A Crime of Womanism: Sandra Bland and the Transgression of Black Womanhood

  1. From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge. Serious. -From Alice Walker’s Definition of a “Womanist” from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose  (Walker, 1983)

I spent a lot of time attempting not to view the dash cam video of Sandra Bland’s arrest. But it seems to be everywhere on social media. I finally broke down and allowed myself to watch it in spite of my own internal trigger warning. Needless to say the video was overwhelming to watch knowing that there was no happy ending to this scene. In the video we hear Ms. Bland engage in a verbal altercation with the officer who eventually arrests her. In spite of her tone and resistance, nothing Ms. Bland said or did or didn’t do was illegal. She knew her rights. She stated them clearly. She asserted her citizenship and spoke her truth. What’s more American than that?

The problem is that in America, more than the act of changing lanes without signaling, being black, female and living and speaking unapologetically has always been a serious punishable transgression. Sandra Bland was a “by-the-book” Womanist. She was “outrageous, audacious, courageous… [and]… willful”. Unfortunately, the Womanist Spirit that Ms. Bland embodied has always been seen as an affront to the white supremacist patriarchal sensibilities that dominate American culture.  Therefore being a black woman and claiming your “womanish” power was seen by the officer and I’m sure by many onlookers as a crime punishable often by violence and death.

Actively living into the fullness of who you are as a black woman has always been seen as a transgression. This is what makes Alice Walker’s definition of Womanist and her writing in general so radical. Womanism has always been about giving voice and validity to the particularity of black female power. Our power manifests itself in our voices, in our spirituality, in our use of words, our bodies, our gardens, in our status as warriors, in our extreme functionality in spite of all that seeks to kill us, and in our “womanish” behavior.

In a society where the particularity of white male power is the only power that was allowed room, the Womanist spirit has always had to be suppressed. And what could be seen as powerful is always seen as a threat to white maleness, white femaleness, to black maleness, and even to black femininity. The result of the suppression of Womanist Spirit is often physically, spiritually, or emotionally violent. The violence may come from the white male officer in the Sandra Bland case and officers like him who feel the need to repress the Womanist spirt to reaffirm white supremacist patriarchy.  Or it can come from a black man who uses the term “angry black woman” to silence and shame.  And unfortunately the violence can be internal in the form suppression and repression of our voices and our social and spiritual “bigness” to accommodate societal norms that seek shrink us.

Alice Walker’s work wasn’t only a response to the Eurocentric nature of Feminism or the male-centric nature of the Black Power movement. It also gave voice to the Sandra Blands of the world. It flipped white supremacist patriarchy on its head and for the first time made it safe to live out the fullness of black womanhood. This piece allows black women who embody the Womanist Spirit to dream of a life that was void of fear of being seen or heard and politics of respectability. It allows us to dream of a world where being a Womanist is not a crime punishable by death.

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Dear Rev. Al: The Mad Preacher’s Post-Zimmerman Trial Rant Pt. 1

Dear Al Sharpton,

A few days before the Zimmerman verdict came down, many of my Facebook friends began sharing the statement you made on MSNBC. You urged us to remain peaceful, not resort to violence, not resort to “throwing bricks or bottles”.

So far very few bricks or bottles have been thrown. And a grand majority of marches and demonstrations have been peaceful. And I guess you and Jesse Jackson and others are somewhere patting yourself on your backs because you proved Fox Commentators and Zimmerman defense attorneys wrong. And while I am (in most contexts)a proponent of non-violence, I can’t help but get frustrated with when someone like you, Al “no justice, no peace” Sharpton urge the black community to remain calm in the face of injustice. I get frustrated when we as a black community are asked to remain calm and never be violence in society that has said over and over that there is no consequence for perpetuating violence against our bodies. I’m frustrated that once again the victims of the violence are being held to higher standard than the one creating the violence.

I am not someone who condones violence or destruction. Many times riots end up hurting the black community more than it helps. At the same time, I AM angry, Al! And I want you to affirm that and to affirm the anger of the young men who are as angry as you were when you were their age. I want you to care more about what the still-living “Trayvons” worry about than what the people at Fox news worry about.

Contrary to Mark O’Mara’s implications, I’m not angry because I am a part of a “segment” of society that is just inherently angry. I’m angry because something happened that defies logic. Something happened that only makes sense in the context of white supremacist normativity. I’m angry because we deny that American culture is built on white supremacist normativity, while perpetuating it over and over again in our “justice” system.

I’m not going to riot, Al. I promise. But I’m not mad at those who do. I’m happy that even momentarily, the spirit of apathy that has just washed over my community and many like mine, has gone away. I’m happy that the people who took their anger to the streets are not somewhere in their house shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads saying “that’s just the way it is. Black men get kill. No one goes to jail. I can’t do anything about that.” I think someone like you should be happy too.

Bless you Rev. Al,

Love,

The Mad Preacher.

Obama, Marriage and the Mythical and Real Black Church

It’s been a few weeks since Obama “came out of the closet”. I may be late in response but many of the issues are clearly still relevant and important to address. Since Obama made his statement in support of marriage equality, there’s been a lot of somewhat annoying talk about how “THE Black Church” would respond. And, by the way, I am not one of these black folks who will say, “there is no such thing as ‘THE Black Church’!” Because you know what? There is a such thing. Not everyone black is in “The Black Church” and not every church with black people in it is “A Black Church” (So don’t worry white Christians it take more that 5 black people showing up to your church to make it a “Black Church”.) But there is indeed a historical, cultural, religious institution, whose culture and tradition transcends denomination and sometimes faith traditions and whose common connective factor is the ancestry and cultural heritage of the people in the pews.

I am someone who is from and of the Black Church even as I am not always in the Black Church. And as all of the responses and arguments began to come up for and against Obama, I felt the need to reflect on my journey in and out and back in to the Black Church. As one who is a straight identified ally of the LGBT community and one who feels called to prophesy against sanctified contradictions, I’ve had a really unique journey.

In 2006 I was recently out of seminary and thrown into a society that was charged with the politics of God and sexuality. I was told by the person charged with preparing me for ordination, “you must agree with Bush’s stance on Gay marriage” in order to be ordained. “I don’t agree with that.” I didn’t yell or scream or call this person a homophobe. I said, like our denomination, I believe in the separation of church and state. I said no president has the right to tell a church what to believe. In the same way that no church has the right to tell the country what to believe. That’s the point of being American and Baptist? Right? Wrong. “You might as well leave, if you’re going to say that kind of stuff.” And I was going to say that kind of stuff because it was the truth as I saw it and as it had been told to me in my Baptist Polity class. So I left… that room… the church where I was born and raise… and my denomination…

6 years later, I am ordained and spent some time pastoring and preaching freely. And while it felt good to be in a more progressive denomination, I missed the Black Church. And I realized how much I mourned the loss of something that served as my root and foundation. And in very cautious ways I’ve returned to that religious culture, while holding on to the denomination and culture that was able to affirm my call. I’m happier with my feet in both words. Too bad I cannot have both my soul and my call be affirmed in one space. But I believe that space is coming. And God is calling me and those like me be the midwives and help bring that space to life. But for now I need to heal.

All of these things considered, I wanted to share an excerpt from a sermon I wrote about a year ago about Exodus 20 (the Ten Commandments), specifically verses 3-7, where God is speaking about worshiping false Gods and taking God’s name in vain. It was my response to the Eddie Long scandal but it is very relevant today. If anything this sermon is my invitation and loving but honest critique of the church of my ancestry and the church of my soul:

When we think about about God telling God’s people through Moses not to worship false gods and not to take the Lord’s name in vain, we often think about specific things, like the golden calf the Israelites worshiped or the fact that some people say “Oh my God” or OMG too much. But I wonder if there is a wider perspective on this commandment God is giving to God’s people. Because sometimes even as we are worshiping Yahweh only and have committed to never saying Oh my God or using God’s name outside or referring to God, there are ways that we can still be guilty breaking these two divine commandments…

And this leads me to think about the controversy surrounding the Bishop Eddie Long. This week, Bishop Long seems to have joined the infamous, ranks of people like Ted Haggard and others who claimed moral authority and got caught doing the exact thing they spoke out against.
In 2004 Eddie Long was one of the main anti-gay marriage organizers within the black community. On some level his movement against gay marriage during the 2004 election season, may have been what caused such a large group of black Christians to vote for George Bush. He preached vehemently about homosexuality as sin, as something to fight against, as something evil. And lo and behold, this week two very young men have charged this same man, with using his position to manipulate them into sexual relationships…

And when you hear stories like that you begin to wonder if people like Eddie long, are preaching the word of God or using the pulpit as place to work out his own confusion and struggle over his own sexual identity. He seemed to be preaching something unresolved as if it were resolved and Gospel. If he did commit these acts it seems to me that Eddie Long and the like, have not reconciled their sexuality with their faith. And in reality not many Christians have. It’s something we all have to wrestle and pray about. There is no shame in that. But it becomes shameful when that lack of reconciliation being prayed to and preached about as if it is God. He is forcing his congregation (and in terms of the 2004 election the country and the world), to hold on to his unresolved struggles. And on some level it is the same sort of idolatry and undue use of God’s name that God warned against so long ago.

But on some level it is not the individual preacher alone who is at fault for this sort of thing. There is very little space in the context of the traditional church for an exploration of identity, inclusive of sexual identity without silence. Whatever Eddie Long’s actions are a reflection of internally; there is a larger external issue that is rearing its ugly head as a result of this controversy. Whether we are talking about sexual abuse of a minor, women in the pulpit or sexual orientation, when it comes to issues related to gender and orientation, specifically in the black church there is silence. And the only way it seems to come out is in the deifying of our struggles, condemnation and judgment. Instead of having honest conversations, and listening for God’s voice, we speak for God and turn what has not been sorted out into divine fact. And it leaves many people with a range of problems and a choice between silence and spiritual homelessness.

I think God may be calling the black church and the church in general to something new. God is calling us to honesty and diversity and truth. God is calling us to remember and honor (but not worship) who we were and what we’ve come from and be open to what’s next. God is challenging us to move with the movement of the Holy Spirit and not block the movement with our fears of the unknown. God is challenging us be daring enough to stop letting the worship of tradition continue to hold us back and abuse us. God is challenging us to seek God’s face only even if it means breaking out traditions and living outside our comfort zones.

Amen…

Re(storation)(birth)(generation)

Take one faithful step at a time…
she said to me…
and pray… I’ll be praying with you…

That lavender to purple moment leads me to an open field
where God encourages me to walk maybe run.
But definitely be free to dream…
at least let go…
there are still limitations in myself
expectations
so right now I can only look and imagine myself in that field…
I can only stand on the periphery
wondering if it is the green pastures beside the still waters
… is it love?
…is it the mentorship I could never find?
My spirit will take one.
My body the other.
But it doesn’t matter
… that I can pray again or actually that my prayers can consist of
anything but untrusting angry cries at God…

that I can see that field is merciful in itself…

oh for grace to trust him… trust her… trust God… oh for grace to trust…

Unmuting the the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I saw three “capitalism in honor of Martin Luther King Day” commercials this week. Sears, Kmart and some mattress company really wants us to celebrate the life of the martyred Civil Rights champion by spending money we don’t have on crap we don’t need. And you might say… what’s the problem? We celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection by buying and consuming bunnies filled with high fructose corn syrup. Why should Martin expect better treatment? That’s a good point sarcastic voice in my head.

But I guess like Jesus I am worried that what Martin Luther King actually said and did has gotten lost a glaze of rhetoric. And we all laugh and scoff at the corporations who choose to put commercials out there asking to come shop at their “MLK Day Sale.” But I don’t think KMart and friends are the only ones complicit in what Cornell West calls the “Santaclausification” of Martin Luther King.

And while I am happy to spend this whole post complaining about the people selling me mattresses in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I’m going to leave that behind and pick on some people who are closer to my home: the progressive church.

I’ve been on a little bit of a rampage for the past few months. As much as I love the progressive church and the fact that it welcomed me and my call when we were both homeless, I have some challenges for them… us? And my challenge as it pertains to Martin Luther King Jr. is to not ignore race and racism when it comes to celebrating his legacy.

Now, this seems like a really dumb thing to have to say. But unfortunately it is necessary. Yes Dr. King spoke out against Vietnam and yes he was organizing the poor people’s campaign. Yes he saw the connections between many kinds of oppressions and many types of violence. But the root of his ministry and mission was to the freedom and dignity of people of African decent in the the US. His words very distinctly cut to the core of America’s racial history. In very specific terms he named and spoke out against the legalized physical, social, psychological and spiritual violence that was waged against African Americans every day.

He did speak about the war and about poverty because he saw the connection between various forms of oppressions. But one did not trump the other. But all these years later, majority white progressive churches, tend to lean heavily on his anti-war and anti-poverty angle while muting the struggle against racial oppression. I really am not sure why this has begun to happen. Is it because we are “post-racial”? Is it because Obama is president? Or is it because it is easier to talk against poverty and war than it is to talk about race? Is it the fact that if we spoke about the work that Martin Luther Kind did to end segregation, we’d have to admit that we didn’t really get finish doing that work in our churches?

I think it’s a kind of fear and guilt based denial that makes us want to make Dr. King into a man whose racial commentary didn’t go beyond speaking in vague terms about people of different “skin colors” getting together and singing a spiritual. It’s scary to think that some of what he actually said about racism in American may still be socially if not legally relevant.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.-Some other words you probably have not heard from the “I Have a Dream Speech”.

10 Years Ago… 10 Years Later

Part I
I was upset, crying too much. Yes I cry a lot and I’d been crying a lot lately. But I could not stop the hysterical crying.

My best friend William and I had started that day talking about how we loved Mariah Carrey’s new song. We were excited that she was really singing again. No more slightly melodious whispering for her! But we ended the conversation with the painful choice to spend time away from each other. It seemed like 9 years was enough for him. I was sad and resistant, unwilling or able to understand.

So maybe that’s why I couldn’t stop crying. But it seemed like there was more to the story…

I woke up the next morning and, again, of course, I was late for class. If my class were in Warner or Rice I would have been on time. But they just HAD to have the Black Women’s Literature class all the way across the campus in a classroom in the administration building, I don’t remember it’s name. I remember getting half way across of Tappan Square when those bells started chiming. The “Dominique’s late bells….” It was 9am.

I think it was an emotional class. That class always was. I remember our discussion would always consist of the black women telling these really difficult stories about our lives and the white women crying about it.

I walked out of class with Imani. I guess we both had class in Warner after. I was the TA for Adenike’s Afro-form dance class. I can’t remember if Imani was in that class too. We walked together to Warner. We were laughing and giggling about something, probably the Black Women’s class. But as we approached the building, Mrs. Grier-Miller, Imani’s mother, my former advisor walked up to us. She said something like, “something’s happened that I have to tell you about.”

We were still sort of in giggle mode.

“A plane hit the World Trade Center”

I was still a little giggly. I thought it was funny. During that summer at man accidently flew a small plane into the statute of liberty. And it was something we all sort of laughed at. (Prophetic mistake I guess.)

“And then another plane hit the other tower.”

The giggling stopped….

“Basically the World Trade Center is gone…”

what?

Mommy… all I could think about was Mommy. Under the rubble. She was riding on a train that went right under the World Trade Center. She can’t be dead. I need to call her… I went inside and used the phone in the office. The woman in the office said, “I’m sure the phones are down and everyone’s calling. You may not get through.” I know but I need to talk to Mommy. I have never not be able to get through to her… not in my 21 years… She was always there to answer the phone. I called home… but she wouldn’t be at home. But maybe she didn’t go to work. Why wouldn’t se have gone to work?

No answer…

I went upstairs to class. It’s kind of a blur. But I remember Adenike yelling at us for being so upset. So many other countries deal with this sort of thing every day. There were so many people who lived through WWI and WWII. Why are we so upset? So we went on with class. So I went on to the warm up. I stood in front of that class… crying as I bent and flexed my arm.

Bend… flex “Are you ok?”

Bend… flex “I don’t know where my mother is…” I was dazed. I just kept crying and bending and flexing my arm until he chair of the dance department came in and forced Adenike to stop our class.

I went out of the studio and I remember crying and hugging this woman, this dance professor, that I hated and wouldn’t have spoken to let alone hug. But I needed to hold on to someone. And there was no one else there.

I got dressed and went over to the student union where everyone was gathered. I needed to find someone from NY. I need to find William who, was the driving force, the one who set this stage for me… The one who whose influence led me to be in Oberlin, OH… not the E. Village attending NYU… when those planes hit. But William and I had decided not to be as close the night before. Would he even talk to me? I saw him… and I didn’t care. I needed him. I couldn’t find my mother. He couldn’t find his family, who owned a store in Chinatown, very close to the world trade center. Maybe we needed each other.

For some reason in the midst of all of this I got really excited because I remembered: My computer had come! I got the slip in the mailbox! It was the one I had ordered to replace the one that my sister and her partner bought me… the same one that had burned up in a massive car fire a few months earlier… fire and loss… I felt stalked by the uncertainty of randomness. My since of protection was gone. But in that exact moment, I want to get my computer and get it home so it would not get lost in the mayhem. I asked my new friend Jill to give me and William rides home. We lived really far a way from each other (according to Oberlin standards) but Jill was willing to do “anything to help New Yorkers” in that moment. And I was ready to take that help.

But after that I need to be alone. The only voice I wanted to hear was my mother’s. I went to my dorm room and called my mother over and over. I called the training center where she was training for her new job for the Administration for Children’s Services. I left a desperate message. “I just want to know if my mother made it to work. If anyone can call me back and let me know that my mother is ok…” I called and called. I called my sisters who were both in Boston. They hadn’t heard from her. We joked about security at Logan airport. We talked about sociology… how the terrorist must have really studied American culture to know the exact times and cities to hit and how to hit them when they were the most vunerable. We talked about Mommy and hoped she was alright. We freaked out on the phone together… as we would do so many other times over the next few years… when my sister’s partner died in 2003, when our grandmother died in 2004, when our other grandmother died in 2005, when our father died in 2008…

I called my grandmother in Pennsylvania. I wanted to make sure she was ok… I knew she was ok. She didn’t live in Shanksville! I asked her if she had heard from my mother. I knew she hadn’t heard from my mother… my mother wouldn’t have called her mother before she called me! And I felt bad for scaring my grandmother by telling her my mother was missing. But I guess I just needed to feel mothered in that moment. I just needed to connect. I wanted to feel connected…I guess.

After trying to call for hours… I turned on the CNN and laid down…. I remember hearing some fool they were interviewing saying something like “If we took all that money we spent on education and put it into the military, stuff like this wouldn’t happen.” I remember realizing as they interviewed people involved that there was indeed a difference in regional accents. There was a distinct NY accent that I missed in that moment. There was a Boston accent and a Pennsylvania accent.

I fell asleep with tears in my eyes… as I had the night before. I woke up and the sun had gone down. And I could hear helicopters or military air crafts in the air. I got up called the Bronx.

“Hello?”
“You’re alive…”

She told me the craziest story. She went to her training and had no clue what was going on. She was in a training room and heard people screaming. But she thought maybe it was just loud laugher or people playing around. The man training her ignored his pager and phone. But eventually, similar to my situation, a supervisor came in and they were told what was happening. Everyone went outside… they could see the smoke from where they were…

My mother… my mother who got mugged on the way to church and chased mugger through the South Bronx trying to get her purse back… my mother decided that she was going to walk home… to the Bronx… from Brooklyn. She knew the city was about to shut down. She didn’t know how long. She didn’t want to get trapped in Brooklyn. She set off and approached the Brooklyn Bridge and was turned away by cops…

She described people coming across the bridge from the Manhattan side covered in ash… “walking like zombies”. But she still wanted to walk across… “I needed to get home…I needed to feel safe. I need to talk to y’all.”

Eventually she said the trains started running again. And she got on the D and came home. It blew my mind that NY kept moving even as this was going on. It never slept even when it needed to… even when the world was giving it permission to… But Mommy got home and alive. So I was grateful for the insomnia of my city.

Part II My City 10 Years Later.

10 years later. So much and so many have passed. So much has changed. William and I do much better now, mostly because we live on two separate coasts. I lost many of my friends and family members. But I also gained people and so many new people entered the world and entered my world. I went back and listened the call to be who I was pre-loss… pre-anxiety. I went to seminary. I went from being a college student in the Midwest struggling to figure out what it meant to be in her twenties to an ordained minister in the Midwest who is struggling to figure out what it means to be in her thirties.

But even as I stand at another turning point, trying to figure out how not to return to NY, I still miss miss my city, though. I miss what it was. People forget that NY is a place where people live. We’re not all characters. We are real even though our “Main Street” is called Broadway. It’s where I was born and raised. It’s where I spent 25 of the most literally and spiritually formative years of my life. And this huge community that is NY changed that Tuesday morning 10 years ago.

Yes, NY has always been a ball of energy and anxiety. So it seems like the heightened anxiety would be unnoticeable. And for the most part it has gone unnoticed. It’s been overshadowed by the rhetoric about Ground Zero being sacred ground, by non-NYers who protest the Muslim Community Center and then probably go buy some food from a Halal truck, by all the references to America in general, all of Giuliani’s and Bloomberg’s pushing to make America know that we were ok and open for business. (You wouldn’t want a lose the tourist dollar…) But no one looked back to make sure the residents of this “fake American” city were really recovering. So the New York I returned to in 2002 was not the NY I left in 1998. People coped how they could. And the result is a city filled with zombie-like people who are unable to deal with much of anything. Everyone is shut off… ears plugged, head down, going where they are going… unable to be aware of the person next to them… seemingly unwilling to connect… just needing to get where they are going as fast as possible. And outsiders may say this is the way it’s always been. NYers are just rude. We are. I’m not arguing with that point. But there is something new, symptomatic of something much larger. Culture can sometimes be born out of the unprocessed collective reaction to tragedy. I think NY has created this sort of culture post 9/11…

I hope it’s not to late to heal.

Log-eyes vs Rainbow Seekers: My response to Lillian Daniel’s Articles

Why you hatin’ on the spiritual not religious???

That’s what I’d like to ask Lillian Daniels after reading both her short reflection in the UCC Still Speaking Devotional and her longer article in Christian Century. And what did that man do to you beyond tell you his story? Did he hit you? Did he have a bad aura? Did one of those God-is-a-rainbow children call you a name? It just feels extreme to me.

After the 40trillionth 2030 clergy friend posted the short reflection on Facebook, I thought I should probably read it. And I posted the link on my page and said the following:

Well… I hear and feel her. There are some spiritual/not religious folk are products of a “self-centered American norm.” BUT the last person who told me “I am spiritual, not religious,” has a story of being rejected by his church. He could not find that divine community in the church where he first found God. And I suspect that many of the spiritual/not religious among us have similar stories. So I think I’d turn the question away from the individual and turn it back on to the church: what are we doing to make sure that people no longer feel the need to run to the mountains to find the spirit of the living God? What do we do about the fact that it seems as if there are less roadblocks to God in nature? What do we do about the fact that nature will never ask you too “qualify” for access to the divine but humanity will?(And I am not just posing these questions to so-call conservative churches…)

Then one of my brothers in ministry asked me to read the longer “more nuanced” piece and see if my opinion would change. And it did change my opinion… but not for the better. I shifted from thinking about my friend who recently left the ministry and the church because of poor treatment, to thinking about Jesus in Matthew 7:4. I want to ask Lillian Daniels, “how can you say to your brother,’let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” And I’m not just asking Lillian Daniels. I am posing this question to ALL church pastors who feel for whatever reason that those who chose to find spiritual alternatives to organized religion are somehow missing out on the authentic God.

On some level, I understand what she is saying specifically. I at least partially understand the idea that communal engagement is more likely to produce true foundation. I understand the theory that religion and the religious can create a sustaining foundation. But what I don’t agree with is the idea that we as the church have the right or good answers. I don’t agree that God can always be experienced better in a structured (Christian)community.

And I go back to Matthew 7 because I don’t think we need to be point a judgmental finger at the Spiritual/Not Religious until we as a church get some saline solution and wash that plank out of our eye.

Her thesis seems to be the closer you get to a community filled with people the closer you get to the “real” God, who is not “invented”. This takes away the possibility that an authentic God can be found in the sky, mountains, rainbows and birthdays that GOD created. It says that humans are the only things God created or the only God created thing that God dwells in. It takes away the possibility that the Spiritual/Not Religious could interact in a community and find the same things you find in a church. It says that we in the church or houses of worship have a truth that no one on the outside can access. And it says that what we have now, this religion that has been passed through thousands of years of imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy, misogyny and false divinity, is THE truth.

And maybe it was the truth. I believe that Jesus is the Truth. And I believe the church as Jesus intended it could heal all and save all. But what I am not as confident about is the state any church is in today, even churches that are filled to the brim with people, even churches who are preaching “good theology”. Way too often the church today has nothing to do with the truth that God spoke through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

I think we all “invent” God. Some do it collectively. Others do it individually. And I think there is truth in all our our inventions. I believe God speaks through our mythology. The certified canonized mythology and the rainbow in the sky mythology.

Truth be told, the church community is often much more interested in maintaining (worshiping) tradition. We are often distracted by holding on to “how it we always did it” that we miss God who is standing in the middle of our sanctuaries waving his/her hands like an air traffic controller trying to get our attention. How is that better than someone who experiences the authentic movement of the Holy in nature?

As one who feels called to ministry in a parish I understand Rev. Daniel’s need to defend the validity of organized religion. But as someone who has often felt unwelcomed in a diverse rainbow of organized religious spaces, I also feel the need to take a closer look at what we have. The key is not to point finger in one direction or another. The key is to find where God is in both and try to move toward something more authentic. The rainbow people need to visit church sometimes and the church folk need to find God in a rainbow every once in a while.