Ending #Hannukkah: He Will Provide Oil for Our Liberation

  

This Sunday was the last night of Hanukkah and though I know I am super late I wanted to share how blessed I was to end it at one of the @faithinnewyork Congregations I am blessed to work with, their Leader had the vision in 2009 to teach a class on how to mix oils the way in which The Most High instructed Moses to in Exodus 30:22-33, this then became a service and they held it this year on the last day of The Feastofdedication  aka Hanukkah and the miracle of the oil lasting longer than expected is central to this day. Being in an atmosphere where my people made and blessed oils as instructed in Exodus was beautiful and reminded me that though we are going through a great deal of injustice Yahweh will ensure that we have enough of his oil and anointing to fight for our liberation like the Maccabees. 

#StandwithBlackWomen&Girls Reflection

Stand with Black Women and Girls

Devotional: The First Baby Shower Unites Women on the Margins

by Onleilove Alston

This piece was originally published in the NPR’s OnBeing Blog

(http://www.onbeing.org/blog/first-baby-shower-unites-women-margins/2738)

This season I am reminded of the meeting Mary had with Elizabeth to announce she was with child. Though this could have been a time of anxiety for Mary, with Elizabeth it became a time of celebration. I playfully call the following account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the first baby shower and in this account we an example of the deep sisterhood that maintains women on the margins especially Black woman during times of uncertainty.

“Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, you’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed, And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

And Mary said, I’m bursting with Good news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior Yahweh. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What Yah has done for me will never be forgotten, the Yah whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.”

In America, baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given, and games played. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song, and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise: one would pave the way and the other would be the way.

John the Baptist, a prophet even from the womb, jumped for joy because he knew the baby Mary carried was the Messiah. Mary and Elizabeth were both silenced and marginalized in their society, yet in the company of each other they declared prophetic words of what God was doing in their midst. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy — Mary being a teenager and Elizabeth being an elderly woman, but each allowed herself to be inconvenienced for Yah’s purposes. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise, and prophecy.

When Mary sings, “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold,” we see that in the presence of Elizabeth she could freely declare words that may have been dangerous if spoken in public. Mary’s song was more than words of celebration, it was a declaration of the inevitable breakthrough of justice.

In my tradition as a womanist Sabbath Keeping follower of Yahshua (Jesus) I am in a season of waiting for the messianic age, but this season I am not waiting for Yahshua. There is no need to wait because his grace breaks into my reality each day. As a young African-American woman, I am waiting for the justice Mary sang about to break through into my community, into the U.S. prison system, into the shacks of South Africa, into the relations we have with each other. As I think about Mary being pregnant as a Hebrew woman living under Roman domination I am reminded of the thousands of pregnant incarcerated women that give birth while chained to beds every day. They too are waiting for God’s justice to break through, will we be like Elizabeth and stand by them?

 

This passage is an encouragement to me as I wait because it reminds me that when women gather in Jesus’ name He is in our midst. I believe that if we want justice to break through into our society we cannot passively wait, but like Mary and Elizabeth we have to actively wait singing prophetic songs and taking actions of justice. Let us not grow anxious by the circumstances we see: the holiday parties, gifts to buy and return, or seasonal loneliness. But, during this season of Advent, let us remember that the Gospels included everyday people who God used in extraordinary ways.

Women can continue to come together to rejoice, celebrate, and prophesy about liberation through collective action and prayer. This season I will actively wait by organizing for justice in my community, because when we come together the course of history will be interrupted, life birthed, and justice given.

   

Prayer: God of Sarah, Hagar and Mary please be with women who are incarcerated this season, especially be with our pregnant incarcerated sisters and the children they will bring forth. Give us the courage to be like Elizabeth and standby our sisters to sing and act in ways that will cause the powerful forces of injustice to fall. Amen

In light of the #AssaultatSpringValleyHigh my colleagues and I came together to call faith communities to Stand with Black Women and Girls and we created a toolkit congregations can use. The toolkit is subdivided into four sections: 1) Liturgical Resources; 2) Policy Options & Public Actions; 3) Social Media Campaign; and 4) Video Resources. Starting Friday, December 11th, the #StandwithBWG campaign will continue until Sunday, January 17th, 2016. To join the campaign or request further information, please email standwithbwg@gmail.com

The Stand with Black Women and Girls Planning Team:

Rev. Andrew Wilkes, Convener and Policy Options/Public Actions Director, #StandwithBWG

Rev. Jennifer Bailey, Liturgical Resources Director, #StandwithBWG

Kercena Dozier, Digital Campaign Director, #StandwithBWG

Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon, Executive Minister of Justice& Witness, United Church of Christ; Senior Pastor & Teacher, Christ the King, United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes, Chairman, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference; Senior Pastor,Friendship West Baptist Church

Rev. Shivonne McKay, Pastor, Galilee United Methodist Church

Rev. Willie Francois III, Pastor, Mount Zion Baptist Church

Ifeoma Ike, Esq., Co-Creator, BlackandBrownPeopleVote.

Onleilove Alston, Executive Director, Faith in New York

Carmen Dixon, Organizer, Black Lives Matter Chapter – New York City; Faith and Policy Organizer, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies

 

Is Dark Skin A Sin?

10856651_826008774130194_8062477244597007895_oI am black, but [AND] comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept. Song of Songs 1: 5-6

As the Executive Director for Faith in New York, an affiliate of the PICO National Network, I organize faith communities to take action for justice concerning issues that threaten the health of our communities. One of our campaigns is Live Free New York, which is a part of a national movement in which people of faith are working to end mass incarceration, gun violence, and police brutality through policy change and direct action.

Mass incarceration is an issue with many tentacles, and in New York, one tentacle is school suspension rates that are through the roof for black children. What many in the black community don’t understand is that according to data from the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, as presented in a recent New York Times article: “black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide are suspended at a rate of 12 percent compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls and more than girls of any race or ethnicity. … An analysis by Villanova [University] researchers of data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health indicated that black girls with the darkest skin tones were three times more likely to be suspended than black girls with the lightest skin.”
In the black community, we usually see colorism as regulated to beauty and dating choices, but research shows that colorism (defined as a practice of discrimination where those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin), affects educational and economic opportunities, as well as who is swept into the mass incarceration system and how long they reside there. Colorism is an implicit bias; research shows a connection between implicit bias and mass incarceration. From the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity:

“Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.”

The implicit bias of colorism affects prison sentences. Villanova researchers studied more than 12,000 cases of African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina and found that women with lighter skin tones were sentenced to 12 percent less time behind bars than women with darker skin tones. Mass incarceration is showing that we can no longer ignore colorism in our communities. What many are not aware of is that black woman of child-bearing age are one of the largest groups entering prison for the first time. While the New Jim Crow was coming through the front door and removing black men from our communities, it was going through the back door and quietly removing black women. We are unaware of the impending crisis that the incarceration of black mothers, daughters, and sisters is going to cause in our community.

As a person of faith and someone who has studied colorism for more than 15 years, I recognized that throughout American history, black skin has been deemed sinful, with false theologies such as the “curse of ham” where Genesis 9:20–27 was incorrectly interpreted to deem all people of African ancestry as eternally cursed and sinful. In the famous passage from Song of Songs, we see that most English Bibles translate the verse to state, “I am dark BUT lovely,” which is an apology for darkness, whereas the correct translation in the original Hebrew is “I am dark AND lovely,” which is not an apology but a bold declaration of beauty. This is a small change that makes a huge difference in the message the reader receives about dark skin. The implicit bias of colorism or anti-blackness is fostered through all aspects of human activity: religion, relationships, business, and politics. As a black faith leader, I struggle with the fact that although the black church has been a healing agent of justice for our community, it has also been one of the institutions that promoted colorism through historically inaccurate icons of Jesus and other religious figures that support the idolatrous notion that whiteness is next to Godliness.

As the black community grapples with the effects of incarceration on generations of black men, we now have to grapple with the incarceration of black women and the fact that colorism and the disdain for blackness is a contributing factor to who enters prison and how long they stay there. When black is deemed sinful and thus regulated to incarceration, what is the future of melanin, that powerful chemical we all possess but that blacks possess most explicitly? When even our holy books are translated and interpreted in a way that deems blackness as sinful and something to be apologized for, how can we truly say #BlackLivesMatter? If we are honest even in the black community, #BlackLivesMatter as long as they are not too dark or too poor. The research on implicit bias, colorism, and mass incarceration are all intersecting to challenge American society, but especially the black community to deal with the long-term, deeply held belief that blackness is inherently sinful. Instead of waiting for American society to absolve blackness of this imagined sin, what would it look like for the black community to stand empowered declaring that blackness doesn’t just matter but is beautiful, powerful, and worthy of freedom? Only when we stand in empowered blackness can we fight strategically and powerfully to end mass incarceration.