Brainy Quote of the Day

Monday, February 26, 2018

Diaspora Spirituality...

"Wade in the Water." Postcard of a river baptism in New Bern, North Carolina near the turn of the 20th century.
Image source: Wikipedia

Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, Diaspora, Diversity, Diversity in Science, History, NASA, Science Fiction, Women in Science

We run the gamut: from A - Z, the diaspora has a rich and diverse spirituality. The Baptist Church is the oldest construct, but Mother Emanuel AME could be one of the oldest black churches, famous way before the recent terrorism in Charleston:

Just days after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., last year, the pews at Emanuel AME were filled for Sunday service. A black cloth was draped over the chair where Emanuel's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, should have been sitting.

Holding worship in the church sanctuary — while its basement was still a fresh crime scene — served as a way for the congregation to move forward while acknowledging the deaths of nine of its own. [1]

My wife and I had just passed this church on a quaint carriage ride through the city. We were told Emanuel had been visited by Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King as well as other luminaries of the Civil Rights movement. We also passed near the shore, the auction area, what looked like a long covered porch...where slaves, my ancestors were sold.

My great-grandfather and his brother helped form New Light Beulah Baptist Church in Congaree, South Carolina in 1867; I've been a member of Bethel Baptist in Wappingers Falls, New York, the founders building a stop on the Underground Railroad. I'm a current member of Providence Baptist, the oldest African American church in Greensboro, starting in 1866. Tina Turner and a few African Americans are practicing Buddhists. There are several sites dedicated to atheism and agnosticism, modified by the adjective "black." Santeria and Voodoo are slightly different than Wiccan, but many participate in it. There are Nation of Islam, Shia, Sufi, Sunni and Orthodox Muslims. There are officially black millennial "nones." Goldie Taylor wrote an excellent exploratory piece in the Daily Beast, reluctantly joining a side of this diversity.

The intersection of the Venn diagram is a people that were counted as less, supposed to be conquered and mute about the occasional brutality visited upon it; we found ways to construct community and survive. I recall a scene in the movie Black Panther where Lupita Nyong o (Nikia) and Danai Gurira (General Okoye) and other warriors in the Dora Milaje did a celebratory dance on the coming coronation of T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as king. I thought about the ease of the rhythm before me on the film that communicated a freedom I don't feel most of the time. It was a freedom of having a culture, customs, a language and history uninterrupted by human trafficking, middle passage and forced miscegenation. It was a moment in the action movie that raised an envy; a longing. Much has been said the movie expressed Afrofuturism, itself a branch of Sun Ra, preceding George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic with his video "Space Is The Place," itself an homage to the spiritual "swing low, sweet chariot, coming forth to carry me home," a "coded 100" song giving instructions to potential runaway slaves; itself a longing and knowing the brutality of the American system was not a desired, permanent state for any thinking people. Whether by Harriet Tubman, alien tech, Wakanda or ectoplasm, an escape is still an escape.

Each diverse expression of agnosticism, atheism, Buddhism, theism and nature spirit traditions are all exercising under a construct of white supremacy and navigating it. Even in higher education, especially when in the numerical as well as cultural minority, we must as Dr. Holbrook points out, develop Survival Strategies. We have been and are subject to terrorism, fire bombings, lynching, castration and murder by citizens and judicial policy - either the state on a gurney or in a blue uniform. We are demonized for our skin color, our worship patterns, or neighborhoods like Native American reservations we were forced in through redlining and who we choose to love by WASP convention. Under the rubric of oppression, we've constructed the blues, dance, gospel, jazz and literature; their immediate children being disco and hip hop, the latter having a resurgence of relevance with Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar speaking verse like spoken word artists tackling relevant subjects and divergent expressions of asking the universe "who am I?"

The Rev. James Cone is the founder of black liberation theology. In an interview with Terry Gross, Cone explains the movement, which has roots in 1960s civil-rights activism and draws inspiration from both the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, as "mainly a theology that sees God as concerned with the poor and the weak."

Cone explains that at the core of black liberation theology is an effort — in a white-dominated society, in which black has been defined as evil — to make the gospel relevant to the life and struggles of American blacks, and to help black people learn to love themselves. It's an attempt, he says "to teach people how to be both unapologetically black and Christian at the same time." [2]

There is an old proverb that says something to the effect a ship sailing a particular course can change its destination by altering its original coordinates by a few degrees. It is this degree of separation if you will that makes the notion that we would think the same, preach the same, worship the same under the anvil of white supremacy is "quaint" to say the least. It is why Reverend Jeremiah Wright's jeremiad was sampled in sound bite, purposely taken out of context to foil an interruption in the highest symbol of white supremacy in 232 years of the republic. Bill Moyers corrected the record with an interview with Dr. Wright. (Coincidentally, Baruch - the Hebraic spelling of Barack - was an aid and friend to the prophet Jeremiah.) It is why in the outpouring of grief for Michael Jackson, commentators marveled at how "long the service was taking," when everyone spoke about our new ancestor. The same was repeated for Prince. In each instance, it showed a lack of experience with a part of the American fabric that was supposed to be seen, not heard; ruled and not [ever] to govern.

Sadly, millennials are falling away from that due to disappointment in leaders more interested in leer jets, access to political power and bling than service to the community, or helping with their burgeoning student loans. I share their disappointment, but not their lack of hope. Dr. William Barber's Moral Mondays that has become Breech Repairers and John Pavlovitz's Stuff That Need to be Said are noted exceptions to these blanket observations.

I see another convergence between the millennials in the recent Florida shooting, the murdered kindergarten students at Sandy Hook, Black Lives Matter and Me Too. The Civil Rights movement was led primarily by people we see now as seasoned, but during the time of hoses, dogs bits and billy clubs were the youth of their day. The youth of this day are connected via social media primarily to each other, typically sharing innocuous things like selfies and food eaten. Now more than ever, they need to use that power - and it is considerable - to bring about the change they seek; to BE "the change they seek":

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
― President Barack Obama, Good Reads

The sixties, seventies, eighties and early nineties lulled all of us into apathy. Entertainment like "I Spy"; "Star Trek"; "The Courtship of Eddie's Father"; "The Cosby Show"; "Miami Vice" showed people of different cultures and different worlds working together in a spy agency or on a spaceship; a single, widowed father raising his son alone, a professional couple raising five children and a cop duo that changed the television genre into episodic music videos. We were lulled into thinking - as Dr. Maya Angelou opined hopefully after the election of President Obama - "America had 'grown up.'" In 2016, our Democratic Republic put on its training wheels again, following the dueling pied pipers of a Russian oligarch and a dimwitted demagogue.

Instead of waiting on their parents, it's time for the children to lead US, not to a promised land, but ever closer to a more perfect union.

May the ancestors be pleased, give you strength, and guide you all. We will follow.

1. How A Shooting Changed Charleston's Oldest Black Church, Debbie Elliot, NPR, "All Things Considered"
2. Black Liberation Theology, in its Founder's Words, NPR "Fresh Air"

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