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"Extra: Faith Unleavened with Tamice Spencer-Helms" Transcript
[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]
Tamice Spencer-Helms: I got to the place where I didn't even care if Jesus was around the corner. If Jesus doesn't care about black bodies, then I don't think I can do this anymore. But the amazing thing was, Jesus is around every single corner, it doesn't matter. And now I feel this sort of freedom to go, I'm going to chase the light. And in my chasing light, I have still not had to stop chasing Jesus.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Jonathan Walton: Welcome to this extra episode of Shake the Dust: Leaving Colonized Faith for the Kingdom of God. I'm Jonathan Walton.
Suzie Lahoud: I'm Suzie Lahoud.
Sy Hoekstra: And I'm Sy Hoekstra. We are so excited to be here. This is not quite season 3 yet, we'll get you more details on season 3 in a minute. Like Jonathan said, this is an extra episode that we are putting out because our newest book is out now, if you can hear the sound of my voice, Faith Unleavened: The Wilderness Between Trayvon Martin and George Floyd by Tamice Spencer Helms is available, you can go to faithunleavened.com. We have Tamice Spencer Helms here with us today to talk about the book. But again, go to faithunleavened.com, you can find the book in paperback and ebook form.
Suzie, for people who do not know who Tamice Spencer Helms is, first of all, obviously, shame on them.
Sy: But second of all, could you tell them who Tamice Spencer Helms is.
Jonathan: God is gracious.
Suzie: So for those who have not yet had the privilege of knowing Tamice Spencer Helms, get her book first of all. It's out. Second of all, Tamice Spencer Helms is a theologian, author and speaker living in Richmond, Virginia. She's the founder and CEO of Sub:Culture, Incorporated, a nonprofit that provides holistic support and crisis relief for black college students. Throughout her 16 years in full time ministry, she supported and ministered to countless young adults. She holds a bachelor's degree in religious studies in copywriting from Virginia Commonwealth University, a master's degree in contextual leadership from Wheaton College, and a master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Yes, that is two separate master's degrees.
This woman knows what she is talking about. She has been on the ground, she has been in the classroom, and she is here to teach us some things. So thank you so much for joining us today Tamice. We're just so grateful for this opportunity. So excited to talk about the book.
Tamice: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here [laughs].
Suzie: Well, just to jump right in, can we start with the title? Because I know that you were so intentional about choosing how to label this book, how to frame it. So can you just give us a snapshot into your thinking around using the language of unleavening, at a time when folks are really talking a lot about deconstruction and decolonizing. But how do you feel like the idea of leavening became so helpful to you and important to you in your faith journey?
Tamice: Yeah, that's a good question, Suzie. I think mostly it has to do with the ongoing process of recognizing and extracting things that are harmful in my theology and my process. The other part of that is to, like a lot of times the deconstruction language, it can carry, sometimes can carry kind of a vitriolic kind of stigma to it. And when I think about unleavening, I mostly think about recognizing holes or areas that what I'm believing about God or others, where that stuff is causing kind of toxicity in the way that I live and move in the earth. And I think that just by nature of growing and living here, you're going to have plenty of times where you're going to have to deconstruct and reconstruct. And so to me, the leavening language seemed a little bit more appropriate for kind of how I'm thinking about my process these days.
Jonathan: That definitely makes sense. And along with the unleavening, you also have these two pivotal people, pivotal events that kind of bookend this journey, in Trayvon Martin and in George Floyd. And so, one, for those people who may not know who they are and why they're significant, not just to the culture in the United States and to their families, but why are they significant to you?
Tamice: I think both of them were very catalytic for me in recognizing where I was. I think Trayvon in 2012, the news of his death and the dealings around his death was the first kind of, it was the first time I let myself feel all the things I had been kind of stuffing down, and really began to ask serious questions about what I was believing and how I got to the place I was, where no one in my faith or religious community even knew Trayvon’s name. What was weird about that for me, was the idea that I was in a place where we talked about being very close friends with Jesus. About hearing the secrets of his heart. So for people to be saying that they're best friends with Jesus and have the secrets of his heart, but Jesus is not saying anything to them about Trayvon Martin or about racism, or about police brutality, that started to make me question a lot, because I'm black, and this is affecting me.
And if Jesus doesn't have anything to say about this, what does that say about me, and the way that Jesus relates to me? And so that kind of was the initial thread that got pulled that caused the rest of the unraveling. And then in May, years later, when George Floyd was killed, the way I handled it, the way I broke, was not the same. The anger was there, but it was fueled by something else this time. There wasn't as much despair involved. It was just a more sober, holistic way of mourning and grieving, I think, when I heard the news about George Floyd. And that was the first time that I kind of realized, “wow, there's been a process here.” That I'm a different person upon hearing this, than I was upon hearing Trayvon. And that kind of is the impetus for the word of the wilderness used in there. Because I emerged with kind of a new understanding of God, a new understanding of myself and a lot more freedom. And so I just call that timeframe between the two deaths a wilderness.
Jonathan: Yeah, that makes sense. If you were to tease out that process a little bit, there's… you have this and you talk about it amazingly in the book. This unhelpful, terrible, toxic interaction around George Floyd… I mean, around Trayvon Martin. Was there anything in your process that was different, that specifically you could mention with George Floyd?
Tamice: Yeah. For the first part of it was that I was actually feeling it all, and I did not feel far from God. So I felt all of the same feelings I felt around Trayvon, the anger, the confusion, even some of the hopelessness that can come in moments like that. But the difference was, I felt those things, kind of like in God, this time. Where I didn't feel like I was begging Jesus to care about me being black, or to care about racism, or to care about the violence done to black bodies. I wasn't begging Jesus to care about that [laughs], or wondering whether Jesus cared about that. I actually saw Jesus, was with Jesus and really had come to this conclusion that Jesus came close enough to be killed, right? And so this really experiential understanding Jesus has of violence.
There was a way I could enter into pain and mourning and prayer and even rage, but I could do all of those in Christ with no question about whether Jesus cared, or whether Jesus was near to me. And that was different. That was really different that time around.
Jonathan: Amen [laughs] to finding value and resisting the feelings of expendability and disposability, because you're rooted in Jesus. Amen. Thank you for expounding on that.
Sy: Yeah, I like that, especially because… well, not especially because. I like that, one reason I like that is because you are not telling a story in this book where it's like, “I discovered more about Jesus and that wrapped up all my questions in a neat little bow, and now I feel great all the time.” It is very much a story of now I can grieve like a human is supposed to grieve. I can stand up for my worth and my dignity in the face of all of the terrible things that are coming at me, and not like, I don't have to worry about all the things that are terrible that are coming at me anymore. You become by the end of the book, and also I know in your real life, a very real person. A very real whole person, as opposed to someone who is struggling a ton with just the difference between how you view yourself and how everyone around you views you. Yeah, the book is basically the story of how that happened, and it's just, I don’t know. It's so beautifully written, and I love that we had the privilege of publishing it.
Tamice: Thanks, Sy. [Laughs] It's funny that people, they just kind of… It's funny that you say that, because I think one of the harder things that I had to hear, and you hear some of that in the book, that I was changing and becoming a different person. What I knew I was experiencing was resurrection and life. And so for people to… that was a really hard thing to navigate. Navigating the fact that… and I still talk to God about this a lot. Navigating the fact that there were relationships in my life that I did where I wasn't a whole person, where I wasn't fully present. There's even reputations you create for yourself when you're not even fully in your body, not even fully present. And the sad thing about that for me, was the fact that I could go so far in leadership without being present to myself. Go so far in ministry even.
And so, I hear you saying that, and it's a bittersweet thing, because it's kind of like there are years that I lost, and I'm seeing the beauty from those ashes, but they are still years that I lost. In a lot of ways, I'm getting to know myself and I'm pushing 40. So that's an interesting space to be in, and to be doing that in front of a kid who's… it's just I'm in a very interesting stage of life. But I think what's exciting is I'm modeling for her what it looks like to live a life that's given to Jesus, that is following Jesus but it's fully confident about my own goodness and my own personhood. I think that's a good model for her, and I see it in her, so I'm excited about it [laughs].
Jonathan: And I will say that “her” is this awesome little girl named Harlym.
Tamice: Yeah, Harlym. Yes, yes. Yes. Someone told me, my friend Robert told me Harlym is… what did he say? Harlym is what you would have been like if you had known you were loved.
Jonathan: Bless God.
Tamice: It’s really true. Yeah, I mean, it's really true. She's fearless, confident, I mean, completely herself. She's the best thing ever.
Sy: Back on the point of…
Tamice: Sorry. [laughter] Proud mama moment, proud mama.
Sy: No no No no no, no. I'm just trying to go back to something you said. I'm not saying you went off the rails.
Sy: Back on the point you made about kind of being double minded almost, and being totally burnt out and outside of yourself, but also doing ministry work. I just wanted to mention, there's a point in the book when we were editing where you're living in Atlanta, and you're basically talking about how completely burnt out you were and how your Christianity is essentially, as you say, taking a couple shots of tequila and going to take communion on Sunday morning.
Tamice: That’s right. Tequila sunrise service.
Sy: Yes, exactly [laughter]. But at the same time, you're doing full time ministry. And I remember when we were editing, I was like, I understand how this happened, but you have to acknowledge to the audience it is actually, sadly, something that anyone who's done ministry understands. There are people out there doing ministry who are 100 percent disassociating, and don't believe half the stuff they're saying. And that is a reality, and it is because in a lot of cases, I can't say… obviously, people aren't a monolith. But it is because in so many cases, people are not able to just acknowledge the grief and the doubts and the pains and the fears that they have, and bring them to Jesus because they think they're not supposed to because Jesus won't love them. And like the whole, I don't know. I just loved, I loved you telling that story so honestly, is what I'm saying.
Tamice: Yeah. It was just an interesting… I was so broken. I just remember, I think about that often. And I'm thinking about it as I'm doing podcasts and things like that, and putting myself back in these places of just the… gosh, it was just so much despondency and brokenness. I was so… by the time Mike Brown happened and Trump announced that he was running, I was so… I didn't even know how to even name the levels of… all I can say is “low.” I was so low, and I remember just having these conversations with Jesus, not even knowing whether I liked Jesus, whether Jesus liked me, whether I even believed Jesus was real. But I was still having these conversations of like, “What was that? I love you, what happened? How did I end up here?” And it was just such a dark place that I think in the book where things start to shift, I really needed that.
I'm not sure how much more I could have pretended I was okay by that point. And so when God speaks to me at the end of that chapter, it was just, it was really perfect timing and it was really, it was a lifeline. It really was. And I'm on the other side of that looking at that as the like “Come with me out of bondage.” Like, “We’re going, and you've missed something here. There's something that's been added to this that isn't me, and can we begin to have that conversation? I'm giving you permission to ask me those questions. I'm giving you permission to talk to me about this.” And that was like, that was a game changer. It was a game changer.
Sy: Let's actually just talk about one of the things that was added to your faith. There's a character in this book, kind of a main character in this book, whose name is White Jesus.
Tamice: That guy…
Sy: Capital W, capital J, we talk about him in the whole book.
Suzie: Spoiler alert, it is not the Jesus of Nazareth.
Tamice: Facts on facts on facts.
Sy: Yeah yeah yeah. Can you just tell us… because you didn't grow up in a white church. So tell us how you met White Jesus and what he is like.
Tamice: Yes. I still remember the day, May 21 2001.
Jonathan: Alright now.
Tamice: [laughs] I had to write it down on my little card, so that’s why I remember the dates. But yeah, I was invited to a play, or what my friend who invited me was calling a play. And it was… we went through all of these scenes, they had different sections. It was like these double-wide trailers that had been, it was a really interesting performance. But you walk through this sort of like, almost like a scavenger hunt, where you're watching teenagers die with the fake blood coming out and all of these things [laughs]. And at the end of it, it's dark and we're just there. And you can hear people kind of sniffling in the room. I mean, it was traumatic. And you're watching people do like car accidents and…
Sy: And they were showing you hell, right? It was like…
Tamice: Yes. Yeah, they were showing us where we were going as teens if we didn't accept salvation, essentially. And so Jesus appears and we do the thing about, “Is your name in this book?” And I had no idea what the book was, never heard of the book, but realized very quickly that I couldn't live or have any sort of hope for my eternal soul without getting in this book. So I said, “Yes,” and we went in the back. And then they kind of had me say all these prayers, and talk to me about who I was before God, and what I needed to do in order to be accepted by God. So I was like, “Okay. Well, yeah.” I mean, what do you do? And I met White Jesus there, and that's where I first encountered the mythological figure. And I think it's important to say that because White Jesus is a main character, but myths—even if myths are powerful—regardless, right? They still have power.
And I think from that point on, I started doing all of my discipleship in white evangelical spaces, stopped going to church with my family, and just really felt like I was becoming more and more serious in my faith. I was growing as a disciple of Christ. So to get all the way from 2001 to 2012, and to realize something is wrong here. Like wait a minute, what happened to me? Because there is this kind of pain in my side about this 17-year-old boy, that no one else is feeling [laughs]. And that was an intense realization. It was really intense to realize that. But met White Jesus in hell, that was a play. We all had to go to the flames. I mean, it was [laughter]… to be 17 years old and have to go through that, and it was just like, you went to church that evening, and you come home traumatized. I can't imagine. I can't imagine.
Sy: I think it's an important point that you were scared into a relationship with White Jesus…
Sy: …and then you basically started to get, you have a whole chapter on how his followers basically separated you from the black church you grew up in and gave you a whole bunch of things to believe about how that church was inferior and just the… Could you talk a little bit about kind of what White Jesus was like to you. Now looking back, what his discipleship with him was like.
Tamice: Yeah, I mean, it works as long as you don't exist. And I know that what was hard about that is when you come in at that kind of an age, you're not fully formed. You're wet cement, right? And so then you're hearing all these things about you’re… ontologically, you are a sinful person before God, and there has to be this step before God can relate to you. So entering into any kind of a relationship with a person who, you're being told this person loves you unconditionally, forgives you no matter what, but there's this step first. And so the condition was Jesus and Jesus having to die for me, and those types of things. And I think when I look at those conversations, they were very different conversations than I was having in my parents church, where it was just like, “God is good. He came through.”
It was just much more… how would you say it, organic. The way that we talked about God at my parents’ church was just God was making a way out of no way. God was keeping us. There was a very different posture. In the other frame, it was very much like God is kind of angry and kind of unpredictable, and it was never really clear how I was doing with God. And people would say, “You're forgiven and it's over once and for all,” but the messages I was hearing was always about, did I do my quiet time, and have I been listening to secular stuff? It was always kind of this question of whether or not I was actually okay with God. And what I would say is that Jesus of Nazareth used to talk to me when I would read in the gospels, and I would always hear this phrase of like, “We're always okay. We're always okay, because it's finished. We're always okay, because it's finished.”
And those things were kind of, those were kind of the crumbs that I talked about in the book, that would carry with me, of what Jesus was actually like. And so what Trayvon did was really kind of make the juxtaposition very clear, that the Jesus that I've encountered in my times in the Word, and the Jesus that I'm being called upon to worship, they seem different. Because Jesus was with me. I felt Jesus when I saw Trayvon’s shoes, and I cried. And the pride that I felt, like even when I talk about Obama, the pride that I felt, it was just so much anti-blackness, like reticent in the way that I was being taught to love, know and follow God. That is just fundamentally, it's a nightmare waiting to happen. Fundamentally, I was a black woman. I'm a black woman.
So if White Jesus is who I'm supposed to become, how is that even possible? I'm never going to be a white man. Never. I wasn't made to be a white man, but that seems to be the end and the goal of my discipleship. And that was upsetting. And so there was that, there was the binaries, there was the… everything was based in fear. If it wasn't fear of hell, it was fear of losing credibility or losing my job. It’s just so much fear that kind of surrounds discipleship when it comes to White Jesus that it was just, that has to be the first thing that goes if you're ever going to get out.
Sy: So the framework is sort of perfect fear keeps you in love [laughs]. Do you know what I mean?
Tamice: Man, Sy.
Sy: It really is just like the opposite of the scripture.
Tamice: Yes. I mean, those are the things of like in “Naughty List,” We talked about interpretation, right? And it's kind of like, wait a minute, you begin to ask yourself questions of like, wait a minute, if perfect love casts out fear and fear is all that's characterizing my life with God, one of these things is not like the other. So how am I supposed to walk out of faith based in the thing that the faith is supposed to cast out? It doesn't make any sense, and it will… it just won't have good fruit, I don't think. Not long term.
Jonathan: Absolutely not.
Suzie: If I could go back to, Sy, I love that you brought up that passage in the book. One of the many, many powerful passages that has just really stuck with me. But Tamice, when you talk about the tequila sunrise service, and I just, I think about that all the time, because it's just I think the most raw picture that I've ever seen. The most honest picture I've ever seen of what that looks like, what that feels like. And also, I think it's one of the only times I've seen someone write that experience express it, having come out on the other side of it. I feel like a lot of people go through that, and they experience that death that you described, and they don't get to experience the resurrection. They don't come out [laughs] living, breathing more whole afterwards.
And so to me, that's one of the many beautiful pieces of this book, is I read that and I think this is something you can hand to someone who's going through that. This is for all those who have prayed, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” And then having hope that there is life on the other side of that prayer. And that is not going to look the same either. It is new life. It is fundamentally transformed. So I just wanted to point that out as again, one of the just really raw, powerful, unflinching moments in this book. But also, I just wanted to ask you a sort of a follow up question to that Tamice. Again, there's so many moments like that here, where you just lay it all out there and you offer up your experience so that other people can be fed.
And I just want to ask you personally, what felt the most raw to you writing this? What passage really…? Because again, you really, you give of yourself very generously [laughs]. I can't imagine what it was like to live it. But if you could just share with us, for you as a writer, what was that like?
Tamice: I think it's a couple of different parts of the book. I think the chapter about my grandmother is really important to me, because I was writing that at a very kind of precious time in her life, and so that part was really raw. And then obviously writing about my marriage, my first marriage was catharsis. It was catharsis and it was also validation. I think up until Faith Unleavened, I only lived that story. I never watched it play out. And so to be free, and to be on the other side, to be whole and happy, and write about what happens to me, there were a couple things that came to mind. One was, “Damn, I'm strong.” [laughs]. The other was Jesus is extremely kind, and it is very much… there's a phrase that, there was a lady who lived in my complex right around the time that my marriage, I was done, and she would always come to my apartment, because she would hear some of the things that were going on.
And she would always come and visit and kind of play with Harlym and stuff like that. And she would always say, “Don't forget that God can make a way out of no way.” She was just a wonderful woman, and I felt like writing that story, it just made me think of her. And the way that she looked at me when I left and the fact that oh my gosh, this beautiful tapestry that Jesus has done with even the pain in my life. And that, we go to “The Naughty List,” Sy, like we were just talking about how these people believe God will make a way out of no way. I can't see it, I don't know, I might not have even all the information, but I believe God. And so I would have never thought that that phrase would mean so much to me, because I didn't grow up in the same time as people were using that phrase when it really counted.
But I look at my story and I'm like, oh my gosh, I'm singing the same song that my ancestors sang, that my grandmother sang. God made a way when it seemed like there was no way, and it was, the strength was kind of like on the inside of me. So it was like I had to come to a place where it was like the hinge for all of this was me looking at myself in the mirror and saying I like what I see, and so does Jesus [laughs]. And I think that moment was kind of the final push out. So that part was really, it's really raw, but I feel very thankful for the writing process, because obviously I’m going to have to talk about a lot of really hard points in my life as we promote the book and stuff like that, but I feel this real sense of gratitude to the Lord for that. And I think that was probably the most. The most raw was obviously having to relive some of that trauma and write about it for sure.
Suzie: Another follow-up question to that, Tamice … and thank you for sharing about that. What's your… circling back also to your proud mama moment earlier, I just, I love that quote, and it's so poignant, about Harlym that she is you if you had known that you were loved.
Suzie: And I just think about this book also, and just the impact that it's going to have. And I just want to ask you also, what do you hope to see happen through this book? You're someone who has served as we read in your bio, for years, specifically with black college students. And you started an organization acknowledging… it's so amazing when you talk about this, and I'd love if you’d share about this more. But acknowledging that Christian organizations were willing to fund students going to conferences, and retreats, but wouldn’t help pay for their transportation, their books, so they can eat and have housing. And so you are someone who really I think has also seen and loved and known so many students and young people, and just folks who are struggling and wrestling with the same things, had to struggle with some of the same trauma and pain—acknowledge the white evangelical churches silence around police brutality, not just silence, like actively, aggressively trying to deny it, downplay it, gaslight. Yeah, so really violence committed by the white evangelical church around these issues. And again, just what's your hope for this book? What do you want to see happen through this continuation of your ministry?
Tamice: Suzie, with the good questions. All right, so what I really hope, and it's part of the kind of full circle, Sy, of the question about why use—or it was Jon, I don't remember which one—using the unleavened term, because I remember what I cared about in that space, I have experienced beauty from those actions, and I know that people are extremely sincere. I think one of the things that can be missing in some of the deconstruction and some of the like… I'm loving that people are getting free. I think what happens or can happen, and what personally I'm trying to avoid, is creating a caricature of the places that are making a caricature of me. And I think if I could give people the courage and the permission they need, based in answering the questions they care about, I'm hoping that they will feel like they can get jostled from being stuck.
And right around the time I got divorced or was separating, it was so hard to think about, who am I going to be? Like I have built a whole life. People get married, have kids, name the kids, choose, more than spouses, choose schools, cities, countries to live in, based on some of this. And a lot of them are waking up to something is not right here. There's something toxic in this bread. And the good news is that it's not the bread, and what we're seeing kind of plastered everywhere, is that people are kind of rejecting the bread [laughs]. The whole thing is rotten in our mouth. And right, it's true. You can't actually unleaven bread [laughs], but you can start over, and you can work with some of what was there. And I think that's what I'm hoping people can do, is to feel free and completely confident that their life, their worth, their ministry, their choices, were not in vain, but that Jesus is around every corner, and there's only way to kind of find that out.
And I think for me, I got to the place where I didn't even care if Jesus was around the corner. If Jesus doesn't care about black bodies, then I don't think I can do this anymore. But the amazing thing was, Jesus is around every single corner, it doesn't matter. And now I feel this sort of freedom to go, “I know I'm going to find Jesus around this corner. I don't have to rush it, I don't have to have anxiety. I'm going to chase the light, and in my chasing light, I have still not had to stop chasing Jesus. And I think what happened in 2015 was, I realized the light was going in a different direction. White Jesus [laughter], the lights went out on that. Lights went out on you, dog.
But I mean, there was some stuff, there were some crumbs that I got in those spaces, dear friendships. A lot of them I lost, a few of them remained. But I don't regret that time and I don't want people who are feeling like, you know, hopefully the book speaks to some stuff. I don't want people feeling like they have to do that alone. I found community, I found that people who really love Jesus, actually love Jesus, and I'm still in relationship with people we don't even theologically agree on most things about. And that's what's been so beautiful about unleavening, is you find out things get really real. Things get authentic, right? Like unleavened bread is just, it is what it is. It's very simple, but it's sustenance, right? So that's what I've been finding in my relationships, that Jesus is big enough and kind enough to let us figure this out [laughs].
And to recognize, “Hey, this isn't sitting right, and I'm going to actually trust that you're merciful, trust that you're good, and begin to kind of like critique and question this. This doesn't feel like, it just doesn't feel right.” And I know that we have theologies about our feelings, that’s a podcast for another day. But I think I inherited a trust in truth being spoken in my inward parts, because my ancestors, that's where it was spoken to them. It certainly wasn’t spoken to them from the world around them over here. So I think that's where my hermeneutic or my theological premise comes from, is that my ancestors had an intrinsic, internal resistance to a toxic message [laughs], and nobody would question that decision today. And so I have to trust that it'll be the same when Harlym is my age.
Jonathan: I have to ask you a follow up question. But I want to say… a phrase that stuck with me from what you were just saying was, those people are very sincere.
Tamice: Oh, yeah.
Jonathan: Right. And not to caricature their sincerity, because we can be exceptionally sincere and wrong.
Jonathan: And that I think is a toxic combination. And so in the, I think it was James Baldwin, he said… I'm going to mess up the quote, but it's just like, people are so scared that black people will respond the way that we've been treated, and praise God that we don't. And so that challenge to rehumanize even as we are dehumanizing, as you've talked about, in Jesus is pretty… yeah, that's just amazing.
And so if you were to go back to that tequila sunrise service and share an excerpt from the book with someone, what excerpt would you share and who would you sit down with? I mean, this could be anybody. We just dreaming. Like anybody.
Tamice: So they're sitting in the back of the church?
Jonathan: Yeah, they're with you, and you're going to take out this book.
Tamice: Oh my gosh, KBD and James Baldwin.
Jonathan: Okay [laughs].
Tamice: Kelly Brown Douglas and James Baldwin.
Jonathan: So let's imagine KBD is there, Kelly brown Douglas for those who didn't get the acronym, and James Baldwin are sitting there with you. What excerpt would you share with them?
Tamice: I would be laid out on the floor, Jonathan.
Tamice: Let me think. I think, you know what I would… I would probably give them the epilogue. I would share the epilogue, because I think it encapsulates everything. And most of the rest of the book they know about. I didn't know about them. I wish I would have known about them when I needed them. But they know all of that stuff. It’s nothing about my story except that it's mine, so the characters are unique to me. But there's nothing about my story that would surprise them and there's a sadness to that. But also, I think the epilogue would be an assurance to them that what they've put out into the world is doing for people what I hope my book does for people. Because I think it was in reading them that I really felt seen and heard and okay, and “oh my God, Jesus is here.” [Exhales] There was this exhale and… But I think the epilogue, I hope what the epilogue does is not put a pretty bow on it, but say that we can do this day by day and step by step. And I think that I would want them to read that and be like, “Well done,” even though they're not Jesus. But I would like to hear them say that too shoot.
Jonathan: Dap you up in glory. That’d be good.
Tamice: Dope to hear Kelly Brown Douglas or James Baldwin say to me, “Well done.” Like, good grief! I feel like Jesus has already said that to me. So, yeah.
Sy: It's interesting that you say none of your story would have surprised them, because in the book, you say that about your grandmother.
Sy: You basically say your grandmother probably knew the break was coming and you would find your way back to Jesus. Like she doesn't seem… the way you portray her, she doesn't ever seem like that's not going to happen.
Tamice: Yeah, it’s so true. I think, I don't say this in the book so this is exclusive.
[laughter, and Jonathan and Tamice do air horn sound effects]
Suzie: Y’all better tune into this podcast.
Tamice: That was a lot of frenzy in my family around the Obama election in terms of me and them being worried about me. My grandmother called me and was calm as could be. And I think that was her way of saying, “Hey, people are worried for the right reasons, but Mom-mom is not worried, and I love you. And no matter what is happening around you, this is a momentous night, and you need to know that from your grandmother.” Obviously, I'm talking about the election of Obama in ‘08. And my family was really worried because I said some really horrible, harsh things. And so my grandmother calling me was kind of her way of saying, “You may have kind of like left us, but we're not leaving you.” And I needed that in that moment.
It just really was very… just in writing, it was just remembering all of that in hindsight and seeing the hand of God. Like, oh my gosh, this has been, you've been here. So that's something I didn't write about. I didn't write about a lot of that frenzy. But there was a lot of it going on for a little while there.
Suzie: So Tamice, thank you for sharing all that. And if you could just give our listeners, for folks who haven't gotten the book yet, who haven't read it yet, you do talk about the Obama election in one of the chapters. And you do provide context for why you were in the place that you just described, that was causing this frenzy in your family. There was an environment that you were in that created that, and so if you could just share that, because I think that's also that broader sort of political, sociological, cultural context, is also a really important part of this book. And a really important part of the moment, I think that it’s a big deal.
Tamice: I had no idea what it meant to live in a red state. I had no idea. I had no concept of politics or anything like that. So I was introduced to this place through just attending conferences and things like that. And at one of the conferences in particular, first of all, it was just a very energetic place. You felt things, I mean, it was just electric almost. And so you're in this place, and you're hearing these messages that seem like a whole, like a different way of viewing God and the way God feels about us, and it was introducing these new paradigms to me. And then one of the second or third times I went, I heard a person get up on stage and it was the only black person I had seen on the stage. And they were talking about God saying to black people that it was time for them to come out of Babylon and join this movement. And that Jesus is coming back, that Jesus is raising up this army of people who are fully devoted and humble and all of these things. It was like, “yes, of course. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in that? I want to do it.” And so I went out there because it was just really hard to be neutral about a message that was so potent. You just really couldn't do it. There was not a lot of nuance in some of the things they were inviting us into, and some of the things that they were presuming about the coming of the Lord and things like that. So it just, you couldn't just go and not have some sort of response. And so that's how I ended up out there. I had no, in hindsight, I can see how I started to change and I became a recluse, and just my personality began to change a little bit like that.
But yeah, that's how I ended up out there, and I thought it was mostly just kind of being like in a monastery. But it had a lot of political stuff going through there. I remember, I actually remember one time and I was just looking at this, it popped up on my timeline. We had Eric Metaxas come and…
Jonathan: Oh Lord!
Tamice: Yes, speak on the platform. And the way that they lauded this guy, because he was writing about Bonhoeffer, and we're just like this and da da da…
Sy: We're just like Dietrich Bonhoeffer?
Tamice: Yes. That God is speaking prophetically about that [laughs].
Sy: Uh huh…
Tamice: And so, actually, James Kameron Carter has some really great insights on that, by the way. But anyway, and so I remember—remembering that, and remembering how much excitement there was about Eric Metaxas coming and all of the people being excited. So then when he's arguing in 2020 with folks that Jesus is white, it was like, ugh [laughs], what had I gotten myself into? I mean, it was really like, I cannot… I mean, this was… when you understand whiteness, and the fact that it does not exist unless it exists at the expense of blackness. And to realize that I'm in services worshipping a White Jesus, that is this sort of embodiment of all these mythological norms about white supremacy. And like, it just, it was very sickening. But I ended up out there, and that's I think, I mean, I do know that's why my family was pretty worried because that was during Palin… and essentially telling them they need to vote for Palin, because that's what Jesus would have them do. And it was just really, they were very concerned [laughs].
Jonathan: Sincerely concerned, right?
Jonathan: Genuinely incorrect. Fervent in the non-sense.
Tamice: I called my dad, and I was like, “Dad, I dropped out of school. I'm moving.” He was like, “Every time you go out to that place, you come back here talking all this stuff.” I was like, “I’m doing it this time dad. Jesus has spoken.” And I mean, my dad and I didn't talk for a while. It was intense.
Sy: As much as I don't want to end on the note of you and your dad not talking for a while…
Jonathan: …we do have to go.
Suzie: That's a cliffhanger, and now you have to go get the book.
Sy: There you go.
Tamice: Me and daddy are talking now.
Sy: Tamice, thank you so much for joining us today, for writing this incredible thing, for letting us publish it. We are just so happy with this project. Like I said, faithunleavened.com is the website where you can get the book, ebook or paperback, it's all available there. Tamice, where else can people follow you on the internet?
Tamice: Yeah, on the interwebs, I’m @tamicenamaespeaks on Instagram. I have a Substack, that's Tamice Namae Speaks. I’m TamiceNamae on Twitter. Do I have anything else? I started a TikTok, y’all, but don’t expect much.
Sy: Spell Namae for people.
Tamice: Oh, N-A-M-A-E.
Sy: Cool. By the way, you can learn the whole origin of Tamice’s entire name in the book [laughs].
Tamice: You sure can.
Sy: Cool. Thank you so much. Please everyone, faithunleavened.com, go check it out. As always, our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art, much like the cover of Faith Unleavened, is by Jacqueline Tam.
Jonathan: Jacqueline Tam!
Sy: Yeah, thank you so much for listening, we will have more information on Season 3 soon. But for now we're all about this book, please go check it out. Thank you so much. Good bye.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]