American Jesus: Where are your priorities?

This post was originally shared on my Medium page. Slowly but surely, I’m coming back to my own site.

In my lifetime, I have seen clergy from all over North America bend themselves over backwards and twist themselves into pretzels, determined to despise certain people over so-called sins. Yet said sins involve behaviour that is none of their business.

Their insistence on doing this tells me two things. First, it reveals the truth about their commitment to loving each other. Jesus himself said that we are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yet time and again, people look for loopholes.

After all, it’s much more fun to judge others. White Evangelicals are, above all, white. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they play a role in North American society as a part of its dominant race of people. And there’s something that a number of them seem to enjoy about playing God.

In my experience, meddling in other people’s lives is a part of (White) Christian culture. Many of them have been hardwired to believe that everyone outside of their bubble is pitiful and needs “saving”. Not just spiritually, either. The idea of Black people as inferior is embedded into the faith’s colonial heritage. Throughout history, our culture has been mined and undermined by dominant members of society.

Secondly, the energy that they put towards hating people because of their “sins” is a declaration of their insecurity. To be specific, it reveals to me the truth about just how much they really trust God.

If God truly hates people because of anything that they do of their own free will on their own time, He will deal with them. He is MORE than strong enough and BEYOND capable.

I know that you know I’m right.

Some spiritual paths refer to this as Karma.

What you put out into the world comes back to you.

Jesus himself said, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Therefore, I have one question for Certain Christians: Why do you think it’s YOUR job to pursue personal sins so vehemently?

Racist words and deeds are pure evil. In the here and now, they hurt living, breathing human beings. They can diminish a person’s spirit and deeply scar their soul. They can leave people like me questioning our sanity and humanity.

For hundreds of years, racist WORDS and ACTIONS have done everything from putting people in SERIOUS socioeconomic jeopardy, to COSTING THEM THEIR LIVES. By words, I don’t only mean slurs. Racism is perpetuated via the way you speak to and about Black people. Microaggressions leave scars.

And racist actions involve more than physical violence.

Consider this diagram.

Thankfully, over the past week or so, “Police murdering POC” seems to have moved from the Socially Acceptable category into its rightful place as being Socially Unacceptable. But take a look at the rest of the items that lie under the line near the top of the pyramid. If you’re white, do you know what all of them are? And do you understand how they can harm Black people? If not, please head over to Google. It’s time for you to start studying.

Whether blood is shed because of it or not, racism has DEVASTATING, real-world, PRESENT DAY consequences. Yet earlier this year I had to listen to a popular pastor make a “declaration” against homosexuality. (For what it’s worth, it was a Black pastor. And I’m calling on Black church leaders, too, to have courage in the fight against racism within the church. If ever there was a time to “Tell the TRUTH and SHAME the DEVIL…” this is it.)

Regardless of your position, if you are a Christian leader, you need to step up and recognize the power that you have. People’s world-views are dictated by what you say.

There are adults who are in therapy because as a child, their parents led them to believe ridiculous things about themselves, in the name of God. There are people whose mental health has been shattered because so-called Christians have been determined to deny their humanity over things that are a matter of personal choice or identity.

Yet funnily enough, what another person does in their private life has never managed to snuff out mine.

So, I’ll ask: When it comes to the evils that you preach against, where are your priorities?

Last week when I was first drafting this, a sentence came to me.

If the church went after racism the way it went after certain other issues, racism would be OVER by now.

Now, to some that may sound far-fetched.

If so, I’d like to ask you to think of the examples that I mentioned earlier. I stand by what I said. There are people who still feel traumatized today, because in their youth, as Christians, they were humiliated over things that cause others no actual harm.

Stop wasting time wringing your hands over other folks’ life choices. People need to feel a deep sense of shame over genuine evils that actively hurt others. And you can start with racist language and behaviour.

 

American Jesus: An Introduction

Years ago, I started trying write a lengthy blog post called “American Jesus”. Its main theme is racism and religion. I’ve been reluctantly adding to it as I’ve reflected on society. 

Living in Canada, some of the white pastors that I’ve encountered have either spoken or acted in ways that left me feeling uncomfortable. I couldn’t help notice that they modelled themselves a certain way. Specifically, they seemed interested in mimicking what you might witness in American-style, Big Box Christian circles. Hence, my title.

This post goes out to every Black Person who has had to tolerate bigotry in a church setting. This is especially for those who have endured a white pastor who loved to show how “down” they were.

Yet when the darker skinned people in their congregation dared to open their mouths about how they have been wronged by society—or a fellow parishioner—suddenly those people were doing too much, or just “misunderstood” something–or were just plain WRONG.

Photo by Valerie Sigamani via Unsplash

Years ago I lived in Toronto with a pair of roommates.  We got along well. For some reason, one day, one roommate–a woman of colour* that I’ll call Angie–and I got together and decided to take each other to church. She took me to a Black church that she attended. I took her where I went. Downtown.

It was a white church. In hindsight I know that I was one of very few non-white people in attendance. Yet somehow, I only started taking it in after the service, when she pointed it out.

Because of that observation, you might be tempted to feel smug. Especially if you’re reading this and went to church with me back then.

Please don’t.

Don’t say, “Claire, you know damn well it wasn’t a ‘white’ church.” Technically, supposedly,  everyone was welcome. The term “white” is simply a descriptor of the majority of the people who showed up.

And please, don’t look at my sudden realization and tell me, “Ah, Claire. See how comfortable you felt. The people in that church behaved decently towards you. They took you in as a child of God.”

Some seemed to, of course.

However, years later, after the American election in 2016, I became aware of just how white certain members were—especially some of its leaders.

Over the years many of us remained connected via social media.

Hellscape that it can be, Facebook is where I saw the most garbage. The political climate is connected to the current cycle of racist evil that we are experiencing. And in the days after the election I saw a lot of interesting things.

Please note in these examples, I’m generalizing. Mainly because I imagine other Black people have witnessed similar things. Meanwhile in real life, while drafting this, I was thinking of specific individuals.

Among other things, via social media, I witnessed white Christian men who…

When asked what the intentions of protesters who took down Confederate statues were, declared “I don’t know!”. As an authority, his attitude only added to the narrative that protestors must have been unhinged. He missed an opportunity to do research and recognize the statues for what they are: Symbols of oppression.

Men who took cheap shots at Obama. Meanwhile, in the wake of blatantly evil acts from his successor, said NOTHING.

Men who share stories from a media outlet that made Fox News look like it deserved a Pulitzer.

Men who love to talk about what MLK would have done—because it bothered them when anti-racist protesters got violent—and after all, didn’t Dr. King hate violence?!? Meanwhile, Dr. King understood that a riot was “the language of the unheard.”

(Dear White People: STOP using Dr. King as a prop to excuse your lazy approach to injustice. He may not have been interested in rioting, but he understood the type of hopelessness mixed with righteous anger that lies beneath.)

Men who quoted random Bible verses without explanation. Yet the scriptures’ tone and content left readers thinking only one thing: they believed innocent people were to blame for whatever leader they wound up with.

Men who told me, “Black people voted for Trump!” Which in hindsight, is interesting. When I first saw that comment, I shot back a word about slaves who were extra loyal to their masters.

However today, when I hear that, I think “And a woman defended Harvey Weinstein.” Because one did, literally. In court.

Here’s a #ProTip: Someone may receive support from those who are among their potential victims. Yet that does NOT mean that they are incapable of oppressing them. It merely makes them good at fooling the most naïve among the oppressed.

That, and there’s a little thing called Stockholm Syndrome.

Looking back, it hurts to realize that I turned to some of these people for spiritual leadership. (Mind you, it wasn’t a completely surrendered form of leadership. When I was a child, not only did I go to church, but my family was involved in ministry. Throughout my life, my parents encouraged me to cultivate my own personal relationship with God.)

Nevertheless, when you go to church services—or watch a pastor on YouTube–just by showing up, you are saying that you value the opinion of the person in the pulpit.

Black people, you need to beware of the beliefs of the people who lead you on Sabbath and Sundays. Our lives matter.

 

*She wasn’t Black, but she wasn’t white, either. Hence my use of that term.

On expressions of grief in the Age of Social Media

This post was originally shared January 28th on Medium.

Photo – Mike Labrum on Unsplash

This past Sunday in the wake of the news about Kobe Bryant, I had a lot of thoughts. Among them, I was wondering whether or not I should post something on Instagram, and if I did, what would I say?

In the midst of my questions, there flickered an idea. It was one that I’d had before: “If you don’t post, people might not think that you care…” Deep down, I know that this isn’t true. And in the past, I’ve been silent regarding certain events.

But honestly. Those words capture the kind of world we live in. For some reason, a small part of me didn’t want to seem like I was some sort of unfeeling soul.

For a moment, I mulled over the idea that perhaps this presumed need for statements from people — including regular folks like me — is a reality I need to accept. I shared two posts about what happened on Sunday. And although I certainly don’t feel like I was forced, I know that nothing I say will ever be enough.

But earlier today, I opened my Instagram feed, and saw this:

In an instant, I was captivated and comforted by Demetria’s honesty. I agreed with her fully and completely. I began to stop feeling bad about not knowing what to say about Kobe.

A moment later, I learned that people have been upset with another celebrity for not commenting on the tragedy via social media. My curiosity was piqued, so I ventured over to said famous person’s account. (For now, I’ll call the person I’m referring to “J”. Although I didn’t know it until today, J is a friend of the Bryants. )

In the comments section under their latest post, J made their perspective clear. [I’m purposely not going to quote this person. I feel gossipy enough as it is, writing about this incident.] To J, social media is a business tool. Hence, they’ll post about their particular branch of the entertainment industry, and their work in it. But they believe that none of their personal life — including their response to the loss of people who meant a lot to them — is ANY of the public’s business.

The more I saw J graciously dealing with trolls, the more a wave of relief seeped through my soul.

Since late last year, I’ve been reevaluating my relationship with social media. An obvious part of that equation is my “WHY?”. Literally.

Why am I posting something? Is it out of a genuine desire to share, or am I being performative? Or, as some might feel in the shadow of a tragedy, is a post being composed out of a sense of obligation?

Here, I’ll offer a caveat. If you feel the need to memorialize someone, I don’t mind. I think a well-worded tribute can be beautiful. But if you don’t want to share your thoughts on a loved one who has passed away, please know that that’s absolutely, perfectly ok.

As I think of a years-old personal loss that I still haven’t publicly discussed in detail, something about J’s comments set me free, and I hope they do the same for you.

Firstly, I decided to release myself. It’s important to keep things in perspective. Going forward, if something terrible happens, and I don’t feel like commenting on it via social media, I won’t. (And I won’t feel guilty about it, either.) I don’t have to, and my not commenting does not mean that I don’t care.

When words fail us, in this era of free communication, we deserve the freedom to say nothing at all.

Secondly, it does’t matter to me how famous or non-famous you are. Our phones have us literally living in each other’s back pockets. And sometimes, that proximity is a bit too close. Please remember: whether you’re feeling overjoyed, or absolutely horrible — you do not automatically owe strangers pieces of your life. We are not entitled to your intimate details, whether whole, or in fragments.

There was a bit of a presumptuous tone in some of the comments directed at J, and the audacity of them threw me off. If nothing else, I hope that certain people will evolve beyond using folks’ status as “public figures” as an excuse to invade their privacy. “Public figures” are still people, who, like the rest of us, bear the weight of their own humanity. And this burden can be especially overbearing when the unthinkable happens.

In Jesus’ name, have some compassion.

Made in Paradise: Jaye Applewaite Designs

If, like me, you live in one of the colder parts of North America, these days you might find yourself daydreaming about summer. No doubt, if you’re in love, you might even be thinking about a destination wedding. Yet have you ever thought about having your dress made by a designer who lives in paradise? 

One day last year on Instagram, I came across one of the most beautiful wedding dresses I’d ever seen. And the object of my affection was the brainchild of none other than Jaye Applewaite.

Formerly an engineer who earned her degree via the University of Waterloo, today Jaye creates stunning custom-designed bridal gowns in her studio on the island of Barbados.

Last year, I got ahold of her to discuss her captivating designs.

You studied engineering in university. What prompted you to pursue that field?

You know when you grow up, people ask what you want to do and they expect you to say doctor, lawyer…? Then you get a good job. I think that’s what I just did.

I just picked one of those traditional, scientific kind of fields that people consider to be successful.

And I didn’t want to do medicine. Law never appealed to me. I did like math, I did like science, I did like physics. I enjoy [these subjects] and engineering was a good fit for me.

What is it that inspired you exactly to switch from engineering to fashion?

I think it was more like an accident to be honest. It was 2015. The world had a recession around 2010-2011. It kind of hit Barbados from 2014-2016. 

I was working part time and I didn’t want to be home, twiddling my thumbs. I like to be productive.

And it was summertime in Barbados, and I decided to start a little something. I started making flower headbands and body chains. And it just whetted my appetite. Getting into creative entrepreneurship is something I’d never considered [or] even entertained before and it just opened up my eyes and my mind and my excitement to a whole new world.

Here you have people messaging you, loving what you’re creating with your hands. As small as that flower headband may be, or that body chain, it made that person’s outfit. And to me, that felt really good.

Then, later on that year there was a fashion show–the organizer messaged me, wanting to showcase my bands and body chains. I was like, “Sure, but what will the model wear?”

And she was like, “You could pair up with a bikini designer…”

And I said, “No.” I felt it was cliched and I thought about all my customers. And yes, the majority of them were girls attending the summer parties and having fun. But a couple of them were brides. And I found I had the most joy with brides, and as I started to think more about bridal [fashion] it clicked for me, “You know what? Let me get into the bridal industry.”

I was really intrigued when I was reading about you and I learned that you do not have formal design training. Can you tell me more about how you moved from headbands to dresses?

I think it came from a very naïve point of view. I think somebody who’s trained in fashion itself would be more hesitant to make such a big switch. But for me, I just tried to see where this journey is taking me.

…Going back to the fashion show, I’d created all the bodywear, the headbands and everything. And I honestly didn’t have any sewing experience.

I approached a local seamstress, told her what I needed, and we worked together to create the collection. She was doing the majority of the sewing and I was adding the designs to the pieces. [For example] she would sew a top and I would add the lace, beads, pearls, and all the bridal details. 

Then the show happened. At that point in time it still didn’t occur to myself to call myself a bridal designer.

Honestly it was a dream and it had never really been done here before. The audience was wowed, and the pearls, they sparkled–everything was just looking so, so pretty. And [my designs] really stuck out because the remainder of the show was swimwear and resort wear. I was the only bridal person on the runway.

The public’s response to Jaye’s line proved to be an incredible catalyst.

After the fashion show, the reaction was very good. Mind you, I still had not really sewn anything. I did a photo shoot, and a bridal magazine also contacted me about the bridal pieces. They wanted to do an editorial. 

…photos were out there presenting me as a bridal designer. So obviously, a bride approached me and she wanted a wedding dress. And inside, I’m panicking. The seamstress I worked with was very, very busy. I knew that if I said yes, I’d have to make this dress myself. 

But, luckily, my mom sewed for us, and my sister is a fashion designer. Although I had never sewn before, I had seen people handle themselves around a sewing machine. So I was like, “Say yes”. And I’m like, “I”m just gonna teach myself.”

Jaye’s faith in her abilities came from a familiar place.

…Some people may see sewing as creative. [And] the design of the dress is creative, yes. But the actual getting behind the machine, making patterns, to me, is science. And me–I’m a scientist. I’m like, “I have this. It’s all math. I got this.” My mind was like, “Yeah, you can do this. You can build buildings, and bridges. You can do this!” 

And so I just taught myself pattern-making and everything, and the dress fit like a glove. [The bride] was super happy. And her photo was out there…

And then, after a year, I quit engineering.

In your fashion journey, what keeps you in bridalwear as opposed to sportswear or some other type of clothing?

When it comes down to bridal wear, I’ve seen too many ill-fitting wedding dresses. I’ve just seen too much stuff I’m just not pleased with in the bridal industry. I want to continue to push the boundaries and explore bridal fashion. Because I feel that the other areas are well explored. They really are.

I just feel like bridalwear–it just sticks with me. The fantasy of it, the emotions are in it. You’re a part of that person’s big day. I just feel like you’re making an impact on that person’s life. 

As opposed to like, say, a bathing suit or something they wear it to the beach, but next year they want a new bathing suit. I just feel like certain other clothing has a shorter shelf life. Bridal just–that person remembers that for the rest of their life. Those pictures go with them. And beyond. And they can speak about that day, that experience, the dress, working with me, and bridal fashion is just fulfilling.

To me that was lacking in engineering–that fulfillment. Not just creativity. It really was the fulfilment. And when I made a headband and those clients sending pictures and were so happy, and so beautiful, they got so many compliments, and I felt that good.

Now imagine me when I’m doing wedding dresses now? I’m on cloud nine for a whole week after a bride’s wedding!

And people can find your dresses online…

On my website at jayeapplewaite.com. We have a studio in St. James, Barbados.

Some people think they can come and try on dresses but it’s not like that. It truly is a bespoke wedding dress service, by appointment only. Once you contact me and get an idea of what’s going on [and] you really want to meet with me, then we can set up everything from there.  

Who is a Jaye Applewaite bride? What is she like? 

I think from off the bat it’s the bride who’s looking for something custom. They’ve tried on dresses and what they’re looking for it’s not out there. They want someone who listens to them and truly gives them what they want. They want good quality, good service, they want something beautiful, something that’s unique.

They are young professionals. They have a joyful life, and they’re fashionable. They’re free-spirited, they’re down to earth. Because they really are a joy to work with–my brides. 

They really are kind-hearted souls looking for a beautiful wedding experience.

Speaking of the industry: What would you say to someone who wanted to get into fashion design, but they didn’t know where to start?

I feel like I was in that same position… I think you have to start before you’re ready and also have a goal for where you’re going. Because I know sometimes where you start is very far from your end goal and the gap between there discourages people. Just start and [keep in mind that] you don’t know everything. You’re not going to know everything. You just start and figure it out, and the decisions you make, make them with that end-goal in mind. Continue to learn, continue to grow. 

What’s ahead for Jaye Applewaite designs?

One of my main inspirations is Vera Wang. I like how she has built an empire around different elements. I believe it is good to diversify a bit and have fun and be able to explore your different options within the industry. 

Right now Jaye Applewaite as it is is focused on one on one custom designed bridal fashion, very light, bright, and airy. But I think next in the future I would like to create a separate brand or separate line and just have that catered towards a very specific look and try and get into boutiques. I think that will be exciting.

Another thing I’ve been talking about is switching to another aesthetic. I know everybody appreciates classic traditional mermaid, ball gown kind of styles.

When I look at my brides, and when I look at my work, it’s almost two separate looks going on. There’s the light airy, sheer, ethereal kind of look. And then there are the brides who go for the more traditional mermaid kind of dresses, and to me I can almost see the brand begin to separate in terms of aesthetic.

Anything is possible.

All photos are featured on Jaye’s Instagram page.

Can we talk about racism in the church?

How about now?

In the wake of one of gospel’s greats finding the strength to share his story, I wonder how much longer it will be before he receives an appropriate response. I also wonder about the kind of opposition he might be facing. I keep imagining Christian celebrities and civilians muttering behind the scenes, warning Mr. Franklin not to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, I would like to thank him for his bravery.

The way that TBN (the Trinity Broadcasting Network), the Gospel Music Association, and the Dove Awards has behaved is proof that these institutions can be just as racist and cowardly as the rest of society. The pattern is typical: Enjoy Black people’s time and talents. Delight in our worth, on a superficial level. So long as we entertain you, all is well.

Yet let us honestly discuss issues that cause us real trauma. Suddenly, we’re too much. Suddenly, we don’t deserve your support. The pain that we feel shouldn’t be expressed. Our realities deserve to be eliminated.  

If you participate in this kind of erasure, perhaps you may not realize it. But when you tell Black people to keep quiet about what we’re going through or what we worry about, you tell the truth about just how much you really care about us. In spite of your statements about being one in Jesus’ name, the truth is evident. Your love is not sincere. Your concern is not genuine.

I want to say more about racism in the Christian community. I’ve felt an urgency in our political climate, as people have begun to reveal their true colours.

Back in the day, before putting pen to paper on this issue, I felt the way I usually do whenever I’m about to write something: There were moments where I caught myself wondering if I could find the words to express what I was thinking. However, now, I realize that what I really need is the nerve.

Will Kirk Franklin’s honesty embolden me? I’m not sure. But if nothing else, I know this: The way that the predominantly white Christian church–and therefore, white Christians–in North America regard people of colour needs to change. People on the fringes of the faith have known this for years. The question is, now that racism in Christian contexts has been mentioned in the mainstream, what will happen next?

Watch It!: The Family

Photo by Ricky Turner via Unsplash

Earlier this year there was a bit of buzz related to Netflix’s new show, The Family. I took note of the fact that it would air later this year, but otherwise, left it alone. That is until a few weeks ago. One Saturday morning I noticed that someone in my social media feed had posted about the show. By that Sunday, I’d begun to check it out. 

Thus far I’ve seen The Family once and if I have time I might watch it again. I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, but I would like to talk about what I saw. 

Hence, on that note, how can I best describe it?

As the content unfolded onscreen I was…Surprised–but not completely. Just thinking about the way American politics has evolved over the years, it’s been hard not to believe that behind the scenes,  something horrible has been going on all along. And I can honestly tell you that if you’ve had any fears about religious corruption, The Family will confirm them. Although it isn’t in the horror genre, its content gave me the creeps. Overall, though, I was mostly disgusted. 

The Family is a docuseries that recounts the evolution of a bipartisan religious organization–referred to as The Family–which has been tied to the government’s top leaders in Washington, DC. Based on a pair of books by Jeff Sharlet, the first episode begins by telling its story through the eyes of the author. In his younger days in Washington, Sharlet was first introduced to The Family via his time at Ivanwald–a household that serves, essentially, as a Christian fraternity. 

Throughout the series several snippets of dialogue reveal the sinister nature of a movement with seemingly innocent roots. In one scene, James Cromwell, as religious leader David Coe, speaks to a group of young men. He asks them a simple enough question.

“Can you think of anyone who made a covenant with his friends?” 

In response, young Mr. Sharlet gave what I thought was the most obvious answer to this question. “Jesus.” However, Mr. Coe had another person in mind. 

At this point I should note that when Coe replied, I initially thought the screenwriter was using a bit of artistic license. After all, some of The Family’s segments were dramatized. I honestly wanted to believe that Movie Coe didn’t actually use Real Life Coe’s words. And I might have, if not for the fact that The FamIly includes actual footage of David Coe standing in a pulpit. As he speaks to his audience about how to influence others, he shares his thoughts.

“Hitler. Hitler made a covenant. The Mafia made a covenant. Look at the strength of the bonds.”

“HITLER made a covenant”?! Watching that footage, I don’t think I’ve ever given my computer a more horrified stare.

Truly, I was stunned. 

Imagine. You have Jesus Christ HIMSELF, as the head of your religion. Yet when you want your followers to have an example of someone who successfully made and kept a promise to others, you choose HITLER?!  

That bit of dialogue haunted me. It also called to mind a greater problem within mainstream religion. Time and again, certain Christian leaders try to put up a good front. Yet ultimately, they demonstrate that they don’t have genuine confidence in their faith. This tends to be revealed in challenging situations: Rather than standing by their principles, in a quest to relate to the world, some pastors rush to support evil in all of its forms.

For some reason or another, some would rather choose fame over discernment and authenticity. 

But I digress.  

I already thought something was off with Big Box Christianity and its connection to the American government. In the end, The Family only confirmed my suspicions.

Before I go, let me offer you a warning: If you’re going to view this show, you might want to mentally prepare yourself. Especially if you have any previous experience with religious fundamentalism. The Family wasn’t easy to watch. Nevertheless, I’m glad I did.

Status Report?: Spiritual Renewal

Earlier this summer, one of the hottest musicians in the galaxy mentioned prayer in an interview, and I felt it.

When I first read Rihanna’s chat with Sarah Paulson, I was excited. I had just shared a post on meditation. Next on my schedule was prayer, but I needed a hook. Perfect timing, right?

Except it wasn’t.

Something was wrong with me. 

As a writer, over the course of this year I’ve had doubts about my skills. And as I looked at tackling spirituality, I felt more intimidated than inspired. The thought of writing on God opened infinite possibilities. Yet how can someone possibly quantify something that’s immeasurable?

Thankfully, not too long ago, I faced a genuine moment of divine intervention.

One day, rather than feeling a sense of intimacy with God, I felt overcome by the weight of an incredible distance. It was an odd, painful encounter. And of all the things in the world, while listening to a gospel track, I started to sob.

Looking back on that moment I recognize that I was pretty much the epitome of a religious cliche. But at the time, I felt as though a door had opened. I started asking myself questions. Was I dreaming, or when I was younger, did I have a more authentic spiritual practice?

Lord knows (no pun intended), over the past few years, something has felt different.

And so, back to my origins I’ve returned.

Mind you, as I go, I’m still discovering what this means. Yet the loss of people such as Rachel Held Evans has reminded me that there’s work to be done. In this political climate, the theologian within still wants to call people towards a more conscientious vision of Christianity.

Overall, I’m not comfortable with any form of piety that denies our common humanity. I really want to dive into religion and some controversial material. But that’s another post for another day.

And so, until next time… Here’s the last sermon I watched. Pastor Furtick offers a decent riff on the idea that man contains multitudes.

She’s Gotta Be Kidding

josh-wilburne-501938-unsplash

Recently I was reminded of something. In this era of awareness concerning diversity, it’s been all too easy for me to believe that because the creators of certain projects are Black they would take greater care to accurately portray members of the African diaspora. Surely, after being annoyed by biased, inaccurate representation, African-American creators would strive to depict their fellow Black people as human beings with a modicum of sense. But no. It seems some are content to approach members of the diaspora with the same lack of care that the industry typically shows them. Take a look at the clip below.

That’s from an episode of Netflix’s hit series, She’s Gotta Have It. When I first saw it, I was appalled. (Full disclosure, I’m Canadian. I’m used to seeing Blackness and Canadianness misrepresented by the mainstream American media.) I wanted to know which of the SGHI writers hated Black British people so much that they would portray them like this—as having no clue about colonialism. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Among the people who saw the above clip was John Boyega, who referred to it as “Trash”. And while I couldn’t blame him for his perspective, the other day I was intrigued when the writer of the episode in question decided to respond.

Mr. Barry Michael Cooper chose to address Boyega via an open letter. Since reading it, I haven’t taken the time to check and see if Boyega responded, but I’ve had some thoughts of my own.

First, a bit of background: In case you don’t have time to read Cooper’s letter, you should know that the scene in question was inspired by a discussion on Twitter. A few years ago, people had a lot of opinions regarding Samuel L. Jackson’s comments on the casting of Black British actors.  (This initially occurred around the time that Get Out was receiving publicity. Its star, Daniel Kaluuya, is British.) Although Jackson later clarified his remarks, I remember that initially some were alarmed. Judging from the tone of his letter, I take it that Cooper meant for his scene to be a teachable moment. However, from where I sit, he failed tremendously.

In his note to Mr. Boyega, Mr. Cooper pointed to an article by Black British actor, David Harewood. Mr. Harewood has had roles in a variety of American productions, including his current series—Supergirl.

In his Guardian essay, Harewood refers to his time playing Martin Luther King Jr in a production of The Mountaintop. His purpose was clear: To share his thoughts on why he feels British actors are qualified to play African-American characters. However, I was troubled by his rationale. In response to the idea of Black British actors not being American “brothers”, Harewood concluded his commentary by saying, “Perhaps it’s precisely because we are not real American brothers that we [B]lack British performers have the ability to unshackle ourselves from the burden of racial realities—and simply play what’s on the page, not what’s in the history books.” (Emphasis added.)

Quite frankly I found the implications of Harewood’s words troubling. Just because a Black performer is not American, that doesn’t mean that they are automatically able to divorce themselves from the impact that racism has—whether in a historical context, or referring to its presence in one’s daily life. Overall I’m still confused about why anyone would read his essay and believe that just because it was published, it deserved serious consideration as being representative of all British people of African descent.

Racism and colonialism aren’t exclusively American issues. I feel ridiculous writing that, yet it’s not a message that everyone seems to understand. On that note, let me also state that Black folks who live outside of the United States are not, somehow, too simple-minded to be aware of the impact that colonialism has had on their culture. Why someone would feel emboldened to assume so floors me. Yet that’s what I took from the above snippet from She’s Gotta Have It. All the while Nola Darling was supposedly schooling her English lover, I was looking at my computer in disgust.

Mr. Cooper’s script and subsequent letter reminded me of a familiar problem. A few years ago Justin Bieber was called out for videos which showed him using the n-word. Back then on The View, Whoopi Goldberg was willing to excuse him. I recall her reaction was discussed on one of our morning shows. Back then she expressed the belief that in Canada “nigger” doesn’t have the same meaning that it does in America. I couldn’t help but feel both stunned and disgusted. Canadians of African descent have lived in my home country for hundreds of years. Racist language isn’t anything new to us, and its hideous meaning isn’t somehow obscured by the soil that it’s spoken on.  

In his epistle, I noticed that Mr. Cooper went to great lengths to explain the inspiration behind certain elements of his show. He was careful to use the phrase “[i]t’s not something I made up,” to enforce the fact that different aspects of his work were meant to reflect material drawn from real life. Yet that does absolutely nothing to nullify the fact that the scene’s dialogue was born out of a horribly executed idea. 

Mr. Cooper seemed peeved Boyega used the word “Trash” to describe his work. Yet I think he had every right to do so. It IS trashy–and downright harmful–to use your platform to depict characters from the diaspora as uninformed ignoramuses concerning the Black experience of people in their own country. If there were a scene on a different program involving a white American man attempting to put a Black American woman in her place and “enlighten” her—after the show’s writer was inspired by an aspect of Blackness that he’d read about once in ONE biased article–heads would be rolling.

I fail to see why a Black American lecturing a Black person of British descent as depicted in SGHI should be deemed acceptable. It’s as though the show’s writers wanted to say that surely, we must remember that only Black Americans experience racism and have a correct understanding of its historical impact. So long as those in charge of the media think that way, there’s no telling what else they believe. For all we know according to them, no Black person from anywhere else on the globe has sufficient experience or knowledge—whether of themselves or their homeland—to be able to accurately comprehend how racism could possibly influence their experience in the present day.

Ultimately Mr. Cooper’s letter seemed to me to be an overwrought attempt to excuse an incredibly insulting narrative. Deliberately portraying Black people who aren’t American as gravely out of touch isn’t endearing or uplifting. It’s degrading, it’s insulting, and it’s a habit that needs to end.

Spiritual Self Care: Meditation

Whenever the subject of self care comes up, I can’t help but think about my belief that we humans are inherently spiritual beings. Hence, I believe the effort that we put into caring for our souls is incredibly important. Our spirits are our foundation. Meanwhile, in the quest to honour our most sacred selves, I know there are a number of popular rituals.

This week I thought I’d start to share my thoughts on a few different aspects of my spiritual practice.  Although I’m not a guru, I’m definitely a regular human being with an opinion.

Since it’s Monday, why not focus on meditation?

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

I might as well begin by making my relationship with meditation clear as day: Over the years my practice has been inconsistent. Nevertheless, I believe in it as a legitimate discipline.

I don’t know what your relationship with meditation is like, but think for a minute. If you don’t meditate, but you have friends who are trying to get you on board, what do they tell you? At the start of my meditation journey, I kept reading about how important it is for us humans to spend time in silence. On one hand this seemed logical to me. Our lives are full of organic and digitally-manufactured noise. How can the Spirit speak if we don’t give it room to move?

Meanwhile, on the other hand, I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t know a great deal about meditation, but the little that I had heard didn’t seem to make any sense. How was I supposed to find inner peace by sitting in a room, listening to absolutely nothing? Why was it important for me to focus on my breath? In spite of my doubts, the more I researched, the more articles I found that listed the supposed benefits of meditation. Clearer thoughts? A calmer mind? I was eager to get started!

And then, I did. Or at least I tried.

Over the years, the greatest struggle for me when it comes to meditation has involved the idea of surrendering–or silencing–my thoughts. Whether a session requires focus on a particular mantra or just my breath, ignoring my brain’s constant chatter can be incredibly hard.

There are times when I find I have to reason with myself. Those thoughts that won’t go away–the ones that chase me when I’m trying to take time just to focus on me… Are they interesting? Are they positive? No. Whenever I catch myself longing for mental rest of any kind, the thoughts that rise up and march around in my brain tend to be ones of frustration, anxiety, and worry.

Are any of them helpful? Absolutely not.

To this day, if I want to meditate, there are times when I have to actively ward off negative input. Somewhere inside of my brain, I swear, there’s a version of me that’s actually had to stand up and yell at my chitter-chatter, “STOP! This is MY TIME!!”

Now, Inner Claire isn’t always successful. But once my swirling thoughts start to disperse, I tend to stay alert, ready to follow up with more phrases to get me into the zone. Sometimes something as simple as “No!” or “Not now!” is beneficial. In this world of constant distraction, it’s important to protect my “me” time at all costs.

Mind you, this doesn’t always work. While I’ve done my best to establish a regular meditation ritual, there have been days when I’ve had to throw in the towel.

In spite of my resistance, when I’ve practiced consistently, I’ve found that what they say is true. Meditation works. Overall, when I meditate regularly I feel better and less anxious. My manic mind has begun to learn the importance of surrendering to the flow of life via surrendering my thoughts.

So what if you’re interested in meditating, but you’ve never tried it out. Where do you begin?

Guides like this one from Gaiam offer some basic information on the benefits of meditation, and how you can get started.

Sites for apps like Headspace include useful articles  which explore various types of meditation.

As for useful tools, currently I use Calm. In the past, I’ve tried Headspace, and Omvana.

If you don’t want to turn to your phone, there are books and CDs available. Years ago, I downloaded one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s recordings.

And of course, there’s plenty of information available online for free. Whether you turn to YouTube, podcasts, or a variety of other resources, don’t be afraid to take time to support your mental and spiritual health. In the end your mind will thank you.

Read it!: Big Magic

I’m trying to get my writing mojo back, and a part of that process for me involves getting caught up on my reading. Simultaneously, I figure it can’t hurt to share what I pick up along the way.

Last winter I bought a ton of books, but didn’t have time to read them. Fortunately, in 2019, the tables turned.

Every now and then, I’m going to share with you my insights into the good, bad, and the ugly side of my reading material. And so, whether you’ve read it or not… This time around I’m covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s last book.

I know I’m late to get on the Elizabeth Gilbert love train. Last year my therapist loaned me her copy of Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t finished it, but I need to return it.) Prior to that, though, I first laid my eyes on Elizabeth via one of her TED Talks.

I thought she had a refreshing take on life and creativity, and when Big Magic was released, the hype was hard to ignore. The subtitle alone was enough to grab my attention: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Ohhhhhhh boy, I thought. I NEED this book. Although I think of myself as a creative person, I’ve let fear and procrastination keep me from creating anything substantial for years. (When I think of all the time since I first graduated that I could have spent writing a book, it’s a damn shame.)

As I approached Big Magic I was curious about Elizabeth’s approach. Within the first few pages, I found it incredibly easy to root for her premise. Regardless of your area of creative interest–whether you’re pursuing the arts, or your drug of choice involves math or science, when you create–when you MAKE something–you are taking a risk and daring to demonstrate your willingness to approach The Unknown. Putting yourself out there is scary. To dare to extend yourself is a powerful thing.

Ultimately, Big Magic is a prolonged pep-talk. Divided into SIX sections, and at 272 pages, the book’s length combined with its tone made it a quick, comfortable read. Throughout her book’s pages, Elizabeth encourages readers to boldly greet their creativity, embrace, and enjoy it.

She also includes a few curious concepts. For instance, consider The Shit Sandwich. Whether you’re pursuing your dream full-time or dealing with a day job, in the segment entitled, “Persistence”, Elizabeth asks the ultimate question: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”

When I first read those words, I smiled both inside and out. I could truly relate. As my last full-time position came to a close, I found myself questioning everything. Among other things, I actually remember thinking to myself, “None of this is worth it.”

As the book went on, I found myself supporting just about everything Elizabeth has to say. But there was one exception: In the segment entitled “PERMISSION”, I found her usesing some that really bothered me. Actually, it was beyond bothersome: I found it offensive.

When it comes to making things, Elizabeth says, “…in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. Because in the end, it’s just creativity.” I was on high alert after reading that. And that statement wasn’t the only anti-creativity bomb that she dropped.

Now, to a certain degree, I get it. There are times when people can take their creativity too seriously. As a result of their delusions, creatives can become overly stressed. And a part of me realizes that Elizabeth was probably trying to get certain folks not to worry too much and just enjoy the creative process. That said, regarding making music, Elizabeth wrote that, “Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is.”

And when I read those words, I nearly threw her book away.

Not only have there have been studies, but there are books that exist about the power of music and the effect that it can have on human beings. Regardless of which resources you choose, the authors’ statements are backed by science.

Plus there’s the fact that I’ve always taken music personally.

As a child, my mother sang in church. I remember very little about going to rehearsals with her. But one thing I could never forget is that I used to cry when she sang.

Music moved me that deeply.

That level of emotion stirred in my spirit again recently when I was watching a pianist on Instagram–of all places–playing Mozart. (Shoutout to Chloe Flower, Cardi B’s pianist.)

I’ll spare you from more ranting, but in a nutshell, when people say that art doesn’t matter, it makes my blood boil. And even when I’m not that angry, it makes me struggle to take them seriously.

Fortunately, after her comments on how unimportant art is, Elizabeth returned to her regular self. She discussed a few other relevant points, including the horrible myth that people buy into which states that artists can only create in the face of personal tragedy.

In general I felt comforted by Elizabeth’s words. These days, in spite of opportunities to shine brighter, creatives can be plagued with the temptation to doubt their own authenticity. Yet among other things, she reminds us, “…you are already creatively legitimate, by virtue of your existence among us.”

Overall, Big Magic offers readers lot of common-sense advice in a refreshing package. I enjoyed how Elizabeth framed various aspects of creativity. For instance, at one point she discussed the idea that one’s craft has to be formally studied in order to succeed professionally.

If you’re a writer, you know the drill. Supposedly, in order to be a writer, you need an MFA, or you MUST go to journalism school. Yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Would I read Big Magic again? If I have time to, maybe.

Would I recommend this book?

Eh…As I said before, It’s a quick, comfortable read. I like Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s seems like the type of person I’d go to lunch with. I like what she has to say about art and inspiration. Big Magic is light, warm, and mentally provocative.

Yet again, I can’t forget about the passages in “Permission” where she said art was useless. That section threw me off so much that I actually caught myself wondering about the kind of debates Elizabeth might have had with her editor.

Eventually, Ms. Gilbert encouraged her readers to “relax”. That’s very well and good, but I feel like she could have made her point without using statements that seemed to be so needlessly opposed to the book’s main objective. There are ways to tell people that they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously that don’t involve insulting their calling.