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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Choices and Community Building Radical Future | July 8, 2024 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake







The initial thoughts for today’s message do not have lofty origins. Fireworks have been splitting the air at least occasionally in my neighborhood for probably the last month. While disturbed by them, it was the night of the fourth that seized my nerves. There were waves upon waves of noisy sounds and displays of brilliant light blasting the gentleness of the night. The onslaught continued until 3 am at least. Fireworks are illegal in Alameda County where I live. Cities have approved displays of fireworks. The Oakland police force with all its drones and other methods of capturing criminals seems impotent year after year to prevent this out-of-control annual display of disrespect of neighbors, animals, and potential fire hazards. There was a wildfire in San Jose that authorities stated could have resulted from the fireworks. Every fifth of July we have to sweep or rake debris from our house due to the fireworks. I was disturbed by my seeming negativity and pettiness. Was there a theological or spiritual basis for my discontent?

 

Reading #20 "A Strange Freedom" in Dr. Howard Thurman's Inward Journey spoke to me.


It is a strange freedom to be adrift in the world of men without a sense of anchor anywhere. Always there is the need of mooring, the need for the firm grip on something that is rooted and will not give. The urge to be accountable to someone, to know that beyond the individual himself there is an answer that must be given, cannot be denied. The deed a man performs must be weighed in a balance held by another’s hand. The very spirit of a man tends to panic from the desolation of going nameless up and down the streets of other minds where no salutation greets and no friendly recognition makes secure. It is a strange freedom to be to be adrift in the world of men.


When we were children, we participated in limited and supervised fireworks. The fireworks were done in a community where there was a sense of accountability, not by anonymous entities. We were rooted in relationships with neighbors who would not bombard us continuously through the night. We held each other in balance. Today, I am not sure that people are setting off fireworks. The community existed before and beyond the Fourth of July demonstrations. It is sad that disturbing neighborhoods is how some celebrate the birth of the nation. This a not an expression of freedom. Instead, it is license to do as I please adrift in the world. The firing of fireworks that I have experienced comes not from community but is a violation of community. During the display, with its noise, I wondered how people in war zones could stand the sound and fury of missiles splitting and exploding above and around them. It is madness. It is insanity. It is the freedom of choice that keeps our soul alive. Additionally, it is our desire and ability to take responsibility for our deeds despite extenuating circumstances that give us true liberation.


Building Freedom

 

In the Twentieth Anniversary edition of his Freedom Dreams, Robin G. D. Kelley writes “It is not enough to imagine a world without oppression. We must understand the mechanisms that reproduce and naturalize exploitation and subjugation.”

 

Mutual Aid. My daughter, Elleza Kelley, taught me to look for freedom dreams in the spaces of enclosure and fugitivity. Her scholarship explores how Black communities transformed plantations, ghettos, rooftops, prisons, and the like, into commons, spaces of fugitive praxis and mutual care. She first schooled me on the importance of mutual aid as a potentially radical practice of prefiguring the future we want to build. The irony, of course, is that my mother modeled a practice of mutual aid and passed it down to us. I even hinted at it in Freedom Dreams when I wrote that my mother raised us “to help any living creature in need, even if that meant giving up our last piece of bread. Strange, needy people always passed through our house, occasionally staying for long stretches of time.” What I understood as values or a moral duty, Elleza helped me see as political practice. Abolitionist and legal scholar Dean Spade also helped me see mutual aid as an essential ingredient for revolution, since it is fundamentally about building solidarity and practicing a culture of collective care in lieu of a neoliberal culture of individualism and the market. He explains, “Social movements that have built power and won major change have all included mutual aid, yet it is often a part of movement work that is less visible and less valued. In this moment, our ability to build mutual aid will determine whether we can win the world we long for, or whether we will dive further into crisis.


When Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others walked out of St. George’s Methodist church because of heightened racist policies and actions, they did not immediately form churches. Instead, they founded the Free African Society in 1787. The mission of the FAS was to provide aid to newly freed slaves and to respond to the needs of widows, and orphans. This was the radical practice that Elleza considered prefiguring the future they wanted to build. In such fugitive spaces they held each other in radical community, building and practicing freedom. I think this is what Rev. Phil Lawson means when he says that the opposite of slavery is not freedom. It is community.


Fellowship Church was not envisioned as a mutual aid society, and we must support each other with our love and how love defines itself in times of need.


Freedom involves choice. It is not a license. It is related to personal accountability. It is the ability “to stand in the present that ultimately determines the future.” Freedom is also defined as having a sense of options. Thurman says that freedom of choice keeps our souls alive. Additionally, “it is our desire and ability to take responsibility for our deeds despite extenuating circumstances that give us true liberation.”


Freedom means the possession of a sense of alternatives. It does not mean the absence of responsibility but it does mean a sense of alternatives with reference to the experiences of life. If it be true, . . . , that to be alive is to be under active obligation to many other units of life, then the measure of my freedom is the measure of my responsibility. If I can do as I please without any sense of responsibility, then my alternatives are zero. I must select, must choose the option which will make possible the largest fulfillment of my own life plus the other lives of which I am the shared expression. One option is always available to me – I can choose the things for which I shall stand and work and live and the things against which I shall stand and work and live. To yield this right is to fail utterly my own self and all others upon whom I must depend. The highest role of freedom is the choice of the kind of option that will make of my life not only a benediction breathing peace but also a vital force of redemption to all I touch. This would mean, therefore, that wherever I am, there the very kingdom of God is at hand.




 

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