When I graduated Louisville Seminary in 2005, I had an opportunity to take a job in town with a non-profit doing interfaith work. It was a job I thought I’d be at for a long time (turns out, it wasn’t), so Lady and I made plans to settle into Louisville. To become Louisvillians.
It was an exciting prospect for me. I love Louisville a lot. I call it “my second hometown” every time I return for some function or other at Presbyterian Church headquarters. I like that I get to walk the streets there in a different way than my other out of town colleagues. Those are my streets. I’ve beat that pavement before.
Part of living in Louisville involved buying a home.
The semester before graduation, I got to take one final class with the man I call my “theological father,” Dr. Stephen Ray. I had taken at least one class with him every year I was there, and my final experience was “Black Theology.” During that semester I was introduced to Howard Thurman, James Cone, Katie Cannon, and others. It is not an understatement to say it permanently reconfigured my worldview, and informs my work, still, to this day (I pray, faithfully).
I learned two basic things in that class:
- God is chiefly concerned about the lives of people who have been historically oppressed and marginalized. In order to understand the work of God, one must center that work in the people who (in Howard Thurman’s words) have “their backs against the wall.”
- Theology concerns the answering of real questions, born of a real, lived life.
To that end, when I graduated and we had the opportunity to purchase a home, I asked Dr. Ray to help us think about how to make that decision. How did I bring to bear all I had learned in seminary to the simple question of: “Where should I live?” That is a theological question.
We ended up buying a home in the so-called “West End” of Louisville, and ours was the only Caucasian family for blocks. It was the same neighborhood in which our oldest attended elementary school (Louisville used to have a pretty extensive busing system) so we were already familiar with the area. But it was a learning challenge – I’ll not lie – in discovering what it meant to be a person of obvious privilege on that block. Eventually, however, we found ourselves at home. We were loved and included by our neighbors. If we had not moved back to Kansas City, I only imagine those relationships would have deepened.
It wasn’t all roses. We had our garage broken into, and copper piping stolen. I almost got shot once. But it was a good home, in a good place, surrounded by good people. The corner of 23rd & Date took root in my heart so much that when we moved to our current home, I was physically uncomfortable for several years because there were so many white people.
And all of this is why I have been in tears the last two nights watching television. For the last two nights I sat and viewed Atlanta and Queen Sugar and felt, for the first time in a long time, like I was back home.
When I watched Auntie Vi and Hollywood, I was watching our neighbors Ann and Cavelle. They were the ones who had our extra house key, and I miss them. Watching little Blue reminded me of our friends D’nae and Toneisha, and how they would come to our house and play. I couldn’t stop the tears.
Seeing Earn and Paper Boi in the streets of Atlanta was everything. Donald Glover said he wanted the show to portray what it “feels like to be Black.” I won’t ever know what that feels like, but I do know he succeeded in transporting me to “my second hometown.” I know what that feels like. It was a rush of comfort born of familiarity. I felt a weight lift. I was glad my 15 year old was watching with me.
I’m sure I could wax for days about the artistic achievement of these two shows, and maybe I will. But I’ll save it for later. For now, I just want to sit in this feeling of gratefulness I feel for Ava DuVernay and Donald Glover.