"Womanist theological reflection created frames of thinking and ways of being that took Black women being agents of their own destiny as the norm." Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas in Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society
Most of us make resolutions at the end of the year, but when the weather is warmer and the days are longer, I feel most inspired to transform my life. During the summer, I pick one aspect of my life that I want to improve, and I put all my energy into it. Last year, it was “fit Mondays.” I made my Mondays all about making wise health decisions from the inside out. Beginning my weeks by being conscious led me to feel healthier and happier and to make healthier decisions throughout the week. This summer I resolve to become a better student of the world around me.
Since January, my life has changed in beautiful and unexpected ways. One of those changes has been the opportunity to consult with other ministers to help them expand their territory. The most visible fruits of our labor during these past months have been blogs, podcasts, and social media posts, but we have accomplished something more permanent than those tangible results; we have grown together. We understand in new ways that a community of faith expands beyond the four walls of a building. The Kingdom of God is so much greater than what we see. In addition to my consulting work, I have been blessed to meet with some of the American Baptist ministers in my state (I will meet with more throughout the summer) to interview them about their lives and ministries. I have heard and observed the deep social, spiritual, and theological commitments they have that have influenced their call to ministry and the work they do in their communities. These past months were transformative for me.
The problem is that as I have grown and changed, I have not felt my world changing quickly enough to accommodate the changes in me. I have always had, and I maintain, a strong commitment to facing head-on the social, ethical, political, and spiritual issues facing black women in the United States. I have met ministers of all demographics who face all sorts of challenges. But, sitting in the context of black churches—especially the black Baptist churches I frequent—where the reality is still that men lead and women (even when those women are trained, called, and ordained ministers) follow, I recognize that we still have so far to go. The phenomenon is not undocumented, and during my Divinity School years, I wrestled with it academically. The misogyny that runs rampant in so many ethnic churches is something that so many impressive womanist and black feminist Christian scholars have written about, but the academic discourse is not pushing the needle quickly enough for all the women who live this reality. Around the country, black male religious studies scholars and pastors are saying all the right things, but in practice, the old boys club is the rule.
I have so many thoughts and emotions pulsing through my body as I observe this phenomenon, but right now, I feel God calling me to stop talking so much so that I can learn something. I need to be a better listener. This summer, I will listen through observation, asking questions, and reading great books. Right now, I am finishing Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas’s edited volume Deeper Shades of Purple. The book is a series of essays by womanist scholars who are explaining the role of womanism in religion and society. I will respond to some of my favorite essays from the book on this blog this summer.
Black women produce work that helps me understand my place in society and makes me a better advocate for people of all colors. This summer I will spend more time on my co-hosted podcast learning from my incredible colleague and friend, Rev. Porsha D. Williams. I will explore the Soul Stories of my unstoppable mentor and “shero” Rev. Dr. Shelley D. Best. I will take the journey with my confident cancer-overcoming sister in ministry, Rev. Paulette Thompson-Clinton. I name these three women because they bravely share their stories of triumph, love, pain, and hope because of their abiding love for God and humanity. And, I think, the commitment to love humanity despite the irreparable harm humanity has historically done and currently does to black women's minds, bodies and spirits is what makes so many black women who we are. That reality is one that is both terrible and beautiful to me.
So, Free Agents, let me hear from you; my summer is about listening, after all. What is your summer resolution? Whatever you do this summer, may every trip, sunburn, family disagreement, dip in the pool, camping adventure, afternoon nap, summer salad, bee sting, and late night bring you closer to understanding yourself and the world around you. My prayer for you is that you will have good health, laughter, and peace during this season. Keep the spirit of creative resistance alive. See you soon.