New Podcast: Contemplating Now

NEW PODCAST ALERT 🚨

Contemplation has been a part of my life since I was a child taking long walks to pause and process. In 2011, after reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, I quit my job and traveled to all 17 Trappist monasteries in the United States. But as I journeyed, I sensed there was something lacking. As a Queer white woman, it took me an embarrassingly long time to recognize what was missing: voices and truths beyond white, male contemplatives like Merton, Rohr, and Keating. Voices speaking into the work of justice and liberation, while also hosting a contemplative interior life that fed their activism. Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes speaks of  “public mystics,” leaders whose “interiority and communal reference points” must intersect, including Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Sue and Howard Thurman, Rosa Parks, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and more. 

Since 2017 I’ve co-hosted the Encountering Silence podcast with my colleagues Carl McColman and Kevin Johnson. Through 100 episodes of interviews and discussions about the importance of silence, I continued to be drawn to the contemplative lives of the marginalized. Now in seminary,  I continue to see the ways a white-washed, patriarchal contemplative Christianity hinders collective liberation and justice.

The founder of Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Therese Taylor-Stinson, says contemplation “must consist of both inward solitude and reflection, and an outward response to the situations in which we find ourselves present and awake.” The Contemplating Now Podcast was birthed from the desire to learn from scholars and activists who embody that fullness of action and reflection. During my studies for my MDiv and MTS at Christian Theological Seminary, and in my own contemplative practice, research, and deconstruction, I realized how whitewashed the field of contemplation was and began to seek out the work of Black women and nonbinary folks. In this podcast, I wanted to give them the mic and bring attention to their important contributions to the study and practice of contemplative spirituality and mysticism. My goal is to listen and learn from my guests alongside you. 

How to find it and more info:

Find it on all podcasting platforms, and if you’re so inclined, leave a review to help other folks find it more easily.

The Christian Century (progressive Christian magazine based in Chicago, the “journal of record” for mainline protestants, the first to publish “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963), will be hosting the podcast on their site.

This labor of love project is created, produced, and edited by me. With no funding or financial support for the project, I hope you’ll consider helping keep the work afloat by joining me over on Patreon.com/cassidyhall

I’m also delighted to have support in the form of loving-kindness from my friends over at enfleshed, an org which offers liturgical resources focused on collective liberation. Thanks also to the brilliance and eagle-eyed editor Jessica Mesman.

Finally, I am so very grateful to EmmoLei Sankofa for her delightful music in the opening and closing credits, and a perfect logo from my pal, Patrick Shen.

My White Problem

Adapted into an Op-Ed in the IndyStar

If the news in America has flashed across your screen in any manner, then you know that ignorance and white supremacy culture are on full display. It’s easy to name it, scoff at it, recognize it as damaging, and know—or think, one is on the right side of history. But, as a white person, this time demands my self-reflection. As much as I can name myself as someone who is not a participant in what is happening at the Capitol, the fact is that I have far more in common with those participants than I care to consider.

Many of us are saying “if they were Black…” but that fails to recognize that they are white and they are our (white people) problem. To examine what is happening is to see the blatant display of whiteness, white supremacy, and white privilege. I am a white person. Perhaps you are, too. This is our problem.

You might be thinking, like myself, that “they’re not like me,” or “I’m not like them,” because I didn’t vote for Trump or I don’t agree with what’s happening… but what are we doing? It’s not enough to be against something that is threatening lives, justice, and collective liberation—what are we actively doing in favor of those things? How are we actively protecting and caring for those whose lives are under direct threat? How are we actively protecting our democracy?

It’s moments like today when I confront the “white liberal” in myself. The one who “sees ‘both sides’ of the issue and shies away from ‘extremism’ in any form.” In Black Theology & Black Power, James Cone goes on to write that this liberal “wants to change the heart of the racist without ceasing to be his friend; he wants progress without conflict… He wants change without risk, victory without blood.”

Similarly, over 50 years ago, MLK warned us that “The white liberal must escalate his support for racial justice rather than de-escalate it…. The need for commitment is greater today than ever.”

Denouncing is no longer enough. What is our active participation against the things which perpetuate white supremacy culture?What is our active participation in ensuring justice and liberation in our lifetimes? What is our daily ongoing active-work against the kinds of things that are taking place today?

Yes Means Yes, A Sermon

This past Sunday I was asked to preach on antiracism. With the concept of antiracism being a new topic for some, I addressed its alignment with our willingness to say “Black Lives Matter.” The sermon was written and recorded with my white congregation in mind, and therefore, is a message from a white person to other white people pursuing and doing the work of racial justice.

The idea of antiracism means we do indeed see racism in the systems of oppression and in our lives, our newsfeed, even our own hearts. Antiracist work is a confrontation of ourselves and the world around us. It is work which seeks to heal because it is willing to begin seeing what is really happening.

Antiracist work is not comfortable. It requires a continual willingness to step into discomfort, lest we be complicit.

Yet, as white people in a world built for white comfort, we have a daily option to opt-out of the work of racial justice and antiracist living. This also means, it is a daily choice to opt-in–a daily decision to say “Yes” to the work of antiracism, “Yes” to “Black Lives Matter,” and “Yes” to the countless endeavors of racial justice in our midst.  

Student Pastor Cassidy Hall’s 9/13/2020 Sermon

You can view the full service here.

“I need a love that is troubled by injustice. A love that is provoked to anger when Black folks, includ­ing our children, lie dead in the streets. A love that has no tolerance for hate, no excuses for racist decisions, no content­ment in the status quo.” 

Austin Channing-Brown

“Anti-racism work is not self-improvement work for white people. It doesn’t end when white people feel better about what they’ve done. It ends when Black people are staying alive and they have their liberation.”

Rachel Elizabeth Cargle

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.”

Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

A Prayer for White People (including myself)

For those afraid to begin for fear of being wrong and being corrected. “White feelings should never be held in higher regard than black lives.” (Rachel Cargle)

May we get over ourselves. May we see the value of being uncomfortable, the importance of trying and getting it wrong until we get it closer to right.

For those whose ignorance is debilitating humanity’s resolution. “it is hardly possible for anyone who thinks of himself as white to know what a black person is talking about at all.” (James Baldwin)

May we read, watch, listen, heed, and do our own work both individually and collectively.

For those who fear moving away from the comfort and safety of “being good.”

May we remember, there is always a place for “creative trouble” (Bayard Rustin), “Good trouble, necessary trouble” (John Lewis)

May we pivot into discomfort, lest we perpetuate the status quo.

May we recall that “There is no place in this war of liberation for nice white people who want to avoid taking sides and remain friends with both the racists and the Negro.” (James H. Cone)

For those so focused on their self-worth’s connectivity to black worth that we fail to do the work from the right intentions.

May we remember, “Anti-racism work is not self-improvement work for white people. It doesn’t end when white people feel better about what they’ve done. It ends when Black people are staying alive and they have their liberation.” (Rachel Cargle)

For those flailing so much that they’ve chosen to do nothing, without realizing the privilege of choice. “When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white supremacist values and beliefs… they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they wish to see eradicated.” (bell hooks)

May we stop flailing in the sea of to-dos and begin to be moved to change and step into risk––one task at a time.

For those who cannot see the work of justice in a riot.

May we see the truth of the fire and see both within and beyond it.

For those who cannot understand the rage.

May we awaken to the necessity of uprooting systems of oppression embedded in American society and our very lives.

May we recognize these systems and be against them, clearly and boldly.

May we know that disruption of a system which holds on to the status quo is necessary for these are the systems which refuse to “relinquish [their] oppressive ways without confrontation. This is the methodology of the oppressed as they are fighting for liberation.” (Pamela R. Lightsey).

May we remember that “to practice love is to disrupt the status quo which is masquerading as peace.” (Austin Channing Brown)

May we see and understand that “Oppressive systems must be exposed and deconstructed or dismantled (even in sacred texts), not simply recycled or cosmetically adjusted to palliate and opiate the oppressed and their allies.” (Mitzi J Smith)

May we see the distress, agony, and trauma of these systems which is perpetuated in our own white bodies, ways of being, and participation (see Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands).

For those claiming only silence or spending time in prayer is necessary for such a time as this.

May we heed the balance demanded of a truly contemplative life.

May we remember “All contemplation should be followed by action.” And that the wholeness of contemplation “MUST consist of both inward solitude and reflection, and an outward response to the situations in which we find ourselves present and awake.” (Therese Taylor-Stinson)

May we remember that the “altar of justice” clearly shows historically and biblically that “resistance was [and is] an action” of our faith. (Dean Leah Gunning Francis)

For those who think we can “set the timetable for another man’s freedom” (MLK, Jr.) No, just no.

“How much time do you want for your progress?” (James Baldwin)

May we heed the “fierce urgency of now” (MLK, Jr.) and recognize God in our fellow humans who are literally struggling to breathe in this. very. moment.

For those who still can’t get behind the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.”

May we remember “we don’t live in a world where all lives matter.” (Alicia Garza) Thus, we must elevate the lives deemed unworthy by a society we (as white people) perpetuate (whether unknowingly or not).

May we remember that “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.” (Toni Morrison)

May we wake up to see this truth in our everyday lives: our schools, our places of work, our streets, our parks, and our homes.

For those at home, unable to leave for health reasons of their own, another’s health, or unable to be on the streets for other reasons.

May we remember that there are countless  ways to show up.

May we recall that “Revolution is not a one-time event” (Audre Lorde) nor a one-place event. But may we also remember that for a revolution to take hold, it must seep into all avenues of our lives.

May we remember where we spend our money matters, our voice or writing matters, our work with our white friends, white children, and white family members matters.

May we learn to see by paying attention.

May we learn to understand by listening.

May we learn to change by doing our own work.

May we be true to both ourselves and our unique expressions while also being true to our human family.

May we participate in the revolution, a revolution that doesn’t need us but will define us.

Closing: “Spirit gets what Spirit wants, so we might as well listen.” (Lerita Coleman-Brown)

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

(Fannie Lou Hammer)

(Icon: Ferguson Mother of God: Our Lady against all Gun Violence, 2015 by Mark Dukes).

 

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Zoom Diaries: A Week’s Lesson in Finding Voice

Last week, I had the opportunity to be with a group of friends from all over the country. With each of us in a different state, we gathered at 9 in the morning until about 5 each night to discuss what it means to find our call, know our voice, and live into the creativity we were made for.

The key themes I took away can be narrowed into four main points: 1. Own your creativity, 2. The who is always more important than the what (people over things), 3. Language is limiting and can only be used as a tool, and 4. True belonging only exists where radical difference is embraced.

Own Your Creativity:

Times of chaos require the creative one in each of us—that unique creativity which only you or I can bring to a particular situation at a particular moment, when we choose to be true to ourselves. The beauty of our creativity being necessary in difficult times is that our uniqueness feeds one another—they inspire and change each other for something more beautiful, something more truthful, something more loving, something more whole.

There is a prophetic power to creativity which helps us see beyond panic. Today, our class had the opportunity to hear from artist and activist Genesis Be. And while we were discussing this prophetic power, she reminded us: “If we seek to be prophetic, it inherently diminishes the purity of our work…” In other words, if I enter into something so focused on outcome that I lose sight of the goodness and rightness of the work or invitation into the moment itself, then I am missing not only the purity of my creativity but also the truth of my own being.

I was immediately reminded of Thomas Merton’s words in Message to Poets: “A hope that rests on calculation has lost its innocence.” How do I maintain a sense of clarity within my creativity in a world filled with alerts, unsolicited feedback, and notifications? How do I surrender to the truthfulness of my own being and what I do (and sometimes don’t) have to offer?

Well. Don’t worry. Genesis Be had an answer for that, too, when she said that this reminder was a staple to her work:

“…Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”
―Lao-Tzu

We are creative beings. Each one of us. Nun and Pop Art Artist, Sister Corita Kent once wrote that creativity belongs to “the artist in each of us,” she went on, “To create means to relate. The root meaning of the word art is ‘to fit together’ and we all do this every day. Not all of us are painters but we are all artists. Each time we fit things together we are creating ––whether it is to make a loaf of bread, a child, a day.”

A part of creativity is simply being true to who and how we are. Ensuring that we are remembering the fact that being is more important than doing.

Language Has Limits:

Language is limiting. Anything in or of language is a social construct. Yet day after day we use words as meaning-makers, as markers, as navigational tools on this journey we find ourselves on. Today in class, theologian Barry Taylor told us, “we constantly try to arrest the transients of life,” we spend our time making meaning of that which we cannot contain. We’re so fearful of the moment slipping between our fingers that we try to dominate and control it with what we think will keep it still: words. But time still takes it from us. The hour still passes. The sun still sets. Our only certitude lives in utter finitude.

To truly be a person of becoming
To really be a person evolving
Is to be constantly grieving

Perhaps, as Barry suggested, we need to develop a new way to think about possible worlds we can inhabit: a post-alphabet way of speaking, a way that continually moves us: from doing to being, from thinking to existing, from destructing to creating. These new ways, or possible worlds only begin to get created when we take risks with our words (which often leads to poetry and prophesy), deep-dives into our imagination (which expands our creativity), and lean into accepting the transience of life.

The who is always more important than the What (people over things):

“A key question that emerges for me is who (as opposed to what) is left out of the conversations about liberation in our various contexts?” ––Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes

Today in class, the topic of intersectionality emerged. Intersectionality is the ways in which categories like race, class, gender, dis/ability, and sexuality merge, crossover, and coexist. We discussed what it means when someone is unwilling or unready to speak to an intersection and how that impacts the whole.

And I wonder, when I breathe truth and love into one of these aspects of life while dismissing another, am I really living into vision of unity I long for? If I belong to you and you to me, are not all your issues my own, are not all intersections of interest to me precisely because they are our common humanity?

What does it look like to live into loving, embracing, and being inclusive of the fullness of personhood which surrounds us?

Many of us (including myself) fail to speak up and out because lack clarity; most of us (including myself) fail to speak up and out because we lack understanding. But if my love for a human becomes less important than how I look or how something goes, I am missing the mark. And what if that voice of love is precisely what is vitally necessary to save a life, maybe even possibly, my own?

“There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.”

––Mary Oliver, Moments

 

True Belonging coexists with Radical Difference: 

How do we live into our belonging while honoring radical difference? Revering radical difference demands that we deem our own difference as distinctive, important, a part of the whole of humanity and its possible unity. I must belong to myself and be at home within me so that I might be able to see, respect, and honor others. Belonging while honoring radical difference requires radical self-belonging. It requires security, clarity, and self-respect. Because that which most often has me pushing away radical difference is my own insecurity. There is a movement I must complete within myself before I can begin to complete it with my fellow human:

Being to Belonging.
Becoming to Beholding.

May we all feel fully free to move outside of ourselves, and yet choose the stillness of the work within (Shelley Rasmussen Pagitt).

I belong.
You belong.
We belong to each other.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
––Audre Lorde, (Our Dead Behind Us: Poems)

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Killing White Lies: Abraham Lincoln

I grew up nearby a street named Lincoln Way. This transcontinental highway runs all the way from Lincoln Park in California to Times Square in New York. And, it ran through the town I grew up in, giving me a kind of landmark for directions, much like I was taught to treat the street’s namesake when it came to history.  I grew up being told to admire Abraham Lincoln––the 16th president of the United States, a man of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), one who fought for the Union and to end slavery… or did he? 

While it’s not surprising, our history books lied to us and Lincoln got it wrong.

Recently, I’ve been reading a number of books by theologian James H. Cone including Black Theology & Black Power, The Cross and The Lynching Tree, and God of the Oppressed. Struck by his words and my growing understanding of truth as clearly laid out before me, I couldn’t help but fumble around when I read about this “great” president. I’ve come to realize that when we see the history we’ve been told is a lie, it’s not only our responsibility to listen, learn it, and apologize; It’s our responsibility to not look away. This writing is my apology. This writing is my refusal to look away.

“There is no place in this war of liberation,” Cone writes in 1969, “for nice white people who want to avoid taking sides and remain friends with both the racists and the Negro.”

While reading Black Theology & Black Power, I came across Cone’s notes on Abraham Lincoln and the frequent lies told about him as a man who longed for the freedom of slaves. Cone writes, “Whatever may have been the motives of Abraham Lincoln and other white Americans for launching the war, it certainly was not on behalf of black people. Lincoln was clear on this:

“My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Cone goes on, “If that quotation still leaves his motives unclear, here is another one which should remove all doubts regarding his thoughts about black people:

“I will say then that I am not, nor have I ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races––that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and interior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” (Abraham Lincoln)

With a whitewashed history, what does the future hold? Years from now, will the 45th president be portrayed with the light of racism and white supremacy under which he stands? Or will we––yes, we––continue to add layers and layers to the facts and perpetuate a world of hatred and injustice, a world comfortable enough for the nice white person who wants (and thinks under these severe circumstances that there is) progress without any conflict or discomfort?

“A man is free when he accepts the responsibility for his own acts and knows that they involve not merely himself but all men.” ––James H. Cone

If the truth no longer propels us to care, what will? If we can look upon the suffering of our fellow human and remain neutral because we are comfortable, we have lost our humanity. There is no time for neutrality when humans are suffering. Or as Cone says, “There is no time for talk when men are suffering.”

Cone’s words in Black Theology & Black Power were written 50 years ago this year. His preface contains his own newfound truths including a recognition and apology for the sexism within the book (both in his gendered language and leaving out the leadership notes and significance of black women) as well as a new clarity that “we need to develop a struggle for freedom that moves beyond race to include all oppressed peoples of the world,” in accordance with some of the lessons he heeded from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Some may say, “The history books didn’t lie, they only didn’t share the whole truth.” Some may say, “Often times our imperfections are used for ultimate good and slaves were freed, weren’t they?” I, for one, refuse to bow my body or tip my cap to a man whose blatant racism was left out of history so that he might be elevated as some kind of white savior. Lincoln did not free slaves, he did not believe in the equality of our black brothers and sisters. To “free” a human from the labor and life of a slave in language yet to continue to treat them as less-than in any way is to keep slavery alive.

I am not a history expert. I claim no in-depth knowledge about slavery or presidential history. That being said, I do know my history books got it wrong. I do know there is a sitting president who is an undisguised racist and I do not want my nephews reading anything less than the truth in their history books. I do know that I am sorry for my ignorance. I do know we have a long, long, long way to go and we must bind ourselves together so that we can all stand on equal ground or we will continue to fall deeper alone.

And, some may say “How can the Republican party go from the 16th president of the United States to the blatant racism of the 45th president of the United States?” Relearning history makes it not only obvious but abundantly clear. Patterns are being repeated. History covers up racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia––by rewriting history through erasure, by perpetuating lies and therefore perpetuating hatred.

Next time I visit my hometown, I will remember the truth about the namesake of the street which runs through my town. The inevitable thought will make me consider just how many daily reminders we have of unabashed racism. The result will be a reminder to be louder against hatred, bolder against falsities, and clearer about the truth. Because I want my fellow human’s value in this world to be clear, known, and not just a pretty phrase. Because we can’t keep lying about our history. Because I want my nephews reading truth. Because I’m done being another nice neutral white face in the crowd.

“The liberal, then, is one who sees ‘both sides’ of the issue and shies away from ‘extremism’ in any form. He wants to change the heart of the racist without ceasing to be his friend; he wants progress without conflict. Therefore, when he sees blacks engaging in civil disobedience and demanding ‘Freedom Now,’ he is disturbed. Black people know who the enemy is, and they are forcing the liberal to take sides. But the liberal wants to be a friend, that is, enjoy all the rights and privileges pertaining to whiteness and also work for the ‘Negro.’ He wants change without risk, victory without blood.” ––James H. Cone

References:
Text from: Black Theology and Black Power by James H. Cone, 1969.
Cone’s references for Lincoln quotes:
First quote by Lincoln: “Reply to Horace Greeley,” 1862, in The American Tradition in Literature, Vol. 1; revised, S. Bradley, R.C. Beatty, and E.H. Long, eds. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1962), p. 1567.
Second quote by Lincoln: Quoted in Charles Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (New York: Random House, 1964), pp. 92-93.
(***Image from Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” 1978.)

 

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