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…

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…