What Was the Date?

It’s all a blur. And time is basically irrelevant at this point. It doesn’t matter what day it is, it never feels like that day to me and I am always surprised when I find out. And if I tell you a story of something that happened in quarantine, please be aware that it could have taken place two days ago or mid-March. So I get it, dates can be hazy. But I really need someone to try. For the people in the back, i’m asking the people in the front: What was the date? When the complete viciousness of our history lost its teeth? When a country built on land that was stolen through cruelty (torture, genocide) and then built with cruelty (the torture and genocide of slavery) and then reluctantly (when forced through civil war) gave up its most blatant forms of cruelty, only to regroup to reshape and refashion them (Jim Crow, lynching, massacres, mass incarceration, poll taxes, redlining, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera) – when did that entire system built for and by white supremacy cease to have an effect? Because that is your premise when you want to “wait for all the facts” when you see us (Black people) being routinely over-policed, by both police and regular-degular citizens who for some strange and completely untraceable reason feel they have the right (almost like a birthright…) to determine when/where/how we can live and move and have our being. Inconveniencing us (at best) and slaughtering us (far far too easily) in ways and for “reasons” that you would never begin to consider reasonable if the shoe was on a foot in your family.

But we are in your family, white christians… allegedly. And yet, your power structures look no different (and often much worse) than “the world” with the seats at your tables held predominantly by white men. While your silence on issues of injustice is deafening, your platitudes as empty as they are plentiful and your support of cruel (hello old friend!) and corrupt characters disappointingly sickening. All of which is double baffling when you consider that a tenet of the faith for most of you is that we all are fallen and prone to sin; yet it is somehow unfathomable to you, that you (yes you), a product of a white supremacist root system might actually have a racist bone (or two or more) in your body… and I figure that it must be because you know the date. So please, just give me the date.

But in the meantime, forgive me if I have a hard time telling the difference between “saints” and sinners, and clearly prefer one over the other.


Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

WWJD? He Would Stop Trying To Be Like Jesus

My friend loves Friends. Loves it. That show was, is, and as far as I can see, always will be her jam. So in most any situation, at almost any time, she can relate a real life situation to some situation in that comedy, or one of her flesh and blood friends, to a character in the cast. “That is so Monica/Phoebe/Joey/Chandler/Ross/Rachel.” I could say that I’ve heard it all (and could I be any less enthused?) but I recently realized that I actually haven’t. There are two essential character I have NEVER heard her compare anyone to. Never has she ever said to me or anyone else, “You are being such a Marta Kauffman/David Crane right now.” Who and/or who? The creators of Friends. Who along with their production partner Kevin Bright were the joint force that spawned an entire pop culture. If Friends was a universe, (and let’s be honest: it is) it’s trinitarian god would be Bright-Kauffman-Crane. And S, knows that. She knows the bible of that show front to back, but she has never compared herself or anyone she knows to the gods of that gospel. 

And I really wish Christians would keep that same energy. 

There was a twitter flare up recently, re: slavery and the myth of the benevolent slaveholder. Because apparently present day United States is doing so well, some Christians on twitter (Christtwits?) are finding it hard to believe the horrific history of our nation was as horrific as some of us keep insisting. We’re at a 10 and they’d like us a negative two, but they’ll settle for a three. Protip: If the conversation is ever about slavery and you’re on the side saying it wasn’t that bad; kill yourself. (I’m sorry, is that mean? Okay, but it’s not that mean.) Anyway, white folks be whitefolkin’ and one of them said the reason some of us have a hard time believing in the myth of a benevolent slave owner is because we can’t conceive of a benevolent Father who calls us all slaves to his son… okay, Christtwit. 

Benevolent Father, I’m tired. All the women in me are tired. And all the slaves in me are tired… of Your shit, Dad! Let me go!

Whoops! That escalated quickly. But you know what, let’s go with it. Imagine with me, a slave saying that to their benevolent slave owner. Whether it was whispered through tears, shouted in anger or stated calmly through gritted teeth — what would the response have been? WWBD? What would Benevolence do? 

Obviously, Benevolence would turn in their bible to our very helpful text of the day: Romans 6:22. And having read such clear wisdom, Benevolence would immediately set their slave/child free. Immediately. They would have obviously have to, because they would read it and either: a) see themselves in the slave character and do unto others as they would want others to do to them or b) see themselves in the slave character, be honest about the fact that they don’t want to set their slave free, but accept that the mandate of a slave is to do things they don’t want to do. Either way, Christian benevolence begins and ends with the enslaved being freed. There’s no other option. Unless… No. No way. No one would do that. No one would read a bible verse involving God and slaves, and see themselves in the God position. That would be downright devilish. 

And yet here we are. With Christians likening slave owners to God, instead of humbly recognizing themselves as slaves to supremacy. 

Because a flaw in our theology has become a feature. We have made the goal of Christianity becoming Christlike. **record scratch** Wait… What’s so bad about that? Nothing when you say it like that because we’re used to hearing it like that, but let’s switch things up a little bit. Jesus Christ was God, right? So let’s go with that. Switch Christ with God — and now, when I say we have made the goal of Christianity becoming Godlike… yikes… it just hits different; right? Godlike. Like God. You will be like God… where have we heard that before? 

So what’s a Christian to do? Aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus? Wasn’t that the point? Isn’t that the point? I don’t know. Was it? Is it? Did He die to take our place? Maybe. Did He die to change places with us? Absolutely not. How do I know? Because He still alive. Remember? That’s the whole deal, right? He lived and died and rose from the dead and now *checks notes* He’s alive. So why would I ever ask myself What Would Jesus Do as if He’s missing in action and needs me to fill in for him? He’s present and accounted for. He’s got it covered. And yet we’re steadily out here trying to assume a role that is not open. Trying to become like a man who was God. And doing a terrible job of it. Because we just don’t have the range.  Jesus was man and is God. He can play both positions. We cannot. We never could. We were never meant to. We have only ever been meant to be man with God. We are best, when we are man with God. We are worst when are trying to be man and God. We need to stop trying to live like we’re Jesus, and start trying to live like we’re with him. 

What’s the difference? Let’s take a quick look at another two-character scene we’ve probably all heard a few sermons on — the Temptation of Christ. What are some of the common takeaways from that story: being led into the wilderness to be prepared, having your identity questioned, being hungry, being tempted, overcoming by knowing the word… cool cool cool. Message received. Narrator voice over: The message has not been received. Because again, we’re looking at this story and we’re just automatically seeing ourselves in the God position. Jesus hasn’t even died yet and we’re stepping into this scene like “Oh, this is my part!” But is it? Two characters were led into the desert, one following the other… be honest, which one are you more likely to be? The one not using their power to take shortcuts or the one trying anything and everything to talk Jesus into taking one? But how many of us have ever looked at the story and seen ourselves as anything other than Jesus. 

That’s a problem. 

We have literally lost sight of ourselves. And our view was never reliable to begin with. You realize that not one of us has ever actually truly seen ourselves, right? We’ve only ever seen reflections. So if my bad theology centers Jesus in me and tells me to see myself as Jesus in the world, the view can only grow more and more reflective. Not of Jesus, but of me. Because I am bad at recognizing myself. And that’s how we end up being able to imagine such a thing as a benevolent slave owning God. Because we want to be like Him, almighty, all powerful Him. At any cost. Including our own humanity. 

So we need to change the question, stop asking What Would Jesus Do and start asking Where Is Jesus Now and then be honest about where we are in relation to Him. Because while we can do bad all by ourselves and Jesus can do Jesus all by Jesus-self, we can only do Jesus badly. So let’s just stop. Please Christian, for God’s sake, stop trying to be like Jesus.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

Roadtrips to Legacy (Queen & Slim vs. Frozen 2 – Who Wore It Better?)

When it comes to moviegoing, I’m a feast or famine kind of girl. My AMC A-List membership is either struggling to keep up or gathering dust. This Thanksgiving week, I was on feast mode. On Tuesday night, I agreed to sit through Frozen 2 for the sake of two of my friends, and on Wednesday I happily caught a late-night showing of Queen and Slim, for the culture. Two very different movies entered with wildly different expectation levels and left with wildly different reactions. One of them moved me with a surprisingly deft handling of difficult cultural history while the other one, Queen and Slim, left me cold. 

When Frozen was released in 2013, I was not a fan. It’s possible I waited too long to see it and hearing so many rave reviews burdened me with insurmountably high expectations. I only saw it once. And that was enough. It didn’t live up to the hype for me. My next interaction with Frozen was in 2017 as the interloping, overly long short before Coco. Once again, not a fan. Frozen 2 was nothing I was looking forward to, but friends wanted to see it, so I made my reservation with no expectations and no idea (or real interest in) what the sisters of Arendelle would be getting into. 

I was excited about Queen and Slim. As a Black woman, I was excited to support the work of Black women. From the trailer and promotional campaign, I knew what the premise of the film was, but had no idea how it would play out or how it would end. The possibility that it could end tragically, didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Heavy themes can be handled well when handled well. Not with perfection, but with perspective. Just ask Princess Anna. In one of the heavier moments of Frozen 2, she grapples with what it is to face loss alone. By that point, I was holding the hand of my friend who is just two years shy of losing her mother. Holding my breath and hoping they wouldn’t botch it, wouldn’t lead the audience into a cave it couldn’t be bothered to show them a way out of. Because they could have done whatever they wanted — they knew they had us. Long before any of us settled into in our assigned seats, they knew they had us. Frozen was a juggernaut, Frozen 2 was not going to be a flop. It didn’t matter what the story was and for the opening weekend, it wasn’t even going to matter if it was good — the audience was built in and it was going to show up. I didn’t even like Frozen and I was there, no questions asked. Just like they knew I would be. 

The team behind Queen and Slim knew I would be there too. The promotional campaign was strong and effective: this is an important movie (a new classic!), brought to you by important creators with something important to say, to people already familiar with caves. About caves? Question mark. I don’t know. The built-in audience for Queen and Slim was going to be significantly smaller than the one for Frozen 2, but significantly more prepared to be challenged. I was ready to be challenged. I was not ready for one of the challenges to be figuring out what this challenging movie was trying to say. And why. And to who. Queen and Slim knew exactly who would be showing up to see them but didn’t seem to have anything specific to say to them. So, it stylishly and sluggishly recapped things that have been said before, including, but not limited to: Tinder is a crapshoot. Being Black in America is a crapshoot. White people are cray. Black is beautiful. Love is complicated. Family is complicated. Life is complicated. Gas is expensive. You’re always hungry. You never listen. Cops are people. Black people are people. It be your own people. Your legacy matters. And we are oceans away from freedom? 

Strangely enough, both movies involved attempts to cross large bodies of water for purposes of securing the future. Both reckoned along the way with history’s effect on present day journeys. Both featured orphans trying to make sense of their legacies. But only one left me feeling hopeful about mine. And it was the one that didn’t have to. 

Barring some insane natural disaster or apocalyptic media misstep Frozen 2 knew everybody in the world was coming to see them. They could have continued the stories of Elsa and Anna in any direction, could have said settled on a story that said anything, including nothing at all. They chose to dive headfirst into issues of revisionist history and mistrust between people groups. Not with perfection — yes, there is some very convenient whatever-the-opposite-of-white-washing-is to the background of two extremely umm… blue-eyed princesses and significant smacks of white savior-ism; but with perspective — nimbly introducing the idea that history and truth are not automatically synonymous and that truth matters more. In a country being pulled apart by people desperately opposed to reckoning with the truth of our history, for Frozen to intentionally drop that seed was a revolutionary act that said we’re all lost, but not all is lost. The paradigm shift Queen and Slim was loudly promising, Frozen 2 quietly delivered better on. 

Both stories were fictional, one was animated and the other one was unreal. Maybe that’s why it left me so reluctant to try and state what its message is. Gun to my head, I would say the message is that Black people are both beautiful and endangered from all angles. And I believe that. I knew that before Queen and Slim. It’s evident. Unquestionable, I thought, until I saw it so clumsily transcribed through improbable scenarios, questionable decisions and inconsistent urgency. It couldn’t convince me of something I already believed, but maybe it wasn’t for me. A few hours ago, my friend texted “I still can’t believe how Frozen came for me.” Days later, I’m still unsure who Queen and Slim came for. Maybe it’s you. But just in case it leaves you cold, Frozen 2 is standing by to warm you up in ways it really didn’t have to.

Tell your friends. 

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

Miss Misrepresentation

I was already on my way out, but the brown little Black girl was the final straw. Well, the first final straw. It has been over two years now and I have gone on to go much farther in leaving church than I would have ever thought possible. But that’s a story for a different day. Anyway, we were standing outside the venue where church was being held that week. It was before service and after service, so I was coming or going or staying, I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. Anyway, two kids were playing. A brother and sister. Running around and jostling each other, the way kids do before and/or after church, but you know the saying: It’s all fun and games until somebody messes up somebody’s hair. So when the younger brother reached out to mess up his older sister’s hair, the game came to a sudden stop. And as Big Sister turned her attention to fixing what Little Brother had done, I turned to Little Brother with a laughing, but real reminder: “Come on man, you know better — you never touch a black woman’s hair.” 

“NOT BLACK!” The words were fast and panicked. And Big Sister was upset. With me. Her brother completely forgotten as she turned her full focus on correcting me. “My hair is brown. Brown. Not black.” And after years of instigating and being part of “diversity” conversations that culminated with leadership favoring “organic” change over making intentional choices, when I looked at her, this brown little Black girl, so upset over a cultural joke she misheard, distraught at the thought that something brown would be called Black, and already heavy with a burden I recognized from working so hard to be rid of, I knew I had to go. 

To be completely fair and clear: the church I was part of did not cause that little Black girl’s discomfort with being associated with Black. That need to draw a distinction between brown and black, that automatic aversion to Black as a descriptor — that’s the signature work of America. That church did not do that. But there was nothing about that church that was undoing it. Based on what types of people were (and were not) consistently deemed worthy of being seen, heard and followed, the messages I had to sort through about myself, my worth, my purpose as a Black Christian in church weren’t any different than the ones I faced as a Black American in the secular world. And with a healthy dose of Trump voters on staff, that church definitely wasn’t helping me feel any safer or more hopeful about America in general. In the fight for equality, there was no rest for the weary, no sanctuary in that particular sanctuary. And as someone I used to know, used to be fond of saying “If you ain’t helping, you ain’t helping.” And for all it’s posturing, that church wasn’t helping. 

Representation matters. Where we see people and what we see them doing matters. And when we get used to seeing certain types of people in certain types of positions, it matters. We subconsciously begin to not only associate, but disassociate certain traits, strengths and status with certain demographics. I remember bringing a white male friend to that church for the first time and the speaker that day was not just a white male (no surprise there, there was a 9/10 chance), but happened to be one that happened to look very much like him. It was his first day and he could already (literally) see himself in leadership. Imagine that. No seriously, women and people of color (and especially women of color!) — you better imagine that. Because your actual glimpses of it are going to be few and far between (specifically sometime during Black History Month, Mother’s Day and immediately before/after the women’s conference). 

And why is that? The first stab I ever took at addressing the diversity-slash-representation topic was two or three years in, after a mid-week service when a brand new white boy was unveiled as a new associate pastor. He was the MC for the evening. And he was bad. So bad. So so bad. Like seriously, and I cannot stress this enough: bad. So I texted the lead pastor… “Hey, next time the roster opens up, howsabout we slide a woman and/or a person of color in there??” and his response was… agreeable? “I’d love that! So let’s pray for God to send one!” Send one? I remember looking around, at a crowd heavy with women and people of color, and wondering how not one of us was sent… 

And that’s where this all this “representation” talk gets super dicey, super messy and super important, super fast. Because when Christian leaders couch their leadership choices as God’s will, God’s revelation, God’s choice — they make harmful assertions about God. Riddle me this: When it comes time for this all-knowing, far-reaching, wild, redemptive and unpredictably creative God, who created such a wild, varied and colorful array of humanity, to choose someone to represent Him; why would He continuously makes the same standard, uninteresting and predictable choice? It’s a real puzzler. And very troublesome. Which is why we need to start calling it exactly what it is… 

Conversations about diversity are awkward and often difficult; and as marginalized people trying to coax often reluctant leaders to engage in awkward and difficult exchanges, we have had to learn how to cushion all the blows: being overly appreciative of any little effort, allowing for certain false equivalencies, overlooking boundary oversteps and softening language. So when we address issues of diversity in leadership, we tend the name the problem as gently as possible, and always as something that is a struggle for us that we need the powers-that-be to assist with — Let’s talk about how you (well-intentioned leader) can help us (disappointed minority) with the lack of diversityThank you (champion among men) for being willing to hear us (needy women) re: our issue of under-representationBless you (white savior) for being willing to explore solutions to our (complaining Blacks) lack of representation… but what if we started calling it what it actually is: 

the action or offense of giving a false or misleading account of the nature of something. 

Leadership teams, church staffs, pastoral rotations and church boards that consist primarily of white men are misrepresentations. They give a false and misleading account of the importance, ability and significance of white men. Of women. Of people of color. Of women of color. Of everyone. And worse: they give a false and misleading account of the nature of God. Of God’s will and of God’s all-knowing, far-reaching, wild, redemptive and unpredictable heart. And misrepresentation is always harmful. For everyone involved. Even you, White Male. With your restricted view of who God can use, coupled with your colossal (colonial) mandate to lead people in God’s will, which almost always seems to be the call of someone who looks/thinks/lives like you… how can you not be a bit of a self-important monster? Favor ain’t fair, amiright? So why should you be? And why shouldn’t you congratulate yourself (and be congratulated!) for just being willing to humor conversations about how you can help the under-represented? 

But what if… Here’s an interesting humble thought experiment: What if we (the long-suffering marginalized) have actually been sent to help you (over-represented demographic) give up some of your power? It’s hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it… and you, white male, literally can not. No offense, but you just don’t have the range. 

But honestly, and unfortunately, neither do a large number of your followers. Years and years of misrepresentation have done their job. And we (everyone/anyone who is not you) has gotten so used to seeing you lifted as the standard, our own imaginations and expectations have been stunted. We’ve settled into accepting the way things are as the way they’re supposed to be. And we credit every minor concession as a revolution, because we’re not completely convinced the God we believe in, believes in us. 

But God does. So much so, that They has left it up to us to see “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” So we each have to do the hard work of taking stock of the spaces we occupy and asking ourselves: Is this as it is in Heaven? And when it’s not, we have to speak up. Speak truth to power. Speak truth in love. Speak. And when the time comes, step out. Of our comfort zones. Of line. Of places that foster misrepresentation. For others. For ourselves. For God’s sake. And for all the brown little Black girls who need spaces that see them and show them differently; churches that actually reflect Heaven instead of mirroring America. Because it’s not going to happen without intentional and sustained effort; and if you ain’t helping, you ain’t helping.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.