A Sudden Hunger for Stories

I keep waking up with a persistent desire to read stories. I am still battling the “shoulds” that become default in my brain. “You should read non-fiction and learn more about history” may be the response my brain tells my heart any given morning. I have been watching dramas instead: dramas about immigrants, dramas about women falling in love with each other, dramas about the lives of other vulnerable people, moments of life, snippets of story that humanize all the urgent issues of our time.

My brain tells me I am “lazy” and “being unproductive” and”useless” for caving into these dramas and stories so often.


 

I’ve been thinking about my own life, and whether I take enough time to see my own life stories. If someone was to ask me about myself, would I be able to tell them my stories? How much do I distance myself from my own life experiences and the emotions that flavor them by trying to rationalize everything that I go through? Or how much do I apologize for telling my story — that feeling that I am sharing too much and ought to be more mysterious and cool and intellectual? Writing and publishing poetry on this blog has been both so refreshing and kind of scary for me. I am learning not to apologize for having real emotions and wanting the things of real life. I am learning to not place my identity on how woke others expect me to be.

(What hurts so much about the expectation to be “a woke queen” *insert eye roll* is that “wokeness” never ends because learning is endless. Yet, learning has been commodified in a competition to “be the most ‘woke'”. The “wokeness” quest is fruitless, painful and emotionally paralyzing, much like the pursuit of perfection). I digress. My point is that, I am only human, and I want to connect with others as such.

This impulse to make my intellect or my ability to engage in social justice discourse my identity is NOT only in my head. I worry that I am only as necessary to people to the extent that I am “woke”. I worry that people do not come here for stories, for me, and they only come here for “hot takes”, especially in a culture where black women and girls are already painted as undesirable or disposable. But, so much of the analysis that I have developed having to do with race, gender and sexuality I have acquired from my own life experience and for survival. They have been acquired through my own experiences of joy and pain. It isn’t just an intellectual exercise for me. And yet, I worry that an intellectual exercise is all most people who interact with me want from me. An intellectual exercise over real connection. Perhaps the reality that so much of my thoughts on race, gender, sexuality come from my life and isn’t just an intellectual exercise for me is too much to bear for some people. I make people uncomfortable if I show them how young I am or if I tell them I am mourning having to leave a church I once loved.

Inside my hunger and search for stories — stories with people like me — is the desire for permission to be a vulnerable human and to find comfort and joy on the other side of the vulnerability. I dream that my own vulnerability might be met with warmth and connection instead of pain, loss, emotional abuse and neglect — which seems to have characterized so much of my first 20 or so years of life.

If I take a risk, if I decide to be brave, will something joyful happen to me? Can joyful things happen to black girls that choose to be brave? Will someone laugh with me? Or will they turn me away? Will the send me the message that my vulnerability, my brave is ugly?

So often, when I look to the stories in popular media, black women have to be sexy, knowing, confident, composed and strong to be desired and worthy of connection. But, what is there for black women like me who are goofy, unsure, care-too-much, and bumbling through real life and real relationships?

The pattern that I usually see myself in is this:

  1. Rachel meets someone and has a polite and cordial relationship with them.
  2. Rachel’s feelings about the connection begins to grow and Rachel will want something more, perhaps to connect more often, to provide one example.
  3. If Rachel shares feelings or a need, the person that Rachel shares her feelings with will be terrified and the relationship will end.

With that pattern so engrained in my mind and body, it is hard to imagine an alternative — that the relationship doesn’t necessarily have to end because I express a want or a need or a desire or feeling.

I don’t give myself enough space to think about relationships, especially if it has anything to do with family, close friendships, dating, or sex. The voice in the back of my head tells me that if I try to assert my desire for closeness and connection, that everyone will laugh at me. “You?” followed by chorus of scoffs and laughter. I have already been pegged in by so many people as a “social justice writer”. Rachel isn’t allowed to take a break from this. Rachel isn’t allowed to spend so much time and energy into enjoying and mourning relationships. That pressure, whether it’s coming from outside of me or inside of me creates so much shame in me.

So much of my writing that has to do with life outside of social justice activism is met with silence. The world isn’t interested in black girls dreams, or friendships, or romances. This has been a season of my life where I think to myself “what is the point of writing if I am not writing about the intersection of politics and faith? Why the heck would anyone read or support my writing if I don’t write about social justice?”

So, I want to practice asserting my whole self in my writing. I know it will be challenging, but, I have to start somewhere.

I am Rachel.

I am an artist, not just an analyst.

I am not your “woke queen”.

I care deeply about nature, and poetry, and friendship, and adventure, and video game lore. Yes.

I write songs sometimes. I belt out covers of my favorite songs in my bedroom. The instruments are my children. And so are my cameras.

My worth as a human being is so much bigger than whether or not I write about race/gender/sexuality. I am worth more than my intellectual production.

I crave stories, because I want to be braver to live out mine. I don’t want to hide behind theory and analysis anymore. I’m choosing to reject the people and the forces that push this on me as an identity. (One time someone came up to me at a party and told me that they had a huge crush on me because of the analysis I share on Facebook having to do with race and gender and sexuality. I remember feeling distraught because I felt so unseen in this moment. I think about that moment often when I think about how little I feel seen).

When I die, I don’t want to be remembered for what I produced.

I want to spread joy and be a reason that others feel joyful. I want to live a joyful life. I want to fall in love and be loved in return. I want to go on a lot of adventures with my friends and enjoy the sky and the birds chirping outside of my window. That is why I do anything that I do. I want to live.

 

 

 

The Sun Comes Anyway

In this cold season, I am learning to be patient
to let go, to not scream to not scream to. not. scream.

I have watched petals drop all summer long,
all of fall
and I have placed so many dried out bouquets down on a frozen ground I find myself still crouching on.
From this place, I gravely look up at a gray sky that feels so vast and so lonely.

Still, I am learning to live comfortably in the endless gray
to make my bed and to put my socks away daily despite the storm inside and out
or what the window nearby tells me to forecast.
Learning the patience to let go
to not scream
or lock myself away from trying
or dreaming of brighter days-
This is me trying.

I am trying to hold on to this:
that love might still flower large with a radiance that I could have never fathomed
but does anyway.
It might come around to greet me,
and it might turn to-warm me
despite what I can now imagine.

Anti-Racism Looks Like Partnership : A Follow Up of My Exvangelical Critique

In response to my critique of Exvangelicals as a movement that centers whiteness, I wanted to offer some examples of movements led by people of color against white supremacy, as well as multi-racial movements led by people of color.

It’s important for me to highlight POC-led movement because white led movement cannot lead communities out of right wing authoritarianism, as white supremacy exists as the ideological and cultural backbone of right-wing authoritarianism in our current age.

Some folks have observed that I have not addressed explicitly that the Exvangelical movement is not a Christian movement, which I do believe misses the heart of my critique, which is first and foremost about racism in the movement and the need to commit and unite over dismantling white supremacy. My critique is not about those who remove themselves from Christian religion altogether, and I can understand why someone who is not a Christian may come to that conclusion upon knowing that I myself am a Christian. However, my critique is about the ways that whiteness is still centered in a movement that believes itself to be anti-racist. Because participants of Exvangelicalism overwhelming fail to address and conspire against racism in that which they critique (white authoritarian Christian religion), I believe that my analogy, where I compare Exvangelicalism to the Women’s March, still stands. Whether or not communities of Exvangelicals choose to identify with Christianity, what matters is that these communities must ultimately decided to decenter whiteness in ideology and in action.

White people must engage and do the heavy lifting of anti-racism work, but this means that white folks must be willing to take leadership and direction from communities of color, who can voluntarily and involuntarily reflect to white people how whiteness manifests in the world much more clearly than most white people are able to observe about themselves. White people need new role models. One cannot dismantle white supremacy by continuing to uplift white leaders, white ideologies, white culture, and white ways of being. I myself, as a queer black woman, have not been able to begin my healing process until I decided to stop being around progressive movements that centered white people and white culture. I experienced white progressive spaces as emotionally hostile and spiritually lonely; I constantly experienced overt and polite aggressions about my race in white-led congregations and festivals. I could barely find anyone who would show up for people of color like myself. I wasn’t meeting people who were living anti-racist lives.

Anyway, I want to begin with this article by Deepa Iyer, where we commit ourselves to resisting cycles of outrage and numbness about the issues we see in the world. I appreciate this piece because Iyer asks us to look at the ways that our gifts and inclinations might align with roles we can play in fighting the many fights we are up against. What role(s) can you play in our current movements for social change? In anti-racist movements?

Now, here are some of the examples of movements and networks that I find are taking seriously the anti-racism part of challenging and resisting authoritarian Christianity. My short list also contains resources created by people highlighting some these movements/networks. I hope to share more in the future.

The Good Neighbor Movement describes itself as an “inclusive, multiracial, people of color led network of house churches (city villages) that seeks to be devoted Jesus-followers who cultivate intentional relationships, work collaboratively, and seek justice with diverse neighbors in Greensboro to create inclusive, local communities that are abundant, just, and whole.”

I am a part of the Good Neighbor Movement! This is a space where I feel like I can bring my whole self as a queer Christian and a black woman. This movement is multi-racial and includes white folks. White people — straight, cis, trans, single, coupled — are part of our communities, but they are co-laborers with people of color. Individuals in the Good Neighbor Movement have partnered with organizations in Greensboro (such as the Homeless Union of Greensboro) and with grassroots leaders in the fight against racist state violence.


Second Acts is a multi-racial community of Jesus followers that I deeply admire and deeply respect. Many of their members are part of the congregational life of First Congregational Church of Oakland in California, a church that made headlines last year for their commitment to refuse calling the police or involving police in any conflicts that may occur at the church. I became acquainted with this collective during my time at a convergence for Christians involved in or supporting the Movement for Black Lives. The convergence was entitled, Arise in Power. You can keep track of Second Acts by following their Facebook page, here.


La Mechuda by Carla Sofia Vargas — I wanted to uplift Carla Sofia’s work as a lesbian Christian living in Nicaragua. She is a leader in the movement for LGBTQ justice in the Central America Church, which drips with the influences of white evangelicalism. I met Carla Sofia when I was part of The Reformation Project’s 2018 Leadership Cohort. Our cohort met at an LGBTQ+ affirming congregation, but I remember how Carla Sofia courageously shared the lament she felt upon seeing a church bulletin with pictures of missionaries with brown children in Central America. Carla Sofia reminds us that the violence experienced by queer and trans individuals worldwide is a directly related to Western colonialism. Her work reminds us that our lands of origin are not inherently homophobic and patriarchal, but have become so because of the direct influence of Western-led international missions which many people of color understand as a colonialism enacted by the Christian church. Support her work on Patreon!


Check out this video by Bianca Louie, entitled Queer Asian American Christianity. She discusses the ways that queer Asian American millennials are disrupting and transforming Christian religion by resisting white supremacy.


Mystic Soul Project — Mystic Soul Project is a POC-led and POC-centered network for those interested in black, indigenous and people of colored centered spirituality, healing and social justice. There is so much to learn from within this community and they host gatherings, webinars and conferences. I was able to attend their conference last January and find that the network is full of leaders doing amazing things within their own contexts. If you want to see if there is a Mystic Soul community group in your area, click here.


Lastly, I find that Kenji Kuramitsus critique of Wild Goose Festival to be an invaluable resource for those who are trying to move away from whiteness in progressivism. Wild Goose Festival attracts a lot of Exvangelical types, mostly Christian, but many who are moving away from Christian faith as well. As someone who has attended the festival about 4-5 times (more than half of the festivals lifetime), I’ve experienced that whiteness is the greatest barrier to many of the festival’s ambitions which seems to be to provide gathering space that welcomes all and inspires spiritual and faith-led people towards peace and justice. Meeting Kenji and other leaders of color here was a deeply formative experience for me. Kenji also has a book of Uncommon Prayers which uses prayer to “confront white supremacy”. I have this prayer book and find it helpful, as prayer has the power to transform our hearts, minds and actions.


 

Obviously, this is not and isn’t meant to be an exhaustive resource. I am only one person and there are millions of movements and bridge builders outside my sphere of influence that may be in yours. I hope that this will encourage you to notice the movements that are around you in your own context. People of color have long been fighting patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, capitalism and colonialism. We must cultivate the eyes to see. White folks must resist the narrative of the white savior and become partners and co-laborers. White progressives are not immune to the savior impulse.

If you are super interested in any POC ministries and movements, you should also consider supporting these ministries with your dollars. If you are part of a church community, consider partnering financially with one of these ministries, or including them into your monthly tithing cycle. Where you money goes speaks volumes to what you value, and people of color are often under resourced in our own ministries. We could use all of your financial support.