Monday, February 9, 2015

The Emerging Kingdom of God or Bringers of the Light

This post emerges from a message I delivered as a discussion at Tapestry Ministries in Berkeley, CA.  

I believe that each of us carries a light within which is meant to be cultivated.  It exists in an intimate and sacred space where the holy resides.  This post emerges from this point, that we, you and I are bringers of the light.  That said, we are the Emerging Kingdom of God.  We move from this life point.  We are meant to take the kingdom of God to people, to provide them with an alternative and different imagination to the life they live now.   That said, there is a dire need to break the silence, to erode the staid oppressions that hold up the pain and oppression which characterize so much of life in America.  As bringers of the light, similar to Martin Luther King, Jr., we are the Kingdom of God, we are breaking the silence.  I have included Dr. King's Breaking the Silence Speech given at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4th 1967.   Go now beloved and break the silence and receive your liberation.

And so..............

Living life in the Emerging Kingdom of God calls each of us to a sacred act of thanksgiving, to be thankful and hopeful as we walk arm in arm with our sister and brother in the all pervading presence of an everlasting sovereign God among people whose hope may not be in the everlasting God, but in the tangible, temporal, simplistic and the more immediate.  Unlike those whose hope is in the tangible, our hope is in the eternal God of Jesus of Nazareth, the beloved son.  We believe and know that God’s love never fails; it never runs out on us!    In the midst of the tangible we hold fast to God’s abundant love and mercy with the gospel which strengthens us in the midst of racism, sexism, gender injustice, the prison industrial complex, homophobia, transphobia, unemployment, discrimination, violence, and the many unspoken oppressions encountered each day.   Mindful of the Cross we cry out to God for hope and comfort saying, “Be mindful of your people and strengthen your people once again most gracious God.”  In the midst the spirit of God reminds us of a great love that has called us to this journey with its many complexities with God and community as our partners.
On this journey we are blessed to experience the embodiment of God in prayer, community, in communion and through sacred activism.  Attending the homegoing service of friend and colleague, Rev. Mariasen A. Barnes, this past week, I was reminded of the communal character of God, that sacred space where heaven, earth and the cosmos come together, even if for a moment, to unveil the love of God.   Similar to birth, which is considered a time of entering the earth realm from the holy, death is a returning to the holy, necessarily unveiling the love and passion of God in the midst of those gathered.   Times and spaces of birth and death are sacred, they are where God has our undivided attention.  They are where we can experience God, if we are conscious, in the real as we fall on our knees at the incomprehensible love and grace fully present.  Moments such as these cause me to realize that life is an abundant gift, it is God’s way of sharing an incomprehensible love.
Having received this incomprehensible love how then shall anyone not preach the gospel?  I believe that the Apostle Paul, with his strengths and weaknesses, received this message of grace although not in its fullness, and was comforted as he lived out his call among the people of his time.   It is this great love which compels and comforts us as we preach the gospel with our lives among the skeptic, the lukewarm and those who have lost their hope in God, Jesus, his Cross, and the Church.  Beloved Disciples of Christ be not discouraged but be ever so mindful (pause) that the present human condition is not new; it is as old as humanity itself.   Today, in the beginning years of the 21st century, many people have embraced ideas of a tangible practical god, a simplistic god, even a visible god of economy which responds to the ego, the flesh and the mind, which bestows a false rest, and a false hope, abusing the soul and enslaving the heart resulting, for some, in death by suicide.    

I am mindful of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech A Time to Break the Silence given at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4th 1967 where he takes the U.S. government to task for its allegiants to capitalism and its embrace of militarism in the name of empire.   He calls for a revolution of values, values which reflect the love of God.  I suspect that he had experienced, like Paul, the incomprehensible love God which overcame a world made insensitive to God’s love for the sake of flesh and profit.   It was this greater gift of love which moved him to express God’s passion and care for the oppressed.  For me his words ring noble, true and timely as today we are bombarded through various media by modes of deception, consumption, and a faith of works grounded in capitalism, globalization and militarism.

Similar to the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the enslaved African, inclusive of those who traversed the inhumanity of the middle passage, yet never lost hope that their descendants would know freedom, today we press on like Harriet Tubman, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, the immigrants of today, and people of an uncommon faith in the midst of empire and the oppressions which maintain and uphold its supremacy with our eyes lifted up to the everlasting and sovereign God.    

Our sure and confident hope and comfort in the everlasting God is nourishment for our souls as the Emergence of the Kingdom of God intrudes and begins to erode the staid sensibilities of empire and its systems of the practical, normal, privilege, and the supremacy of inequality which shape and contour life here in America.  This intrusion, similar to the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth is complex and fearful, and not always understood yet embodying the desire of God for a beloved humanity.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thoughts emerging out of mysticism on a Gradual Disintegration of Integrity, A Sign of Hope

Driving around on the last day of 2014 I found myself reflecting on moments in time when life beckoned me to its elusive quality.   I was reminded of my hopes and dreams, imaginings, desires and agenda’s which fade as the elusiveness of life calls what I now consider constructions into question.   Particularly as a Black Transgender Woman (another construct) I have come to experience these constructions, i.e. the social and cultural constructions of the binary gender system of heteronormativity, race, sexuality and economics for example as a means to take life captive, giving our experiences on earth some type of meaning.    These constructions, however well meaning in the beginning eventually become a preferred and I might add perverted tool of the oppressor for the survival of those constructions and the making of capital.  The consequences of maintaining these constructions in the pursuit of the elusive even mystical quality of life have been wars, empires of various exploitations and a rampant systemic dehumanization of humanity as a whole.  Now, encountering the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly publication for their freedom of expression regarding Islam and the Prophet Muhammad after massive protest against police brutality here in the U.S. becomes one more reason for me to question those constructions which seek to take life captive. 

After a recent discussion on race held at my church we interrogated the social and cultural construction of race and the issues of economics and power differentials embodied in race and its purpose within the U.S. context with particular regard to the lived lifes of Black people and people of color.   Upon leaving the discussion the one word that remained with me was “integrity.”   I believe integrity, i.e. the soundness; rightness or completeness of the construction cannot be divorced or separated from the vision which it pertains to.  That said, integrity is connected to ideas and notions of stability which necessarily support the vision as established by the founder or developer, in line with certain assumptions, in the case of the U.S. the founding fathers, i.e. privileged white men of landed gentry, slaveholders, and religious radicals of the time compelled to leave Europe.[1]   Cognizant of the vision and the people who developed the vision I experience the political, economic and racial structures to be a means by which to maintain particular integrity with that vision and its assumptions emerging out of 17th through 19th century Europe (1650-1800), i.e., the European Enlightenment period. 

Writing bluntly, the economic systems and structures which support the vision of the Democratic-Republic, now considered by some as an empire in its own right, are grounded in that which has become obsolete and therefore are to a large extent archaic and unable to adequately address the many concerns within the human evolutionary experience.  The experience then of race and I would add gender and sexuality are constructed for outmoded and archaic purposes of power, economy and racial superiority and are not “divine, natural or organic” at all but are for the maintenance of a particular vision and its assumptions and therefore indeed problematic for a Democratic-Republic, however dysfunctional at times, in the 21st century.   In this sense I believe that one of the most important discussions today is this matter of a gradual disintegration of integrity with an outmoded vision and its assumptions.    That said, I believe the various protest around the U.S. by people of diverse races and ethnicities in solidarity make this clear, bestowing flesh and blood on the need to (1) counter the vision and its assumptions and (2) to change and transform the vision, and its assumptions and its structures into a more just and free space where all people are experienced as human and therefore sacred, where difference denotes life giving, affirming and holy.   I believe that a framework which transcends an outmoded vision and its assumptions make real the many possibilities of liberation from archaic notions of identity and economy possible.

Transcendence designates a relation with a reality infinitely distant from my own reality, yet without this distance destroying this relation and without this relation destroying this distance.
 Emmanuel Levinas[2]  

In light of the words of Levinas I believe that the gathering of disparate groups of a teaming humanity through social media, considered by this writer a space of transcendence which makes present the infinite, becomes what might be considered here in mystical terms as a space of which avails itself toward liberation.  The implications of a movement grounded in mysticism are a people who no longer live in fear of each other, some type of retribution such as guns, bullets and bombs or even hunger or poverty but their reality is in the embrace of God and a divine mystery, and in this hope and the holy light of liberation.   The reality of the mystic and the underlying philosophy of a movement towards liberation is that the measure of life is their relationship with God, the divine cosmic mystery and not man and his vision and assumptions bathed in the darkness of consumption as first learned at the feet of the European Enlightenment.  A movement grounded in mysticism then encounters the practical and the measurable as a means of oppression inflicted by the Great Beast.[3]  I believe mysticism, as an unmediated union with God and mystery, to be a way towards change and transformation because it denies the hegemony of white supremacy and capitalism which have come to define desire and embraces the supremacy and power of the mystery in all things.  Mysticism must be the ground of any movement which seeks to change or transform the comfortable yet antiquated visions and their assumptions.  In this sense a movement toward liberation must engage with a painful yet listening ear and the tortured heart of God as it embraces the mystery of the transcendent, i.e., that which lies beyond ordinary perception or beyond an archaic vision and its assumptions. 
Throw your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the godly to be upended.     Psalm 55:22 (NET) 
The transcendent presents a sacred invitation, a direct appeal, to engage in solidarity and the hope solidarity might bring as a response to the unfortunate situation.  Cyber Space, i.e. the internet, considered a 21st century space of the transcendent, becomes a necessary tool in the realization of a longed for hope.  To engage, in an enthusiastic and charismatic means, the oppressions inflicted by the powers that be, a necessary work of galvanizing people to work towards the eradication of the many injustices requires multiple interconnected levels of communication within a framework of solidarity.   Movements such as the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, the South American Liberation Movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Arab Spring 2010-2014 started by Mohamed Bouazizi's self immolation[4], all emerge out of an initial prophetic spark of mysticism.   I suggest here that this prophetic spark of mysticism occurs as the oppressed remember who they are and whose they are.  They are no longer defined or characterized by the systems and the systemics of the oppressor but by their God and this without waver.  It is at this point that they transcend the schemes of those principalities and their regimes which advocate for antiquated visions and assumptions at the expense of the oppressed.  In this sense they become reflections of the Christ, the Buddha, and the Prophet Muhammad, actualizing their particular incarnation of the divine.  No longer images, desires and tools of capital and globalization they are now liberated to engage and encounter new and different capacities of imagination. 

[1] How the Cradle of Freedom became a Slave Owning Nation by Susan DeFord accessed January 15, 2015.
[2] Mayra Rivera, The Touch of Transcendence, A Postcolonial Theology of God (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) 62.
[3] Simone Weil
[4]Arab Spring a Research and Study Guide at accessed January 15, 2015

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thoughts of a Black Transgender Woman Living in Perilous Times, the Call of Activism and A Thoughtful Solidarity

We are living in perilous times, times of change, transformation and fear.  We are living in the midst of an empire of white supremacy and privilege built on the backs of Black people, people of color, poor people and those on the margins over a period of three hundred years in a state of gradual decay.  I believe that some of the symptoms of this gradual decay are increasing poverty, increasing class inequality, the emergence of a police state, and a school to prison pipeline, governmental surveillance, homophobia, transphobia, rampant racism and patriarchy.  While these concerns have shaped life in the U.S. since its founding a shifting demographics, globalization, an economic system which works for fewer and fewer people, voter suppression and a President who is Black has shaken an empire meant for white privilege to its core causing it to double and even triple down on its strategies of oppression.

In the midst of these perilous times I believe that the activist has a great opportunity to do the needed work to liberate real bodies from oppressive visions.  Activism in a real sense becomes a means to a love supreme and as such reflects a great love for all.   Reflecting on the life of Ella Baker, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), I am reminded that love is the imperative and life its witness.  Life continues because love is the imperative must be the ground of a revolutionary movement.    

My goal with this work is to contribute to the imperative to love, to humbly add my voice to the conversation, to assist in the manifestation of a different vision for humanity.  Mindful of the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, and the coalitions which represented the dreams of Black people I seek a way forward from this present situation, within A Thoughtful Solidarity framework with Latino people, people of color, those in poverty and people on the margins, and, if the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice then I am compelled to experience myself and those similar as that critical presence within that arc.  My thoughts on A Thoughtful Solidarity emerge out a meeting with other Black Activist Scholars who live Black Life in America.

My objective with this work is to develop a space of activist scholarship regarding the present situation of Black life in America and its implications to a larger conversation on injustice.  Through analysis of personal, i.e. Prayers in the midst of Helicopters, and societal narratives, i.e. the Eric Garner case, I will lift up some, not all of the underlying issues which signify an empire in gradual decay and those opportunities to build movements of A Thoughtful Solidarity for the freedom and liberation of all people. 

Writing, similar to planting seeds gives great productive outlet to a righteous anger.

Sitting in Church on a Sunday evening in prayer I began to hear helicopters overhead.  Hearing the helicopters, my heart began to race, adrenaline began to flow ever so briskly and memories of my South Central Los Angeles neighborhood began to crowd my mind.   These memories swirling in my mind, I was mindful of the people protesting in Berkeley because of the injustice perpetrated on Black men and boys with implications far beyond Black life in America.   Later after a conversation with a friend and colleague that evening I reflected upon the protests in New York, Ferguson, Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and now Berkeley, historical hotbeds of dissent.  In those centers of protest I saw people holding hands and protesting injustice across color lines. The perpetration of injustice upon Black life has galvanized people across the nation into movements of A Thoughtful Solidarity. 

A Thoughtful Solidarity, as an organizational structure, is framed in an ethics which has as its core value love and respect for all people and their desires as incarnations of the divine.  Within this ethics hope becomes a profound transformative move which allows a divine presence to move in the midst of our greatest concerns.  I believe that A Thoughtful Solidarity can be a provocative means to encounter, in fullness, the injustice which seeks, more and more to shape and contour daily life.   This becomes evident as people of different races, nationalities and ethnicities, who, marching in A Thoughtful Solidarity, encounter police and their helicopters and even drones, paid for with tax dollars, as tools of the establishment for the protection of that establishment.  A Thoughtful Solidarity is a powerful response to unjust laws which disproportionately target Black, Latino people, people of color, and people on the margins.

The death of Eric Garner, a Black man, husband and father of six at the hands of New York City police, after telling the police eleven times, “I can’t breathe”   for selling loose cigarettes, a law put in place by politicians in Albany, New York, from my perspective, reflects the agenda of the establishment grounded in the agenda of white supremacy and privilege becomes a significant means to oppress and sequester voices it deems as dangerous to its agenda.   In an interview with Ron Paul (R-KY), in Newsweek magazine of December 6, 2014 entitled, “Garner Killing:  Cops shouldn’t be policing cigarettes[1], Paul points out
“New York City's total cigarette tax is $5.85 per pack (the $4.35 state excise tax plus the $1.50 local tax). State and local officials enacted the tax to discourage smoking, but the hardest hit by high cigarette taxes are the poor, who are more likely to smoke and, unlike middle- and upper-class tobacco users, can't afford healthier alternatives.”

On the surface we have a Black man breaking the law yet when we look deeper and systemically what we have is law that reflects an agenda which is disproportionate in its enforcement and oppressive as those in poverty, now considered criminal, cannot afford to escape a narrative developed and designed by politicians, i.e., agents of the establishment.  As I look more in-depth I find that the Eric Garner case presents significant implications towards the dismantling of civil rights by a police state deputized by a white supremacy that is increasingly fearful and as such blatant in its abuse of people like Eric Garner and their civil rights. 

Gathering with Black activists, ministers, theologians, professors and scholars in Sacred Black Space to process what it means to be Black in America today, to pray and to vision a way forward, I sat in righteous anger thinking of how to respond to white supremacy and privilege.   I sat in righteous anger because of the pervasive and profound oppression inflicted upon Black people throughout U.S History.   That said I am compelled to consider the concept of idolatry in this matter simply because white supremacy and privilege have been constructed to be that all pervading communal presence of economic necessity.  This idolatry sequesters humanity for the sake of its own consuming evil, seeking to devour blackness, its soul and its spirit again, and again. 

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson for Public Research Associates
I suppose that this is the root which frustrates idolatry, that it cannot consume my blackness, my soul or my spirit.  The longing of idolatry to consume my blackness is a conversation as old as the U.S. itself and to a very large extent, through the tools and strategies of Slavery, Black Codes Willie Lynch, Jim Crow, Lynchings, Segregation and now through the New Jim Crow, Voter Suppression and the Prison Industrial Complex it once again seeks to consume my Blackness.  In the midst of these “tools and strategies of idolatry”  Blackness becomes that critical center of identity which cannot be consumed.  I am mindful though, “That which cannot be consumed strikes great fear in the hearts and minds of the one meant to consume and as such blackness must experience the joy, sadness and the danger of the inconsumable." 

The implications of the inconsumable are a particular fear, loathing and hatred embodied in the idolatry of white supremacy and privilege, witnessed in the death of Black life at the hands of that idolatry, becomes a compelling call for A Thoughtful Solidarity.  Ideas and concepts on A Thoughtful Solidarity emerge out of an engagement of activists and scholars such as bell hooks, Sojourner Truth, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Tim Wise, Audre Lorde, Mayra Rivera, Simone Weil, Michele Foucault and others.  A Thoughtful Solidarity develops as historical-critical cognizance, borne out of honest conversations of the heart take root displacing thoughts emerging from the idolatry of white supremacy and privilege.  From a postcolonial perspective A Thoughtful Solidarity becomes a means towards encountering one’s humanity, an authentic sacred space of being and in this sense it is a calling to a new and different horizon, where authenticity and imagination come face to face with oppression.  In comparison to Solidarity which only engages the external concerns and issues, A Thoughtful Solidarity embodies postcolonial desires, which in the midst of those external concerns, to somehow escape a humanity shaped and contoured by the desires of economic necessity first formed on the plantation of Southern Slaveocracy.  Its intent is transformational.   

A Thoughtful Solidarity is composed of progressive coalitions, alliances, organizations, groups, and voices of the unaffiliated with like minds, on the margins, “its leadership is group-centered rather than leadership-centered”[2] and as such a serious challenge to the narrative idolatry.  This challenge embodied in a thoughtful A Thoughtful Solidarity is magnified as those elements of A Thoughtful Solidarity in concert and collaboration develop strategies which have as their goal a constant, steady strain of transformative intent.  I do believe that long term transformative intent requires significant reflection as the establishment daily bombards those living in A Thoughtful Solidarity. 

A Thoughtful Solidarity rests on a dynamic spiritual foundation.  A strong dynamic spiritual foundation rooted and grounded in prayer maintains the path for a project of A Thoughtful Solidarity as well as for the one who longs for real systemic even revolutionary change.   Prayer must be the starting point of any endeavor which engages empire and those notions of idolatry.  A Thoughtful Solidarity is also bound together by a core spiritual belief in the inherent value of all people as incarnations of the divine with intent, purpose and the gifts to manifest that intent.  That said, life continually seeks liberation and as such the discourse that undergirds A Thoughtful Solidarity is liberative.  Beyond prayer this is the most significant component within A Thoughtful Solidarity framework. 

Most importantly there are times when issues of sectarianism deny the very liberation sought.  As such A Thoughtful Solidarity must transcend Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jewish or Pagan or any other form of religious sectarianism and politics  It must have a holistic spiritual ground which reflects a divine cosmic spirit.  A Thoughtful Solidarity can only contribute to the gradual decay of the empire through love for all people as incarnations of the divine.  As such identity and what it means to be human in the context of A Thoughtful Solidarity framework is a matter of intimate togetherness in the midst of difference as espoused by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount and the thoughts of 13th century mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi.  This runs counter to empirical notions of identity and existence immersed in popular fears.

The great strength and determination of the movement rests in the heart of the person longing for liberation from their oppression and in this sense a love sustainable for all must be the core vision of A Thoughtful Solidarity. 

[1] Newsweek Magazine December 6, 2014 entitled, “Garner Killing:  Cops shouldn’t be policing cigarettes by Jason Pye. accessed December 8, 2014.
[2] M. Bahati Kuumba.  Background and History:  The Case Studies in Comparative Gender Perspective in Gender and Social Movements (Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001) 35.