Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

My 2017 Life-Changing Encounter of the Year!


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Millicent, her friend Harriet, and I at the Colour of Music Festival on 10/18.

Penning this fortieth and final blog of my Lenten Safari and of 2017 has literally taken me three weeks to get on paper and out of my head, heart, and soul.   In the midst of a busy holiday season and with the challenge of bringing this journey to a formative conclusion, I just needed more time and more space to process and to finally express what has been bubbling up for me.

 

Now, there were certainly times when I thought I was ready to speak or even write, but for this final and fortieth post, the right words did not come when I wanted them.  In fact, I felt like I had been silenced like Zechariah after the angel Gabriel told him that his prayers were answered and his wife Elizabeth would have a baby in old age.  Not until after Zechariah had written down that “his name is John” on the eighth day after the child was born and about to be circumcised, was Zechariah’s tongue loosed.

Well, unlike Zechariah and Elizabeth, I am not birthing a child like John to be the forerunner of Jesus–the dark-skinned Palestinian Jew, the Liberator of the left out and left behind, the Radical Resister of hegemonic systems of oppression, the Activist for peace and justice in the right now–not the hereafter.  In fact, I am not even pregnant–not with a baby at least.

However, there is something eerily similar about this Lenten Safari and being pregnant, because the anticipated process for both from inception to completion is about 40 weeks long.  And it was just a little over 43 weeks ago that this journey began as an ambitious 40 Day Lenten Safari on March 1, 2017, but by September 2017, it had mushroomed into a full blown pregnancy–being re-branded the 40 Week Lenten Safari.

So, several things are at the heart of this process for both Zechariah and myself–the restoration of vision, the relinquishing of hindrances (like fear, doubt, ego, etc.), and the reconstitution of promise and purpose.  While Zechariah encountered an angel privately in the temple, I encountered an activist publicly at Burke High School in Charleston, SC.

It was a sunny afternoon on April 22 when I had a life-changing encounter while attending the Charleston Civil Rights Film Fest public workshop at Burke High School.   A documentary was aired that focused on educational disparities, and one of the activists interviewed was a woman who was among the first young people to integrate Charleston public schools in 1963–Dr. Millicent Brown–esteemed historian and professor, truth-speaker extraordinaire, and long-time civil rights activist.

This was a watershed moment for me, because I had never been taught the history of Charleston public school integration, but viewing the documentary, and, in particular, seeing Millicent’s interview ignited something in me.  I was genuinely intrigued by her story and fascinated by her candor in the documentary.  Then I actually had the pleasure of meeting her at the end of the workshop and then having a conversation with her over a meal at Hannibal’s, a local soul food restaurant.

Through our dialogue and just by being in her presence, I was gaining another level of awareness and clarity about my soul’s work.  Vision was being restored.

At the restaurant, Millicent was very welcoming and down-to-earth while being as real and raw in person as she had been in the documentary, and I absolutely adored and admired that.  She shared that she had moved back to Charleston three years earlier and when I mentioned that I had just returned home about two weeks ago, she offered to be supportive in helping me get reconnected.  Then after we discovered that she lived less than two miles from my brother’s house, she invited me to visit her.

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Later that evening, we all returned to Burke High School for the film screening of Freedom Song where Millicent was slated to be on a panel with Danny Glover and David Dennis.  The panel used the film–set at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement–to put into context the racial injustices, resistance, and retaliation prevalent in this present age of #BlackLivesMatter.

As a panelist, Millicent shared a little about her childhood integration experience, but was intentional about having a relevant conversation about the current methodology, psycopathy, and importunity of racial injustice and white supremacy.  She spoke of the Charleston culture of politeness wherein Black people are expected to be quick to forgive the most egregious of offenses without a hint of righteous indignation or justifiable anger.  Then she pulled back the curtain on the facade of progress which showcases that we can all now party together without ever seeing or addressing the real inequities that exist in policing, housing, employment, education, and so on.  With no holds barred, she even threw some shade at elected officials for doing what was comfortable and easy instead of what was courageous and right.  As a lover of truth, I was in absolute awe!

There was something incredibly powerful, and familiar, and inspiring about her truthful way of being–that resonated not only with my soul’s work, but with who I am called to be.  Millicent Brown was someone I wanted to get to know better, but I was still getting re-acclimated to being home and going to a lot of events to discern what issues and groups were a fit for what I felt called to do, and weeks passed by.

In fact, so much time had passed that I wasn’t sure if the invitation to stop by was still good, and we hadn’t even exchanged contact info.  Even so, hindrances were being relinquished.

For our paths crossed a few more times, because unbeknown to Millicent and I at the time of our first meeting, we were connected in a web of mutuality, mentoring, and friendship that would eventually come to fruition.  Then I saw Millicent and her sister, Minerva, at the Black Ink Book Festival on September 23, and I sat near them for the keynote address that would be given by award-winning author Kwame Alexander.

While we were waiting for the program to start, she asked me if I was coming to Spirit Talk the next day, and of course, I had no idea what she was talking about.  Then she realized that she had mistook me for someone else and proceeded to invite me anyhow–handing me her phone so I could forward the invitation to my email address.  The event sounded really interesting and I actually showed up the next day for my first Spirit Talk.

Millicent and I have become fast friends, and often carpool to Spirit Talk and other events, as we have very similar interests.  We even discovered that–with the exception of Guatemala–she has lived in every place that I once lived–from D.C. to Tallahassee, FL and Greensboro, NC.

While we may be working on different aspects of our wholeness, both of us seem to be in the process of reconciling our higher consciousness with our black consciousness and have a role to play in each other’s healing.  Promise and purpose are being reconstituted.

Encountering Millicent and becoming friends with her has breathed fresh air on the promise and purpose of my soul’s work.  Although I may not have had the language or insight to always articulate it, I believe that I have always been wired for truth with a heart for justice that confronts the existential realities of the oppressed.  As I became  more aware of this innate purpose, I searched for ways to not only live more consciously, but to do so with people who get it and get me.

However, be clear that consciousness means different things to different people.  To one group it may mean higher consciousnessan ethereal state of being in a world obsessed with doing and achieving.  To others it may mean black consciousnessa reclamation of black history, black excellence, and black worth in a white supremacist world.  The challenge in both cases is to not only value both the celestial level and the existential realities in order to confront their contradictions, but to dethrone the ego so as to operate from a place of presence instead of privilege and power.

Now, while this promise and purpose of participating in the healing of racial trauma is being birthed, I am also being challenged by my friend and mentor, Millicent.  One day we were having a conversation, and I was sharing about an interaction that I had, and she said to me, “Tara, we have got to tell White people the truth,” and I agree wholeheartedly, but in that instance maybe I wasn’t as assertive as I could have been.  Interestingly, this is in direct contradiction to what my Mom told me.  I remember her telling me as a child, “You can’t tell White people the truth.” 

There you have it…two conflicting pieces of advice from two women who grew up during the Civil Rights era in downtown Charleston, and both of whom I absolutely adore.  So, let’s put this in context, because Millicent will be the first to tell you that she was born into an activist family with some means, which afforded them the luxury and burden of being heavily involved in civil rights and social activism. My parents, however, were born into families with less means who were probably just trying to survive Jim Crow and white supremacy.  

Furthermore, I can’t really remember when my Mom gave me that advice.  It is possible that she said this to me after I had a traumatic experience as the only Black student in the eighth grade Gifted & Talented program–a spot I was only given after my mother persisted until they finally let me take the test, which I passed.

Anyway, one day during class, I asserted my perspective, and with the voracity of a rabid rattlesnake, the teacher released an excessive and irrational tirade on me.  Humiliated and in tears by the time I got home, my Mom promptly took me back to the school and confronted the teacher–telling her, “If you ever yell at my child again, I will come back down here and whup your ass!”  So, it is possible that my Mom gave me this piece of advice, because she saw how traumatized I was by this experience.

And maybe this teacher’s verbal assault was so menacing and heavy-handed, because it was a direct attack on the promise and purpose of my soul’s work.  For I stopped asserting myself in White spaces, because that experience had taught me that my perspective was not welcomed or valued in those spaces.  However, all bets were off if you asked me something directly, because I would gladly offer you the truth.

But my soul’s work requires more of me.  The work of Blissful Authenticity–of valuing higher consciousness and Black consciousness in a white supremacist world–requires more of me if I am going to create space for communal consciousness and racial healing.

This 40 week journey has been trying at times, and at times, just like Zechariah, I felt like God had forgotten about me.  Like Zechariah I believed in the promise, but was finding it hard to see how and when it would come to pass.  Then I had a life-changing encounter with an activist, and gained a friend and a mentor, who sees me and gets me, because she exemplifies what Blissful Authenticity is really called to be.

So, let 2018 be the year where the promise of Blissful Authenticity is not hindered or held up but released and realized!

 

 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

Third Time’s The Charm


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20171203_144951There is definitely something to the saying, “third time’s the charm.”  Last Sunday marks my third public declaration and representation of an “I Am” statement.  Each proclamation has spoken to the truth of my ancestral heritage, which begins with the ancient civilizations of Africa…not slavery in America.

My most recent public proclamation of an “I Am” statement was as a participant in the Charleston, SC Christmas parade–representing and declaring that “I Am Nefertiti.”  For the parade, I joined Robert “King David” Ross–Egyptologist and Cultural Education Consultant–on his King Tut float where we honored the Ancient Egyptian civilization initially known as Kemit.

The significance of our representation of ancient Egyptian Queens and Kings as Black people was undeniable.  As we made our way along the route, I spotted my nephew in the crowd and the look on his face betrayed the cognitive dissonance he must have been experiencing.  The float represented historical truths that he was not exposed to or that contradicted what he had been taught in the public school system.

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King David and his Queen and our driver, Mary. 

In fact, Robert “King David” Ross has spent probably the last 30 years or more disrupting false narratives as a consultant to public schools, institutions of higher education, churches, etc.  His annual entry in the Christmas parade is an extension of his life’s work of creating space for the recovery of truth, of resisting false narratives, and of restoring a sense of worth and identity to Black people.

My second public “I Am” statement manifested as an original poem for which I was the conduit about 12 years ago.  Originally developed as a poem and visual presentation while I was attending seminary, it is being developed into a book at a pace much slower than I anticipated.  Nevertheless, the first few stanzas of the poem are:

I Am She
Seeker of the Truth
Whose past stretches back to the shores of Africa
Whose present originates in Charleston, South Carolina
Whose life is in the Kingdom come
Whose hope is in the Holy One

Yes, I Am She
And to understand the intricacy of who I be
The very essence of what it means to be me
You must go back and take account of the heritage from which I come
To truly understand who I be and how I have become.

Finally, my first “I Am” proclamation occurred almost 30 years ago when I was a debutante honoree of the Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. Sorority.  For the talent show, I embodied an African Queen declaring, “I Am Makeda, Ruler of Sheba.” 

Each public proclamation has been cathartic, but maybe the “third time’s the charm.”  When I first declared that “I Am Makeda” about 30 years ago, I experienced the euphoria of orientation towards liberating truth.

When I declared that “I Am She” about 18 years later, I was in a state of disorientation–grappling with the complexities and contradictions of my lived experience and my divine essence.  I was in the midst of an intense process of self-examination that required me to release those things that were either false or that no longer served me.

And when I declared that “I Am Nefertiti” about a week ago as a newly returned resident of my hometown of Charleston, SC, I felt like it marked a new phase for me–a phase of reorientation.  It feels like I have literally come full circle.  So, maybe the “third time’s the charm.”

 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

This Ain’t No Either/Or Proposition, But A Both/And Disposition


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LaShawnOn this path to bliss you just might miss
Your turn, your exit, your boarding call
You might just stumble, trip, or fall
Fall over, fall under, fall down
But Get Up, Get Up, Get Up
GET UP off the ground!

In becoming the authentic you
Learn to embrace the process of shedding
And shed to release what is false
Shed to reclaim what is true
Shed to redefine what a life of success
Looks and feels like for you!

Because the path may be winding
It may be far from straight
It may lead to dead ends
But don’t let your faith dissipate.

For the time is coming
The time is drawing near
For you to reach your destiny
To be absolutely clear
That your destiny is a journey
And your journey is your destiny.

It is NOT about a place
It is NOT about a space
It is NOT about a competition
Or even about a race.

It’s about being
Being fully present
Being fully human
Being fully divine
Being embodied and enlightened
In space and in time.

And in the midst of chaos
Experiencing the sublime
At a higher level of consciousness
With a “woke” state of mind.

“Woke” to your authentic truth
And awake in a state of bliss
Acknowledging the tension and cognitive dissonance
Between your lived reality and your eternal essence.

It’s NOT about power and control
It’s NOT about affection and esteem
It’s NOT even about having a false sense of security
It is about a state of blissful authenticity.

Now, if you have missed your bliss
If your authenticity is still neatly tucked away
Please don’t loose hope
And please don’t dismay.

What you desire may have been waylayed
But bliss, bliss, bliss is just a kiss away
The kiss of a new day
The kiss of a new way
The kiss of a new path to “slay”
To embody your essence in spite of and anyway.

But this ain’t no either/or proposition
It’s a both/and disposition
So, when you get to your bliss
Do not dismiss
ALL of thee
ALL of your lived reality
ALL of your hopes and dreams
ALL of your shadow and light.

For in really seeing it ALL
You will not only find, but share delight
A delight that embraces who you were created to be
A delight that shares in the healing of humanity
Accessing the very depths of your being
The secret recesses of your soul
The hidden crevices of your heart
Discrediting the lie that you are separate and apart.

In really seeing it ALL
You embrace your wholeness
Your connection to the Divine
Your oneness with all that exists in space and in time.

This ain’t no either/or proposition
It’s a both/and disposition
So, don’t dismiss
Don’t repress
And by all means, don’t acquiesce
Own your authenticity as part of the process.

Because when bliss and authenticity align
The external and the untruths no longer define
Your existence, your pathway, nor your destination
Because you recover oneness with the divine and all creation.

And in facing whatever you must
You recognize the ways of thinking and seeing
That no longer serve you nor creation
Have to be let go, leveled, and left in the dust.

So, whatever your bliss
Don’t miss
Don’t stress
And don’t think less.

But be more
More of the essence of your serenity
More of the fullness of your veracity
Be courageous in your blissful authenticity.

Live and give from the essence of your being.
That is your destiny
Not a space or place or title or possession
But your journey
To offer a lived out response to the question:
Who I be?

Yes, your destiny is a journey
And your journey is your destiny.

This ain’t no either/or proposition
It’s a both/and disposition
To reconcile your essence and your reality
To be and live courageously with blissful authenticity!

 

©Tara LaShawn Seabrook.  All Rights Reserved. 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

Don’t Throw Out The Baby With The Bath Water…But The Bath Water Must Go!


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baby picWhen you become aware of and aligned with the essence of your sacred purpose, heaven and earth will move to bring it into focus, formation, and fulfillment.  Becoming aware and aligned empowers you to embrace more of your intuition and helps bring balance to your instincts–better equipping you to make the transition from surviving to thriving.

Our instincts alert us to imminent danger and are shaped largely by how we perceived our experiences and protected ourselves as children.  Our intuition, however, is that deep sense of knowing that is derived from the connection of our divine essence–our spirit–to the Divine, which is beyond what we can know by our five senses.  Of course, I am oversimplifying this, but you get the gist of what I am trying to convey.

As we are socialized growing up, we learn to rely less on our intuition and more on our instincts.  This over-reliance on our survival instincts developed during childhood can so color our perceptions and perspectives that we may live out of paradigms that are destructive to ourselves and others.  Moreover, depending on where we fall in the pecking order, those instincts may be just as necessary to keep us safe now as they were in childhood.  In both instances, though, we may miss an opportunity to shift from surviving to thriving.

Ultimately, we need our instincts to survive difficult situations, but living at a higher level of consciousness requires that we engage our intuition.  For “if we can’t see the difference between the cruelty or hardship we experience and the wisdom waiting in our reflex to survive, we can find ourselves needing crisis and pain in order to learn.” (Mark Nepo)

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo shares Paula Poundstone’s story in which she states, “My mom said she learned how to swim.  Someone took her out in the lake and threw her off the boat.  That’s how she learned how to swim.  I said, ‘Mom, they weren’t trying to teach you how to swim.'” 

Poundstone’s mom instinctively adopted this mindset to survive a very dangerous situation and learned to swim from it.  This story got me to thinking about the black experience and how black folks have had to instinctively adopt an array of mindsets from black exceptionalism to Black Power and Black Lives Matter just to survive.

To survive being thrown into the dehumanizing and deadly system of white supremacy whose initial iteration was slavery–America’s original sin according to Jim Wallis–black folks had to learn how to survive that which was intended to kill us physically, mentally, economically, emotionally, and spiritually.  And somehow, in the middle of the murky and treacherous waters of institutionalized racism, black folks have learned to swim even though that was never the lesson the system intended to teach.

Now, swimming in the toxicity of this system affects not only black people but ALL people.  It just does not affect ALL people EQUALLY.  For while these toxic waters buoy some up, they weigh others of us down based on false narratives of superiority grounded in the lie and social construct of whiteness.  Even the most sincere of those buoyed up by privilege may never realize, may fail to revoke, and may fall short of reconciling this reality, while those bogged down by prejudice do not have the luxury of being untouched by this incessant and pervasive trauma.

For Poundstone’s mom, processing the violent trauma of being thrown off a boat as learning how to swim helped her to survive it as a child.  But it had also colored her present perceptions and perspectives in such a way that she may equate the presence of danger with learning.

How is the trauma you lived through in the past or the instincts that were reinforced in your childhood coloring your present?  

For, while we do have an opportunity to learn from painful experiences, pain should not be a prerequisite for learning, growing, or being.  For black folks, however, painful experiences are part and parcel of what it means to be black in the waters that have been intentionally contaminated by the lie of white supremacy.

And what does this have to do with sacred purpose?

Well, when I began to intensely focus on my sacred purpose and the breadcrumbs I had encountered along my path, I had to re-process what I had learned instinctively from an intuitive standpoint.  From a lifetime of navigating the waters of white supremacy, I had instinctively internalized that my sacred purpose was wrapped up in overcoming hard tasks, being surrounded by difficult people, and braving harsh environments where my perspective would not be welcomed–at least not as equal and certainly not as relevant.

Now, of course, some of these realities may be part of the experience, but they should never be the whole experience.  My sacred purpose is not merely about personal or tribal survival, but about communal and global thriving, which is in direct opposition to the toxic waters into which I have been thrown.  Given that reality, my instincts are serving a very real and necessary purpose of keeping me safe–or surviving, but that must be tempered with my intuitive self for the formation and fulfillment of sacred purpose–or thriving.

Intuition is this deep sense of knowing that brings sacred purpose into focus, formation, and fulfillment, because it is not connected to the false self–the ego–but instead, it is connected to true essence, spirit self, the Divine.  During this process that takes us from focus to fulfillment, we must pass through the valley of things-that-no-longer-serve-us–things that may have unconsciously defined us in the past.  It is here that we are responsible for making conscious choices about whether we value the comfort and convenience of what has become normative or choose to embrace the intuitive aspects of our being that challenge social and societal norms.

This may look different for each of us, but as I have travailed the murky waters of white supremacy, my instincts have been and continue to be crucial to surviving, and at the same time, my intuition–what I know to be true at the soul level–is propelling me to thrive.  As I see it, the challenge is validating both my lived experiences and the instinctual lessons I’ve learned while embracing that deep universal knowing that intuitively connects me to the Divine and all creation.

Living in this tension in pursuit of wholeness is what Blissful Authenticity was created to promote, because there is no “blissful” that connects us universally without unadulterated truth and “authenticity.”  Yet, in these murky waters of white supremacy, black folks are expected to forgive on demand and white folks want to rush to reconciliation–instincts for survival on one hand and instincts of supremacy on the other.

Wholeness, however, is intertwined in embracing both the universality of our connection to the Divine and to each other as well as the whole truth of our lived, embodied experience without condition, compromise or expectations of comfort and convenience.  This is the sacred purpose that I have been called to and the reason for which I was created, because it is not either/or, but both/and–both instincts and intuition, both universal connection and the whole truth, both spiritual essence and embodied experience, both blissful and authenticity.

Now, please don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  We don’t need to “throw the baby out with the bath water,” but we do need to throw out the toxic bath water and replace it with the waters of racial, social, and economic justice. 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

What Do Cars Need That We Also Need?


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photoLast Monday, at the invitation of a dear friend, I attended the screening of a local film.  She had been invited by another friend, and although neither of us had any idea of what we were being invited to, we attended because of the person extending the invitation.

After the screening of the documentary, as we mingled and chatted with the producer, actors and guests, my friend had several encounters with people whose paths had crossed hers at different stages of her career.  She was surprised and humbled that each of them expressed virtually the same gratitude to her for how she had helped them.

My response was, “that’s because that’s who you are.” But I think she was mostly stunned, because her past encounters with each of them was not concentrated in a particular setting or time span, but each was scattered across time and space.

You see, when we find that sweet spot that aligns what we do with who we be, we may never fully know the ripple effects, but we will receive some affirmation along the way.  Those affirmations may not come in rapid succession like they did for my friend this past Monday, but if we pay attention, they do come to encourage us to fully embody who we be. 

One of my most tangible experiences of affirmation happened as I prepared to go to, served in, and returned from Guatemala.  As I prepared to go, people whose paths I had crossed from various places and from as recently as months before I left for Guatemala to as long ago as several decades before, offered their affirmation through their financial support, words of encouragement, and prayers.

While I served with and among the people of Guatemala, not from a point of privilege or power, but of solidarity and equality, the relationships and the experience itself affirmed the alignment of my doing and being.  Undoubtedly, the work I did could have been done by someone else, but the way in which I did it from my sense of being, which is grounded in spirituality, creativity, and justice, is what made the difference.

My sense of being, however, is also grounded in a call to itinerate as the Spirit leads and directs.  So, there came a point when it was time to leave Guatemala, and the photo above captures my last day at the project.  In the picture, I am surrounded by all my Guatemalan nieces and nephews from the project’s preschool–my constant sources of affirmation.  On that day as well as every other day that I was there, they affirmed that the alignment of my doing work at the project and my being present to them mattered.

Along the path to blissful authenticity, aligning the doing and being in a capitalistic, scarcity-driven, dog-eat-dog world is usually not easy, but it is incumbent upon all of us to try.  This does not mean, however, that you have to change what you are doing to fully embody who you be, but it is essential to find out how to fully be in whatever you do.

In the same way that the tires on a car must be checked for alignment to ensure safe and efficient travel, we must also check to ensure that we are aligned so that we may safely and efficiently travel along the path to sacred purpose.  One way to do this is to start a regular practice.  For instance, you may want to set aside time in a quiet place to ask yourself a series of questions, sit with the answers, discern what feelings or emotions are emerging, and listen for clarity.

Some questions to consider are: How do I feel about what I do? Does it align with who I be?  Who and what have affirmed the alignment of my doing and being?  Does what I’m doing help me fulfill my sacred purpose?   Is the environment supportive of or hostile towards me? Where is the disconnect…is it with the work, the hours, the commute, the culture, the stress, the leadership, the pay, etc.? 

Finally, take a few moments to remember when someone or something affirmed that your doing and being were aligned.  Also, remember that it may not have been what you were doing but instead how you did it that made the difference.  Either way, your awareness of this alignment comes with the sacred responsibility to live intentionally and consciously in that alignment.

 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

What I Do In Public


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pexels-photo-419235.jpegAbout a week ago, I was getting to know a new friend over coffee/tea when the infamous question surfaced.  Now, this is a question that everybody has been asked countless times, so you would think that I would have had an airtight, roll-off-the-tongue, automatic response by now.  But I didn’t.

Of course, there are those of you who are less eccentric, random and/or flighty than I tend to be, and for you this question would be a breeze.  You would have your handy response loaded and ready for delivery to whomever may ask.  But me, on the other hand, I seem to struggle every time someone asks me that dreaded question, “What do you do?”

Well, I think that I struggle with this question on two levels.  On the one hand, I resist the question for esoteric reasons, because although on the surface it seems innocent, it is often accompanied by an underlying assumption that assigns value to a person based on what they do professionally, or even personally.  So, part of me resists the question, because I don’t want anyone assigning worth to me based on what I do.  My worth is derived from who I be.

On the other hand, I struggled because honestly, in this new chapter of life I am being really intentional about aligning what I do with who I be.  Yes, I write, I speak, I coach, I consult, etc., but if I had to sum it all up in a word or phrase that tied it all together, what exactly do I do?

So, in response to my friend’s inquiry, I initially said “that’s a very good question,” because in all honesty, it really was a good question.  And by stating the obvious I also bought myself a little time until an answer came to me.  Then after a brief moment of silence, the perfect response arose, and I verbalized it for the first time with my new friend.

Now, as I think back on that interaction, my answer was such a fitting one.  After all, I was speaking to a public historian, and as it turns out, what the both of us do is in the public realm.  In that moment, it became clear that I do public theology, and I do it at the intersection of spirituality, justice, and creativity.

The struggle to name it, however, is rooted in my pursuit of pathways to express this “doing” of unconventional sacred purpose through very conventional means.  Now two seminary degrees and three annual conferences later, it is refreshing to both embrace and name the unorthodox thing that I do.

I don’t have to try to squeeze into a one-size-fits-all box constructed to control, nor conform to dogma neglectful of present realities, nor acquiesce to religion oblivious to historical context.  I do public theology to liberate.  I do public theology that is practical and relevant for the present age.  I do public theology in context, because in the words of the inimitable Rev. Dr. Freddy D. Haynes, “a text without a context is a pretext for a con!”

In a nutshell, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  You see, how I do what I do can be identified as writing, speaking, dancing, serving, consulting, etc.  But the essence of what I do is public theology.

So, what’s your story . . . what do you do?

 

 

 

 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

People, Places, Platforms and the James Island Cowboys


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After the interview, I saddled up on Baby Girl for a pic with Dexter.

Getting my first magazine article published has resulted from an interesting turn of events.  Several weeks after moving back home to Charleston, SC in April, I was invited to accompany a friend to an event.  Since I’m usually up for new experiences, I agreed to go–not knowing exactly what kind of event it was, who would be in attendance, where the event was being held, or even who was hosting it.  Looking back on it now, it seems like when you least expect it, people, places, and platforms will conspire to propel you into sacred purpose.

So as it turns out, the event was a 60th birthday party, and this was not just any party.  It was THE party of the century, at least to me anyway.  At a beautifully decorated outdoor gathering space on the banks of the Ashley River under the stunning starlit skies of the Charleston low country, this party was “on and poppin” with live music, dancing, food, spirits, desserts, and fascinating people.

In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting some of those fascinating people that night.  After being introduced to a new friend and timidly telling him that I was a writer, he offered to introduce me to a friend of his, who was an editor.  Having just met me, though, I probably half-believed him, but he was absolutely sincere about his offer–so much so that he found me right before I was about to leave to make the introductions.

Unexpectedly, this series of events–meeting new people in a new place offered me a new platform that aligns with my gift of writing.  Those connections that were made six months ago also coincided with an event that happened two months later.  That second event happened one night in late June when I stopped at the Walgreens on James Island after attending my niece’s summer camp orchestra concert.

Upon walking out of the Walgreen’s, I discovered two cowboys on horses in the parking lot.  Now, I don’t know what you encounter when you visit the drugstore, but cowboys on horses seemed a bit unusual to me.  So, I did what just about anybody else would do, I took pictures as proof and posted them on Facebook.

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My first meeting with Fancy and Desmond in the Walgreens parking.

My editor friend happened to see the pictures and thought that a profile on the cowboys might be a good piece to include in an upcoming edition of Charleston Magazine.  Of course, neither of us had any real idea of who these cowboys were until I saw them again a few weeks later.  It was at that second meeting that a fan approached and referred to the duo as the James Island Cowboys.

Now that I had a name to share with the editor, the possibility of this article really began to materialize, and I eventually received the assignment to interview and write the profile on the Cowboys by August 31st for the November issue.  Click here to read the profile on the James Island Cowboys entitled Range Rovers.

The seeming synchronicity of events that have led to the publication of my first magazine article has offered me some poignant lessons about sacred purpose.  First of all, be open to new people and places, for they may offer us access to new platforms.  Secondly, though sacred purpose may seem to elude us for weeks, months, or even years, stay vigilant, because we never know when the stars will align.  Our responsibility is to be ready.  Finally, people, places, and platforms will not matter if we fail to seize the opportunities presented to us.

 

 

 

 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

Truth-Speaking, Storytelling & Sacred Purpose


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425449_343878465654422_1776949090_n-e1508553490792.jpgThere is a proverb in the Bible, which states that your gifts will make room for you.  I would add that your gifts will make room for you–even when you don’t understand  them or haven’t fully embraced them.  These gifts will give you access to people, places, and platforms that you never imagined, and could not have predicted.

As your gifts make room for you, they will also serve as breadcrumbs, a compass, your personal GPS to direct you to sacred purpose.  Well, that is, if you choose surrender over self-righteousness, patience over pride, ego over essence. 

You see, everyone has gifts and a sacred purpose, but we don’t all operate in both of them.   Sacred purpose requires soul work to bring our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical energy centers into life-giving coherence that creates synergy to actualize our sacred purpose instead of separation that perverts it.

I am reminded of my first experience of serving as a keynote speaker at a women’s retreat in Florida.  A woman I had met and befriended through my work at Florida A&M University recommended me, even though she had never actually heard me speak.

In fact, I had moved away from Florida several months before the retreat was to take place, and there were some rumblings among the powers that be about whether I should still speak.  In the midst of controversy, the woman who had recommended me (and never heard me speak), even successfully advocated for me to be the keynote as scheduled.  Talk about your gifts making room for you!

The little Gullah-Geechee girl from Charleston, South Carolina had grown up into a woman whose gifts had made room for her to address an audience of over 600 women in Florida–of whom 99% were White.  On the path to sacred purpose, my gifts of truth-speaking, storytelling, poetry, creativity, and presence offered some bread crumbs and gave me access to people, places, and a platform.

Over three days, my love of stories served as the basis for me to extract practical wisdom from biblical stories and my personal journey by putting those stories and my own into context.  As part of my story, I was planning to share a very personal poem that puts me, a descendant of Africans enslaved in America, into context.  Given my predominantly white audience, I had some concerns about sharing the poem entitled “I Am She” on the second night, but I felt compelled to do so.

For shrinking away from the reality of my context does not make it any less true, but it would certainly make me less authentic.  After all, our stories are not all joy and laughter, fun and games all the time.  The truth of our stories and our history is often inconvenient, uncomfortable, and even incomprehensible, but in honestly sharing our stories and telling our history, we create space for awakening, liberation, and transformation in ourselves and in others. 

I will never forget speaking with an elderly White woman at the end of the weekend who was just overjoyed that I had been the speaker.  As we spoke, I soon discovered why.  She shared that when she was a young woman she felt compelled to go to segregated parts of Florida to teach Black children, and for doing so, she was rejected and hated by White people.  And here I was…an example of what she must have hoped and dreamed might be possible, but could and would not be possible without courageous acts that disrupt the norm.

Beyond our stories, our personal and collective awakenings to sacred purpose may be inconvenient and uncomfortable.  They may even ruffle some feathers, repudiate some expectations, and disrupt the status quo–resulting in external pressures that might try to coerce us into conforming.  However, when we awaken to what’s true internally–although “all hell is breaking loose” externally–we feel at home with ourselves and we yearn to live from that place of blissful authenticity.  

So, interestingly, as I brought my story to the foreground with the American mythology of exceptionalism in the background, it was bound to be disorienting–especially for those who benefit from the systematic oppression unconsciously and consciously.  It had to be downright disturbing to those whose sense of identity was built on the myth of whiteness.  This mythology is so pervasive that most White people–even the most liberal and the most Christian–are not aware of how much it defines them and confines others.

The morning after I shared my poem, I had a brief conversation with the woman who recommended me.  She mentioned how it was interesting that I was speaking on that particular weekend, because there were also retreat weekends that were predominantly Black.  Then as she started a thought about what she had realized the night before, I finished her sentence with “that I’m Black.”

Now, of course, she knows that I am Black, because this skin I’m in could never ever pass.  But  in a world where whiteness is the norm, she did not know what it means to be Black.  Like most White people, I imagine, she has probably never been in spaces where she was the minority, where she was completely erased from the narrative, where her voice was often muted.  Most Black people, on the other hand, are in those spaces all the time.

So, the gifts that made room for me, illuminated a sacred purpose beyond engaging the crowd.  It is not just about telling a good story or sharing some poetry, but for me, it is about co-laboring with the divine to heal racial trauma.  For your gifts will make room for you, but sacred purpose expands your capacity to make room for others.

 

When we operate in sacred purpose, our gifts are activated to release our divine potential, power, and possibility to transform the trajectory of our individual and collective lives.  It represents a shift from personal achievement to meaningful work, from mindless consumption to conscious community co-creation, from “power over” leadership to “power with” leadership.

 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

It’s Never Just About You


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nephew weekendLast weekend, I had the privilege of hanging out with two of my three nephews, spending time with a civil rights legend, and witnessing the harvest moon usher in a new season.  Although distinctly different, each experience reminded me of the gift and ever-present reality that it’s never just about you.

I was reminded that although the pursuit of sacred purpose obviously is about me, it’s never just about me.  It is about the generations that are coming behind me and those that have gone before me.  Indeed, it is about something greater than myself and more potent than the singularity of my sacred purpose.

But what exactly does my sacred purpose have to do with my nephew weekend?  Well, although I never received the call to motherhood, I am called to be an aunt, a coach, a strategist who nurtures God-given potential.

So, the weekend presented the perfect set of circumstances, because I was already scheduled to spend the weekend with 9 year old Miles.  On Friday morning, however, he wasn’t feeling well, and I had to pick him up from school early.  Being sick had slowed him down only a little bit, but nothing steals that child’s joy.  In fact, by the time we reached the house he was fully recovered and back to his high-energy self.

Now, Keyshawn–the 17 year old–had made some poor choices the week before and needed some auntie time.  So, I picked him up from school to at least spend the afternoon with him, but had no plans beyond that.  The fact, however, that his poor choices had resulted in consequences that essentially cleared his weekend calendar and left him without his phone, made spending the weekend with Miles and me sound like a teenager’s dream weekend.

Honestly, I had forgotten how much Keyshawn could talk, because he was usually glued to the screen of his cell phone.  But without his phone, he still wanted to communicate, and he showed me no mercy!  Seriously, I am grateful that we had an opportunity to talk about life, choices, and, of course, Tupac.  We talked about all manner of things that had peaked his curiosity, but I mostly listened, and sometimes chimed in “Google it.”  I am not the walking encyclopedia…that would be his other aunt.  I am “stalker auntie” who might show up at his school unannounced just to make sure he’s on his P’s and Q’s and to keep the school in check.  Don’t miss the fact that schools are systems designed to leave certain children that look like him behind.  Well, that’s a topic for another time.

Anyway, Miles is more of a homebody but after Keyshawn and I coaxed him to leave the house Saturday night to grab a bite to eat, we witnessed something wonderful.  On the drive back to the house, we saw the massive harvest moon in all its majesty.  We marveled at how big it was and how close it seemed, and I contemplated what might be ushered in by this harvest season, this final quarter of 2017.

Then, at the close of nephew weekend, I had the honor of spending time with a civil rights legend on Sunday.  I got to know her as a person, to better understand her struggles, and to discover where our experiences, passions, and interests intersect.  We had both recently returned home to Charleston and were experiencing some similar challenges associated with that.  We had come back to a place that has an outer image of progress, but in mindsets and in lived reality, it remains stuck in time and a particular historical pattern.

After a tumultuous year, the first weekend of the last quarter of 2017, which also ushered in the harvest moon, was providing a sign post.  You see, the harvest is much bigger and a lot closer when we approach it with the understanding that it’s never just about us.  This past weekend was about connecting with sacred purpose as a family member and a global citizen.

As a Black auntie, my sacred purpose this weekend was to love on and allow two Black boys to just be children in a white world that has already deemed them dangerous and set a precedent for treating them as adults.  It’s never just about you and yours, but it is also about those beyond your circle.  It is about the generations behind us that we have been entrusted to nurture into wholeness and the fullness of who they be. 

As a conscious Black womanist, my sacred purpose is to connect with the generations that have gone before me, and to carry on their work of liberation.  For me, that work begins with the liberation of Black and Brown people from the racial oppression that is in the very DNA of this country, its systems, institutions, and structures.  So, it’s never just about you, but it is also about the greater harvest that comes from collaboration with those on the front lines.  It is about having the capacity to harvest by drawing on the strength of the ancestors on whose shoulders we stand.

It’s never just about you.  It’s about planting the seeds of individual, communal, and global wholeness to harvest crops of radical redemptive love.  Depending on where you sit, stand, or kneel in the existing system, you may be required to give up power, privilege, comfort, and convenience to make others whole.  After all, that is what Jesus did when he gave up the comforts of heaven and the convenience of his power and privilege as the Son of God.

It’s never just about you.  Others who may have been relegated to receive only crumbs from the table may need to re-position themselves and reclaim their power in order to recover their wholeness.

It’s never just about you. It’s about the web of interconnection and interdependence that we all share with each other and with all creation. 

No, it’s never just about you…it’s about them, it’s about me, it’s about you, and ultimately, it’s about us.  

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

Courageous Or Crazy: Recovering Your Blissful Authenticity


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pexels-photo-461593This year of transition and settling in have allowed me to reflect on my sacred purpose and my twisted path,  and I have had to question whether I’ve been courageous or just plain crazy!  I have found myself wondering about my sanity, and whether I have been hearing God rightly.

However, in this process of “coming to myself,” as the Prodigal Son did in Luke 15, I recognized that I had to divest not only of other people’s opinions and projections, but also of my own ego.  Something I learned from Servant Leadership School of Greensboro is that “the ego is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”  In Luke 15, it was the elder brother, the one who had always been with his father, that had the unchecked ego and who had not yet come to himself.  We’ll have to unpack that another time, though.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to substitute teach a Tuesday and Thursday class at Laurel University for my pastor, and as God would have it, the class discussions centered around “self-awareness” and “call.”  The class discussion reminded me that what has been essential to my process of “coming to myself” is the discipline of self-awareness—understanding my personality type, my spiritual gifts, my strengths, my passions, values, experiences, convictions, context, etc.–in other words, recovering God’s good intention and sacred purpose for me and my life.  Then as I heard and discussed the amazing call stories of this diverse group of students,  I reminisced about my own call story.  I was reminded how my call resembles Abram’s call, because it seems to be sandwiched between two difficult sets of circumstances.

What I have found, though, is that regardless of what my human predicament has been, once I surrendered, God has always been faithful.  Things did not always end up the way that I had envisioned, but as I learned to go with the flow, things usually worked out much better than I could have thought or imagined.  From the outside looking in and sometimes from the inside looking out, I have either looked courageous or crazy. 

Who makes a two year commitment to work in a country they have never even visited?  Who gives their notice to move without knowing where they are moving?  Who chooses their convictions over a paycheck?  Who quits their job without having another one?  Someone who is either courageous or crazy.  Well, the Bible and our present day lives are filled with people who look either courageous or crazy!

I would suggest that I am a little bit of both–crazy and courageous.  For according to this world’s standards, many of my steps absolutely look crazy, but in my pursuit of blissful authenticity and through the lens of sacred purpose, I see my counter-cultural, out of the box, and inspired–not simply intellectualized–steps as courageous.

After all, I am a follower of Jesus, who is the epitome of counter-cultural, out of the box, and Spirit-led living.  Jesus was free to “go” wherever God was leading, and to meet people at their point of need, because He practiced non-attachment to many of the accretions that presently give us a false sense of identity.

According to the standard of that time period and even of current accepted societal norms, Jesus would be considered to be bat-sh@#-crazy—a raving lunatic.   However, in his willingness to be counter-cultural, to stand outside the institutional systems of injustice, and to stand with the marginalized, Jesus was and is courageous.

Now, I do not come anywhere near being just like Jesus, but on this journey to becoming who I really be, I have learned to pursue my sacred purpose.  That means doing what blesses my soul and the souls of others; it means acting in accordance with God’s timing.  It means taking the route God has prepared so that I can reach the spacious place that God is calling me into–regardless of the uncomfortable and inconvenient terrain I have to cross.  In the process, I have been perceived by myself and others as both courageous and crazy, and I have learned to love and embrace them both!

The pursuit of sacred purpose is a process of peeling back the layers that we have subconsciously built up to protect ourselves from the bad, which has also kept out the good.  More importantly, it has kept in the goodness of our essence–keeping it hidden, constricted and unexpressed.  With layers peeled back, however, we arrive at center–our sweet spot of blissful authenticity.  Mark Nepo describes this sweet spot as

“the center I once glimpsed…all around me, a landscape I now live in, and I will not pretend any more. If those I love can’t recognize me with my soul out in the open, I will no longer retreat and show what is familiar.” 

To live from a place of blissful authenticity and fulfill your sacred purpose is the greatest gift you can offer to the world!  Howard Thurman puts it this way,

“Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 

So, take some time to know what your truth is, find a safe space for the expression of that truth, and never stop learning about who you be and why you are here.  There is something special and unique that only you can offer to the world, and I pray that you will come to “know” what it is so you can “be” who you are, and “go” where you are sent!