Updated: Dec 26, 2020
When The Most High first gave me the title for this piece, I thought I would be responding to the mayhem happening in politics, pop culture, and (of course) the pandemic. Little did I know, this would be an opportunity for introspection--a closer look at the chaos in my own life. The day after I began outlining this post, I was hospitalized for my mental health.
I'm not a newbie to the mental hospital. This would be my third mental health related hospitalization in three years, but for some reason it never clicked that I actually have an ongoing condition that needs intentional care until this time. The other two times, I convinced myself the issue was JUST psychosis or JUST smoking weed. However, those were just rotten fruit from a deeper root: anxiety I've battled and suppressed my entire life. Anxiety isn't the deepest root to discover. It's simply another thing to confront on my healing journey. Why was it so hard for me to accept my anxiety even though I live in an era where black people are more transparent about these struggles than ever? In my politically correct head I knew "mental health matters," but in my heart and actions I didn't accept this truth for myself. I critiqued my foremothers for telling folks to "pray [insert mental illness] away" while silently patting myself on the back for doing just that. By His grace, God didn't let me get away with that for long.
Upon arriving to the mental health hospital, I quickly noticed that many other patients were there for the same reason as me. There were mothers juggling virtual work and helping kids with e-learning. Jobless college grads confused about what to do next. Burnt out essential workers worried about the hours they were missing by seeking care. Lonely, abused, and ignored senior citizens. Alcoholics and addicts grieving their pandemic induced relapses. Angry gang members. Hurting youth. We came from all walks of life. Different parts of the state. Different races. Different cultures. Different sexualities. Different political views. Different spiritual practices. Some of us had nice homes and jobs waiting for us. Others were homeless with nothing but the hospital gowns given to them. Yet we broke bread, shed tears, worked out, soaked in sun, cracked jokes, made art, and unpacked trauma together daily. Even though our issues manifested differently, the catalyst to our need for elevated care was the same: chaos in the world + chaos in our lives.
I won't completely glamorize my experience, because I also witnessed firsthand how this country fails to adequately meet the mental health needs of "the least of these." Some staff members didn't believe black female patients who reported physical illnesses until it was too late. Others laughed at and made fun of patients having mental episodes. Sadly, we patients had to take care of each other--emotionally, physically, and spiritually--more than we should've. I was often infuriated with the quality of care in that hospital. I knew some of the things I witnessed would never fly if we were cancer patients or wound victims. Why was it allowed to happen on the mental health wing? God kept me grounded though. I got out after one week.
I'm not sure why some of my greatest spiritual awakenings keep happening in mental hospitals. Perhaps it's because without the distractions of my busy and now mostly digital life, God can finally get my attention. All this time I thought I was Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, but maybe I'm more Martha than I realized. I felt the presence of God more strongly in the psych ward than I had in a long time. I prayed, read the Word, meditated, and loved my neighbors as myself more than I had in months. I praise God for the nuggets of revelation I received while there. It was a necessary reset. God taught me how to breathe again, be still, and rest under the shadow of the Almighty. God gave me new strategies on how to pour into myself and protect my peace. God embraced and reminded me I'm never alone through social workers, nurses, an awesome psychiatrist, other patients, and prayers from my loved ones. Beloved community nursed my mind back to a stable place.
Although I didn't realize it before going in, my life had become unmanageable. I desperately needed help. I still do. Daily. Sadly, we Christians in the West get so caught up with the idea of a "personal walk" that many of us suffer in silence. We forfeit the benefits of beloved community for the bragging rights of being "more than conquerors" on our own. But that's overrated.
And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18)
That's why I'm sharing various things I've listened to, watched, and read that have reminded me of the importance of CARE and BELOVED COMMUNITY in this challenging (and low-key lonely) season.
I've listened to...
"Blessings & Dreams For My Sistas" by Truth's Table
Truth's Table is my most streamed podcast of 2020 according to Spotify Unwrapped. Hosted by Christina Edmonson, Michelle Higgins, and Ekemini Uwan, this podcast has been a prophetic voice to black women of faith in a time where we've been tried and tested by all types of trials and tribulations. The self-proclaimed “midwives of culture for grace and truth” discuss race, gender, politics, pop culture, and current events through the lens of their Christian faith.
The hosts dedicated this particular episode to speak blessings, prayers, and prophecies over each other. We live in an era where it's very easy to find black women degrading each other for money in public. Not only is this unrealistic to the loving, supportive black women we all know in real life, but it's also an intentionally racist/sexist deception straight from the pits of hell. So, I was grateful to hear three black women in the same career field uplift each other publicly. It felt like I was listening to a private conversation, and like the hosts, I was in tears by the end of the episode.
"Love's in Need of Love Today" by Stevie Wonder
"Love's in Need of Love Today" is my favorite Stevie Wonder song. I first discovered it as a pre-teen at my studio. We used it to close out one of our recitals with choreography that combined dancers of all ages and levels. Looking back, the choreography exemplified beloved community. I'll always remember locking arms with my sisters and rocking back and forth as Stevie hummed his heart out in the name of love.
God brought me back to this song for such a time as this. Sure, Stevie wasn't singing in a pulpit or explicitly saying "this is a word from the Lord." However, this song is a prophetic decree straight from the heart of God. It was true in 1976, and it's still true in 2020. Love's in need of love today.
"Liberation Theology: Jesus Christ and the Fight for Human Emancipation" by Revolutionary Left Radio
Don't hold back when you feel led to share with others, because God can sow seeds for a later harvest through us. A year ago I sent my friend--who at the time didn't know much about Jesus--a video from BibleProject on JUSTICE. Now, that very same friend is doing on the ground activism with ex-Black Panthers at a church in his city. To make matters more amazing, that friend sent me this podcast episode along with a bunch of documentaries and readings to aid in my radicalization. Spiritual learning is symbiotic, and I'm blessed to now sit in the student seat as my friend pushes me out of neoliberalism and further left for the glory of God.
This episode from Revolutionary Left Radio stimulated my mind, quickened my Spirit, and lit a fire under my behind to STUDY and DO BETTER for the least of these. It also made me start reading a book one of my old professors gave me, because the hosts reference its authors, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff. The podcast opens up talking about how "God dwells among the poor," which grabbed me, because I never hear that. Capitalism has conditioned us to look at poor people as if they're a problem we need to fix or people we need to pity. But South American liberation theology challenges us to turn our critique towards the world's systems and listen to poor people for sociological and theological wisdom.
We know Christ to be the most influential man to walk this Earth. He is the King of Kings and his wealth transcends this earthly realm. However, Jesus admitted he was homeless. What is the church missing by not listening to those who live like he did?
Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Luke 9:58)
This episode is a great introductory resource to anyone looking to decolonize their theology and learn about how poor people of color around the world have used the Gospel as a foundation to revolutionary movements throughout history. Liberation theology is a sharp rebuke to the prosperity Gospel currently pacifying many of our churches. Studying it has ignited my hope and prayers for the return of a more justice (rather than charity) oriented age of Christian outreach. As my faith in empire crumbles, my fervor for the Kingdom of God increases. If our beloved community doesn't include those with less socioeconomic privilege than ourselves, we're not walking like Christ.
Psalm 22 by King David
One time I heard a preacher suggest reading the psalm that correlates with your age. Unfortunately, I don't remember the reasons he gave, but I remembered to read Psalm 22 this year. October, my birth month, was probably my darkest month this year. Unlike my sunny, 21st birthday brunch last year. This year, I barely had energy to respond to birthday posts on my Facebook. I also didn't talk to God as much as I needed to.
I actually didn't read Psalm 22 or cry out to God until Halloween. A lot happened spiritually that night because of the holiday and harvest moon. I don't celebrate Halloween anymore, but I was awake most of the night in prayer. God had me up. He was dealing with my heart.
There was a time where I didn't feel comfortable reciting the psalms that keep it real with God. For example, Psalm 22 opens with, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?" This is the same thing Jesus cried out while on the cross. 21 year-old me would've skipped that part, because I didn't feel comfortable talking to God like that. Even if I felt forsaken, I was leery about telling Him that. But 22 year-old me let God have it. I said every single line of this psalm with conviction. My soul resonated with David's dismay and confusion.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
My heart sang at this pivot.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Wherever David was at emotionally/spiritually when he wrote this, I was in the same place. By the end of the psalm I was sobbing. I truly believe this night of weeping ushered me into a new level of vulnerability with God--not only as Father but as ABBA. And I felt ABBA reassure me that it's okay to keep it real with Him. God is not fragile. He is the Truth. He can handle ours. He is the Author of BELOVED COMMUNITY, which He's exemplified since the beginning of time through the Trinity. He genuinely cares for us no matter where we're at. So, let your walls down and let Him care for you in this trying time.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Similar to the Younger family in this play, quarantine has forced multigenerational households to reckon with our quickly changing world, listen to each other, and reconcile. This classic exemplifies the importance of the black family as beloved community. One way we can help our familial communities thrive is by speaking truth in love. In this scene, Mama challenges her son, Walter, to re-examine his priorities. Walter has tunnel vision when it comes to making money and "beating the white man at his own game." He believes money is life, but Mama brings him back down to earth.
Mama: Oh—So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .
Walter: No—it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.
Mama: No . . . something has changed. You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched . . . You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home; that we kept you out of trouble till you was grown; that you don’t have to ride to work on the back of nobody’s streetcar—You my children—but how different we done become.
Money matters, but so does family. So does faith. So does fellowship. So does--as Mama puts beautifully--freedom. If anything, 2020 has taught me to give thanks for things I used to take for granted, and listen to those older and younger than me for wisdom.
"Digital Healing: Womanist Counter Narrative During Covid 19" by Jocelyn Billheimer (me lol)
This is an unapologetic plug, because I became a published, academic author this month. I had to read my own words over and over again, and it was an awesome experience. Shout out to my professor for encouraging me to submit my final paper for academic review and Queen City Writers for publishing it. This paper explores the necessity of beloved community in digital spaces during COVID-19. I honor the efforts of black women online to counteract biased misinformation online and in mainstream media.
The research in this essay explores how many online spaces created and curated by Black women effectively fill gaps the mainstream media misses when covering the Black community and COVID-19 by providing a womanist counter narrative.
I thank God for the opportunity to have my words published by a revered undergraduate writing and composition journal. I'm grateful for my friends, professors, and the Queen City editors who helped me get this paper to where it is today. It wouldn't have happened without my beloved community of encouraging editors.
“It’s Okay | Feelings” by Chandler Moore
In this video he continually sings "It's okay to not be okay / [God] leaves room for me." In a lot of Christian circles we are taught to be dishonest about how we really feel, because of extreme interpretations of "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it shall eat the fruit thereof" (Provers 18:21). While our words do hold implications in the natural and spiritual realm. I believe there's a reason God also encourages us to tell the truth.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)
Sometimes we don't feel "blessed and highly favored." There are moments when we don't feel like "God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good." While these sayings are beautiful and true, we've got to remember that God is all-knowing. He knows when we're angry, confused, heartbroken, depressed, angry and annoyed. In God's infinite wisdom, He created these emotions for a reason. Just like a sneeze or cough, negative emotions are a signal for us to know something's off. They're an opportunity to check in with ourselves and God. Furthermore, we are made in the image of God. Read the Bible, and you'll see that our God has all the feelings. He doesn't stop Himself from expressing His anger, weariness, disappointment, or joy. He can handle our entire range of emotions.
I'm so grateful Chandler Moore released an album dedicated to being transparent with God about his feelings. Chandler Moore actually reminds me of a modern David, and we know David poured out all his emotions to God. I believe that is one reason why God called him a man after his own heart.
A Public Dialogue Between bell hooks & Cornel West
There's a lie that black men and women are at war with each other. Like any other race or culture, our genders disagree sometimes. However, I believe our beloved partnership has helped sustain our community despite generations of political, spiritual, physical, and socioeconomic attack. bell hooks and Cornel West are intellectual giants who have made a point to write, dialogue, and break bread together publicly to demonstrate the power of our partnership.
I revisit this video often because it's hilarious and rich, but I watched it a lot this fall/winter. They unpack the revolutionary power of love, share their spiritual practices (they both credit the church for their brilliance), and admit what concerns them about younger generations. Please support these elders. Read their books. Watch their talks. They are a fountain of wisdom when it comes to prioritizing beloved community in academia and elsewhere.
“No Bondage” by Jubilee Worship
I don't know about you, but a room full of black people singing “THERE IS NO BONDAGE / EVERY CHAIN IS BROKEN” is very powerful to me. That's my kind of beloved community. Upon first watching this video, Holy Spirit reminded of the spirituals and songs our ancestors lifted up to the Most High. I then received revelation of their spiritual and sociopolitical implications. "KUM BAH YAH, MY LORD" broke spiritual and physical chains. "LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING" broke spiritual and physical chains. "WE SHALL OVERCOME" broke spiritual and physical chains. This song by Jubilee Worship has the same anointing.
Then God reminded me of the times in the Bible, where worship ushered in victory for battles,
Then Jehoshaphat consulted with the people and appointed those who would sing to the LORD and praise the splendor of His holiness. As they went out before the army, they were singing: “Give thanks to the LORD, for His loving devotion endures forever.” The moment they began their shouts and praises, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir who had come against Judah, and they were defeated. (2 Chronicles 20:22)
Just like our lives, our hymns matter. This worship moment was posted on YouTube in 2018. I believe the timing of its release was prophetic considering some social movements gaining popularity right now. We serve a God of JUSTICE. God cares about America's wicked prison system. God cares about how prisoners have been mistreated during this pandemic. It's not a coincidence that the world is crying out for JUSTICE and bringing back ideas like abolition--which was originally a Christian movement rebuking American chattel slavery. However, God wants His people called BY HIS NAME to humble ourselves pray, serve, organize, and lead this current charge for justice. The kingdom of darkness has tried to pervert and hijack this moment, but God's plan shall prevail. The least we can do is lift every voice and sing "THERE IS NO BONDAGE / EVERY CHAIN IS BROKEN."
This song is not only sociopolitically prophetic, but also effective for personal deliverance. The first time I heard it, the joy of the Lord hit me. As I danced and sang along, I truly felt free indeed. Yet, my deliverance didn't end during my morning worship time. The chorus stayed in my spirit all day, and I'd randomly sing it at the top of my lungs over and over again.
"There is no bondage.
Every chain is broken.
There is no bondage.
Jesus our hearts are open.
All our stains erased."
I believe the Spirit kept prompting me to sing this for my own deliverance. Later, I ended up singing this song over my roommate in the mental health hospital. She then shared that before she entered the hospital, she had a vision of chains coming off her feet.
God is real, and He wants to us set free.
We love you.
We honor and adore you.
We're sorry for running away from You.
We thank you for the gift of beloved community.
Thank you for showing us new ways to connect in 2020.
Help us call out to You and neighbors (in truth) when we need it.
Help us love our neighbors well when they courageously ask for help.
Thank you for sending Jesus to demonstrate how to do these things well.
In Jesus' name we pray,