I Am Not Sin

It’s been a while since I blogged. This is not because I haven’t been writing, because I have journals and manuscripts full of solid content. But it is because my focus in blogging online has drastically shifted. At one time, I was most concerned with the intersection of faith and justice, and trying to convince Christians that advocating for justice was something that Jesus would definitely do. I regularly pumped out think pieces in response to national and local tragedies including mass shootings, violence directed towards black men and women, LGBTQ, Muslims, Jews, you know, everyone who represented difference outside of cisgendered white “Christian” men.

After the election of 2016, however, I quickly lost my interest in showing up in the world in this way. I found it increasingly futile in trying to convince people who professed the name of Christ, to you know, act like Him. I felt jaded by the election and the fact that 80% of Evangelicals voted for the man who currently occupies the office of the President. I felt betrayed and insulted by those who I thought were my own as a result of our shared faith.

At the same time, I started working for the City of Minneapolis. Like literally, one day after the election. This also threw me for the worst psychological loop I have ever experienced. I questioned what I was doing there, and questioned God even more. What the hell was going on?

Working for the City, in the capacity that I occupied, forced me to do some deep introspective work about who I was and how I wanted to show up in the world. During that time, I wrote poetry and other reflections to help me make sense of my experience and my healing process. All of these reflections now consist of a manuscript that I have been trying to get published for the last year. Pray that in 2019, that manuscript becomes a finished reality!

But in addition to writing, I also thought about what my next steps were in terms of ministry. Considering the shift that was happening inside of me – the questions I was asking, the assumptions I was challenging – I wondered how best to show up and be authentic to the call of God in my life. I was also growing tired of being silenced in the Church and by faith leaders, either because I was black or because I was a woman, and sometimes because I was a black woman. I wanted a space where I could be fully me and not be ostracized. And so I created it.

I launched Kinky Curly Theological Collective in 2017 out of my own need for a space to be a spiritually driven black woman. I launched this space, and invited other women to join me on this journey, so that together, we could define for ourselves what faith and spirituality looked like in our own lives, without the gaze of whites, men, or the Church which is primarily operated by whites and men. Over the last year, we prayed and we cried. We wrote and we bonded. We discovered a bit more about who we are and professed who we wanted to be in the world. And as 2018 draws to a close and we usher 2019, we are making plans to do more in the coming year.

I also applied and was accepted into the University of Minnesota’s Curriculum and Instruction PhD program and started this fall. In this program, I am focusing on the identities of Black Women primarily, exploring our identities through the lens of womanism, Afrocentricity, and gender studies. Spirituality, and our ability to define and practice this spirituality, remains a prominent theme in my inquiry.

But so does embodiment. I started the semester reading essays on how to engage academics from an embodied space and then started to ask myself, what would it look like for me to likewise engage my body, as I engaged my mind, in my own study. When I first started to ask this question, I thought about learning Yoruba, my husband’s native language, and also taking African dance. I pulled up Youtube and typed in “Learning Yoruba for Beginners’ and found someone who provided a basic level of instruction where I could seriously learn if I stuck with it.

But I needed movement. I needed a way to make sure that the things that I was learning academically became a part of who I was. And I needed exercise after spending so many hours a day studying and writing. The question was, where was I gonna find an African dance class for adults?

I quickly learned that one should not ask themselves, or the Holy Spirit such questions. Because no sooner than I had asked the question, the Lord provided! #WontHeDoIt!?!?! One of my friends, can’t remember who, placed on her facebook page that they were going to a class being held in North Minneapolis on Sunday afternoons. I clicked the link and saw that the time was right, the price was right, and the location was right. There was my answer. Now all I had to do was follow through.

And follow through I did. I started attending in November religiously, perhaps even more religiously than I attended church. And while I have absolutely loved it on one hand, it has pushed me in ways that I have not always been comfortable, on the other. You see, I grew up in a church denomination that had an aversion to dance unless it was shouting or praise dancing. And then I attended a school by the same denomination that not only doubled down on this aversion but called it sin. For women to move their bodies in any way that could be considered suggestive was also sin. Add to this the Church’s rigid obsession with sexual purity and ‘making sure your brother doesn’t stumble,” I internalized the lie that my body in and of itself was sin.

The first act of breaking free from this actually proceeded my involvement in this dance class by a few months. This past summer as I preached, I invited the congregation to join me in dancing to Def Loaf’s Liberated. Imagine that: I who felt bound invited others to join in my liberation by actively dancing in the pulpit. It was freeing as much as it was awkward. And I feel the same about the African dance class that I have been engaging on Sundays, which is significantly more embodied than the little half two step I did in the pulpit. Every time, I am forced invited to shake my butt or my chest, I feel this twin sense of empowerment and shame while simultaneously trying to remember the choreography.

But I persist. I persist because my freedom depends on being in good relationship with my body, and to not feel disconnected from it. I persist because the work that I am doing in the academy, that I am focusing on with the Kinky Curly Theological Collective, demands that I not only question the theological assumptions that I was presented in my youth but that I change them altogether. I persist because I think about all of the black and African women, and women in general, who have been taught to hate their bodies and thus not take their spirituality, their gospel, their experience as valid. I persist because heterosexism also has the same effect on queer and gender non conforming bodies. I persist for all of these reasons and more, resolved in climbing every theoretical flagpole to tear down the theological frameworks that keep us bound and unhealed.

I close out this already long post with a quote from the ever wise womanist theologian Emilie Townes:

“If Black folk cannot live into a witnessing spirituality or help foster it in others, then we have consigned ourselves to worthlessness. For to continue in pathways in which we condone or ignore the violence we do to our minds, bodies, and souls is to allow colorism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ageism, nationalism, and other ‘isms’ to dictate to us our values and aspirations. We must make it personal and communal, our struggle for life in and out of the spirit” (Townes, In a Blaze of Glory, page 118).

The last two years has confirmed over and over again that this is my work. I am no longer interested in trying to convince Church folk that racism exists, at least not for free I ain’t. That’s a lot of emotional labor and abuse that I am just not willing to endure anymore. Someone else can do that work if they so please.

If you want to find out more about the Kinky Curly Theological Collective, join our facebook page. And if you ain’t a black woman, tell all your black women friends about us!

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