By Micky ScottBey Jones
Spaceships. Neon Slaves. Androids. A Metropolis.
Not the usual ingredients for a theological discussion.
A world that is “now and not yet” – existing in our hearts and minds – in our imaginations – with only glimpses breaking through in lived experience – that could describe what Jesus called the kingdom of God, yet I feel like it also describes the worlds of Afrofuturism.
Dare we imagine a future that doesn’t seem possible in order to bring forth an impossible future?
Dare we risk believing 1 Corinthians 2:9, that tells us we cannot even so much as imagine what God has in store for the beloved creation. If our imaginations cannot take us to the edge of God’s vision, why are we so often eager to put edges around how the future will unfold?
I’m hardly a futurist. I don’t dabble in enough Doctor Who or Hunger Games-esque dystopian literature to be a legit sci-fi nerd. I did grow up watching both Star Trek and Star Wars (that counts for something, right?) and without knowing it, through music, I was baptized into the mystical, liberating world of Afrofuturism.
George Clinton. Funkadelic. Parliament. Erykah Badu. Outkast. Janelle Monae.
All of these artists explore unimaginable futures – Cadillacs turned spaceships, doctors who create funktastic fantasies, androids who fall in love with humans and shiny cities with an electronic underclass. Funk in the bass line sometimes distracts us from the funk in the accompanying lyrical fantasy, but it is there, creating a world that projects futures and critiques present systems and limitations.
Yes, we want the funk, gotta have that funk, but we also want alternative realities, identities that push beyond current boundaries of race, class and gender, and a sort of time travel that connects the past to the present and the present to a future formed by the present we create now.
Thinking about the future can be a little depressing these days. Is the Earth going to be destroyed by global climate change or nuclear war first? Should I not leave home this fall because either a super flu or Ebola will infect my whole family? Does my city have a militarized police force? And how in the world can we address hunger, fair wages, racism, militarism, sexism along with the rest of the list of local and world problems? Sometimes I just want to go back to bed at 9am.
Afrofuturism is teaching me and others within social justice movements: Octavia’s Brood, theology: Afrofuturism in Black Theology Event , education: Nettrice Gaskins,Ph.D. and in other fields about the power of removing limitations on our imaginations. There is something about space, outer space, that allows us to let go of our earthly limitations. Exploring theology through Afrofuturism – changing the confines of our current reality to the unlimited realities of a place we know of but don’t really know uses Space to create space.
Space for questions to arise – glimpses of answers both optimistic and troubling – envisioning what Divine dreams might look like – faith that the future contains both hope and despair and there is still time for us to contribute: these are not just components of Afrofuturistic art, music, literature and visioning, they are components of faithful, thoughtful, impactful theology.
You see, when we’ve imagined the future in many Christian theological circles we’ve settled on eschatologies that have lacked imagination. Apparently God is going to set fire to this whole popsicle stand sometime before or after lots of people disappear, lots of terrible things happen and a really bad guy tricks just about everyone into believing that he’s really going to bring the peace we are looking for…or something like that.
As exciting as falling clothing and driverless cars are, the eschatological vision is richer, deeper and more funky than we’ve dared to imagine. When we are trapped in our own orthodoxy, thinking our foundations are crumbling and the only future is disaster, we must remember that it was the imagination of those in past generations that created the future we live today. We cannot fully imagine shalom, but we can push back against the idea that it is already fully known and fully defined.
To get lost in your thoughts
Is a very very complex thought
And the things that you find are surprising
It’s the way you believe that becomes the very thing you see
Take a ride in the sky it’s just calling
Sally Ride -Janelle Monae