By Rev. Yolanda Norton,
In the past week since the announcement of my Beyoncé Mass at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, I have been asked over and over again, “Why Beyoncé?”
“…as a Black woman I know what it means to have my body and clothing policed; people judging my hair, makeup, and style choices, and making judgments about my appropriateness.
My research and teaching, my vision for this worship service is not/was not a response to Coachella. Beyoncé is one year older than me. As I have grown up, I have watched her career evolve. In some ways she has provided a soundtrack for my life. As I watched Beyoncé evolve as a public figure and artist, I saw much of the Black female experience represented. My life is not nearly as glamorous. There are not nearly as many people in the world who will ever hear my name. And I am great with that. However, as a Black woman I know what it means to have my body and clothing policed; people judging my hair, makeup, and style choices, and making judgments about my appropriateness. As a Black woman I know what it means to be consistently underestimated. I know what it means to have to do more and better than my peers, and still not be taken seriously in my craft. I know what it means for my value to be attached to the men in my life. Beyoncé’s unique status in the world gives me the unique opportunity to narrate the realities of Black women in the church and in the world.
A lot of work has been done by Christians to separate the church and the world in ways that Jesus never did. Jesus was out among the people. When he saw that people were hungry, he gave them food. We he saw that people were wounded, Jesus healed. He didn’t ask questions about their social status, he didn’t put qualifiers on his love. The commission of the Gospel is love. The calling of God requires a willingness to meet people in all spaces and places. This work is not about some sort of gimmick. Long before all the media attention, this is the work that I was doing, and when tonight is over, it is the work that I will continue to do. This is my way of giving voice to the nameless Black women that have never been seen or heard.
The church and the theological academy are in the middle of a unique moment. We must continually ask questions about relevancy. The need to lift the same white, male voices excludes and ostracizes all sorts of people who were created in the image of God. These individuals and communities deserve to be acknowledged and affirmed. If we can not rise to the occasion of God’s commission because of our limited, legalistic perceptions of God, we misrepresent God’s church. I am not presuming that my model is perfect, but it is my faithful attempt to “draw the circle wide.”
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