Adding place as a key part of wholistic liberation theology


An assignment for my independent study in Black Feminism, Womanism, and Religion, was to read and respond to Jacquelyn Grant White Women’s Christ Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response. I argue that through bringing in an analysis of settler-colonialism and the more-than-human to our liberation theologies, they become wholly, rather than partially, liberating (which is one of Grant’s goals).

Sarah Nahar, 20 March 2023 (20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq)

Jacquelyn Grant’s text White Women’s Christ, Black Women’s Jesus makes a contribution to womanist theology in that she argues that “racism/sexism/classism, as a conglomerate representation of oppression, is the most adequate point of departure for…wholistic theology and Christology” (2). This is because Black women’s lives are impacted by the racism/sexism/classism conglomerate oppression. Even if they did not write systematic theology in the 18th and 19th centuries, Black women “possess the potential for…the development of wholistic theological and christological construction[s] which are wholly rather than partially liberating” (3). Grant delineates how most feminist theology is race-blind and therefore reproduces racism even as it challenges sexism. The result–be it in biblical, liberationist, or rejectionist feminist theology–is only partial liberation. Grant calls this “capital W” White feminist theology, and offers womanist theology (lower case w) as her point of departure for a contextual, liberation theology that can adequately support the freight of liberation for all.

As an important critique of the sexism pervasive in US Christianity, feminist theology has exposed patriarchy and delineated patriarchal theology’s negative impact on women.  Firstly, traditional patriarchal theology does not reflexively recognize that a theologian’s life experience influences how they do theology. And even when the influence is recognized, patriarchal theology reifies a male perspective–an abstract universal ‘man’–becoming the center figure (3). This re-centering of men as ‘universal knowers’ by patriarchal ways of theologizing does not value the life experiences of women as important sources for theology, nor welcome the challenges their experiences bring to the tradition (3, 25). Patriarchy saturates the structures of Christian churches and seminaries as well.This has led feminist theologians and church women to develop “alternative sources and/or interpretation of sources,” as well as study groups, institutional audits, and advocacy collectives to reveal entrenched patriarchal attitudes and leverage power to create change within and despite them (3ff, Chapter 2). 

Recognizing and placing value on life experience as a legitimate source for interpretation was a key intervention made by feminist theology and advocacy, as one of the ascendant liberation theologies of the day. Grant groups feminist theological intervention in three groups, labeling them biblical, liberationist, and rejectionist. The Biblical feminists “are those who see Scripture as the primary source of theology” (4). The liberationist feminists are in two streams: those who see Scripture as a central authority and their relationship to it as a primary source of theology, and others who view Scripture as one “but not an overriding source for doing theology” and give primacy to “women’s experience as a source for critical reassessment of Christian tradition (5). The rejectionist feminist theologians “view both scripture [sic] and tradition as irredeemably oppressive” (5). Grant notes a correlation between the different groups’ theologies and christologies. 

The greater the emphasis upon human experience, the less emphasis upon the Bible and tradition. In their emergent christologies, the greater the emphasis upon women’s experience, the less the emphasis upon and importance of Jesus as divine.

US feminist theology’s experiential referent in development of biblical, liberationist, and rejectionist theologies has been White women’s experiences however. This is a particular experience, yet these theologies have tended to universalize “women’s experiences” in the same way they critique patriarchal theologies for universalizing “human experiences.” The assumption made by feminist theologians that “all women are in the same situation with respect to sexism,” perpetuates racist erasure of the experiences of Black women (195). Slavery, segregation, experiences in domestic work, and other aspects of Black women’s lived reality have “created such a gulf” between White and Black women that White experiences are not relatable to Black women. It follows then, that the theological interpretations that flow from White women’s experiences are also unrelatable to Black women as their experiences “have been far from the same” (198). With race uninterrogated, US feminist theology has been limited, and inadequate. In addition to this only supporting partial liberation, this elision makes feminist theology seem irrelevant to Black women who have been targets of White women’s racism (and sexism from White and Black men). 

US feminist theology happens in a context where White women are part of an oppressing class and Black women are in an oppressed class. Though some shifts have happened since the time of slavery, the basic contours of the power dynamics been White and Black women have not changed. Black women’s experience in the US “involves a convergence of racism, sexism, and classism” (198). The US feminist movement–though there are some antiracist feminists in it–has overall mirrored the structure of broader US society and “therefore taken on a racist character” (199). For example,

White women have defined the [feminist theology] movement and presumed to do so not only for themselves but also for non-White women. They have misnamed themselves by calling themselves feminists when in fact they are White feminists, and by appealing to women’s experience when in fact they appeal almost exclusively to their own experience” (200)…

Grant notes that this defining of the rules and then soliciting others to play the game does not break with societal patterns, and if White women wished to challenge how racism/sexism/classism operate, they would be more precise and self-aware in their naming of the movement, and more humble with how they approached women of color, being careful not to define the experiences of others.

Black women’s distrust and frustration with White feminism has led many to reject feminism and feminist theology. However, there is among Black women an “increased willingness to do an independent analysis of sexism” (201). Grant argues that a single issue analysis “has proven inadequate to eliminate oppression” and that liberation from racism/sexism/classism are all connected. From pages 203-205 Grant lists a plethora of writers, activists, preachers, and novelists who’ve wrestled with how to get free while living in the US. In this list, she introduces Alice Walker’s term womanist and its definition as part of Black women’s interventions in a racist/sexist/classist world. Grant sums up her list of intellectual production, as well as numerous Black women not remembered in history by noting that a womanist is 

a strong Black woman who has sometimes been mislabeled as a domineering castrating matriarch. A womanist is one who has developed survival strategies in spite of the oppression of her race and sex in order to save her family and her people (205).

Grant goes on to mention that employing womanist survival strategies invites Black women to be who they are and do what they do, regardless if that means acting in more traditionally masculine and/or more traditionally feminine ways–womanism is not confining. In this definition of womanism, more reformist and radical flavors of feminism are encompassed and transcended because the purpose of womanism is individual and collective survival in an oppressive world.

Theology that comes out of the experiences of Black women can be called womanist theology, Grant writes (205, 209). She cites literature that has supported the development of womanist theology by Black women and men (206-209). She insists that an analysis of the conglomerate racism/sexism/classism must be present, emphasizing the importance of centering the “daily struggles of poor Black women” as since that is the majority of Black women, it is the “gauge for the verification of the claims of womanist theology” (210, 221). I want to hear more about the biblical, liberationist, and rejectionist trends in womanist scholarship, as I found Grant’s delinations of feminist scholarship helpful. For example, Williams-Jones writing on the Pentecostal tradition might be categorized as biblical womanism, while Cone and Grant’s writing might be liberationist womanism, and Hurston’s writing, or even Walker could shed light on a rejectionist thrust. I am not completely sure, but think that keeping a similar structure would have been helpful in doing comparative work and providing alternatives to the White feminist theologians. 

Grant does speak to the use of the Bible and the role and significance of Jesus in womanist tradition. The section on the Bible, which can be summarized as used only when it is a helpful tool to womanists, was much shorter than the section on the role and significance of Jesus. In stark contrast to the Christ white women found oppressive and oppressively used, womanists see Jesus as a co-sufferer with them. He is the divine that empowers them in situations of oppression, rather than diminishes them in any way. In a way remarkably close to how Jesus articulated his self understanding in what gets recorded as “The Lord’s Prayer,” the affirmation of Jesus as God decidedly means that White people and their power structure were not God and were not holy (213). Furthermore the significance of Jesus is one of political freedom, and identification with him can allow Grant to say that Christologically, Jesus becomes Black. Black people, and especially Black women are living a life today that “reflects the cross of Jesus” (216, 220). Grant is citing and building on Cone’s work here…by rooting in particular experience, Grant theorizes that Black/womanist theology avoids universalizing (a critique of White feminist theology) while still being able to connect with the human experiences shared with others (217). In addition to challenging womanist theologians to take class and widening inequality seriously, she argues that they must examine the connection between the oppression of women and theological symbolism used in the church. Feminist theology, she argues, will not be wholly irrelevant in this project, but it is limited in the support it can give. Finally she exhorts womanist theologians to do constructive theology. This encouragement to constructive theology occurs in the last paragraph before a final quote! I wanted to hear her constructive theology, as well as more about how womanists should engage the ecological and more-than-human (such as Grant cites Rosemary Radford Ruether doing pages 139-141). It is for this constructive project that I offer another axis of thought, that of place and settler-colonialism, which in a way touches on–because it is located in, impacted by, and in power relations with– the ecological and more-than-human, but retains its center of gravity in the social.

Grant chooses to develop Christology from the perspective of Black women because “Christology must emerge out of the condition of the least” and the conglomerate of racism/sexism/classism presents “one such situation of the least” (6). Furthermore, Black women’s life experiences offer an

evaluative criterion for testing the limitations of the feminist perspective in theology and Christology, because Black women are a significant minority group of women in the United States and because they have claimed that Jesus Christ has played a dominant role in their lives (6).

I affirm Grant’s point of departure and work, because she calls racism/sexism/classism a conglomerate and a representation of how interlocking systems of oppression function. It does not seem like she is saying these are the only things going on. So I offer the addition of place (as an analytical lens) and settler-colonialism (as an oppression) as an extension to her conglomerate.

I think the extension of racism/sexism/classism to racism/sexism/classism/settler-colonialism is absolutely necessary for two reasons. Firstly, because the experience of Black women in the US is different than those outside of the US due to imperialism, and secondly because the place where the contextual/liberation theology work happens is alive–and the people who see themselves a part of that living land/water, that is the Indigenous peoples of that place–their presence and/or absence impacts how Black women (and everyone) theologize and develop christologies.

Jesus’ ministry existed in a place that wasn’t Europe, the US, Africa, or Asia in the geopolitical sense. It was the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean watershed, sometimes called Imperial Roman Palestine. What it means to absorb (through reading, hearing, and seeing) an indigenous story from there in other geographical places must be interrogated…let alone the question of interaction with the text across time and geopolitics. In the case of doing Christology in the US, how Christianity got to Turtle Island is via the same people who currently constitute the dominant culture and hold patriarchal authority–White men. Interrogating its journey from a revolutionary pacifist praxis of marginalized community groups to becoming mostly a message that governmental emissaries used for military and domination purposes provides an additional line of inquiry by which to problematize Christianity’s overdetermination of itself as a universal phenomenon leading to a universal experience of Jesus Christ. 

As is understood in other liberation theologies, place matters because where one is located in the context of empire and imperialism greatly influences worldview. Though I have not read all of the texts, feminist and womanist theologies do not interrogate sufficiently how US imperialism influences their biblical, liberationist, or rejectionist theologizing. Grant’s concept of the conglomerate of oppression helps us get towards asking questions related to place and settler-colonialism; if nothing else to examine what limitations in our thinking there might be, and to know that we must keep pushing at our intellectual boundaries if womanist theology is to be “wholly rather than partially liberating” (3). Grant writes that “Black women must recognize that racism, sexism, and classism each have lives of their own, and that no one form of oppression is eliminated with the destruction of any other” (221). Therefore, the oppressions can be examined in connection with one another. Examples of questions related to place and settler-colonialism in conversation with each of the conglomerate’s axes could include: 

  • Racism – How does racism (and other forms of racial/ethnic othering such as Orientalism) in the US have an impact on other places in the world?
  • Sexism – what are the connections between patriarchy and US imperialism? How does patriarchy play out in other places in the world, and on sovereign Indigenous land “in” the US?
  • Classism – What does it mean to be suffering, as poor Black women do, in the context of the world’s richest nation? Even if not benefitting much from the country’s wealth, what global exploitation is taking place to ensure that the US remains the world’s richest nation? (Classism can also bridge to a critique of capitalism)

My thought is that the answers to these questions above would function to both connect Black women transnationally in shared struggle as well as highlight the particularities of Black women’s experience in the place called the United States, in which Indigenous women are dispossessed due to racist/sexist/classist settler-colonialism. 

Black women in the US are unwilling settlers, but we are settlers nonetheless. Our ancestors who were trafficked to the US via enslavement did not travel willingly to this land mass where thriving Indigenous cultures existed. Our enslaved ancestors suffered loss of land on the African continent, were stripped of their individual agency, and denied sovereignty. When they expressed any communal self-determination they were met with violence from dominant groups. This marks us as very different from Europeans who retained individual agency, expressed their system of governance, claimed land as settlers, and claimed African peoples as property. However, in our efforts to emancipate, self-determine, and self-govern, people of African descent often use and rely on the wealth of the land, and appeal to the apparati of US government power. This is often done without direct connection with Indigenous communities who were/are dispossessed of land, suffered/suffering genocidal losses, and were/are actively marginalized and erased by the racist colonial system. When Black people make demands of the government system, they make demands as settler-citizens who are requesting that rights and access be afforded to them. And each thing that the government grants (however reluctantly it is granted) further dispossesses Indigenous peoples. The racist settler-colonial system is set up to pit Black and Indigenous communities against one another. It is for this reason that Indigenous community decolonization activists have asked Black community activist leaders, particularly Black feminists who already mobilize an understanding of intersectionality, to integrate an analysis of settler-colonialism alongside their analyses of racism, sexism, and classism. In short, those triple oppressions are occurring in a specific context which needs to be named and is itself dynamic and not a static backdrop to our community’s experience of devastation. If Black organizing takes the state as a foregone conclusion, we are inadvertently oppressing those communities who struggle against the state itself. In doing liberation theology, integrating an analysis of settler-colonialism means:

  • Recognizing that there are stories that arise from the earth and peoples here that we must orient ourselves around, and not only orient around the liberation story from an indigenous wisdom tradition from the eastern mediterranean.
  • Critically analyze the Christian tradition for how it arrived to the place in which we encountered it, and what impact the worldview of settler-colonialism has on it.
  • Seeing ourselves as caught within systems of oppression, not only targeted by systems of oppression.
  • Liberation and holistic health of humans is linked with the liberation and holistic health of the land in which they are struggling for sufficiency.
  • A belief that sufficiency is possible outside of current parameters of what dominant systems say is possible.
  • Make common cause with Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous feminists.

An analysis of settler-colonialism will only deepen commitments to what liberation can look like on this land mass (as well as others). A liberation theology taking this into account would mean liberation for Indigenous Peoples as well, however they define that. There are biblical, liberationist, and rejectionist Indigenous feminist theologians as well. For womanist liberation theology to be wholly liberating, ideally theologians would be in conversation with one or more streams of Indigenous feminist liberation theology. 

Interrogating place is in no way contingent upon indigenous women being Christian or “claiming that Jesus Christ has played a dominant role in their lives” (6). (This was one of the evaluative criteria set forth by Grant as to why she chooses Black women to study). As conversation with Indigenous feminists (theologians and not) has uncovered for me, however, many do acknowledge that “Jesus Christ has played a dominant role in their lives” and not by choice. He and ‘the Church’ are those responsible for writing and implementing The Doctrine of Discovery (a set of 15th century papal bulls that condoned and arbitrated murderous colonialism) and then set forth the structures that created:

  • land dispossession, and extractive relationships with the land and other species,
  • plantation enslavement of Indigenous peoples and the Hacienda system, 
  • boarding schools run by Christian churches for the purpose of ethnocide, 
  • the criminal justice system geared toward a certain eschatology, 
  • demonization of ranges of native gender and sexual expressions, 
  • suppression of languages, cultural and religious expressions (until the 1978 Religious Freedom Act offered a modicum of reprieve from Christian hegemonic settler-colonial patriarchal white supremacist impoverishment). 

In their own way, these structures of settler-colonialism impacted, and continue to impact Black women as well. Talking at these intersections, which White feminist theologians have not done, will add so many more dimensions to Christology and soteriology. Womanist theologians should not do theology for Indigenous communities, but in the US, womanist theology should not be done without an analysis of place and settler-colonialism. Ultimately, Grant does not write as a rejectionist, though also doesn’t say where she is, beyond womanist. For this reason I tried to formulate the questions about the conglomerate in such a way that Black women who are still interested in Christianity’s continuance can overcome the limitations that would plague womanist liberation theology if settler-colonialism is not considered. This addition aims to build on Sobrino’s work that Grant quoted, “the idea that perhaps the whole will be radically altered when liberation of the oppressed is considered as an integral part of the whole” (11). Bringing into focus the experience of being displaced Indigenous Africans doing theology with eastern Mediterranean stories on Turtle Islander’s indigenous land dealing with oppression from European Americans is quite the crucible–these are dimensions to consider when seeking to do wholly liberating womanist liberation theology in the US.

Note: Furthermore, and overall, this paper talked a lot about men and women, male and females. There was not reference to sexual orientation, gender identity, the fluidity of gender, trans* identity, or queerness. Heterosexism is the paradigm that most feminists work in now, bringing together their concerns about how heteronormativity is functioning in a damaging way in society, and certainly in the church. This very month many anti-trans bills are moving through state legislatures. We must look to queer womanist theological Christologies and soteriologies for guidance and to create wholly liberating theologies.

Defend the Atlanta Forest


In an acute way in the last two years there has been a struggle for another way of understanding security, as well as understanding of ourselves as connected with all beings in Atlanta, Georgia, USA (Mvskoke land). Here’s the news release from Feb 16.

I’m still in the middle of my doctoral program, so I am not on the ground at this time. But we don’t have to be there to be part of the much-needed amplification of the struggle to save the nation’s largest urban forest from being cut down and dug up in order to install an urban combat training center for the Atlanta Police Department. #StopCopCity

What this boils down to is trees vs. guns. Things are of course more complex and we understandably resist most binaries. But what has been so powerful about this movement is that the activists are so clear that the struggle of the earth and the struggle of the people are one struggle. This is a message so many climate justice workers have worked hard to instill in the dominant North American environmentalist movement. So much positive knowledge has been shared from pipeline struggles, racial justice, antiwar, and indigenous solidarity (here and around the world) for this moment.

Many kindred spirits are on the ground in Atlanta now…doing holding actions in defense of life, creating new structures, and shifting consciousness (to use Joanna Macy’s language).

If you lead any group processes or faith groups in the next while please consider donating a portion of any proceeds to this Stop Cop City effort. @belovedcommune on Venmo is the fiscal sponsor. Image below so you can make sure it’s the right one.

We can all find a way that your community can show solidarity with a movement that is local and at the same time national (and global, given the fact that Israeli police train the Atlanta police based on security tactics Israel has learned via the destructive military occupation of Palestine) struggle.

If you’d like to get directly involved, feel free to reach out to your people in Atlanta, add a solidarity event to their calendar for Feb 19-26, or email the organizers on their website. You can show up in town, head to the South Forest and you will be taking care of by activists who are dreaming for a world beyond the carceral state, no police violence, and where there is fresh air for all!

Big love for big times!

Indigenous Feminist Theory & Thought Class Assignment


Each week we had the opportunity to engage a number of readings and write reflections. Here I respond to Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy” by Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, and Angie Morrill. They published the piece in Feminist Formations 25(1) 2013: 8-34

This group of authors notes that “attending to the links between heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism is intellectually and politically imperative for all peoples living within settler colonial contexts” (8). Doing so will allow for “new visions of what decolonization might look like for all peoples” (9). The main focus of this piece is the inclusion of an analysis of settler-colonialism as one of the ongoing structures of oppression that ethnic studies and women and gender studies must wrestle with…and when it doesn’t, those areas of study meant to support liberation inadvertently reinscribe it. There is a way in which feminisms can participate in white possession as well as the project of elimination (Wolfe), if an analysis about heteropatriarchal settler-colonialism is not explicit and influential on how all feminist theorizing work happens–both what it concludes and futures it imagines. Furthermore, it’s not just about inclusion of the analysis. It’s allowing the analysis to shift and impact current alliances and solidarities. These become alliances that address difference, not eschew them in order to try to appear as a particular type of “united front” facing the academic or cultural powers that be.

 As an undergraduate women and gender studies major at Spelman College, a HBCU, I resonate with the desire to decenter whitestream feminism, and had a lot of practice doing so. We engaged with Indigenous feminists, but not enough during my matriculation (2002-2006) to decenter an ethnic studies approach to the black feminism we accessed. Though we struggled mightly against US militarism and the prison industrial complex, we did not assume that the US nation-state wouldn’t always exist. For example, the 1977 Combahee River Collective statement in all its amazingness didn’t problematize the settler-colonial capture of the place called Combahee where Harriet Tubman acted boldly to create space for freedom. If it would have, then the statement would have mentioned the land, river, the more than human species, and the Combahee, Yamasee, and other peoples who called that place home. The Combahee River Collective statement does however provide a framework to continue to look towards those who are marginalized for direction–as their freedom is key to everyone else’s freedom because their “freedom necessitates the destruction of all forms of oppression.” Though in 1977 that was written as Black women, and this remains true, and, following the direction of Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill, there is an imperative to also center the lives of Indigenous women.

One of the Combahee statement writers, Demita Frazier, said in a 2022 panel at the Allied Media Conference (at 35:30) shared invaluable insight into what was in the minds of the writers.

“Back in the day when we, Barbara and Beverly and I, were trying to write the [Combahee River Collective] statement, there is something about the statement that ‘if Black women are free, then everyone else will, of necessity, be free.’ And I still don’t feel 100% comfortable with that.

We are on land that was stolen and colonized and we struggle to make Indigenous women and the lives of Indigenous women at the center…and so I’m still trying to figure out how we braid those human experiences together so that when we talk about who’s—what does freedom really mean and for whom—I think we have to begin more…we have to expand our vision on that.”

So the “Decolonizing Feminism” authors have a willing participant in Demita and so many more of us. We all recognize that “greater engagement between Native feminist theories and other feminisms is sorely needed” (10). The theoretical background in transnational feminism gave me some of the tools I need in order to do this, as well as years of solidarity work alongside indigenous feminists in other countries that were not just struggling for parity and recognition, but sovereignty within the settler-colonial (in Palestine) and colonially mandated spaces (in Kurdistan) where they lived. Why I took Indigenous Feminist Theory and Thought class in the Fall of 2022 is precisely to address one of the challenges the article’s authors issue: to study Native feminist theories to learn about the claims they make, “not to an authentic past outside of settler colonialism, but to an ongoing project of resistance that continues to contest patriarchy and its power relationships” (23). The challenges in the fifth section are so important. I see some folks here taking them seriously as they try to destabilize the tourist narrative surrounding the heroic white suffragettes in central New York. Sally Roesch Wagner and others continue to say that those women saw Haudenosaunee women and they got extremely jealous of their autonomy, authority, self-possession, vision, and expansiveness, in a phase, their sovereignty and decoloniality. Matilda Joslyn Gage was an intersectional feminist before it was cool–and if she hadn’t been written out of history (and herstory) by the impact of colonial, Christian hegemonic, white supremacy in the suffragette movement led by Susan B. Anthony–we’d be much deeper along in addressing heteropatriarchy, racism, and settler-colonialism in Women’s and Gender Studies.

Kwanzaa day of Nia: Purpose


As I prepare for birth, I haven’t been blogging much. Which is ironic, since this blog is called “blog from the belly.” My ‘belly’, a euphemism for my womb, has been expanding over the last 9 months. I’ve kept a private journal, but haven’t published about it. Perhaps that will change.

One thing that has happened is that I’ve cried every time I’ve had to set aside something that I LOVE doing in order to make room in my life for the baby. Overall I am happy that I will bring a child earthside. However, it has been a necessary practice to take time to grieve the loss of the rhythm and life that I know well at this time. For example, I was so crunched for time in early November that I could not present at the Rich Earth Institute‘s awesome annual conference. I really wanted to, the panel invitation was around meaning-making in the relationship of people to their excreta, and how to promote nutrient cycling and safe reuse of excreta. Really it was the heart of what I work on–and I couldn’t meet the growing demands of (pre)motherhood, finish up my speaking engagements, complete my teaching assignment, and prepare a presentation + attend the conference. So I opted out.

Right before I sent the email stating my regrets I was really cranky… I realized what I needed was a good cry. I had so much sadness and shame built up around letting my amazing colleagues down, as well as feeling the loss of not being in those life-giving conversations for the next while. So I sat by one of my home altars and just let loose. I let myself feel it all directly. And afterwards I was able to do what I needed to do, and release in peace. Since that time, with everything else that I’ve had to lay down, I’ve felt the build-up of the angst, made room for it, and then took a deep breath, and moved on.

One of the beloved activities from which I am taking a maternity break is Buddhist Peace Fellowship. I have deeply enjoyed learning and growing together with members of that organization. Our shared intention is to serve collective liberation through “connecting Dharma to the current moment through convening spiritually and politically engaged individuals from Buddhist and other lineages. Our programs are led by and lift up the voices and priorities of our QTBIPOC and Heritage Buddhist community who share commitments to ecological anti-capitalism, queer feminism, and racial justice within the USA.”

It was an organization started by white western Buddhists, who were visionary and committed. They saw that the NIA (purpose) of Buddhism was not (only) individual enlightenment, but deep enlightenment of the whole, since none of us are truly individuals but completely interdependently with one another in the web of entangled life/death/suffering/non-suffering cycles. One of my colleagues has written about one of the co-founders, Robert Aiken. I invite you to click here to learn about him and other amazing teachers who are so committed to the purpose of their life earthside this time around. I’m excited for our child to learn from leaders such as these!

May your purpose become and remain clear for you as you live out your days.

Feast of the Holy Innocents: Protesting Drone Warfare


Today was the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is a day that is part of the Christmas arc and remembers the young children of Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod soon after Jesus’ birth because Herod felt threatened that another king would arise to challenge him.

Being 39.5 weeks pregnant helps me feel with all the mothers who have lost children to drone attacks.

To observe this day, our entire household went to remember the Holy Innocents that have died from US drone attacks. NY Times and Fox News NY reported on the coordinated actions from yesterday, as well as the Pentagon info has just come out about the patterns of immense failure in the US drone program. Whistleblower Daniel Hale made documents public about the huge numbers of innocent people (including many children) slaughtered in their homes or yards.…/veterans-for-peace-protests…

More on Daniel Hale’s courageous choice to bring the truth to light, and the years of jail time he faces because of his witness:…/daniel-hale-whistleblower…/

More on why we need a ban on drones:

We stood across from the base, as the shift changed. We stood, and held the faces and names of the victims in the sightlines of the engineers, pilots, janitors, and managers as they departed from work at Hancock Air Force Base.
This vigil has gone on consistently since 2001 and the advent of the drone program. Elders have, and continue to lead the way. We were blessed to join them, and bring up the next generation to follow their example.

Find out what you can do, so that what is done in YOUR name does not continue to create violence and harm.

Values Change for Survival: A Work That Reconnects Retreat


Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons has long uttered these four words as a clarion call for re-orientation.

One way of creating this necessary values change is practicing re-orientation. Individual practice done together with others in a group is a great way that I have seen the capacity to change strengthened, and networks of relationships nourished to shift away from market and state and extraction and toward reciprocal exchange and collective governance and regeneration.

A methodology that has deep roots here, in the traditional region of the Haudenosaunee, is called the Work That Reconnects. Sourced via Joanna Macy (a 1978 graduate of the same PhD program I am in) it draws from engaged Buddhism, the anti-nuclear and anti-war movements, and human potential experiments of the 1970s. If you are in need of self-expression, grief, expanded imagination, social justice, spiritual ecology, and fun in a group context, check it out! (There are a number of offerings around the world noted on the website above).

This particular retreat has been crafted in honor of indigenous peoples day, and features Lyons’ framework as a guiding principle regarding the need for a values change for survival. It is hosted in partnership with Garden’s Edge, an international solidarity organization that works with the Amaranth plant and the peoples all over Turtle Island and Abya Yala that grow it.

Economically, it will be offered on a sliding scale (aka pay what you can and feel called to give). One needs to be present for the whole two days to support container building. A portion of the proceeds will go toward local indigenous justice efforts. As you wish to do so, please distribute among folks you know in the broader area who might benefit from such an offering.

Trees: a song by young Sarah


I am going through my archives, and I found a water-stained poster I made in May 1993 (3rd grade) with a song I wrote about trees. I still halfway remember the dirge-like tune. I was in love with trees thanks to my older cousin who loved them too and the early childhood environmental education we each received. I know I can’t keep everything in my archives, so I’m copying the song here for posterity. Reading the lyrics now I can see that felt some connection to them and my ancestors as a wrote. I used the word comfort a lot, and trees do still comfort me. You can decide how profound the song is. 🙂

Full of laughter, full of sorrow,
trees, trees.
Got to save them, got to love them,
trees, trees.
Without their comfort, without their life,
trees, trees
Where’s the world, where’s the feeling?
Trees, trees.

The world so bright and beautiful,
with trees, yes, with trees.
Their shade, their comfort,
their tender loving care.
Where would the world be, child,
just where?


Their wise old souls, their long trunks;
just got to believe them,
yes, just got to believe them.


Air, yes, fresh smelling air.
Without trees, without trees–
no air, no air.
Got to have air, yes got to have air.


Trees, trees, trees, trees,
what would we do without trees?
No knowledge no air,
no shade, no comfort.
Trees, trees.

Here I am with some of the trees that were a part of an ecosystem that nurtured me in middle and high school. I returned for a visit this summer, 18 years after writing the song.

My first email address was I was never ashamed to be an environmentalist, or to outright hug trees in public! Randomly I was assigned the number 18 by the email company, and it ended up becoming a number that is a big part of my life and carries special meaning.

I know even more now about the plight of the world’s trees. If you are so inclined, donate to one of these tree-planting orgs. and A Chinese proverb is attributed with the multilayered saying, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” This more recent quote sums up one aspect of the attitudes of many enthralled with the electronic technology available today and hints at the dangers associated with disregard for the natural and fundamental aspects of life (basically what I was writing about in my song!

Image descriptions: First, the author stands smiling in a cowry-shell tank top in front of a wetland river with trees in the background. Second, a green graphic featuring the words “Imagine if trees gave off wifi signals, we would be planting so many trees and we’d probably save the planet too. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe.”

It is still Asian American awareness month


Though the news about the spike in violence against Asian, Asian diasporic, and Asian American people has faded from the front page, the structural violence against them still happens. I want to highlight two friends who wrote amazing articles this month. This post features excerpts from them, and links to the originals as well as resources.

Tony Butterfly Pham and Tomi Nagai-Rothe wrote pieces a couple weeks after eight people, including six Asian women, were shot and killed near Atlanta. Butterfly asked, “Why do the most vulnerable among us have to die before we see them?”

Say their names: Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan, and Young Ae Yue.

Butterfly reflects on his upbringing: “Don’t rock the boat” is an English cultural warning against saying something that may upset people…I can feel the force of intergenerational trauma and cultural conditioning of “politeness” pressuring me towards silence, not wanting to “rock the boat.” I feel my own woundings getting triggered, and to the six Asian women who were gunned down, I see you. And as part of seeing you, my intention is to practice right speech and right view to honor your lives, even if it causes discomfort to myself and others. Discomfort is not much to ask of those of us that can still breathe. The six Asian women who are dead can no longer speak.

In the remainder of the article Butterfly speaks to the broader system of patriarchy and racism that enabled a 21-year-old white Evangelical to commit murder. He connects it to the governmental history of violence against Asian people (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the colonialist wars in East and Southeast Asia, the harassment of citizens descended from the Middle East and South Asia after 9/11, and the former president racializing the COVID-19 virus with names like “kung flu.”) Throughout dealing with these abuses, many in the various targeted communities kept quiet out of fear and passed on the tradition of not speaking out to their children. Butterfly concludes by sharing his experience, and reason for breaking with that tradition to speak out:

My experience of getting raised in an Asian household meant being socialized to “save face,”
which often meant not “making trouble.” As I feel the anger, despair, frustration, rage, and
sadness in my body at the murder of six Asian women,
I cannot ethically keep quiet.
While white supremacy has exploited certain Asian social norms
by “rewarding” silence with assimilation,
I believe that Asian Americans can apply our location at the crossroads of multiple cultures as a tool for social justice.
Being Asian and being American are not exclusive to one another.
We can take pride in weaving our heritage into identity, and exercise
a fundamental right of the United States: freedom of speech.
May we use it wisely.

Please read the full article here on Lion’s Roar.

(Graphic from Tomi’s blog, a small sample from her illustrious career in visual strategic planning and design)

Tomi’s Articles

Tomi shares memories of racism from childhood and carries questions about the silence of other baby boomer white folks in the face of increasing vulnerability that she faces as she heads into elderhood.

“All the news of the past month and the past year – being killed for being Black, Latino, Asian or Indigenous – has been going on for centuries and is, in fact, the norm in this country. It is what this country was founded upon and what continues to fuel our economy.” And so when our blood, sweat, and tears are the fuel, no wonder it’s hard for people accustomed to using the fuel for decades to truly be bewildered as to the recent violence. In her next paragraphs, Tomi invites us to act, even if we are bewildered.

“I hope that what I have written is profoundly disturbing – especially if you have been upset by recent acts of racial violence. You should not be surprised at all because our economic, military, workforce, policing and incarceration, and land “ownership” systems are all working precisely as designed: to extract as much money and control as possible from communities of color and the natural environment at whatever cost. This includes making food, medicine and clean water difficult or impossible to access – and outright killing people.

The panorama of visible and invisible violence in this country hurts me, hurts my family and hurts millions upon millions of people who are survivors of racist violence spawned by the society that we live and breathe.”

I join Tomi in her hope is that even if you have not experienced racist violence yourself, you will be moved to action. It’s urgent, as she says pointedly “I have heard from White friends that they don’t have enough time to become informed or get involved. So my question is, What is the threshold at which this crisis of racist violence becomes both urgent and important enough to take action?

She continues” This is not a rhetorical question. This is a real question aimed at saving lives. When does inaction stop and outrage and engagement begin? For people of faith the bar is higher because every major wisdom tradition centers the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have others treat you.”

Part 1 and Part 2 are here in full, and they have links to resources where you can learn more and take action, from a 5 minute action to a deep dive!! It’s an amazing list ranging from addressing the Doctrine of Discovery to doing trauma-informed care.

I continue to be so grateful for Tomi and Butterfly’s words and inspirational presence in my life and the world. Even as we change months, let us deepen our commitment to protecting, truly appreciating, and building together with Asian folx.

Earth Day Altar Call


In the midst of an extremely tough season for me mentally, Goddexx gave me the strength to preach the gospel, on Earth Day!

An altar call was traditionally a moment to invite sinners to repent, give their life to Jesus, and transform their way of living. The event of Earth Day is a global invitation for us to examine sinful racial capitalism, experience Jesus’ incarnation anew, and make (re)commitments to transform how we live.

In this video, I invite people to be converted back to their humanity through these questions:

  • How do you see, feel, experience the earth being crucified? If you were to make a station of the cross, what would be included?
  • How can your community better prioritize the saving of soil in addition to the saving of souls?
  • “What do you need to break free from the clutches of [industrial growth society, corporate petro chemical capitalism – the structure of sin that is holding us all hostage]?” How can your community support you in breaking free from this system? (We are in this together!)

My speech was part of a series. All of the sessions about climate justice and racial justice can be found here!!!

Standing on the shores of sacred Onondaga Lake, in whose watershed I am blessed to study.

Many thanks to Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions for the invitation, and your work guiding this conversation among Anabaptists.

Guest post by Azmera Hammouri-Davis


Sarah’s note: I am grateful for the chance to have met Azmera, a poet who dreams and schemes with verses biblical and lyrical. We work together in the building of a political home for Black Christians for justice in Israel and Palestine, birthed out of the Black Church Call to End Israeli Apartheid (Haftara) that was conceived in the long legacy of solidarity currently. This nascent political home being nurtured in the organizational embrace of Friends of Sabeel North America. I was so focused on a reparations project and PhD coursework when all of this was happening, I could only get around to signing the petition and writing a quick personal email to Dr. West. Thank goodness there are others — Azmera specifically — who could and did the labor to give voice to our hearts as young scholar-activists of African descent whose future in the academy was already precarious before this happened.

What follows is her piece in its entirety. Shukran and mahalo, camarada. ❤

Dr. Cornel West, A Black Christian 4 Palestine

When I traveled to Palestine for the first time my heart was cracked open and shattered into a million pieces. I listened to Palestinians tell me about their homes being demolished, about military night raids, about neighborhoods being bombed for target practice. I listened to former Israeli Defense Soldiers confess to the inhumane evils they were asked to commit upon innocent civilians and I couldn’t help but to wonder what our Black Christian tradition had to say about this. When I heard Dr. West describe Jesus as a Palestinian Jew of Nazareth my curiosity spiked. What did he mean by that? I thought to myself. I met Dr. Cornel West in his course on the Philosophy of W.E.B. Dubois during my first semester of graduate school at Harvard. As a Masters of Theological Studies student focused on African/American religions I knew I’d gain so much wisdom from the class, but I couldn’t have known how many questions it’d open up for me moving forward. Years earlier, in my Popular Culture of the Middle East course while in undergrad at USC someone mentioned that there was no such thing as an Arab Jew, and that perplexed me further. Why would someone think that? And who benefitted from such a conception? I thought again.

July 2019. Outside of Qalandia Checkpoint, separating the city of Ramallah from Jerusalem.

In al-Khalil, the city where my grandfather was from, I saw dusty doors of buildings that made up a once vibrant marketplace on al-Shuhada street spray painted with the words “Death to Arabs” as young seven year old boys beckoned me for coins. The look in their eyes screamed “help me, please” but what could little old me possibly do? As I reached inside my pocket for some change I felt helpless knowing my efforts would be dismal. The boys reminded me of the beggars I’d frequently see on the bus ride to Bonoco station in Salvador Bahia, Brasil whenever I entered the community at Cosme de Farias for Capoeira class. Even there, I wondered what the Black prophetic tradition had to say about the pressures of poverty, war and racism. I saw white evangelicalism justify the anti-Black practices that attacked the marginal and religion weaponized to maintain the status quo. When I met Christians at Sabeel, a Palestinian Liberation Theology center in Jerusalem, I began to see a proverbial light, but the tunnel to freedom still seemed so dim and slim. I kept recalling Harvard’s motto, Veritas (Truth in Greek), and Dr. West’s words:

“The condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak.”

The structural violence was all too familiar; from the tear gas, to the community surveillance, to the corrupt court hearings and hired infiltrators, the same form of racist policing that plagued our Black community in the U.S. fiercely sucked the life and dignity away from precious Palestinians. Accustomed to what Dr. West may call the “sanitized and deodorized” western eurocentric portrayal of Jesus as a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes, it was the first time I’d heard anyone associate Jesus with Palestine in the academy. When whiteness constantly approximates itself to the Divine, not only does it reinforce false depictions, it also distances people of color from the possibility of carrying any sense of inherent worth and goodness. In other words, how we view ourselves in relation to God matters and those messages are constantly being communicated within our culture.

After learning that Howard Thurman, the first Black Chaplain of Religious and Spiritual Life at Boston University, a minister and spiritual counselor to Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, is who etched such understanding, I sought Thurman’s writing. By centering Jesus as a God of the oppressed Thurman’s work strengthened the Black community’s spiritual resolve, providing hope and vision as they navigated horrific conditions of living with their backs up against the treacherous wall of economic exploitation and racism in America. That Dr. West so openly called into question these inaccurate portrayals of God, deepened my respect for him, and also broadened my scope for what the Black Christian tradition could teach us about the quest for Truth, Beauty and Justice.

Dec. 2019. Harvard Business School — Professor Stephen Rogers course “Black Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs” Dr. West supported his college roommate, the Black protagonist in the case study for the week.

Calling upon the wisdom of the best in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim traditions to lovingly critique the violence that U.S. Imperialism imposes on innocent citizens, Dr. West’s commitment to the pursuit of justice is not only deeply rooted in the Black prophetic tradition but it is concerned with moral consistency. Whether referring to Edward Said, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Howard Zinn, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Anna Julia Cooper among many others in his praxis, each of these figures remained unwavering in charting a path toward freedom courageous enough to critique race and empire. When I returned from my trip, I noticed that Palestine was a taboo topic on campus, yet Dr. West continued to speak up in student organizations and events. After Michelle Alexander released her call to “Break The Silence on Palestine” in the New York Times, outside of her receiving the usual harassment and character assassinations that comes with such a stance, not surprisingly, nothing much changed in regard to campus climate. The disproportionate and undeniable misrepresentation of Palestinian voices within North American higher education became glaringly apparent.

If Dr. West is not able to obtain tenure, based on his principled stance that Palestinians deserve equal rights, what might that mean for the rest of us?

When I was asked to serve in a leadership role for Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) to facilitate the newly formed Black Christians for Palestine Network I was heartened to see that Dr. West was one of the organization’s advisors. Standing on the backs of work done by Rev. Nyle Fort, Taurean Webb, Sarah Nahar, Rev. Erica Williams, Rev. Graylan Hagler, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rev. Leslie Callahan, Rev. Karlene Griffiths Sekou and so many others the Black Christian tradition teaches us so much about speaking truth to power, cultivating our spiritual sustenance amid senseless oppression, safeguarding truth and allowing suffering to speak. Could non-violent resistance and interfaith coalition building indeed be a bedrock for change and liberation in today’s increasingly plural world? In my role as Africana Spirituality advisor at the multi-faith chaplaincy on Tufts University campus I continue to ponder these questions. In the spirit of Howard Thurman, when our backs are against the wall, may we stand courageous and choose to answer the call.

Dr. West has demonstrated what an honest public intellectual looks like, inspiring generations to nourish, nurture and replenish the life of the mind. He’s unabashedly illustrated what Living and Loving Outloud means, honoring the least of these even while walking the ranks of those in the highest echelons of society. The joy he elicits, the change he sparks, the paideia — critical self-examination — he implores ensures that any person lucky enough to cross paths with him, learn from him, maybe even laugh with him are all the better for it.

May we continue to fight the good fight and uplift our dear brother Cornel West in the struggle for liberation, someone who represents and upholds the best in our Black prophetic tradition. Current Harvard Students penned a letter calling on the administration to rectify such a discriminatory decision, one that repeats an unpleasant history between the University and West that resulted in a no-confidence vote of then President Summer by faculty. I invite you to support Dr. West in continuing to exercise his right to academic freedom by taking action here today.

In solidarity and love,