“I, Too, Am Going to Speak of Hope” - Part One

October 10, 2020

“I, Too, Am Going to Speak of Hope” - Part One

I might be the only black woman who has ever discovered Audre Lorde in Yemen. Almost certainly am, the only black, queer, gender-nonconforming Christian woman who has. I spent my 20s in a stupor of travel concerned with who was inside and who was outside of the Christianfold, of who was heaven-bound and who was hell-condemned.  Whether I traveled to find myself or to lose myself, I still don’t know. I do know that by the time I made it to Yemen the stupor was wearing off. I was there to study Arabic, with no one to save but myself. 

From the first time I set foot on a plane, a thick stack of books had been a part of my packing list. For this trip, I had grabbed a copy of Aude Lorde’s, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. I would love to say that I still remember all the details of that book, but I don’t. It was more a critical threshold than a spacious landing at the time. Still, I can remember the sweetness of lying in my room after my Arabic lessons and reading for hours with the dissonance of Sanaa’s soundtrack as my binaural beat. 

Years later  -- and possibly one or two selves later -- I’m the founding pastor of a church in Washington, DC called Resurrection City. We are the kind of Christians who barely know how to hold onto that label some days -- the kind who are thigh-deep in deconstructing and reconstructing our faith, knowing that the waters are only deepening -- and yet amid the chaos, there is somehow life. We are each taking our faith apart and putting it back together in small ways everyday and we are letting that process widen into the more communal and perhaps even more urgent task of decolonizing our Christianity. I am certain that there are those who think us a prodigal church at best, or a heretical one at worst. We just know that we want to follow in the way of Jesus with our honest questions and our authentic selves fully intact. 

And that’s why Audre Lorde has been keeping me up at night. This time with a jarring line from the collection of her essays and speeches, Sister Outsider, that has now become famous: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change” (112). That line is both a confrontation and a summons. It reminds me that the work of the church involves dismantling the master’s house to create a spiritual commons that eschews supremacy culture. But it also invites us all to reexamine our tools in order to realize a generative future. 

The truth is that I struggle to find hope for such a future, the one in which we are so full of loving concern for all creation that swords become plowshares in our hands and spears are transformed into pruning hooks. I struggle to believe that the effects of structural white supremacy will be remedied and reparated, that the toxic masculinity that has propagated new forms of patriarchy will ever be overthrown, or that the rapacious capitalism that has turned our sacred earth and our very lives into trinkets for sale can be remediated. In short, I struggle to believe that the master’s house will ever truly be dismantled. This has been true for a long time. It has become even more true in the wake of this generation’s “strange fruit” -- in light of the names piling up: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. For me, it has become even more true as I realize how many names wait behind these names for justice -- a list that extends back 16 generations. And it begins to spin out whenever I am reminded of the number of black women and black, queer people killed whose identities are not even considered significant enough to make the list. A century ago, many of our great-grandmothers and grandfathers witnessed public lynchings of black men, women, and children. Today, my three year old son has already been present when one was broadcast into our living room. 

Some years back, I came across a poem by Cesar Vallejo called “I Am Going to Speak of Hope.” From beginning to end, the poem recounts the pain of the speaker. The poem and the pain are unrelenting. It is pain that is “neither a father nor a son” -- pain so deep that if “placed in a dark room it would shed no light, and placed in a bright one, it would cast no shadow.” Every word of the poem is dedicated to expressing pain. Yet, the title gives away the poet’s purpose. The very act of naming what seems endlessly difficult -- of what is uncomfortable and unfinished and full of sharp edges -- is an act of hope. 

So I, too, am going to speak of hope. Not because I have much in the proper sense, but rather because we all have to find new tools. The act of writing is one of mine. There is very little missionary zeal under these words, although perhaps I am still trying to save myself. Mostly, I want to exorcise our collective demons in favor of healing. 

This is a blog about all of that. I’ll explore race, gender, class, queerness, and how those intersect with theology. I’ll explore the Bible, offer devotionals, and generally walk out on the page the reality of decolonizing, deconstructing, and reconstructing the Christian faith. Sometimes, I’ll talk about books and poems. Sometimes, I’ll offer random thoughts. But mostly I want to imagine new tools to dismantle the master’s house and to do that in the fullness of my black, queer, gender-nonconforming, Christian identity. More than anything, in the gaps between the words and the cracks between the lines, I will be speaking of hope. My prayer is that you can hear the sound vibrating with Spirit.

Rev. Tonetta Landis-Aina is a native of North Carolina and moved to Washington DC in 2004. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary and is passionate about marginalized people finding their stories in scripture as well as about the new shapes the church will take in the 21st century. When Tonetta isn't geeking out on the Bible or trying to piece together what God might be doing in this beautitul city, she is enjoying time with her wife and 2.5 year old son who loves to assure everyone that he's grumpy.