Everydayness by Emilie Townes

EVERYDAYNESS
by Emilie M. Townes
Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology
Yale Divinity School

given at the Voices of Sophia breakfast, July 9, 2006

Presbyterian Women triennium in Louisville, KY

(reprinted here by verbal permission from the author)

in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth
there was light
there was goodness
there was creation
in the beginning was the word
with God
was God
was life
was the light
and so we gather: creation! celebration! god’s word—light for the journey
early on a sunday morning
in the midst of a churchwide gathering of presbyterian women (and their
friends)
for some of us gathered here
we have done this before
we come expecting to see friends we’ve not yet had a chance to connect
with
we come hoping the speaker will not lull us back into a catnap before the
rest of the events of the day sweep up us into a whirlwind
we come perhaps out of habit or loyalty or deep and abiding belief and
faith
for some of us gathered here
this is all new

we may come from other countries, other languages, other cultures, other
ways of being presbyterian

we are excited to be here, but weary from trying to understand this new
place and a language that may not be our native tongue

we come perhaps out of solidarity or seeking respite or deep and abiding
belief and faith

for others of us gathered here
we’re just happy to be here
we have no expectations
no history, no baggage, no agenda, just here

there are other ways in which we sit here this morning
and i want to suggest that given the worlds we live in these days
however we are, as we sit here this morning
it’s normal
the challenge, i think for all of us is this:
what will we to do with the fullness and incompleteness of what we have
brought to this time and place
as we remember that we are in a world
that we have helped make
that needs a new, or perhaps ancient vision
molded by justice and peace
rather than winning and loosing

so i want to talk with you this morning about a few of the things that are behind
holding on to justice and peace in the midst of myriad injustices and a world that
is a spinning top of wars

and give you some sense of why i think that what we do as women of
faith has a profound effect on the worlds we live in

if we take seriously the theme of this gathering: creation!
celebration! God’s word—light for the journey

it is for me to respond to the call by the black mystic and theologian, Howard
Thurman
who joined others
n encouraging us to blend head and heart

I.

one of my sources of sustenance for this challenge is found in the speeches of the
late former congresswoman from texas, Barbara Jordan

Jordan was a woman of firsts:
1st black woman to serve as administrative assistant to the county

judge of Harris County, TX

1st black elected to the TX state senate since 1883

1st black woman to deliver the keynote address at the democratic
party convention in 1976

first black person to be buried in the State Cemetery in Austin, TX
on january 20, 1996

and those of us who remember or have heard the recording of the crisp
bell tones of her perfect diction and impeccable cadence will never forget
her testimony before the house judiciary committee during Watergate
during prime time television on july 25, 1974:

“Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the
Constitution of the United States, “We, the people.” It is a very
eloquent beginning. But when the document was completed on the
seventeenth of September 1787 I was not included in that “We, the
people.” I felt somehow for many years that George Washington
and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through
the process of amendment, interpretation and court decision I have
finally been included in “We, the people.”

Today, I am an inquisitor; I believe hyperbole would not be
fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right

now. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is
total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the
diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”

i am struck, by the profound trust she had in the notion “we the people”

Jordan was the daughter of a baptist preacher and a devout practicing baptist her
whole life
one of the bedrock principles she lived her life by was that human
equality under God is absolute, unconditional, and universally applicable

so when she said “we the people” she really did mean all of us
now because she was a public servant, she did not do much god-talk in her
public addresses

but i think she can be a window into how we can think about how we lean
into, live into God’s word as light for our journeys

i think that the only way we can faithfully look at who we are
as a nation

and the roles we should and must play as women of faith who hold deep
values of respect for others and the rest of creation

means that we refuse to give up uncovering and working through
how we can build faith-filled responses

to meet the needs of those who may be the least of these

or folks just like many of us—blessed with resources and
abilities and a divine mandate to use them

with a spirituality that will not let go of that relentless
justice that can only come from a rock-steady God

II.
we must be about these things because

we are living in a time in which imperialism is being dwarfed by empire

from the beginning of this country as a republic

the myth of universal uninhibited freedom has always had its evil twins–
studied sadistic subordination and anal-retentive annihilation

our history is one of that cast native americans outside of the constitution
and black folk barely in it

this has, to my mind, always been a great problematic in our self-understanding
as a nation
we have not always been the land of unfettered liberty, equal access, and
open markets for all peoples and on a truly equal playing field

we have, domestically and globally, been a nation that has practiced—far
too many times–imperialistic domestic and global outrages that carry
kinder and gentler names such as

usa patriot act

economic growth and tax relief reconciliation act

free trade area of the americas

operation shock and awe

you and i are drawing breath in a country, which is for most of us gathered here,
our country

one that possesses an incredible concentration of financial, diplomatic and
military power

and is rather disingenuous not to admit the tremendous power and
influence we have on a global scale

and also recognize the awesome responsibility that comes with this

because we have the power to do incredible good—and have done
so

and must continue to grow this side of who we are as a
nation larger and stronger

on the global stage and here at home

because a bully, whether dressed in religious drag or
patriotic drag, is still a bully

but you know, empire and permanent war do not count on women of faith and
their allies living out of our commitment to telling the truth

that not only does the emperor have no clothes, the emperor is, as my
grandmother used to say: naked butt

if we can hold on to proclaiming truth when it gets buried in political and
religious cat fights and mud-wrestling contests, i think we will be able to bring
together justice making and peace-keeping

but only if we take seriously the challenges living into what it means to
believe each person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect

because we are responsible for each other and ourselves

we may not always agree, nor should we expect to

we have to give an accounting of our actions and inactions

we may get tired and need a break, but we must always come back
because we do not get out of this life alone

and we are responsible for what goes on in our names

III.

to be sure, this can be a demanding or difficult task, but we must live into this
hope

we must have dreams that are more powerful than nightmares

possibilities more radical than realities

and a hope that does more than cling to a wish

or wish on a star

or sit by the side of the road, picking and sucking its teeth

after dining on a meal of disaster and violence

no, the hope we have before us

comes from folk like miss nora
brother hemphill
ms. montez
mr. press

miss rosie
and mr. waddell

and this hope rests on the rimbones of glory

And my, oh my, it is powerful. It enables us to press onward when we
feel like giving up; to draw strength from the future to live in a discouraging
present. Hope, the hope that fueled the faith of King and sustained a movement,
makes it possible for us to see the world, not only as it is, but also as it can be; to
move us to new places and turn us into a new people.

But it is frightening because we know that loving and caring for others
and ourselves interrupts the mundane and comfortable in us, and calls to us to
move beyond ourselves and accept a new agenda for living. Hope cannot simply
be given a nod of recognition, for it demands not only a contract from us; but
covenant and commitment. When we truly live in this deep-walking hope, then
we must order and shape our lives in ways that are not always predictable, not
always safe, rarely conventional, and protests with prophetic fury the sins of a
world (that encourage us to separate our bodies from our spirits, our minds from
our hearts, our beliefs from our action.

Live out of a hope that let’s folk know that justice and peace mean
something, and are more than rhetorical ruffles and flourishes. None of us can
hide from any of the “isms,” obscene wars declared in our name, but without our
permission or consent; the economy, natural disasters that then turn into obscene
governmental neglect and cronyism, rising oil prices, conservative christian
leaders who believe strokes are signs of God’s judgment on attempts at peacemaking, HIV/AIDS, terrorism, and the wicked mixing of jingoism with the death
of innocents in our national mourning.

No, we cannot hide from responsibility or accountability. We can wring
our hands, or declare we are too busy, or worse, turn our backs in indifference
and callus disregard to the erosion of human rights. But this never relieves any

of us, no matter how young or how old, of the responsibility that we have to our
generation and future generations to keep justice, peace, and hope alive and
vibrant. To put it more bluntly, we are not called to be poster-children for the
status quo.

IV.
ultimately, i believe that somewhere deep inside each of us

we know that perhaps the simplest, yet the most difficult answer to the

challenge of “what will we do with the fullness and incompleteness of

what we have brought to this time and place? is: live your life and faith

with a deep love and respect for others and yourself.

now i am not talking about perfection—i’m an american baptist

i’m talking about what we call in christian ethics, the everydayness of
moral acts

it’s what we do every day that shapes us and says more about us than
those grand moments of righteous indignation and action

the everydayness of listening closely when folks talk or don’t talk to hear
what they are saying

the everydayness of taking some time, however short or long, to refresh us
through prayer or meditation

the everydayness of speaking to folks and actually meaning whatever it is
that is coming out of our mouths

the everydayness of being a presence in people’s lives

the everydayness of designing a class session or lecture or reading or
writing or thinking

the everydayness of sharing a meal

the everydayness of facing heartache and disappointment

the everydayness of joy and laughter

the everydayness of facing people who expect us to lead them somewhere
or at least point them in the right direction and walk with them

the everydayness of blending head and heart

the everydayness of getting up and trying one more time to get our living
right

it is in this everydayness that “we the people” are formed

and we, the people of faith, live and must witness to a justice wrapped in
a love that will not let us go

and a peace that is simply too ornery to give up on us

won’t you join in this celebration?

***

Dr. Townes is a pivotal player in the construction of the field of “womanist theology.” Broadly defined, “womanist theology” is a field of theological and ethical reflection in what historic and present-day insights of African American women are brought into critical engagement with the traditions of Christian theology. Her first two major works, Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope 1993 and In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness 1995 were seminal texts in the field.

***

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