Heart Work: A Conversation with Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows

“Understanding how racism really, really works, and seeing it as not just a social justice issue but a theological imperative, means that we have to talk about it and work on it all the time.”

In 2016, Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows was elected the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, making her the first Black woman to be elected diocesan bishop. She holds a B.A. in architecture with a minor in urban studies from Smith College, an M.A. in historic preservation planning from Cornell University, and an M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP). Before coming to Indianapolis, she served in the Dioceses of Newark, Central New York, and Chicago. Her expertise includes historic preservation of religious buildings, stewardship and development, race and class reconciliation, and spiritual direction. 

Transcript

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [00:04]: I long for the day, maybe we don’t need food pantries and we don’t need Black Lives Matter protest to state the obvious. Black Lives Matter and people should be fed and not hungry in the richest country in the world. 

Cassidy Hall: Welcome to Contemplating Now, a podcast about the intersection of contemplation and social justice. Through interviews with scholars, mystics, and activists, this podcast will focus on contemplative spirituality’s direct relationship with issues of social justice. I’m your host, Cassidy Hall, a filmmaker, podcaster, pastor, and student, and I’m here to learn with you. 

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows,  of the episcopal diocese of Indianapolis is from New York City. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture with a minor in Urban Studies from Smith College, an M.A. in Historic Preservation planning from Cornell University, and an M.Div. degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) in 1997. Before being elected bishop in 2016, she served in the Dioceses of Newark, and Chicago. She is the first Black woman to be elected a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Jennifer’s expertise includes historic preservation of religious buildings, stewardship and development, race and class reconciliation, and spiritual direction. Well, Bishop Jennifer, thank you so much for joining me today.

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [01:25]: I’m delighted to be here and looking forward to it.

Cassidy Hall [01:27]: So one of the things I like to begin with is just kind of defining the terms that we’re going into for yourself and for our audience. How might you define words like “contemplation” and/or “mysticism,” and along with that, maybe how do you see them in the world?

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [01:42]: I tend to think about those as two distinct things, contemplation and mysticism. And as we were preparing for our time today, I thought, oh, why is that? And I think it’s because the practice of contemplation as a spiritual discipline has been a part of my formation as a layperson. I mean, I was baptized as an adult and then went off to seminary not long after that. So learned pretty quickly on as I delved into the daily spiritual practices of our traditional Episcopal church, a lot of which is things like the daily office morning prayer, evening prayer, compline, but also wanting to explore other practices that were less vocal or verbal and was introduced in seminary to the contemplative tradition. So taking time for silence, for a kind of meditation practice that focuses on a word or a mantra or an object, has been a part of my discipline on-and-off for 30 years or so. When I think about the mystic tradition and mysticism, and I’m thinking you know I should know from the dictionary, like what are the differences? But to me, that’s more about how we experience and the movement of the spirit in moments or experiences that seem, at least I think of is more supernatural. You can’t explain them, you can’t conjure them up. You know, I can choose to enter a contemplative moment, but the experience of the mystic Christ or having an experience of mysticism is something that’s beyond my ability or desire to plan it; it kind of just happens. And I will admit to having had experiences that I would classify as mystical in my lifetime, they’re memorable, but I couldn’t say that I could have recreated them if I wanted to, it just happened.

Cassidy Hall [03:21]: The distinction of contemplative life or contemplative practices as like a rhythm and a ritual, something that we create and that we engage with, but yet the mystical is boundless, it’s not tethered to rhythm or ritual and I love that. Would you be willing to share one of your mystical experiences?

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [03:42]: Sure, I would say, you know, it’s interesting because I’ve not had a compare and contrast kind of conversation about mystical experiences, really. So I am wondering with a new hunger about what that’s like for the people. But there’s an experience I had that falls on the mysticism spectrum. I remember I was in a church as a teenager, doing a sleepover with the youth group for a period of time in the years when I was a seeker, I attended an AME Zion church. The African Methodist Episcopal church, Zion Church that was across the street from me and all my friends went. So I remember though, being at this church and everyone was downstairs doing whatever activity they were making cookies or something. And I went up into the sanctuary that was darkened and just, there’s no sanctuary lamp, it wasn’t that kind of space, it was just the worship space. And I remember just getting in a pew, off the pew, sort of on the floor and feeling like the embrace of what I would say, like God’s embrace. I could feel it palpably like my body being hugged an embrace that was letting me know that things were okay. And it was a, you know, a fraught time, I’ve always had a robust prayer life before I never attended church I was taught to pray at home. And so have this long, like I’ve never known a time when I didn’t talk to God, so this was just a part of that conversation, but I think I’d gone up to the sanctuary for quiet and prayer and felt God’s presence in a physical way.

Cassidy Hall [05:13]: That’s beautiful, thank you for sharing that. And in the Episcopal tradition, you were elected and then consecrated as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis in 2017, making you also the first Black woman to be elected Diocesan Bishop. And in an interview with Sally Hicks just recently in February of 2021, you said, “I just think racial justice is the work that has to be done 24 hours a day all the time, every place.” So along with that, I mean, that’s a pretty clear statement, there’s not really much to unpack there, that’s pretty clear. And in talking about things like the rhythm we create with contemplative life, and then this meeting place of mysticism with God, I wonder what your vision for the church and racial justice work is? And do you see it as connected to the practices that we engage with or do you see it as disconnected and maybe this more mystical thing that happens when we begin doing the work?

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [06:08]: Well, let me describe it this way, you know, I feel like I’ve been on a journey in many ways of understanding the depth of need to be attending to dismantling racism and all the other isms. I mean, I just, have always been passionate about it, but in these current moments just feel like we all need to lean into it. It’s like, there’s no escaping it. Whereas I used to think, well, you know, we can take a break and there are lots of things that are critical. Except that as the more I’ve dived into the work of actively trying to be intentionally anti-racist as an institution of the church, it makes me understand that whether we’re talking about climate change, whether we’re talking about how we follow Christ in our tradition, which is about understanding that all are beloved. So at the very basic nature of who we say we are as Christians, where the Episcopal Church, the mission is to reconcile all people to God in one another in Christ and to be about recognizing the full dignity of every human being, then there’s no way for me to be a Christian and not to be attending to this work of dismantling racism all the time. And because it’s so pernicious and so everywhere, at least in this country, I mean, it’s different than other places, but this is the country I know. I feel like there are always opportunities and understanding how racism really, really works, and seeing it as not just a social justice issue, but a theological imperative, means that we have to talk about it and work on it all the time.

Cassidy Hall [07:34]: Yeah, I appreciate you talking about it as a theological imperative and, you know, anything from our God images and our icons, you know, and the way they depict whiteness predominantly, you know, our stained glass in our old church buildings, those kinds of things. And I guess my question for you along with that would be how important is the work of recognizing the past missteps in our particular settings? How important is that to the fullness of the anti-racist work we need to do?

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [08:05]: Well, you know, if you’re thinking about what does it mean to be a beloved community where we’re reflecting everyone? And all of the richness that all of the cultures that we might be in any particular place have to bear, means that we have to make space. And so I’m all for trying to figure out how do we actually just share all of that richness on a rotating basis, knowing that instead of assuming that there’s only one way, only primacy of one culture––set of images, and everything else has to be fit in amongst the edges––to think about how do we actually honor all of them? This means some things need to be off-center so that, you know, you hear the word de-centering whiteness a lot, right, and I’m thinking well I guess that’s the term. Because there is a way in which we just, without with reflection automatically center whiteness in this country, what does it mean to actually, to be sharing that space? And as a leader in the church, I’m grateful for congregations and leaders who are asking the questions: “why are all the stained glass windows only white people?” Now I will say I was Rector of a church in Syracuse, which was very, very integrated racially, Black, white, almost 50/50, and the first Native American to be ordained Deacon in the Episcopal tradition was ordained in that building. And there had been a storm that had happened in 1998 that took out a set of windows and so, as I was coming in as Rector in 2004, they were installing newly designed windows in the place of where this glass used to be. And I will say it’s a different thing to worship in the space where you have Native American images and faces in the stained glass, as well as the white Jesus that was over the altar, right? Like you can’t help, but pray and think differently because we were formed so much by those visuals. We have congregations here in the Diocese of Indianapolis who was saying, “why is the only Black image on the wall the Bishop’s picture?” Like maybe we need to do something about that and ask the question because there were other images we can choose. And of course, Jesus was not white. Just to have that conversation about how we center some images and ideas about things more than others means that we can get to some real change that reinforces the work we’re doing outside the church, you know? So we’ve been having this disjointed experience of like, we’re all about dismantling racism on the streets of the cities we live on, but then we come back in the churches, you know, pre-pandemic come in the buildings and it’s like white, white, white, white, white. We are waking up all of us and going, yeah, that doesn’t make sense anymore. It was okay for a while, but how about we enrich the imagery here?

Cassidy Hall [10:29]: There are a couple of things you said in that that was really striking to me. And one was, I’m thinking of, you know, the writings on the Black Christ: Kelly Brown Douglas, Albert Cleage, Jr., Deotis Roberts, and of course, James Cone. The way that, that was a way to center Blackness; yeah, in a way that was honoring and elevating, I don’t know where I’m going with that, but…

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [10:51]: Yeah, no, just, I mean, I’m just thinking in my personal story, not having grown up, going to church much. I had two years in this AME Zion Church and then joined the Episcopal Church, sitting in the pews when I was in college, and then was baptized the year after I graduated college. I’m grateful that my understanding of what it means to be a Christian was in the context where we were talking about the images of how Black people are portrayed in the news. Like, you know, there was an anti-racism committee that was really active in my church in the late eighties. And then Kelly Brown Douglas was being published and she was in New York City and a church. And now she’s a dear friend and mentor, she’s now at Episcopal Divinity School at Union. But my understanding of what Christianity is based on hearing her preach as amongst the first people I ever heard preach in person. I don’t know-how; so when you know, it’s very much intertwined that experience of understanding this particular way of seeing liberation theology; the Black liberation theology movement. It’s really been formative for me, not that my experience needs to be everyone’s experience. But it would be my hope that we are now being formed in this more expansive way of understanding what it means to follow Jesus. One, that’s not new, it’s been around for a very long time, but the voices are now coming to the fore in a way that is really important for this time.

Cassidy Hall [12:07]: Yeah; yeah, and I appreciate you sharing about your church experience. Also while I was preparing to interview you, I noticed you have a degree in architecture along with a minor in urban studies and a master’s in historic preservation. So putting on maybe your architect hat and your historic preservation, hat of buildings and structures in the context of social justice, and I know this is a big question, how do we navigate when it’s time to quote-unquote, burn it all down or to dig through the rebel, navigate the history, learn it, own it and rebuild with what’s left.

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [13:10]: I wanted to study architecture because I loved beautiful buildings and having lived in places that were not always beautiful, you know, housing projects are not beautiful places, but they’re typically surrounded by beautiful places. And as a child, I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 28. So I walked everywhere, I took the subways everywhere and explored New York City. And that formed me because one of the things that I would say is that as a child, I knew that the BQE, the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, so you can hear my Brooklyn accent, because I can’t say those words without betraying my accent! But the BQE runs alongside people’s apartments, such as you could see them cooking dinner in their kitchens, they just cut through neighborhoods. The way they were building the highway systems didn’t really care about who was living there, right? So urban renewal came and did a lot of damage, but I knew that as a six-year-old because I could see it and wondered why that was okay as a child. So, you know, here we are, generations have passed since then just 40 years, 50 years outside of that urban renewal. And people know that that was wrong and we have opportunities to repair it because a lot of those highways are past their lifespan, right? They need to be somehow dealt with and what are the opportunities we have? And so I’m saying all that to say is that we can’t pretend to not know the damage that some of those projects have had. The damage that redlining has meant for people’s access to the quote-unquote American dream and wherever we are and understanding that reality, gives us an opportunity to choose differently. And this particular point in history means we actually can do a lot of change to rectify some of the damages of the past. And if we cannot be wallowing in the, do I feel guilt or shame about it like feel the feelings and let’s get to work to make the world better. I don’t know if that gets there, but I just think, you know, there’s history, there’s baggage, it’s always been thus, but if we’re alive today, we have an opportunity to kind of figure out how to band together to make things different. And that being said the last year of our history has shown us that we struggled with caring enough about how to make lives better for other people. So there’s the opportunity and there’s also I think the need for us as a country, particularly to learn that it’s really about everybody and not just what is going to get me through the day and my family alone, like we really have to care about other people.

Cassidy Hall [15:37]: Yeah and to your point, we have such a tendency to talk things to death or feel things to death before we actually begin just doing the things and showing up. And I think that’s a huge part of the work; what does it look like to show up and just start cleaning up the rubble and then deciding what to do together.

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [15:56]: Right, you know, there’s one example, I’ve been in touch still with the folks in Syracuse where the church I served had been integrated because the Black congregation that they had birthed in was reunited with was needing to leave its building because the highway was going to come right through. While they built a highway across the street, but they demolished the building anyway and now it’s just like an empty corner. And like this horrible sort of scar on the environment and on people’s hearts, because that didn’t need to happen. But the folks didn’t have agency or power to make it different, right. So now that highway needs to come down and people are like, well, but the thing is having the highway cut through this neighborhood and makes it easier for people to get to the suburbs and they don’t have to go through the city. And there they’ve been fighting about this since 2006, and it’s still up for conversation, I check in on it every few weeks. And I’m going, why is it so hard to actually say to the people who are living with the effects of this highway, in the midst of their neighborhoods, to say, we’re going to ask you to do this thing for these people. And not worry about what happens to the suburban commute, because actually there are other ways to get to the suburbs faster, so let’s just do this, but it’s just complicated, doing hard projects like that, where you’re trying to actually take into account people’s concerns. But overwhelmingly it’s those who’ve got resources in power who get privileged over those who don’t. And if we can begin to put ourselves in different places of empathy, for the sake of healthy change, be willing to give up some things, you know. Eric Law, a priest who does a lot of the work around the Kaleidoscope Institute that he created anti-racism, he wrote in one of his early books that we believe, you know, that Jesus hung on the cross and we’ve constructed a world, this is paraphrasing, in which there are some people who are hanging on the cross like for eternity, you know even Jesus came off the cross eventually. How about we like, take some people off the cross for a minute and do something for the sake of those who don’t ever get a break.

Cassidy Hall [17:56]: Yeah, do you see a way in which contemplation––that practice, feeds our action in terms of our activist work in the world?

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [18:05]: Yeah, I mean, so those two through the tradition and certainly my experience has been that when I give myself a time to be restored and to have my brain synapses just rest so that they can be rebuilt, be wired, like that’s when new creativity comes and energy comes for the long haul. And I’m really clear about all of this, that the work of building the beloved community of dismantling the systems that oppress people is a long-term work. And I hope for a little progress in my lifetime, I don’t expect that it will be done in my lifetime, because it’s a huge human project, right. And, we do with divine help and inspiration. And, so we’ve got to pace ourselves in the work, meaning, you know, I run, so I like the running metaphors. I love it in a track race, when you have a pacer; the pacer is setting the pace, so that the runners who are competing can actually hit their splits towards whatever record they’re trying to break. And at some point, you know, the pacer can run faster than the racers to keep ahead of them, but then the pacer drops off because they can’t keep that up forever, so they might drop off and maybe another pacer comes in. So, you know, this is a long, long lifetime work and if we don’t step off the track to rest, to renew, to take our nutrition, to pray, to see what the Spirit’s going to open up to us if we are able to quiet our minds and our hearts for a bit. Then, you know, in doing that, we get renewed to be able to get back into it. But, you know, I chased rest, my Jesus chased rest, it’s hard, it’s because our inclination is to feel productive by doing all the time. And even when you stop, there’s always another thing, but human bodies are not constructed to do that, to go without stopping and resting and being renewed. And renewal and growth happen in the time of rest, this was a scientific fact. So why fight it?

Cassidy Hall [20:08]: And maybe even we’ll find ourselves in a mystical encounter with God feeling a sense of a hug.

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [20:13]: Yeah.

Cassidy Hall [20:14]: So something else I read, which I found really interesting was a defining experience you had, when you found yourself near the World Trade Center, the morning of September 11th, 2001, would you mind sharing that?

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [20:27]: Sure, I think about it all the time. It was such a moment for our whole country and just we’re living with the ramifications of that day in so many ways right now. But I had gone to the church where I was baptized, Trinity Church Wall Street to be a part of a consultation with the soon-to-be Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Rowan Williams was convening folks who do spiritual work and leadership across the church and I was privileged to be invited and we were supposed to assemble for 8:45 that Tuesday morning. I remember arriving early and going to the bathroom and the bathroom of the parish house, which is no longer there, they’ve demolished it and built a new building in the last couple of years. But this was an old cranky building from the 1920s and I remember going this bathroom is still noisy, these pipes are as loud and, you know, and, but I was listening to actually was the first plane hitting the building, the South tower. Because we could feel the building shake and I thought it was just the old building. And then when we went out to the parish one of the classroom buildings where we were going to have our session, we thought there was a confetti festival of some kind because all this paper was flying. And then we began to hear the news and so, you know, here, I was with all of these people, some of whom I was meeting for the first time, but the majority of whom I’ve known since I became a Christian. And as the morning wore on just found ourselves kind of huddled in a staircase. And so the piece that is always with me is staying in this staircase of this parish house building and not knowing if we were going to get out. And hearing reports that we thought might be of bombings happening across the country. We thought the space needle in Seattle had been hit, we didn’t know. But how old was I, this was 2001, so like 35 and thinking that you know, I hadn’t done all the things I didn’t want to do, but if I had to die that day, then I was at peace with it because I was at the place where I’d kind of had a second life, you know, being baptized and having this new life in Christ. And I thought, well, I’m going to die anywhere, and then I will die with the man who baptized me, who was up the stairs, a few steps. And then, you know, that didn’t happen, we escaped as the North tower was falling. And I was living in New Jersey at the time, but I had lived in; I grew up in Staten Island, and could walk blindfolded the way from the Staten Island ferry terminal to Trinity Wall Street because I was there every day for meetings, choir, rehearsals, church. And I grabbed a hand of a woman I met that day and ran blind all the way to the ferry terminal, I don’t know how many blocks, it’s a 10-minute walk, and got ourselves in the last boat to Staten Island, went back to the old department I lived in before grad school and rang bells until someone I knew could answer and kind of waited it out until my mom came home and was able to be reunited with me, so that was the day. And there are very few days now that, I mean, I don’t think about it every single day, but there was a time when it was just all I could think about because of the losses and the grief and the survivor’s guilt and all of that. But it’s one of the few times where I felt fearless about death. Death in me is not; like, I want to be here as long as I can, God willing, right. But that’s the moment where I thought, well, this is what faith is about, right, like if this is it, okay, God. And I pray that when it is my time to die, that I have that sense of ease about it.

Cassidy Hall [23:50]: Thank you for sharing that powerful story. There’s something that’s clarifying, it seems about moments in life when our backs are up against the wall and there’s just no option. And we have to give ourselves to the mystery that is if you’re willing to share, have you ever experienced that feeling outside of that day?

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [24:11]: I have not. And it’s, you know, it’s just interesting to me, when that happened, I was ordained maybe five years. I was ordained in 97, so not ordained very long, not even long enough to have actually been with someone as they died at that point. And so a couple of years after that, being able; you know, we had people who died on that day, but I wasn’t with them at the point of death. But having that experience taught me something about how to be with people as they die, which, you know, I’ve counted as a gift.

Cassidy Hall [24:41]: So a little bit of a shift here back into yeah, social justice activism. I wonder if you could speak to maybe how important it is to work on these issues? Not just in our heads, but in our hearts and bodies and maybe how yeah, like the prophetic imagination or prophetic preaching is a way to kind of guide us there and the importance of that.

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [25:19]: Yeah, I think it’s all, I mean, it’s; we’re not going ever to think ourselves–– if we could think ourselves out of this situation, I think we probably could have managed that already. But it’s about changing hearts, which means changing daily decisions. And so, there are people who are much smarter about this than I am and the kind of field about anti-racism work is shifting and growing. And it’s almost, you know, it’s becoming a discipline in some ways, right, because of the scholarship that people are bringing to it and so I’m learning all the time. So the one thing I would say is that there’s always more to learn and you can’t just read your way out of it. I think it really boils down to some simple things like place and relationship. So when this pandemic; one of the things I’ve been really attentional about while we are not traveling in the ways we’ve been used to, is that instead of driving through the neighborhoods, then I would just drive through to get from point A to point B. I drive to those places and walk the neighborhoods because I want to walk every day. And so for the first few months of the pandemic and I still do this, I have mostly had the same routes that allow me to walk out my front door and walk. But now I’m choosing different directions, I’m going to neighborhoods where people say, “Oh, that’s a problem neighborhood.” And I’m like, “well, have you walked around the neighborhood? Do you know that neighborhood?” Or do you see it as a problem because of your distance from it, from a comfortable place, and only know what you read in the news? I think there’s a lot of heart work that can be done by putting ourselves in those places where we feel like the other exists or wherever you might be afraid to go. It could begin by just flocking and being comfortable in different spaces. Which grows a piece of our capacity to encounter and be willing to be transformed by difference, maybe letting go of presuppositions, because we now have new facts literally on the ground. And then it’s about whom are we in relationship with? And I know that there are those who disagree, but I know I’ve been profoundly changed by having friends of different cultural and racial backgrounds. And, you know, I’m an African-American, Native American person who is in the minority in this country historically by numbers. So I have to; actually, I don’t have to have friends of different races, I’m choosing to do that because I find that enriches my life, and my particular experience of childhood has assumed that kind of diversity. And if you didn’t grow up with that kind of diversity, I don’t think it’s too late ever to find ourselves in different spaces where we can grow our friendship circles. And so I always ask people, tell me about the people who regularly get invited to your dinner table, remember not in the pandemic, right? Or folks will say, well, you know, I go to this club, I’m like, well, why don’t you go to this other club? Think about the places where you choose to put yourself. I play tennis here, but why don’t you play tennis in the park where everyone is mixing it up? Those are the kinds of a heart choices, I mean, there are technical choices, there are logistical choices, but we go out of our way to have experiences that are meaningful to us in all kinds of ways, except for the ones where we have to encounter different people of different races and classes, but we can do that. We just have to decide today, I’m going to do that.

Cassidy Hall [28:23]: And what you’re saying too, I mean that’s kind of practice too. I see my morning walk as a contemplative practice. And it happens to be, you know, in my neighborhood park where I see my neighbors and, you know, we all wave and kind of holler good morning at each other. But that idea of yeah, that the practices of our spirituality can more deeply engage us with all of humanity.

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [28:57]: Yeah, I really think that’s a part of the journey, you know, I just think there’s probably more scriptural warrant for it. We haven’t thought about it that way, but there are stories of Jesus on the borderlines; the borderlands. You know, the Good Samaritan story that we love so much happened on the borderlands. And yet we don’t often willingly take ourselves there to hear, but other stories are playing out that way on those places. And you know, life is hard and it’s busy and it’s hard to be challenged by things; because life is already hard enough and yet, you know, racial oppression is harder. Like, why don’t we just take it; we could actually make life a little easier if we’re doing some of this heart work. And in the aggregate, then I think we begin to think about who we vote for differently. Our policies look different and we get to decide what impacts on our civic life are influenced by the kinds of things we think about and encounter in the world. But it won’t happen if we’re doing the same old, same old, get the same old stuff from the beginning, and no one’s happy. Well except for, one-percenters, probably. There there’s a segment of people for which this is working right, but the rest of us, the majority of us, this is not working.

Cassidy Hall [30:03]: So I want to flip a question backward a little bit as we come to the end of our time together. And you’ve kind of answered this, but I wonder if we could kind of reframe it. So let’s take a movement like Black Lives Matter and ask what can Black Lives Matter teach us about God and spirituality or contemplation?

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [30:53]: Voices that have been intentionally silenced will not be silent forever. And I think the thing about Black Lives Matter is that it’s this new iteration of the voices of those who have been oppressed, silenced, forgotten, and left out that are not going to be kept down for long. And the tradition over and over again tells us that there will be prophets who will speak on behalf of those who are the oppressed. Because as it happens, God actually has a preferential option for God’s oppressed people, right? And so I believe that there’s a continuum in that movement, that’s saying in this particular moment, this is how we need to express I think from a spirituality point of view Black lives not to be oppressed destroyed, left out, and that there are lots of other voices that also need to be raised up. And it’s not a zero-sum game if there was some reading in that movement at the moment, but I’ve watched Black Lives Matter become a chant to become a really controversial thing.

And I’m like; I don’t understand what’s so controversial about letting Black people not die at the hands of the police. Or lifting up the values of the extended family instead of just, I’m going to go it alone with my nuclear family, which is, I hear that a lot. You know the anti-family and I’m going, let’s just think about what we are saying when we talk about family and how there are other ways to do it that are actually more scriptural and biblical than the way we tend to do it in this country. So anyway, it’s a complicated thing, I do think those who are leading in BLM are doing us all the good service in many ways. From having us look at how we dispense our resources in service of our communities, from policing all the way to mental health issues and everything in between to asking the question, why do we even need this movement? You know, I long for the day, maybe we don’t need food pantries and we don’t need Black Lives Matter protest to state the obvious. Black Lives Matter and people should be fed and not hungry in the richest country in the world.

Cassidy Hall [32:52]: Yeah, Bishop Jennifer, thank you so much for joining today and for taking the time to speak with me and sharing your stories. I really appreciate it.

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows [33:01]: Well, it’s been a delight to think through some of these important questions. So thank you so much, Cassidy, it’s been a real joy.

Cassidy Hall [33:11]: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of contemplating now to support this work and get sneak peeks of new episodes. join me over at patreon dot com slash Cassidy Hall. This podcast is created and edited by Me, Cassidy Hall. Today’s episode features the song Trapezoid, instrumental by Emily Sankofa, which she has generously allowed us to use. Please find this song and more from Emily Sankofa on your favorite streaming platform or by visiting E Dash s-a-n-k-o-f-a dot com. The podcast has created in partnership with the Christian Century, a progressive ecumenical magazine based in Chicago. The podcast is also created in partnership with enfleshed, an organization focused on spiritual nourishment for collective liberation. For liturgical Resource Is and Tools head over to enfleshed dot com.

Published by Cassidy Hall

Cassidy Hall (MA) is an author, filmmaker, podcaster, student, and holds a MA in Counseling. She works as a Teaching Assistant at Christian Theological Seminary where she is studying for her MDiv and MTS degrees. She also serves as Student Pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ. Since 2017, Cassidy has been the Secretary of the International Thomas Merton Society. Cassidy worked on the production team of the documentary feature film In Pursuit of Silence and her directorial debut short-film, Day of a Stranger paints an intimate portrait of Thomas Merton’s hermitage years. Her podcast, Encountering Silence features interviews with contemplatives, modern-day mystics, and explores the ambiguity of silence in our modern-day lives. Cassidy’s work centers around the tension and intersection of silence and social action and contemplation in a world of action.

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