The Women’s Center owes many thanks to the 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon lecturer, Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, and to the 2009 alumna preacher, Rev. Dr. F. Camille Williams-Neal, for making the 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon lecture and events a profound, moving, and enlightening experience for us and for our community. Dr. Douglas’ lecture, “A Blues Slant: God Talk/Sex Talk for the Black Church,” addressed both the sources of refusal to engage the realities of the body and sexuality within the Black Church tradition, and some of the consequences of that refusal. Beyond that, she explored the potential for the discourse of the blues to constitute a discourse of resistance and reclamation that opens up new possibilities. Dr. Douglas offered an expansive definition of “sexuality,” using this term to refer to all those embodied ways people are drawn into and seek relationship and communion with others, rather than the more restricted, reductive use of sexuality to involve genital intimacy. With this more inclusive meaning in mind, and also mindful of the theological legacy of the God of a created physical universe, and of the incarnation, she proceeded to lay out a view of sexuality as intrinsic and necessary to the life of the spirit and the human relationship with God. Conversely, alienation from sexuality, whether through prohibitions or culturally-imposed distortions and corruptions, damages people’s relationships with themselves, others, and God. We will be pondering the implications of this fresh, provocative, and persuasive theological perspective for some time. Rev. Dr. Camille Williams-Neal’s sermon, “An Unparalyzed Vision,” developed the theme of the body, and its intrinsic relation to the spirit, in a profound meditation on Mark 2:1-12. Williams-Neal first led the congregation through a simple, and powerful, physical exercise of representation and movement that created a context for considering this text in which Jesus heals the body and life of a paralyzed man. She then proceeded to compare vision to jello — and I suspect that those who heard this sermon will never again be able to think about vision without recalling that a developing vision takes some boiling, hot circumstances, and then the cooling air currents of God’s grace; that it needs stirring; that it comes in many flavors, like the flavor of “healing” or “forgiveness;” that “there’s always room for” . . . you know . . . even when we have had too much of others’ debilitating visions of who or what we are and can be. Ultimately, Williams-Neal drew the congregation into a transformative vision of an embodied, transfiguring God who draws an embodied people towards new life.
We need to mention the remarkable offerings of music at this worship service, as well, including an original composition by Mary Beth McCandless and Jeremy Franklin which we hope they will make more widely known.
The events of the Katie Geneva Cannon lecture concluded with lunch, followed by worship, in the Women’s Center Monday afternoon. The brief service further incorporated the themes of the body and its liberation, using art as a vehicle for channeling movement into the creation of work that captures the moment and points towards the future.
So, we thank these extraordinary scholars, prophets, and leaders for their gifts, and for their willingness to bless our community with them during these past two days of the Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture and Consultation. We hope we will honor their gifts in the days and months to come by embodying the flavor of vision called “learned something,” and “putting it into practice.”