6 Tips for the Justice Loving Christian Ready to Bring the Spirit
By Lisa Anderson
The Spirit of God made me, and the breath of God gives me life. Job 33:4
For most of the first 18 years of my life, this poor, black queer girl standing before you grew up in Camden, New Jersey. For those of you who don’t know anything about Camden, it is a city that has long held the dubious distinction of being ranked one of the poorest, most crime-ridden places in the United States. Growing up in that context was only supposed to guarantee me about four things in life: an experience of uninterrupted poverty; a lack of educational opportunity; a perpetual battle with low self-esteem; and a crappy job.
But what it was not supposed to even allow me to imagine, let alone embrace, was that there might be something blessed and beautiful, something BELOVED about my embodiment. And yet, by the time I was 8 years old, God had already begun to sing a new song in my ear. It was a liberation song, and it went something like this:
“You are my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased. YOUR NAME IS LISA. You will not pass through this life unheard or unloved. Instead I will always cause you to remember that I exhale my belovedness onto you — in all of your black, queer splendor — as I do to everything that I have made. And because I have caused you to know this, I call you to dedicate your life to proclaim the very same to every creature I put in your path.”
Now, you need to know that I came to Christianity in a somewhat unlikely way given who I am. The liberation song I first heard in Camden came to me via the airwaves of a white conservative radio station: WKDN, the Sound of New Life. I used to listen to it on a tiny portable transistor radio while I was held up in my bedroom. I used to lock myself away in that room because I didn’t feel right in my flesh. Besides being black and queer, I also had a physical disability, and I was just so sure because of these identities that this pile of me was unworthy.
And yet behind those closed doors God sang to me. God breathed on me. And God did so through messengers that I would later critique for the privatized “Jesus saves” perspective that would fuel the rhetoric of the Christian Right. But for reasons that I can only attribute to the grace of God — my poor, black, queer, disabled self began to experience God as an aching, yearning Presence that longed for ME through those messages.
Imagine that! Imagine a God so determined to liberate me from the principalities and powers of this world’s racist, homophobic, misogynist, classist wickedness, that She would mount a “By Any Means Necessary” campaign to call me out — to call me beloved. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself.
What I learned from that experience, and why I have decided to share it with you, is that I know I am not alone. My story is not unique. There is a whole world of us out there – progressive Christian folk with some powerful good news stories to share. And don’t tell me the church does not need us bearing this kind of witness in order to be the church, because I know better. Don’t tell me that doing so is not a vital part of our work for a multifaith movement for intersectional justice because I don’t believe it. To pull out the essence of what I am trying to communicate in a way that you might be able to use going forward, I have distilled my remarks into what I am calling the TOP 6 tips for the Justice Loving Christian ready to bring the spirit.
1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO PROCLAIM YOUR TESTIMONY. It is the story of what God has done for you. It is the space where your liberation shines. And we progressive Christians need to tell these stories to each other and to the world. Because the same God that liberates me, liberates each and every one of us. God is ONE, and we are MANY in God’s ONENESS. So sing your particular LIBERATION SONG.
2. GROUND YOUR IDENTITY IN GOD first, last and always, and work for the kind of justice that makes space for every other creature of God to do the same. For me, this is the spirituality that must undergird intersectional engagement, organizing and analysis. We NEED the God content, or else we die on the vine.
3. REFUSE TO “LAUNDRY LIST” YOUR PERSONHOOD – One of my biggest struggles around identity-focused work folks like us do is that it can be objectifying and limiting. We can fall into the trap of reducing ourselves and our experiences to this check-off list of categories that put a chokehold on our imaginations. DON’T do it. Don’t run the list unless you are ready to tell a deeper truth.
4. INVEST IN SOME FOLKS THAT YOU CAN LOVE, AND THEM LOVE THEM HARD! – Everyday in my job at Auburn I get to run a program that I created called the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. And dig this, my job is to love black women for a living, by helping them figure out how to love themselves and their communities. I get to create a context for them to hear and to sing their liberation song. Don’t tell me that’s not beloved community formation at the intersections. So I say FIND YOUR FOLK even if they don’t look like you, and then fall in love with each other.
5. BE FIERCELY, FABULOUSLY AND UNAPOLOGETICALLY JOYFUL – or as black gay boyfriends say to me all the time, “Do You Boo.” This is not a call to be a Pollyanna. But a call to be passionately, prophetically authentic. Whenever I speak, invariably someone asks me about the nature of the spiritual practice that allows me to do my work. And let me tell, I go to church sometimes. I meditate even more than that. But what I really do is sweat. I am fierce in the gym. I feel myself there. I take up space. I AM loud. And from that I am powerful. I feel alive AND THIS fuels my connection to God and my activism. So go get you some fabulous.
6. EMBRACE SELF CARE AS A MANDATE FOR PROPHETIC LEADERSHIP. In others words, don’t believe one of the biggest lies out there – namely that self care is behavior unbefitting “REAL ACTIVISTS.” For didn’t Jesus say, “I came that you would have life and have it abundantly.” And didn’t Audre Lorde have his back 2,000 years later when she proclaimed “self-care is an act of political revolution.”
Two people of color telling the truth, and bringing a sense of what the formation of beloved community might mean for us all. That’s what I’m talking about.
Lisa Anderson is the Vice President of Intersectional Engagement and Strategic Convening at Auburn, and the Founding Director of the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. Which Voices leave you wanting to hear more? Email us ideas for interviews at [email protected]
This sermon was given and published at the Lyndale United Church of Christ.