked in their wisdom about the tension between these “two worlds”?

This is not about diminishing or decreasing the value of the work that I already do. This is about a heart-mind-work check. These are questions that flow out of my personal way of doing student affairs work I’ve gotten clear on a personal conviction – if my initiative forces a student to rely on me as the “sole” anything, then I’m not empowering them. This brief reflection is about making sure that, at the very least, the experiences that students have with me – are ones that honor their experiences and the knowledge that they already hold on before they’ve encountered me.

Story Time – Family Vacations, Healing Services, & Smoke Machines

What I’m about to tell you is certified “family business”.

For the sake of context, you should know that for the past few months I have been doing some emotional and spiritual work in the areas of familial relationships. It’s been equal parts exhilarating and tiring – charting out the emotional / spiritual histories of family members (for as much as I know). This year, I’ve realized that family & ancestor dynamics shape us in deep ways – some we see readily, even written in the features of our face! However, uncovering other inherited traits, dynamics, spiritual practices, and emotional ‘fallbacks’ can take a bit more work.

The fun part about all of this is that I’ve been re-acquainting myself with some very colorful family stories that we share. In the past, I’ve written quite a bit about my family (it may or may not be fodder for our ‘family meetings’. I’m not sure if they would ever tell me that. Ha)! However, these stories have mostly been serious in nature – the time my Mother ‘stuck it to the man’ in a sacred space, the very deep and multifaceted levels of my Gramma’s spirituality [I’ve written about that twice, actually].

So, this tale is a light-hearted family account that includes smoke machines, driving all across Florida, healing services, and shenanigans. If you’re looking for something a bit more serious, look here. If you’re game for this, come sit with me while I share! (Be careful about drinking water during the tale; you just might spit it out a few times and Mercury is in Retrograde. No one has times for those kind of technology-games).

My Gramma taught me a lot about the mystical side of life – the things that could not be seen. We often disagreed often on the details of these things, but nevertheless, she’s gotten me familiar with a very interesting view of the world.

One year, my family decided to change up their approach to ‘family vacation’. Each member would choose an activity for every day of our trip. The other family members… well, we would deal. This sounds mildly stressful but it was actually quite enjoyable since, generally, I trust them to not have me “out here”. We spent the week going to parks, doing mini golf, riding on jet skis, exploring new restaurants, and more. All the things you think of when you consider those fancy-schmancy vacation and travel blogs.

Then, it was my Gramma’s turn to choose her activity for the day.

We would be going to The Holy Land Experience, which – for those who dont’ know – is described as “a Christian theme park”. (No, I’m not making this up. The hyperlink is there so feel free to explore… Also know, I’m REALLY fighting with myself to refrain from unpacking all of the dynamics of the fact that this is a thing… oh the bed mates that are White Evangelical Christianity and Capitalism… I’m stopping here. The point is that my Gramma wanted to see it… because ‘Christian theme park’… and what Gramma wants, Gramma gets. Who gone argue with my ancestor? Nobody).

It was also decided that we would be going to a healing service afterward. In Tampa. We were going to drive. From Orlando. To Tampa. Gramma’s excited smile was the gavel slam. We were doing this.

I’m going to take a moment here to shout out my Father. Dad was the one doing most of the driving for the entire trip. This morning, he woke up to find that he was driving us about an hour and a half away from the resort space and back. After the theme park. I can remember catching his eye and learning a valuable lesson: Sometimes, in order to keep peace and show love, you gotta drive an hour and a half away from the pools you thought you’d be swimming in by sun down.

It would take an obscene word count to explain the theme park. So, if you are able, I suggest that you go, then call me, we’ll both pour a really big glass of wine, and compare notes. I’m going to focus here on our time in Tampa.

Here is what I was expecting from “healing service”:

It seemed like a logical conclusion, given the strong data from our collected familial, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds. At about 8 pm, I woke up from my car-nap, to my Dad saying, “This looks like… was this maybe a supermarket before… are we in the right place?”

Here’s the picture:
Four family members (myself, Mom, Pops, & bro) are hanging back trying to figure out where in the ham-sandwich we’ve landed. We were also trying to figure out how Gramma heard about a healing service in this church, at this time. She wasn’t on social media. Perhaps, a friend told her. Perhaps, she saw it on tv. Perhaps, it was an unction. I’ll have to consult other family members to get their working theories.

Nevertheless, we were there and in front of us, I think Gramma was enclosed in a ray of metaphysical light. She smiled as she pushed the door open. Everyone else looked around – possibly hoping that one of us would suddenly feel queasy and we’d have to go home. That didn’t happen.

We were greeted by the sounds of heavy metal worship. This is not hyperbole. I am not kidding. And it sounds exactly how you imagine it sounds.

Everyone meets new experiences in different ways. My mother is the most logical person I’ve ever known. I could see her mental wheels spinning in this moment – perhaps, recounting the decisions that got us here. My brother attended to his physical health, as his asthma made itself known – given all of the smoke machines that surrounded the pulpit space. I’m sure I texted a friend – I don’t remember, but it sounds about right. My father chose to count all of the congregants there who had on matching camouflage outfits.

My Gramma was certain that some powerful healing was going to take place. So, as a note for those who aren’t up on the general charismatic church order of services:

  • ‘Healings’ typically happen during altar call
  • Many times, altar call is at the end (after worship, tithes & offerings, announcements, any additional sermonic selections, preaching)
  • Guess how long we were staying…

The preaching started approximately 30 minutes after the heavy metal worship set. My family tends to have a natural aptitude for music. So, after a few measures of each song, my Gramma could get the melody. She sang along during the entire set – a consummate cultural anthropologist.

This next part will be hard to describe in words – which, is ironic, because I’m using a print medium to tell this story. However, I called my brother, and he agrees with me. This experience… words will fall short and that’s where I need you to use your imagination at some pretty epic levels.

The minister / healer approached the pulpit (I use both minister & healer loosely here). I’m hesitant to describe her in too much detail, but the image of a shiny green skirt suit with a brooch, hair that was whiteish-grey yet dyed in pale blue and secured into a bouffant ought to suffice.

After her brief sermon (approx 15 minutes), she introduced us to her practice of “prophetic rapping” (approx 2 hours). The practice (and some people would say ‘gift’) of prophecy entails some sort of divine insight into a situation partnered with the ability to speak on it with clarity and conviction. Prophetic rapping… well I’ve seen it, obviously… but I’m still unclear on the details. It sounded a lot like… well, regular rapping. Key words like Jesus, God, healed, Bible, holiness, were placed into the lyrics as well.

Soooo… I’m going to steer clear of making value statements on that. But I will open an invitation to my religious-scholar-friends (and by religious scholar, I mean… actual religious scholars): Is this a part of a larger charismatic movement? What religious studies classes do I need to understand this? Who has receipts? I need answers. 😉

Meanwhile, back to Gramma…

At this point, it was about 10:30 pm, and we had an hour and a half left to travel back to the hotel resort. My Dad was asleep with his arms folded in his chest (to his credit, again, he was doing all of the driving). My brother’s head was on my shoulder. My mother was trying to reason with Gramma that perhaps it was time to make our exit. My little brother piped in with a performance of Grandson-Charm that I will never forget. We were out within 2 minutes.

We left and debriefed – leaving the actual ending of this encounter still unknown. But it’s a story that my brother and I still recount. It’s one of my favorites and here’s why:

Besides the fact that it’s just a good story and these types of shenanigans follow me around…

I learned a lot that day from my Gramma. We never practiced faith in the same ways. However, she taught me an openness to at least see and bear witness other people’s expressions of the Divine. In the midst of our side eyes, she was game to see whatever that encounter might bring.

I remember her posture whenever I’m invited into a new sacred space – and to be clear, that doesn’t automatically mean “a church”. Since then, I’ve found myself in all kinds of spaces – places I never thought I would get to see. I’ve been in labyrinths, temples, and edifices with a host of different customs and scenery – all with the intention of touching the Intangible.

So, I learned about my capacity to stretch, suspend, and reserve judgment for the things that my ancestors thought were important to watch. Even if I found them to completely unexpected and different. ESPECIALLY if I found them to be completely unexpected and different. I was a teenager at the time this story occurred, so trust, that was a big lesson. I also learned about the allowances we make for love’s sake. (Because if it was anyone other than my Gramma making the request…)

I miss my Gramma’s physical presence on earth. Yet, I also understand her better now. Small annoyances become life lessons. I’m grateful for each one now… even the ones that involve smoke machines and camouflage church-wear.

Image Credit: Isha Gaines, Createherstock.com

 

 

 

Dating with Chronic Illness(es) Pt. II: “Let’s Talk About Spoons, Baby”

It has been so wonderful talking with you all about dating with chronic illnesses. I send my deepest appreciation for the ways you have exhibited community, solidarity, and reflection!

In my last post, I promised a follow up and I was able to chat with Jene again and a few other good friends about this topic. Please read this information responsibly, knowing that this post does not speak for an entire community. Let’s get into it!

“Being well can get expensive” – Jene A. Colvin (JAC)

There can be significant costs associated with the treatment of chronic illnesses. Visiting Dr.’s and specialists costs money. Getting tests done requires money. Insurance deductibles… money. Medicine… money. Vitamins and supplements… money. Appointments for therapy… money. ER visits… money.

Chronic Illness Cat 2

Photo Credit: Chronic Illness Cat

You’re probably sensing a theme.

“Budgeting for your illness when you share finances or just respecting your partner’s health budget is important when dating with a chronic illness. We might not be able to go out on the town… because I just got my doctor bill” (JAC)

So, it’s important to ask good questions about what a date might entail. Discussing the financial and physical commitments to the time clears up expectations.

Re-imagining Dates and Netflix & Chill

One of the most swoon-worthy moments I’ve experienced is when a partner looked deeply into my eyes and said, “Is today a Netflix & chill kind of day?” Originally, we’d planned to go sightseeing downtown. My body had other plans.

I tried to ignore it for the better part of the morning. I wanted to follow through with these plans. I knew they were genuinely interested in the sights we planned to see.

There are days that I can lovingly encourage my body to come along with me. I give it tea and medicine. I give it warm baths and light stretching. I give it orthotics, a meditation practice, and bland foods for digestive upset, as needed. Yet, there are some days where none of this will work. I needed a way to spend time with my partner, while being attentive to my body’s limits. So, Netflix & chill it was.

My good friend Athena (1) talked to me about her experience with this, and I paraphrase it here with her permission:

I’ve had dates set and then would suddenly have to change them (due to illness). I got the feeling that I seemed like a flake, because I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing my illness. Many people would lose interest because it would take me so long to get back to “normal”. It can even make friendships hard, because I have to make plans with a contingency. “If I get a nap before… maybe I can go out” or “Let me rest a day before and we’ll see”. Or I just become an entire recluse – sick and shut in list.com. Scheduling almost makes me itch because I’m so organized. I like things to work. I get really frustrated with myself because people expect me to be the one who has to change

Dating (or even maintaining friendships) with chronic illness(es) means being flexible. In my own experience, most of my physical energy goes to my professional life and supporting myself in that area. After that, I’m looking at my wellness goals. Somewhere in between (not before or after), I’m thinking of ways to consistently show up for those relationships and partnerships that are important to me.

In my life, I’ve seen that it can be done. But sometimes, well planned dates require a change of plans. Sometimes, my body needs my throw blanket, hot tea, Netflix, and legit… chill. It’s important to remember that honoring the limitations of others is a hallmark of romance. #bodyroll #ifmybackisuptoit 😉

Paperwork, Pills, & Emergency Processes

I don’t particularly love talking about this part (sigh) but it is important to ensure that there are emergency and contingency plans. In the case of an emergency, you’ll want to know if your partner equipped with information about medical needs, allergies to medicine, signs of an illness flare-up, emergency contact information (if it’s not them) etc. to come through in the clutch. Let me be clear, whatever you disclose or expound on with your partner is. YOUR. business. I know how sensitive these things can be. I simply want to call into the e-space that a plan for paperwork, pills, and emergency processes is helpful and oftentimes, essential. Because “shit gets real when everyone else is asleep and ya’ll are at the ER” (JAC).

Doing Your Research, Suspending Assumptions, & Curating Language

Yesterday, Jene talked about using a light / color system to communicate about chronic illness. I resonate deeply with some of language around the Spoon Theory, originally created by Christine Miserando (read it here) (2). It’s not perfect, so I pair this with Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. In my life, it’s important for baes and potential baes to have this kind language – to know that through my daily activity, I’m negotiating energy through the lens of whatever physical limitations I have aka “spoons”.
Yes… last week, I was twirling with you to vintage Prince cuts.
Yes… the other day, I waited with you in line to get to that new brunch spot.
But it helps if you know that I’m negotiating with my body to do these things. I’m enjoying myself but I might also be looking for a seated area. I’ve bought along an assistive walking device. I have my orthotics on inside of my get-em-gurl shoes. I’m stopping to stretch and to rest. I’ve saved my “spoons” – I’ve cut out another activity so that I could be present in this activity. I parked close to the venue, because I may not be able to walk back without significant pain. Or I could have to cut out an activity (or multiple activities) to recoup from being present in this activity. Again, I’m negotiating “spoons”.

So when I say, “I have about 4 spoons left”, I need bae to have done the research & have a reference point for that. ‘Cause bae can’t be out here saying, “But, if you did [fill in the blank] yesterday, why can’t you do it today?!” (Answer: I had a different amount of spoons).

Ending Notes & Points of Dialogue:
1) Athena is the pseudonym I chose for my friend. She said “Make it a spicy one so I can chuckle”. I told her I didn’t know if I could do spicy, but I figured the name of a goddess might suffice.

2) For those who are unfamiliar with this language, please do take the time to read Christine Miserando’s Spoon Theory. It does not reflect an intersectional approach to chronic illness (imagine I said that twice, for emphasis). So, read through it, take what works, and leave the rest.

For a more intersectional approach, I suggest following Spoon Theory up with Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. There are a great deal of resources (limiting it to two here for word count) and if you find any that you want to share with me, as well, leave them in the comments below.

What language do you use to talk about chronic illness with bae or potential bae? Do you use a light / color system? Spoons? Something else? Feel free to let me know in the comments and / or through the contact form! I’ve enjoyed hearing from you all.

Perhaps, we can also talk about baes & holidays (because – whew!), sex & sexuality, and more. If you want to get in touch with me about these things, contact me here!

Image Credit: Createherstock.com