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Four years in, GLIDE Church’s congregational life group devoted to “courageous conversation” across the divides has learned a thing or two

At GLIDE Memorial Church, we practice unconditional love. More than a mere platitude, unconditional love is an ethics. It teaches us that difference does not make someone fall out of the boundaries of beloved community. Unconditional love says difference is what will allow us to cover more creative, spiritual, philosophical, and political ground. In Different Together conversation circles, progressive and conservative, Republican and Democrat, learn to listen without judgement or losing ground of their beliefs. Instead, the participants dismantle the walls of racial, social, economic, and political histories that have kept people separated into ideological enemies. The work of Different Together creates a space of vulnerability and truth. It’s okay to be affiliated, enlisted, or a member of the winning or the losing party. It’s not okay to launch from that win or loss, into hate. Whether online or in-person it’s the “Together,” of “Different Together,” that brings people into proximity to all of humanity and back from the brink of our mutual annihilation.

Marvin K. White, Minister of Celebration

The following conversation with Different Together co-founders and facilitators Chris Collins and Winne Fink was conducted by Rob Avila and Casey Zhao from the communications team in December 2020. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Different Together (originally called Bridging the Divide) is a congregational life group at GLIDE Memorial Church that formed after the last election in 2016. How do you describe the project and what are some of the foundational texts or guideposts you use?

Chris: I say that we create opportunities for courageous conversation between people who might not otherwise interact or might avoid each other. Much of that is the progressive and conservative divide, but it doesn’t necessarily stop there. That does not fully capture what our divisions are. Our divisions are also across race, across class, across religion. We try to be mindful of that and bring that in as part of our focus and our conversations. 

Was there one book or source that served as an initial framework for the group?

Chris: There are several books. One was by a sociologist named Jonathan Haidt called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. There’s one [by Jason J. Jay and Gabriel Grant] called Breaking Through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized WorldRoadmap to Reconciliation [by Brenda Salter McNeil] was another book that I consulted. So there have been a few that were instrumental. 

While you bring up books: I was also looking for a book that could help guide me through all this and I wasn’t really finding the one that I felt I really needed, so I’ve written my own. It’s actually being published in January. Hopefully, that will be a foundational text for other groups that want to do similar work across the country. I talk a lot about GLIDE in it and how GLIDE was a perfect place for a radically inclusive community to also be radically inclusive to people across the political divide as well. It’s based on my experience and the collective experience of the group, which I try to share. 

Winnie: We did start with books and we started with a workshop format for GLIDE-only folks, having discussions by using a particular author’s approach/theory. And I’m smiling because leading an in-depth discussion of a formal theory is not as comfortable for me. So when Chris said we’re going to workshop, Winnie, we’re going to use the Righteous Mind. I was like, Oh Lord. So that was learning for me. But I think we’ve also just evolved by realizing what people have really liked—when we do topics like gun control or taxes, those have been successful; the one we did on health care was really hot. That was probably our first one that was particularly contentious. We had a lot of on-the-ground learning about how to deal with that.

How do you deal with a contentious issue like that?

Winnie: You know, we do this thing on social media where you just one-dimensionalize the other side. They’re an asshole. It just becomes that simple. We’ve really tried to do a lot to get people to use empathy and turn it around. The interesting thing for me doing this project at GLIDE is that, yes, we say we’re inclusive, but it’s really been about people who are struggling the most. Right? We’ve not necessarily made a lot of effort [to reach] people who might have privilege the other way, or who might not be the ones that care in the same way or in the way that we think is enough or right.

Shirley from Bridging the Divide

Tell me about the meeting that you held the day before Election Day?

Chris: The idea came about that the night before the election is going to be one that was going to be anxiety-filled for everybody, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Especially for us on the progressive side, we don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s probably not going to be pretty. No matter what the outcome of the election is, there are a lot of unknowns. Unlike any other year. So we wanted to have some sort of event where we can come and be grounded as we enter Election Day. 

We developed this conversation that would have an arc to it. Just to give you a sense of the structure of how we do this: We have a group of 33 people, we have some opening remarks, we present a question, we break up into small groups of four, come back as a big group. There’s a little bit of a debrief, and the next question, then you’re in a new group. We did that for a series of questions. What gives you anxiety about what’s to come? What has given you hope over the last few years?  

Winnie: We’ve been doing this enough where one of us, usually it’s Chris but I will also facilitate, we just sort of take it, we own it, we have a conversation, and we go. With this one we were extra thoughtful, careful. [Minister] Marvin opened us. David Fredrickson, he teaches mindfulness and compassion, he did a closing for us. As we return to the big group, we have people react in writing. We’ve learned that the more we can interact, and the more modalities we can learn, the better the experience is for folks. The idea is really getting people to be thoughtful and hear from each other and realize what I’m worried about is also what they’re worried about, and they think totally differently than I do. Get people to put their curiosity and empathy hats on, which is what the whole project is. Just very simply: be curious, be kind. It’s not that complicated but we don’t it very well collectively. 

Chris: The conversation ended on a note of, How do you want to be treated if your candidate doesn’t win? How will you treat other people if your candidate does win? It was naming the anxiety that’s there, naming how you feel about other people who disagree with you (that was one of the questions), and put all answers into the space and, in the end: OK, how do you want to be treated and how are you going to treat other people? Speaking personally, I felt that, going to bed that night, because of this event, I felt warmth, I had a full heart. That sense of community, across the political lines, before what was most likely going to be a toxic election, was very, very meaningful for me and I heard that reflected in many people that were there. 

Now that we are passed the election, what lies ahead for the group? 

Winnie: I think there’s some learning to do. For me, I joined [four years ago] because I didn’t know what to do with myself after the election, I was in anguish, lost, didn’t understand. I thought about where I grew up in a small town in Kansas knowing many or most of those folks who voted for Trump. That’s where most of us who wound up in that room from GLIDE [were coming from]. We just got whupped. How that felt.

Now I think there’s learning to be done on the other side of that. I don’t think what we have ahead is anything that radical other than keep going, be kind, and be curious. I don’t think it’s much harder than that. But figuring out how to do it—I do think what we’re really clear on is that we’re still ridiculously polarized. There are still so many people who don’t participate. At least on the left. My circles, most of my friends are pretty lefty, it’s hard to get them to come. They’re like, I can’t talk to those people. It’s hard for me to get my friends to participate. So, we’ve got work to do. I also think that it’s largely been the privileged arm of GLIDE membership who have participated so I’d be very interested in also expanding our membership and reach.

Chris: I think that’s beautifully said. I would also like to see us continuing to do outreach across the country and finding a church community in the South or somewhere that’s not anything like San Francisco and having a series of conversations with them. Maybe a series of three conversations. That type of outreach. Sometimes the conservative attendance is low, sometimes it’s not that bad. What we have seen in this project, and in the movement across the country, is that the participation leans on the progressive side. Even if that’s the case, we keep on finding the opportunity. When conservatives are ready to join, they are welcome to join. But if we have low numbers of conservative participants there’s still plenty of work for us to do. Winnie and I, as white people, we have lots of work to do to bridge divides with communities of color. That’s one example. 

Casey: I feel like within my generation, I’m 21, nobody really sits down and just has a conversation, it’s just aggressive, back and forth. I think there’s a lot of toxicity, especially within my generation, within politics. 

Chris: It’s interesting that you say that because, in talking about Different Together, there’s definitely a generational divide. I would say the participants are mostly 50, 55 and above. In my experience it doesn’t seem like the younger generation believes in this. I think older generations reflect on a time when politics wasn’t so toxic and want to go back to something that was like that, a little more friendly sport. Politics my entire life, going back to the 1980s, has been toxic. It’s just a different world that we’ve experienced. That is a struggle for this project and for the movement nationwide. 

Different Together is one of many Congregational Life groups meeting regularly, online for now, at GLIDE Memorial Church. Different Together meets on a monthly basis. To reserve a spot at an upcoming meeting, email DifferentTogether@glide.org. For more Congregational Life Online, visit this page on our website.

There is a part of God, a part of faith, a part of community, that we get to fill in for ourselves. And it’s not always about the God we inherited, but the God we call forward into our present lives in contemporary ways. Available specifically for us. We complete God. God becomes God for us. 

Negative, or Apophatic Theology teaches us that as soon as we picture God, we make God “an object” — and objects don’t move on our behalf. I invite you to try your hand at this co-creative act.

I want to get you ready for genealogy month, and our wonderful Bearing Untold Stories: Genealogy Event Series. Mark 1:21-22 speaks of Jesus and the disciples going to Capernaum; and how when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. The people in the temple were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 

I love this story because it reminds us that the one who usually tells the story about us is not the authority. We are the author and the authority of our stories. This Black History Month, genealogy is for all of us, black and white, straight and gay, young and old, rich and poor, blue and white collar, artist and academic, to stand in our truths. When we tell our stories, people will be astounded because we have come to understand how the stories made it to us. We are as far as our family’s stories have ever gotten. 

I wrote the other night on Facebook about our event series with our Genealogist-In-Residence, Alex Trapps-Chabala, that this month we will be having an intimate conversation, between you, Alex, me, and all of our ancestors. Together we will write and share our stories. Before you join in our group workshops and 1-on-1 genealogy sessions, I invite you imagine your own story. As I do in my creative writing workshops, take a moment to imagine, starting with the prompt: “I come from a long line of…”

I come from a long line of quietly powerful women.

            Women who cried as a last resort.

            Women who loved babies more than men.

I come from a long line of charismatic men.

            Men who could charm women out of anything.

            Men who could shoot dice and shoot pool to raise money.

I come from a long line of boys who were taught to be men by women.

I come from a long line of Jehovah Witnesses who didn’t witness anything.

I come from a long line of [fill in the blank] people…


Take this moment to think about who you come from and who they come from and who they come from, and what they all mean to you. And if your map has been erased, think about who you are, and know that who you are is probably who you came from. You are not the first of y’all to move, be and act like you.

After you’ve taken that moment, I’d like you to consider the story of “What did it take for you to get here?” What did it take for you to get here physically, emotionally, mentally, creatively, wholly, holy here today? Here to this sermon. Here to your family. Here to your life. Here to your possibilities.

It took time.

It took hitting a million walls.

It took learning that I can’t walk through walls.

It took running scared but running still.

It took moving to New York at 21 and back home at 23.

It took people who were my signposts, pointing me towards life.

It took caregiving for my grandmother, mother and partner until they died.

It took learning that caregiving can feel like sacrifice.

It took learning that I am not a sacrifice.

It took learning to be so still as to know that I am worth coming home to.

This is your declaration, and the thing about declaring who you are is that if you ever act outside of that, your community can hold you accountable, can let you know you’re not acting like who you said you were. If you say you are loving, but are exhibiting hatred, we will know that hatred is not you, because you never told us you were hatred. If you say you are free, when we come looking for you, we won’t look in the bondage section. And if you are in the bondage section, we will know something is very wrong, and we will ask you if this is who you are now or if you need us to remind you that you already declared freedom.

Who I am is rooted.

Who I am is funny.

Who I am is someone who loves laughter.

Who I am is someone who brings joy.

Who I am is someone who walks with the ancestors.

Who I am is a brave soul.

Now consider the prompt, “I came to free my people from…” Think about everything your ancestors ran from, ran to, had stolen from them, think about the ways they felt limited, and less-than, and what is the thing that has been passed down from generation to generation, unnoticed. “We always had blue eyes.” Yes, but was the genetic introduction of blue the curse or the blessing. “We have always voted this way, thought about women, black people, gay people, poor people, rich people, church people, artists, old people, young people, that’s just how our family is.” And it is there, named in the, “that’s just how my family is…” that stops with you today.

I came to free my people from low bar dreams…

I came to free my people from a failure to thrive…

I came to free my people from sexuality secrets…

I came to free my people from the fear of being powerful…

Great. Now that we know history has often been lacking in nutrients, has left us hungering and thirsting for something unnamed and unknown, now that we know that there are holes and gaps in our stories, what will you fill your history with? How will you make sure you have a whole truth of your family? 

Consider how you will fill the holes and gaps in your story.

I will fill the holes and gaps in our story with recovery.

I will fill the holes and gaps in our story with more husbands than baby daddies.

I will fill the holes and gaps in our story with fine print of contract readers.

Now focus your meditation on the role of history, historic events, natural, political, and economic events and how they changed the course of your family’s history.

“We survived…” 

We survived a dynamite explosion.

We survived back and dirt roads in Louisiana.

We survived lean days stretched into months and into years.

We survived greyhound bus rides to and from Indiana.

We just participated in our decennial, our every ten-year census where we were counted, we just voted in a historic election, our W2s and 1099s are starting to come in. What we are doing today will be the record of us in the future? What are you on record as having done or said in the face of racism, homophobia, misogyny, ageism, anti-poor, and anti-rich, anti-religious, and anti-democratic sentiments?

I spoke up for equality.

I spoke up for the unhoused.

I spoke up for Christians.

I spoke up for American Descendants of Slavery.

You see, we have to know for ourselves who we are rather than being told and sold who we are. We have to know what the implications of the times our ancestors were living high on the hog, and when they were wiped out by dust bowls and Boll weevils. We have to know who they made money off of and how, and what does that mean to us and our relationship to money. 

We have to know who left and who loved who and what is left for love in our DNA because of their choices. Our histories think that they are protecting us by glossing over the seemingly bad choices, the mundane, and the plain old weird relatives from your daddy side. But if we want to know how we got to the shape that we’re in we have to trace around the best and worst of our ancestors. What did they leave behind? Whose voices are calling out in joy?

This month, and going forward, we have to trust the ways that we know work to locate each other and the each “othered.” And maybe when we find our people who are asking us to recognize their selfhood and their humanity, we recognize that we might ourselves one day require a witness. Somebody someday is going to have to testify on your behalf. Gonna have to dig through some rubble and rubbish to find your story. And maybe when we realize that we might be the person buried in the history, the person standing in line for food, the person in need of an acknowledgment of their existence, then we understand that we are worth someone taking the stand for us, calling out to us, looking for us, and that is where we will find ourselves in our truth! 

Maybe then we realize the answer to the ontological questions: Who decided that you don’t get to exist? Who made you the other? Who said you had to believe them? Who said your belonging is in vain?

And one day, beloved, one day somebody gon’ remember your story before they remember somebody else’s speech. Same with your smile. Same with your laughter. Same with your body. Same with your dreams. Hey, did you know that when your dreams belong to you, then you control your awakening, and when you are in control of your awakening, then you get to have your own enlightenment and your own renaissance? Belonging is beyond Old and New Testament. We’re living into the new evidence now; we are the first collected books of a new bible, a bible that belongs to us, is about us, and is for us, a Belonging Bible where Our Name Be Witness.

Wait. I forgot to ask you, and I desperately need to know, do you want to be happy? 

Wait. What is happiness for you? 

Wait. Do you know that you are worth it? 

Wait. Do you know your worth? 

Wait. Do you know that you are free? 

Wait. Do you know that you are supposed to be unique? 

Wait. Do you know that every promise to you has been kept? 

Wait. Do you know that love and joy and peace and abundance is your inheritance? 

Wait. Do you know that you can’t get yesterday back? 

Wait. Did I tell you about my “Tomorrow God?” 

Wait. You ready for real? 

Wait. Do you know that the absence of fear and judgment is love? 

Wait. Do you know that just because you happy with something don’t make it good for you? 

Wait, why are you looking to be loved the same when you are not the same person? 

Wait. You know there is healing for you, right? Do you know that there are new and good times, and the ability to walk away from anything, and the ability to come back from everything? Do you know that you have your family’s full support and that if anything ever happens to you, I will never forgive myself? And that a way has been made for you? And that you are not stuck? And that you do get a next time? And that you are not alone? And that God resuscitates? With every breath this world takes from you, God breathes life back into you. And that even your ancestors still love you. And that your dreams and not your nightmares are supposed to come true. And that you got enough left over to care for somebody else. And that change is possible. Wait. Wait. Wait. Where you from? How you get here? Who yo kinfolk? What you finna do?

Amen

On this Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, GLIDE Memorial Church can only do one thing — Celebrate! Overcoming is worth celebrating. Resilience is worth celebrating. Unconditional Love is worth celebrating. And oh yes, Beloved Community is surely worth celebrating. To help you celebrate today, we have curated three MLK Playlists for you.

MLK Playlist Monday: The Speeches 

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MLK Playlist Monday: The House Music

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MLK Playlist Monday: The Meditations

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MLK Playlist Monday: The Events

NorCal MLK Virtual Celebration 2021

Though the march and in-person events of the annual NorCalMLK celebration will not be happening this year, organizers have pivoted to a series of online offerings that include a “King and Faith Speaker Series” Jan. 17, 18 and 21. In partnership with the San Francisco Public Library, the annual Black and Brown Comix Arts Festival celebrates works by people of color in popular visual culture with programs and activities for all ages from Jan. 16 to 18. More featured online programming will include a health and wellness festival from Jan. 16 to18; the “MLK2021 Music Festival,” presented in partnership with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, on Jan. 18, and more.

Jan. 11-21. Freesfmlkday.org

‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ webinar and documentary film festival

The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University plans to host a four-day online event. The festival will feature more than 15 documentaries as well as live musical performances and panel discussions covering a range of topics, from the history of the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements to James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr.’s global visions.

The event will also introduce the World House Project, which is a new initiative of the King Institute in partnership with the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford.

Jan. 15-18. Free. 650-723-2092. kinginstitute.stanford.edu

OaklandMLK 40 Days of Service

Oakland residents are encouraged to take action locally, keeping neighborhoods, local parks and waterways clean by picking up litter, reporting illegal dumping and pledging to practice environmental conservation actions at home. The city of Oakland offers a list of resources and suggested acts of service on its website.

Jan. 15-Feb 28. Freebit.ly/3rXdsH5

Living Jazz Presents: In the Name of Love: 19th Annual MLK Musical Tribute

Hosted by Dana King, this event lineup features many Oakland artists and activists including Kronos Quartet and Meklit, The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol, Branice McKenzie and Bryan Dyer with Glen Pearson, Living Jazz Children’s Project, Myles Staples of the 2020 Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Tory Teasley and the Teasers, and a presentation of the Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award by Rep. Barbara Lee.

4 p.m. Jan. 17. Free, donations encouraged. livingjazz.org/mlktribute

California African American Museum Presents: MLK 2021 Virtual Celebration

Celebrate the holiday with live music, culture and community featuring a performance by members of the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, a study group examining the civil rights leader’s 1968 speech in support of Memphis Sanitation Workers and more. At 2:30 p.m. there will be a family story time and poetry workshop with author Alice Faye Duncan reading from her children’s book, “Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968,” followed by a haiku writing workshop.

10 a.m. Jan. 18. Free. 213-744-2024. bit.ly/35eWSbX

24th Annual MLK Virtual Celebration: ‘Let us Be Dissatisfied: Using Our Power to Bend the Arc’

The Piedmont anti-racism and diversity committee and the city of Piedmont plan to present their annual MLK celebration virtually. This year’s event is set to feature Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee; Stanford professor and King Institute director Clayborne Carson, filmmaker Shakti Butler and others as featured speakers. The program will also include performances from the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company and traditional Native American flutist Vince Redhouse.

11 a.m. Jan. 18. Freepadc.info

7th Annual Day of Action to Reclaim MLK’s Radical Legacy: Car Caravan Edition

This family-friendly event has been the primary King Day march in Oakland, with the goal of bringing together people across race, class and political ideology with a commitment to build a more just and equitable city. To encourage social distancing, the march is planned as a car caravan set to begin at the Port of Oakland.

Noon. Jan. 18. Free. Port of Oakland, 530 Water St., Oakland. bit.ly/38fBCVq

S.F. MoAD MLK Day Celebration and National Day of Service

In lieu of their regular in-person event, the Museum of the African Diaspora will present a day of online programming set to include a children’s story time with the S.F. Public Library, a civil rights era photography exhibition, spoken word/poetry reading, collage art activity, and that will conclude with “Meet Us Quickly: Performing and Painting for Justice,” a discussion of the performance trilogy that addresses social justice issues with mass incarceration, as well as the “Meet Us Quickly: Painting for Justice from Prison,” digital exhibition created in conjunction with the performance.

Contribute to their Digital MLK Offrenda with images and thoughts inspired by Dr. King. The online platform serves as a digital altar to highlight and celebrate the achievements of Dr. King.

11:30 a.m. Jan. 18. Live stream viewing available on their YouTube and Facebook channels. Free. www.moadsf.org 

National Museum of African American History and Culture Presents: The People’s Holiday

This event features a live-streamed music performance with Grammy Award-winning bassist, composer and educator Christian McBride inspired by his social justice focused album, “The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons.” The 45-minute concert is set to feature students from the Juilliard School and a poetry reading by Sonia Sanchez. The concert will conclude with a conversation between McBride and Sanchez moderated by museum associate director of curatorial affairs Dwandalyn Reece.

1 p.m. Jan. 18. Frees.si.edu/3nfoT9v

MLK Unity Group Creating Beloved Community Presents: 40th Annual Virtual Celebration

A live-streamed event with the theme of “Restoration, Reconciliation and Resilience!” is scheduled to feature keynote speaker the Rev. Loretta Dickerson-Smith, with musical selections, interviews, dance and performance art from Hue Vision Productions, as well as a dedication to the memory of late civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

2 p.m. Jan. 18. Free, donations encouraged. bit.ly/35aLy0I

National Day of Service

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ inaugural committee is encouraging the public to organize or participate in community volunteering efforts during the holiday as a kickoff for events during the week of Inauguration Day, on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

Jan. 18. Free. bideninaugural.org

MLK Day 2021: Black Voices and Leadership community panel

A panel presentation moderated by Tsahai Tafari. Scheduled speakers include Rafiki Coalition’s Monique LeSarre, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights’ Zach Norris, Eli Berry-St. John and Ky Peterson from the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project.

Noon. Jan. 19. Free, reservations requested. 415-502-1911. bit.ly/3blcZsD

We know that this world is seemingly short on inspiration, so we look to you, finding your own power to survive and thrive, while dancing, meditating, and re-learning.  

Happy MLK Day! 

—Minister Marvin K. White

The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

What does the Beloved Community look like as it sits between the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systematic racism? Do we need to redraw the boundaries of Beloved Community to include more people awakening today to the moral injury they have caused or victimized them? At the center of it all, the aim is still to bring people together through this century’s pandemics and into liberation’s light. She has not dimmed. I want us to be in Beloved Community. And I want us to move towards freedom together. And I want us to know that freedom is not “over there,” but instead, freedom is at hand, in hand, and as close as your heart is to you. Freedom is at the center of it all, and at every step in this journey, we must recalibrate as often as the news brings us worse and worsening news.

I want you to know Beloved that this moment is the only one you get, so you must use your gifts now and not delay them. You must understand that if in whatever moment you find yourself in, if it doesn’t feel like you have a praise report today, a stockholder’s meeting with God, to share today the dividends with God on God’s investment, if you can’t say to those new on the road to freedom, the coordinates of your freedom road, then you are not present in this moment. But all is not lost. What is pleasing to God in the middle of twin pandemics is that you experience God’s peace today, experience God’s love today, and experience God’s justice today. This is pleasing to God. You must be the peace, the love, and the justice, and you must inspire other people to peace, love, and justice, for this is pleasing to God.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. Isaiah 55:10-13

At the center of it all, like everyone else, I just want to bring people together in Beloved Community. My job is to help people to interpret this moment through both trauma-informed and joy informed lenses. We miss out on the promise if we unearth trauma and not unearth the joy that sits directly beneath it, ready to be excavated. And at the center of it all, your flight, or your fright response, God is walking with you through whatever moment whispers to you in the quiet hours.

For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Did you leave the sanctuary in joy? Has that joy carried you through these four months of the pandemic? At the center of it all, like everyone else, I just want to bring people together. And make sure that we are grounded in this moment. Make sure we are not romanticizing the past but being present and shaping a future. A New York Times article came out three days ago with the headline: Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are Confronting Coronavirus Cases. It said, “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans got back to normal.

I have known that the architecture of our church’s sanctuary, and the rituals we perform on Sundays, are the optimal conditions for the virus to spread. I’ve known that I have been grieving the loss of the congregation as I knew it, the pulpit as I knew it, the podium as I knew it, the microphone as I knew, the choir as I knew it and the band as I knew it. I have known that it will be hard to bring people to think that Facebook Live is what “bringing people together” means. I have known that “online” had to take on new meaning. I have known that I had to take on a new meaning. I have had to shapeshift before. I have had to call myself something else when I was called worthless and lucky that I could get any kind of love, let alone the one I desired. Then I realized that the charge has not changed. And that this moment was not wrong, church was not wrong for moving from unsafe to safe, and our rituals were not suddenly wrong or weakened because we are online. Being asked to believe in a God that “will punish us if don’t go back to worshipping as normal” or believing that a “God will protect us if we go back to worshipping as normal” is wrong.

God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater” and that means that you should not wait, water the earth beneath where you stand. Be the praise, and do not wait for the praise. Give the seed, which replicates your joy, to the one who is joyless and gives the bread of your efforts to a hungry world. And now, every time I hear someone say, “Let’s get back to normal.” I hear, “Let’s Make America Great Again.” I hear, “Who I am only fits who I was.” And I ask, “Who benefits from ‘normal’ and who benefits from that ‘greatness’?” You are not normal if you come to GLIDE.

The article said that the outbreak, “happened in churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.” One pastor said, “in his own church, congregants were social distancing and mostly wearing masks. And he had live-streamed services initially on Facebook, but some congregants begged to return to church, and others did not have reliable internet access.” Another pastor whose church was a virus ground zero, said, “…we had people who were away from fellowship for so long and in isolation. They were hurting. We just got to a point where we thought, we need to have normal church services.” They acquiesced, they gave-in, they broke, and the virus swept through their churches. There is a truth in begging.

People fear for their spiritual lives more than their physical lives, no matter how many times I tell them that, “to be absent from the body, is to be present with the lord.” No matter how many times I say, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” But the questions, “How do we learn to live with COVID?” And “How do we adapt?” But the questions, “How can we live in fear of the virus?” and “Is the virus bigger than God?” are interesting to me, because we are not saying “Under no condition, will I stop shining my light because of COVID.” I am a black man, which meant that my mother lived concerned, because of the expectations. I have always been aware that the dreams often end prematurely. These experiences make me feel deeply about the new national worry that COVID surfaces. I worry about your cancer. I worry about your AIDS. I worry about your age. I worry about your lack of sleep. I worry about you being alone. I worry about your financial state. I worry about COVID and how it could be a devastating last straw. What I realize at this moment is that church is a microcosm of the global conversation in these twin pandemics of COVID and Racism: The disparities in treatment between rich white churches and GLIDE.

The church’s COVID 19 conversation is about safety and what equity looks like. It is definitely and always a spiritual conversation because it is a conversation about culture and community care and the diminishing spirit and spirituality of our people. And it is about reimagining this moment. Yes, it is about the economy restarting, and it is so much more. It is about getting the hope going- that a spiritual economy restarted inspires. It is getting the cultural economy restarted. It is about getting our community’s community pride economy restarted. It is about the economy of black children’s dreams restarted. It is about getting the inspiration that comes uniquely through the creative economy restarted.

We need what religion and spirituality is offering in this moment. We need to point to our sacred text and lift the stories to let the world know how to persist, and how to get off the grind and have some leisure time, how to rally courage, and how to find the deepest wells of power (even when the well has run dry). We Need that! We Need the church! The news is getting worse, how do we reimagine what we need for these times? What negative messages do you think our families are receiving today? When everything we do and invite people to do has to be reimagined…

  1. Connection
  2. Handholding
  3. Hugging
  4. Singing and Shouting
  5. Moving
  6. Dancing
  7. Sweating
  8. Passing and sharing food, and printed matter

And now we know that “closed spaces are the virus’ favorite space to be.” 650 cases. So, “No, not yet. No in-person service.” I hear you begging for normalcy, and I know the hurt from being separated from the community you love, and that loves you. But no, not yet. One day. Okay, what is the center of my joy and my belief? Okay. Love. And do I believe that I still preach joy and love without a physical church? Okay. Yes. And is love bigger than our building? Yes. At the center of it all, I just want to bring people together. I just want to remind you that you are the Word of God, and that should animate you exactly where you stand, and you should kiss it up to God. God is expecting you to open your gifts. This completes God. So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Our love of what we do is exhibited in the church and arena, but the church and the arena do not generate the love. Our congregation and visitors bring it, and it is just more visible because of the numerosity, the number of folks that are gathered.

So, we are in our 5th month of our “Sunday Celebration Online.” We stream live twice every Sunday from the eight different remote locations of our participants, and we mix it together with historical clips of the choir singing. Love in the time of Corona says we have to be like the entrepreneurs in tech, because this is a season for reimagining. This is the part in the story where your multi-million-dollar start-up tanked, and you aren’t defeated, because the idea is still good, and how you do it, how you remember the lessons, and how you start again, just has to be imagined differently. God is still good. Your dreams are still valid. You are not off course, off base, too late, or too early. You are not behind on your payments. At the center of the church experience is the self’s transformation through an encounter with the spirit of love that gets exhibited when two or two hundred or more are gathered. And lastly, I know that we have to have a plan. We cannot just “open back up.” But I also know that we cannot allow ourselves to be “shut down,” creatively, emotionally, or spiritually either.

Amen

This weekend’s Pride celebrations will be unlike any other–they will mostly be virtual. Amid the global pandemic, the most profound social upheaval since the 1960s, we reflect on the origins of the LGBTQ liberation movement and GLIDE’s historical support of LGBTQ communities, including LGBTQ communities of color. Since the early 1960s, GLIDE has embraced the demand for and celebration of radical inclusivity.

GLIDE as a place for all people, whatever their experience or background or faith, goes back to 1963. In that year Reverend Cecil Williams joined a group of progressive pastors who together took an early stand for same sex couples, presiding over their weddings nearly four decades before the legalization of gay marriage in California.

At a time of intense criminalization of homosexuality, which included the practice of arrest and police violence leveled at LGBTQ communities, Rev. Williams and other GLIDE ministers were also among the founders of The Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1964—along with the renowned LGBTQ rights pioneers and activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. The San Francisco-based community organization joined LGBTQ activists and religious leaders in an effort to educate religious communities about gay and lesbian people and to speak out against homophobia and discrimination through inclusive, collective dialogue. It was the first organization in the U.S. to use “homosexual” as part of its name.

On January 1, 1965, the Council famously sponsored the Mardi Gras Ball at California Hall, to celebrate both the founding of the organization and the inclusivity it aimed to cultivate. Although the SFPD had issued a permit, the evening celebration was interrupted by a forceful police raid. The event would later become known as “San Francisco’s Stonewall.”

The following year, one of the first LGBTQ uprisings against police brutality took place in the heart of the Tenderloin, marking the beginning of the transgender liberation movement in San Francisco. The pivotal revolutionary act—among a group whose members included young people who had found a safe space and support at GLIDE—came to be known as the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, which preceded by three years 1969’s famous Stonewall Riots in New York City. In her 2005 film, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, filmmaker, author and professor Susan Stryker called the uprising, “the first known incident of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in U.S. history.”

GLIDE’s commitment to the self-expression and liberation of each member of our community continues to this day. On August 26 of last year, the 53rd anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, GLIDE held a Reflection and Reconciliation Session in which leadership from the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) listened to the lived experience of LGBTQ residents and formally apologized for a history of violence and injustice against the community. The community conversation was facilitated by GLIDE’s Minister of Celebration, Marvin K. White; Pastor Megan Rohrer, a trailblazing transgender Lutheran pastor and SFPD chaplain; and Commander Teresa Ewins, the highest-ranking member of the LGTBQ community in SFPD. Reconciliation is a road we’re still on, and one that requires real structural change. Meanwhile the hopes, needs and critiques that were courageously shared at the gathering were only the first in a planned series of ongoing listening sessions.

While we are a long way from justice and reconciliation, particularly for LGBTQ folks at the intersections of racial and economic injustice, vital victories continue to be won in the struggle for love and equality as the basis for a better world. This month marked a historic achievement in that struggle. On June 15, 2020, in a decisive 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that forbids discrimination in employment based on race, religion, national origin or sex extends to protections for gay and transgender people.

Even with this historic step forward, one which will make a profound difference in the lives of millions of people, it is still legal under federal law for landlords, stores, restaurants and hotels to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

We proudly celebrate the steps toward the better world we have fought for together with unconditional love and solidarity, and we also recognize that there is more to be done. The struggle continues. But this year’s Pride celebrations, both online and in the street, send the message loud-and-clear: The time for radical inclusivity is now!

By Erin Gaede

Psalm 23 says,

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

The word of the lord for the radically inclusive, unconditionally loving, extravagantly welcoming, open and affirming people of God.

Amen.

I thought that this scripture, that appeared in the lectionary this week, spoke into this moment.

“Marvin, where are you reading, performing, speaking, dancing, being this week?” is the question I remember being asked often in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I had no clear path because I had no clear future, so I was ALL OVER THE PLACE.

I was called flakey, uncommitted, wishy-washy and flighty because I was looking for my future in poetry readings, in theater, in dance and in writing.

I was all over the place. I was all over creation. I was on everybody’s set. It made sense to me, the instability, the detachment, the ability to get up and go to the next thing, to have a taste satisfied and not stay for the whole meal, to have a new taste for something unnamed and then go and spend years finding it.

All over the place. See, the thing about being all over the place, is that you actually want to be still. And when you finally tire out. You have to practice being still.

At 54, I am in place. I am findable. You can locate me. I have an address. You can plan a visit with me. You can pop in on me. You can send me a card, flowers, candy. One day I realized, that I want to be in place.

I want to be installed. I want to shoot down deep roots. I want to be a respectable chandelier in my old age, mid-century modern ensconced, a Tiffany lamp appreciated in value.

And while my life may not have been lived efficiently, so close to burning out, now, because I am in place, I am working on being a beacon and a landing strip.

I am a lighthouse, a siren, a traffic signal, and you can triangulate your journey by where I stand, work, pray, preach and organize.

You see, that’s why “Sheltering-In-Place” is a spiritual principle. It says that it’s time to stop sounding the whir and being the blur.

It’s time to be sought out and found. It’s time to say to God, to spirit, to opportunity, to love, “Here I am and I ain’t going nowhere. I am “Sheltering-In-Place.” You can find me here, not waiting on you by the door, but comfortable in my skin, being my own best company, consoling myself, cooking for one.

But if you looking for me Oh Great God, I now know that all that chasing and pursuing of dreams was made for me to know that this moment, this physical distancing, is about feeling like I want you to know that you can come home to me God.

That opportunity can come home to me.

That love can come home to me.

I am finally still. I am no longer in the “Lean-to of Displace,” I am “Sheltering-In-This-Place.”

This Corona Virus and COVID-19 moment is bringing up all kinds of latent, hidden, passive, raw, unattended, sublimated and subconscious thoughts that I have held about myself. You see, I was shaped by a pandemic, and if you have ever had to recover from an accident, if you served in the military, if you are a spouse of a police officer, if you believe in miracles, if you believe in science, if you believe in both, if you believe in humanity, and nothing you believed in has made you worry less, then you, like me, you have been shaped too, and have some questions.

Right now, everybody has a hair pin.

Everybody is a missile in a silo.

Everybody got everybody else’s launch code.

Everybody’s firing.

Everybody ready to come to blows.

Everything coming up now.

Even our homes for some of us, the very homes that we are paying for, have paid for, put the welcome mat out on, our “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” home, feel like prisons and not castles. For some of us what’s coming up is that we never felt at home.

And that makes Sheltering-In-Place hard.

What this moment is revealing to us, and be encouraged, things are becoming clearer and not muddier right now,

What this moment is revealing is our proximity to the mother who collapses after news of her son being shot is on the evening news, you see she was in her house minding her business, just like we are right now.

Clearly, there’s no difference between us.

We are closer to the father taking back to the bottle after being laid off, and now everybody on edge because a rage is coming to their house, which is a house just like ours.

Clearly, there’s no difference between us.

Or…

You see, “Sheltering-In-Place” says that we are present flesh. Because this place is all we got.

Can’t go back to that place and we ain’t got to the next place, we “Sheltered-In-Place.”

We have to turn “Sheltering-In-Place” into a practice.

We have talked about it, and now we are really in “The Era of Self-Care.”

We are finally meditating, whether we wanted to or not.

The world is meditating.

We are finally at our “Still Point.”

Not sitting ducks. But caged birds singing.

Take a knee, and don’t sing, “Make America Normal Again.”

Don’t go back to routine, hitting alarm clocks, punching time clocks, being measured by how much blood, sweat and tears we produce alongside our work.

Don’t go back to homelessness, and violence, and sex trafficking, and poverty, and addiction being just abstraction and conceptual thoughts.

Don’t go back to being the prettiest in the room, the boss of everybody, the A-Student, the Closer, the whip-into-shaper and the unsatisfied.

I thought not knowing whether I was coming or going was normal.

Didn’t know that the gap between my realities was so spacious.

And now I know that there is a time set aside for me, that allows me to be with and be myself.

And that time is now. That ain’t never been my normal.

This moment, this Corona Virus and COVID-19 moment is my gap year. Before I join back in, I am going to look at all of my latent, hidden, passive, raw, unattended, sublimated and subconscious trauma. I am going to look at why I, at 54, let things go untreated, unpaid and unchecked.

And how despite my privileges, I’m like everybody else who don’t have access to medical care.

Even got me thinking about if I isolate and quarantine and shelter-in-place, will anybody come looking for me.

And how now I’m like everybody else who lives invisible lives in tent encampments, knowing that no one is coming to check on them.

Even got me thinking about how much time I have to stand in line to buy food.

Now I’m just like everybody else hungry enough to wait in line for a free meal.

Even got me thinking about how suspiciously people look at me in my mask.

And now I’m just like everybody else who is racially profiled wearing the exact same mask.

Even got me thinking that if I cry for help, it might be met with a physical, systemic, professional, emotional or intimate violence, but you will call them my “feels,” and tell me to be in them is a sign of weakness.

Questions come to you when you practice, “Sheltering-In-Place.”

The years of believing I am the reason for what happened to me and the reason who happened to us and now I know why that never felt right or made sense.

Because you know if black people didn’t have diabetes or hypertension or heart disease, and if old people weren’t old, and Prime Ministers weren’t Prime Ministers, and young people weren’t young people and the rich weren’t rich, and the loved weren’t loved and the fathers weren’t fathers and the mothers weren’t mothers, and the nurses weren’t nurses and the doctors weren’t doctors, then they wouldn’t be dead from the virus right now.

This is not your “Still, small voice talking,” it’s your anxiety, and “Sheltering-In-Place” shows you that sound like love, but it’s not.

But there is in this a hope and a promise.

Psalm 23 says,

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and

your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

God is a shelter-in-place my whole life long.

We have come to address in this pandemic the condition: the historical, the systemic, the dysfunctional family systems, the enabling, generational trauma, the shame, blame and secrecy, that every person who shows up needing healing gets healed of.

You can find us in our inseparable and indivisible lives intertwined in this COVID-19 moment, absolving those with COVID-19 of a crime that they did not commit and we begin to consider the mitigating circumstances; the impact of the amount of love or lovelessness in the world.

Our divine coordinates, with the one who removed our restraints and shackles to capitalism, to bring us into a knowing that we are all caught in a cycle of incarceration. And liberation is a universal right.

Our resolve is a fixed location of hope in the face of people who tell us to give up on the lives of those who are bottoming out, homeless and untested for the virus; when they tell you people are dead to you, hold on to hope.

We are finally in the zone, our locations grouped together, even in isolation, the zone of loving ourselves enough to know that our own health, mental, physical and spiritual, is important and it’s time to unlearn that you have to push through your pain or live with it, hold on to hope.

The count is rising.

The flood is rising.

The death is tolling.

The timebomb is ticking.

But hold on to hope.

Keep “Sheltering-In-Love.”

Keep, “Sheltering-In-Place.”

Your home is the open house that God has come to see. Wants to know how yawl gon’ get along when it’s time for your “dwell with him forever.”

So, Keep “Sheltering-In-Joy.”

Keep, “Sheltering-In-Place.”

Because you shall dwell in the house of the LORD your whole life long.

The Middle Passage was not your lifelong…

The Enslavement was not your lifelong…

Reconstruction, and Jim Crow and dashed Civil Rights dreams was not your lifelong…

Fighting for Women’s Rights and Suffrage was not your lifelong…

Holding on for LGBTQ protections, rights, equity and inclusion was not your lifelong…

Waiting for your stimulus check was not your lifelong…

Waiting for a cure, a balm, a test or a vaccine was not your lifelong…

And the Corona Virus and COVID-19, can only endureth for a moment, but Joy is coming in the morning.

And these two months might feel like you dwelling in the house your whole life long…Hold on!

You have done the hard part, you lived.

“Sheltering-In-Place” says you want to live so you can see the day when it’s safe to come out.

Don’t live in a house divided against itself. It won’t stand for you. Don’t stand for it.

In this moment, let love come to mind, make yours a house of prayer for all people.

Make yours a house of god. A god house.

And Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. My refuge and my fortress, is my God, in whom I trust.

“Shelter-In-Place” and rest, beloved.

Amen.

You know, months before the pandemic hit. 

Pandemics, “hit” right? 

This is going to leave a bruise, right?

Months ago, during a routine doctor’s visit,

My doctor asked, “Does diabetes run in your family?

Remembering my mama and my grand mama’s high and low sugar, 

I answered, “Yes.”

My doctor asked, “Does hypertension run in your family?

Remembering all the times my mama accused me of getting her “Pressure Up,” 

I answered, “Yes.”

My doctor asked, finally, “Does Heart Disease run in your family?”

Remembering the little “Water Pills” in the generational pill drawer, I answered, “Yes.”

My doctor said, quite calmly, “You must begin taking these medicines.”

Being all about better living through pharmaceuticals, I asked, “How long do I have to take them?”

He said, “Forever.”

That word went on…well…forever.

I’m now my mama Margaret, I thought.

I’m now my grandmother Bessie.

Pretty sure I’m now my great-grandmother Dorcas.

I know I’m my uncle Leroy.

I know I’m aunt Lavada.

I know I’m my dad Joe.

Pretty sure I’m my brother Michael.

“Does diabetes, hypertension and heart disease run in your family?”

Something about, “Predisposed, forever, preventative, forever, higher rates, forever, African-Americans, forever.”

Pandemics, “Hit” and diseases “Run.”

Bruised and out of breath, I prayed over the pills, 

“God, who is all of the elements, compound yourself into pill form for the good of my condition. Make yourself elemental. Crush the probabilities, and make it all easy to swallow. Amen.”

And I started taking them. 

Damn. Black folks always got to run, or be ran.

Damn. Women always got to run, or be ran.

Damn, Poor people always got to run, or be ran.

Damn, Gay people always got to run, or be ran

Guess this my leg of the race.

Guess I’ll run on.

I know what you’re thinking…In this race…

“Death is the finish line.

Death is the tape to break through.

Death is the pedestal.

Death is the bent neck.

Death is the weight of gold ribboned around your neck.”

But death does not win.

The finish line was the institution of the health insurance.

The finish line was the institution of the medicine for my condition. 

The finish line was the institution of the Eucharist, 

That I do in remembrance of my ancestors:

And all my relations, took the pill bottle, broke the seal, opened it, took out the cotton, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to me, and saved it for me, saying, “This is our body given to you, you are what became of us, everybody is what became of them; do this in remembrance of us.”

Likewise all of relations, after the fish fry, also took the Tupperware cup, filled it with faucet water, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in our blood, which runs to you and through you.”

Take your medicines Marvin.

Be immunocompromised in a pandemic.

Keep your ass at home.

Pray over your pill box.

Pray not, a pill against,

But for, a begging Corona Virus.

Viruses beg.

Look like tantrum.

But it’s begging for attention.

Pray in a pandemic. 

Pray that you experience love as deeply as your ancestors.

Pray that you get a chance to be open and broken, 

Pray that you get a chance to take it to heart.

Pray that you experience sweetness as deeply as your ancestors,

Pray that your body knows it so intimately that it shudders and shakes,

Both from the drop and rise of it.

Pray that the continuous physical force exerted on or against your body,

That you finally take all this world has done to you, 

And all that you have taken from this world,

Pounds like talking drums in your chest, neck, or ears

Telling you, you can’t take no more.

There is a communion happening now beloved,

A pandemic is a communion.

Brings us all to the fellowship table.

Makes everything feel like a last supper.

“Do this in remembrance of me,”

Feels like “We had this coming.”

Feels like, “We asked for it” from 

Dancing like that,

Eating like that,

Loving like that,

Living like that,

Feels like pandemics is what is passed down,

In this here Passover.

Feels like the epigenetics of trauma,

So let me geek out for a second,

Epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.

It posits that certain fears can be inherited through the generations, over many generations. “There are a lot of anecdotes to suggest that there’s intergenerational transfer of risk, and that it’s hard to break that cycle,” he says.

We’re talking about heritable traits

Scientists Ressler and Dias studied epigenetic inheritance in laboratory mice trained to fear the smell of assa-dough-fa-known (acetophenone), a chemical the scent of which has been compared to those of cherries and almonds. He and Dias wafted the scent around a small chamber, while giving small electric shocks to male mice. The animals eventually learned to associate the scent with pain, shuddering in the presence of acetophenone even without a shock.

This reaction was passed on to their pups, Despite never having encountered acetophenone in their lives, the offspring exhibited increased sensitivity when introduced to its smell, shuddering more markedly in its presence compared with the descendants of mice that had been conditioned to be startled by a different smell or that had gone through no such conditioning.

A third generation of mice — the ‘grandchildren’ — also inherited this reaction, as did mice conceived through in vitro fertilization with sperm from males sensitized to acetophenone. Similar experiments showed that the response can also be transmitted down from the mother.

We have to understand what spiritual, what Christian epigenetics are at work in our construction of faith and god,

So we can finally stop thinking 

That we gotta die to prove something to god.

We gotta know our reactions to pandemics is in our DNA.

We gotta know that something else gets passed down,

That there is another ticking time bomb,

The flowering of which threatens to destroy everything,

That we worked for.


The Epigenetics of Joy.

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Says that my grandmother, in the premature birth of my aunts daughter,

Looked at that child,

Scrunched her face,

Laughed and said,

“You can always tell when a baby got a old daddy,

The baby come out looking old.”

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Says my grandmother laughed and said,

“Imma take pride in this one collard tree,

In this square foot of dirt.”

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Says that my mama laughed and said, 

“All my children got jokes,

But that Marvin is funny acting.”

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Is your wryness,

And your twinkle,

And your finding humor,

Different from making fun of,


The Epigenetics of Joy,

Is making light of a thing.

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Is making light of a thing.

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Is making light of a thing,

And all my relations, 

Took the diabetes, hypertensed, and heart diseased body,

To the mortuary to be embalmed,

They opened the casket,

“Sharp as a rat’s turd” my grandmother said,

“Casket ready,” my aunt said,

“Oooh he look just like his self,” my mama said,

Gave thanks and broke out laughing,

Saying, 

“This is the world, 

With all of the air taken out of the seriousness of the day,

Given to you, 

So that you can take a deep breath,

So that you can make light of this pandemic,

Again, different from making fun of,

Do this in remembrance of us

Because we didn’t just pass down trauma to you

And joy is resistance.”

Likewise all of relations, after the funeral, 

Went to my grandmother’s house,

Ate and drank everything they wasn’t supposed to,

My grandmother took the jelly jar glass, 

Filled it with Crown Royal and milk, saying, 

“Funny how we always seem to make it through.

Funny how the loving cup of us is the new covenant in our blood, 

Funny how they try to get you to forget,

Where you come from,

And what we taught you,

That was taught to us,

That joy,

And good times,

And memories,

And tall tales

And funny acting,

Is how we survive a plague.”

Amen.

I was with the other women

In the woman’s place

In the palace

And it’s only

The letter “A”

That separates place

From palace

I was with the other women

When he called

I had been up cooking all night

And had just wiped

The last of the semolina

Off my forehead

And we were finally ready to eat

When he called

We were in our one hundred

And eighty-seventh day of celebrating

One hundred and eighty seven times

I was called up

Pageanted for him

And the visiting priests, provinces, and princes

He had been feasting for the last six days

Without calling

I waited six

I was queen

He told me that

I was clear

Or tried to convince myself to be clear

I was picked

Like the prized pie at the carnival

Because I was the fairest

When he called

He never thought

I would refuse him anything

I was lucky you know

And yes

I heard him calling

Cuz I hear everything

I am a woman

Ears trained to ground and sky

I hear the women

Like myself

Breaking

Like the bread we ate that day

Women

Who were picked over

For some beauty standard

That had nothing to do with us

I wasn’t leaving this party

It felt right

And yes

I heard him calling

But I also heard god’s warning breath

Whisper in my ear

With my mother’s fear

         “Say no girl

         Say no”

So when he called

It was the seventh day

He had been drinking

His heart was merry with wine

He was drunk

And ordered

         Because that’s what you can do

         When you make someone a queen

He ordered me

To him

In the crown royal

Now

He was ready to show me off

And

I

Said

No

Because I a woman

And I am moved

Like the women I am with

And the women I come from

Are moved

And there is a place

And it’s only the letter “A”

That separates place from palace

In my belly now

Fuller than the feast

Whose grease

Lingers on my fingers

There is a place left

From gathering with my like

Telling me what to say

And I am finally ready to hear

This word

This bird

Flying out of my mouth

Turned song

And I am sure

Other queens have heard it

Put their tongues

To the roof of their mouths

And tasted it

My sisters

Esther

Ma’a’cha

Bathsheba

Jezebel

Sheba

Candace

Rahab

Tamar

Delilah

Deborah

Mary

Hagar

We who have all said no

And have not known

And known at the same time

Why

No

For our daughters

The next in our broken royal lines

No

For their voices strong and spirit led

No

We can say mother and father god

Can think

That in the company of women

Quiet wars can be raged

Battles birthing women

Women birthing battles

Who don’t forget their kindred

Or their people

When he called

There was new breath in mine

Pushing this defiance

Out of my chest

Like life

Collapsing in on itself

Like rock caught in the craw of my throat

Like tear and snot braced for pain

Like we are getting ready

To sing

Or preach

Or pray

For the first time

Like I said

When he called

I had been up cooking

All night

And had just wiped

The last of the semolina

Off my forehead

And

We

Were

Finally

Ready

To

Eat

 


 

My poem was the story of Vashti. In the first chapter of the book of Esther, Vashti was the queen of Xerxes. He made her a queen, and one day when King Xerxes was in the middle of a party that he threw for himself to show off his riches and spoils, he called for his queen. His prize. To show her off. And Queen Vashti, who was in the middle of a party that she was having with the other women, said, “No”. And so Xerxes consulted with his homeboys and they convinced him that he had to do something because of the public embarrassment of her refusal. That is when he declared, “All wives should obey their husbands.”

On this fourth Sunday of Women’s History Month I am compelled to lift up the stories of women like Vashti, and women all over the world at any bridge in history, whose “No” changed the course. These women are like the women I come from.

Women who said, “No” to patriarchy and “No” to leaving family and friends and like-mindedness and parties and cooking and being of service to one another. Women who said “No” to servitude.  And “No” to just one definition of liberation.

Say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

I was the primary caregiver for both my grandmother and my mother until they passed. I was both their legal and their medical durable power of attorney. I, in the end of their lives, cared for their adult bodies in the ways that they cared for my infant body. In turn, through their journey with Alzheimer’s, I received their stories. I knew what they were for and against. I know these women that say “No.”

And because I knew them so well, I knew when they were finally saying “No” to this earth and “No” to this flesh. I knew when their “No” meant “No more.” And I spoke their “No’s” for them. No extraordinary life-saving measures. No, do not resuscitate. No, release them. They want to die at home.

I think about these Jehovah’s Witness women and how they dared to say, “NO!” in defense of God. These women, despite what religion had done to them, took up for God. These women said, “No, we must feel sorry for God because God does not have a mother and God does not have a God Mother either. God aint never had a Big Mama hug God in her bosom so tight til God thought that God would choke on her Jean Nate. God aint ever had nobody to look up to. God aint never had a woman say “No, you gotta go through me to get to God.”

I think about these women whose “No” spoke resistance. “No” to anyone who tried to take away the joy they eked out. No, you cannot have my Bobby Blue Bland, my Pokeno, my shoe collection, and no, you cannot keep me from gathering with my like.

By saying “no,” these women found a history whose face they could now get in, and with their hands on their hips, and their fingers in history’s face, assert their blackness and southernness, their womanness, their humanity, their right to vote, for equal rights, and for equal pay. NO! We deserve better than this! No, we held up our end of the bargain. We forgave.

Say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

Because women who say “No” are not a concession stand. Aren’t easily swayed. Aren’t driftwood on the ocean. Or when they are on a bridge, they don’t stop singing, “No, I aint gon let nobody turn me around.”

“No” means, “I speak for myself”

“No” means “I gotta love myself a little more than I love you.”

So, say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

“No” from my grandmother meant to my mama, “Leave the boy here with me. He is mine. I will give him a little dough to make little pies as I make the big pies. Let him hide under my apron. No, you will not take him. He is safe here. We will need him later.”

“No” meant that, “Yes, Marvin will live.”

 “No” was also “No thank you. Not all of your goodness now, God. You have been so sweet already. I need to save some of this for later. Wrap it, tin foil and saran it for my kids.”

Say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

I grew up in public housing. And the narrative about people who live in public housing is that’s where you send poor women and black women and women like “that.” Public housing is the space they are relegated to. But when my mother said, “No, I will not crumble,” after my father left her with five kids under the age 10, and when she said, “No, I am not ashamed to get assistance,” she then chose welfare. Welfare didn’t choose her.  And she chose Oakland Housing Authority, and she chose to live amongst women. Her “No” meant that she understood that the men who hurt her would have no voice in the raising of her children. She knew you couldn’t have a father in public housing, because you couldn’t have two incomes. So she wanted to raise her boys and her girl amongst women. This was how she could do it. No, it was never a place they were sent. It was a place they went.

There is a bridge that connects the women I come from who say “No!” with the women who are a part of this GLIDE Church Family.

So, say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

My grandmother was a woman like Vashti who said “No.”  Because when she said “Lord, I’m open” that meant that there was a sign hung outside her door. No! I’m creaming the butter and the sugar. I am making chicory. I am waiting to see if my sister will follow the plan and leave when her abusive husband is at work. No, I am not cooking because I can. I am cooking because I cannot. It aint faith if I expect them and I’m not ready for them.”


Say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

Say No:

I will not do my job and his job.

I will not let you chain me to this desk

I will not call my family and tell them I have to work late again.

I will not offer any more proof other than that I am overqualified because I am a woman.

I will not stop saying “No” to injustice

I will not go back, because we are this bridge, and it is time to cross it.

We know a woman’s “No” is her highest faith stance. It is for her and not against anyone else.

I can hear the women I come from say, “No, I am a woman, and I will not sit here in this garden and not know how things grow. I will not sit around Eden getting fat and playing house with Adam. No, I am a woman before I am a companion. Adam was asleep on the job. I am the first contractor, and the first to push through the pain, the first through blood, sweat and tears, to give birth to movements. No, a rib and a womb aint the same thing.


Say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

Say No:

To the status quo.

To waiting your turn.

To only going forward when called.

To participating in everyone else’s beauty standard.

To violence, at home, at school and at play.

To sharing the spotlight, and never being illuminated.

Say No:

This is not the way. My Woman Positioning System is never wrong.

Say No and assert and insert and insist that your needs get met.

Say “No,” girl. Say “No!”

Because

A woman who says, “No!” is named Eve,

Or a woman who says, “No!” might be named Rahab,

Or a woman who says, “No!” might withhold her name from history

Because she knows that history, biblical and world, 

Could never get her right.

NO! I am not just Noah’s wife,

Or the Syrophoenician Woman, I have a name,

My name is Ann,

My name is Sar-Rah,

My name is Janice,

My name is Paula,

My name is Kaye,

My name is Vicki,

My name is Joan,

My name is Florence,

My name is Heloise,

My name is Shirley,

My name is Joan Ann,

My name is Phyllis,
My name is Felicia,

My name is Roxanne,

My name is Elmira,

My name is Elaine

My name is Geraldine,

My name is Xaree,

My name is Bessie

My name is Margaret

My name is Tranishia,

My name is Annie,

No, my name is not COVID.

My name is my name.

And my name is a witness.


Say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

No, this is not a hole, this is a door, with a key, and it is where hope comes from.

No, I am not as small as you say I am; look how my arms can wrap around god’s neck.

No, there is something deeper than these bulbs and I will keep digging.

No, my skin is not available for you to prove yourself.

No, I am not waiting on a miracle. I am a miracle.

No, baby girl, you did nothing wrong. He has watched your backline for slack. You could not have known his “baby, baby, babies” were going to stop and the beatings would start.


Say “No,” girl. Say “No.”

For we who have all said no

And have not known

And known at the same time

Why

No

For our daughters

The next in our broken royal lines

No

For their voices strong and spirit led

No

We can say mother and father god

Can think

That in the company of women

Quiet wars can be raged

Battles birthing women

Women birthing battles

Who don’t forget their kindred

Or their people

Do you remember that time

When he called,

And “He” is anything that pulls us from

Our womanhood

Our Sophia

Our Shekinah,


And “He” is anything that separates us

From the divine feminine

Old Wives Tales

Kitchen Table Wisdom

Life giving parts

Do you remember that time

We had been up cooking

All night

And had just wiped

The last of the semolina

Off our forehead

And

We

Were

Finally

Ready

To  Eat

And we said “No”

Reflections on an African American role model

LeRon L. Barton has been an active GLIDE community member since 2014. He currently serves as the Co-Chair of the GLIDE Racial Justice Team that grew out of the Ferguson Rally held at GLIDE. The Racial Justice team has interviewed African American youth about race issues with the hope of creating a curriculum for the San Francisco Unified School District as a primer for conversation about racism among students. Below are his reflections on Black History Month and an African American leader that empowered and inspired him.

When I think of all the historical figures I have admired, Malcolm X stands in front. The man formerly know as Malcolm Little is such an important figure in my life. The way Malcolm X talked about racism and the treatment of the African American, how he lived, and the commitment he made to the liberation of his people was just amazing.

I remembered hearing about Malcolm in my household, but he was not heralded like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When the movie based on his life was released, I wasn’t interested in seeing it. I look back on that and laugh, because the film Malcolm X is one of my favorite movies of all time.

While in the 11th grade, a teacher introduced me to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I can say without a doubt, it changed my life. I identified with Malcolm X because he came from the bottom. Malcolm grew up in poverty and was told that he could not be a lawyer because he was Black. Think about that – How many children are told they cannot be something by their teachers because of who they are? Malcolm got into crime and became a drug dealer, thief, and pimp, earning the name Detroit Red, running the streets of Harlem.

Later, Malcolm embraced the Nation of Islam and discarded that negative lifestyle, and dedicated his life to fighting racism/white supremacy and lifting the consciousness of the Black man and woman. In the ’60s, seeing a Black man stand tall, have confidence, and no fear as he talked about the challenges Black folks faced was incredible. Malcolm was in a time where Black folks still stepped to the side when white people were on the sidewalk, drank from different water fountains, and were killed for being “uppity.” He was fearless and I loved that. Malcolm loved Black people. He loved being Black. That is what shines through. He loved us so much that he was willing to hold a mirror up and say, “This is where we are.” Reading the Autobiography made me proud to be Black, in a world that says you shouldn’t.

Malcolm’s speeches are amazing. He is the greatest orator I have ever heard. There are times where I just listen to him, hear the way he talks, what words he uses, and how he responds to racist comments. It has helped me so much in talks and discussions.

There are many things that I admire about Malcolm X, but the one trait that I take to heart is his commitment to the truth. He was steeped in it. When Malcolm learned of Elijah Muhammad’s infidelity and the Nation’s indiscretions, he left, embraced traditional Islam, and formed his own organization. Malcolm always wanted the truth and to “stand on the side of right.” I try to live my life around that. If the information I have is not correct or what I believe is not true, I will discard it and find the truth.

When I write about race, I sometimes wonder, “Would Malcolm approve? What would he think of my essays?” Malcolm X flows through me. In my opinion, the man also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz is the greatest intellectual of the 20th Century. In a discussion with my friend Jon Jeter about Malcolm X, he said, “Malcolm could see around the corner.”

 

Edna Webster Coleman’s remarkable life in the struggle for social justice

GLIDE’s Annual Fund manager Hallie Brignall spoke recently with Edna Webster, a longtime GLIDE community member and Bay Area educator and activist who has designated a portion of her estate for GLIDE and its work on behalf of the community. In the following account, Hallie offers a brief overview of Edna’s remarkable and very busy life, including her organizing with Rev. Cecil Williams and GLIDE as an extension of the civil rights efforts she pursued in the South. We are deeply grateful for Edna’s lifetime of commitment to justice and compassion for others, and we thank her for letting us share her inspiring story.

Edna Webster grew up in the projects of New Orleans. After graduating high school, she worked for a short while in her cousin’s restaurant and as a babysitter. Feeling unsatisfied, she yearned to do more. Unsure of what new direction to take, she walked down to the Custom House on Canal Street and exclaimed, “I think I want to join the Army.” She passed the test and found herself stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, near St. Louis, Missouri, where she exceled, eventually making Drill Sargent.

During her time in the army, Edna met her husband and earned enough money to pay for college. She enrolled in social studies and history at an historically black college, Southern University, in New Orleans. This led her to teaching in local schools, one of which was the William Frantz Elementary School, where Ruby Bridges integrated.

Beginning in the 1960s, while still in New Orleans, Edna became active in the Civil Rights Movement. She landed in jail three times due to protest actions for integration. At a young age, she and a group of friends participated in lunch-counter protests at Woolworth’s. They’d take their books down to do their homework, a very wholesome and innocent activity, but found themselves forcefully asked to move. They refused. Edna recalls what happened next.

“The server called us the ‘N’ word and threw lemon meringue pie at us before calling the police, who carted us off to jail.” The next day they were bailed out by the Congress of Racial Equality [CORE] and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC]. That same day, they went back out on the street to protest for integration at a university in Baton Rouge. The governor shut down the school and the National Guard descended on the campus. The police used canines and water hoses on the protestors before taking them back to jail. Again, they were bailed out by various activist groups.

Edna poses with a large portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during Black History month.

Edna also worked on voter education. She taught older people how to vote at a church located in Uptown, New Orleans. Voting was next to impossible for African Americans in her community and nationwide. “They’d ask us all kinds of crazy questions like, ‘How many jelly beans are in that jar,’ or they’d say, ‘Uh, well, you can’t vote because you haven’t been in your home for six months to a year.’”

At one voting location, she was rifling through her large purse for a pen when someone shouted, “She’s got a gun!” to which she replied, “What gun? What are you talking about?” Security came and searched her bag, but there was nothing there. They resorted to telling her, “Well, you can’t come today!” Edna points out that we’re seeing these types of tricks and intimidation again today when African American try to vote.

During this turbulent time, Edna remembers meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was a guest speaker at the Dr. Rev. Davis’s church in New Orleans. “He was a dynamite speaker and was very impressive, Edna remembers. “He spoke about continuing the fight against injustice. We were all students in our early 20s who were on the frontline, fighting for the cause.”

Edna’s family began putting down roots in San Francisco in the 1940s, when her grandparents and her aunt came out for jobs at the Hunter’s Point and Kaiser shipyards. Her family owned a home in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood and were doing well. After her father passed away in 1967, Edna and her mother moved to San Francisco. She recalls thinking, “Boy, I’m going to California.”

After she arrived, she found herself protesting again. “When is this going to stop? I thought I was coming to freedom and that it would be different out here. There were protests against the Vietnam War and protests at San Francisco State University [to create Ethnic Studies programs].” The SFSU Student Strike was especially violent. The president of SFSU, S. I. Hayakawa, called in the police to restore control. “The people got beaten up brutally by mounted police swinging their billy clubs.”

“And many jobs in San Francisco weren’t open to black people, not until the 1970s. I remember protesting MUNI for not hiring black drivers.”

As Edna found herself getting involved in local activism, one name came up repeatedly: Cecil Williams.

“When I got here, that’s when I heard a lot about Cecil because he was very active,” recalls Edna. “He led a lot of protests, would speak at a lot of different places and had a lot of good programs for the people. He got people to march against the Vietnam War.”

At one event, she remembers Cecil leading people to the Bill Graham Civic Center, where GLIDE’s Ensemble performed.

“When they wanted to close down the Charles Drew School in Bayview [Hunter’s Point],” she further recalls, “he got a group of his members and they came out there to protest.” The protests were successful, and the school is there to this day.

Edna not only attended Cecil’s protests, she also volunteered during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Sometimes, she would even bring her students and their parents. She also attended Celebration. GLIDE was Edna’s first church when she came out to California. “I went to the church and I really enjoyed the services. The choir, mingling with the people—everyone is very friendly.”

Edna was equally ambitious about her education and career. While serving in the Presidio military reserves and working at Head Start, she was also busy earning her California credentials as a teaching and reading specialist along with a master’s degree. She then embarked on a 50-year career in the San Francisco public school system.

Edna teaches 5th graders in San Francisco public schools.

Eventually, Edna decided that she wanted to visit the places she’d been teaching about. As a result, she has traveled all over the United States and to several countries. She fondly remembers visiting Nubian villages in Ethiopia; Archbishop Tutu’s church in South Africa; Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell on Robben Island; Gorée Island in Senegal, which was a major slave-trading location; the village of Juffure in Gambia, featured in Alex Haley’s famous novel Roots, where she met an ancestor of Kunte Kinte named Binte Kunte; a Malawi village in South Africa, where she volunteered as an English teacher; W.E.B. Du Bois’s burial site in Ghana; and Cuba to tour their public-school system.

Edna on the Island of Gorée in Senegal, which was one of the key stopovers in the slave trade since the 15th Century. It is now a world heritage site and pilgrimage destination for the African diaspora.

In the early 1980s, the San Francisco Unified School District laid off 500 teachers. Edna was one of the first teachers to be let go. She went down to the Federal building on Golden Gate Avenue and filled out an application to be an Educational Specialist. She was hired as the director of a school at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Eventually, San Francisco Unified rehired most of the teachers and she returned to San Francisco.

In 2002, Edna retired—sort of. Over the following decade or more, she worked for the San Francisco Unified School District’s after-school program; at City College, in their GED program; and as a consultant for new teachers. As you might imagine, Edna has received many awards for her stellar career, including “Teacher of the Year” and “Unsung Hero.” She continues to volunteer in after-school programs in Richmond to help kids excel.

Edna surrounded by her 5th grade students from Commodore Sloat School.

Edna admires the variety of GLIDE’s programs helping homeless individuals and low-income families—programs offering housing assistance, support for women who have survived abuse, and for children in need of daycare and after-school programming. “Cecil did a lot to help the community,” says Edna. “That’s what you really have to look at. Somebody that’s doing something positive.”

In 2018, Edna committed to making a legacy gift to GLIDE in her estate plans.

“You never know where you’re going to need,” she explains. “I got help when I needed it, and I’m in a position now to give back. You give back because you want to see these young kids make it.”

In addition to her generous bequest, Edna offers future generations an inspiring example of a life lived in the service of social justice, education and solidarity with others. And for the younger generations of today, both activists and those who haven’t joined them yet, Edna has this message:

“People ought to protest again, just like in the ’60s. They should keep it going. If you go to sleep on this and are passive, what’s going to happen? They are going to take away what you have gained. That’s the way it goes. We had to fight to get what we got. Young people are going to have to get out and keep it going. They need to keep things moving and not give up.”

Cape of Good Hope, Capetown, South Africa.