In my [Parent’s] house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. – John 14:2-3 NRSV
“To a place, prepared just for me. A special place, I’ll live eternally. I’m going away.” – Walter Hawkins
Womanism is a method of using Black women’s lived experience to identify everyday solutions and disruptions to Empire. Womanism is a life-centering way of behaving and believing like we can have a better World today. For this reason, Heaven is a useful concept.
I have seen Heaven a few times. Thankfully, I didn’t have to die to get there. Won’t you go with me there?
We’re walking down Fulton Street in Brooklyn, and we see children skipping. Dads holding daughters wearing purple curly wigs. Bodega owners with cat tails attached to holey jeans and drawn-on whiskers. Candy. Compliments. Masks. Smiles. Moms and Big Sisters explaining the candy-acquisition plan.
“Who are you supposed to be?” answered with “I AM Iron Spiderman!”
“Iron Spiderman? Both?”
“YES!” And of course, exclaimed with a knowing neckroll.
My younger brother and I had matching Batman pajamas, complete with capes. There were no Robins. My parents, doubly careful to ensure that he would not be sidekick for his age and that I would not be sidekick for my gender, let us both be Batman. With less than two years between us, any hierarchy would be the beginning of a fight. To this day, I’m grateful for the memory. There is enough room for us to be exactly who we dream of being. And it’s a sweet lesson that what we practice in our imagination has consequences for who we can be in “real life.” The opposite is also true. What we encounter in “real life” informs what we are able to imagine.
So, Halloween season in Black neighborhoods can be heavenly because we get a chance to see Black kids dream and Black families organize life-bringing fun. People come together with softer hearts for an evening. There is nothing sweeter than afro puffs under a pink Power Ranger helmet. Imagination does something for a community.
Imagination is a propellant for a concept called Afrofuturism. Author Ytasha Womack describes this concept as one where “the past and future meet.” It is a unique blend of theologies, cosmologies, myths, political thought, art, and science fiction of the Diaspora. Dreaming is not just for Halloween.
Imagine a world without prisons.
Imagine a world where we do not send children through scanning machines before class.
Imagine a world where there’s enough money to pay your rent and bills and have some money left over.
Imagine a world where people, and especially men, are taught to value the sexual consent and desire of others.
[easy-tweet tweet=”That world does not exist…yet. We build towards it because our lives are at stake.” template=”qlite”]
An Afrofuturist Womanist can see Heaven because she dreams about it. She has been there, even. Thanks to White Supremacist Theologies and Black Christian Leaders who believe that instead of the Gospel, we misrecognize heaven as a place Holy people go when they die. Heaven has rules which oddly resemble the clubs we should not be [caught] in.
No hats, no du-rags, no Timberland boots, no black folks who cuss, no queer folk, no unwed mothers, and no jeans.
Between Televangelist A and Christian Celebrity B, we missed our opportunity to see Heaven as a demand for a new reality. We selfishly imagine there’s a spot for us if we can perform more like Saints and less like Aints. But it takes an Afrofuturist Womanist imagination to believe that you deserve to be somewhere where no one will “put you out.” It is an exercise in imagining something cosmically impossible in this realm to believe that there’s a place where all of you is welcomed at once. It is, at most, a fantasy. It requires imaginative cosplay in which our burdens are laid down for one moment and we can pick up joy and laughter.
For my peers especially burdened by debt incurred by unpayable student loans, the impossibility of living wages, and fables of affordable housing in the neighborhoods of our upbringing, we desperately need a Place like Heaven. Institutional and governmental greed dissolves our already delicate communities. Where shall we find each other? Where is the Place? Can our needs be met?
There Are Many Dwelling Places
In the fourteenth chapter of John, we meet Jesus (who we might call an early AfroFuturist) imagining the Place. “Place” is a generic term used throughout the New Testament. What makes the Place Jesus describes special are the words around it.
Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
When you prepare for guests at your home, you leave a towel and a washcloth for them. You clean the common spaces. You set aside a spare set of keys. Preparation indicates thoughtfulness. Jesus knows his disciples, and us, enough to know what we need.
That says something about heaven. Maybe Heaven is a Place where we are thoughtful about our effect on others. Is it not heavenly to know there are projects designed to sharpen the voices of Black women preachers? Is it not heavenly to know there are organizers who use a Black queer feminist lens to diminish the number of arrests at subway stations through the #SwipeItForward campaign? Is it not heavenly to browse for books penned by Black women in a pop-up library? In a world that seeks to destroy and forget us as Black women, it is affirming to remember that someone prepared for you. Maybe heaven can happen here, if we act like we got some sense.
Trust for the Journey: Are You Going?
Jesus says to his friends, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Like a second grader on the playground recounting an adventure to everyone gathered, Jesus nearly says, “If I’m lying, I’m flying!”
Oh, so, y’all don’t remember that time we fed thousands with one fish sandwich? Why would I lie about this?!
As Womanists, we have to keep building sustainable trustworthy, honest, loving, and brave Places. Brunch matters. FaceTime giggles matter. Dates to the nail salon matter because they help us Know each other. We will not get free without Fellowship.
Heaven is more than a place. It is a relationship. Jesus describes heaven as a place where He is. Consider the often misremembered Harriet Tubman. Multiple times, Tubman went back and forth to bring her folks somewhere to a Place that treated them less like property. On her deathbed nearly 100 years ago, she reportedly said to friends and family present, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
What kind of relationships do you think she made throughout all those trips?
At the risk of decoding sacred language, this is why Jesus’ words mean so much to us as Black Women. We know what it is like in our own cultural vocabulary to wish that the chariot would just come on and swing low and carry us home. Wondering when we’ll be taken Home is how we hope and act. In Tubman’s case, this Prepared Place was not some spiritually vague land of theoretical milk and honey. The Place was Freedom. These things are real. Real AF.
You deserve a Place. You deserve to have your needs met. I pray for your living wage and healthcare. For affordable housing and dental care. For a fridge which always has enough food for you and someone else. For your safety and laughter.
[easy-tweet tweet=”May we each find the Place prepared for us. See you on the other side.” template=”qlite”]
But until that Day comes, we got us. Heaven can happen here. It must. There is a place prepared for us, even if that means we gotta turn church basements into reception halls and nightclubs into worship spaces. Even if it means we gotta bump the same $25 dollars around our PayPal accounts so we can each pay a part of our phone bill until pay day. Even if it means we take our Mamas out of prison cages ourselves. Even if it means we gotta rotate community childcare so we can take night classes.
May we each find the Place prepared for us. See you on the other side.
Octavia Butler, “Parable of the Sower.”
Angela Davis, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle.”
Virginia Hamilton, “The People Could Fly.”
Walidah Imarisha, “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.”
Janelle Monae, “Q.U.E.E.N. feat. Erykah Badu.”
Assata Shakur, “Assata: An Autobiography.”
Emilie Townes, “Breaking the Fine Rain of Death.”
Emilie Townes, “Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil.”
Eboni Marshall Turman, “Moving Heaven and Earth: A Womanist Dogmatics of Black Dance as Basileia.”
Delores Williams, “Sisters in the Wilderness.”
Minister Candace Simpson is a Brooklyn native, a writer, and an educator. Sometimes she preaches, but most times she’s tweeting. She graduated from Trinity College with a Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies and from Union Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. She will probably never make enough money to pay off those loans. She weaves her passions for teaching, ministry, and community uplift towards the ultimate aim of building more loving and sustainable spaces. Candace’s work has appeared at the Black Women’s blogging collective, For Harriet. It is Candace’s philosophy that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. You can follow her threaded rants on the genius of mixtape-era Nicki Minaj and unnamed women of the Bible at @CandyCornball.”