Presbyterian Week of Action panelist suggests a pleasant diversion in our hurry-up world
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Next time you see someone pull their car over, get out and start dancing to a favorite song on their radio or phone, give Makani Themba some credit. It was her idea, as expressed Saturday during the Presbyterian Week of Action’s webinar on Black Lives Matter entitled “Liberation Now!” Watch the 69-minute webinar here.
Themba, a social justice innovator and the chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies in Jackson, Mississippi, said she recalls people doing just that a few decades ago — pulling over, exiting their vehicle and dancing to a song they were excited to hear, not caring a bit what passersby thought about it.
“I don’t see people doing that anymore,” Themba said. “Sometimes we just need to stop what we’re doing.
Themba was joined on the panel by the Rev. Mashaun D. Simon, pastor of the nondenominational House of Mercy Everlasting (HOME) Church in College Park, Georgia, and Mashayla (Shay) Hays, who’s legal counsel for The Lawyering Project, which works throughout the U.S. to improve access to reproductive health care.
Three people hosted the panel and took turns asking questions: Natarsha Sanders, a life coach and CEO of Centering the Sacred in Kerrville, Texas; the Rev. Kamal Hassan, pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond, California; and the Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, Associate for Gender & Racial Justice in the Office of Gender, Racial & Intercultural Justice.
Simon, who’s been pastor at HOME for nearly a year after a career in journalism, called ministry “work — hard work.”
“It’s easier to sit in your corner and not be bothered with all the ills of the world,” Simon said. “What keeps me going is when people have revelations about things they never considered before.”
Simon said he’s bolstered when he hears this from people: “I will never come to church because of all the baggage I’ve had to deal with, but you are my pastor because you care about my freedom, my soul salvation and my liberation.”
“God never intended us to be shackled or bound. I refuse to believe it,” Simon said. “When people say, ‘I am choosing to dream’ or ‘Nobody ever gave me permission to cuss out God when I needed to,’ those are the moments that keep me going … I see people’s lives changed and their minds freed from old baggage that has kept them oppressed.”
Hays, who’s still in their 20s, loves working with high school and college-aged folks. “I know at one point I was someone’s dream,” Hays said. “There’s a lot of power behind advocating and organizing.” One way Hays has found to improve reproductive health in Kentucky and other states is to engage more doulas in the birthing process by working to remove legislative and regulatory barriers. “Many have been overlooked and over-regulated,” Hays said of doulas.
“It’s exciting to dream about liberation, because dreaming about liberation keeps me motivated,” said Sanders, who lives in Texas but has become a member of Hassan’s flock in Northern California. “I am doing things my grandparents dreamed of doing, and my nieces and nephews will do things I am not able to do. That keeps me motivated.”
Asked to name a favorite Scripture or secular quote, Simon talked about Hagar, who was thrown out by Abraham at Sarah’s request “and chose the wilderness over the house, the safe space. That has always spoken to me. The space we choose may seem desolate or dangerous, but for us it’s where we find peace and purpose and a relationship with our Creator.”
For Themba, it’s Isaiah’s vision of people beating swords into plowshares.
“There aren’t many passages that are more clear than that,” Themba said. “What we are trying to get to is not only peace and peace everlasting, but a different kind of economy. It’s the GPS for people of faith, the peace of justice and of that different economy.”
“It’s a blessing just to sit and listen to y’all,” Hassan told the panel, “to get inspired and enlightened and challenged because of all the love and hope you’re expressing. It’s clear-eyed. It’s not rose-colored glasses. It really is a hopeful note to me.”
In his prayer to conclude the webinar, Hassan said participants and viewers “stretch forth our hearts in hopeful gratitude for what has been shared today. It’s the power of the Spirit that takes hold of us and uses us in ways that are surprising.”
“Thank you,” Hassan told Almighty God, “for what this will encourage and germinate in all people who hear and ponder and grapple with what has been presented today. We pray for the peace that turns swords into plowshares. Let us pull over our cars to the side and let the funk have its way with us, so we are fully human in ways you intended us to be.”
“Help us catch up to you in areas where we are behind, not asking for anything we don’t deserve and refusing to succumb to anything that would make us small. Amen, Asé and so it is.”
Saturday’s celebration concluded with Concert 8/28, which included music, spoken word and other offerings. Leonard, using the moniker Bishop DJ, co-hosted along with Destini Hodges, interim coordinator of Young Adult Volunteers in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
The two-hour concert was punctuated by “Did you know?” interludes designed to inform viewers about Black history and offer up educational resources. The Rev. Michael Moore, associate for African American Intercultural Congregational Support, and Darla Carter, communications associate for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, voiced the “Did you know?” pieces.
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice, Peace & Justice, Racial Justice
Tags: 2021 presbyterian week of action, beating swords into plowshares, black lives matter, centering the sacred, hagar, higher ground change strategies, house of mercy everlasting, Isaiah 2:4, liberation now!, makani themba, Mashayla Hays, natarsha p. sanders, rev. kamal hassan, Rev. Mashaun D. Simon, rev. shanea d. leonard, sojourner truth presbyterian church, the lawyering project
Ministries: Gender, Racial and Intercultural Justice, Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries, Compassion, Peace and Justice