Currently there are 351 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in the U.S.*, most of which are direct attacks upon transgender youth. The very existence of these bills (whether they pass or not) impacts mental, spiritual, and physical well-being of LGBTQIA+ folks everywhere. 293 of those bills are currently advancing,** coming closer to becoming laws and moving towards perpetuating an irreparable harm. Last month alone, bills in 14 states were pushed forward by lawmakers targeting drag performers and even drag story hours at libraries. And just this past week, the current state I call home (Indiana) advanced two anti-LGBTQIA+ bills including Indiana’s very own “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB1608) and another (SB480) opposing medical science, standard treatments for trans youth, and human dignity–which just passed yesterday.
Instead of reminding LGBTQIA+ folks of our innate belonging, these bills perpetuate a false notion that belonging must be fought for, that belonging is not a birthright, that belonging isn’t entwined with the Divine’s image already upon us.
As I mull over these issues and bills in my head, I am brought back to the ways LGBTQIA+ existence, LGBTQIA+ embodiment, LGBTQIA+ minds in schools, LGBTQIA+ intelligence in healthcare and therapeutic resources –– continues to establish a firm foundation of innate belonging, persistent existence, and celebrated personhood.
And, as a pastoral leader, theologian, and queer woman, these bills remind me that perhaps it’s time to queer our spaces even more – our places of work, our homes, and our places where we host faith gatherings. Maybe it’s time to queer our liturgy more boldly––to queer biblical stories in order to more clearly recognize our innate belonging, our persistent existence, and our celebrated personhood.
Perhaps, the last supper was a drag brunch.
Communion Liturgy: Drag Brunch
The Divine among us be within you.
And also within you.
We lift our spirits to the Divine’s shine.
We lift our light to meet the Divine’s brightness.
We fill ourselves with gratitude.
We embody an abundance of gratefulness.
On the night Jesus was unjustly arrested by the systemic structures of oppression and hatred, even as he saw the moment approaching, he chose to gather friends and share a meal.
He wanted celebration to be a part of his memory.
He longed for an abundance of love to carry him into life eternal.
Letting his friends know where and when to join him, he gathered wine and bread at the biggest table he could find.
As they came together, the table elongated,
Until all of the faces he loved were present––
Until all presentations of the Divine’s image in gender/agender, sexuality/asexuality expressions were among them.
In the overflow of love,
In the delight of celebration,
In the wonder of the vastness of humanity,
A drag brunch ensued.
Jesus and his friends gathered to see the kings, queens, and those in drag among them,
Fawning and fanning themselves as they glided around the room,
Dancing, singing, and storytelling in their most bold expressions of self,
Most fantastic reflections of the Divine.
In the joy of gathering,
Exhilaration of life,
Pleasure of extravagance,
And the deep peace of togetherness,
Jesus sat delighted to be among his friends,
Jesus sat pleased with his chosen company.
Then, John, Jesus’ beloved, leapt up from his seat to go behind the curtain and prepare to join the show.
Upon emerging in drag, she leaned over and whispered in the ear of Jesus,
“I’ve always wanted to do this.”
Jesus smiled, as if seeing his most beloved come fully alive for the first time.
The celebration continued until amid the noise and clamor, entwined with the joy and elation of life most alive,
Jesus took the bread in the middle of the table, lifted it and exclaimed,
“May the joy among us now, live amid you in my absence. May you remember to love one another, love yourself, and live in the abundant beauty of exactly who you are.”
Then, Jesus raised his glass, and toasted his friends, saying
“This is to joy, to the possibilities within and among us, to the newness which will live within you in my absence.”
All are invited to this table.
All genders, gender-nonconformity, all sexualities, asexuality…
All expressions of the Divine among us.
All are welcome to remember in body or spirit our innate belonging, our persistent existence, and our celebrated personhood.
All are welcome to receive in body or spirit the gifts this table offers.
Divine Light, you shine most brightly in us when we are most fully ourselves.
Your holiness awakens within us in our wholeness.
Your image is upon us as we gather at the table and continue to elongate its welcome. May our everyday lives also reveal the ever-expanding, ever-becoming table, and an openness to the most profound possibilities of love.
Divine love, may this food and drink be a reminder of our innate belonging, our persistent existence, and our celebrated personhood.
Your image is one of belonging, expanding, celebrating––and lives among us and within us.
Go with us now, to live lives of the great celebration, to live lives true ourselves and true to your love.
Dr Angela Parker: I don’t often think about contemplative actions going together. But what does contemplative action look like among people where the breath of God is going through groups of people? And I think that’s what we see with protests, with the Black Lives Matter protests, that there’s that contemplative action that actually moves groups of people to do something.
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.
Dr. Angela N Parker is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Greek at McAfee School of Theology. She received her Master’s of Theological Studies from Duke Divinity School, and her PhD in Bible Culture and Hermeneutics from Chicago Theological Seminary. In her research, Dr Parker merges Womanist thought and post-colonial theory while reading biblical texts. Her books includeIf God still Breathes, Why Can’t I? Black Lives Matter and Biblical Authority, which is available now. And her forthcoming book is titled, Bodies, Violence and Emotions: A Womanist Study of the Gospel of Mark.
Well, Dr Parker, thank you so much for joining today.
Dr Angela Parker: Thank you so much for having me Cassidy.
Cassidy Hall: So one of the ways I like to begin is by kind of framing your definitions for a conversation of what the words “contemplation” and/or “mysticism” mean to you, and how you see them lived out in the world today?
Dr Angela Parker: It’s interesting. When I think about mysticism, I’d probably equate mysticism more so with my own idea of spirituality, and the aspect of what it means for me to be a person who allows Spirit Mother to invade and permeate everything that I do. And so when I think about Spirit Mother, I think about ruach in Hebrew as an idea of feminine spirit, and an idea of part of God’s presence that allows me to be contemplative, while also opening up ideas of even activism in the midst of my own spirituality in my own moments of contemplation. I think that for me, there’s almost a porousness between thinking through mysticism, contemplation, and spirituality. Even though for me, I probably use the language of spirituality more so than mysticism or contemplation. But they seem very similar in my brain and how they operate in my own life.
Cassidy Hall: Yeah, I love that, evade and permeate everything I do.
Dr Angela Parker: Yes.
Cassidy Hall: And in that way, a lot of times when we talk about mysticism or contemplation, it’s this whole like, dissolving of oneself into God or losing oneself into God. But in the way that you speak about it, it’s an enlivening of what already is present in us. And in that way, do you see that contemplation and/or mysticism plays a role in social action and activism and the ways that we wake up to what’s happening around us?
Dr Angela Parker: I definitely believe that is so. I believe that each and every one of us because we are humanity. We are human and we are beings that have been specifically formulated to do something. And I think that all of us are tasked to find out what it is that we are here on this earth to do. And I think that part of contemplation and then God’s spirit conversing with us allows the opening up of what our social activism may be. And so again, I don’t see it separately, I see spirituality and contemplation as ways of understanding who we are as humans in relationship to the divine. I don’t think it’s necessarily the divine coming upon us and saying, this is what you were supposed to do. But the divine actually revealing to us what is already within us.
Cassidy Hall: Yeah, yeah, that’s great.
Dr Angela Parker: I think that takes time though, as I’m pondering it. I think that the idea of being human is the ever-growing enlightenment of your own journey. And I probably would say that it’s only after years of just beginning to understand who I am as a person and what my relationship to God and to divinity is, that I begin to understand what my own operations and what my own missions are, so to speak.
Cassidy Hall: You said, correct me if I’m wrong, the idea of being human is an ever-growing enlightenment of your own journey
Dr Angela Parker: Yes.
Cassidy Hall: I just love that the ways that that just — it’s a continual opening up and uncovering, like you’re saying. This uncovering of what’s there. And I wonder if you could share along with that, a little bit of your own story and your journey in being a biblical scholar, and how that’s led also to, you know, I see your work as an incredible form also of activism and the ways that it’s uncovering the truth of biblical scholarship. And I wonder if you could share a little bit about that.
Dr Angela Parker: I often say that my journey is a journey that takes a long time or took a long time. One joke that I usually make in the class context is that college did not take the first time or the second time, or the third time or the fourth time. It was usually the fifth or sixth time where college actually took for me. And after starting Community College, and being in community college for two years, while also serving in ministry and then realizing that being in a pastor position was not necessarily my gifting, but my gifting was in teaching and explaining text. And then after Community College, going into a four year program at Shaw University, while also still ministering and serving in a church context, and still teaching and preaching, and opening up my understanding of critical thinking in the midst of teaching and preaching in a church context. I think those two things along with raising children, being a single parent, and then going back to school, in the midst of that while also being ordained in preaching and teaching, that conglomeration of events essentially propelled me to then want to get a master’s degree in New Testament studies. And after that, while doing the master’s degree, and having conversations with professors who would often say something like, well, there aren’t that many black folks who do Biblical Studies or Biblical Studies is hard for your folks. And hearing those comments that actually solidified in me the desire to actually go into biblical scholarship. Because it seemed as though many of my professors, not in my undergrad but in my Divinity School just felt as though biblical scholarship was too hard for some people. So usually, you should go into theology, because with theology, you can kind of say everything, so to speak. And I always wanted to prove them wrong. Because I’d always been preaching and teaching based on the biblical texts. So why wouldn’t I continue to do that, and continue to study it, because Bible had always been a love in my life. So it just seemed appropriate to allow Bible to continue to be a love of my life, even as I critically engaged it. So that was part of the journey to biblical scholarship, while also remembering those folks who said I could not do it. And oftentimes it came from upper echelons of white masculinity, who told me I couldn’t do it.
Cassidy Hall: Yeah. And even the act of saying, I’m doing this as a form of activism and resistance to what you were being told.
Dr Angela Parker: Yes. I always have to say that, even though that was my experience, and when I talk to other people in Bible, especially black women in Bible, that tends to be a lot of their experience as well. We all seem to have similar experiences but we still persevere. And we still do this work, knowing that there are allies who come alongside of us and help us do this activist work in biblical scholarship, that I always have to make sure I state that it’s not all white male scholars who think a certain way, but there are those who are very good allies for these conversations as well. And will interrogate their own identities in the midst of doing biblical scholarship.
Dr Angela Parker: Yes. I think about this book as part memoir, part of biblical scholarship. And so throughout the book, you’ll find anecdotes just about my life or about being in seminary and what that experience was like. And also a deep desire to interrogate our text in ways that others may not have thought before. One aspect of the book that I really enjoyed writing was the piece on the Gospel of Mark and the women at the end of Jesus’s death; with Mark, you don’t have a resurrection story, but they’re going to the tomb in order to anoint the body. And just that idea of thinking about what women see when they see the crucifixion, and what women feel as they were experiencing the crucifixion from afar, and what it means to be in a highly testosterone-charged environment that has a large military presence. I think that pondering what women feel and experience in the midst of highly charged militaristic presence and even thinking about what it means for women to live in Afghanistan right now, and to see highly charged masculine presence in a space that now becomes unsafe, and to have a conversation with scholars of the Gospel of Mark, who read these women in the text, but consider them unfaithful or consider them less than good disciples––without pondering what it may have bodily felt to be in such an environment where you could easily be accosted, and still thinking that I have to go to a tomb in order to pay some type of respect to a fallen leader. I don’t think we give the women in the text enough credit. And so part of breathing again, for me is actually engaging what those women felt in their bodies in the midst of going to worship a fallen leader. And instead of immediately taking on the idea of what contemporary male scholarship says about these women, what does it look like to think about them slightly differently? And even for my work in Galatians in this text, thinking about what it means to ponder all of us just making it home together. Home being the idea of we can all breathe, and not feel as though we’re stifled in the midst of reading our biblical text or we’re breathing and we are not stifled in the roles that we can play in ministry; or we can breathe again and we’re not stifled by what other people say about what we are supposed to be as black and brown people or even as women who want to work in a world for the betterment of society, for justice in society. I ponder a lot about male evangelical leaders who still can’t fathom that women can preach and teach. And I think I often thought that we’ve gotten past that, but it’s interesting moving from the Pacific Northwest to the South, to the American South of Georgia, and seeing those conversations resurge, and not just feeling as though oh my goodness, not only are they taking the life out of me with these conversations or having to prove myself over and over again. But to think about all of that, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd, and then thinking about others, who have died as a result of police militarized violence that there was just no way we cannot engage such conversations today where we — We have to imagine we can all make it home, we can all live, we can all prosper, we can all flourish, we can all thrive. There has to be some way for all of us to thrive and to make it home together safely. That’s what I’m trying to do in this work. And allow faith communities to begin to have a different conversation about what it means to hold the biblical text as sacred and authoritative without allowing the people who think that they have the authority of the text to lower the authority or the authoritarianism of the text over them. And I see these power dynamics both within some policing systems and the policing systems of evangelicalism.
Cassidy Hall: Yeah, and I’m struck by this, this beautiful and important refrain of breathing and the ways in which I wonder do you experience study of the biblical text to be an embodied experience in that way?
Dr Angela Parker: Definitely! I think that oftentimes, we’ve been trained. And when I say we’ve been trying to, I’m thinking about my own black Baptist upbringing, and what devotional reading looks like. And so devotional reading is singular and individualistic. But I think the idea of a collective breath is what stands out for me in reading biblical texts with people or even with contemporary situations. That breathing is embodied; breathing the text is embodied and thinking about God’s breath, and how God’s breath interacts with our breath. And I think that’s the contemplative experience. I think that’s the ruach spirit that kind of goes in between God and us. So that reading the text is almost like a wavy experience of breath coming in and out of us. Both our breath intermingling with God’s breath, and God’s breath intermingling with us. Which then goes back to how we begin to understand ourselves as humanity, and what that means for what our own activism is in the world. Because God’s breath is intermingling with us in order to do something. We think about the Genesis narrative that God breathed into Adam and how Adam becomes a living creature. We’re supposed to be living creatures that actually do something. And I think the text allows us to do that as long as it’s the text doesn’t become God. And for a lot of people, I think the text has become God and so you get this bibliolatry. Again, people use the text in order to beat someone over the head with it without this interactive breath that God wants to be involved with us as we read this text and that breath of God just kind of moves us.
Cassidy Hall: Yeah. I just love the fact that yeah, I mean, the very fact that God’s breath is in us means that we must act, we must show up.
Dr Angela Parker: Well, I think, even as we ponder contemplative actions, and see that’s the thing. I don’t often think about contemplative actions going together. You think about contemplation and sitting by yourself and being very individualistic. But what does contemplative action look like among people where the breath of God is going through groups of people? And I think that’s what we see with protests, with the Black Lives Matter protests that there’s that contemplative action that actually moves groups of people to do something. That there is a breath that goes through collective bodies as well, that it’s not just individualistic contemplation, but it’s contemplation by groups of people in order to bring about some kind of change.
Cassidy Hall: How do you think groups of people or individuals get to that place where they’re able to open up and engage with the group and then, it’s almost like getting to a place of openness where we’re moved by each other’s stories, and we recognize our reliance on the collective breath in order for the individual breath as well?
Dr Angela Parker:This is where the conversation becomes a little bit difficult. And why does the conversation become difficult? Because I can imagine two groups. And I’m really in my brain, juxtaposing the January 6 insurrection against the Capitol with the peaceful protesting of Black Lives Matters in the midst of the summer of 2020. And I do believe that it all goes back, for me, especially being a biblical scholar, goes back to the idea of who Jesus is supposed to be for those of us who espouse Christianity. And for those of us who espouse Christianity that is not white, nationalistic Christianity that we can see groups of people coming together and trying to walk in the way that Jesus walked. Meaning as Jesus is walking on the road in Galilee, going down to Jerusalem, and he sees a blind man on the way and says, stand up, what do you want for me? And the blind man is saying, this is in the Gospel of Mark, I just want to be able to see, and Jesus heals that blind man. And then he goes with Jesus along the way. He’s walking along the way, not towards an insurrection, but towards his own death. I would believe that those of us who tried to walk in the way of Jesus realize that oftentimes we’re walking towards our own death. Because if you’re truly walking in the way of Jesus, you’re trying to walk in such a way that you know people may not like the way that you’re fighting against an imperialistic system. You know that people may not like the way you’re fighting against a racist system. You know that people will not like that you’re fighting against some kind of supremacist system. And so when I read Jesus in the biblical text, I see Jesus gathering groups of people to actually walk against a Roman imperialistic supremacist system. So if we are nuancing, what it means to gather people today, and for people to walk together today, it does not mean that you’re gathering a white supremacist system to fight against a system that is actually the democratic. There was something that was missed in the January 6 insurrection. Because I think what’s missing is the idea that Jesus is fighting against some kind of supremacist system. On January 6, Jesus becomes the supremacist system. So how do we have a conversation, especially in the context of the United States of America, that says that we can recognize these different groups that oftentimes espouse, a Jesus, but a very different Jesus? And then how do we break that box? And how do we move into an almost a better understanding of Jesus? I think that’s part of the conversation on what it means to think about groups of people who breathe together and then come together, because we still see groups of people coming together, but you have to ask, what kind of breath are they coming together with? And I think that’s what I want to do.
Cassidy Hall: Yeah, yes. Yeah, that makes sense. And beginning with that piece, like what’s the commonality of the breath that’s bringing the group together? Is it this false Jesus, this false authority and the way you talk about to really walk with the breath of Jesus? Can you share more about your other forthcoming book Bodies, Violence and Emotions: A Womanist Study of the Gospel of Mark?
Dr Angela Parker: Yeah. So with that, I’m actually arguing that there is a connection between the hemorrhaging woman of Mark 5 and Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross that there are similar — and again, it goes back to marks of empire on Jesus’s body and potential marks of empire on that hemorrhaging woman’s body. And instead of translating that phrase as a hemorrhage, I translate that as she’s in a flow of blood. And what does it mean to be in a flow of blood? Well, I make the argument that if we think about her as a woman who has seen so much blood shed as a result of imperialistic sufferings, that there’s something to what it means to be a woman who constantly sees blood flowing in the streets. Not just blood flowing from her own body, but blood flowing from those who are related to her. And I make the connection with the idea of her own suffering being classified as mastix. And that’s the Greek term for whips, or scourges or sufferings that also correlate to the idea of Jesus’ suffering, scourging at his crucifixion. And so is there a way to think about that woman, as a woman who essentially sees her own brown children, her own brown brothers, her own brown siblings, her own brown mothers and fathers who have died or had their bloodshed in the midst of a Roman imperialistic takeover in Judea. And so I can make that connection to what it means to be a mother who sees Tamir Rice die in a Cleveland Park; or to be a mother who sees her own child extinguish and that child’s body laying in the hot sun on an August day in Ferguson, Missouri. So there’s some kind of connection between the bodies, the violence and the emotionality of seeing all of this happen. And thinking very hardly thinking, just making a nuanced connection between why that woman’s story is important, and how it connects to Jesus’s story at the crucifixion. Because that’s one story that is not your typical healing story. A typical healing story, has someone cry out, Jesus calls that person to him. He asks them, what do you want me to do? They tell him he does it, everybody goes along their way. This particular healing story is not in that same form. So for those who understand form criticism, it’s not in that same form. She sneaks up behind and has and has to reach out. And so just thinking through that whole story, and what it means for a woman to show agency and touch Jesus’s garment, there’s something to that. And to even think about how Matthew and Luke tweak the story, because you can’t have a Jesus who doesn’t know exactly what’s going on, or you can’t have a woman touch Jesus. So Matthew and Luke kind of tweak it, so that in Luke, I don’t even think she touches Jesus at all. He just turns around and says, like, who’s about to touch me? So I think that there’s something to that particular story in the Gospel of Mark that allows me to actually engage contemporary issues regarding fallen black and brown bodies in these United States of America.
Cassidy Hall: Another piece I’m really struck by as you draw those two parallels is the connection of people not believing. I imagine people not believing that woman’s pain, the truth of her suffering, the truth of what she’s going through. And similarly, Jesus not being believed. And then thinking today about all these stories, and even studies of black women not being believed, the pain they’re going through in hospital settings. I mean, in all kinds of settings and in life, that the pain emotionally physically, quote-unquote, isn’t real.
Dr Angela Parker: There’s that feeling that we, especially for black women, we are supposed to be able to take so much more suffering than other people. And I think I’m often just struck even in the beginning of ministry and the beginning of working in pastoral settings and ministerial settings for me, that, especially black women in the church have often been looked upon to volunteer the most, to cook the most, to clean the most to take care of everyone else the most to the detriment of their own lives and bodies. And one work that opens that up for me is Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, if it wasn’t for the women. That for a long time, we’ve often been told that our suffering is going to be good for other people or for the hereafter. So just continue to suffer and continue to work and don’t make too much noise. Just continue to do and work through your pain, work through your suffering. And that’s not healthy and healing and whole for, for anyone, but even especially for black women.
Cassidy Hall: When you joined us in my class with Dr Russaw, African American Biblical Hermeneutics and Womanist Biblical Interpretation, in that class you said “allow what you’re fighting for, to shine through, find what you can do, and work with that hurt. We’re all too valuable to burn out.” And so I wonder, with all the hurt and the pain that surrounds us, how have you found your way to engaging so powerfully in your work? And how have you kept yourself from burning out?
Dr Angela Parker: There is actually one Amazon purchase that I still need to make, that’s actually a blanket burrito. So there are two things that I try to do. I try to first do my own self affirmations in the morning, just to at least remind myself that I am valuable, there’s still work for me to do. But even in the midst of my value, I can’t allow my own reserves to deplete to the point where I can’t do what I need to do. So for some people, and this was difficult. Because I think, as women, we’re often told that, or we often perceive from our surroundings, that we are not valuable. That we are to assist other people. And part of recognizing my own value means I have to actually say, out of my mouth, that I am valuable, I am resilient, I can resist and I can say no, in some instances, and actually do say no, and don’t feel guilty about it. I think that as women, we are often saddled with a lot of guilt if we don’t have children when we’re supposed to have children. I mean, it’s amazing to me the conversations that people have with women saying, when are you going to do this? Or when are you going to do that? Why are you so worried about my timeline? My timeline is my timeline. And what it means to actually take hold of your own life and your own affirmations and just do you and be happy in that. That means that you have to have a change of thinking about who actually can be involved in your life as well. It’s okay to not answer every call, it’s okay to not have a conversation with everyone who asks of you, it’s okay to say no, it’s okay to take a day and rest on your couch in your blanket burrito. And then after you have had that recuperation, and a little bit of revival in your spirit, you get up and do what you can do for the cause, for the work that you feel called to do, for the writing that you have to do. I think for me, especially when I was in seminary, I was reading works that I did not see myself reflected in. So what does it look like to say, okay, I have to write work where people like me can feel reflected in it? So I have to continue to do that. But I have to rest in the middle of that as well because it can be difficult. It can be difficult to constantly see the hurt and harm that’s going on in the world and begin to write about it in such a way that people can actually breathe. And that’s what I want to do, but I want to do it with a little bit of longevity. I want to do it with a little bit of laughter in the midst of it. I want to do it with a little bit of celebration in the midst of it as well, and take time when I need to take time. So I will plan those moments for my life. And I will plan those quiet times, I will plan the absolute silence because I don’t think every moment of our lives has to be filled with so much buzz. We can have some silence, we can have contemplation on the couch and have that little bit of individualistic contemplation as well. Because I think all of it is important. I think the collective contemplation and the individual contemplation is important. But I also have to say that finding people who can help you on your journey and others that you can help with their journey as well is also important.
Cassidy Hall: And I appreciate that you note that. Because there’s still a piece of that collective breath in what you shared. So one more question before we go. Who is someone or some people that maybe embody mysticism for you, or that host that image of mysticism maybe that you were talking about earlier?
Dr. Angela N. Parker: For some reason, I keep thinking about Dr. Valerie Bridgeman. And she is a Dean in Ohio. And she has talked about and posted about on social media walking. And she’ll often say also on social media: “if someone didn’t tell you today, drink some water, drink your water. Have you had enough water today?” And that presence, even though she is not actually physically here in the Atlanta area, but she’s a presence on social media who says, did you drink water? Did you do your steps? That connection, which seems almost as if it’s nothing in a social media space, actually is a lot. I don’t know what it is about that presence and that reminder, it just seems as though she’s one of those scholars who allows me to say, oh, yes, I need to walk. I need to drink water. I need to replenish myself. And I think that’s what mysticism is for me. How do I replenish myself so that I can do what God has called me to do? I can’t say that I’ve read enough mystics, because I’m thinking even a lot of the mistakes that I read in seminary, they did not speak to me. And that makes me slightly sad as I ponder that question. Because I think for me, it’s those present-day people who are in my life who say: “Rest,” or “Have you noticed the trees? Have you noticed the purple in the flowers?” That is mysticism to me as well Color Purple, Alice Walker, saying God gets really mad if you don’t notice the purple. And I think noticing God’s beauty and God’s creation, and those books and the quiet times that remind me of that those are the mystics that helped me. I had a colleague, Dr. Chanequa Walker Barnes who invited me to the Botanical Gardens. And so we were in the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and we see the purple, and we just stared at the purple flowers. Those are the contemplative moments that helped me most. So people in my life who actually pushed me to stop and look at the flowers and drink the water, those are the mystics and I think they’re the womanist mystics that I would name.
Cassidy Hall: Yeah. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining today. Yeah, I’m just so grateful for your time and your wisdom and insight, your scholarship.
Dr Angela Parker: I really appreciate it. Thank you.
CASSIDY HALL: 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.
Transcript: Episode 1, an interview with Therese Taylor-Stinson
[00:00:03] Therese Taylor-Stinson: I think those words, Mysticism and Contemplation seems spooky to people, but I think everybody can be a mystic.
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 social justice. I’m your host, Cassidy Hall, a filmmaker, podcaster, pastor and student, and I’m here to learn with you. For early access to episodes, go to patreon dot com slash Cassidy Hall. On today’s episode, the founding managing member of Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Therese Taylor-Stinson, joins us. She’s an ordained deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church and is a practicing spiritually director for over 15 years. Therese is a graduate of the Shalem Institute and a member of the Chilean Society for Contemplative Leadership. In 2015, she founded the Racial Awareness Festival in Washington, D. C. An author and editor, she is the co-editor of Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color and the editor of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around — Stories of Contemplation and Justice, and her work appears in Kaleidoscope: Broadening the Palette in the Art of Spiritual Direction. Therese is also a certified emotional emancipation circle facilitator with the Community Healing Network Incorporated and the Association of Black Psychologists. In 2018 Therese won an Indie Author Legacy Award in the area of social awareness for her editing of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, and she was named a collaborative bridge builder by Grace and Race Incorporated. So, Therese, welcome to Contemplating Now. And thank you so much for joining me.
[00:02:06] Therese Taylor-Stinson: Thank you for having me, Cassidy. I’m really happy to be with you.
[00:02:11] Cassidy Hall: And as you well know, because we’re friends on some social media sites, every chance I get, I quote your words from your book. Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around Stories of contemplation and justice. And in that book, in the epilogue, you write, “So that contemplation can be whole. It must consist of both inward solitude and reflection and an outward response to the situations in which we find ourselves present and awake.” And that’s entirely what this podcast is about. So my first question for you is this — was action something that was always tethered to your understanding of contemplation? Or did that come later for you, or was it the other way around?
[00:02:54] Therese Taylor-Stinson: So I think that the word “contemplation” is a relatively new term, at least in terms of using it in connection with spirituality. It wouldn’t be until I guess I went through the spiritual guidance program that I would begin to think about how contemplation fit into my cultural context, and I was not getting any of that from the program I was going through. The program was rich, and I enjoyed it, but it really did not inform me about my own cultural context. And so our final paper could be using one of the themes of the program or one of the particular mystics that were held up during that time. Or we could do a research paper. My paper ended up being more of an exploration than a research, but I decided to do some extra reading––20 more books. I had to find different books. That is how I introduced myself to Barbara Homes and read her book Joy Unspeakable, among others. Albert Raboteau’s Slave Religion and Peter J. Paris’ is I think it was The Spirituality of African Peoples, 20 books that I read to try to see how it fit in with what I had just learned from mostly European mystics. There was some history given, and so I know that some of the people in that history are were people of color, but they were never identified as that in the program that I was in. So was action always tethered to my understanding of contemplation? I think I always saw in my own spiritually journey that out of my introspection, contemplation being defined as deep thought, out of my own idea of mysticism that there would be some action. And I know that in Indigenous practices, action is the outcome. And then I think it may have been during the time that I was writing my final paper. I had gone with SDI to an SDI conference that was in Houston, and at the end, they always have, like a little pilgrimage to different spiritually related sites in the city. And I’m not going to be able to remember the name of the museum right now off the top of my head. But anyway, we went to this museum and there was a book in the museum about contemplation, and it was called a “contemplation and action,” and in that book there was a chapter on contemplation and action in world religion, and L. A. Meyer Zola, who was the editor for that volume, wrote this, “Modern humans are constantly tempted to seek spiritual life in sheer method, or else in some kind of blind rapture, ringing with spontaneity and rich in creativity, contemplation needs both. Method in itself leads to dispensation and quarrels. On the other hand, inspiration in itself without the help of method will lead to vein strivings toward creativity for its own sake. Contemplation soars above the archetypes, and from these back to the point from which everything arises. Action is linked to the Greek begonia, which led to agony. Action in itself is always a sacrifice. When we leave the paradise of contemplation and descend into the earth of action, everything, including mystical action, becomes sacrificial. But [unknown word] signifies struggle contest as well as anguish. And that’s a terribly speaking, an unseen warfare. It may well be that the point of failure in contemporary civilization was precisely the failure to realize the necessity of constantly fighting against evil.” So what I take from what he writes there is that the whole idea of contemplation or mysticism is that from that arises the action that we take in the world. And an Indigenous beliefs, their mysticism isn’t so individualistic where it’s about oneness with God. In Indigenous beliefs, mysticism as they would call it–and I really don’t see a big difference between mysticism and contemplation. I think contemplation is just a new word. A newer word, Let’s say. In that mysticism is always for them, what’s for the social good. So there’s always some reaction or action after a time of contemplation or mystical consideration of what’s next.
[00:08:09] Cassidy Hall: Yeah, I love that. And I love I want to unpack a little bit more what you said about kind of just the word contemplation being a new word. And I’m just struck by the way that that can be such a hindrance and make what contemplation actually is in the form of mysticism or otherwise almost inaccessible just because by language were almost complicating what it actually is, what’s actually happening.
[00:08:35] Therese Taylor-Stinson: So I remember there was only one other person of color in my cohort when I went through the spiritual guidance program and toward the end of our cohort, Spiritual Directors International had a conference in the Washington DC area, and so we decided to go. But in in that cohort we had a conversation –we were the only two persons of color in the cohort, and we began a conversation about, you know, where are other people of color? We know we’re not the only contemplative that are people of color. And so then we go to the SDI conference and look around and we see a few others. And it turned out to be women, African American women that were reading some of the same books we were in asking the same questions. Where are people of color? We had dinner with them that night, and then we decided we would––SDI helped in that they had networking tables at the ending luncheon where you could invite people to have a conversation about whatever topic. And we started going around finding people of color and asking them what they come to our networking table. To my surprise, to my ignorance, perhaps because we were in the Washington DC area, I hadn’t really connected to the international part. And so I was thinking I was going to be calling African Americans only to the table, and we ended up with people from around the world, actually. And we were not a large group of people of color, but someone from Korea, someone from Puerto Rico, some people, different people from various countries in Africa, which was wonderful. And we were all asking, Where are the people that are like us? We’re sure we’re not the only ones.
[00:10:35] Cassidy Hall: and correct me if I’m wrong. But it sounds like Are you getting to the origin story of the spiritual directors of color network?
[00:10:41] Therese Taylor-Stinson: Pretty much, yes, because at that table we talked. Everybody was saying, Where are the people like me? We decided that we would take each other. Actually somebody other than me, although it was in my head, somebody other than me said, “You know, maybe we could write a book or something,” and I was like, “Yes, let’s write that book.” And so we took names and phone numbers, contact information. At the end of that conference, we all went in our separate directions except for me really. I went home, I started telling my friends, they started telling their friends, so we started gathering people that I hadn’t even expected to gather after that, and then the people who I had their names and addresses, we started the network very loosely, and we wrote our first book and it published in March of 2014. And I remember one of the people on our conference call who was writing in the book is saying, “This is the first organization I’ve ever heard of that’s written a book before they’re even incorporated.”
[00:11:51] Cassidy Hall: Even the origin story of that is a demonstration of contemplation’s role in action and justice. And can you maybe just express a little more how you see contemplation’s role in social action and social justice in our world?
[00:12:06] Therese Taylor-Stinson: I think that everybody should have some contemplation, some periods of introspection in their life, and for me, those periods of introspection, whether it’s figuring out something where you feel stuck or, you know prayerfully considering what it is that you’re called to do or whatever brings you to that place out of that place should come some response of some sort. So I guess what I was explaining to you and telling you that story is that in the midst of this cohort, learning about contemplation, learning about being a spiritual director, reading about contemplative practice and, you know, reading the many European mystics and everything like that–out of that came that action for me to want to write something that made it relevant to people of color as well as hopefully finding other people of color who were having a similar–maybe not the same, but a similar experience. And out of that came our first book, Embodied Spirits.
[00:13:23] Cassidy Hall: So we already explored a little bit, thinking of contemplation and mysticism as kind of interchangeable. So kind of along with that, in your contemplative life and your life of mysticism, do you see a difference between being a mystic and being an activist?
[00:13:39] Therese Taylor-Stinson: I think you can be an activist, so I think those words, “mysticism” and “contemplation” seems spooky to people, but I think everybody can be a mystic. You know, mystic means––the root of mystic is “myst,” which is the same root is mystery and mystic, you know, basically means that you you’re living with a certain amount of uncertainty and whether we like it or not, we all have some uncertainty about things. And I think the only difference between a contemplative or mystic or whatever you call the person and the normal person who might be living with uncertainty is that we embrace it. You know, other people may, and we live in a culture that you’re supposed to have the answer for everything. So we live in a culture that if you’re just sitting around, you know, embracing uncertainty, then you’re not very well credentialed or something. But I think we all live with it. You know, I really think that those words, and I remember that being one of the discussions we had is we were starting the Spiritual Directors of Color Network. One of the things that came up for us is how can we make this journey that we’re having less spooky, you know, less, um, something that only certain people, only certain individuals can have that experience because if we’re having that experience, surely there others of us that are having that experience now some of us may be uncomfortable with that uncertainty and not want to take this path. But I think all of us are capable of having this path, and even whether we call it “contemplation” or “mysticism,” I think an activist somehow comes to the conclusion that this is what they’re called to do, or this is what they have the energy for. And they may have been in the midst of the active-contemplation or mysticism, without maybe calling it that.
[00:15:48] Cassidy Hall: I love that I did not know about the root of mysticism and just the idea that it’s just a willingness to go into the unknown, to just go there. That’s beautiful.
[00:15:58] Therese Taylor-Stinson: You know, in Indigenous practice, that is the way they see it, they don’t you know, they believe in the spiritual world. You know, I don’t know if they call it “mysticism” or not, but they believe that, you know, whatever energy we get to do certain things are coming from the supreme being and given to us for community––to give our gifts in community and you know, very deeply and very broadly, I think that’s why we’re all here. Just like the trees air here to exchange carbon dioxide with oxygen with us and all of the ways the planet works to sustain life here. I think we’re all here for that same reason––whether we know it or not.
[00:16:47] Cassidy Hall: Yeah, yeah, right. Along with the Spiritual Directors of Color Network and some of the other things that we’ve discussed about spiritual direction, it’s striking to me that, a lot of spiritual direction programs are lacking. Black mysticism, Black contemplation. You know, we go to Howard Thurman a lot, but beyond that, I mean, there’s a lot missing.
[00:17:12] Therese Taylor-Stinson: And we haven’t gone to Howard Thurman a lot, actually. I know that people who go through seminary, particularly Black people who go through seminary, and if they go to a historically Black institution, they may learn about Thurman. If you go to Howard University, you will for sure learn about Thurman. Thurman worked there as a matter of fact at one point. But generally I don’t think that there is a lot of emphasis on Black spirituality. Particularly, I don’t even really think it’s just this country. I think that whiteness and colonialism is been, you know, spread throughout the world. But what I know about most, I guess, is the United States. And so in this country we live in a culture that from the Constitution has been you know promoting whiteness. And so in my book Embodied Spirits and in my paper that I wrote for my final paper for the program and published in SDI’s Presence Journal, I talk about how as I was reading I read a story from Albert Raboteau, where he talks about the enslaved. Actually, he doesn’t talk about it, but he’s explaining it in the third person. So there’s another person who’s observing the slave behavior, particularly around religion and Christianity, I guess. And he talks about how the enslaved––many of them, not everybody, but some of them had sort of a rule that you didn’t even try to read the Bible, which we weren’t allowed to do it one point anyway. But you didn’t even attempt to read the Bible until you were able to experience God or the Holy for yourself. And so isn’t that contemplation isn’t that mysticism to have that experience of God before you start reading the Bible about God, they that was the way they did things. And in my writing, I wanted to compare that with someone that was a reliable source for most people. And so I found a text by Thomas Merton, who explained contemplative practice in the very same way that the African people brought here into enslavement were practicing it without even knowing. I don’t know if they use the word “mysticism” or anything, but these were things that they had. The story about on the slave ships, when they were being brought over here, they were all packed together, and they were actually deliberately intentionally separated from people who spoke their language. The way they shared their pain together was in what the slave-catchers and and the ship people called “the moan.” They would moan in away together that I can imagine might have even been kind of a harmony with them, really expressing that they were having the same experience with one another. So this mysticism, this contemplation, which they probably never called it, was part of their very core of who they were. Particularly here in the United States, we make words for everything, but we know that when when Jesus was teaching and and when we go back to some of the languages that were the Hebrew and and the Aramaic, they were imprecise languages, and one word could mean many different things depending on who was talking and what they were saying.
[00:21:03] Cassidy Hall: The power and the truth and the rawness and the again the physicality, like going, again, going to the unknown––and right without having to put words to it or say it, right? That is holy.
[00:21:17] Therese Taylor-Stinson: One of my favorite books, Gerald May, I don’t think he was a founder, but he was one of the principals, and I think, one of the initial people in the gathering of people for the Shalem Institute. And he wrote a lot of books for Shalem and helped them, you know, to develop their spiritual guidance program. In his book Will and Spirit, he talks about, I think it’s in the chapter on energy, but he talks about how the experience of a thing is different from when we begin to talk about it, the moment we begin––just like me now talking to you now, the moment I begin to try to put words to it, it’s no longer the experience. That the truth, the truth, the raw truth of a thing is something that you probably don’t have language for.
[00:22:09] Cassidy Hall: Amen. So one thing I want to move into which you know we’ve kind of been getting at this whole conversation is this idea, this concept, of “public mysticism.” And this was first introduced to me by Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Homes in her book Joy Unspeakable. And I wonder if you could unpack that a little bit for us –– the significance of public mysticism, what it is to you, what it means?
[00:22:31] Therese Taylor-Stinson: So again, going back to African mysticism because Christianity is not the only place where you find mystics. There are mystics in the Christian tradition, but they’re also mystics Sufis in the Islamic tradition, there’s mysticism in Buddhism, there’s mysticism and a lot of places including Africa. And so in Africa, and among Indigenous people, so you know, Native Americans perhaps as well––There has always been a sense that whatever it is that you are receiving from you know the source, however you define or call that source, whatever you are receiving is for community, communal interest. At the core of most cultures, community is more important than the individual, and so whatever is given the individual, whatever gifts are given the individual, they are meant to be used in community. And reading Barbara Homes, but even considering that for myself, there are many public mystics that perhaps have gone unnamed as such. Even Thurman himself, I don’t think many people really referred to him as a mystic, you know, but he was, and he was a public mystic. He offered his mysticism as his public protest, you might even say. Some people were upset with him because he didn’t join in the civil rights demonstrations and everything, but he girded, undergirded the whole movement in contemplative practice, though I doubt if they were calling it that at the time. If you think of an Islamic, a Black Islamic figure, Malcolm X was probably a mystic, he often spoke in those kinds of terms. Harriet Tubman was a mystic, a public mystic. And, you know, I’m thinking that Thurman, his grandmother, was in an enslaved person, probably around the same time Harriet Tubman was doing her thing. And I don’t know what all Thurman may have heard from his grandmother, but surely he’d heard of at some point of Harriet Tubman, and I can’t imagine that he didn’t from his grandmother and Harriet Tubman, just from her life, learned some of the things that he was teaching people of color about internal freedom, you know, and how Jesus himself self-differentiated although we’ve kind of made Jesus into a figure who sits on a throne and all of that, Jesus was one of the people on the margins. But he was able to self-differentiate himself from their condition in a way where he could find the genuine and himself and out of that be of help to others on the margins with him. And eventually it got him in some trouble, but, you know, we can all be getting in some trouble if we aren’t going along with the status club.
[00:25:42] Cassidy Hall: Amen. So we’ve talked about going into the unknown as this mysticism and contemplation. And I wonder if we could talk a little bit about looking at it in the reversed so in the reverse. So what could collective protest and, you know, movements today like Black Lives Matter, tell us about contemplation. So, looking at the public movement, what does that tell us about mysticism or contemplation?
[00:26:07] Therese Taylor-Stinson: I think this goes back to what I was saying earlier you were asking whether an activist was a mystic as well. So everybody may not, or they may embrace in different ways that which is uncertain or unknown. But I think there’s just something within us, I mean, it’s part of the life process, you don’t know everything. And if something is meaningful to you and some kind of way and meaningful enough for you, to put your life on the line because Black Lives Matter people have definitely put their lives on the line many times, you know, arrested, you know, they could have ended up very easily, like Breonna Taylor or George Floyd or something. Whether they call it “mysticism” or not, the ones that I know, they do feel some deep spiritual connection and and some deep calling to do this work, otherwise, it would be impossible to do, I think
[00:27:10] Cassidy Hall: At the end of the day, some of the most mystical things that we’re attached to don’t and won’t and don’t have language. We can’t talk about it because it’s so deep or it’s so collective, it’s so just full of the truth and love and beauty that we all need.
[00:27:28] Therese Taylor-Stinson: And and it drives us to action and sort of lends to the Indigenous belief that these things are meant for us, for public service, for community. And so whatever the private experiences isn’t really that important. What’s important ism I find this situation that I’m feeling called to act or to speak or to do something to make life better on the planet.
[00:27:55] Cassidy Hall: Yeah. So recently you and I had a brief email exchange where we were we were talking, and you reminded me of the value in the importance in not using the term “BIPOC” in the way that it minimizes individual story and limits the depth, um, that could be expressed by an individual. I’m learning, and I’m doing my work and I’m processing all that. And I was really humbled that you were willing to express this to me because it just showed me another way that whiteness and in my participation in whiteness, has co-opted language and shown kind of this laziness towards learning and understanding. I’ve also seen that whiteness and white supremacy has done this with contemplative language, which is a lot of what we’re talking about today, too. Just even, right, this need for language about contemplation and these kinds of things. And also how whiteness is kind of framed contemplation as inactive. All this to say I’m learning a lot about the range in the importance of embodiment and all of contemplation, including language and how one talks about it. So I wonder if you could share a little bit more about how the fullness of story of personal story impacts our ability to contemplate or go to a place of mysticism.
[00:29:13] Therese Taylor-Stinson: So for me, it’s not even about story. It has to be with me being a human being with an experience that you cannot define with an acronym. You know, if you say I’m African American, that says something about who I am and where I came from. If you even say that I’m a Black person in America that says something about my experience and and who I am, you know. But if you call me a “BIPOC,” that means nothing, you know, and you’ve clumped me in with a lot of other people whose experience may not be the same as mine, and they have their own identity and cultural identity that they would like to lift up. So, you know, I am retired from the federal government and in the federal government, acronyms are everywhere, so I’m used to acronyms, I’m not someone who doesn’t know anything about acronyms. But the thing about the federal government is when they use acronyms, they’re talking about agencies or, you know, things, objects, perhaps they given acronym to. They’re not talking about people, and human beings have stories, but even more than that they have identities. And so to clump a bunch of people together –– And as I start pushing back against the acronym “BIPOC,” I also myself, I want you to know I’m not just smacking you on the hand, because it made me look back at myself when I’m talking about the community that we define as an LGBTQ community, we’re using an acronym, but these people have names too: they’re lesbians, they’re bisexual, they’re transgender, they may like to call themselves queer, you know. So they’re not “LGBTQ.” Because that doesn’t explain anything that makes them, that just clumps a whole bunch of people. It makes it easier for us to name them that way, you know, if we’re writing or talking about them, but it takes away their humanity. That’s the way I see it.
[00:31:26] Cassidy Hall: Yeah. And I mean I really value that in this discussion. It reminds me of, I was just writing a paper, I was just finishing a final paper on Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Queer Womanist Theology, you know, in that book she talks about how “oppressions on one level intersect with all oppressions on other levels” and kind of recognizing how intersectionality can point to the dynamic of God’s image, but at the end of the day, it’s all a purely separate image of God on each and every person. At the end of the day, you know, all those oppressions, stories of oppression and marginalization are entirely different stories, entirely different experiences. And, as you say, specifically, people. I mean I identify as Queer and my queer experience is different from my neighbor’s Queer experience, who maybe was rejected by their family or something like that. And it’s taking the time and the willingness to not be lazy and being able to fully see each other.
[00:32:27] Therese Taylor-Stinson: I can see if you’re writing a note to somebody using the acronym because, especially with our phones and everything. But if you’re writing a book or, you know, if you’re having a conversation and you’re talking about people, you should identify who they are and not trying to make them an acronym, that that seems very disrespectful to me.
[00:32:53] Cassidy Hall: Thank you for that. So in our world today, how at this time are you experiencing God and mysticism or activism? And what is your hope for the future of mysticism and activism?
[00:33:08] Therese Taylor-Stinson: So I identify myself, is an anti-assimilationist, and so I don’t clump myself––I mean, I do see blessings in my life, but I don’t clump myself with the privileged or whatever. But I feel in this time quite privileged as I understand the plight of many people of color who are more vulnerable to this virus, who I sit in front of the television and cry like It’s my own son being suffocated under the knee of a police officer who doesn’t care. Or I hear about a woman named Breonna Taylor who carries my last name being shot for no reason in her own house, awakened out of her sleep and shot, and then nobody does anything about it. And then a Black man, an attorney general, gets up and justifies such a thing? I could get very emotional about now. I’m a spiritual director at heart, everything I do comes out of that. And so my clientele has doubled, people are being introspective and I get to sit with them and people of color in particular, because that’s who I always really wanted to be able to sit with. So to be in this moment and sitting with people who are saying “what is mine to do” and you know “where do we go from here?” It’s a privilege and a blessing, you know that I get to experience. And because we’re on Zoom to be able to experience the varieties of ways of worshiping and considering different kinds of things, I think this time that we’re in ––as a matter of fact, I’ve been telling many of my directees that it’s something that I learned in my own experience that when trouble comes I used to get very anxious and disturbed about trouble, I didn’t want any, but what I’m learning now is that it’s an opportunity to learn, and it’s an opportunity to discern direction for your life. And I have done that and it’s brought me to this time here where I get to share with other people, you know those things. And so I don’t think that this time of pandemic and racism and craziness, I don’t know what else to call it, and all the things that are going on right now––I see blessing in the midst of it, and I get to experience some of it where I know there are others who––I have lost a couple of people that I know, but I have not lost ––at least not yet, lost close family members. I have not been sick myself in that way, and I’ve been able to sit with others and offer blessing and love and hope and to experience community. I don’t have any complaints except that I wish we could stop this because I do know that the numbers of people who have died and the situations that many people, particularly people of color find themselves where they can’t even find a place to wash their clothes so that they don’t be sick, is something that I am quite aware of.
[00:36:33] Cassidy Hall: And I love that, you know, you’re talking about having more directees and more people wanting more introspective. And it’s striking that, you know, that’s what we’ve been talking about that is public mysticism: going into the unknown and doing that collectively. I mean, that’s beautiful. Who’s someone for you or people for you that embody mysticism? So maybe some mystics that we don’t normally think of.
[00:37:06] Therese Taylor-Stinson: You know, this might be controversial for some people, but I think Jeremiah Wright is a mystic, I think Traci Blackmon. I’ve seen her, I’ve been in her presence when she preaches and everything, I believe she’s a mystic. I think Barbara Homes is a mystic. You know, I want to talk about and I’m talking about Black people also, not so much others. But I see ordinary people in my life who demonstrate for me mysticism. You know, maybe in some of my directees, if they’re not there yet there on the journey. So and then, you know, as I mentioned, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr., you know, Howard Thurman––so many people in some kind of way practice mysticism. And I believe the people that I named, even though they aren’t named that publicly so much, they knew. They knew who they were. But again, the personal experience with the divine was not as important as how they poured it out into the community.
[00:38:24] Cassidy Hall: You know, just for for a second I want I want to go there with you on Jeremiah Wright because recently in a class we were studying the relationship between Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright, a man named Professor Joseph Tucker Edmonds came and talked about this idea of –– we essentially only accept these, palpable domesticated prophets–– whereas someone like Jeremiah Wright, who was actually living out and living into the words of James Cone, you know, but we can handle Cone’s words in a book, but we can’t handle it in the flesh?
[00:38:59] Therese Taylor-Stinson: James Cone was a mystic.
[00:39:01] Cassidy Hall: Yeah, and I think there’s so many mystics in our midst that we’re not willing to go there with and, you know, white people in particular white people, especially white people––mostly, to embrace the fullness of the prophetic in our presence, I mean––
[00:39:17] Therese Taylor-Stinson: Which is nothing new, if you read the Bible. The prophets were not popular people. They had all kinds of crazy things happen to them, including Jesus, you know, he got killed. So, you know, it’s not a popular thing to do.
[00:39:37] Cassidy Hall: Therese, could you unpack a little bit more about what it means to be a certified emotional Emancipation Circle facilitator?
[00:39:45] Therese Taylor-Stinson: So emotional emancipation circles are for people of African decent or those who identify as Black. And they are circles where we confront the lies that have been told that we have absorbed and we try to get past that and learn about the beauty of our own culture and experience and to be who we are and proud of it and not let it be something that continues our trauma or the trauma of others. So in our circles we have seven keys, the EEC’s were created by an organization called the Community Healing Network in Incorporation with the Association of Black Psychologists. It is a tool that has been given to us by professionals, and then we go through a training and organize groups, and wherever we live in the world to talk about those things and to heal ourselves and become more comfortable with who we are as people of color.
[00:40:59] Cassidy Hall: So, Therese, you mentioned something about the racial Awareness Festival. Could you share more about that?
[00:41:04] Therese Taylor-Stinson: It’s always the third Saturday of October. So right now we’re just beginning. Planning, we’ll start to advertising, send you something about it, if you like, or you can even Google “Racial Awareness Festival,” I’m sure and find out something about it.
[00:41:21] Cassidy Hall: And yeah, obviously, in speaking with you, I mean, before we talk today, it is obvious to me that I am speaking with a mystic. So I thank you for your work. Um, your sacred and holy work and presence in this world. And look forward to your books. More of your books, rather, I’m looking at two of your books right next to me and more of your work. And thank you so much for joining.
[00:41:48] Therese Taylor-Stinson: Thanks for having me, Cassidy. I appreciated talking to you.
[00:41:51] Cassidy Hall: 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 EmmoLei Sankofa, which she has generously allowed us to use. Please find this song and more from Emmolei 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 resources and tools head over to enfleshed dot com. One final quote from our guest today from her book Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around. Stories of Contemplation and Justice: “It seems that some people who call themselves contemplative have merely found a way to justify their own procrastination or to explain their introversion or to defend their unwillingness to change in the face of injustice. Remaining silent when there’s a need to speak. I have learned that our practice of contemplation requires integration into our callings and lifestyles. So that contemplation can be whole it must consist of both inward solitude and reflection and an outward response to the situations in which we find ourselves present and awake.”
I used to hear your voice when I was a closeted LGBTQ+ person in the Evangelical Church.
I recall your commanding tone, almost always spoken by a man telling me which thoughts to think, which words to say, which feelings to feel. I remember your inflection and the flicker of heat in it that hatred brings. I know who you are. And you no longer scare me into thinking your thoughts, saying your words, feeling your feelings. You no longer scare me.
I remember the certainty in your emphasis. The ways you’d enforce your stances on God as if God was something or someone to be fully understood. For years and years, I sat in your pews and watched your men tell me what behaviors made me Christian and what behaviors didn’t.
I avoided reading you for a few days, Nashville Statement. There’s just no longer a place for your harmful rhetoric in my life. But, I’m learning that so much of life is confronting the narratives from which we have been evolving. Much of life is having dialogue with one another to understand our pains and see one another’s truths. So, I took a look today.
And there you were just as I remember.
Another aggressive move towards domination over the beautiful uniqueness of our society. Another frantic jump from fear of who and what is different from you. I wasn’t surprised to read your narrow words and your parochial views. I used to buy into and even parrot this jargon myself. I used to listen to and heed your hate-fueled notions. It is terrifying to think about how much influence you once had over my understanding of God and my fellow human.
I have grown. I have changed. I have evolved.
When I read your words of anxious flailing which leads to monstrous rhetoric, I was not surprised. I knew you would use words that did not come from the mouth of Jesus and morph them into thought that suits a misogynistic group; a group that perpetuates bounded behaviors by rhetoric of nonsensical legalism. I knew it would be man-led and focused on a fundamentalist interpretation of a book that has been translated and interpreted numerous ways at numerous times.
Your words are violent and harmful. Your tone is vicious and degrading. You ruthlessly force thoughts and words about sexuality and gender into the mouth of the risen one who never spoke a word of it, lest for love. The commanding word you use over and over, “deny”, suggests a dismissal of the freedom and infinite love I, and so many others, have found in Christ. You, the words you choose, the the tenets you cling to with white knuckles continues to place more emphasis on a theological certainty instead of loving. Instead of the inexhaustible love of Christ.
And, if you’re willing to let go and look… that boundless love is everywhere.
I see God’s vastness in sexuality and gender. I see God in my heterosexual friends. I see God my Catholic friends. I see God in my Muslim friends. I see God in my Jewish friends. I see God in my LGBTQ+ friends… I see God in the rainbow of our society. Your statement has made it more obvious than ever to me that you love your bogus rules far more than the very people before you. You care more about commanding than the wholeness of people living out their true-selves as created by God, as children of God.
I’ve been rewriting my narrative in the places where you’ve influenced my life and dismantled my personhood. I’ve been removing the poison that diminished who I was— the hatred, the self-denial of who God made me to be, and the parts that didn’t leave room for us all at the table. I have never felt sad letting you go. I am only sad that you remain in such a hate-filled way.
You are not saving anyone with these statements; you are killing them.
Loving your neighbor is not walking them into hating themselves or feeling suicidal. Loving your neighbor is not dominating them with what you think is right or just. Loving your neighbor is sitting with them and listening to them with a longing to catch a glimpse of God. Do we need to go on defining love when Jesus showed us so perfectly what it looks like?
Nashville Statement, I have a promise for you. I promise I will keep turning your tables and covering them with rainbow tablecloths. I will keep inviting those you so blatantly “deny” at your table time and time again. It is not your table. It is not my table. It is God’s table and God longs for us to find a place. So I will keep inviting. And, if you can leave your hatred and certainty at the door, I will invite you too. Because all are welcome. What if you found a place among us all instead dictating the size of a table that does not belong to you?
I serve a God whose artistry in creation is as vast as it can be within us. And this table is not for removing people or telling them to go away. The table was always meant to be shared. Shared beyond our vision. It is for our Muslim neighbors and our Jewish friends to join us, too. It is for our Atheist coworkers and Agnostic family members, too. For what is this table if it is not love, and what is love if it is not shared?
You may not care any longer since I’ve moved on from you, Nashville Statement, but I’ve since made friends who point me to God instead of trying to tell me exactly who God is. They suggest and do not demand. They question alongside me and shake their fist in horror with me. They talk to me and do not jump to argument. They welcome me and don’t need to or obsess over boxing me in to a denomination or sexuality. And we still meet at the table.
Peacefully. Lovingly. Joyfully.
So, I hope you can peel back your sweaty palms that are so desperately clinging to a narrative that leaves out so many children of God. I know rewriting can be hard. I know reprogramming can be painful. I had to do it when I left you. You know the best part? You don’t have to do it alone. There’s a multitude waiting for us at the table. There’s a gathering waiting for us to be who we are in the God of love. Will you join me?