Unctuous, Trailblazing Woman: Rev. Katie Geneva Cannon, Ph.D.

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Unctuous, Trailblazing Woman: Rev. Katie Geneva Cannon, Ph.D.

First Among Women ~ In Memoriam (1950-2018) – a poem by Dr. Cheryl Kirk Duggan

The world of theology was rocked again last week, as the trailbrazing womanist Christian ethicist and heroine to many of us, the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, returned to her eternal home last week (to read what the New York Times had to say about her, click here). Her passing has truly devastated many of us, myself included, whom she has impacted over the course of her life. Unsure of how to respond to such a deep loss, I received a poem extolling Dr. Cannon’s from a dear colleague yesterday, Dr. Cheryl Kirk Duggan – and being a woman who broke barriers and transcended categories here entire life, it seemed a fitting tribute to say something about her in verse, than in prose. We’re sure you’ll agree. Please read, comment, and share. 

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – We Talk. We Listen.


canon sitting

Elegiac moments, wrapping themselves around the viscera,
the DNA of the moments when first I knew of her,
and when I think that she is now with the ancestors–
So daunting, my imagination trembles at the absence
of her presence. Even though days have passed
since hearing that sister Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon
Fourth child born to Esau and E. Corine Lytle Cannon.
grew up in in the Fishertown community in
Kannapolis, North Carolina
took her rest–
This great granddaughter of former enslaved Mary,
who went and found all of the children stolen from her
lived her faith, and Katie followed.

The pain, the indefatigable loss, has yet to permeate my being
For some of us who knew her, yet know her–
the tears have been unceasing,
the grief inconsolable
the injury: the depths of the ocean, phantoms deep–
the pain searing our nerves–
After all, she’d “kicked herself back to life
when upon awaking in 2016, she had a broken ankle
in her sleep as she overcame the widow maker, the
type of heart attack, from which you do not wake up.
Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics
Degrees from the Schools of Life and the household of Grandma Rosie
Barber-Scotia College, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary/The ITC
Union Theological Seminary (NYC)
Upon whose campuses she left an indelible mark
Now gone, but never forgotten
Our weeping and wailing
Oh, but for a respite, a moment
when the aches do not fill the caverns
of our hearts, souls, minds–
for some of us, the loss is so excruciating
that the dams of the liquid behind our eyes
cannot flow; they refuse to cross
the vicissitudes of our being
perhaps paralyzed behind our eyes
somewhere lost within our brains
for the inscrutable ways in which human beings function
there’s yet mystery.

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For we know her rigor and scrutiny
that exposed the white supremacist misogynistic patriarchy
that could not kill her soul, for “the God she served
has sufficient power
” to make a way out of no way.
Theology is holy work, it’s a sacred vocation.**

And so in our ontological, existential realities
as we wrestle with the Absence of the physical presence
of the late great, the August, Awesome, Amazing
Rev. Dr. Katie
whose Beautiful Brilliance hovers
in the galaxy, Courageous, with Compassion
to the level of the exponential
Daring and Determined to move from the shackles of Kannapolis
“Be aware of the ontological arm of the empire.”

Erudite, though an introvert
Focused like Flint on troubling the waters
of her students’ beings so that they reckoned with the responsibilities
Faith-filled of her Foremothers, Great-grandmother Mary, Grandmother Rosie, Mother Corine
Giant in spirit and mind; Gentle in her movement with Global implications
Heralding the dawn of a new day, as embodied blackness can make a difference;
Intuition and Intellect par excellence, in public, in spirit
Joyfully quiet, Cordon bleu Chef and baker of Justice in spaces and places
folks were so privileged to be in her midst
Kindred spirit—Kind, creating a Kismet of womanist theological ethics
Loving her God and her people
Magnificence critiquing mellifluence, in all that she did and does
Noble in presence, Nudging herself and others toward excellence
Even when having to jump through hoops, and nasty spaces—she had the
Gumption to Challenge Dominated Forms of
Knowledge Acquisition and Religious Power”

purple-wallpaper-2
Open to new ways her Ontological self, speaking volumes
Prayerful, Passionate Pedagogical Presence
Quick wit, Quiet, so profoundly Quintessential
Regal and Restive with Righteous unction
So many fought her, which She faced with Salvific Sincerity
Troubled the waters, Triumphed over adversity

Ultimately unfazed in her spirit, her praxis radiating effortlessly
Valiant, with valor-clothed feet, having created the Center for Womanist Leadership
Wise Woman for the ages, in many ways, before her time;
Winner of numerous awards, in the Church and the Academy, for teaching, preaching
scholarship, civic engagement, for being Rev. Dr. Katie!!!
Xanadus of white supremacist patriarchal, misogynistic empires, she exposed
Youthful and whimsical in her art, her doodling,
Zealous for justice, for her students, for all who loved her
reminds us as she takes her rest:
“Thinking with our Hearts/Feeling with our Brains:
Testimonies of Faith that History Might Otherwise Forget”

And so we say, good night and good morning Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon
Welcome on behalf of the ancestors!
we will grieve you; we will miss you,
we will ache for days because of your transition
we will look for you at annual meetings,
we’ll go to text you, we will read, and read, and reread your work
And come to appreciate you even more
As you wear your robes of purple in glory
In the greatest of Presbyteries, where you continue to
“Rock steady in the faith of Almighty God”
We will never forget you.
We know well your lessons of “embodied, mediated knowledge”
Know that you helped a Lot of somebodies
And your living was not in vain.
As you rest with the ancestors,
As you have debates with the great ethical minds of the centuries,
Know that your impact spans oceans and continents:
You pedagogical genius embraced a praxis where you “mined the motherlode.”
While too many did you wrong,
You did so right by thousands
You have shaped hearts and minds
And we will call your name for centuries to come
And so good night, and good morning sweet Katie,
Thank you for living a significant, salvific, paradigmatic life.
We thank God for giving you to us for six decades
Thank you for being you
Rest of your soul
You’ve done your work.
Soar sweet giant, soar.

**Words in bold italics are the words of Dr. Cannon.

canon sitting


Cheryl-Clergy-PHOTORev. Dr. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan is a Professor of Religion at Shaw University Divinity School [SUDS], Raleigh, NC, and an Ordained Elder in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Her unique proposition is that she specializes in helping individuals and families who have experienced the trauma of grief and loss, come into their authentic selves. Dr. Kirk-Duggan has written numerous articles and over twenty books, including those related to experiencing trauma and grief: Misbegotten Anguish: A Theology and Ethics of Violence Chalice Press, 2001; Violence and Theology, and her edited The Sky is Crying: Racism, Classism, and Natural Disaster, both Abingdon; her co-written is Wake Up!: Hip Hop, Christianity and the Black Church. Her volumeBaptized Rage, Transformed Grief: I Got Through, So Can You, a volume of poetry has just been published with Wipf & Stock Press.

Source: We Talk, We Listen.

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