Jé Exodus Hooper (aka @EthicalEvangelist) is a clergy-leader within the American Ethical Union Movement and current Ph.D., candidate. Based in the Mid-Atlantic region, his work as a creative-clergy and a performance-scholar are focused on decolonizing Humanism, homiletics, and Black Intellectual Thought. His love for performative rhetoric involves a decolonized aesthetic of Black homiletic folk-talk-- one of imagination as responsive reasoning. His word-working emphasizes human freedom and interconnectedness through embodiment, intuition, creativity, and improvisation. His folx-talk emerges into a love language that aids the congregational practice of culture care for empowering community-life. Read more from civic interfaith leaders like Jé.
I am the first Black Humanist Chaplain serving the Minneapolis community. My role as a chaplain exceeds hospital walls and reaches to the depths of community. It also expands the imagination of pastoral care because I am a Humanist/Freethinker. Like some on the Humanist spectrum, I reverence reason and rationale, addition, I believe the place where love meets wisdom is holy ground. These formations of meaning undergird my practice of service and compassion as a chaplain.
For the past few weeks, the City of Minneapolis has made headlines since the horrific loss of George Floyd, an African American man murdered due to police brutality. It has since then made new strides towards social justice and began a rigorous work of anti-racism by pursuing the quest to defund police. I am completing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) unit at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregational community. To better support the surrounding community during this time, the First Unitarian Society decided to appoint me to offer Pastoral Care amongst other standardized religious clergies.
One day, I was doing my rounds and checking-in with various folks within the Minneapolis community. I came across a woman, who needed my services. She was in emotional distress and uncertain about the changes in the city. Weary and uncertain about the socio-political climate and feeling helpless with regards to the issue arising in this country. I listened to the concerns and fear that was festering in her mind. Emotional and deeply upset, she looks at me over video chat and asks, “Can you pray for me?”
Immediately, I thought:
• ‘Maybe she forgot I was humanist,'
• Maybe I forgot to tell her I am humanist
• or could it be she does not have any clue what that means.
I became overwhelmed by the interreligious dilemma, my mind rushed to multiple reasons why prayer could not and should not take place. Not wanting to lose focus on her need. I paused. I confirmed for her, I was a humanist chaplain and kindly expressed “we aren’t known for prayer” but I was willing to be present. I simply look at her and asked her to get into a posture of comfort.
Looking at each other, these words came to my heart.
Let us take this moment to share and witness each other’s life and greatness. May we honor the opportunity to share in the ‘inherited worth or dignity' of each other knowledge and compassion. For this is a moment of deep concern that require comfort, and a practice of peace and compassion to confront our sorrows. Let us see in this moment that we are enough and that we are in ‘this’ together; there is nothing that we cannot do if we work together for the good in each other. Let us be all we need at this moment.
With a gradual emergence from that sacred space and time, unlocked eyes. She smiled and gently said ‘thank you.’ We got off the video call and I proceeded to my rounds.
Nonetheless, I thought about that moment throughout the day. I realized that my Humanist had taken on a responsibility to engage with other people’s traditions in new ways. Her prayer request was simply an ask to honor her need for understanding and it was my goal as Humanist to aid her in understanding regardless if it was my spiritual formation or not. We, as Humanists pride ourselves on knowledge and understanding, and it would have been a disservice to ignore her inquiry. Truthfully, prayer is a petition of one’s agency and/or emotional intelligence and what Humanist would deny anyone the right to enhance their belief or understanding, in order to develop coping strategies with a world facing various challenges.
Well, I am up for the challenge and meeting the needs of anyone who needs my presence.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.