Introductions to Theology

Me and a Womanist Sister are working on a webinar for the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education where we introduce the community to Black Liberation Theology. It’s part of a series of didactics that’ll be accessible to our pastoral educators and CPE students.

The series is called 8:46 and will have 8 webinars that are 46 minutes long–in sober and theo-ethical acknowledgement of Brother Floyd’s murder and how ministers, clinicians, and leaders might nurture our work in everything from the social construction of race to the psychological implications of racism and other sins.

I’m working with a practitioner from North Carolina and we’re offering an introduction to (Black and Womanist) theology. In the preparation, I found a sentence Dr. Stephanie Mitchem wrote where she said that theology begins not in studying in the classroom but in living a life.

So I’ve begun journeying over the beginnings of theology, the origins of my own, lately. It’s resting with me that the origins provide a long shadow over the rest.

If theology begins in a word, who wrote it or spoke it or claimed its authority? If theology started in a person, was that person relatable, relatable in every way or particular ways? If discourse about the Sacred started in practices, were those practices exclusive, open, and are they relevant? The questions continue when you think and live theologically, right?

Think about yours. From where have your best understandings of the Transcendent come? How were you introduced to your “theological” world? We could keep going. These are the kinds of questions that need answers.

Ways to Care

I am a father and I work as a chaplain, as a spiritual caregiver, and regularly I spend my days considering ways to care. Here are some ways and I’d love to keep building this list. I’m using words with more than one meaning, intending nuance.

  1. Enact a ritual and keep it – like a hug or a whispered greeting when you first see yourself or another person.
  2. Look at your own face carefully.
  3. Spend time with the person who you’ll expose others to.
  4. Chew your food slowly, filling yourself with the nourishment there.
  5. If you’re not in a place for feedback, say something like, “Let me move so I can try to hear you. Give me 10 minutes.”
  6. With their explicit permission and openness, touch someone today.
  7. Touch every body with kindness.
  8. Stretch.
  9. Before you speak, count to ten.
  10. Learn what cleansing breath is and employ many of them.
  11. In a conversation with a person, try asking “Is this what you’re saying…”
  12. Wrestle.
  13. Stretch beyond what you decided you’d do.
  14. Do something someone asked you to do without argument.
  15. Make an exception.
  16. Drink a cup of tea alone.
  17. Drink a cup of tea with someone.
  18. Let it play out.
  19. Smile.
  20. Walk.
  21. Smile while you walk.
  22. Help someone carry something.
  23. Listen to Nina Simone and Sam Cooke.
  24. Be gentle when you fail.
  25. Ask and listen to the response to, “What’s important right now?”
  26. When they yell, observe the pain there.
  27. Use “I” when talking about yourself.
  28. Cook and take a meal to someone else.
  29. Make it a goal to ask one good question daily.
  30. Sleep the number of hours you worked.
  31. Fart when you have to because “there’s more room out than there is in.”
  32. Invite someone to tell you their story today.
  33. Listen to the child’s joke.
  34. Ask for it.
  35. Watch someone you love do something they love.
  36. Play a little bit or in the words of one of my teachers, “You, play more.”
  37. Take an entire day off from the thing you experience as hard, if you can, and if you can’t, pray with words.
  38. Attend to your skin as it covers all of your beautiful self.
  39. Sit without saying anything next to a person who can’t say anything.
  40. Experiment with saying versions of “Peace to you.”
  41. Say goodbye in a unique way.
  42. Treat goodbyes as benedictions, times to say something about what just happened.

Living in a Different Way

A lot of black men die early. And many die from preventable diseases and the sticky consequences of them.

When I read of John Singleton’s death, this came back in an undeniable brightness. I grew up loving his work. I didn’t know how young he was until obituaries began.

Then, I visited the catalog in my mind. The men I’ve loved as an adult who have died, namely my father Mardell Culley and my then father-in-law John McKinney. There’s the list of men I’ve served as a leader, a list of those living who, like Singleton, struggle quietly.

Among the responses to Mr. Singleton’s death, researchers have turned again to the problem of black folk dying, particularly black men. Dr. Clyde Yancy, a cardiologist at NM whose work around social determinants of health I respect, grow from, and learn from is a consistent care provider around these issues.

Dr. Yancy says bluntly, “I want this message to be explicitly clear: Check your blood pressure. That’s a hard stop. That’s the takeaway; and especially if you’re an African American man, check it today.”

That is within reach. Drop-in clinics, CVS, Target, your doctor, your cousin’s doctor, your family friend who is a nurse, your ex’s distant friend from third grade. Check your blood pressure.

Speaking about the rates of disease in the black community and after stating the men he has lost, Dr. Yancy sums it up, “It’s just unacceptable. We can live life a different way.”

It’s true. We can. And we can struggle while making noise for the health of our beautiful selves and the health of those we love.

Read the full, brief piece here.

Before Class

As this semester comes to an end, I have decided to accept that I will never like it when people come to class having not read the readings for the class.

I don’t have to know what the professor thinks. I don’t have to know what my classmates think. I think it’s a waste of time.

I think it’s a misuse of the learning process. I think it shortens the possibilities for which I prepared when I read the book the first time and the second time.

In the words of my previous professor-turned-president of CTS, Dr. Stephen Ray, I think people should “read the damn book!”

Exercising Perfect Control

I got hit hard in a class the other day. It was an illegal target–my chin–but I also dropped my guard. I was stunned, turned in a circle to shake passed the hit, indicated to my partner that I was okay, and returned to the work.

In sparring class, there’s a lot of partner work, and to complicate the learning, we always switch partners. Depending on how many learners are in the class that day, we get to spar with several partners in an hour.

Working with partners of varied abilities, skill levels, and histories with giving and receiving contact allows us all to moderate our approach, speed, pace, and more importantly, energy. If someone’s energy is low, you learn to lower yours. If someone’s energy is high, well, you might catch up!

In the dojo, we don’t fight, a subtle word that can be used by the uninitiated. Dojos are “places to learn.” There we practice. Martial arts is a practice. I’m trying to live this in front of my oldest son who is at another dojo, little fighter that he is. It’s not like I go to Thousand Waves to fight. I don’t go to learn to fight. Frankly, I go to learn how not to.

I’m used to fighting. After all, I’m a black man. I grew up on the South side of Chicago. And I was born fighting. I mean that literally. I spent the first six weeks of my life fighting without stopping. I came home from a neonatal intensive care unit tired of fighting.

In the dojo though, I learn how to be as non-violent as possible. I go to self-defense classes and I’m moving through our curriculum. I learn how to fight, but my personal spiritual integration is in the other direction. And sparring is a window into that. You take contact. You get hit. You give contact. You adjust so that you are learning how to meet the challenge. “How do I give as little power as possible, especially since I’m not threatened in our dojo? I’m safe and my partner is helping me. We’re here to learn.”

Our senior-most teacher said to us once that sparring is an exercise in perfect control. I love that. It’s true. You use as much power as needed for the situation. So for me, I’m learning how to yell when my inclination may be to punch. I’m learning to walk away when I want to yell. I’m learning to hit when I’d rather hit, kick, stomp, and rip (…a combination technique, if you will).

When one act accomplishes the need, don’t do two things. Practice perfect control. This is becoming my way of being, especially since I started training three and half years ago. If I can do one thing and end a situation, I will. If I have to act in three ways, I will not act in six ways. I’ll both reserve my energy and I’ll practice perfect control. That’s the learning.

While in sparring class, after turning in my “damn-that-hurt-circle,” I knew my jaw would have more to say later. I had to eat after class and it took a long time to chew on one side of my mouth. I muttered how old I was, too old in my view to start getting used to being hit in the face. Two days later, my teeth recognized themselves again and I was cool. Then, I wrote this post as a memorial.

I’m in class tomorrow. Keep my guard up. When hit, monitor energy. Keep practicing perfect control. If you see me walking around with a rear guard up, it’s because I’m practicing. Encourage me. Don’t tease me.

I may not be a good student, in that moment, if you do.