Black church

The #ChurchyMystic: Blackchurch Ritual & Healing Possibility

These days, when people ask me about mysticism, ritual, or healing practices, I can tell that they are looking for something very specific. I know this because there is a mystical “come-up” happening on social media forums like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook – and I’m here for it (to the degree that it doesn’t appropriate & desecrate other sociocultural-spiritual practices). This pattern of moving towards more contemplation – of the self, of the stars in astrology, of tarot cards & intuitive healing arts – is something that I celebrate. When I’m working with a client, we may even discuss or use some of these modalities. It is hardly a secret that I read tarot cards for intuitive coaching, got attuned to reiki, and certainly know how to work my way around crystals & herbs. All of this, I learned along the way and become ever-proficient. But to be clear, my first initiation into mysticism & the contemplative came from experiences in and around the Black, charismatic, mystically-centered (“Spirit-led” is the lexicon most used in these spaces where there is potential for the mystical), church.

My family of origin are church goers to this day – although I lapsed in regular attendance years ago. Each week of my formative years were punctuated by our visits to the all-day affair that was Sunday church service. Each Sunday the ushers would give us fresh, warm copies of the program. Yet, our pastoral leadership (like many in Black charismatic church spaces) referred to the program as more of a living document or merely suggestions for our time together – because “Spirit* was not bound to a program”.

This reorienting of time meant that if something spontaneous, fascinating, or unexplainable happened, we would give free space to see it through. When used with integrity & the absence of White, Western, imperialistic, repressive theology – it seemed that practices of healing were made more possible.

I don’t believe that I’m the only one whose noticed that deep practices of intuitive listening, personal contemplation, personal connection to the Divine, as well as guided rituals, and varied healing modalities (e.g. energy healing through consenting touch, sound baths, intuitively led conversations). This occurs despite the often restrictive theologies which present in these spaces.

A few questions emerge from that understanding:

  • How do those of us who understand this specific tradition & are attuned to the mysticism in these places – eat the meat and spit out the bones” (to quote some of my Gramma’s wisdom)?

Moreover…

  • How do we embrace the contemplative & mystical practices of the Black charismatic church in ways that help us to deconstruct repressive theology and the suppression of our identities?

One of the things that I think scholar & friend, Ashon Crawley, does beautifully in his book BlackPentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility is digging deeper into the possibilities of some of these practices. I’m particularly struck by his notion of the musicians in these spaces playing “nothingness” music – a padding of sound that erupts during certain spaces in service e.g. altar call, transitions, pastoral reflections. The musicians improvise with lulling chords which in turn encourages contemplation in the parishioners in the spaces of those sounds – rather than the ‘silence model’ so typically espoused in Western contemplative circles & schools of thought. (Seriously, get Ashon’s book).

My work here (and beyond) is to interrogate the following:

  • How do we embrace the contemplative, mystical, and intuitive practices of the Black charismatic church – as re-imagined, expansive, & important healing modalities to be used with the utmost integrity?   

I’m also ever-pondering my own questions around these practices and how we use them to help each other heal. (Healing, as I’m defining it here, includes deeper understanding, compassion, and integration of any disparate / disembodied / fragmented pieces of the whole Self; to bring into deeper balance with Self & others). 

For example, might it be possible that these chords act in the same ways that sound baths do? In those sonic spaces or ‘pauses in service’, does the vibration of sound act to soothe us & ground us again after highly intense spiritual experiences? I believe so.

For example, in the practices of consensually laying hands on someone who is feeling fragmented or disembodied, there remains the possibility of reminding someone how to feel safe within their bodies and to embrace the limitlessness of their soul. There is even the possibility, with directed intention, integrity, and much practice to facilitate energy healing within someone’s auric field (that is – to use consensual touch to detect where there might be imbalances or blockages to their highest potential & to assist that person in letting go of blockages, tensions, burdens that now have an energetic ‘life’ in someone’s personal space). I got this in the hugs that the church mothers would give. The guides & mothers that combined integrity, consensual embracing with directed intention often gave the back rub, the touch, or even the extension of hands through prayer that made me feel physically and energetically ‘lighter’ – more integrated & comfortable with myself, the Divine, & others.

Is it possible to look at ‘speaking in tongues’ as improvisational & intuitive sound-making? If so, it may work toward the end of intuitively communicating a reality in the space where language has failed us. We might open up the possibility that ‘speaking in tongues’ becomes a healing method to help both speaker & community feel seen & understood BEYOND words. Through intuitive improvisation, the practitioners offer sonic metaphors for inexplicable grief, joy, ecstasy, consummation, tension, and energy. The art itself – varying pitch, arrangement, and delivery of ‘tongues’ – creates a self expression that heals both the practitioner & the parishioner. (In my personal life, a connecting metaphor is that there are some healing modalities – reiki, for example – that work to also heal YOU as you practice for others). This practice is HIGHLY dependent on context & community – so it is not my recommendation to bill this as a ‘service’ in an ‘intuitive healing suite’. (I mention this lightly & jokingly but the thing is…)

It does not feel like such a tall order to acknowledge that many of the threads of the Black charismatic ‘Spirit-led’ church has hints and reminders of culturally specific, historical understandings of healing. It does not feel strange (to me) to acknowledge that so many in the lineage of the Black church were also root workers, mystics, and conjurers of various levels of integrity & power (see much of Dr. Yvonne Chireau’s work). In some of our ancestry, that work morphed into practice through ‘socially acceptable’ modes within the life of the church (e.g. healing prayers, divination through opening up Bible text to “see where it lands”, faith healings, spontaneous & intuitive ‘words of knowledge’ or ‘prophecy’, etc).

I want us, ESPECIALLY us mystics who have come from the Black church, to look deeply into these practices and to deconstruct them to see if there is any fruit that may be yielded. Is there a way to re-imagine the ritual, detox from repressive theology, and unpack healing art or story in the overall experience?

To be continued… 

Until then, let me know your thoughts!

 

Deconstructing the Binary of “Holy” & “Horny”

My friends often send me videos, clips, flyers, etc. about churchy (1) things to file away in the “Why do we do things like this?” folder. So, last week, I was introduced to DiShan Washington’s body of work by a friend. She was launching her newest “online symposium” (then titled) Single, Saved, & Still Wanting Sex:  I Still Want It – A Transparent Conversation about being Holy & Horny.

Initially, I laughed (like… a lot). Yet, as the virility of the symposium increased, I decided to do some further research about where it came from, what the goals were, and WHY the insistence on separating Spirit and Body…

DiShan Washington is a writer, speaker, and a primary author of a genre that she calls Christian erotica. The distinguishing point in this genre is that “all of (her) characters are married” which is very much in line with a religious bent that sex is only sacred in marriage. In her personal life, Washington is the daughter of a preacher and was married to a 20 year old minister at the age of 16  (2). During this time, she experienced “bouts of low self-esteem, depression, two suicide attempts (3)“. After her marriage ended (due to infidelity), Washington writes that she went “from living a life of luxury to homelessness and even days of wondering where her next meal would come from” (3).

It is important to note that many of DiShan’s formative years as an emerging adult were spent as a “First Lady” (pastor’s wife). Depending on the church’s context & relationship to patriarchal norms, this would indicate both learning & practicing wifely subservience, dependence, & service to God, the church, & their husband above all else (3).

In an NPR interview, Washington clarifies:

“I was raised by a generation of women that said sex was for the man […] (I thought) when this marriage ends, what will I deem the cause [of sex]. How do I get Christian women to remove the stigma that being erotic was sinful.”

If we look through a Black feminist lens, we can see certain themes emerging in her specific story and sociocultural context (4). It also helps us understand how tricky the perceived binary of holy and horny is, particularly from DiShan’s context.

Washington, like many Black churched women, seems to be (publicly) navigating the “matrix of domination”: the oppression that is connected to racial stigma, gender, mental illness & ability, & class (Collins, 1993). The context provided above allows that the church served as a primary institution in perpetuating the aforementioned “axes of oppression”, in addition to sexual subservience, and economic dependence through marriage & patriarchal norms. In my lived experience, I have also seen similarities of story with many other Black churched women – age differences, notwithstanding.

From the NPR quote above, as well as various live feed posts, it seems that Washington is attempting to create new ways to navigate these spaces.  Creating genres such as Christian erotica & affordable online symposiums that deal with holiness, being horny, & transparent conversations about sex & sexuality might be intended towards this goal (4).

However, the rhetoric of the online symposium fell short of that goal. (Yepp, I watched it). This was not necessarily surprising, given the way that this symposium was framed (i.e. the symposium itself was not accessible to “men”; a prelude video states that within this conversation, the goal was to “still remain saved” which is read here as coded language for upholding puritanical beliefs on sexuality).

The conversation went back & forth without imagining new pathways of destigmatizing sexuality & the erotic for Black churched women. For example, I could see Washington’s attempt to complicate our understandings of the Bible (she did this in context of masturbation). However, this was situated along her point that masturbating (as a single Christian woman) promoted lust, which was still a “slippery slope”. I appreciated the assertions that our sexual desires are good & can occur at many different moments (i.e. “sometimes, my hand will graze my nipples and they will get aroused”) but cringed at the suggestion of disembodying ourselves (i.e. “our hormones aren’t ‘saved”). A few of the final notes included smoking as a metaphor for premarital sex (or as my good friend Anaya* said, ‘Fuckin’ is to your spirit as smoking is to your lungs’).

In the case of Washington’s symposium, there is an underlying premise that sex & erotica can only be normalized IF it is within the scope of marriage, patriarchy, and heteronormativity (briefly defined here as the assumption that heterosexual coupling is the “norm”, the standard, and the preference for all persons). Let me state plainly: this premise is dangerous. It allows no room or space was given for persons who identified outside of the “man / woman” gender binary or have chosen partnerships / relationships outside of the gaze of heterosexuality. It allows no space to craft an individual sexual ethos inside of or outside of state sanctioned marriage (which costs money & has gatekeepers). We cannot decrease & disrupt sexual stigma by attaching additional stigmas. We further marginalize ourselves & others by functioning within the realms of heteronormativity & patriarchy.

These impacts cannot be overlooked (5).

I’m working on a longer form article & what I’ve found in that process is this: Black churched women, at various ages, have capacity to internalize gendered oppression even in efforts to resist gendered oppression. Disrupting internalized oppression is key in gaining sexual & gendered freedoms for self AND for others. This is what I wanted to see in Washington’s symposium… despite the sense of knowing that I wouldn’t likely see it.

I’m writing about this because “a great deal of my work (coincidentally or in-coincidentally) points to dialogue with and about Black church(ed) women. I facilitate & curate resources on sex & sexuality for a private space for women (primarily WOC) who have been and / or are currently church(ed). This is important to me, because there are so many spaces & scenarios where parents weren’t talking about sex, sexuality, consent, etc. and  churches / private religious schools weren’t giving that information either. It is important to me that particularly church(ed) WOC have a space to ask these questions to better discern how they prioritize their sexual health” (6)and construct their sexual ethos OUTSIDE of patriarchy & heteronormativity dressed up as ‘holiness’.

(Black church-ism: You oughta shout right there. Nods head churchily).

In other words: We have to find better, freer, more expansive ways forward. 

Washington stated that a key reason she chose the path of celibacy included a moment of unsatisfying sex. She also announced a forthcoming book on the topic of “remaining holy while horny”. With this in mind, a neat “summary” doesn’t seem appropriate. There are questions yet to be answered and modalities of thought yet to be ironed out, including:

  • How might the sexual lives & choices of Black churched women look different if we prioritized pleasure & found instances of sexual pleasure in sacred text (7, 8, 9, 10)?
  • How can we more readily recognize when gendered oppression is masquerading under the guise of holiness? How do we disrupt, disengage, & divest from in commitments to White, Western norms of morality (10), gender (11), and sexuality?
    • Who can / should partner in this work?

There are a great deal of scholars who are coming back to these questions (and more). I plan to commit to these questions as well. I believe that working towards the answers requires our time and helps us to get free.

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.

“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

Things I Would Add to My Resume if I Could

It’s been a while since my last post. Part of that is because of election day anxiety (Jesus in God, the Saints, all of the Orishas, and more). The better part of that is because #BookMe2016-2017 has really been fruitful. I’m absolutely loving the projects I’ve been able to take part in and many of them have had me thinking about my own “professional identity”, both online and offline.

During my time at Kansas State University, I talked a lot about how we can use socioculturally centered theories to assist us in our career process. It was a two day stint of thinking deeply about this notion of “professionalism” which many scholars posit can be inherently rife with issues. Writer, Carmen Rios, says “Often, the way professionalism dictates we should act at work also falls in line with stereotypes and predetermined roles based on our race, sex, gender, or class” (2015).

My initial foray into Student Affairs work was in the realm of Career Services. So, I know all too well how delicate of a dance this is… especially when it comes to advising. For example, general advice posited that we should tell women to keep their hair off the face in interviews. But as a woman with natural hair that is not easily “swept up”, I realized that this advice isn’t always inherently helpful. The same went for gender and professional dress. The same went for the affordability of formal business wear. Lordt.

Yet, these are the waters we often find ourselves navigating and *sigh*, it gets deep. 

Earlier this week, I spent a few days talking with students, staff, and administration about some of these nuances. I spent the rest of the week thinking about how I bring my own identity into the work that I do (both formally and informally). So, today, we’re going forward with a light-hearted post, if I can help it.

Resumes are often used to navigate current and potential forms of work (I’ll leave it to you to interpret what that work is / could be / looks like). However, here are some of the things I would add to my resume if I could:

  • Interdisciplinary bridge-builder – Because all of my seemingly random interests and levels of expertise would probably fit really snugly under this title. It’s pretty much like when I studied “Integrative Arts” in college. Folk didn’t usually know the details of all it meant… but I could always say it like I was out here doin’ the damn thing.
  • Language

    Because if I could add that, I would. I’m also conversational in Beyonce gifs. Beginner’s level in all other gif forms. (Because when you’re fluent in Prince gifs you have a large spectrum of reactions to choose from). One of my personal faves:
    princegif3

  • Teaologist – Do you have a headache? I have a tea for that. Folk on your nerves? I have a tea for that. Your hands ashy? Tea. And lotion. But first, tea. I didn’t get the nickname “The Apothecary” for naught.

    (Head over to Amazon to purchase the Lionel Richie mug and the Mana-tea infuser).

  • Musichead – It has been a longstanding value of mine to spend as little time as possible listening to trash music. Live instrumentation is important and I feel like our ears need it. In just a few minutes, I can likely come up with some dope music recommendations to fit your preferred style and genre. I will also encourage folk to stay on their note, and that’s important in life. It builds teamwork competencies. Cause don’t nobody want you jumping up on their note all the time.
  • Natural hair and organic beauty product tester – If there were a such thing as a “tab” at Lush Beauty Products, I would have one. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about natural hair care regimens and products I use, I would be sending big bucks to my past student loan providers. Sooooo…
  • Petty Theorist & Petty Flow Chart Co-Curator – I don’t talk much about #pettyflowcharts here but it’s one of my favorite side projects. However, I literally spend time with a good friend curating flow charts to help people get clear on a variety of things. I can’t add it to my resume because… well… petty. But it sure is fun!
    petty-flowchartYou can check these out on IG: https://www.instagram.com/pettyflowcharts/
  • Churchy Linguist – Fluent. Can I get a degree in this? I feel like that’s a possibility. Being raised in an eclectic nondenominational Black church afforded me an entire lexicon of churchisms that I randomly use in everyday life. Last heard at a keynote speech: “I’m feeling moved in that direction”. Announcing a performance, as an MC: “Please clap for them, as they come”. Recently seen on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/terrynredd/posts/10112034039704854My friends and I have a running joke that I am “Culturally Churchy, Theologically Complicated” because my spirituality includes sacred texts, rituals, and practices from quite a few traditions. However, I just cannot shake churchy linguistics. Pray my strength.
  • Crystal Collector – Beginner’s Level. Because who is tryna be out here with their chakras out of balance? Not I. Go talk to my friend Ebony Janice of the Free People Project about why it’s so important to balance those chakras.
  • Headliner for the Shower & Car Concert Series – Some of you may know this, and some may not. A few years back (like… a GOOD few), I provided background vocals for a few local Philly artists. A while before that, I was the director of the student-led gospel choir in college. I don’t sing formally at the moment. (Bae does though, check him out). However, my car concerts are on. point. To me, at least.What would you add to your resume if you could? Leave it in the comments below! Or you know, wherever else you find me on these Internet streets.

Featured Photo 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 

 

Cookie Communions & Sacred Parking Lots

I grew up churchy.

Yet, I have a complicated relationship with the Black Church. It is a relationship filled with both wonderful and painful memories. It is a place of deep community, culture, and love. It is also a place I’ve had to critique and live in tension with. The past few years have marked a shift for me, regarding all church spaces. In this iteration of my life, most of my Sundays are spent as a ‘rent-paying member of Bedside Baptist Church’.

But I love the church. And I love the Black church. So, recently, I ventured out to a Communion Sunday church service with friends who I hold in high regard. They are artists, ministers, activists, scholars, and each absolutely brilliant in their own way. We’d all heard amazing things about this service. It gained a fair amount of notoriety in the area and as something that we ‘just had to see’. So, we went to see.

The choir stood flat-footed in the loft and gave us good-Gospel-sangin realness. (Wished I had a tambourine but I managed to fit some varied stomp-clap sequences into the mix). However, when we were all seated, the Minister began a message that was both difficult to follow and deeply triggering.

It’s sufficient to say that we spent an hour and a half experiencing what I can only identify as corporate gaslighting, which Shea Emma Fett defines as “the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality. (Gaslighting) uses threats as well, but has the goal of actually changing who someone is, not just their behavior” (2015).

Some of the refrains shared over the pulpit looped around and around in my mind:

  • “We’re tired of you… We can’t love you… because you’re rebellious”
  • There are spirits always lurking around from “before you got saved” (and when you’re prideful, they can jump back into you)
  • You’re transforming before our very eyes and turning into a monster
  • We need to get back to the days when church was uncomfortable
  • “People will believe their own lie until it seems true… Some of you are believing you’re actually a woman…”

Gaslighting.

I scanned the room to see if anyone outside of my group of friends (and our ongoing Facebook group chat) was vexed and upset by the harmful theology and anti-trans ideology. If this was the case, it didn’t show. Instead, scores of ‘Amens’ and ‘That’s right’s’ filled the room. We decided we would leave directly after prayer / altar call and forego the sacred meal of Communion at this particular place.

But we didn’t even make it to ‘Amen’.

We stood in the parking lot to debrief. My mind immediately recalled the years I spent ingesting harmful theology, unlearning harmful theology, and finding ways to live freely. It was deeply upsetting to watch the transitions on the faces of the congregants: looking physically pained as they listened with furrowed brows but split-seconds after, filled with anticipation that maybe today was the day that they would be able to ‘get right’.

In the parking lot, a friend pulled out some cookies she’d baked for us before the service, prayed over them, and prayed over us. The words that were spoken were both healing and life-giving. They re-affirmed our constant community with the Divine and with each other, JUST as we are.

The power in this moment was not just that we were breaking bread. It was that we were breaking bread in the parking lot outside of church, after a service gone desperately wrong

The parking lot has an interesting spatial function. It’s not quite here… and not quire there. It’s meant to hold you and the vehicle that you came in. It’s a place of entry and exit.

I often employ ‘The Parking Lot’ method when I’m teaching or facilitating a session. The Parking Lot is an intentional space for all of the questions that we need to address, re-address, and think through. In this context, the Parking Lot holds individual and collective tension with the material provided.

That night, the parking lot held us and our collective tensions. The parking lot held us until we figured out how to proceed. (For the record, we had drink specials after Cookie Communion).

I believe that Jesus knew how powerful it was to ‘break bread’ with people outside of the temple walls, in the places that held them… using whatever sustenance Providence gave. This experience reminded me that for all of the harmful theology that is yet in action, there are also those that will come alongside you, love you, pray for you, hear your story, affirm your person hood, and break delicious dark-chocolate-almond-cherry cookies with you in the parking lots of life. It is my deep hope that persons of faith continue to find creative, healthy, and affirming ways to engage with God and with God’s people.

RePurposed Cookie Communion

Captured mid-bite!

For more on gaslighting in theology, check out this post.
For more on ‘recovering from damaging church experiences’, click here..
Also, feel free to contact me, should you simply need a listening ear / debrief of the post.