S1 – Episode 3 – Friends for Life
SUSAN TALVE: You know, Traci taught me how to hold pain in the streets of Ferguson. You know how to hold that pain of being so uncomfortable every day because of the color of your skin.
TRACI BLACKMON: We were forged in fire. And that care was forged by showing up in Ferguson. I mean that meant calling each other all times of night and then getting out of the bed. It meant going to the jails to try to get young people out. I met her heart before I met her theology or her political stance or her — it was the heart.
LISA ANDERSON: Welcome to Friends for Life from Auburn Seminary, a podcast for friends who give us life and with whom we are in it for life.
MACKY ALSTON: My name is Macky Alston. I am [00:01:00] a documentary film maker, a spiritual activist, and a lover of Lisa Anderson.
LA: (laughter) And my name is Lisa Anderson, and I’m a lover of Macky Alston as well as (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) theologian, who believes that loving blackness is the spiritual calling of our time. I also believe that the lived experience of all black people is a sacred wisdom test.
MA: Lisa and I are new at this game of podcasts, and we need your help. Our goal really is to be in relationship with y’all, so reach out to us as we try reaching out to y’all.
LA: This is our third episode, and this time we have the pleasure of sitting down with the Reverend Traci Blackmon. Macky and I have known Traci for more than a decade. She is the Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries for United Church of Christ. She’s the senior pastor of Christ, the Church — United Church of Christ in Florissant, [00:02:00] Missouri. Folks got to know her really well during the uprisings in Ferguson after the killing of Mike Brown. She was on the front lines when there weren’t a lot of clergy doing that work, and so she bridged the gap between the young folks and the traditional church people.
MA: You know, the thing about this show is that we reach out to somebody we know we’ve got to talk to. And then we say, “Who do we not know who we need to know?” And in this case, Reverent Blackmon said, “You need to know Rabbi Susan Talve. Rabbi Susan is the founding rabbi of Central Reformed Congregation, the only synagogue located within the city limits of St. Louis. When a whole lot of other congregations were leaving for the suburbs, Rabbi Susan, along with a vibrant and inclusive group, stayed on the front line fighting racism and poverty that was plaguing the urban center. Today that congregation is [00:03:00] a thriving community of 800 households. Oh, oh, oh, and by the way, listen for two special guest stars on this show. If you wait for it, you will hear the beautiful and brilliant Courtney Weber Hoover, one of our Auburn Seminary colleagues and beloveds. And then at the very end of the show, there’s this surprise appearance from Winnie the Pooh, Winnie’s self. You got to wait for it.
LA: Yes. Please, please, please don’t sleep on Courtney Weber Hoover. We are so glad that she’s one of our colleagues at Auburn, and she is the host of her own podcast called That Witch Life. It’s about living as a contemporary witch in today’s culture. There’s social justice. There’s lots of education. It’s fun. It makes you feel grounded and whole. I listen to it all the time. You can find —
MA: I just listened to it this morning. It was awesome.
LA: Well, I’m not surprised. It drops every Monday. So in the same place that you can find our podcast, [00:04:00] you can find That Witch Life. We love us some Courtney. (laughter) As always, we get our folks started with four grounding questions. They are who has got your back, where do you go to feel better, what song is getting you through, and what flavor delights you. And once we’ve sort of gotten people in their flesh around those questions, we then ask a few deeper questions. What strategic counsel do you have for leaders of faith and moral courage so that we can survive, thrive, and win in 2020 and beyond? We ask can you tell us a story about when we won in the past so that we can remember that our ancestors have always had our backs, that we’ve won before, and that we can turn about for liberation today. And the third question we ask is what is a joy practice that is getting you through these days.
MA: [00:05:00] Thanks y’all. It is just so important to us that we’re in it together in these crazy, crazy times. We want to hear from you about what we’re doing, how we’re doing, and how we can help. So email us at [email protected] and tell us how to make it better.
LA: Traci, Susan, whoever wants to answer first, who’s got your back? Imagining this moment we’re living in, imagining where we are right now, imagining this world of duel pandemics, who’s got your back? Whoever would like to start?
TB: Do you want to go first, Susan?
ST: I can. I think — in that language, the language of who’s got your back, my fr– go to is always Traci because we [00:06:00] have had that opportunity so many times. (laughs) In the movement, on the streets, but also personally. I have to say I have — of course, we both have family, and we have good friends. But the person that I can be most honest with is Traci. And that’s a really important thing for me right now. When I — as clergy, you often have to put on — act as if. We act as if a lot. We have to act as if because it’s important to model for people. You do a funeral, or you do a wedding. You do some counseling. You want to — you do a service. You want to be uplifting for people. But [00:07:00] who can you be really honest with? At this time, when it’s really frightening, I might want to — might really — my go-to person is Traci in many ways because I trust her. And I know she’s not going to tell me that my feelings are not okay. She pushes me. It’s not that she doesn’t challenge me to get up out of myself. (laughs) But I totally — I trust her with my life. And I hope she feels that way. I think we’ve had enough opportunities as our relationship has deepened to really have that be tested many times. So I know she gets my back, and I’m happy to be a back for her (laughs) any time.
LA: How did y’all meet? How did y’all meet?
TB: [00:08:00] We have different versions of that? (laughter) We do. Susan Talve is somewhat of an icon. She is — I’m talking about her as though she’s not here, but I wanted to say that she is a phenomenal rabbi and community leader in St. Louis. And so long before she knew me, I knew her. In every progressive move of this city, Susan Talve has been involved. I first heard of Susan Talve when there was a program — I think it’s still going on where you pay a dollar to help with the heating — heating costs — the people who couldn’t afford their heat in the winter. And Susan was the face of that for a long time in this community to help people who couldn’t afford heat to have heat. [00:09:00] When the debates started about marriage equality, Susan was the first clergy person in St. Louis to do gay marriages. And she didn’t do them in St. Louis because you couldn’t do them here, (laughs) so she would ride the bus to Iowa. Was it Iowa? All the way to Iowa.
ST: Iowa. Uh-huh.
TB: She’d take buses of people to be married, (laughs) right? When these sisters felt a call to ministry and they were Catholic, sisters, not as in nuns but as women, they were Catholic. But they felt called to preach. It was Susan who had ordination services at the synagogue —
TB: — which she has not recovered from. (laughs) But she’s always at the cutting edge. And so long before I met you, Susan, I was a fan. And she won’t [00:10:00] remember this, but the very first time I met you we were at St. John’s UCC. And I’m not sure why we were there. I don’t know what was going on. She also is the rabbi who comes to all the Christian services and actually knows what is supposed to happen during the Christian services. And even doing Passover, she has a Passover that’s a liberation Passover that’s with the —
ST: The Hebrew Israelites.
TB: — with the Hebrew Israelites at the synagogue. It’s just very progressive. Only synagogue that stayed in the city as everyone moved to the county. Just a lot of things. But we were at St. John’s, and it was time to pass the piece. And if you know anything about Christian services, you pass the piece. And (laughs) I wanted to meet Susan Talve. So I went up to her to pass the piece, but I got nervous. [00:11:00] And the only thing I knew to say was, “The peace of Jesus be with you.” (laughter) And she kind of looked at me like, “What kind of nut case are you?” (inaudible) I don’t think I’ve ever told you that. That was the first time that I (overlapping dialogue; inaudible). And then when Michael Brown died, of course, the person I described to you showed up in Ferguson. And we really bonded there. And we became very close. I’m not sure why. I think we just have kindred spirits. And there’s a line in the book that Kadiatou Diallo wrote, My Heart is Across This Ocean. Kadiatou Diallo is Amadou Diallo’s mother, of course. And she wrote a book after Amadou Diallo is killed [00:12:00] told his story but also told his story from what I consider an African perspective. His story didn’t begin with him. But it began with her. And she told her story and then his story. And the opening line of that book is, “I’ve been given away many times.” I recognize and resonate with that statement. But as you were asking that question, I was listening to Susan that statement came to mind from a different place. I would say I’ve been rescued several times. And Susan has been a partner with me in rescue in many, many ways. We rescued one another lots of times. And so that’s how we met. That’s how I met her, and then we met in Ferguson — in the streets of Ferguson.
ST: Yeah. [00:13:00] Traci taught me how to hold pain in the streets of Ferguson. How to hold that pain of being so uncomfortable every day because of the color of your skin. I mean these are things you know. You think you know in your head. But loving somebody this deeply and loving her family and loving her children, Traci let me into that place of pain. And I could go there because of that trust, Traci, because you talk about things that I did that were courageous [00:14:00] and got me into trouble. Oh my god. Just standing with me got you (laughs) into trouble. I mean the things that Traci has done because I’ve been on the wrong side of the line for a moment or perceived to be, and Traci wouldn’t let people do that to her friend. I think we — the image I have is standing in the breach together. We have stood in that breach together. We have stood — there’s this beautiful poem by Marion Werkheiser that says, “I’m not crossing the sea until everybody crosses with me, until all the lands will sync to each other.” And sometimes I — that’s where I feel us standing together in the sea. Up to here sometimes. (laughs)
TB: Literally. (laughter) Literally. Literally, we’ve been [00:15:00] treading water a couple of times (inaudible). (laughs)
ST: But I — yeah.
MA: Y’all are clergy. So you get to stand in the presence of the holy and sacred in relationships, I imagine, a lot. You marry people. You bury people. But there’s something really beautiful and sacred about just hearing that testimony between you two friends, and I think that the soul mate or the kindred spirit or the one who has your back — one of the desires even in this radio show or podcast is that we lift that particular formation — love [00:16:00] formation up and celebrate it because we need it. Just all the time beginning to end of life. And we need it in movement. There are lessons in it, I believe, that we need to listen to as we can really do each other in in our movement spaces or in our houses or worship, right? Or in our relationships and in our friendships. But I just thank you for sharing and for showing up like this because it makes me have faith and also makes me want to go be with my best friends right away. (laughs) And I love doing this with Lisa because she’s one of them.
MA: And tell them I love them.
MA: And to give those critical [00:17:00] relationships their honor and due.
MA: So our second question is — and it’s a weird one in COVID, so I invite you to answer however you wish whether you’re response is an imaginary place or a place you can’t get to right now or a place that you’re actually going to now where — during — in this time that our movement is relatively limited. The question is where do you go to feel better? Where do you go to feel better?
(pause 00:17:34 – 00:17:45)
ST: Well, I have to admit this because I’m not a Facebook person, but my friend, Traci, is. And sometimes when I need a lift, I look at her Facebook page. (laughs)
TB: Oh my god. I love that. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).
ST: [00:18:00] What she’s cooking. I don’t know. So I feel like — oh my god. I feel like I’ve been spying, but she actually took time and went to a spa last week. (laughs)
TB: Yes. I remember that.
LA: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) you want to go?
ST: (laughs) Yeah. I do.
MA: The answer to that question, “Yes.”
ST: (inaudible) before I go because I can’t go anywhere. If I want to see my two grandsons that — they’re four and eight months, my kids have really strict rules about where I can be. And I’m allowed to do certain funerals, certain weddings, but I’m not allowed to go inside anywhere. And (laughs) so I go to Traci’s Facebook page. I didn’t realize I was doing that until you asked the question. (laughs) [00:19:00] It’s uplifting.
LA: I agree with you, Susan. I know exactly what you’re talking about. Confessions of a woman who preaches.
LA: The Sunday dinners.
ST: Yes. (laughs)
LA: And the I’m watching this on television. Did you see that?
LA: Traci’s page is a refuge. (laughs)
ST: And also her rage and her — her rage at things and how angry she gets. I can get angry with her. (laughs)
TB: You know where I go for comfort? That’s a weird question. I find comfort in — when all things are well with the people I love. And that’s not the case right now. (laughter)
ST: Yeah. No.
TB: Comfort is hard because I go to places that provide respite [00:20:00] like the spa. There’s this place in Jamaica that I booked for a week that I love, and I just can’t get there right now. But as soon as I can, I’ll go there for a week. But many people that I love are struggling right now for different reasons. They’re not all COVID related. It’s hard to be joyful when people you care about are hurting. I wanted to say something else that I think is very unique and a place of comfort for me about my relationship with you, Susan. somehow magically, Susan and I have found a way to genuinely love and care for one another without requiring the other person to be [00:21:00] anyone but who they are. So she doesn’t have to be less Jewish, and I don’t have to be less Christian.
TB: And she’s a vegetarian, and I eat anything that moves. (laughter) We don’t see eye to eye on Palestine all the time. We don’t see eye to eye on Israel all the time. And we don’t see eye to eye on Scripture all the time. (laughter) And we don’t require — I don’t require her and she doesn’t require me to be anybody but who are. And we’ve decided that that’s enough. And I don’t think we ever had that conversation. I think it just happened.
TB: That was enough. She did trick me. We started having Torah study. We’re supposed to study Scripture. We started [00:22:00] in 2015 because we would be out in the streets of Ferguson. And we’re talking Scripture. And I’d say, “This reminds me of this story.” And she’d go, “Yeah. Yeah.” And I’d get to the end, and she’d go, “That’s not how that story ends.” (laughter) And then she’d say, “Oh that reminds me of this story in the Bible.” I’m going, “Susan, that’s not in the text.” So we decided we’d study together. And we’re gonna study one — we’re gonna study some Torah. Then we study Bible. Then we study Torah. Then we study Bible. And we’ve had some breaks, I’ll admit that. But it is now 2020, and we are still in the Torah. So I don’t know what’s going on. (laughter)
ST: That’s right.
TB: Something went wrong. But I think that’s very important in this moment. I’ve been doing webinars with people. And I did one yesterday with Rob Schenck that I met [00:23:00] at Auburn. And I put him in conversation with John [Doorhower?] because I’d heard both of their stories. And there was similarities there even though one is evangelical (inaudible) and one is progressive, right?
TB: I feel like we’ve lost — we collectively have lost our ability to let people be (laughs) And to fully love people just as they are. That doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. And I appreciate that about our relationship. We have some intense conversations. But we’ve decided that we will let one another be. I wish we had more of that right now, right? (laughs) That you didn’t have to agree with the person —
TB: — to hear them or to listen to them.
ST: To love them.
TB: Or to love them. That’s [00:24:00] missing. It’s missing for so — in so many areas of our lives. That is scary to me.
LA: What do you think inspired that in your relationship? That ability to let each other be. I mean is this — have you noticed that that capacity has changed over time, in our culture? That people have been able to allow each other to be. Is there a practice inside of your relationship that allows you to hold on to, “This is my friend Susan. And she is being Susan. This is my friend Traci. And she is being Traci. And we love each other inside of our being”? Is there something that you practice that helps you get there and stay there?
TB: I don’t think intentionally we do. I believe that we were — I think it’s how we were forged together. [00:25:00] We were forged in fire, right? (laughs)
ST: Yes. Yep.
TB: Ferguson was erupting.
TB: Contrary to popular belief, there were maybe a dozen to 15 — closer to a dozen — ministers who committed to that, right? To being out there in the streets. And so I met her heart before I met her theology or her political stance or her — it was the heart, right? Knowing you had someone who had your back. And I believe the same is true of me. and then as we got to know each other and began having difficult conversations or conversations that became difficult, I was always able to — I’ll let you answer for you, Susan. I was always able to say, “This is a person that I know genuinely cares about me.”
ST: [00:26:00] Yeah.
TB: That’s my anchor, right? If I believe that you genuinely care, I can hear anything you have to say.
TB: And that care was forged by showing up in Ferguson. I mean that meant calling each other all times of night. It meant getting out of the bed. It meant going to jails to try to get young people out. Standing together when young people didn’t think you should be there anyway. It meant all of that. We did that together as we got to know each other.
ST: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about the fact that we actually stood on the outside together and had to make our way in with — especially with those young protestors that we fell in love with. I hadn’t thought about that, but that was a common [00:27:00] ground. And the thing I would add to what you said about that deep respect for who the other is — well, there’s two things. One nobody listens better than you, Reverend Traci Blackmon. You listen with questions. And I have learned — I try to learn from you that. I don’t listen with my own answers. You do that so beautifully. You really listen to another person’s heart by drawing them out. And that’s a tremendous gift to the person you’re in relationship with. It’s a tremendous gift for me. And then the other thing I want to say is I do feel completely respected as a Jew even though I know that we — it’s complicated. [00:28:00] Our theologies are complicated. But I will also say that in my relationship with you something new has arisen. I feel like there’s something new that’s born too. It’s almost like a new tapestry is woven in under — I’ve — we’ve talked about this. In understanding your relationship with black Jesus, I get it. I mean you’ve helped me really get it. As a feminist, I had trouble — I was a church history major in undergraduate school. (laughs) I tried to learn –
TB: Oh wow. I didn’t know that.
ST: Oh yeah. That’s a long story. But anyway, I was because — yeah. It’s a funny story. But I was, but I never really got — and we’ve talked about this. How we share the story of the exodus, right? That is our story together. And yet, it’s a little embarrassing as Jews because our slavery was a really long time ago. [00:29:00] (laughs) And it’s different from saying, “We’re still in the legacy of the slave trade here.” But we both relate, I think, to that story. It’s our story. But when I hear it from you, it becomes something new, something richer actually, something deeper. And that’s so — so yes. I am authentically who I am, but I’m different. I’m also different for knowing you. I’m better.
TB: I think that’s true of me as well. Not only have we become friends, but our congregations are friends. Does that make sense? (laughs)
ST: They know each other.
TB: I’m just laughing. I was telling her that for a while every Sunday there — people from the synagogue at my church. And they were trying to figure out why we were friends. How could we be [00:30:00] so close? And they would come. They would tell me. “We just want to see what our rabbi sees in you.” And (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).
ST: I think that was when [Adina?] was sick, right?
TB: When Adina was sick. Adina is this fiery spirit of creativity and passion and just the embodiment of resilience. It could be more than a podcast by itself. (laughs) And we lived a lot of life in a few years. And when you are a minister of any kind whose job it is to care for others and to take people from grief, there are not many places you can go to be [00:31:00] accompanied because everyone expects you to do the accompanying. There are not many places you can just — so we’ve been that for each other. And during Adina’s illness, there were some people who will say that that’s Susan’s rabbi. They’ve been talking about me, right?
ST: That’s right.
TB: And she really is my rabbi. Leon goes, “Don’t mess up with Susan. They kick us out of the church that’s our next stop.” (laughter)
ST: I love that.
TB: So it would come. They come to see what is this thing. And can I tell them the story about Adina’s funeral?
ST: Yeah. Yeah.
TB: Where was I when Adina died? I was [00:32:00] out of the country. Where was I? I was out of the country.
ST: And you were on your way to California to be with Harry Belafonte because her funeral was on the Monday of the Dr. King holiday.
TB: I was going to California, but I was somewhere else. I was headed to California to be with Mr. Belafonte. And Adina died. And I knew that Adina’s celebration of life would be before Harry Belafonte’s time. And Susan called and told me that Adina had died. And I said, “I’ll get a plane. I’ll be there tomorrow.” She didn’t ask me to. But on the call, she says to me, “I want you to sing at Adina’s funeral.” Anybody that knows me knows that I’m real Jesusy. [00:33:00] So I started panicking like, “I can’t mess this up. (laughs) I can’t say the wrong thing at the funeral.” And I knew it would be crowded. I knew it would be packed, and it was all of that. And I never told you this. I didn’t get any sleep because I was trying to think what funeral song that I know that was not Jesusy, right? Every song I could think of — and I was afraid that I sing those songs so much that it would be Jesusy, and I didn’t know it anymore. I was worried. So I picked this Bette Midler song. What is the name of their song?
ST: Wind Beneath My Wings.
LA: Oh yes.
ST: I’m channeling Adina right now. (laughter)
TB: (inaudible) that I know, but I listened to it like — for the next 24 hours. And I go, “Okay. I’m gonna sing this song. I’m gonna sing this song.” So when I get to the airport in St. Louis, I called Susan. Oh, and I sent [00:34:00] her a message and said, “I found a song. I’m gonna sing Wind Beneath My Wings.” She didn’t respond at all. I go, “That’s odd. She didn’t respond at all.” So when I get to (laughter) St. Louis, I call her at the airport while I’m waiting on my luggage. I say, “I’m here. What do you need?” And she said, “About that song.” (laughter) And I said, “What?” She said, “Adina hated that song. I hate it too.” (laughter) So then I had to tell her. I said, “Well, Susan, every song I know is Jesusy, and I didn’t want to sing a Jesus song. So I came up with this song.” And she says, “I want you to sing Amazing Grace.” And I said, “But that’s a Jesusy song.” She said, “Not for me it isn’t.” So I said, “Okay.” And I get to Adina’s [00:35:00] funeral at the synagogue. And it’s packed just like I thought it would be. And it’s being streamed all over the world. People are watching it in Israel. And I recognize that I’m the only person singing at Adina’s funeral. That there are only a few people who were allowed to even speak at her funeral. And I recognized what a deep honor it was. What a deep honor. And I’d had the privilege of walking with her as a mother and still walking with her because if you’ve ever lost anybody you know that it’s almost like the world just pauses and [00:36:00] takes a deep breath. And then it goes on. And it doesn’t go on — it will never go on the same way, if you’ve loved that person, right? So this is a journey that we will always have as long as we live. As long as we live.
LA: It’s so powerful that we come into this space where you’re talking about the music and the time that you sang this song. Amazing Grace at Adina’s funeral because our next — our question that we like to ask folks is what song gets you through. And I know that changes with the seasons. [00:37:00] But if you’re musical folk, and it sounds like you both are — I mean I can see you in synagogue — I’ve been to many synagogues, many churches, and it is the music that moves our people. But is there a particular sound, song, something that’s getting you through in this moment?
ST: I need to add though — I mean Traci honored us by singing at Adina’s funeral. You have to know. Adina loved Traci and didn’t — not allow any rabbis — anybody else into her room but she. She let Traci in when she was really sick. And I’m not sure Traci remembers. But because it was so spontaneous and so perfect, but at the end of Amazing Grace you added Swing Low [00:38:00] to bring her home.
ST: In that shock, we didn’t expect her to go. In that moment, we just couldn’t put together this very simple thing that we thought Adina would like. And Traci’s music was — and Traci’s voice and Traci’s [00:39:00] taking it from Amazing Grace to comin’ home was perfect in that moment and still carries me. It still carries me. It still carries me. The music of my daughter. She left a playlist. (laughs) So I still listen to that, and it’s comforting. It’s comforting. And I wish I could say it’s the music in the synagogue. And there is music of the synagogue that I know — especially as we get ready for the high holidays, which are in less than a month now — I know that music will challenge me to dare to believe it’s gonna be a better year. But truly if I would say — if I would have to pick one thing that would connect me to hope and to healing, [00:40:00] it would be Traci singing at my daughter’s funeral.
TB: There are many songs, Lisa. Right now I’m stuck there because I relived that moment. Someone asked me that question two days ago, and it’s Jill Scott, Living My Life Like It’s Golden.
LA: Oh yes.
TB: It’s a different song every day. It depends on the mood of the day. All three of my children are with me and healthy. But my son, my oldest son, got into trouble. He was driving with some friends. He had been drinking. They had all been drinking, but they weren’t all driving. He was driving, and he hit a guardrail. And a young woman, who was in his convertible with him, was thrown from the car. And just by [00:41:00] the grace of God, she was not killed. She was ejected from the car onto the highway. And she stood up after that but then a van hit her because she was in the middle of the highway. And she fractured many bones. And my son was afraid because he had been drinking and he — there were some other people in the car. So they stayed with her, and he said he wasn’t gonna stay because he didn’t want to go to jail. (laughs) He said, “I’m a black male, who is afraid.” I’m grateful to say that he left, but they said that he turned around and came back and said he could not leave until she was in an ambulance. And the ambulance got there before the police. He waited till she got in the ambulance, but he did leave. And he was running. [00:42:00] And I was traveling on the road, and that mother found me on the road and began yelling me about how horrible was. And he had never done anything like this. I didn’t recognize who was talking about and came to find out it was true. And he was hiding. He was hiding with his dad. We are not together. And I said to him, “You have to turn yourself in.” And I didn’t know what that was gonna mean for him as a black male, and I certainly didn’t know what it was going to mean for him as the son of an outspoken person in the streets of Ferguson at that time. But I knew that he had to turn himself in. This woman had convinced me that everyone was looking for him. That wasn’t true. But she was speaking out of the trauma of her child, right? Her child being hit, and I certainly get that. And I would have been right there if it was her — if I were her. And so I told him he had to turn himself in. He said, “I’m scared.” [00:43:00] I said, “Yeah. But we got to do this, and I’ll be with you.” And I did not have a plan at all. And my first call was to Susan. “What am I gonna do?” No. My first call I tried to call a couple of attorneys. And for the kind of case that I knew this was gonna be and the kind of attorney I needed, I needed tens of thousands of dollars (laughs) for a retainer, and I didn’t have it. So I was panicking. I was panicking. And I called Susan because I knew that Susan would be with me. I wasn’t calling her to ask for tens of thousands of dollars, but I needed somebody that could be with me and could think with me because I didn’t know what I was going to do. And Susan said, “Just stay by the phone.” [00:44:00] I wasn’t even home yet. She said, “Just stay by the phone. Let me make a call.” And she called someone who is a friend of hers who is an attorney who is that kind of an attorney. And he took my son’s case. And he dealt with — I mean my son is an adult, so he dealt with my son. He didn’t deal with me. And I told him. I said, “I know how much this is. And if it takes me the rest of my life, I’ll pay you back. I just need my son to be okay.” And he took that case. He said, “Because he’s an adult, tell your son to bring me a dollar.” He walked me through, turned himself in. He walked through the entire case with him. He [00:45:00] worked on my son’s case like I had all the money (laughs) that you would pay for a case like that. And my son — he was guilty, and he had to plead guilty. But he received a suspended sentence. And that sentence is over now. And I mean he never did a day in jail, right? Well, he did when he turned himself in, but he never did time in jail. He had the suspended sentence. And if he stayed out of trouble for five years, which he — he hasn’t ever been in trouble before and he hasn’t been in trouble since, and his record has been expunged. And now he is working on a government contract. You know what I’m saying? And when I to this attorney and said, “I meant what I said. I will pay you. [00:46:00] I just don’t have it up front,” he said to me, “Your payment to me is being a friend to my rabbi.”
TB: “And as long as you are good to my rabbi, you don’t owe me anything.” And so when I say we’re (inaudible) each other, that is one example because my son is a 29-year-old black man in St. Louis, Missouri. This particular son has locks all the way down his back. And I am convinced he would be locked up today because leaving the scene of an [00:47:00] is a felony. And he would not have had a second chance had it not been for my relationship with Susan.
LA: So the song Bless Me, Honey, In the Rock — will you harbor me came to my mind when you were telling that story. I don’t know if you know that song.
TB: I know that song.
LA: But it’s this idea — this notion of harboring — of being a harbor for each other. That’s just what came to my mind when you were speaking.
MA: So I have one more literal question before we [00:48:00] to another part of the conversation. Most of all, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being this generous with us. I know we just happen to be in a room while y’all love on each other. I’ll never forget it. And it’s transformative to be in the presence of your love and admiration.
TB: Thank you.
MA: And I know that that’s a circle that includes your children and others and so thanks for letting us into the circle. So this is a little gift, right? I’m gonna to ask you only to answer in a couple words and to taste it. And we need some joy, y’all. We need some deliciousness in our lives because we’re living in hard [00:49:00] times, and we have lived through hard times. And there are hard times to come. So if you were to cut yourself a slice of something, if you were to serve yourself up something that generally speaking except in just the very worst of times never fails to make you just feel a little bit better, what would that flavor be? What flavor delights you?
TB: Lemon sorbet.
ST: (laughs) That sounds good. I have to answer with a couple more words than that because another one of the things that happened through our friendship was we did go to Israel and Palestine together. We were three rabbis and three ministers. And we had some difficult days. Really difficult days. [00:50:00] After these very difficult days — and it was hot. We went at the wrong time because had to squish it into each other’s schedules. We went during Ramadan. Oh my god. We couldn’t have picked a crazier time to go (laughs) on this trip. So every day was really challenging and really hard. In many ways, physically, emotionally, spiritually. But at night, as tired as we were, we would sit around most nights and drink a glass of wine. And oh my god. It never tasted so good. (laughs) With that conversation. As hard as those days were, to be able to be with each other at night and to kind of decompress and just affirm our — how we were depending [00:51:00] on this very difficult journey in this friendship was delicious. It was delicious. (inaudible) is a kind of a sweet thing that I’m not (inaudible) about. It’s kind of sweet. This Prosecco stuff. I don’t know. It was a little sweet for me, but (laughs) I would drink that too.
LA: Oh my. Well, so the election is coming up we hope. But I mean that’s sort of the substance of the question — the next question that I have to ask. So when we originally formed this, we had the idea that, of course, there is an election coming up. And so what do we have to offer to our communities? What are we teaching? What are we thinking about? What is leading us to how we understand what it means to win [00:52:00] in 2020? Everything feels so precarious. But where are you now? I mean we’re in the middle of the Democratic National Convention. Historic things have happened since even our last podcast with the nomination of — the naming of Kamala Harris. So you think about the election coming up in 2020, what do you have to speak into that from your perspective as a faith leader, as a movement leader, as organizers in this moment of the DNC and as you think about what does winning mean for us now?
MA: And let me add one piece to that question. Mostly the folks who are listening to this podcast are people we’ve worked with before [00:53:00] or people like them. Justice-minded faith leaders or spiritual activists and organizers. And they’re worn out. We’re worn out. And we’re looking to know where to show up and how to show up. And some of us have an ounce of creativity left in us, but a lot of us just want to know where to show up and how. So if you have any inclination as to how and what we might do and what we might tell our people to do just as y’all have congregations?
TB: Both aspects of that question are helpful to me. To be honest with you, I’m not spending a lot of time on thinking about the election. [00:54:00] I’m spending more of my time thinking about after the election. Whatever that may be.
TB: For me, prophets abound, but priests are scarce. And as a person of faith, there is no win in this for me unless I can do my part to help mend the brokenness that is a result of not just the last 4 years but is the result of at least the last 12 years when this country had to come face to face with its buried racism that was sparked [00:55:00] with the election of Barack Obama and that festered in a way that took us to 2016 and that we still have not dealt with but have been forced to confront more fully because of the narcissistic person that’s in power now. So I don’t suffer under — certainly, I am advocating (laughs) for a change in administration. I’m not saying I’m not there. But as a priest in the broader sense of that word, I’m really trying to prepare myself to help shift a narrative from one of war language to one of reasoning language. And what [00:56:00] is it going to take for people to act civilly and humanely with one another once again and for there to be room to affirm the dignity and humanity of every human being whether you understand them or not and to allow people to speak their minds and speak their hearts without fear? That is the work of the priest. How do we build places of safety and comfort so that people can put down their weapons? And as my ancestors would say, “Study war no more.” And I feel like there are enough prophetic voices in this moment, in pulpits and in the public square, and many of them are jockeying for that moment. But there aren’t a lot of people who are talking about the repair that is gonna be needed in this country no matter who [00:57:00] wins. (laughs) And how are we going to get there? And how are we going to model for people a world where difference is an asset and not a burden? And that’s where I’m choosing to focus my energy. I get my mad. I do. I say things about this administration. But I want to be clear. I always think that whoever is in palace is the emperor. And it doesn’t really matter (laughs) that much for me. It does because of the narcissism of this. But I’m always going to be challenging that. What’s different for me in this moment is that we are in a country that is intolerant of anybody and anything that’s not like them, and we can’t live this way. We can’t. It’s not like progressives can win and throw away all the evangelicals. (laughs) And it’s not like evangelicals can win [00:58:00] and throw away all the progressives. It’s not like white people can do this work without black and brown people ’cause they never have. And it’s not like black and brown people can do all this work without white people. So how are we gonna get back to a place where we can disagree? Or maybe we’ve never been to that place that I’m reaching for. But we were closer than we have been right now, right? (laughs)
TB: What are we gonna do with the madness? And that is gonna be the roll of the priest. And I mean the priest in orchestrated faith. And I mean the priest in a spiritual realm. And I mean the self-selected priesthood of believers, whatever that belief is. How are we gonna get through this? Because we have been completely torn to shreds. And that’s where I want to spend my [00:59:00] energy. I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of the hard conversations that we have to have. Inside the church and inside the synagogue, and inside the temple, and in the public square. And how are we going to send messages that reaffirm — I’ve suggested this to the Biden campaign. They didn’t listen to me, right? I said, “I don’t need another commercial about what you want to do about this. I want to know what are you gonna do (laughs) to heal this country,” right? “And give me a campaign that gives me a vision of what it looks like for me to begin the healing process of this country.” I feel like we’ll have a different outcome for the election. But even if we don’t, my task does not change. The task has to be repairing the breach. And the breach is wide.
TB: It’s deep. And we [01:00:00] never had a completely healed country. (laughs) And now it’s in splinters. That’s scary to me.
LA: It’s powerful to me that in your answer and your response that you’ve challenged what is the — often the dominant paradigm, which is the prophetic paradigm as the one that will actually take us to the place of repair and healing. I just know that to really be able to cultivate spaces where that priestly role in its broadest way is lifted up is very — it feels very right now for a lot of leaders that I know who are outside of traditional religious spaces who are talking about the role of healers [01:01:00] for this moment and seeing that as critical in a way that, again, is outside of the dominant paradigm and speaks to your — what you just said about offering that as something for the Biden campaign that folks didn’t pick up on. But it is moving in a counter cultural way that is — it reminds me of the whole space that we’re in. It is not the charismatic one anymore, but it’s a community that is pitched with healing and repair, which again moves away from that singular voice to what is the collective that we have to become in order to bind these wounds that are so deep and that may have never actually had any context for being able to understand healing because we may have never been [01:02:00] there.
TB: And for the priest — and this has been a — probably jolt some people, but winning for the priest would never look like casting out even Donald Trump.
TB: Winning for the priest looks like drawing him in to a place that causes him to be different than he is now. And I’m using him but for a lot of people, right? (laughs) It’s not an administration of one, right? Winning for the priest is never about annihilation. It’s about transformation. That’s not popular. [01:03:00]
ST: But Reverend Traci Blackmon, that’s why you’re my rabbi. That’s why I love you so because nobody is invisible to Traci. And I think if we could learn from that. When you’re a priest, you make me think, and that’s what we do. We minister to people in that role. You can’t unless you really see people because there are no formulas. There’s no cookie cutter way to do this work. It’s all individual because you’re — you have to see people on the streets of Ferguson. That’s what got my attention. These beautiful, young, many queer, black, beautiful people saying, “See [01:04:00] me. See me. I’m not invisible. I’m a mother. I’m a nurse. I’m a teacher. I’m a person.” And I think that’s what you make me think of, Traci, and this work — this healing work of the priest. And you’re right. There’s so many prophets out there now. (laughs) Something is bound to stick. They’re throwing a lot of stuff out. But if we concentrate on the healing work maybe we’ll have half a chance.
TB: You guys should do a podcast on this.
TB: Because you made me think about it. There’s so many people whose faces you came to know in Ferguson — young people in Ferguson — who have grown up, right? And —
ST: [01:05:00] They’re spectacular.
TB: Yes. In a (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) like amazed that it is only — I’m not gonna say it’s only. But I think it’s only because of Ferguson that people saw them and took a chance on brilliance uncurated, right?
TB: So what Ferguson proved is that there are people who deserve to be places where they might not ever be in the systems we have created.
ST: That’s right.
TB: And some of our institutions like SLU and WashU to name the most prominent where it cost $40 and $60,000 a year to go to college, there were people in Ferguson who could not afford that. But they made opportunities, identified some of those people, right? And so now Brittney [Farrel?], who was chanting with her baby on her hip, “It is [01:06:00] my duty for my freedom,” is in her PhD program for nursing. And Alexis [Tartney?], who always was grabbing the microphone and was going through a gender —
TB: — identity reconciliation I’ll call her — from her outside to her — from his outside to his inside — all during Ferguson and being targeted because of that has now been accepted to law school at WashU. And Kayla Reed, who was pretty quiet in Ferguson — or at least I didn’t hear her. It could have been my big mouth. But she was there present all the time. And she’s now leading Action St. Louis, which just got the workhouse closed. And these are people who all have WashU degrees now [01:07:00] which is a super prestigious institution for them to have graduated from and who may not have ever had a WashU degree (laughs) had it not been for someone seeing them in the streets of Ferguson. And that’s just to name a few. And all these other things. Activists unseating a 20-year generational congressman to go — to be our representative in Congress with no political background. That is the Ferguson uprising. You feel me?
TB: A manifestation of all that we’re talking about. And it’s not that Ferguson gave them the brilliance. It’s that they were brilliant and were limited because of the [01:08:00] mindsets of Fergusons, right? And so what other brilliance is there that’s untapped and unseen? It’s just amazing to me. It’s amazing. There are others. Rasheen Aldridge, who is now in the representative for us in Jefferson City at the capitol. It’s amazing.
TB: You should do a podcast with it. I’m just saying.
LA: I mean is that winning? Our next question was so many times we don’t ha– we forget the legacy of the work that we’ve done — like the impact. We don’t tell the story. [01:09:00] And you telling these stories of these people who — these young people who were seen and who are changing that’s the story of Ferguson that people don’t know.
TB: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) I’m telling you. Mm-hmm.
LA: One of the reasons we came up with that question was because I remember we were — I was listening to the Bend the Arc did their conference at the beginning of the quarantine. And one of their speakers was talking about the fact that there is so much inside of our legacies and so much inside of our history that we forget. And that people are often thinking, “Oh, progressive spaces are dour. And progressive spaces are not fun, [01:10:00] and our movements are not joyous.” And we don’t remember our freedom stories and our freedom struggles. But when you were telling that — those stories and remembering the people and saying, “Here is where they are now,” it’s like how do we continue to lift that — those stories of that excellence, and those stories of what happens when we see each other up in our movement? What happens when we do that?
TB: Isn’t that amazing though?
ST: Mm-hmm. That’s the story. A lot of the people that we’ve been referring to are millennials. Aimless millennials. And young. But one of the things that we learned from them was they were into this whole thing about self-care too. Do you remember that, Traci?
ST: I mean I know they used to use the synagogue, and they’d have [01:11:00] these — and really sometimes it would just be for people of color. It would just be for the black protestors. We’re gonna have a self-care day. Even now during the protests, I’ve noticed that people are taking self-care days. (laughs) We never did that. (laughs) We never did self — I don’t remember taking a self-care day. We came up in the sixties where we were supposed to wear ourselves out. Give ourselves away. But there’s this notion of —
ST: — kind of this body, mind, and spirit appreciation.
TB: And self-care is as resilience, right?
ST: Yes. As protest. Self-care as — yeah. As resistance as well as resilience. Yeah.
TB: And I forgot [01:12:00] to mention [K.B.?].
ST: K.B. (laughs)
TB: You remember K.B.? K.B. was the drummer of the movement and completely like transitioned gender wise and faith wise. She was AME. (laughs) And now he is in rabbinical —
ST: He’s a rabbi. (laughter)
TB: It’s wild. So yeah.
LA: I want to take us to the last question because I like the way you’ve kind of segued into these stories of care. And if our audience could see the smiles, it would give them so much joy. So what are your joy practices? How are you finding places where you find joy, practice joy [01:13:00] in these moments?
ST: (laughs) I’m a mother who is still deeply grieving my daughter. Hard for me to have any joy, I have to admit. I’m not saying I’ll never get back there. But spending time with Traci is joyful because she pushes me. And she was there. She was a witness.
TB: I do (overlapping dialogue; inaudible). Talk about hairy. And talk about —
ST: My grandson just got dropped off. I have a four year old and eight-month-old grandsons that are — my youngest one is named [Fredina?]. His name is George Brooklyn. That’s joy. There is joy there for sure in this next generation. And I do have two other children. And [01:14:00] when they’re happy, I’m happy. I’m trying to be happy. But I do also feel like — I love the way Traci talked about being a priest. And as much as I’m tired and I’m complaining about it, I do have to say that serving — I’ve done a lot of funerals for people who have lost children since my daughter died. And as horrible as it is, I know that when I can be there for them it lifts them. It gives them some hope. So joy comes in lots of different packages, I guess. You do have to make room for it. You do have to make room for it. And sometimes you have to pretend. [01:15:00] You have to act as if, and then you find yourself smiling again.
TB: I say the same. My children and my family bring me joy. My work brings me joy most of the time which is a good thing. I haven’t lost my ability to laugh at myself. (laughs) Not take yourself too seriously. It brings me joy. My time with Susan, and we have a sister circle. So it is six of us, right? And one of us just got — so we find joy in celebrating one another’s accomplishments and one another’s children’s accomplishments. And one of us just got a house with a pool. And [01:16:00] so we named it Club Corona. And we get to go there and chill out in the pool. So that gives me joy.
ST: And we laugh. We do laugh. We make each other smile. Yeah. We do.
TB: All of us are doing incredibly well, and that gives us joy. Yeah. I mean there’s lots to be joyful about, right? Lots to be joyful about. I was going to name Adina’s spirit still lives with us, and I get joy when Susan’s house is full of Adina’s friends who still come every year. Every special day (laughs) to be with her and have taken her poetry and her writings [01:17:00] and made books out of them, and that brings joy. Sneaking around trying to make sure our daughters are not settling for some bum off the street, that gives us joy. (laughter) We got to go like, “What do you think of that one?” “We got to get rid of that one.” (laughter) That’s joyful. There’s lots of things, right? There’s lots of things. Sometimes we go out to Ted Drewes, which is an ice cream place here. Susan and I go get ice cream. And that brings us joy.
ST: We do. (laughs)
TB: Lots of things.
LA: I love the ordinary care. What [01:18:00] — oh, what gives us joy?
LA: Oh, lord have mercy. Okay. You have to go first. Oh, you know what? Before we got on the phone, Macky and I were reading — we were drawing tarot cards together. And that was giving us some joy. We were just kind of stopping. And I know it gives me joy. We do this practice of really asking how each other is doing. And when we’re not ready for the real answer, I know Macky will say, “Okay. So I will have — let me step away and come back. And I’ll give you the real answer.” And I love that. That brings me joy. New York has opened up a little bit. And times I just go and sit out on the street and watch New York life. [01:19:00] And watching New York life — which so much of it is on the street — people just walking around because I mean how many times — if you live here, you spend a lo– you don’t spend a lot of time with your people in their house. And usually, you’re meeting people out on the street. And so seeing just folks walking their dogs even in the midst of all this crazy, the variety of masks — the mask gear, the accessorizing. And I get up every day, and I put make up on my face. And that gives me joy.
TB: You do? I don’t.
LA: I do. I do. It makes me feel —
TB: You got me in a dress, but I still didn’t put on a bra. It’s not (inaudible). (laughter)
MA: [01:20:00] You heard it here on Friends for Life.
LA: I like doing it. It’s fun for me. It’s fun for me.
MA: I’ll tell you what brings me joy. So I’ve been — I’m a documentary film maker, and I’ve been out in Oakland shooting. We’re making a film about reparations practices in the United States right now in regard to legacy of slavery and the Native American genocide and the systems of oppression that have emerged from them and with which we live. And we had an amazing week out in Oakland last week. But then I had to — because we’re coming from California, which has had a spike in cases or a high level of cases, I’ve had to be in quarantine in my own home. So I kick my man, my husband, out of my bed — our bed. And he’s been sleeping on the couch and bringing me meals to my door. And I’ve been living by myself. Now I got to say that was pretty nice to have solitude. I love solitude. I’ve got a strong, introverted side and a lot to do. So you bring my [01:21:00] husband can cook. And so the fact that he’s bring me delicious food, and the kids are crying. But you know what? I’m in quarantine, honey. I’m sorry. (inaudible). Thank you for dinner. That was nice. But last night was the first night we slept together again out of quarantine and to feel him. Touch gives me joy. And right after absence, sometimes the absence is very long between that kind of touch in our lives. But in this morning after experience, Nicholas Gottlieb gives me joy and the way we touch. The other thing that gives me joy as a documentary filmmaker is listening — is being witness to the beauty of life. And I just want to name that listening to y’all today — this is [01:22:00] not just any old podcast. And this is not just any old afternoon. Listening to you all and even in the sorrow, right? That has given me such joy, which I find really grace filled. That joy can come even — that somehow intimacy begets joy even when intimacy is full of pain.
ST: I don’t want to sound cliché. But thinking about the films you’re making and the work that you guys are doing and your relationship, it really is giving me joy to see Black Lives Matter.
TB: What gives you joy, Courtney?
CH: Writing my novel has given me a lot of joy lately. [01:23:00] And also my big, sloppy puppy gives me a lot of joy. And when my husband rubs my head when we watch TV.
LA: (laughter) Oh my gosh. All right. I love you all.
TB: I love you too, Lisa.
LA: There is nothing more holy than this moment. That’s what I feel. And I have had no idea, Traci — neither one of us did that when we said, “Traci, please just whoever your friend is, can you ask whoever they are to come?” And when you said, “My friend, Susan Talve,” we had no idea. This just God. It’s just God. We couldn’t have created it out of nothing. So we say [01:24:00] something. Send us, everyone, off with this little benediction at the end that ends each of our podcasts. So take this in, beloveds. So if ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together —
MA: There’s something you must always remember.
LA: You are braver than you believe.
MA: Stronger than you see.
LA: And smarter than you think.
MA: But the most important thing is —
LA: Is even if we’re apart —
MA and LA: — I’ll always be with you.
MA: We’ll always be together.
LA: We’ll always be together. Oh, Winnie-the-Pooh says (inaudible). (laughter)
MA: Oh, (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) Winnie-the-Pooh. A big stuff animal. Hold on. Let me take a picture. Let me take a picture of that.
TB: Is that (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) Winnie-the-Pooh?
MA: That is not of the show.
LA: We have to take the — oh yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Let me do that. [01:25:00] Yay.
CH: I got a screen shot too.
MA: You all, thank you so, so, so, so, so much.
LA: Thank you so much.
MA: Here we go. That’s our show, y’all. For show notes, episode graphics, or to donate to our work, or for more information about other Auburn programs, please go to www.auburnseminary.org/friends. Be sure to follow Auburn Seminary, if you’re feeling it, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also we want to hear your thoughts. Email us at [email protected]
LA: As always, it was a joy to be with you, Macky. I can’t wait though till we can see each other in the flesh. But even if we’re not in the flesh, we are together through this medium. And we’re together [01:26:00] in this experience. And I look forward to next month.
MA: Yeah. I got to be real. I’m not waiting for next month. I am biking up, and I’m gonna see you within the next few days. So I’ll be seeing you.
LA: Oh, thanks be to god. (laughter)
MA: All right. This show is produced by Auburn Seminary. Some crazy, beautiful people at Auburn Seminary and is made possible by a generous grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, a friend to Auburn for a real long time.
LA: Okay. Friends for Life was produced by Macky and me with additional support from Courtney Weber Hoover —
MA: Woo hoo.
LA: — Sharon Groves —
MA: Woo hoo.
LA: — David [Weasley?] —
LA: — and graphics by Emily Simons.
LA: Audio engineering was from Dan Greenman —
MA: Woo, woo, woo.
LA: — and Courtney with editing also by Courtney, Macky, Lisa, and David.
MA: Thank y’all. [01:27:00] We love you. Come say hi to us.
MA: Hi. (laughter) I’m getting on my bike, Lisa.
LA: Yay. You know I’m getting a puppy, Macky.
MA: Woo. Oh my gosh. What are you going to call your puppy? We have been working on this for so long.
LA: I’m going to call my puppy Ruthie in honor of my mom. Ruthie.
MA: When? Do you know when?
LA: Probably the beginning — around October. Sometime early October, maybe first or second week. Puppy was just born four days ago.
MA: Oh my goodness. (inaudible) a puppy.