“At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, members and neighbors buy fruits and vegetables from a black farmers market and work in an organic garden named after botanist George Washington Carver . . . “
Many pieces of a puzzle are on the floor of my living room. More are in a large gray tub upstairs. I am looking at the pieces of what has been my interest lately: the African American church and the environment. Going back even further, I’ve long been drawn to learning and sharing about African Americans and the environment–the great love of my life–for about 23 years.
As is true in my life, I shift back and forth between peaks and valleys. A bit of a peak is coming up. In late March 2014, I head to the 12th National Black Writers Conference as a panelist on the “Saving Our Communities, Saving Ourselves” panel sponsored by The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. Thank goodness they haven’t asked for a title yet but I am leaning towards “The African American Church Never Left the Outdoors.”
The literature on the subject continues to grow though still small:
- Dianne Glave, “Black Environmental Liberation Theology,” To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History (2006).
- Dianne Glave, “Religion: Shouting in the Woods,” Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage (2010).
- Eileen M. Smith-Cavros, “Black Churchgoers, Environmental Activism, and the Preservation of Nature in Miami, Florida,” Journal of Ecological Anthropology,” vol. 10 (2006)
- Mark Stoll, ”Religion and African American Environmental Activism,” To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History (2006).
I am hoping to blend scholarship with my other concern: environmental activism in and through the African American church.
And the first person who comes to mind is Veronica Kyle, Congregational Outreach at Faith in Place. She has been faithful and busy:
“Veronica joined the Faith in Place staff in August 2008 to engage in the much needed work of linking/involving African American churches to the work of Faith in Place. In addition Veronica works with other Faith in Place partners in the movement to share, coordinate and support congregations that are new to the idea of living out their faith while serving as good stewards of the environment. Veronica lived and worked for the past twelve years in the Caribbean and Southern Africa for a faith-based organization in the areas of social justice and development. She received her B.A. in Religion and Women Studies from Vermont College of Norwich University and her Masters degree in Gender Studies from University of the West Indies, 1999.” (“Our Staff,” Faith in Place)
Veronica works with one of many grassroots environmental activists in or with churches:
- St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church (The Saint): based on my own experience in 2010 they have offered an environmentally themed adult vacation bible school and continue to take the lead in a farmer’s market across the street from the church in response to a food desert.
- Faith in Place: Our own Veronica Kyle works and serves there.
- National Black Church Initiative
- Green the Church
As I continue to consider this puzzle, take a look at a classic scene of African Americans having church in the woods “Beloved,” the film. Steven Spielberg, the director, was smart to use what sounds like Toni Morrison’s exact words from her novel Beloved:
In 1991, I was living in New York when the burial place of Africans who were enslaved and free were discovered at what is now 290 Broadway in downtown Manhattan. Their remains were buried from the late 1600′s to the 1794. It is only recently in 2013 that I am fully understanding and appreciating the African Burial Ground in the context of a long history of Africans and people of African descent . . . my history . . . our history.
The National Parks Service offers a broad experience at the monument including an indoor video and exhibition at the museum, and an outdoor memorial.
Some of the focus is on the spiritual implications of a people in bondage holding onto their humanity by burying loved ones in the midst of oppression and violence. Only humans bury their dead. The curators offer insightful social and cultural context to the lives of people of African descent including how some labored and family lives.
Learn more reading Audrey Peterman’s “African Burial Ground National Monument: Peace at Last” in Our True Nature: Finding a Zest of Life in the National Park System.
Photos by Dianne Glave
I really had to practice some self control when I arrived at Laguardia Airport in Queens outside New York City. Super Shuttle took an hour to arrive at the airport. Shame. And the driver was no bargain even with GPS. Shame. He almost left the back door open. I visualized my luggage, strewn across the BQE-Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
I did look to my left and saw soccer players playing under the dark of night lit by powerful lights. What a pleasure.
We took the Kosciusko Bridge into the Lower East Side. Darkness . . . Illusion of brightness in the bright lights.
Back to the driver. He jumped over a stop and had to double back. I really wanted to get in the passenger seat and direct him. We were a few blocks from my hotel so I grabbed up my bags knowing I was a few moments from freedom. I yelled to the driver, “There’s my hotel on the left.”
I jumped out of the van and yelled at the other passengers, “Good luck, ya’all!”
They looked at me like frightened birds, appearing as though their last hope had ejected from the shuttle.
So here I am back in my homeland . . . bright lights, big city . . . Singing a different song having lived in so many places . . . But so quickly returning to the core of my New York self.
I’ve always read novels and watched films that are speculative in nature more for the metaphors and meaning and less for the violence and the macabre. My recurring question is often: what do the words and images say about all us as people?
So my fascination with zombies, the undead makes sense. It’s personal because of members of my family are suffering from dementia in their old age. Speculative fiction including the zombie genre, also gets me thinking about the deeper meaning of life including our spiritual lives.
The fascination with zombies goes back further for me as a teen, when I first read Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein in which various body parts were reincarnated as a zombie whole. I can list many Frankenstein incarnation on film going back to black and white movies. Fast forward to “28 Weeks Later,” the film, which jump-started the zombie craze in the 21st Century. And we can’t forget AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” still currently on television because of stellar ratings.
These zombies can be interpreted in many ways but here are just two that I’ve drawn from reading Issac Marion’s zombie bestseller Warm Bodies: zombies as a metaphor for Alzheimer’s and the moral tensions between being undead and human.
There isn’t a more complex map or landscape than the human brain. And when Alzheimer’s takes hold, that map slowly painfully shrinks, reconfigures, and disconnects. The person inside once known as dear grandma or loving father becomes someone else. Like the violent zombies that beloved someone, our beloved someone, can become alien wielding a knife or screaming, really shrieking.
These people, our people, mirror those in Warm Bodies. As is true of the zombie genre, the undead mindlessly seek flesh to continue shuffling along. Our own people suffering from dementia simply shuffle along. Yet for grandma and dad, there is something going on inside, a struggle against the dying of the light. Something of their moral selves sputters and flickers.
The interesting turn with Warm Bodies is the many zombies display varying degrees of sentience as is true of the many stages of Alzheimer’s that ultimately lead to death. R, the central character, has a soul. He’s driven by eating flesh but also grapples with the meaning of God in his life, and the tension between eating and killing in relationship to the sanctity of life.
And it seems love, central to most organized religions including Christianity, truly transforms R, the undead. Will R stop eating flesh because it is the right thing to do? Will love transform him from a killer to the redeemed? Will he make the moral, the right choice?
As the world grapples with increasing numbers of people living longer and dying from dementia or it’s related medical complications, some family and friends forced to stand by and watch a slow death, cling to love. Alzheimer’s patients,our people, ultimately succumb to the disease seemingly undead, particularly in the last stages.
For some, our fascination with zombies is fueled by reality filled with dementia patients including those with Alzheimer’s.
I don’t want to give away too much concerning Warm Bodies’ plot, including the love story. I will tell you I was moved by R, a zombie listing and tilting between right and wrong, moral and immoral. The polarities are fascinating but the inherent moral struggles are enthralling.
If you pick up the book, consider the parallels to Alzheimer’s and morality as you read. The alternative to reading is watching the film Warm Bodies, a zombie romance, which will be out in a theatres near you on February 1, 2013 just in time for Valentine’s Day. I hope the nuances in the novel are ultimately matched in the film.
Yes, sometimes you have to go downtown to PENN DOT (we called it Motor Vehicle in Queens, NY). And that “work” trip turned into an an urban adventure. Walk! Walk! Walk!
So some good. People filled the streets, the concrete and asphalt teeming with people. I passed an African American man seated drumming on a corner. There’s often so much more ethnic diversity at the center, the downtown then on the edges, the suburbs.
In the parking garage, I ran into a woman from Johnstown, BEYOND Pittsburgh. She was all a-jitter about to step to the city streets. She wasn’t used to the city and talked about getting lost getting into the city, asked if the 1st floor was street level, and finally wistfully asked me as we parted was this her floor. I gave her a few words to soothe her before she fluttered off into beautiful chaos. I launched her off into the hectic city and said, “Try walking around after you’ve found your destination.” I hope my suggestion did not fall like seed on fallow ground. I hope she gave downtown Pittsburgh a try. Dance with the city. Dance with the city.
Here’s some Los Lobos, which is what makes me think of cities across America–a love song.
If you don’t live in a city, take a deep breath and give it a try. Launch off. Dive in. JUMP.
Take a look at “African Americans . . . The Environment . . . Healing” in the Spring 2012 Soul Pitt Quarterly, an urban magazine in Western Pennsylvania. I was overjoyed to read three other black and green articles including: “A Conversation with ‘Black Into Green‘ Blogger Gloria Johnson from Cleveland.”
At the Waterfront in Homestead, Pennsylvania, I discovered a trail with the Monongahela River on one side and a mall on the other side.
Homestead was an access point for immigrants who worked in the Homestead Steel Works during the 19th century. The immigrants moved from the river’s edge up the hill to 8th Avenue. Fast forward into the future, and I spotted a robin on a limb on the trail re-framing the past for leisure and recreation. The rivers edge is covered by trees and weeds, some flowering.
It’s great heading out the woods for a hike but we can find places to walk in urban places like Pittsburgh.
Photos by Dianne Glave on an iPhone
What a lovely afternoon spent with the EVE Circle. LaVerne Baker Hotep, with the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime (CVVC), organized a retreat for a group of African American women at Wild Red’s Gardens, formerly known as Mildreds’ Daughters Farm. It is the only farm within the Pittsburgh city limit.
The women spent a joyous day outdoors on the farm. When the skies darkened and it got cooler, they joined together for food and fellowship.
I shared part of the afternoon with the women sharing about African Americans and the environment, and leading a guided meditation focusing on faith, the environment, and health. I was delighted to see Lois McClendon with B-PEP/Coalition Against Violence and a Pittsburgh environmentalist.
Photos by Dianne Glave