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.

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.

This Sunday’s Sermon

“Can You See ME Now”

Job 42:5 “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

At this point in the scripture Job is facing the end of his very difficult journey. He had been through many dangers toils and snares. He’d faced death of his loved ones, the destruction of his property, illness and a parade of bad advice from well meaning friends. But now he was at the end of that journey and things were about to get better for him.

And in that time he began to reflect on his experiences. And as he did that he said something that I though was very interesting. He said, until now I had only heard of God, and now I am able to see God.

I think that is a powerful statement. In the midst of struggles we can easily lose sight of God. We have no idea where God is in all of it. We experience loss and destruction. Then we turn on the TV and se see loss and destruction. Three major earthquakes, have hit our world in a very short amount of time in Haiti, Japan and now Chile.

And for the most part we don’t know what to do. We give money, we pray but we cannot effect change in the way we’d like. We can’t undo the damage. We cannot bring back those who’ve died. We can’t even afford to go down and help with recovery. So we look to God in prayer. We ask God why. We ask other people why God would allow this much suffering in the world. We start wading in the deep deep waters of Theocracy, if God is good ALL the time, why is there so much pain in the world.

And the sad thing about it is there will be so many people who will jump up and claim that they know, who like Pat Robertson and the cab driver in NY (who found out I was a preacher), will claim that they know where the problem lies. They know who to blame. It’s the blame of the Haitian Revolution. According to the cab driver, it’s the blame of all churches who are leading God’s people astray. And Job faced these sorts of people. If you read Job, you’ll see that there whole chapters devoted to his friends who seek him out in his misery simply to give him advice about God and tell him that his suffering is due to his lack of faith, his lack of knowledge of God and so on and so forth. And in the end, expresses God’s anger towards the friends and it is Job that must offer them a prayer for their salvation.

We spoke last week about the ways in which people attempt to define us as individuals unaware of God’s purpose for our lives. In the same way people try to define God unaware that only God defines God. There are some things that we as humans cannot understand and may never understand about God and the way God moves through the earth. Therefore we must constantly seek God’s face and in prayer ask God what is it that I should be getting from this situation. What is it that you are speaking to humanity through these events? We should never assume and we should never take anyone else’s statements about God as Gospel without seeking out the answers for ourselves.

God knows that we have a tendency to just God with the herd and not check in to see if God is leading the herd. I think that as uncomfortable as the story of Job’s destruction can be to read, there is something that God wants humanity to grasp through the reading of the story in it’s entirety. We can learn something from the wisdom Job is able to receive at the end. As we delve further into the season of lent, and closer to the celebration of the resurrection, we have to hold Job’s reflection in our mind. Let’s work together to not leave our faith up to others. Let seek God’s face, and ask God the tough questions, and practice our faith in a way that, we can begin to not simply hear OF God but we can began to see God and know God. I hear God saying “Can you see me now?” Amen….

At this point in the scripture Job is facing the end of his very difficult journey. He had been “through many dangers toils and snares”. He’s faced death of his loved ones, the destruction of his property, illness and a parade of bad advice from well meaning friends. But now he was at the end of that journey and things were about to get better for him.

And as he did that he said something that I though was very interesting. He said, until now I had only heard of God, and now I am able to see God.

In the midst of struggles we can easily lose sight of God. We experience loss and destruction. Then we turn on the TV and see loss and destruction. Three major earthquakes, have hit our world in a very short amount of time in Haiti, Japan and now Chile.

And for the most part we don’t know what to do. We give money, we pray but we cannot effect change in the way we’d like. We can’t undo the damage. We cannot bring back those who’ve died. We can’t even afford to go down and help with recovery. So we look to God in prayer. We ask God why. We ask other people why God would allow this much suffering in the world. We start wading in the deep deep waters of Theocracy, if God is good ALL the time, why is there so much pain in the world.

And the sad thing about it is there will be so many people who will jump up and claim that they know, who like Pat Robertson and the cab driver in NY (who found out I was a preacher), will claim that they know where the problem lies. They know who to blame. It’s the blame of the Haitian Revolution. According to the cab driver, it’s the blame of all churches who are leading God’s people astray. And Job faced these sorts of people. If you read Job, you’ll see that there whole chapters devoted to his friends who seek him out in his misery simply to give him advice about God and tell him that his suffering is due to his lack of faith, his lack of knowledge of God and so on and so forth. And in the end, expresses God’s anger towards the friends and it is Job that must offer them a prayer for their salvation.

We’ve spoken about the ways in which people attempt to define us as individuals unaware of God’s purpose for our lives. In the same way people try to define God unaware that only God defines God. There are some things that we as humans cannot understand and may never understand about God and the way God moves through the earth. Therefore we must constantly seek God’s face and in prayer ask God what is it that I should be getting from this situation. What is it that you are speaking to humanity through these events? We should never assume and we should never take anyone else’s statements about God as Gospel without seeking out the answers for ourselves.

God knows that we have a tendency to just go with the herd and not check in to see if God is leading the herd. I think that as uncomfortable as the story of Job’s destruction can be to read, there is something that God wants humanity to grasp through the reading of the story in it’s entirety. We can learn something from the wisdom Job is able to receive at the end. As we delve further into the season of lent, and closer to the celebration of the resurrection, we have to hold Job’s reflection in our mind. Let’s work together to not leave our faith up to others. Let seek God’s face, and ask God the tough questions, and practice our faith in a way that, we can begin to not simply hear OF God but we can began to see God and know God. I hear God saying “Can you see me now?” Amen….

In Defense of the Color Purple/Uncertain of TD Jakes

I’m watching “Not Easily Broken”. This is the second TD Jakes movie I’ve seen. I am appreciative of the fact that there is a big time black preacher delving deep into issues of gender and the negativity that exists between black men and black women.

BUT!

I’m a little concerned that he tends to paint an overly simplistic view of the relationship between black women and black men. The tension between black men and black women is acknowledged but the cause and solution is too often boiled down to something to the effect of “those damaged black women need healing”. This may be true. We do need healing. But my question is what about the men in the scenario? The abusive fathers? The bad ex-boyfriends? Where is the discussion of the culture and the systems within the black community that make it ok for black women to face such damaging situations? And more importantly: How can we go so quickly to the solution when we haven’t really fully investigated the problem?

Alice Walker attempted to delved into these questions with her book The Color Purple. She attempted to show a very real history of physical and sexual violence against black women at the hands of not white men but black men. And there was such an unbelievable backlash from the black male community. (There is this dude who always calls me “Lisa” and tries to bate me into an argument by saying “Alice Walker hates black men, right?” Dude! My name is not Lisa and no and go away!) The thing is I don’t think these men (Lisa-dude included) are upset because they are in disbelief about these issues showing up in our history but more because they didn’t want the dirty laundry out there. (Ya can’t wash ’em without putting ’em “out there”). They didn’t want to deal with it in front of “them”. But who cares about them in the face of such devastating violence in our own community? How can we tell “them” not to kill us as we kill ourselves? It’s like my sister said when we were protesting again police brutality and members of the Bloods walked up beside us with protest signs: “They can’t kill you but we can.” We take that position way too often in our community. We do everything to make sure white people aren’t abusing us but we think it’s ok if we abuse each other.

And I think TD Jakes is attempting to look at some of the same issues from a more faith based, less historical perspective. But we can’t move forward without first truly understanding and “unpacking” what happened before. (Sankofa) We’ve yet to do that as a community, really delve into the ways that slavery has so painfully damaged the relationship between black men and black women.

Somehow it has become the burden of the woman to heal and forgive the abuse perpetuated against her by black men. We do need to heal and forgive. But what I need is someone like Jakes to also say that it is also the responsibility of the black man to STOP. Stop abusing women. Stop being so permissive of misogyny in our communities, in the church as much as it is in the streets. And really start talking about gender rolls and strength in ways that don’t strangle your emotional stability. Strength doesn’t have to be so restriction. And talk about faith in a way that has no tolerance for abuse. YES be strong. But be strong enough to talk about those things things that are hard to talk about. Yes pray. But pray for understanding, mutual respect and healing of our whole history and the trauma we face in response to the legacy of slavery.

Good Friday Sermon…

This is the sermon I meant to preach had I had the manuscript with me on Friday… I’m not sure what came out of me that day sans manuscript. I pray it was in someway good but for those who missed it, pretend that this is what I said:

“Forgive them Father for the know not what they do.”
We never get it right. As righteous as we think we are, somehow, we’re never quite right. From Adam to Dominique: God gives us clear directives, don’t eat that fruit and we eat it anyway. Here is my servant Moses, listen to him and we don’t. Here are my 10 Commandments, a written document (you know how we like written documents) filled with the law and we don’t follow them. He sends prophet after prophet and we don’t acknowledge them. And when all else failed, God morphed himself into the form of a baby and came into the world as one of us. And although Christ’s followers believed, they and many others still didn’t quite understand. Poor God. I wonder what it must feel like watching humanity so arrogantly stumble and bumble around, certain that we know what we’re doing. Forgive us dear Lord, I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t know what we do.

And yes I said what “we” do, not what “they” do. In order to give you a full view on the grace of God, I need to place all of humanity, you and me in the midst of this Good Friday story. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” We tend to think of “them” as separate from us. We think of Judas. We think of those who stood and opted to free Barabbas and crucify Jesus. We think of the criminals on either side of Jesus. We can sometimes even go as far as thinking of the unchurched person on the street corner, the under churched who walked in her with the “wrong” clothes on, or the over-church person sitting next to us that somehow thinks their unyielding grimace is their ticket to the Kingdom. But it’s harder to look within and see the internal “them” that dwells within. We “yeah God, you should forgive THEM because THEY don’t know what they’re doing.” Little do we know that we are the THEM. THEY are us. We all are the ones in serious need of God’s mercy.

If we take an honest look at our lives we can begin to see how much we’ve tripped up and made mistakes. Like Judas, we were have been swayed in the wrong direction. We’d betrayed the one who loved us the most. Like those who screamed, “crucify him”… we’ve made rash decisions. Our going along with the crowd has had some serious consequences. We’ve stood very close to Jesus, like the criminal on the cross next to Jesus, yet our words and our actions mocked the notion of salvation through Christ. Whether intentionally or completely unintentionally, we are so often in the position where we need Christ to stand in the gap between perfect Divinity and flawed humanity and say “Father forgive him, forgive her. She doesn’t know what she is doing. He doesn’t’ t know the consequences of his actions.” And this is why I thank God that Jesus’ sacrifice acts as a reset button.

Jesus offers us forgiveness. His sacrifice is a negotiation of sorts, freeing us from judgment from God, freeing us from the judgment of others, hopefully freeing us from self-judgment and reminding us that we are in no position to judge others. Knowing that I am the THEY, knowing that I know not what I do, knowing that Jesus sacrificed for my lack of understanding, I don’t look left or right at the flaws of the person next to me. All I can do is look up and thank God for his mercy. Thank God for listening to the pleas of the suffering savior. I do my best each day to learn, to study, and to read the word of God but I know some things that are just too vast for me to understand, too easy for me to forget, too tempting to get swayed away from. There are some things that I know Jesus must stand in the gap for. I do the best that I can to emulate Jesus but I know the only perfection is God through Jesus. And he died for my imperfection. He died because Jesus saw something worth saving. I am so eternally grateful that Jesus stood and saw the mess that is humanity and yet loved us enough to save us.

I promised this would be short. And indeed it is very short but before I go I want to share a piece of a song with you. Oddly it isn’t a religious song. It’s by the pop star Beyonce. And it’s even more odd to know that this isn’t the first time I’ve used a Beyonce song to illustrate my point about the Passion of Christ. But there’s something about these songs sung by female artist sung about their lovers that sound like the worship and devotion that is owned to Jesus. I’ll take issue with this in another sermon. But for now we’ll pretend that she’s singing to Jesus:

I don’t know why you love me
That’s why I love you
You catch me when I fall
You accept me flaws and all
And that’s why I love you