faith

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 – 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)

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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.

Toxic Concepts I (Un)learned from Church (and How Rituals Helped Me) – Pt. II

In a previous blog post, I unpacked “3 toxic concepts that I (un)learned from church, and why they were important to name”. I intimated that I would pick up with these concepts at the end of the initial post, so  I’ll do that in this post!

My religious context began with a church-of-origin situated as a nondenominational Black church (with Pentecostal leanings). Its doctrine was fundamentalist and there was the perception that we were Biblical literalists. This sentiment was offered every time a new member stood for our welcome. Leadership told them, “We believe the Bible from Genesis to Maps & References” (which were often offered in the back pages of the King James Version Bible). It was a space that was often given to charismatic movements of the Spirit, which taught me a great deal. Yet, when I became a teenager, I longed for a practice of Christian faith that I THOUGHT was more intellectual.

So, I started rockin’ with Reformed Calvinists on a quest for urban missions.

One of the tenets of Reformed Calvinism is total depravity. When I arrived to this place of worship, much of the framework was centered around the notion that humans came into this world ‘totally and morally depraved’. Thus, now that Christ had saved us from moral depravity, we were now to sift all of our thoughts, intentions, hopes, dreams, relationships, friendships, etc. through a rigorous process of self denial and spiritual questioning.

To that end, I learned how to distrust myself.

I offer commentary from John Piper (deep sigh… Lawd) to help illustrate my point of this particularly type of teaching:

Not relying on God in any action or thought takes power and glory to ourselves (1 Peter 4:11; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 2:20). That is sin, even if the external deed itself accords with God’s will.

An example might make this radical indictment of much human “goodness” clearer..

So, in this post, I will unpack just one more toxic concept that I (un)learned from church and that is, “My thoughts, my body (my Self) is inherently flawed and not to be trusted”.

I. My Thoughts

Years after I’d left formal fellowship with a house of worship, I sat in a meditation group with other women and femmes of color. Our facilitator, Sojourner Zenobia, guided us with care throughout the process. In the beginning, my thoughts were all over the place. I would try to concentrate very hard on ‘meditating’, my thoughts would wander, and I noticed that it was almost a reflex for me to think badly… about my own thoughts.

After quite a bit of fidgeting, I’d gotten to the place where I could be STILL, in every sense of the word. In the space, I heard our guide tell us, “Develop a ‘thank you’ relationship with your thoughts”. In this moment, I realized I needed to unlearn what I will name here as ‘thought penance’. A quick Google search of the word penance brings up the definition that it is “voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong”. Thought penance, for me, was a reflex learned over many years and many times of hearing that even my good thoughts were not necessarily good. Even after YEARS of abandoning (and critiquing) a Reformed Calvinism faith practice, I found myself at meditation group still distrusting all the things that came into my mind.

“I shouldn’t be thinking about that! I should be meditating! Oh forgive me!”

In that moment, I heard (literally like… from our meditation guide lol), “Develop a ‘thank you’ relationship with your thoughts”. While I had intellectualized that my thoughts were good, this called me deeper – to embody this knowledge.Each time my mind drifted from meditation, I began to say, “Thank you”. Even when my thoughts got a bit… interesting… I showed gratitude to the mind that created the thoughts. I started off awkwardly. There’s no immediate switch from thought penance to thought gratitude. But by participating in this ritual, I decided that my days of reflexive thought penance were over. I decided to be mindful and learn to hold positive emotions around my thoughts.

II. My Body

I also learned that my body was not to be trusted as a girl in these worship settings. Countless sermons rolled down from the pulpit (and were further enforced in the mouths and sentiments of church parishioners) that my body – my curves, my legs, my lips, my thighs, and ESPECIALLY my vagina – were inherently dangerous and filled with lust. In these settings, a woman’s body could cause men to “fall from grace”, to become irredeemable. So, I learned to cover myself. I learned to overthink my wardrobe choices in sacred spaces (to read more about that, click here). I’d heard that sexuality was only appropriate in a marriage context, but also that my body could not even be trusted to “make it” to that social institution. So, I shied away from all things sensual.
Needless to say, for those who’ve followed my work here, I am NOT about that life anymore. LOL! I am clear that human sexuality is good and is a gift. Yet, I am ever-embodying that knowledge #bodyroll.
In a guided meditation practice, we were led to practice loving touches. We began with the third eye (the space a bit above your eyebrows, middle of your forehead) with gentle, loving, light touches. Then, we went down our body, exploring our neck, limbs, thighs, hands, feet and learning to extend kindness to our bodies.
I thought about how my past context taught me shame through pulpit preaching and through touch as well: the pulling down of my skirt, the covering of my shoulders, thighs, breasts with a scarf, the pulling of my shirt closer over my cleavage. Yet, until that moment, I had not noticed it. Unlearning the distrust of my body began as an intellectual journey (resources for that are below). However, it was essential to continue the unlearning process by being open to and receiving loving (platonic and sexual) touches from my self and from others. These rituals have been helpful and effective.

(For more notes on church, women, & sexuality, please read Ebony Janice’s ‘A Love Letter from an Erotica Goddess: Because the Body is Not an Apology, and Candice Benbow’s A Church Girl Confession: How Embracing My Own Sexuality Made Me an Ally)

Closing Notes

One day, I was sharing all that I’d learned with an old friend who was at a different stage of their journey. Their face projected a look of concern:“Well… are you angry? Angry with the church? Angry with God?”

My instant and most authentic answer was:

“No, I’m just clear”.

I’m clear that the church can be so valuable and helpful when we acknowledge people in holistic ways. I’m clear that the feelings that I get in ‘my gut’, those truths that I ‘know in my Knower’ are valuable and effective for my everyday life! I’m clear that the God that made me, made me good and desires my wholeness. I’ve also learned that it is important to name that which I’ve learned and that which I’ve unlearned on this journey.  That means, these types of posts will be flexibly-ongoing! In the mean time, check out my first blog post on this subject. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, you can check out the formal panel called #DetoxifyChristianity which will be taking place tomorrow evening. (Shout out to Alicia Crosby & Pierre Keys for letting me know about it!)


This post marked the beginning of a larger series, which can be read here.
Image Credit: Creatherstock Photos, Isha Gaines’ “Black Women in Formation”

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.

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^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.

Jade’s Faves Features: Depressed While Black

I met Imade Nibokun during the first conference for digital and print publication, Heed Magazine. We were both contributing writers and I ended up sitting by her during lunch. I was struck by her ease in providing social and cultural commentary on a range of topics. A few years later, we reconnected through mutual friends and writing interests, and this is where I heard about her in-progress book and social media initiative “Depressed While Black”.

Imade describes herself as ‘a music journalist turned non-fiction writer discussing mental health treatment and African-American culture’. She has presented at the National Black Women’s Life Balance & Wellness Conference at Spelman College and teamed up with Brunch Culture podcasts to talk about her work. She shared her story on BET Network’s video initiative called ‘What’s At Stake: 60′ and her in-progress, nonfiction book, ‘Depressed While Black’, will provide commentary on life at the intersections of race, gender, spirituality, and mental health.

I sought her work out specifically to feature on this platform and appreciated its alignment with the mission of this site. Typically, I ask for quotes to use in the Faves Features as I further explain the work. However, Imade’s writing is profoundly beautiful, so to stay true to her voice and mission, all text below is hers, used with permission:

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“My name is Imade and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in December 2012, days after I sped on a Los Angeles highway wanting to die. I honestly thought I was diagnosed with disease that only White people experienced but I later found out that 1 out of 10 African-Americans experience depression in a given year. The biggest lesson I learned is that mental illness isn’t a sign of inferiority, spiritual or otherwise. I got a therapist and despite being told I didn’t pray enough, I started using antidepressants. If I didn’t ask for help, I’m not sure I would be alive today. I decided to share my experience in my work-in-progress book, Depressed While Black, to create a safe space where others can ask for help. Through social media channels, I share articles and my own story in hopes of de-stigmatizing mental illness.

Depressed While Black was birthed out of my need for help as I was scratching and clawing for the will to live. I needed people who were consistently aware of what I was going through so they could encourage me when depression was saying I’m worthless and alone. Depressed While Black is simply one black woman asking for help, and finding a supportive community.

My target audience is African-Americans dealing with depression who are searching for a community that normalizes their experience. In my own journey as a black woman, I faced stigma that prevented me from having a language to describe what my mind was doing. When I did identify the depression, I was told that I should have prayed and asked a pastor to pray for me. I did both of those things and still struggled with depression. I had few people I felt safe to talk to without fear of victim blaming. I experienced therapists who did not understand black culture and advised me to do things that were not applicable to my life. Once I got over the stigma, I didn’t have the money to be hospitalized or have outpatient therapy. I also had no one else to consult when it came to using antidepressants. Once I graduated, I lost my health insurance and in my unemployment, I lost a safe space to live where I was not shamed for what I was feeling.

There is a myth that black people are superhuman. That only white people cry or are depressed. There is a myth that if our ancestors endured slavery, then we have nothing to complain about. There is a myth that we should just talk to our pastors, although not all of them are trained to deal with the treatment of mental illness. My most important counter-cultural narrative is that every African-American is worthy of mental healthcare. From the strong black woman single mothers, to our ancestors who experienced unimaginable torture, to the pastors who have to preach one funeral after another. We do not have to earn self-care by struggling the way our ancestors struggled. Just by our sheer existence, we are deserving of mental wellness.


Pictured here with co-presenter, Dr. Simone

African-Americans need affordable mental health treatment from culturally competent mental health professionals. We need skills to counter what depression and society tells us. We also need safe healing spaces where we can recover from the micro-aggressions we experience daily.

So, I encourage, inspire, and empower by speaking on panels that despite how much you struggle, you’re worthy of receiving help. Depression doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I share stories of people who have hit rock bottom, including myself, and found ways to prioritize self-care on the journey to recovery. In speaking out about depression, I challenge the lies that African-Americans are not intellectual beings or that we are immune to pain and suffering. We hurt, we cry, and we become weak even as we present our strength to the world. African-Americans deserve mental health treatment that is tailored to our needs”.

You can read an excerpt of Imade’s upcoming book, ‘Depressed While Black’ here and follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/DepressedWhileBlack, on Twitter @DepressedWBlack. I also encourage you to read more of her writing over on Tumblr! Special thanks to Imade for this brave work!

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Healing from Sexism in Sacred Places

I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t. – Audre Lorde

I knew that my life was changing drastically, but I wasn’t sure of the direction of change. I was preparing to attend graduate school on an assistantship that would allow me to engage in meaningful work. I had a partner, whom I thought was incredibly warm-hearted and funny. He’d stuck by my side through a year of disappointments, false starts, and a slew of rejections from professional opportunities.

We both grew up in evangelical Christian traditions. We knew many of the same worship songs and shared the same sense that there was something largely spiritual about the world we lived in. But I had my thoughts; thoughts on women’s reproductive rights, women being able to pastor, the radical inclusion of all marginalized communities, and I was not silent. I was not silent when we turned the idea around for months & months on women preaching. He was studying to become a Methodist minister at the time. “It would probably be a deal breaker for us,” he said, “I couldn’t sit under you.”

My capacity to ignore that comment for a year yet astounds me. But suffice it to say I had larger concerns. I was heavily focused on networking & preparing for grad school. At the beginning of my grad school journey, we maintained a long distance relationship for the most part, sharing life events virtually. Yet, the concerns about my career trajectory, theological views, and liberationist perspective became problematic for him.

Through seeking council from his pastoral care team, he came to resent that I was not the woman who knew how to “shut up and pray.” He came to think that my theology was off regarding women in leadership roles. He began to pursue other relationships. Eventually he asserted that God was calling him to a season of singleness. Soon after our break up, a friend told me that he had gotten married.

In her book Bad Feminist (2014), Dr. Roxane Gay writes an essay called How We All Lose. In this essay, she unpacks her deep discomfort regarding a quote that she heard from politician Richard Mourdock. In one of his debates, he connected the mistreatment of women through rape as God-intended if new life came from it. Gay (2014) reflects, “Just as there are many different kinds of rape, there are many different kinds of God. I am also reminded that women, more often than not, are the recipients of God’s intentions and must also bear the burdens of these intentions (p. 99).” What she is saying here is that our understanding of God is greatly connected to who we are and the systems that we have “bought in to”. She is pointing to an extreme example of the dangerous connections we might make when heteropatriarchy primarily informs the way we hear God.

During that time, I did what I knew to do in times of severe spiritual distress. I gathered with my faith community. I read books by prominent faith leaders. I scoured commentaries. But this was more than about trying to convince myself of whether or not I could teach in church. This was about the questioning of Imago Dei – the image of God in me – a Black woman. This is what was called into question in sacred spaces – the spaces of my intimate relationships with men and the physical constructs of the church. It took me a long time to hear any type of story which mirrored my own, and after reading the men in commentaries and listening to the men in the pulpit, I began to think that maybe there was no balm.

And then came, what I believe to be, Divine Intervention. I went to graduate school with a cohort of women. All women. Our primary professors were women. And the experience was unlike any other learning experience I have ever encountered. They bought coffee when I was tired. They gave hugs after each time I got into a car accident (lack of sleep + stress is incredibly dangerous in that way). They were academically brilliant. They were rigorous in their quest for knowledge. They called me out on all the ways I tried to bullshit them and myself by selling myself short in the classroom or not taking ownership of the strong work I was doing. They listened to me complain and told me to do the work anyway. And they introduced me to bell hooks.

Through them and bell hooks, I learned to teach for social justice & transformation. I also learned the theories that I needed for healing and eventually she encouraged me to create them, as well. She taught me that my lived experiences could be studied, analyzed, and turned into intellectual theory; theories that would empower. Though the subtleties of our lives were not the same, her voice began to both soothe and challenge.

Since then, I have been inspired by the works and teachings of womanist theologians and scholars and their words have sustained me in the journey. I have also been inspired by my personal she-roes who are so great in number that I would be remiss to name even a few. They opened a new world before my eyes: helping me to re-engage with faith in a new way. But most importantly, they administered the healing balm: a way to see both myself and others around me as sacred, spiritual, & worthy of love. They pushed me toward a healing process from sexism in sacred places all the way from the heart (the site of intimate relationships with self & others) to the church (the physical constructs that we use to express spirituality).

Through this journey, I have come to forgive: to know that ‘well-meaning’ people misinterpret the voice of God. To understand that no one escapes the messages of sexism that pervade both secular and sacred spaces. To offer my narrative in hopes of creatively challenging those in sacred spaces to inquire: in what ways have my congregants experienced the detrimental effects of sexism in this space? How might I address / change that? At the time when I needed it most, the women came to me, and offered me their story. And through their story, I was empowered to offer my own.

Image Source Credit: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/9499849190287889/

Resources:
Gay, R. (2014). Bad feminist: Essays.

Mitchem, S. (2002, January 1). “There is a Balm …” Spirituality & Healing among African American Women. Retrieved January 19, 2015, from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mfr/4919087.0007.103/–there-is-a-balm-spirituality-healing-among-african-american?rgn=main;view=fulltext

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Healing from Sexism in Sacred Places by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.