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Keeping the faith

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of giving a workshop for JesuitsYAM about my experience as a black person in the Catholic church.

Sometimes when I tell people that I am Catholic, I can see them shut off, eyes glaze over and jaws tense. I think it’s a self-defense mechanism. They assume, I will be homophobic, transphobic and/or anti-choice. They assume that I will make a whole host of judgements about them, who and how they love.

I am by no means perfect and sadly I cannot say these assumptions are completely unfounded. There are Catholics that hold views that I find completely contradictory to the Christian invitation to love.

Working hard not to consume any of the lies we are told about each other that separate us from one another is part of my faith practice. Sometimes those lies are internalised and it has been part of a long and ongoing journey to identify and fight my own prejudices and instances of self-loathing.

Preparing this workshop, I was a bit lost as to where to start. Then I followed a friendly suggestion that I let my art guide me. So I explored my faith journey through Ignatian spirituality , black liberation theology and black womanist theology using my work as the jumping off point.

The basis of my Catholicism, lends complexity to the choice to continue to practice. Missionaries converted Africans, my family included, several generations ago and to this day. The patterns of our family life and rituals are deeply coloured by that faith. A great aunt was a nun, and served in a segregated community. I am used to seeing direct contradictions within the church. Being aware of and somewhat comfortable with paradoxes has been an entry and staying requirement. It does not mean I accept injustice though. This workshop

was one way in which I start to more directly do the work that I feel is necessary to move the institution. My Christian experience is that people and organisations can and do change, so it is worth the effort. I also recognise my own need for a deeper resource for activist work, for my art work and for my relationships.

It is unlikely that I will ever paint a picture of Jesus or a biblical scene directly. My faith is also not that literal. This workshop was a window into how my faith has permeated through my work and how it shapes my vocation as an artist.

You can download the slides from the workshop:

Black in the Catholic Church (1)
Download PDF • 3.55MB


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