Note: Can I Say This at Church is produced for audio listening. If able, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which has inflection, emotion, sarcasm where applicable, and emphasis for points that may not come across well in written word. This transcript is generated using a combination of my ears and software, and may contain errors. Please check the episode for clarity before quoting in print.
Welcome to another episode of the Can I Say This At Church Podcast. I am excited that you're here today, excited for you to hear this. I had the privilege to speak with Courtney Hall Lee who is an author, blogger, an attorney, a Christian, she has many hats a bit of her background just briefly, and then we'll get into the conversation. Courtney graduated from Dartmouth College, she got her law degree from Case Western Reserve University, as she worked as an attorney in Ohio. And she's also pursued her graduate studies at Hartford seminary, she's written her first book, and it is out now and you should go buy it, it is well worth every dollar that you spend on it. The title of it is Black Madonna: a woman is look at the view of Mary of Nazareth. And so we talked about that a little bit. We talked about race, and slavery, and cultural appropriation and lament about the historicity of Mary and in different ways to view her. It is a fantastic conversation. And so I look forward to hearing it. So I will be quiet now.
Courtney, thank you so much for making the time to come on today.
Oh, you're welcome. Thanks so much for having me, Seth. I appreciate it.
We were just joking a minute ago and unrelated. But I think it's odd that we're discussing the issues that are dealt with in your book, Black Madonna. And we're also recording on martin luther king day. So there's just a lot going on with with the church and in racial reconciliation, and how we view well, women considering I have three of those in my life. So I'm greatly excited for today's conversation.
Courtney, I'm sure there are many that that are maybe both unfamiliar with your book and or yourself. So can you kind of give us a background of kind of just kind of your story, what led you to being the woman that you are today and where you're at in life? And then kind of dovetail that into? What is the genesis of of your most recent work Black Madonna?
Sure. Well, I have taken sort of a interesting path through a few different areas of career and experience and expertise. I grew up in western New York, I grew up in a very Catholic town, very Italian town, where I grew up thinking that all white people were Catholic in Italian and had big weddings and cookies and all that stuff. So that was sort of my religious frame of reference. But then also myself; I was raised, as, you know, a black Christian in the black church, and also some in sort of an evangelical church. So my theology was rooted in that place, and was obviously very different than all of the Catholic kids that I grew up around, I was really jealous of the first communion that they got to wear those little white dresses from JC Penney, and the veil and all of that, I thought that was just so magical and fascinating.
And I was familiar with communion, but I didn't, you know, kind of understand the reasons that they did things differently. And I went on to, I got a degree in English from Dartmouth College, I went to law school, it was 2002. And there were no good jobs out there. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And so I went to law school. I always find that people who are not attorneys are very quick to tell young people that there's a lot you can do with a law degree. And I sort of disagree with that.
I went on, I had a law practice. off and on for a short time, I met my husband in law school, and we got married and had our one daughter. And so over the years, you know, I just kind of spend some time with motherhood, attending seminary or doing some sort of theological study was always something that had been in the back of my head that I wanted to do, I wasn't entirely sure if I was called to church ministry, but I just loved learning about theology. I would stay up at night and go down the Wikipedia, rabbit hole reading about religion and all of these different deep theological concepts that just interested me in my spare time.
So I ended up moving to a neighborhood that was very close to Hartford Seminary, in Hartford, Connecticut, and I decided to enroll. And it was just everything that I wanted it to be, I really just dove into learning about theology, in this academic sense. And it was at that same time that the idea for this book started brewing, we moved into a city neighborhood, and I ended up sending my daughter to a Catholic school. So it sort of brought me full circle with my daughter having this experience of being a black Protestant girl, in this Catholic classroom, and the kids were actually getting ready for their first communion in second grade. And so she was bringing home a lot of what she was learning, she learned the rosary, she learned the Hail Mary, they had, you know, the May crowning of Mary ceremony in May.
And it was interesting for me, with my background that was sort of taught A: very little about Mary; B: you know, what I knew was to be kind of wary of treading into some, you know, sort of sketchy theological ground, you know, Catholics, they pray to Mary, and we don't do that. And so it was really my daughter's experience and trying to figure out how to relate to her, and what she was learning about Mary, which really excited her, that brought me to wanting to tell this story and to dive into this book of what Mary means for me.
Yeah, well, I'd like to probably end our conversation with the answer to that question, if you if you're willing. So kind of my background, I grew up in Southwest Texas, around mostly Hispanic and Latino / Latina population. And then I moved to Central Virginia, and many of my friends are African American. Now, it's a decent mix. But I know I am the minority in that. And so as I was reading some of your early, your stories about are working, and you were in the wrong neighborhood, and whatnot. And so part of what you wrote about just broke my heart, because I hear my friends say that, you kind of silo that as well, it's fine, you know, it was just them. And then you continue to read it and continue to read it. And in the world we live in, it continues to happen. And it makes me just makes me so sad. And I feel like I've been sheltered from that.
And so you talk in your book a bit about motherhood during American slavery, and I feel like people tread so lightly around those waters. And you didn't? Can you just briefly touch on that? I think it is important for people to hear kind of that history, and how that relates to the stereotypes of black women. I'd never heard the mammy stereotype as you talk about it. And so I was hoping you could speak about that a little bit?
Sure. Sure. You know, I've always felt and I don't know if it was what I was taught by my parents, or what I've picked up just in my black community that where we are today was very much shaped by what happened to us during the experience of slavery. And you know, the adults in my life always explain that some of the things that are held against black people today, like not having marriages, before children and things like that, and maybe the black women are seen as being loud or overweight, some of these stereotypes come from things that were born out of American slavery.
And I think for those reasons, I was taught not to be ashamed of the ways that we were different. And to also just be very aware of the ways that black people have been viewed in this country has been really shaped and twisted through this, this lens. You know, one of the things as a black woman that has always sort of haunted me was the sexual abuse of black women during slavery. And again, that's something that people really don't talk about.
You know, for instance, in this age of, you know, ancestry.com and 23 & me, all African Americans that I know, we know that when we put our stuff in there that it's going to come back that we're mostly of an African descent, but that most of us are going to be anywhere from 10 to 15%. European and, you know, for black people, it's just common knowledge that we share ancestry with white people, but it's not through any sort of melting pot of interracial marriage, it was through sexual abuse of black women during slavery.
And so for me, I did feel it was really important to talk about that openly to tackle it. It's something that, for me has never been hit in. And it hasn't been hidden in my circles. But I do know that with other people, it is something that's not talked about, because it's very difficult. So that's really why I wanted to, to address it. And I do feel that black womanhood in particular, because of the fact that we systemic endured that abuse, that our families were very broken by slavery, their children were taken away, and they were had, they had to learn to improvise a mother and a different way.
And their faith was a big part of that. I think that, you know, black women during slavery grabbed a hold of the Christian faith that they were exposed to in slavery as a way to sort of cope and deal and live with hope in this really difficult situation.
And you mentioned things like the mammy stereotype. You know, these are things that were born out of slavery that I think many people don't really even know, are very pervasive.
I think the, you know, the quintessential mammy stereotype would be from something like Gone with the Wind, you know, the mammy was a big hoop skirt and a jet chief, was very motherly, you know, kind of had this mother with, and mothered white children, quite honestly. I know that in the modern movie, the help, they got into that a little bit that black women would leave their own kids at home to go work as domestics for white families and spend all the time and energy raising their children.
So, you know, just some of these things, I think are really woven into the way that black women are perceived today, in the media, in art, and by other people. And for myself, it's affected the way that I've seen myself as a black woman. So growing up in this country with some of these insidious images that are in there: all black women are always fat, or they're loud, or they're angry, I often changed my behavior, to try to negate that, you know, I'm like, I want to, I want it to be super feminine.
And I wanted to have a certain body type. And I think because of growing up around a lot of white people and white images, I was really affected by these sort of these sorts of images, subconsciously, more than I realized. And so that's why in this book, I really did want to sort of dig down in there and really get into it and lay it out and try to make sense of it. Because I think that for myself and for many other black women, this is sort of the essence of, of our identity. And therefore that's where we approach our faith from, it's from a very different place than for instance, from the traditional white church or a Catholic church with a very white blue eyed Mary. And so, you know, it was really important for me to lay all this out here to to not shy away from it at all.
I am curious, obviously, I'm not black, I am white. And so I know, my wife, and I have conversations about how we talk about our children and how they treat other people. And it is funny that my son didn't realize there were black people until somebody told him at school, because it's not really a conversation my my wife and I have because we could care less what your skin color is. But then he's like, Oh, he's the black kid at school. I was like, Well, why is he black? You know, so we have that conversation. And so how, being that you have a younger child, and I don't know, specifically my talk about your child, just that's not fair to her.
But what would you say to mothers that are listening to this, or fathers that are listening to this, that that is something they can take home, to actively not counteract the stereotype. But acknowledge it it's obviously going to exist, but to work through it in a way that hopefully when our children are our age, it is it is no longer the stereotype it is more loving, and our relationships are more honest, and more open and more homogenous?
I would say that I just think it's important for parents to kind of channel some bravery to be proactive about some of these topics. You know, like you mentioned that it wasn't something that came up and I, you know, I totally understand that. But from my perspective, as a black parent, I felt that it was something that has been really important to weave into our conversation from the get go; because I didn't kind of want her to run into any surprises.
And so I think that finding ways to be really intentional about the ways that race and images of other types of people come into your home is a big help my daughter, you know, Disney Princess, and all of that, you know, she went through all of that when she was a little bit younger. And it was very special to her that Princess Tiana was this black princess.
And so you know, she had the dolls and those stuff in her room. And she once said to me, I noticed that Tiana is my favorite. But I also have Ariel and Rapunzel and all these other ones. But my other friends, they never have Tiana. And I really was struck by that the fact that she noticed that. And so I think for parents to, you know, really keep that in mind to remind themselves that even though it's something that maybe they haven't had to think about on a daily basis, there are many of us who have had to think about that. And so I think just being aware and keeping a memory and being really intentional about what you expose your kids to, with some purpose is important.
Yeah, that's good. Thank you for that. We're gonna get back to Mary a little bit. So I learned quite a bit. I read your book directly after I read. Dr. Kyle Roberts was Mary a virgin, I think it's called a complicated pregnancy. And between those two books, there's just a lot of history of Mary, that me growing up in Southern Baptist, I did not get any of that. And it's fascinating. And you talk a little bit about the Maryology and the Biblical Mary, there is a distinction. And you say it was the clash of Nestorious of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria, and I probably missed those words up. But there was an argument in the early church of whether or not Mary is a Christ-bearer, or a God-bearer. And so why is, I guess, what are those two distinctions for those that are unfamiliar? And then why is that important?
Right. And, you know, first of all, I agree that I also didn't grew up learning much about Mary. So I learned a lot as I was researching this book. And so that is a topic that was really fascinating. And but it's very, it's very confusing. There's a lot of nuance. So this disagreement between the Neetorious and Cyril of Alexander about whether or not the nature of Jesus was fully man, fully divine, in an inseparable sense, versus that his humanity and his god-ness had some subtle distinction.
So it was really this question about the nature of Christ and the early church fathers trying to make sense of that and figure out what it is exactly that they felt Christians should believe. And I think that Mary gets mixed up in this because if we're looking at, you know, Jesus’ nature as fully human and fully divine then what role does this human woman have in this? So I think that the Christ bearer was a reluctance to name Mary as preeminent to God, to God the Father in any way or his pre existing to God, because I think that one could easily see, well, if God was God, and then God had a mother who birthed him, that kind of hierarchically puts her in a place that's theologically uncomfortable for a lot of people and and i think in traditional Orthodox Christian beliefs, making her the Christbearer, the bearer of the man Christ, I think, could make people a little more comfortable, in a certain way.
The church ended up coming down on being comfortable with theotokos or the godbearer concept. And that was based on sort of the inseparable nature of Christ as God, and man, and since Mary bore Christ than she was, in essence, bearing God.
Now, all of that being said, I, personally, I still think this stuff is so amorphous, and, you know, I understand why it was so difficult for them to kind of figure out exactly what we believe. And I do believe that what we believe is very important. But it's also just, it's so esoteric, and it's so chicken and egg(y) and all of that. And so, for me, it's not necessarily a huge question. But how we get there, I think was, was really interesting.
And it's good that I think the church kind of parsed through this. And I think that, for me, Mary has made clearer the Incarnational aspect of Christ, the fact that he was a man that it reminds me of that because for us, as you know, post-Easter people, Christ is risen. And it's a very lofty idea.
But the fact that he came through a woman's body, and was burst into an earthly situation, I think, helps ground that, that human part of Christ for me, and I think that that's one of the reasons that Mary is such a crucial part of the story.
And it gets really messy, you know, because the virgin birth is a source of doubt for people. So that sort of segues into this entire, you know, second conversation. And so I think it is important for us to have these theological conversations. And if you dive into this stuff from these, these historical church fathers, and from these, you know, academic theologians, it can get, to me just really, really muddy. And so, you know, I tried to keep it as simple as possible and not to get too bogged down because it could, it could drive you a little bit crazy I think it's just a lot of cyclical, a lot of cyclical thinking. So I just like to remember what Mary's role is and showing me who Jesus is to me.
Yeah, and this just struck me, just as you were speaking, so our church is preaching now and this, will come out later, but the Sunday that we just had yesterday was was talking about what good can come from Nazareth. And, and I know many churches are preaching on on the lectionary over the next few years. So I find it, I don't know what the word is not circumstantial, but neat, I guess, for lack of a better word that, that you speak in your book, a little bit of the social class of those that were from Nazareth. And just that people from there were just not not worth anything?
No, I that's correct. And I think that, you know, I heard that as well, that, that that's been the text in the lectionary recently, what good could come out of Nazareth, this was not a glamorous place. This was a real “wrong side of the tracks”, sort of place. And the class that Mary and her husband Joseph came from, was a real low station back in a in an age when class kind of meant everything.
And that's one of my favorite parts of the gospel is the fact that it was this type of family that was chosen to sort of steward this miracle into the world that it wasn't, you know, some shining King, like, look at a King David.
I think that for the Jewish people, when they were waiting for their Messiah, they were waiting for someone like King David, who was going to come in very shiny and on a horse and King like and triumphant. And instead, what we're given, it's almost like the exact opposite, you know, these poor people from a place that has a bad reputation.
And that, to me, is just one of the coolest things about the gospel! That it was, you know, the it was these people who were chosen. So for me, I just think that, I think that that's amazing, I think it's an amazing thing to remember, kind of as we're looking at people and as we're figuring out our role as the church in this world with so much, you know, just inequality and wealth inequality and, you know, racial and ethnic problems throughout the world. The sort of keep this in mind where, where it all began for Jesus on Earth.
I find it the glorifying to Jesus, that all of this is having to be re-brought up. And it's all kind of, at least for me, everything that I'm learning now is all kind of convalescing into one period of time. But I guess everyone could probably say that, for whatever they're dealing with. But it just seems like both the the story of Nazareth, the story of Mary and Jesus, and the way that we treat those that are beneath us, those that aren't of the same skin color, the different socio-economic classes, I feel like it might be more relevant today than it was even 100 years ago, mostly because everyone is so aware of it. And I think it was always a swept under the rug.
No, you know, I agree. And you know, even as a woman of color in this country who was raised to be aware of our racial past, I do think that there's something going on right now, that does seem different.
And again, it's really sort of serendipitous that it's Martin Luther King Day. I think that for a lot of people, I know for a lot of my white friends, and even for a lot of my black friends that there's this concept that Martin Luther King came sort of like this racial Savior, and then he fixed everything, and then it was okay. And so now all of that is in the past.
And I think that, you know, some of what's been going on in the world lately has reminded people that that's not the case that, you know, sort of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. I think even for a lot of black people, we thought, okay, that's where we got our legal rights we got past Jim Crow. And I think black families started concentrating on other things, understandably, like getting higher levels of education, building wealth, you know, sort of moving into the suburban neighborhoods away from our traditional black culture.
And I think there's been a bit of a wake up call that we haven't been doing as well with this as we thought we were doing for both black people and white people. I think that there's been a wake up call lately. And it's really fascinating to me, and I'm interested to see sort of where God is taking us right now. Because I think there's a lot that's being stirred up.
Yeah, I agree. I was speaking with an extended family member a few months ago. And I had asked them, I said, you know, how is it that our parents can believe so vehemently, just things that are on their face wrong, yet they raised a generation that lovingly reproachfully say,
“Mom, you can't? No, that's not right.”
And I find it odd that a generation so staunchly one way, has raised an entire generation that is socially, or at least, it seems, in my mind, socially looking for justice, as opposed to the status quo.
You talk in your book a bit about the very little that we actually know about the biblical Mary, or the historical Mary. And particularly, I'm interested in the Gospel of James, mostly because you speak on it. But I also had never heard about this text until about my third year at college, just because it wasn't in my Bible. I didn't know that the Apocrypha was a thing until I accidentally found it. So can you speak on that a bit?
Sure, sure. And, you know, I had a similar experience that the Apocrypha was just not a thing for me, it was nothing that I had any familiarity with. And when we looked at our four gospels, in our version of the Bible, we don't get much Mary, we really don't. And so, you know, I think that for Protestants, because we've been so Scripture based and into bringing anything extra into the picture, that that's part of the reason that Mary's gotten kind of the brush off, because there's very little of her there.
But then when I looked at these other gospels, like James, where they really dove into her backstory a little bit more, and it's, it's really interesting that people were thinking about her at the time that these different gospels were being written, and that someone felt that it was important enough to record Mary's backstory for, you know, for the early Christian church.
And so the gospel of James was just really fascinating to me, I had not heard any of the story of, you know, sort of Mary's parentage, and her going into the temple and all of these things that sort of in certain ways, what they put in here, mirrored a bit of Jesus' childhood of being born or chosen one from area was in a different way, but still being a chosen one being seen as a special child being presented in a temple, and all of these different things.
And so it's also as I read it, it's difficult for me, you know, as somebody who was raised with a very strict and inerrancy view of the Bible to kind of figure out what where does this? Where does this fit into the narrative for me, but what I do is I take from it, the fact that there have been Christians who felt it was important enough to write her story down and to give us this deeper look at her. And so, I love reading the other gospels, it's just good information. To me, I think that as Christians, we read all sorts of stuff that's outside of Scripture. So reading these other gospels, I think can really enrich the way that we engage with the text that we have.
And for someone like Mary, there's so little of her in our four gospels, and this helps me kind of imagine what her life was like, and what her life was bringing her to, you know, this visit by the angel and being given this crazy job. Something like the gospel of James tells me why she might have been full of faith enough to say, Yes.
So it's really interesting. And I also found it very interesting when I realized that the stories about Mary that we get in the Gospel of James, really closely mirror the stories of Mary in the Quran, and the Islamic tradition, which is something that I knew nothing about. And so I do not, I consider myself to be an Islamic scholar, but I did the best I could with learning and reading. And it was just so interesting to me how much of that overlaps with the Gospel of James.
And so it really just teaches us that when the church was younger, and when these other faiths were brewing in the Middle East, there was a lot of pieces in motion, you know, we didn't get this church drop down here in America with this Bible, written in English, in this order. There were a lot of people that predated us with a lot of different experiences and different cultures and religions. But that this story has remained important throughout all of it.
What are some of those things some of the relatable or similar stories about Mary from the Quran to our scriptures?
Well, Mary, in the Quran, you know, it did line up with James, we got a little bit more of her backstory, and the fact that she was, you know, just this very special blessed girl. What I do like about Mary in the Quran is that we also get to hear a little bit more from her sort of internal monologue of what was going on, during this pregnancy. And during this birth, and in the Quran, she takes on that question of Jesus' fatherhood a little more openly than she does in our scriptures.
You know, we talked about the fact that Joseph didn't believe it, but then he was visited by an angel and he did. And we just kind of move on. Whereas in the Quran, we hear about how she's worried that her family is going to be really shamed by this and how they're going to address it. And the fact that they do…they wonder, you know, where is this baby from? Has Mary shamed us?
And one big difference in the Quran verses in the gospels is that there's a miracle Where's the baby Jesus and the Quran speaks up his mom and so sort of vouches for her purity and says, you know, this is who I am. And, you know, she was, you know, divinely conceived me.
What’s funny is when I was taking a class about Christ in seminary, there was actually a Muslim Student in our class, who we were talking about Jesus' birth in, in our Gospels and our four gospels, and also the time that he got lost at the temple. And he's like, Oh, yeah, that sort of reminded me of that time that Jesus was the baby and, you know, spoke up defending Mary's honor.
And we were all like, what, like, what happened? Yeah, that doesn't happen. What are you talking about?
So that's, you know, another one of those little things that sort of pushed me to want to learn more about Mary and the fact that she did, you know, mean a lot to these other people and other religions. It's like, Whoa, like, I totally didn't know that.
And I think that for all of the, you know, sort of religious uprising and the clashing that's gone on in our world, for thousands of years, that it was really important for me to realize that Mary kind of represented all three of those Abrahamic faiths. That she brings it all together, and in a place where there are still people living with all three of those faiths today. So it's just it's really fascinating that it's all more more connected than we realize.
I think I may have past over, probably one of the bigger questions, what exactly is the Black Madonna?
Well, the Black Madonna, the way that I approached it, was sort of a play on words. A Black Madonna is known, traditionally, as an image of Mary, an icon of some sort that depicts her with darker skin.
So throughout the world, there have been these well known icons of black Madonna's, and it's always sort of asked, you know why is it that their skin is dark? Was it some sort of artistic or theological choice, or sometimes you get explanations like, “oh, the bronze on the statue, just oxidize, and it turned her black”.
So you know, this, this concept of the Black Madonna is something that has bubbled up throughout Christendom. And there's one in Poland, I believe, who is especially famous that people will make a pilgrimage to go to the church, where it's a plaque of a Madonna and a child. And it's got all sorts of jewels and things that have been added that is, you know, bit encrusted on and over the years, and people will go to admire the statue a few times a day, actually at this church and Poland.
But I, as a black woman, sitting here in America, black, the way that I use that word, the way I identify myself, as an African American person, thought, well, Black Madonna, that's kind of a cool phrase. Like, that's not like, you know, Black Madonna would be to me.
So for myself, I really started to wonder what would a Black Madonna, from a black American woman's standpoint look like? And that's what I started to think about the fact that she would have come through motherhood and slavery. And I thought about, you know, sort of the loneliness of where Mary came from what good comes out of Nazareth. And how that and also Jesus's death on the cross, that for black mothers in this generation, this fear of their children being unfairly murdered or targeted for their race is something that I think most people would not relate to the story of Christ at all. But it made me view Mary as this mom, who watched her son died, this really violent and unjust death.
And for me living in the 21st century, that just evoked a lot of what's been going on in the news in the past decade with a lot of, you know, racially motivated shootings and things like that.
So I set out to look for who was a Black Madonna in the way that I'm black, you know. Not the outside statues, or whatever it is, that was in that older tradition, I just took a hold of that term, and thought that it really had some meaning and wanted to take it a step further for, for black women, like myself,
It's like you knew where I was going. That's literally my next question, which starts with the quote of yours, which is, you say, in your book,
black women has all have always been able to identify with Christ's death on a cross, viewing his suffering as representative of their own.
And I mean, they tried to justify things, then they had the option to get Barajas, which justifiably, a horrible person, or it seems, seems at least what you read, that he deserved to be in his position. So how then as a woman? Well, let me ask a different question. So do you have to be black to identify with Mary in that way?
No, I don't think so. I think that anyone who, you know, for instance, comes out of our American Christian tradition, and what this country has been through, I think, can and should possibly identify with Mary in this way. Because I think that, you know, this is kind of, in the American church, this stuff happened, this stuff was present in the past, and there were pastors and churches who justified slavery. And there were pastors and churches who fought against slavery.
And so for American Christianity, this is really mixed up in there. And, you know, I strongly believe that black history is American history. It's our history. And so I think, to take a hold of this idea of a Black Madonna; of a mother, who, you know, came through suffering, who came through a socially lowly place, it's an image that I think could be really honest, and also really healing for the American church.
You know, for me, I will welcome anyone you know, thinking about this figure, I think it's a way that helps us think a little bit about the pain in our, in our racial past. And in our Christian past.
how should we as a as a people, or as a nation, or as a generation, lament? I spoke about this a bit in an at church yesterday, when we were talking about joy, and someone brought up, you know, Easter and the death and resurrection. It's like we if all you do is skip straight to Easter, just skip straight to the resurrection.
You missed the lament of Friday, and the lament and the lack of faith and the willingness to embrace fear of Saturday. So how should we or how would you call us to lament in view of how Mary acted when you know, when she was rightfully upset at her son being you just demolished?
You know, I think that for many of us, in the modern American church, I always use the phrase that we're, we're sort of taught this golden ticket Christianity. That Jesus died for our sins, that he is our personal Savior. And by taking these steps, we get to the end, the cool part that we get to go to heaven, and there's the joy and the resurrection.
But I believe that Mary, remembering her, helps us remember the lament part of that story, it brings it back to Earth, it brings it back to images of real people of real bodies, when you think about the fact that Mary gave birth to Jesus, she nursed this baby, she care for this boy, she worried about him, she had dreams for him. She had real fears for him. And then at the end, she had to stand and watch him die in this very real and violent and bloody way.
For us, I think it's just important not to skip over that, you know, sort of, for two reasons. For one reason that, you know, to skip that doesn't encapsulate the whole story to brush past the pain and want to go to the joy I think, really cheapens our story really cheapens the story of our faith. And on the other hand, I also feel that it's really easy to want to jump to Jesus and this guy to this, you know, sort of triumphant figure without remembering the fact that he was fully human on Earth, and paying careful attention to what he did what he said during his life leading up to this this terrible death, and that he did face this death.
So I think that remembering the lament is something that I think come naturally to the black church. I think that there's a stereotype of black churches of having a very boisterous enjoy us worship, which is true. But at the same time, there has always been this lament and for, you know, what the black people see themselves going through on earth, and holding on to that part of the story, I think, just has so much value for all Christians, I think it's just really important.
Yeah, I will say when I was at a college, I went to few black churches every once in a while with some friends on the dorm. And those were the most fun services. And I wonder if they are more joyful, because they view a better, more truthful version of lament, at least for their forefathers in their history and their faith. I never actually put those two together, but there might be some truth to that.
Towards the tail end of your book, and I will not be able to remember all the names, but there was like Elizabeth Johnson, and, gosh, I can't remember all the names yourself, and many other women that are kind of forefront and pushing a message of a womanist theology, as opposed to I guess, a patriarchal theology.
And you say that we need a different hermeneutics for a womanist theology. And so I was hoping you could speak a bit about what that is what a womanist, theology is, as opposed to the traditional patriarchal view. And then what is that hermeneutics? How do we get there? And and why? Why do we need? It's not a good question, but once we have it, what, how can it work side by side with what we already have; or does it need to usurp that?
Right, I think that a womanist theology is sort of an academic term that encompasses black, American, women's, Christianity, and all of all of what that means. And that is its own sort of living, breathing thing outside of this big, patriarchal, patriarchal church tradition that came out of Rome and out of Europe.
I think that for black people, a lot of the time, people will say, and people, and I've asked myself, this, is this a faith that was just sort of thrust upon us, by slavery, you know, we wouldn't have necessarily been Christians if we were still in Africa, and this hadn't happened in this particular way.
But I think that that's why grabbing onto this feminist theology is so so vitally important, because it's a specific experience of Christianity, that's just wrapped up with identity. And for me, you know, right or wrong like that, that's just the only way that I can come to the table.
My identity is just such a big part of my experience, that's sort of a starting place for my faith, and the starting place where where I do my theology. So that's, in a way, what I see womanist theology as and part of looking at things through a womanist lens is, is about the hermeneutics, hermeneutics meaning, you know, kind of how you approach the Scripture, how you approach the text, and what some people call it is approaching it with a hermeneutics of suspicion, which I think is really important. I think some people hear that and they might, might shy away and think, Oh, I guess she's saying don't, to question the text or to want to change what the text means. But I think that, to approach it as it is, without all of the baggage of other stuff, and people with other agendas, and what they've brought to the text, coming to the text with our specific experience is an important thing. And that we all we all have a kinship and an ownership to the text is not Christianity is not a white religion.
That's what writing this book really helped be sort of heal and reconcile that this phase it's not about whiteness, it's not about the white church. It's not about the way that scripture was interpreted to justify slavery, and some things like that. It's something different entirely. I know the black theologian, Howard Thurman was quoted as saying that his mom, I believe, his mom said that she didn't like those parts, in Paul's letters that people use to justify slavery. And she's like, well, I'm just not going to read that anymore. And, you know, I can understand wanting to feel that way. But for me, it's reading it, it's grabbing it and saying, Okay, this is what it says, Now, what we don't have to look at it from this one side, through the eyes of the powers that have always sort of been in charge. So you know, for me, it's a beautiful thing. And like I said, I see it as myself as a black woman.
But I think that for all peoples to really sort of challenge what is in the text, what is in our faith, what was Jesus's message versus some of the other stuff that's been sort of unfairly attached to it so that approaching the text with that suspicion, or also just with an open mind, or what this little baggage is possible, is really key.
For those that are listening, go and buy this book? I promise you it is fantastic. And it's heartbreaking. And eye opening, and you'll learn something, and I think it's important. Courtney, thank you for writing it. And I'm sure you've gotten vitriol from from half of the people that have read it saying you're doing a disservice. And I'm sure you've gotten praise from others. But I appreciate you writing it. I enjoyed it much.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
Yeah, and so obviously, you can get the book on Amazon, most likely to the publisher, as well. And I'll have links to that in the show notes. Before I ask you the final question, Where else would you point people to, to engage in this topic to engage in, in the world that we live in through this lens? Where would you point people to for that,
Believe it or not one of the first places I would point people to is Twitter, I think that I was telling someone that I think some of the best theology in the country right now is being done on Twitter. So you can find me on Twitter @CourtRhapsody, and shout out to me and I can maybe think of some people that I think would be good to follow. There are some people doing really good work there, who are real people who want to, you know, engage, and then talk about this stuff.
Also, there's a whole slew of academic work by black women. If you just look womanist theology up on Amazon, you'll find, you know, people like Emily Townes, she's a great ethicist and Katie Cannon, who was a theologian who I had the opportunity to hear speak recently, who just has some real powerful things, you know, they're out there. And so just look a little further when, if you're in school, question, your syllabus, you know. Look and see who's writing all this stuff are these people looking all too much the same? And, and maybe inquire, you know, there are other other thinkers out there, there. There's Latin topics, liberation thoughts, there's just so much out there, just you just have to look and find it.
And then so final question, what is one thing that that those listening or those that will listen can do, either with their children with themselves with their church? That would be one thing that we could take forward into the coming days, weeks, years, months, that would help to repair our history, but also help to grow the kingdom?
That's a big question.
Just one thing.
I think that, you know, I'm going to tie it back to the lectionary to remembering the origin of what started all of this, that Jesus came from Nazareth, that he was born and to a socially lowly family and the fact that God chose that for a reason. And to not forget that as we move forward, as a people as a church, you know, it glorifying the kingdom is, this is a wonderful thing.
And it's very attractive to look at it, from this place of everything is going to be okay, everything's already okay. But to really approach our face with an openness and with an honesty. And I think remembering where this story began of this woman, Mary and her son Jesus, is an easy way to take to keep challenging our thinking in the church.
Well, I think that's a great spot to end.
Courtney, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for your book, and we look forward to the next time we talk with you.
Oh, you're so welcome. Thanks so much for having me, Seth.
Music for today's episode was provided with permission. From artists Cassidy Best. Please support her work. She has albums in Spotify and an iTunes. You can find more information about her at her website. wwwCassidybest m.com. The music is fantastic. And I think you'll enjoy it.
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