Trying to Find Words for Charleston

18 06 2015

Ever since I found out about the shooting of 9 Emanuel AME Church members during a weekly prayer meeting last night, I have been at a loss for words. Really, anytime a tragedy happens that affects my community, I am at a loss for words. #Ferguson. #EricGarner. #WalterScott. #Baltimore. #McKinney. #RachelDolezal. This loss often renders me speechless in my social media spaces, not because I don’t care but because there are so many dynamics at play that I usually end up ruminating over the situation for days before I can even articulate what angers me most about it.

As an AME, I can’t help but think about the implications of this particular act of violence, both historically and politically. The AME denomination was founded as a response to injustice that black slaves found within the Methodist church. For as long as I can remember, the AME church has always been about justice, empowerment, and self-determination for black people. We’re not a perfect denomination by any stretch, but at least initially, that has been our M.O. Not only that, but the AME church has been a safe space. At least that’s what it has been for me, particularly since returning to the denomination after 13 years. With all the recent headlines of injustice swirling through the media these days, it has provided me some solace to know that the church was a place to go and lament over black lives lost, without question and without accusation. Learning that the pastor of Emanuel AME, Rev. Clementa Pinkney, was an active voice in his community who spoke out against police violence, I see this attack not just one against a particular church, but against a movement and against the freedom of the black voice.

This morning I got a little help sorting through my reactions via an interview with Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham on The View. “It’s not a window into the soul of South Carolina,” Graham said. “It’s not who we are, it’s not who our country is, it’s about this guy. This guy has got tons of problems.” As he said those words, I couldn’t help but think about all the pictures of auction blocks in Charleston, SC. Do we really want to talk about the “soul of South Carolina?” Last time I checked, Charleston was the hotbed of American slavery. Of course, that’s not PC to talk about these days, because that’s making everything about race, but for us to assume that that reality is not embedded into the fabric of America’s story, and that its ramifications which have been handed down multiple generations, did not somehow influence the shooter.

 “But it’s 2015, there are people out there looking for Christians to kill them,” said Graham. But this case is not about religious persecution. It is in the sense that these black people of the community welcomed this young man into their safe space, and continued to pray while, unbeknownst to the, this man sat in their midst and brooded over the heinous crime he was about to commit. But to me this isn’t about hatred for someone’s beliefs. This is a hate crime against people for being who they are, for being black. Christians don’t get off that easy by calling this religious prosecution.

At the end of the interview, Rosie Perez asks of Graham “How do we move forward from this?” I can’t help wonder if this question is the problem. We always want to move forward before we have allowed ourselves to sit in the mess and assess the damage. We keep “moving on” and then we’re blindsided when the lives of black people are devalued once again. We “moved forward” from #Ferguson, we’ve “moved forward” from Baltimore, to the point that a lot of people aren’t even talking about them anymore. Maybe instead of trying so hard to “move forward”, we need to sit in this mess called racism and figure out how to deal with the systems that make a 21 year old male walk into a house of worship and open fire.

I’m on my way to a prayer vigil at First AME Church in LA to pray for Charleston. I know some would say what is the point of prayer, and to be honest, I really don’t feel like praying right now. But when I think about what it means to move forward, and when I think about what it means to be an AME in a time like this, I wonder what would happen if we reached back to our roots and sought to be advocates for our community, and if we jumped into the fire to fight against racism both socially and systemically. And if we did, who else would join in?

Reinvention Through Digital Spaces

28 03 2015

A couple of months ago, I was checking out the PhD program in Cultural Studies on Claremont University’s website. Through much clicking around I stumbled on an event called LA as Lab. It sounded like it might be an innovative and inspiring conference for artists so I signed up.

Walking into the event today, I wondered for a moment if I was in the right place. Some people were dressed up in heels and business-like clothes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it didn’t have the “artsy” vibe that I’m used to at many LA arts events. In any case, it was actually more of an arts management conference (which explained the business attire), but as I soon learned, I was definitely in the right place.

You see, I’ve recently been re-evaluating and re-thinking my career. How can my background in film better reflect my artistic values at this stage of my life–values like creating in community, cultivating healing conversations among people and people groups, and honest spirituality. And this conference was right in line with what I’ve been thinking. It was all about how we can be effective curators of art in today’s IWWIWWHIWI (I Want What I Want, When and How I Want It) world. Here are some of the highlights that I took away from today’s event, particularly from this morning’s speaker:

  • We must create experiences that are bigger than our individual selves. It’s not about what need to say to people. Rather, it’s about what do I need to know. This creates empathy, which is what we need in our artistic spaces.
  • Although there has been a decline in consumption of the traditional arts, there has been a rise in collective immersive experiences (i.e. blogging, live tweeting, Coachella).
  • We are also in an age of the “Professional Amateur” in which interests in film, photography, writing, web creation, etc. are no longer limited to a select group of people, and some of the ways this has manifest have been fascinating and developmental.
  • We need to focus on authentic relationships, not transactions; slowing down, not speeding up; conversations, not marketing and sales; doing less, not more.
  • Our art needs to be about impact and relevance.
  • We need to move from i-Creativity to c-Creativity, or Co-Creativity with the community.

When I did “Sisters – The Web Series” last year, it opened up my eyes to the possibility of connection via the web, the media, and a big idea. I love the conversations that the internet is generating and I’m looking for ways to be more engaged in those conversations and to somehow make that part of my life’s work.

I also love the idea of grassroots collaboration in order to create meaningful art. For example, today I learned about a community who used storytelling and common meals to tell the history of their neighborhood. I also met a couple who transformed the sidewalks of their San Diego neighborhood to become a lab for artists to actively create in real time, accentuating the beauty of process over product.

How can this type of innovative exposition and engagement be duplicated in the film world? For me, I think part of the answer to that question is revisiting the basic technology and storytelling aspects of film and translating that into a digital space. I think what that looks like varies, and I think it’s expansive. iPhones, tablets, DSLRs can be part of the equation just as much as old school Bolex cameras. And I may not just be a filmmaker anymore. I might be a filmmaker and a writer, and a scholar, and a __________. Who knows? I would love to experiment more with film as digital art, and to use that as a catalyst for conversation. These are some of the questions and concepts I’m wrestling with as of late. Hopefully you’ll stick with me on this journey as I figure out more of what this looks like!


22 03 2015

So I’ve been really challenged lately to start blogging again. It’s not that I haven’t had things to say. I have too much to say. And I feel overwhelmed when I think about all the things that I have inside this brain to write about, which makes me anxious. Has that ever happened to anyone? You have so much to do that you end up doing nothing?

The truth is, so much has changed between the last time I blogged until now. The biggest thing is that I finished seminary and now I’m having to reconstruct my life and my theology after all of the deconstruction that has happened the last two years. It has been an amazing journey. But the hard part of that journey comes when you have to put the pieces of the puzzle back together in the midst of people who live in the real world, not the people who live in the seminary bubble. I am not the same person I was ten years ago, or even five months ago. I don’t believe the same things. I don’t value the same things.

I’m wrestling.

I’m struggling.

And damn, it feels good. Because in the midst of it all, I’ve never felt so free.

I’ll be writing about many of these changes Some of the things I may write about going forward may shock you or turn you off. But, if you’re so inclined, stay tuned for more of my thoughts on the journey…

Ladies! (oh and gents too…)

7 03 2014

I was scrolling through Facebook and found this photo…brought back a lot of memories for me, growing up with these guys being the household names of black entertainment.

Then it dawned on me. When have we seen a picture like this of women? Has there ever been a time when a group of black women have been as powerful and recognizable as these guys and have taken a picture together? Somebody correct me if I’m wrong!

Today we have Shonda Rhimes and Ava Duvernay. Somebody get them in a room together for a picture! We need more women, though! Ladies, let’s stand up, unite, and create!

One Year Down…15 Things I Learned From Seminary

21 09 2013

It’s official. I have now completed my first year of seminary. And what a year it has been…I think this past quarter has been the most formative for me since I’ve been here at Fuller for so many reasons. And I am so thankful for it all. Here are some things I’ve learned both about myself, about my life, about Christianity, during the last year:

  1. It’s interesting how many people assume that since I am in seminary, I want to be a pastor or minister. Trends are changing, and more and more people are choosing to take their seminary education into the marketplace instead of the pulpit. The majority of my friends in seminary don’t want to be pastors–which has its pros and cons–but that’s for another post. There are some seminarians who want to be teachers, so people should consider that as well. While I don’t feel called to pastor in the traditional sense, I am starting to see how teaching is a form of ministry itself. It’s amazing to start to see how what I am learning in seminary is related to what/how I teach my students in the classroom.
  2. Seminary is draining. Good though, but draining…
  3. I remember writing a paper during my first quarter at Fuller that I want to help the church to “see”. I think I’m just now starting to understand what I meant by that…
  4. I’m realizing that our American definition of Christianity is totally skewed. After taking Christian Ethics, I realize that I think we have the wrong idea of what it means to be a disciple. We consume and assume a heckuvalot for people who are supposed to be standing up for justice for the oppressed. There are people right in our community who are suffering, but yet we still want more. And then I see commercials for shows like Preachers of LA and it sickens me. What are we doing?? Don’t believe me? Go read the Sermon on the Mount.
  5. There’s no such thing as a perfect church. So why should I deem one church’s imperfection better than another church’s imperfection? I realize that I don’t want to throw away all my church traditions because of imperfections, instead I want to figure out how I can help. That said, I wonder sometimes if my generations’ abandonment of our church traditions was a mistake. This theory hasn’t been proven yet, I just wonder.
  6. It’s really hard explaining my program of study to people (“Oh, you’re in seminary?” “Yes, I’m studying theology and film.” *blank stare*)
  7. Theology is best when it’s lived out with real people in community.
  8. I’m getting old and stuck in my ways. And I’m ok with this.
  9. I’m slowly beginning to understand what my platform is in regards to film, the arts, and the church. Stay tuned for more info/posts about that…
  10. I learned that I don’t study well in groups, or in the library. Which kinda sucks because people seem to be having so much fun in the library.
  11. The past year has taught me how much I value quality time with people. Spending an evening with room full of people is not really my idea of a good time, even less so if I don’t know the people. Coffee or dinner with a few close friends–whether old or new–now that’s what gives me life…
  12. I realized how thankful I am to have great friends in several different states and countries that I can seek counsel from or just process things with, and that they can tell me when I’m crazy. I’m also thankful for those friends who have walked with me through some major decisions in my life.
  13. I realized that teaching is very important to me. I spin my wheels every day thinking of ways to make my students “get it” and sometimes I just feel like I don’t have enough tools to do that.
  14. I keep flip flopping back and forth about whether or not I want to stay on this track and still get a PhD. I feel like I’m starting to get some understanding of what I might like to study, but I don’t know of any program that has what I am looking for, even on an interdisciplinary level. I could use some advice in this area. So if anybody has any, please share.
  15. I am really glad that I came to Fuller. It had its flaws, but overall I think it’s the best seminary ever. (I might be just a tad bit biased 😉

I know there’s more but I leave you with those for now. Here’s to year #2! At this point, I have no idea where this journey is going to end, but its quite an adventure!

This Time Last Year…

15 08 2013

…I had just finished driving along with my best friend, Khalilah, through the California desert. It was the last leg of our cross-country road trip, which would begin my stint at Fuller Theological Seminary. I remember taking one of the exits off the 210 to get something to eat and thinking to myself “What the @#$ have I just done?!!” I had just experienced a type of heat in the desert that I never imagined before, none of the restaurants looked or sounded familiar to me, and it suddenly dawned on me that I no longer had a job, I was about to move into an apartment sight unseen, and I was almost 3,000 miles away from home and I had no family out here.

Well, as I now reflect on this past year, I can certainly say that it has been a wonderful journey. God has blessed me in so many ways…

  • I landed a great job on campus within a month of being here, and it has afforded me the opportunity to meet and work with some great people and learn more about my school in the process
  • I made some great friends who have affirmed me, challenged me and helped me see God in many places and way I didn’t expect.
  • I became part of a life-changing program through the Theology and Arts concentration, which has re-affirmed my love for God and film.
  • I found a great small group.
  • I landed another teaching job, allowing me to pour into college film students again, which is something I love to do.
  • I experienced California sunsets and Zuma Beach! 🙂
  • My appreciation for the AME church was re-kindled and I found a church home at First AME-Pasadena.
  • I reclaimed my voice as an artist, and found an outlet for that voice through Reel Spirituality, the Brehm Center, and all the various opportunities and relationships that God keeps sending my way.

I could go on and on. It hasn’t been without its own set of struggles, but overall it has been an amazing year and I’m so thankful. You’ve been good to me so far, California! Here’s to hoping we have a few more good years together…


Are We In This Together Or Not? The Church and the Gaping Hole Called Racism

18 07 2013

As I am still trying to think and process the events from the Zimmerman verdict this past Saturday, I keep reflecting on Sunday.

Sunday morning I went to the church I have been attending for the past two months, First A.M.E. Church in Pasadena. Although I was going primarily to worship God, I knew that they would address the injustice that had just taken place, and I knew that it would be a good place to process the myriad of emotions I was feeling in the midst of a community of brothers and sisters. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. Right after the Call to Worship, we all stood and sang “We Shall Overcome” while holding hands. I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief that here we are in 2013, and we still have a need to sing this song. We have a long way to go indeed…

The minister then prayed a special prayer for everyone involved in the case. Later, there was a special altar call to address injustice, and the pastor took a few moments just to encourage the congregation to hold on and “not grow weary in well doing” in the midst of the disappointment that the not guilty verdict had brought. After the service, they had a Q&A session where people were given an opportunity to voice their frustrations and to follow them up with specific action items that we can adopt as a community to help try and make things better. In this moment, I was happy to be back in the black church. It was a reminder for me that this institution has been fighting for social justice issues since its inception, and it has continued to do so even as I wandered away from it that past few years. But let me tell you about the rest of my Sunday…

I left the Q&A session feeling excited about the definitive avenues to get involved. A friend of mine was preaching at a church in Culver City, so I headed down there to hear him speak. A small church plant that meets in the park, I was the only African American person in the group, but my friend, a white male came over, gave me a hug and introduced me to his friends. One of the first questions he asked me was how was I doing in light of the events that had happened over the weekend. I was able to share my frustrations with him regarding the Zimmerman verdict as well as another tragedy that happened over the weekend, the death of one of my favorite actors, Cory Monteith from Glee. With that simple act of concern and sharing, I felt completely at home with this group of white brothers and sisters in Christ. And even though they did not call Trayvon’s name as they did in the previous service I had attended, they did pray for justice, for peace, and for love.

I bring up these stories because I know that there were some churches who did not even mention what happened with Trayvon Martin during their services at all this weekend. There were some churches who did not even know who Trayvon Martin was, that he died, and that there was a major trial that has been happening for the past few weeks. Are black people the only ones mourning this among the body of Christ? This should not be. If we’re truly going to be a united church, we cannot mourn alone.

As I reflect on the possibilities of racial reconciliation within the church, I see more and more the disparities that exist when it comes to tackling topics like Trayvon Martin. Whether congregations avoided the topic because it was controversial or out of ignorance, churches seeking true diversity and racial healing cannot afford to use either as an excuse because doing so can alienate the very groups the church is trying to include. I know of several African Americans who either “took the day off” from their white congregations this past Sunday, or were deeply pained by the lack of mention of a case that has so many implications for the lives of African Americans, and African American men in particular. Not allowing these people the space to process events like the Trayvon case in a community of believers can easily create distance and discord even among a diverse congregation.

I understand that there are varying opinions about this particular case. However, as believers we are called to love one another and share one another’s burdens. Therefore, at the very least, compassion needs to be a standard within the body of Christ among blacks and whites. After all, who wants to be part of a church community in which they cannot feel comforted? We need each other to lean on during times like this.

A lot has happened in the last few weeks regarding race in this country. If we really want diversity in our churches, there needs to be a serious attempt at staying informed and acknowledging when our brothers and sisters hurt. This is all of our problem as brothers and sisters. Racial injustice is very real in this country. I never did believe in a post-racial America, but I believe that the Zimmerman verdict has uncovered the reality that America still has a gaping hole in its side and it’s called racism and it won’t go away by ignoring it. I still do believe that the church can be a major catalyst in helping to heal this wound, but it doesn’t start without open, honest conversations and sharing one another’s burdens.