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Marvin K White, Vashti and Liberation

In honor of Women’s History Month, GLIDE’s own Interim Minister of Celebration Marvin K. White shares his gifts as a poet and theologian in a piece entitled “Vashti”. The poem and accompanying interview were originally published in the GLIDE Church eNews, Congregation Connect.

Vashti

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.
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 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.
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 God” and “Father God.”
Can think
That in the company of women
Quiet wars can be raged.
Battles birthing women and
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
Coughed up.
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.

How did this poem begin for you?

I really believe in locating stories in the Bible through a “Hermeneutics of Suspicion.” In theology, it’s a style of interpretation that bypasses the patriarchal and class readings of biblical stories, so that less-visible and “differently beautiful and powerful” stories can emerge. That’s how I found Vashti. Obfuscated by men, Vashti’s and other marginalized figures’ stories risk being untold. I couldn’t let that happen. I could hear her faint voice, still calling out, these many years later. I have learned to listen and be led by the voice of women all of my life.

What prompted you to write from the perspective of a woman in the Bible? 

I always try to remember when I am writing in the voice of women, that the aim is to be spoken through by women and not to speak for women. I was fortunate enough to have been “mama’s/grandmama’s boy” when I was growing up. My therapist would say that I was a “spousified child”. You know, “Mama’s little man.” But it gave me an insight and entry into “women’s ways.” I hold those intimacies close still. As an adult, I was also the primary caregiver for my mother and grandmother, who both, at different times in my life, lived and died with Alzheimer’s. I was a writer watching their stories disappear. I began having conversations with them by whatever relative’s name they called me. I learned their ways. And learned to be a person who dispensed wisdom. If I have any insight and compassion into women’s experiences and female bonds, it is because they speak through me.

From a feminist, womanist and liberation theological standpoint, Vashti displayed agency and self-valuation.

Can you please talk a bit about the context of Vashti in the Book of Esther? 

Vashti was the queen to King Xerxes, who had a habit of getting drunk and sending for his queen to show her off to his visitors. In one of these instances, Vashti said, “No.” and refused to come. Xerxes’ dudes got in his ear and convinced him that Vashti had dissed him in front of his homies and he was going to have to do something to show who was in charge. I’m being the worst exegete in the world right now! Xerxes declares that all wives shall obey their husbands.

From a feminist, womanist and liberation theological standpoint, Vashti displayed agency and self-valuation. She chose women over men. She made choices that were uncommon in a bible that casts men as the heroes. Her story is now sited as one of resistance, risk and threat to the patriarchy. And it’s not because she was “against” men, but simply and more powerfully, “for” women. There are still other women, and other marginalized voices, hidden behind men in the bible or in bondage by the bible’s storytellers. It is my job as a theologian to free them.

Crickette Brown Glad shares her truth and experience with GLIDE’s harm reduction outreach

GLIDE Church has a long-standing tradition of featuring voices from the community in a segment of Sunday Celebration called “I Am GLIDE.” Personal testimonies on the strength and power of unconditional love from our program participants, congregants, donors and volunteers provide what we often refer to as “the GLIDE sacred text.” We feature these inspiring stories here when we can.

Continue reading “We’re talking about our family”

Introducing Marvin K. White

Starting in January, Marvin K. White will become the Interim Minister of Celebration at GLIDE. Many people in our congregation have experienced and recognized Marvin’s deep creative and spiritual gifts. He’ll bring those gifts along with his strong commitment to GLIDE’s mission of unconditional love and radical inclusivity as he continues to help lead Sunday Celebrations and be one of the leaders guiding us through an adventurous time of transition.

On December 16, Marvin led Celebration in honoring the spiritual legacy of San Francisco’s very own Disco Super Star – Sylvester. This marked the 30-year anniversary of his passing. Where better than GLIDE to celebrate Sylvester’s time on this earth and shine a light on his lasting impact and the example he left for us today? In the following interview, published originally in GLIDE’s Congregation Connect newsletter and slightly edited for clarity, Marvin speaks to his inspiration as a preacher and the importance of commemorating our queer heroes.

Who is Marvin K. White, MDiv?


A poet, preacher, an arts leader, an arts organizer and a public theologian—those are the kind of identities I lead with. That’s what it says on my mailbox—that’s how I want people to be able to find me.

On the inside, I am a 12-year-old kid who was raised by his mom and grandma. I was creative but not in a way that was encouraged, so I had to really come into it on my own. So, this extension of storytelling by preaching makes sense to me because I have always told stories to myself. I could always find a way to write myself out of an uncomfortable situation.

What was your inspiration for a Sylvester-themed Celebration?


He was a black gay church kid, he came out of the church, he was born in the church. If you listen to his music, it was still church. I want to celebrate and elevate our queer heroes.

 

In my practice, I am deeply committed to understanding what my role in the divine is and how to make sure that people who are interested in spiritual gifts, no matter what they are, that they find them. That I say something or do something to help them realize their gifts.

When I was 21, I saw Sylvester perform at the Castro Theatre with Two Tons of Fun. The person who took me told me “you need to know this is historic” and honestly, it just changed my life! I was ushered into the larger meaning of what Sylvester meant.

Paula at Sunday Celebration on Cecil’s 89th birthday, September 23, 2018; guest speaker Marvin K. White.

 

What do you believe Sylvester’s message to be?


You have to activate God on your behalf, and spirituality, and the divine. In a way that’s different from how we are taught in corporate and organized religion: that there is somebody you have to go through to get to it.

It reminds me of what Andy Warhol said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

One of the things I talked about on Sunday is that each of us is our own tabernacle. We carry with us this fire and this spark and this music that has been passed on to us (by folks who didn’t make it) and whether they physically hand it to you, or you dance with them once and they bumped it into you, or you guys were all on the same dance floor—I mean, that’s why the dance floor is like Pentecost. Everybody gets it at the same time—everybody starts talking in tongues, but everybody can understand each other. That’s what happened with Sylvester’s music on the dance floor.

People like Sylvester—a black, cross-dressing boy from L.A.—people without role models, even we can still come into ourselves. Then, in doing that, we provide inspiration to others to come into themselves as well.

Our identities are our pathways to spirituality. And to our divinity. [They are the] keys to get you into it—not locks to keep you out of it.

Marvin K. White preaching on Thanksgiving 2018
Marvin K. White preaching on Thanksgiving 2018.

Iona Lewis is a Case Manager with GLIDE’s Men in Progress program. Thanks to her father, Iona has been a part of the GLIDE community her entire life. Now, she and her husband Raphael are both employees here and their son, Carlo, attends GLIDE’s Family, Youth and Childcare Center (FYCC) during the day. Iona and Raphael were part of the GLIDE contingent to the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, in April.

In the following lightly edited excerpts from a recent conversation, Iona shares some memories of her father and growing up near GLIDE. With this offering from Iona, we wish everyone everywhere a loving Father’s Day weekend. 
Continue reading “A Father’s Gift”

Unconditional Love. Radical Inclusivity. And Doing Your Part.

GLIDE Church has a long-standing tradition of featuring voices from the community in a segment of Sunday Celebration called “I Am GLIDE.” Personal testimonies on the strength and power of unconditional love from our program participants, congregants, donors and volunteers provide what Rev. Angela Brown often refers to as “the GLIDE sacred text.” We feature these inspiring stories here when we can. Emily Cohen, Co-Chair of the GLIDE Legacy Committee, spoke to our congregation on April 29.

I grew up in Petaluma. I was raised Jewish and secular. My father is Jewish and my mother is I think what she would call a “recovering Protestant”. My childhood was good. It was safe. And I felt loved.

One thing I did not do growing up was go to church. I did go to Hebrew School but about a year before my Bat Mitzah I told my mom I wanted to be a Buddhist. I was 12. So I have always been spiritually curious. I have always believed that there is something much more magical and important to us than us. But I never believed it could be found in the walls of any church or religious institution. I never believed a church could be the vehicle for me to have a meaningful spiritual human experience… Until it was.

emily and amy volunteering
Emily Cohen (second from right) volunteering in the GLIDE kitchen with fellow Legacy Committee members.

The first time I came to GLIDE was with my father. We had no intentions beyond just checking it out. But after that service I felt like I had found something I had been looking for my entire life.

I continued to come back on Sundays ,  even when it meant skipping Sunday brunches with friends. I think it was confusing for people — all of a sudden I was going to church. “What has happened to Emily?”

But I was inspired by the message of GLIDE. Of their work for social justice and equality for all. Of unending compassion. And a commitment to serve people at the very margins — the places other religious institutions do not go.

For me, GLIDE has been a kind of mentor. It has shaped my sense of the world. Of what it means to be connected to humanity.

At GLIDE I’ve seen unconditional love through their work in harm reduction. In their free meals program. In their programs for survivors of abuse. For men unlearning violence. In their programs for children. In the Walk-In Center where someone can get a clean pair of socks and speak with a person willing to meet them where they are.

We live in a society that TALKS about being compassionate and loving your neighbor and serving and giving back. But we also live in a society that tells us every day to reject that message. To consume more and give less. To turn away from the things we don’t want to see or feel. To explain to ourselves that you are not my problem. Your suffering is your own fault. We live in a society that gives us every excuse to explain away our selfishness.

For me, GLIDE has been a kind of mentor. It has shaped my sense of the world. Of what it means to be connected to humanity. Of what it means to be compassionate. To understand that it might seem that I have nothing in common with the people sleeping outside of this church   or waiting in line for their next meal. But the truth is, we have everything in common. For someone who is privileged , that can be a painful truth to face. Because then you know you’ll have to do something. GLIDE gives me a place to recognize how privileged I am and then to do something with it.

emily christmas
Emily volunteering at GLIDE’s Annual Toy Bay Giveaway, December 2017.

It is easy for people of privilege to talk about poverty. It is easy to talk about mental illness. It is easy to talk about affordable housing. Or homelessness. Or addiction. Or suffering. Or violence. Or racism. Or sexism. Homophobia. Xenophobia. It is NOT easy to work to change these things.

We have enough people in this world — and in this city — who do nothing. Who don’t give their time, energy or money to anything outside of themselves. We see this every day in the glaring inequality and disparity that we accept right here, right underneath our self-proclaimed “liberal values.”

Am I listening to the voice inside that reminds me that the men and women suffering outside are still a part of me?

Too many people believe it’s not up to them. But you are not one of those people. I know that because you’re here at GLIDE, a place that values and inspires action above everything else.

I call on the people sitting here today and the people listening at home to ask yourself: “Am I walking the walk? Am I listening and RESPONDING to the voice inside me that is trying to remind me of what it is to be human? To be connected? To love unconditionally and to give back in all the ways that I can? Am I listening to the voice inside that reminds me that the men and women suffering outside are still a part of me?

I look around this room — full of so many different types of people — in color, religion, upbringings, down-bringings, in age and gender, all here because we believe in or are curious about this idea of unconditional love and radical inclusivity. And I ask myself “am I giving enough back to this incredible place? Are you?”

GLIDE, to me, is radical because it does not wait for a better, safer, kinder future for the world. It creates that future.

GLIDE has provided an avenue to focus my energy, time and money towards something much more important than me. GLIDE has taught me what it really means to be just one person. Which is that I AM ONE PERSON! GLIDE has taught me what it means to step up and step in and say “I am somebody with something to learn and something to give.”

I use GLIDE as my vehicle because it is reflective of my values, beliefs and my desires for making this world — and our community—a better place. GLIDE, to me, is radical because it does not wait for a better, safer, kinder future for the world. It creates that future. But GLIDE can’t do it without you and me. So I’m asking you this morning to give more than you ever have. Whatever that means to you. Whether it is your time, your energy, your money. Step up. There is much work to be done.

I read a quote a few years ago and for me, it embodies GLIDE’s mission:

“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

Being an active part of GLIDE has changed my life and I am certain it will change yours too.

My name is Emily. And I am GLIDE.

legacy committee group pic
The 2018 GLIDE Legacy Committee. Emily is pictured in the front row on the far right.

Rev. Angela Brown on A March For Our Lives and Leaving a Legacy of Peace

In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida and the epidemic of gun violence in this country, we sat down with Rev. Angela Brown, Associate Pastor at GLIDE Memorial Church, to discuss what we can do to end gun violence, and why we should stay hopeful and loving. 
Continue reading “Sensible Gun Laws Now!”

A message from GLIDE’s Pastoral Team

A wave of cruelty is sweeping over our country.

On Tuesday the Trump Administration moved to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the immigration policy that gave “Dreamers” a fairer chance to thrive in the United States. Rightly, DACA made undocumented minors eligible for work visas and offered safety from deportation.
Continue reading “Defend DACA: A Call to Action”

A Statement from GLIDE Leadership

GLIDE stands with the 800,000 DACA Dreamers who are our neighbors, friends, colleagues, loved ones and fellow Americans, including the more than 220,000 throughout California and here in the Bay Area.
Continue reading “GLIDE Stands with All Immigrants”

Introducing GLIDE’s new President and CEO, Karen Hanrahan

After a nationwide search lasting more than a year, GLIDE is thrilled to welcome Karen Hanrahan as its new President and Chief Executive Officer. This is a new position, created last  year by GLIDE’s Board of Trustees as part of a carefully managed transition plan. The intention throughout has been to ensure that GLIDE retains the dynamic leadership necessary to carry its social justice mission forward, as Co-Founders Rev. Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani move to part-time positions, having guided and grown GLIDE with phenomenal success and impact for over five decades.
Continue reading “Dynamic Leadership Team Complete!”

“I’m not a professional photographer, I’m a political organizer. I happen to use the camera to tell the story of the work I do.”
—Bob Fitch, Civil Rights photographer, former GLIDE seminary intern, and author of Hippie Is Necessary

From the nostalgic perspective of this year’s 50th anniversary, San Francisco’s Summer of Love in 1967 can seem like a harmonious celebration of youth culture and creative alternative lifestyles. But the great influx of young people, popularly labeled hippies, from around the country that summer was controversial from the start.

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GLIDE welcomed the hippies and, indeed, championed them as early as June 1967, when San Francisco city officials released a statement declaring their rejection of the youthful visitors, who had already begun congregating in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. In a press release, GLIDE’s Rev. Cecil Williams responded on behalf of GLIDE, defending the youthful arrivals and chastising the City for its unwelcoming response.

“We are very disturbed about the statement by the city officials which in essence rejected the pilgrims,” read the statement from Rev. Williams, “the Flower Children, who are coming to San Francisco this summer. As members of the Christian community, we are committed to the acceptance of all men whether they are on vacation, attending conventions, or seeking a new community.”

As the hippies gained prominence in the Haight-Ashbury and throughout the city, GLIDE saw an opportunity to celebrate “the beautiful people” by publishing a look into their lives. The Glide Urban Center, which was then a center for GLIDE’s advocacy work on a range of pressing social issues, commissioned Bob Fitch, a GLIDE seminary intern and later a major civil rights photographer, to create a photo essay about the hippies, which was eventually published under the title Hippie Is Necessary. The introduction to the essay explains further:

“In the last few years, Glide has intentionally gravitated toward cultural movements with major ramifications for the people—present and future. In the last year, the people who have caught Glide’s attention have been “the hippies”—as branded by the popular press. During the year the hippies have captured international interest—and have regularly confounded Glide. Glide believes that hippie developments in the Bay Area may have long range ramifications for everyone. As another step in making current trends and history self-conscious, we invited Bob Fitch to engage the new community and say in photos and text what he wants to say. His conclusion is that ‘hippie is necessary’.”

To further protest the city’s rejection of the hippies, GLIDE hosted a special Sunday Celebration entitled “Born Free.” The service featured radical poet Lenore Kandel, who read her banned poem “Circus,” and nightclub singer Ann Weldon singing “Born Free.”

In his sermon that day, Rev. Williams urged that hippies be accepted as they are, even if they looked different than what GLIDE members were used to at the time, because “the meaning of being a free man is that we no longer have to worry about how men look.”

Hippie Is Necessary is archived at Stanford University Libraries along with Bob Fitch’s other work. Fitch photographed a number of other programs related to GLIDE, including the Black People’s Free Store, and Huckleberry House for Runawaysboth projects that were sponsored by the Glide Urban Center.

13 wedding in the park
14 mantra of love

More of Bob Fitch’s work with Glide’s early programs, along with a diverse selection of other photos and artifacts from the Summer of Love, are now displayed in GLIDE’s Creative Space at our 330 Ellis Street location. This exhibit is, as always, free and open to the public.