“Later I discovered stories that centered on people on the margins — Black, queer, women and others. These theologies radicalized my faith; I saw myriad possibilities of God in the world. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the divine in myself and in the faces of those around me. This changed everything. The God of grace I proclaim from the pulpit lives in us, loves every single one of us, and this was liberation.”
—Rev. Mihee Kim-Hort in the New York Times
I will forever be grateful for the complete stranger on a dating app several years ago who entered my sphere virtually only long enough to recommend NK Jemisin, Middle Collegiate Church and Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, whom I have been following in various ways ever since. Seriously, Rev. Dr. Lewis is a FORCE. I won’t catch it live (because it will be in the middle of the night in Ireland), but the conversation between Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis and Rev. Mihee Kim-Hort on 8th of April is sure to be as prophetic as each of these women is prophetic.
I want to share another brief passage from a conversation between Pádraig Ó Tuama and Dr. Anthony Reddie on the Corrymeela podcast.
“So meaning that no one ever said anything outright in any particular way to you that was really egregious. It was just a set of assumptions around you being not as good as other people. And certainly, in terms of how we interpreted the gospel, it was very Eurocentric. So I tell the story about encountering a white Jesus when I was about 13 years old. And this Jesus on the far wall of the parlour- this is where the seniors in the Sunday school met. And I’ve said in other places that like, this Jesus looked more like Björn Borg than Björn Borg looks like Björn Borg. I mean… never have eyes been so blue and hair so blonde. And clearly there was a Remington beard trimmer in first century Judea, ‘cause obviously Jesus had this perfectly coiffured beard that was just… this is a beautiful man, that like, you could stare into his eyes and fall in love with him kind of thing. And I would remember just staring at this picture and thinking to myself: so if Jesus is the son of God – God incarnate: this is the visible representation or what we think God is – then who the hell am I? And I remember asking the teacher that and she just said: ‘I don’t know. It doesn’t matter Anthony. You know, I mean… God loves you’. And I thought: well, I don’t doubt that God loves me. But, if I don’t look like God, but everyone else in this church does – particularly people who have authority and power in it – can I really believe that God loves me as much as God loves everyone else in this church?”
What Rev. Mihee Kim-Hort describes above (and I know I have said this before) was my experience in divinity school; I understood theology as a kind of static study of Christianity’s historical impact — until I encountered theology imagined from the margins. I still don’t know what changed exactly — I would not say I became religious, or affirmed an earlier religious upbringing. I simply knew that it was worthwhile to examine my religious upbringing, and to do it in a steadfast, prayerful… well, religious way.
My religious upbringing was about the vertical line from me to ( _______). The vertical line of a cross. The line of personal power and personal failure, the conduit that some people would call a calling, or finding a voice, or one that describes a “fall from grace.” A person can transcend or fall along this line. When I prayed through sobs for seven nights after watching America’s Most Wanted when I was 9 (yikes!), “Dear God, please let them find the little kidnapped girl, Dear God, please let them find the little kidnapped girl,” because I had been so disturbed and my mother had said, “Pray, Oana, because God listens to innocent children’s prayers,” and then they found her, and I knew it was an answer to MY prayers — well, that’s the vertical line. And my early religious formation (until I took the Liberation Theology seminars, went to the Queer Theology conference, wrote the social location papers), I didn’t know there was another line: the horizontal one. If the vertical line is about power, then the horizontal line is about love, and you need both. (Awaiting is a vertical line. Attending is a horizontal line.)
If Rev. Mihee Kim-Hort’s piece affirms the need for the horizontal line — what “lives in us, loves every single one of us” — then, this Easter poem by George Herbert (below), written months before his death at 39, in 1633, is a good example of faith along the vertical line. And again, we need both.
It would be good to talk to you about this poem. About its questions, its shape, its body. From what I know about the “Metaphysical Poets” (John Donne being the best known), is that they were generally tormented by their faith — or, more, accurately, tormented by their doubt — and Herbert was no exception. He didn’t publish poems during his lifetime; according to his Wikipedia entry, “Shortly before his death, he sent a literary manuscript to his friend Nicholas Ferrar, reportedly telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might ‘turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul,’ otherwise to burn them.” This poem makes me want to ask how — even if you are not religious — you imagine religiousness. Is it mostly about “getting right with God?” Is it mostly about “loving one’s neighbor?” Is it mostly about following certain moral codes, asking for things?
There are so many readings in the lectionary for Easter! Holy moly. If folks want to read something together, that will be good, too.
Coffee Hour is a lightly facilitated, gently theological online space where you are welcome, no religious commitment assumed or expected. It happens every week at 1-2pm Irish time. The password changes (today it is: GeorgeHerbert); the video conference link is always the same: https://meet.jit.si/CoffeeHourWithFriends2021