Emanuel AME Church: Somatic Conversation: Christianity, Love, Justice

Here is the thing, I have been living in Charleston for the since  November 2014, though I have admittedly not spent much time on the ground. I am scholar of dance, religion, and performance, with particular focus on African Diaspora religious and cultural expressions.   Between frequent trips to Europe and home to Jamaica I have not spent much physical time in Charleston.  My most concentrated time has been the past three months.  In this time I have learned to love the weather and begun to get some glimmer of understanding of the culture.   Outside a regular schedule in the dance studio, I spend most of my time at the library at the College of Charleston or at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, working to bring closure to several research projects.

I regularly walk pass Emanuel AME Church. This is the church where nine worshippers lost their lives; it is on my way to and from the store I most frequently get my groceries.   Since waking Thursday morning to news of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church I have been at a loss for words.   I have walked the city, attended a few gatherings, and in non-reflective contemplative moments, moments when I think that something I would say, could say, would do something positive, try to think of something to say/write.   Quite frankly, I have no words….   What I share is this short video and a few photos of outside Emanuel AME Church THIS First Sunday morning.

IMG_20150621_101733A First Father’s Day without ‘Officially the Best DAD’

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Bent but not Broken

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Hearts walking in Love from many faiths

Killing Fields, U.S. Addictions to Violent and Violating Black Death and Calls for National Accountability and Rehabilitation

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Billie Holiday’s centennial birthday and the ‘celebratory’ invocation of her renowned Strange Fruit make this moment in U.S. history more poignant as yet another Black son/brother/nephew/friend is added to the ever-growing list of persons killed for living while Black.   North, South, East, and West of the land Black blood and flesh are fertilizing yet another generation of trees from which Strange Fruit are set to bear by the gun or the noose.  The killing has been rampant; and so too are the shame, excuses, disregard, denial, all in an effort to make sense of the killings.  But, when can anyone make sense of addictive actions and responses?

Body and Protest

DSC_0133I am in the process of relocating back to the United States, a process I have been engaged in for several months now. I left the U.S. in 2002, returned for 18 months in 2007, and have been more or less happily away since. When I say happily way, I don’t mean to say that I have had an easy time of it. In fact, of all my close friends I seem to have the most unpredictable and at times precarious life. But one thing has been different the past 10 or so years, I have not had to wake each morning under deadly weight of being black in a land that has culturally (and legally) sanctioned the genocide of all people who look (in one way or another) as if they could be related to me.

In my mid-twenties I stopped my daily ritual of reading the newspapers. It was a matter of survival. Until the moment I stopped this ritual, I had gotten into the habit of reading the newspaper with my breakfast. It’s a commonplace habit. Many people do this simple activity without a second thought. Being up-to-date on current going-ons in the world and in one’s local space is an important adult ritual in which many in the U.S. and elsewhere take part. However, for me this ritual was unusually complicated as it was frequently accompanied with tears and heaving sobs: one more person shot dead, one more person raped, one more person physically or/and socially lynched. The news ‘wring mi belly,’ to use a phrase from my grandmother’s descriptive lexicon. There were days I cried so much that it was only through the emotional handholding of close friends that I was able to function in my then life as a dance artist.    I knew I could not in some magical act change the world, but how could I survive in it when I was in a constant state of recovery, anxious and anticipating the next injustice.

Today, within only a few weeks of my return to this side of the Atlantic divide, and to the U.S. space, I am looking at ways I too can protest the recent killings, and the recent excuses as to why black genocide is possible and inherently necessary in the land of the free home of the brave.

I have walked in more protests than I care to say, my twenties and early thirties were spent protesting in whatever ways I could in the churches and universities and on the streets of New York City. Although I had stopped reading the newspaper I did not stop receiving the news. When it comes to Black Death, my twenties and thirties were  harrowing time,  accidental shootings and AIDS funerals were plentiful and I resented the ordinariness in which ordinary folk talk about the death and dying of people who look (in one way or another) as if they could be related to me. I took it all personally, for me it was personal. My attendance at funerals required a personal commitment to love and justice, love for those who had died and a promise to seek justice in whatever shabby corner of the land in which I had spent a significant portion of my life.   My attendance at marches required a personal decision to bodily protest the bodily denigration so much a part of the cultural intuit of those less likely to be identified as related to on Black lives.

This year I spend my first holiday season in the U.S. in more than a decade and the stark reality of guns, righteous indignation, and daily violent deaths (particularly Black deaths) has saturated the air. I am called to remember that for Black bodies there has been, for as long as my memory and history can tell, a struggle to breathe in the land of the free home of the brave.  

October 2014

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October 2014
Delivering lectures and conducting seminars/workshops (see titles below) for the Anthropos Group and the Centre for Liberation Theology at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.

Workshop 1 and 2
‘Body Matters: Somatic Conversations on Christianity, Love, and Justice’
Lecture/Workshop 1
‘Love and Its Public Significance – Questions and Challenges for Theology’
Lecture/Workshop 2
‘Migration and Constructed Identities – A Theological Engagement’

Building Community

The womanist concept of Regardless, appropriated from Alice Walker’s initial womanist definition, is important to thinking through notions of new community building in which oppression and exploitation are part of the history and identity of those involved in this process. In point three of her four-point definition of womanist, Walker (1967 p. 1) implicates Love (capitalized to point to its political, religious and commonplace deployment), the creative imagination, and Regardless (also capitalized and italicized) in an endless and audacious network. Regardless in Walker’s usage stands alone as a sentence on its own after a consecutive series of two and three word sentences explicating the object of womanist Love:

  1. Loves music. Loves dance. Love the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Love struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless. (p. 1)

Regardless is an essential partner to Love of the creative, of creation, Love of family and community (folk) and Love of self: Regardless. This notion of Regardless allows for thinking through and about survival from difficult histories and memories in a manner that is not laden with victim-ology, but articulated journeys of survival filled with dignity that demands Love towards one’s self. To Love Regardless is to accept all the broken, torn, and bruised pieces of one’s self and one’s history and nonetheless choose Love. Regardless empowers bent and broken persons to engage in loving acts without question and without conditionality. Regardless allow spaces for those caught up in webs of oppression and exploitation to find the courage to give and accept Love. Critical reflexivity, ethics and spirituality are core to womanist thought and theologies, and work to address structures of oppression without leading to additional displacement of the oppressed. In this context, the notion of Regardless methodologically points to alternative modes and lenses for locating, analysing, and negotiating power and oppression.

The building of new communities in which each body (in its physical materiality, historical fleshiness, somatic legacies and future imaginings) is valuable and valued requires the coming together of bodies in conversation about bodies, the body of individuals, the body of histories, the body of communities, the Body of Christ, and engagement with Regardless.