Black literature powerfully expands our theological imaginations. Danté Stewart, writer, speaker, and author of Shoutin’ in the Fire, talks with Amy Julia Becker about literature, theology, Black Jesus, and finding beauty and faith free from traditions bound to white spaces.
“Danté Stewart is a writer and speaker whose voice has been featured on CNN, The Washington Post, Christianity Today, Sojourners, The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, Comment Magazine, and more. He received his B.A. in Sociology from Clemson University. He is currently studying at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.”
- Website: www.dantecstewart.com
- Twitter & Instagram: @stewartdantec
On the Podcast:
- Advent Devotional
- Shoutin’ in the Fire by Danté Stewart
- NYT Essay by Stewart: How I Learned That Jesus Is Black
- The Yellow House by Sarah Broom
- James Baldwin: “A Letter to My Nephew,” The Fire Next Time
- Poet Elizabeth Alexander
- M. Shawn Copeland: Knowing Christ Crucified, Enfleshing Freedom
- The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills
- Democracy in Black by Eddie Glaude
- Race, Class, and Gender in the United States by Paula Rothenberg with Christina Hsu Accomando
- The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
- Whiteness Visible by Valerie M. Babb
- James Cone, Katie Cannon, Emilie M. Townes
- Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World by R. S. Sugirtharajah
- Deeper Shades of Purple Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas (Editor)
- Alice Walker: The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar
- Toni Morrison: Playing in the Dark, Beloved
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- Spirit in the Dark by Josef Sorett
- Read Until You Understand by Farah Jasmine Griffin
- Black Womanist Ethics by Katie Cannon
- Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil by Emilie Townes
- Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody by James Cones
“Every institution has practices, values, traditions bound unto it, and we need to take into account who are those theologies and traditions built for and who, in some sense, do they take seriously.”
“People think that racism and white supremacy is about people in hoods and things like that. But it’s more so about what and whom we as a country—and I would even add, churches—choose to value.”
“Whiteness is the unspoken norm.”
“‘What can I see that I haven’t seen before?’ There’s a different perspective on our lives because our lives aren’t just lessons. Our lives are not just reducible to white racism or limited imagination. But our lives are as complex as other people. Our lives are creative. Our lives hold magic and beauty and vastness and multitudes.”
“When your faith, your God, and your Bible is locked into the past, then at some point it’s going to become irrelevant to the present.”
“I wanted to receive these books…that can teach us about how to be Black in this world and how to love God and our neighbor to the best of our being…Reading this Black literature, looking at Black life honestly, with vulnerability and with beautiful creativity and complexity, expanded my theological imagination, but it also expanded my ability to write my own narrative and weave this theology bound to the Black body and the Black world, which I believe God is in and among.”
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Season 5 of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast connects to themes in my newest book, To Be Made Well, releasing Spring 2022…you can pre-order here! Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
*A transcript of this episode will be available within one business day, as well as a video with closed captions on my YouTube Channel.
Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
What can I see that I haven’t seen before? There’s a different perspective because our lives, aren’t just lessons. You know, our lives are not just reducible to white racism and limited imagination, but our lives are as complex as other people. Our lives are creative. Our lives hold magic and beauty and vastness and multitude.
Amy Julia (28s):
Hi friends, I’m Amy, Julia Becker. And this is love is stronger than fear. A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. Okay. You are in for quite a conversation today. You get to hear me nerd out with Dante Stewart about literature and theology and black Jesus. But before I get into that conversation, I want to make two announcements. One. I just want to remind you that the season of advent is coming up. If you are listening to this podcast on the day or close to the day when it’s released, and I do have an advent devotional, and I’ve got questions to go along with it, and it is available on Amazon, it’s called prepare him room.
Amy Julia (1m 10s):
Just wanted to let you know about that. In case you’d like a daily way to just get in touch with the spiritual side of preparing for Christmas. I also wanted to let you know that we are hosting a giveaway for my guests, Dante Stewart’s new book, shouting in the fire. If you’re interested, check the show notes or head on over to my Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook pages to find out details on how to participate in that giveaway. Now onto the main event, which is this conversation, it was an incredible conversation about love, about expanding our theological imagination about understanding more about what it means to love God, to love who and how God has made us and how to love our neighbors.
Amy Julia (1m 51s):
So here you go. Well, I am so grateful to be here with my guest, Dante Stewart, and Dante just want to start by thanking you for joining us today in the midst of, I think you’re in the midst of getting a degree from seminary, is that right? You’ve just written a book and not only that, but there’s a small child in the room with you. You are talking to us. So thank you for being here.
Danté (2m 17s):
Yeah. And not only that, you know, I’m in ministry, so I’m literally right now. You’re good. You’re good. I ain’t, I ain’t playing. I ain’t, I ain’t, I ain’t tripping off that, but I’m saying it’s like, yeah, it’s life is, you know, but it’s a good food. I, I don’t, I mean, I’m, I’m living a dream of doing what I want to do and my schedule is flexible and I get to do, I mean, I get time to read. I get time to work out a good time to be with my family. I get time to enjoy life. So I’m, I’m really good.
Amy Julia (2m 45s):
I love it. And I love that. We get to talk here today. I just finished reading your new book. It’s called shouting in the fire and American epistle. It came out a couple of weeks ago, and I’m thinking that there probably are listeners who have not read your book because it just came out. So I wanted to start with your story and I’d love for you to talk us through your story of faith in particular, which is one significant piece of this book. And I’d love to go back to what Christianity was like for you as a child, and then as a college student and kind of those early years out of, you know, in college and right out of college. So could you tell us about that for a little while?
Danté (3m 21s):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. 100%. And thank you for having me on and, and, and thank you for your, your, your cohort of listeners and those who are invested in your space. We hope that, you know, you feel seen and, and inspired and things like that. So I was raised in rural South Carolina. I am the son of Devin, Calvin Stewart, and, and I’m the youngest of four. So we in my book, I mean my faith life, especially as a young kid centers around two places, the white brick church and my grandmother’s red brick house. And I made sure that I, that I narratively and that rarely, that I did that kind of in, in, in, in inspiration of Sarah Rome’s book, the yellow house, how she wrote so beautifully about her home and the world inside of our home and inside of rooms, that also the larger world inside of new Orleans, that, that, that in some sense existed alongside the, the smaller world, which is her own family and community.
Danté (4m 25s):
And so my world exists between the red brick house and the white sand brick church in between those places. So much of life happened, both the great and the terrible dimensions of life. And when I think about my own home, I was raised Pentecostal. So, so much of the freedom of, of, of life, the freedom of, of the body, the freedom of the spirit that many people talk about. And even in this moment, aspire to, I think, I think we can say that at least in American public religion, that, that so many people are transitioning into more kind of less kind of institutional base.
Danté (5m 9s):
I think, I mean, in the sense of the kind of experience of people want experiences not tied to whether you, whether you experienced this valuable to the institution. I think that’s one of the things that words. So that was so in shaping Bama Pentecostal churches, that this is our experience in the shames. Balwyn tells his nephew in his essay and his essay, a letter to my nephew at the beginning of the fire. Next time I’d done just shook. He says that famous quote, you know, that people quote from James Baldwin, they say, you know, no for when she came in, if you know, from what you came, you can know where you’re going. The context of that quote of James Baldwin, talking about the, the, the interior newness of black life, what else Elizabeth Alexander to pull it calls the black interior.
Danté (5m 58s):
It is the space away from the white logic. It’s the space away from whiteness is where we create and make worlds. This is what Baldwin talks about. The beauty that black people indeed are beauty at the back end of the fire next time. And so when I think about my Pentecostal space, I think about the interior miss of black life, beyond, you know, the public beyond ideas of black people dying and the response to it, the kind of justification of it. It is a space where young people can complete instruments and, and be free and shout and dance and, and older people can, you know, guide young people. And even in, even though, you know, many of the dynamics, particularly the power dynamics, I don’t agree with and saw that they did incredible harm.
Danté (6m 47s):
I can also say that that, that space, my faith life was, was beautiful. That it taught me a lot. That even though right now, I am not Pentecostal by denomination or affiliation, I am Pentecostal by orientation. So much of my life is still shaping by this kind of Pentecostal imagination of the faith, as it relates to allowing the spirit, to, to speak from our bodies, to say that our bodies have something to say, to say that the places that we come from as in acts chapter two, that, that these places must be named because they have a certain type of knowledge production that can be beneficial for our faith life.
Danté (7m 30s):
And so wherever we come from, I think that those places have something to say about faith and embodiment and Christianity and, and, and life, the duration of wholeness. And so, yeah, I think, I think about my, my early life of faith that way, and that’s kind of the beginning of the ways I would kind of think about the story. Yeah.
Amy Julia (7m 49s):
Yeah. So I love that. That’s a beautiful picture and I love the connection in terms of the interior life, both as a inside your own body, but also within the, a white brick church, right? Like there, there are two ways in which you’ve got an interior space there where there’s a, an interior beauty and an interior life with God that might not be known in the public sphere. And so what I want to hear about next is then you went to college and that changed. And could you narrate that piece of your journey for a little bit again for listeners who haven’t read your book?
Danté (8m 27s):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I went to Clemson university in Clemson, South Carolina, where I played football and I was a sociology student. And, you know, it’s, it’s reminiscent of M Sean Copeland. She writes a book titled knowing Christ, crucified and, and job to, to she, she, she, she titled chapter two meeting and seeing Jesus and slave holding worlds. And of course, none of course, Clemson, you know, is, is, I mean, slavery is out low hundreds of years, you know, in some sense, I want to talk about Clemson thinking about thinking both about him.
Danté (9m 7s):
Sean Copeland answered the Hartman. What’s the deal Hartman says, you know, I, to live in a time of slavery. And what I mean is that I live in a world created by it and the future created by it. So when I think about meeting Jesus and seeing Jesus or Samsung, a couple of white about black folk back then in slave holding worlds, it, it, it, it is about meeting in some sense, like a meeting, this kind of idea of faith bound to white conceptions of Christianity. And oftentimes that meeting is not a meeting where, you know, where we come alive and we feel seen, and we feel loved and embraced. But oftentimes when we go into these white spaces, especially on Clemson university, particularly predominantly white institutions, we, we meet a Jesus or faith that oftentimes renders us invisible or erases us, or if they do see us, they see us as less than.
Danté (10m 4s):
So I’ll talk about my time at Clemson where, you know, none of the preachers in these spaces, particularly FCA looked like me. They didn’t look familiar like home. So we have to think of, and this is kind of me leaning on my sociological background. We, we have to think about, as I loved the way C Wright mills puts it in his incredible book, sociological imagination, where he talks about this, this kind of near the relationship between biography and history or our own individual stories and the social world we live in. And, and, and what we inherited a, a wet, in some sense, we inherit what type of scripts are or bound to these institutions.
Danté (10m 46s):
What type of stories are bound to these institutions? So if people find it hard to think about that, Jesus, and the way that Jesus moved about and the religious associate political spaces, Jesus, in some sense, oftentimes talks about the histories that are bound to these institutions. So the traditions that theologies, every institution has practices, values, traditions, bound into it. And we need to take into account who are, are those theologies and traditions built for and who in some sense, do they take seriously?
Danté (11m 26s):
So who are they built for and who do they take seriously? So, Jesus, in some sense says, you have heard, it said, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I say to you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Jesus is not destroying the tradition and the theology in this, in this sense, you know, but he is saying, you know, the, your tradition may be public, but it can also be problematic. You may think your, your tradition is a tradition of renewal. In some sense of what was in the past, when an actuality, your tradition is negligent and must be rethought about what’s going on in the present. And so when I went to Clemson and got involved in predominantly white spaces, the script that I inherited from these spaces was that wherever you came from, particularly if you’re black and whiteness is right and blackness is invisible.
Danté (12m 20s):
Whiteness is the norm. You know, it is the unspoken norm. So many people in these spaces would not say, you know, we’re a white church, but then in some sense, when you think about who is making the decisions, who is the people that this institution feels, it can not function without. If we think about Lucille Clifton poem, once you come celebrate with me with the type of life I’ve lived, if we think about who is on the end of that celebration, who will be those people celebrating with you, then that will determine and help you see who those people you built your institution for. And oftentimes in these predominantly white institutions, those who were celebrated in the end, if the, we was a part of that celebration, it was only because we lost ourselves in the process.
Danté (13m 8s):
We got caught up inside of this kind of white hegemonic world, where at the end of the day, as Eddie gelada talks about in his book, democracy in black, he talks about the value gap, where at the end of the day, people think that racism, white supremacy is about people in hoods and things like that. But it’s more so about what an home, we as a country and I would even add churches, choose to value. So what and whom we choose to value. And the value gap he explains is that this, this country values white lives, white pain, white culture, white tradition, white theology is white or whatever, more than any other place.
Danté (13m 49s):
And so, so when I went into these places, you know, I, in some sense was not a hero. I wasn’t somebody going in and trying, you know, to, to, to, to change it. But I was someone who gave it justification. I was someone who was rewarded by it and enjoyed the rewards that it gave me. And that in some sense was probably part of that experience. So, so when I, when I went into these spaces, the worship songs, the preaching, the feel of the place. So if we think in terms of aesthetics, a feel of the place, the way it looks, the way people embodied their faith, it just didn’t take seriously where I came from a world or the world, particularly the black world that I came from, or the black faith tradition that, that, that made me.
Danté (14m 34s):
And so to move from rural South Carolina, into Clemson, a white dominated place, wasn’t some sense of me taking on this story, that you must distance yourself as much as possible from blackness. And then in some sense, you know, before you’re ever black, you’re Christian, and that’s what makes you valuable in this place? The identity that is most valued in this place is Christian. It’s just too bad. That dos who made that test, particularly that litmus test never took into account that the value scale was always tipped and set by whiteness.
Amy Julia (15m 16s):
Yeah. So there was a, again that goes back to the eraser and the invisibility, because it was essentially what matters most is that you’re a Christian, although there was like this parent that ethical white in front of the word Christian, right? Like we’re not going to say what it means to be Christian is also to be white in the sense of all that you just described in terms of cultural trappings. It’s the same thing. As you know, the missionaries in, you know, countries where it’s like, you need to be wearing a dress in order to become a Christian. And it’s like, no, that has nothing to do with becoming a Christian that has to do with this culture. And that does not have to do with introducing someone to Jesus.
Amy Julia (15m 58s):
Danté (15m 59s):
Yeah. And I think, and I think for me, that’s kind of why I got exhausted with, and even to this day, while I’m still exhausted with conversations about race and culture with white Christians or white people in general, you know, who, who don’t already have a working knowledge of the world that we live in, in a world that we are here, because in some sense, it’s like, like, like, like many people will continue to ask the same question. Well, what is white was a whiteness? And it’s like, yo, there has been centuries and decades of literature that, that talks about race, racism, whiteness, its relationship to society.
Danté (16m 40s):
I’m literally looking at a book right now, entitled race, class and gender in the United States. And, and then as a book back here, like literally where my per my index finger is called, called the white one is entitled the history of white people by Neil Irvin, painter, then above it is by Valerie professor valley, Bab called whiteness visible. And she’s talking about arts and culture. I noticed that. And that’s kind of, you know, in some sense, it’s like, it’s like, you know, can, can, can we talk about if indeed people want to talk about race and culture and racism and white supremacy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, you know, can, can people have better conversations where they, where they already, in some sense, have some sort of working knowledge when they come to the table rather than simply trying to figure out, okay, what is whiteness and things like that?
Danté (17m 40s):
Well, well, when do w well, when you, when you live and move and have your being like, that is what whiteness is in our society. What are protected from who is centered, who gets hurt and how, and did agree who gets her, whose pain gets to be valued. And then when you ask all those questions, as many questions as you can, you know, of, of our society. And as my professor, Dr. Fluker always says, he says, the first ethical question is, as Marvin Gaye says, what’s going on. That’s the first ethical question what’s going on. So you’re trying to figure out uncover what actually is, what is the reality of what’s going on?
Danté (18m 22s):
And once you ask those type of questions, then you do social and cultural analysis and ask who in some sense is, is at the center of the, what is going on. And once you kind of, kind of get the social markers of the who, then that would tell you pretty much, many of the questions about, you know, who is value, what whiteness is, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And yeah, and I, I just think that, I think people need to just do a bit of reading and, and, and things like that, so that, you know, the same conversations that people have been having 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago are not the same type of conversations that we have that with Trump, that people are trying to have right now, especially those conversations that still, even if somebody talked about race and racism, it still is ways that people make black people invisible, especially when they talk about racism and race and, and things like that.
Danté (19m 13s):
And, and in a perspective that, you know, white people steal our center in their education and progress. So it’s like, you know, what can I learn? What can I do? What can I do? What can I do, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And, and reality, many of the questions is, you know, what, what can I see that I haven’t seen before? That’s a different perspective on our lives because our lives aren’t just lessons. You know, our lives are not just reduceable to white racism and limited imagination, but our lives are as complexities of the people, our lives, our creative lives, whole magic and beauty and vastness and multitudes. And I think, you know, as I’m surrounded by so many just black books about Mo about a multitude of perspectives on black life, you know, I want to lean into that, you know, how can I explore, you know, the vastness and the beauty of our lives so that we don’t just reduce ourselves to, you know, somebody else’s gospel innocence.
Amy Julia (20m 13s):
Well, and I think the vastness of that beauty is something that comes up in your book. And I think it’s so interesting that so much of that has come to you. Well, it seems by way of literature, theology, but written particularly by black people, which I want to get back to you. But before we do that, as we’re talking about whiteness, I also want to talk about black Jesus. And I think, you know, this, the way I found your book was because I read your essay in the New York times about a month ago, and you put into words, something that I have been trying to formulate for a long time. So I’m going to quote you. So this is an essay that was adapted from your book, and you’re writing about some black authors who we’ll talk about in a minute, but, and here’s what you say.
Amy Julia (20m 58s):
You say, they insisted on saying Jesus is black. They were not talking about his skin color during his earthly ministry, though. It definitely wasn’t white. They were talking about his experience about how Jesus knows what it means to live in an occupied territory, knows what it means to be from an oppressed people. And that was just really helpful for me in terms of articulating what it means to talk about black Jesus. I think I, for a long time had been like, yes, definitely Jesus was not white and like Western European in how he looked. And also, I think for every culture to imagine Jesus in their cultural forms, whether that’s clothing or appearance or whatever, there’s an appropriateness to that in the sense that the incarnate God can come among us in all sorts of forms, but you bring another perspective to it, which is Jesus.
Amy Julia (21m 53s):
His experience actually is that of someone who lived in an occupied territory and knows what it means to be from an oppressed people. And so I’d love to just talk about black Jesus for a minute. Did you grow up talking about black Jesus? Like, was that part of your
Danté (22m 9s):
Yeah, nah, nah, not even as a kid, you know, I think, I think it came by way of me reading James cone and Katie cotton. So black liberation theologians, and a woman that’s theologians that kind of link lingo. We thinking about that kind of linguistic framework, but the kind of existential framework, this idea of Jesus not being white, but standing in solidarity with black folk, you know, was, was, was very much a part of the ethos of my upbringing, even though people wouldn’t necessarily, you know, articulate de Jesus as in some sense, you know, being, being black in the kind of experience or form that people on, on the affirmative would have.
Danté (22m 60s):
We viewed Jesus as a friend, Jesus, as a liberated Jesus, as a suffer with Jesus, as one who resists is a Jesus, who is, who is who, who, who represent an alternative pistol alternative epistemology from the white Christian conception of Jesus that so often kind of choked out, you know, our lives and snuffed out our lives. So from, from a kid, you know, they, they, I was in his ethos of, of, of what, what, what would a life look like walking with black Jesus when I became, when I got older and, and, and, and then when I left the white church and transitioned seminaries and change my reading and things like that, you know, then I got to the point where I wasn’t just understanding what would it look like to have a life live with a Jesus who was black, but then I was able to articulate, what does it mean to look at Jesus and talk about a Jesus who was black and I’m not in novice in this, let me be very clear, like, like I, I’m not like there’s nothing new novel about the ways that I’m talking.
Danté (24m 14s):
What I’m simply doing is leaning on the voices of Katie cannon and James cone. And other woman is feminists and black liberation, black male theologians who have articulated this idea of Jesus as arising from our kind of experiencial narrative, higher experiencial norm, as a critical alternative to the ways in which white religion has been practiced in the country. There’s a really good book. I think everybody should read. It’s entitled voices from the margin, interpreting the Bible and the third.
Danté (24m 54s):
And I think it’s entitled interpreting the Bible in the third world. If I’m not mistaken, it is one of it is one of the best, best I thought most helpful as well as a deeper shades of purple, which goes, oh, it’s a brilliant, I mean, depreciate has a purpose. Just one of my absolutely favorite books as a woman is womanness interpretation. So there’s womanism and religion in religion and society. So they had a cohort of speaker writers and biblical scholars and interpreters talking about womanist theology and kind of larger practice.
Danté (25m 36s):
And they had people respond to it. Then voices from the margin is, is got a cohort, a biblical scholar from all over the globe to do biblical and theological work from their own narratives. And so as I got older and I started to read James cone and, and Katie cannon and Renita Weems, M Sean Copeland and others, then I started to get a framework, understanding my faith beyond the logics of the ways in which white, the ways in which white Americans believed that their interpretation was de dictation of the Bible where Y traditions of understanding Jesus and God and the Bible and faith, you know, had now become orthodoxy.
Danté (26m 24s):
And I believe at a point in time in my life, I had believed that I had gained that power. I embodied that. I, I know that tradition very well because I was trained in it. I understood that tradition. I understand the frameworks of that tradition. And so often, you know, so often we take for granted that, that, that every tradition is always contextual and, and authority, whether people believe it to be objective of not the reality is that authority is always given from the community that gives it. So when we think about, when you thinking about a larger history, creeds and doctrines only have authority, because those communities gave those kinds of narratives authority, right?
Danté (27m 10s):
And then those, that authority either for good, or for ill exercise itself in the world, because it believed that God granted it authority, whether it was whether that was true or not, it just is what it is. And so what I think about black Jesus, it’s, it’s being able to say that black women and men have authority to talk about faith in Christianity and the frameworks in which we think about our faith and the practice of it. And that is the very fundamental experience of black Jesus, whether you’re talking about James cone and him writing God of the oppressed, or you talking about Katie cannon of her writing, black woman, that’s ethics, or you’re talking about Emily Townes and her writing a woman’s ethics and the cultural production of evil.
Danté (27m 54s):
Are you talking about Sean Copeland and the flesh and freedom? You know, you have all this long traditions of blue, a black and a black theologians, or a black and woman theologians doing, doing interpretive imaginative and intersectional work, because in some sense, that’s where we exist. That when we come to the Bible, we should, we inherit the Bible. We, we interpret the Bible. We should be imaginative in our, our work, but we all should be innovative leaning on KSA, layman, as he talks about what he does, what he teaches his students with the essay. And that’s kind of what they did with the Bible and theology. And so leaning into that tradition, that’s how I came to understand Jesus, his experience of blackness and the ways in which my understanding of my faith should broaden given, you know, this, this, this given, taking seriously, the knowledge that came from black people that made me
Amy Julia (28m 52s):
Well, that’s what I was about to say. It’s like, Jesus has experience of blackness, but also the black experience of Jesus for, for me as a white Christian, that one of the things that I Claire was felt clarified from your essay was I need to know black Jesus, like that’s really important. And I think it put words to something I’ve been knowing or thinking about for a very long time. But I think about even the relationship when you’re talking about those interior spaces, I’m thinking about churches, where from the pulpit, if you’re hearing a preacher, obviously often in a predominantly white church, you’re going to have a white preacher, but even then, are you hearing white theologians and white illustrations even of white life, right?
Amy Julia (29m 42s):
Or is there this broader understanding of what it means to embody in that church library who are, who are the names on the shelves, right? Like, I mean, you’ve named lots of different people who, even people, white people who think they’re very theologically, you know, fully read might be like, I’ve never heard of those people. Right. And so there’s just, there’s an, an expansion and a corrective that can be offered that way. And I think that’s obviously really important as a black Christian, but also for white Christians to understand it’s hard to understand the narrowness until we start to ask some of the questions that you’re bringing up about what’s going on and who is it going on with and for, right.
Amy Julia (30m 30s):
And, and how can I start to ask him, like, and what was going on when Jesus was walking this earth and what was going on in acts when the spirit was coming and actually translating the word of God to many languages and many ethnic groups, and, you know, had this vision of a global community of people who follow Jesus. So anyway, I just, I really wanted, I’m thankful to hear you talk about that. Yeah.
Danté (30m 58s):
And I, and I, one of the things, and that’s, you know, that’s actually, what made me fall in love with theology and the Bible, once again, you know, cause I kinda got, I feel like EV if we’re honest, I think if we’re honest, this is not for everybody, but I do think at some point we do get tired of God and the Bible and Jesus, and just, and in some sense, how, if we’re being honest, if it was going to be straight, if we’re going to shoot it straight, there are oftentimes where many people get tired with God and the Bible and Jesus, because it’s almost as if God, the Bible and Jesus is locked into a pass that we can never reach, that we can never attain that we all must be always, must be in search for.
Danté (31m 50s):
So when the Bible speaks of God being as near in this metaphorical language, you know, as I breath, you know, you know, God is speaking. And, and if we, if we think about the trajectory, the historical trajectory of the sacred texts between the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures and, and people being able to have conversation with God continually, you know, at some point we get, we get tired of faith and the Bible and God, because at some point when your faith, your God and your Bible is locked into the past, that at some point it’s going to become irrelevant to the present in a way I have nothing to offer you in the future.
Amy Julia (32m 39s):
And that mean, I’m just thinking about the role of the spirit in that, right. I mean, and I’m thinking even about your Pentecostal roots and just that sense of even just referencing back to like the day of Pentecost and that idea of if we are not in a ongoing, communal, not just individual, but like relationship with the spirit and using our spiritual imaginations, not just to understand the past, but to envision who and what God is for this moment and these people and this culture and, you know, all and all of these places, then it becomes dead religion. Instead of something that is living,
Danté (33m 14s):
I was born, it becomes boring. It some sense. And, and, and, and, and I think, and in some sense, you know, when I was in those, when I was in reform in Southern Baptist spaces, it was, it was boring to me because I mean, religion was a code word was in some sense, you know, was, was, was another word for indoctrination. You know, I got, I got tired of the curriculum in those spaces because the curriculum was always white, dead men, dead or alive.
Amy Julia (33m 42s):
Well, and there was a right answer
Danté (33m 47s):
Amy Julia (33m 48s):
That was my sense. Cause I similarly had a evangelical, you know, and I’m grateful for many aspects of that, but past where, but I did feel like there is, there’s a right answer here as opposed to a sense of humility before the mystery of an ongoing lived experience with Jesus. So I want to make sure that I get to ask you about Tony Morrison, James Baldwin, because that was the other part of your essay that I was like, oh my gosh, because, so I was an English major in college with an African-American studies minor. And so what’d you go to school? I went to Princeton. So I was in,
Danté (34m 27s):
I don’t know if your listeners ever heard <inaudible> okay. Hold on. All right. All right. We’re going to flip the script real quick. I’m going to out of your real quick,
Amy Julia (34m 37s):
I don’t usually tell people this because it seems kind of like I’m bragging, but like nail, Tell me more. So nail painter was one of my teachers. I took history of the south with her and Tony Morrison was one of my teachers too, so,
Danté (34m 53s):
Okay. Hold on. All right. We talked about my book. All right, cool. I, but, but let’s put that on pause. Let’s talk, let’s talk about that real quick. Tell me, describe, you know, it’s Tony, Tony was very clear. Tony was very like, adamant about you describing the feeling. So describing the word, describing the classrooms.
Amy Julia (35m 16s):
Yeah. So I was in awe of her without a doubt. Like I was definitely. So she wrote a book called playing in the dark,
Danté (35m 25s):
Which is a series of reimagination.
Amy Julia (35m 27s):
Yeah. So this class was a, essentially that book in class form. So we read a lot of like classic quote unquote literature. So we read uncle Tom’s cabin and Moby Dick and Huck Finn. I wrote a 30 page paper on Huck Finn in that class. Oh goodness. So we read Hemingway and Fitzgerald and she was talking about the presence of black characters with, or blackness, not in Moby Dick. It’s even more just the idea of white and black, like of whiteness and blackness and how it shapes and forms that literature and sometimes destroys. It actually makes it because of the unwillingness to reckon with what’s going on.
Amy Julia (36m 9s):
I mean, I think part of why Huck Finn and the end is this kind of what just happened here. I think that’s part of it is just an, an inability to actually come to a place of understanding because we, as a country, we have not figured out what it means, right. To experience our full humanity as black and white people, as we are called and have co created ourselves to be or whatever we want to call it. Anyway. So yeah, it was amazing. I did not. I mean, I, I only talked to her in person twice, like once at a party for the African-American studies department where I just thanked her for the influence she’d had on my life. Cause I had read beloved in high school and it really did put me on this trajectory of just like similar to you.
Amy Julia (36m 54s):
I think like soaking in these writers and being like, oh my gosh, the richness of this tradition of specifically the literature, you know, going back to whether it’s Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs narratives through to Toni Morrison and others today, that richness was just really compelling to me. And I guess different to me than what I was reading in. I mean, I appreciate white American literature too, but that was where I really, and I think part of it had to do with faith though, as a Christian, like I really resonated with the experience of faith that was often, it wasn’t, it was very complex and mysterious.
Amy Julia (37m 39s):
So like Zora, Neale, Hurston, like their eyes were watching God like, wait, they were watching, God, God, wasn’t watching what was going on there. Like it just prompts all these questions. So anyway. All right. So I get to take back the interview now.
Danté (37m 51s):
That’s cool. I I’m I’m I mean, cause Tony sits right over my shoulder. Yeah. Tony, Tony sits over my son. I mean, she’s on my desk. I mean, literally Tony’s everywhere in my, in my office.
Amy Julia (38m 3s):
Yeah. But will you talk about that because people, it is only, I’m only just starting to read and maybe this is cause I’m missing out, but I’m only just starting to read people who are actually writing about the way her faith was an aspect of her literature. And I would love to hear you speak to that because I feel as though she was put in this category of serious literary writer. And so it’s almost like, and so we don’t get to talk about her as a person of faith, but I would love to just hear you talk about that a little bit.
Danté (38m 34s):
Well, my, my studies is particularly focused on James Baldwin, so I can only speak to Tony Morrison in so far as I speak to Tony Moore, I can only speak to Tony Morrison as an admirer. I can speak a little bit, I could speak to Baldwin a little bit better with, but in a certain sense of
Amy Julia (38m 54s):
We do that too. I actually, so he was, my senior thesis was one chapter was on Baldwin. So all good for me, but
Danté (39m 2s):
Okay, good. Yeah. So, so in some sense, like so much of black literature and these kind of black literary, just brilliant folk, you know, a lot of times they, they didn’t get characterized in that sense because the framework of the ways in which people judge their rightness or the wrongness of one’s experience of faith and one’s framework of faith is still bound to whiteness. So with Tony would be planting the dark whiteness and the literary imagination. One can also in some sense, re rephrase that plan in the light whiteness and the, and, and the theological imagination.
Danté (39m 45s):
So if we think about light in a sense of the Bibles use of the metaphor of light and illumination, particularly one’s old spiritual illumination, and, and that metaphor go out and be salt and light in the world. So if we think about, you know, doing a close reading of that, that, that term light and thinking about playing in the light and in some sense, whiteness and the theological imagination, those people who determined what was in delight in what, what, what, what, what was illuminated by the light and what the light revealed and the revelation from the light steel was bound to the limitations of whiteness and its own theological imagination.
Danté (40m 30s):
So I encourage everybody to read this book. If people want to think about, think critically about theology, religion, black literature, black life, there’s a few books. I, I say like, you’ve got to read. I think people should read. People should read spirit in the dark re a religious issue of racial aesthetics by Yosef Surette. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I think people should read a fair Jasmine Griffin’s new book, a read until you understand the profound wisdom of black life and literature. I think people should read black woman is ethics where Katie cannon does a brilliant, brilliant theological reading of so many of black women’s literature, as well as people should read.
Danté (41m 21s):
Emily Townes is a woman that’s ethics and the cultural production of evil people should read James cone’s dad. He did it. He did a good job and said it wasn’t gonna tell nobody does a great job in spiritual and the blues and, and things like that. Where what all that is to say that these black thinkers are saying that God is not done speaking, that the Canon must be expanded and it must take seriously the sacredness or to use the language of a professor, Jasmine Griff fare, Jasmine Griffins, the profound wisdom or the profound theology, or the profound holiness and black life and literature.
Danté (42m 9s):
And so Yosef Saray in his book, spirit in the dark makes the case that black literature that oftentimes, you know, people thought about black literature and, and their, and their performance and embodiment and in their gesturing of their faith, that their, their embodiment of their face, not, not their proclamation of their faith. It’s this is, we’ve got to think about the difference between this kind of, this kind of proclaim abstract system of thought. So one can communicate what one believes about God. You know what one believes about faith in the Bible rather than what black writers were doing was one was embodying one’s experience of God and God’s experienced, and the experience of God in our world, but say that black literature was not just in a resistance to Afro Protestantism or black Christianity, but it was very the very extension of it where so many of these writers and artists and performers grew up and were formed by the church and the church, the black churches, black religious spaces beyond the church.
Danté (43m 24s):
And I’m thinking whether you’re talking about synagogues, or you talk about mosque, are you talking about Africana religions and, and the, the, the practices of, of, of, of our own kind of African traditional religions that, that, that, that theorist charged long. He does a great job in his book. Significations talks about, he says that the black literature is not in resistance to it, but it was a very extension of it. And he says that that black literature is indeed religious literature. Now, when I came across that argument, that changed that that changed me because it, it broke open the possibilities of reading black literature that, that, that for me, you know, that, that, for me, that I thought about like, as a, as, as somebody doing theological work, I wanted to ask the central question, the, the central and essential question, what can be gained by doing a close reading, not just a close reading, but it close theological reading of Baldwins literature.
Danté (44m 31s):
And I’m doing Baldwin in particular now. And I’m focusing on more Toni Cade Bambara. I’ve done work with Tony Morrison last semester. I even did a, I did a theological reading of June Jordan’s poem about my rights. So I’m trying to recollect and, and recollect. So collect in a sense of bringing him back up, bringing back, you know, these traditions rebuilding the walls. As, as, as we think about it in the Hebrew Bible, rebuilding that, which was lost and that which was stolen and that which was broken or whatnot, or if we think about the life of Jesus, that, which was there, I’m trying to see as sort of resurrection.
Danté (45m 11s):
So I want to take seriously what can be gleaned by doing a close, theological reading of them literature. And so I, after reading Seretse book and others’ books and Baldwin and Alice Walker, you know, I started to notice like, God Christianity, faith, the Bible, religion so much was woven into there, literally everywhere. It’s everywhere. It’s literally everywhere. And I’m like, yo, if it’s everywhere, then I need to take seriously that I can find God anywhere.
Amy Julia (45m 47s):
I think it’s so interesting just to hear you say that, because I do think that was for me as a kid who had grown up in white privileged spaces my whole life, but who I had became a Christian. And that was really unusual in my new England Northeast, you know, whatever thing to take my faith really seriously. And I think that was part of what really drew me to black literature was that I was like, oh, these are people who are still asking serious questions. Like, it’s not just faith in a box, but it’s also, but they’re also taking the question of who has God in our world today really seriously as well. And
Danté (46m 27s):
Yeah, and I think because oftentimes when people think about black literature and this is, I thought Dr. <inaudible> did a wonderful job talking about this, that people look at black literature, simply as race literature and these ideas of race literature. It’s just, you know, how can we, how can, it’s almost as if money period talks about in her book, breathe, this kind of voyeurism toward black life. It’s like the, the, the, the, Auchan not like, look at the most, suffer most messy and nasty parts of what white people do to black people. And how can that be? The, the, the totality of my intersection with the black lived experience now, I wanted to kind of lean also on that the Courtney baker and her book humane insight, where she talks about, you know, like th there is she, she, she thinks about Emmett till and, and others, you know, there is something to be gained in garner from looking at those images, you know, so, so we, we need a sort of, not a voyeuristic and sight, but a humane insight.
Danté (47m 29s):
And if I use that language of insight, I wanted to do a, have a theological insight as it related to black texts. And that’s where my faith came alive, because it was like, you know, God is bound to these black voices and bodies in that, like I wanted to seriously reading these black texts and sacred texts and black life is sacred history that in the Bible, these books, particularly the biblical books, you know, are an anthology, their collection of books before they’re ever a book of rules. They are book of stories and, and, and, and people, they have people names like Mia, Maya, and Isaiah, and Daniel and Hosea. And we received them traditionally, you know, as divine revelation to teach us something about life and to teach us something about God and to teach us something about the world we live in it’s he says something about the stories that give us meaning, because faith, that is what faith is.
Danté (48m 20s):
You know, faith, as the Bible says, the substance of things hope for the evidence of things not seen at the end of the day, that sounds poetically beautiful. But at the end of the day, faith is just simply a story that gives us meaning. So for me, I wanted to receive these black names, the book of James Baldwin, you know, the book of Tony Morrison, a book of Alice Walker, the book of Gail Jones, the book of Toni Cade, Bambara, and Rita dub, Nikki Giovanni, and Frederick Douglas and Malcolm X and Martin, and Paul Robeson, and Angela Davis. I wanted to receive these books and say, what does it mean to read these people, writing as something sacred that can teach us about how to be black in this world and how to love God and our neighbor to the best of our being.
Danté (49m 4s):
And in some sense, I wanted to expand to Canada because I believe God is still speaking. And I believe that God wants us to as well, that reading is black literature looking at black life honesty, and, and honestly, and with vulnerability and with, and with beautiful creativity and complexity expanded my theological imagination, but it also expanded my ability to write my own narrative and weave this kind of theology bound to the black body in the black world, which I believe God is in an, a moan. And so as Alice Walker talks about, and in our preface of, of the color purple, you know, and even further in the color purple, she says that, that, that, that she says that that God is the one who, who, who is, who is beyond understanding, but not beyond love.
Danté (49m 56s):
And if he talks about, I believe that pisses guys off and would have been when you walk by a field and don’t, don’t notice the purple within it. And so I think it also pisses guys off pisses got off when we see the beauty and the complexity and the loveliness of black life, and don’t notice it and take it seriously. So that’s what, especially, yeah,
Amy Julia (50m 18s):
Well that I clearly could talk to you for hours, but I know we’ve got a deadline here so that you can go tend to your daughter pick up your son, but I also think that’s a beautiful place to just end this conversation with love, because that is ultimately also what I love, what you just said in terms of how does this spiritual imagination and this theological imagination allow us to in our day, in our time, love God and love our neighbors. And I, and even just to think about, as you just said, the beauty of what it is to love God and to love neighbors. And there’s a, in the midst of what is, you know, a book I want to bring it back to your book for just a sec, that involves a lot of heartbreak and the various terrorized people over the course of our just very recent history and fear and just despair.
Amy Julia (51m 15s):
There’s also just this note of hopefulness and beauty and love that I think is animated by that desire to know what it means to love God and love neighbor and defined the beauty of not just outside of us, the purple in the field, but also that interior beauty that we began with in this conversation. So thank you for,
Danté (51m 38s):
And I never forget Alice Walker. I love the color purple. I think everybody should read the color purple. I think the color purple and the temple of my familiar is just, I mean, some of the most beautiful theological writing in that, that I’ve ever come across, but at the end of the color, purple, I think it was Nettie. It might’ve been that it was, she she’s like she looked and she realized how sacred I was. And I just, I just hope that, you know, when people read my book, you know, that they will realize that they would be able to say that I looked at myself and I just realized how sacred I am and just how beautiful, beautiful, beautiful we are, you know, Baldwin.
Danté (52m 20s):
He says, when I looked in those urine stain hallways, I wondered to myself what would happen to all of that beauty. And he says, though, many people don’t believe it. Black people are indeed beautiful. And so hopefully people get them whenever you come up.
Amy Julia (52m 37s):
Well, amen to all of that. And thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your time today.
Danté (52m 43s):
No doubt. No doubt. Thank you for having me and to your listeners. Thank y’all for listening to this episode. We hope, you know, the child enjoyed it, spending a little time, you know, broadening your insight and understanding. Hopefully you heard something you heard before. I, you know, I I’m, I’m not one to hope that people are always learning something new. I hope you learned something familiar, something familiar. And if you did learn something new, I hope that you learned it enough that it becomes familiar in the future. And thank you for, you know, being invested in involved.
Amy Julia (53m 15s):
Beautiful. And take a look at shouting in the fire and American official.
Danté (53m 19s):
Oh yeah. I forgot to talk about my book. Yeah, I’ll do
Amy Julia (53m 22s):
That for you. I’ll I’ll make sure they I’ll make sure they get that. All right. Thanks so much for listening to love is stronger than fear. Again, check those show notes or head over to my Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook pages for details about how to win a copy of Dante new book. And, you know, in these show notes, there will be a list of more books than have ever before been mentioned. In one episode of this podcast, I am really impressed by Dante library. I’m also just gonna remind you that I have a new book available, a little book devotional book, but it is called prepare him room and it’s available on Amazon. You can check out my website for that. And of course, I’m always grateful. If you share this episode, subscribe to this podcast, give it a rating or review.
Amy Julia (54m 6s):
I would love for more people to benefit from these conversations. Thank you to Jake Hansen for editing this podcast to Amber Barry, for supporting this show in every way possible. And thank you always to you. The listener as you go into your day to day, I hope and pray that you will carry with you. The peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.
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