A Journal of America's Political Soul Heaven & Earth: Where Politics and Spirituality Meet
May 27, 2024  
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Issue No. 9 - Heaven & Earth
F E A T U R E S :

New » A Message for Humanity

On Morality: The Most Sacred Good

On Courage: Acting in the Presence of Fear

From Darkness, Awakening: A Department of Peace

Spirit Matters:
G&G Interviews Michael Lerner

We Still Need a Religious Left

9/11 and the American Empire:
How Should Religious People Respond?

Saving Fundamentalists From the Religious Right

The Dark Jesus: Spiritual Imagery Inspires Change and Heals Racism

Will We Choose To Survive?

A Sneak-Peak Interview with the Messiah

G&G Arts - Essay
Whose Good? Who's Evil?

The Dark Jesus: How Spiritual Imagery Inspires Progressive Change and Heals Racism

A theory and an example

Cornel West, author of Race Matters and professor of African-American Studies at Harvard, has noted that the greatest moments of change in this country have emerged during times of heightened public discourse and debate. The Abolitionist movement, the Women's Suffrage movement and the rise of Populism, the Civil Rights movement, the Peace movement and the re-emergence of feminism in the 1960's are prime examples. 

These movements all arose out of extended public debate: the overflow of small group dialogue and consciousness-raising.  West predicts that if we cannot find the ability to talk to and understand one another, the dreams of freedom, equality, and justice that spawned this country may soon lie shattered at our feet. 

Today, public discourse is becoming increasingly religious and theological. Yet it is not very diverse.  Political leaders often make reference to the all-powerful male God of might who punishes "evil-doers" and rewards the righteous. But little more than this enters the political arena.

Janet McKenzie's Jesus of the People
Jesus of the People
by Janet McKenzie
It is time to understand the power and the dangers that lie at the intersection of politics and spirituality.  It is time to realize that our concept of the Divine has direct, profound political impact.

The Power of the Image

We need to seize this historic moment to break up the western hegemony of religious imagery. We need to bring forward the rich variety of forms of the Divine that have existed in the human family for thousands of years, especially, but not only, those that are dark and female.

Further, we need to encourage and support artists like Janet McKenzie, whose groundbreaking painting Jesus of the People (at right) embodies the kind of inclusive vision that can bring balance and wholeness to the lives of everyone, male and female alike.

At the same time, we must remember that female images of the Divine are not in themselves transformational.  They can be used for oppression and exploitation, as well as for empowerment.  It is how the Divine is imagined in relationship to the human that is important.  We must also have diverse models of women and men, but especially women, who are powerful, spiritually resourceful, compassionate, and effective in the work of protecting and healing the world, including its environment and its children.  We need to learn their stories and make them known to our children. 

Whether we seek to heal racism, protect the environment, promote peace, or empower women, narrow religious and spiritual imagery creates stumbling blocks instead of starting blocks. Let us choose images that help us and make us comfortable enough with our differences to understand and talk with one another. 

An Example: Healing Racism and The Keepers of Love

The Keepers of Love began in 2000, growing out of my research into an untold, hidden, repressed, African-American version of history that runs alongside – sometimes parallel to, sometimes in opposition to – the accepted, official, white narrative.  Research into county historical records and interviews with local residents in Harrison County, which was at one time the largest slave-owning county in Texas, led me to the discovery of Love Cemetery. Love Cemetery is an African-American communal burial ground that the local community had been locked out of for forty years. Research became activism as I helped organize a grassroots, interracial committee made up of local religious leaders and lay people, to work on restoring community access to Love. The work of this committee – both its internal struggles with the assumptions and hidden prejudices that can sabotage even the most well-intentioned groups, and the outer work overcoming the obstacles to reopening and rededicating the cemetery – stands as a model for the kind of compassionate discourse that is the beginning of reconciliation.  

Metaphorically, Love Cemetery is a symbol, a spiritual image. It stands at the center of a much larger body of unearthed history that we have been excavating. In this case, since 1985, we have been working and unearthing material that reaches back to the time of slavery and the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction. In particular, we've found and researched stories of "landtakings" – the theft of land from African Americans. We've discovered forms of slavery that continued well into the 20th century and in some cases continue even up to the present day. Unlike South Africa, we here in the United States have had no officially sanctioned effort toward "Truth and Reconciliation." 

If racial healing is to occur, it must begin with efforts like The Keepers of Love. Only by giving voice to the voiceless, by telling hitherto untold parts of our shared history, can the true scope of this vast wound be seen, felt, and healed.   

As the work on Love continues, I've begun writing a book about the experience, The Keepers of Love, to be published by Harper San Francisco in late 2006. The book unpacks the tangled black and white historical narratives that meander through this region like the sloughs and bayous that give the land its character. I chronicle some of the work of reconciliation that underlies the reclamation of Love Cemetery (Love includes Native American burials). By telling the story of this one act of interracial and intergenerational reconciliation, my intention is to provide a model – a symbol – for the kind of small community action that can contribute to the healing of the deep racial wounds that prevent democracy from achieving its full flowering in this country. 

Author and Project Director China Galland China Galland is director of the Images of Divinity Research Project (IOD), a project which began with research into the story of the Buddha Tara. At a time in which it was commonly held that only men could become enlightened, Tara publicly declared that there was no such thing as male or female and then vowed to be enlightened only in a woman's body. Galland is also author of Longing for Darkness, Tara and the Black Madonna, (Viking 1990/Penguin 1991) and The Bond Between Women: A Journey to Fierce Compassion (Riverhead Books/Putnam 1998).

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