I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve become an exorcist.
I grew up terrified of the Hollywood Movie, the Exorcist, I vividly remember the scene where the demonic spirit possesses the little girl, she runs down the stairs upside down and backwards with her head spinning and green vomit spraying the room!
I remember being so scared that I would jump up out of my seat and join in when the priest started yelling: “The power of Christ compels you!”
When I was growing up in my little Southern Baptist church, much of what we thought about heaven, hell, and the demonic came from TV and Hollywood movies. The tradition of exorcism within the Catholic Church is far different than what we find in the movies but nonetheless does have some tradition and history to it.
I think it’s safe to say, Jesus envisioned the world full of spirit, alive with spirit, and even possessed with spirit. I think we can see the world in the same way, but with a little decolonizing of the mind. As I’ve been working through a PhD program in Anthropology, I’ve come to understand cultures around the world in a very different light.
It’s a well-researched and prominent idea in the field, much of which is making up for our past failures: other cultures around the world are not “savage,” “backward,” or less evolved than our “civilized” cultures. Many of these cultures have extremely complex societal networks, many of them are non-hierarchical, egalitarian, and matriarchal, and none of them are based on ruthless competition, endless war, or the total destruction of the Earth like our so called “civilized” culture is.
In studying other cultures what becomes very clear is the aliveness of the world that Jesus seems to hint at is also true of many indigenous cultures around the globe: the world is conceptualized in animist ways, everything is alive, and everything has a spirit of sorts.
But in my nerdy academic studies of Christianity, it became easy to dry out the supernatural woo-woo and distill Jesus into a revolutionary activist without any of the magical stuff.
But the more I’ve done that, the more my faith dries up too. The more I’ve studied indigenous cultures and engaged with indigenous social movements, the more I too have come to see the world as an alive place, full of Spirit.
This is what has me performing all these exorcisms as of late!
But before I get ahead of myself let me tell you a story:
A week ago today, on Sunday August 5th, a far-fight fascist group organized another rally in Berkeley. It was a follow up to Portland’s rally the day before and was meant to celebrate their, Unite the Right, Charlottesville rally one year ago today. If you remember at the Charlottesville rally, white men gathered in mass groups with lit up torches, hailed the cross with Nazi salutes, and murdered Heather Heyer by running her over after driving a truck into a crowd of counter protesters.
As a white middle class person myself, I have not fully experienced the brunt force of these nasty white supremacists but as a queer person I have tasted what marginalization feels like. My father parents refuse to recognize my sexuality and who I chose to love.
The small bitter taste of oppression that I have experienced is microscopic compared to the many intersecting oppressions others face; I am compelled to act, and to defend those who I experience marginalization from dominant culture, especially through systemic oppressions.
This is the meaning of compassion: to suffer with. I cannot have compassion for another unless I am willing to suffer with them.
The day before we joined together as a community to defend ourselves from the fascist right-wingers (many your run-of-the-mill Republican), the militarized police forces put out a list of random new rules for the park the rally was planned. One of the stipulations in the order was around religion, you were allowed to cover your face if it was for religious purposes but otherwise you were not.
It’s important to remember why people mask up at these rallies. As many of you know, through my twitter account and relation with the First Baptist Church’s neighbors in Palo Alto, I have been doxed. Doxing is when folx dig through the internet to find your name, address, place of work, kids and family, and other personal details etc. and expose them to a community that hates you. When the police arrested anti-racist marches in Berkeley, they played along in this strange doxing game, posted the persons pictures, ages, addresses and other details that many far-right fascists types have used to harass and terrorize. I’m still not clear on who they were working with and for, especially after their doxing of activists defending a more beautiful and just world.
When Milo Yiannopoulos first tried speaking at Berkeley before being shut down, he planned to project the names and faces of immigrant students and suggest the crowd “watch and follow” them, one leader in his bunch suggesting bashing their heads into the concrete if necessary. He did the same thing with trans students at Berkeley.
Activists who are defending their community from these types of people are covering their faces so that these doxing acts do not happen to them. It’s also a sign of solidarity with folx around the world in these same struggles, we are no longer separate individuals when we mask up, but an international movement, a giant moving black flag that represents liberty and justice for all.
We also kind of look like a bunch of catholic priests doing the good work of exorcism!
With the religious stipulation made the day before, the police were essentially siding with the fascist right wing doxers, putting all of us in very dangerous positions.
But hey, now that I’m an exorcist, I was happy abide.
I arrived at the counter-protest march in my black priestly drag with my white collar was shining bright; I had prayer beads on from multiple traditions and a head scarf to cover my face. I brought sage or what the indigenous elders call, “medicine,” and began my work of exorcism.
“The power of Christ compels you!” I shouted on the front lines of a giant contingent of counter-protestors who were met with militarized riot cops, decked out with guns and grenades of all kind. We were at a standstill, trying to make our way to the group of actual nazi’s in the park, but they were being guarded by military style riot police who had their guns pointed directly at our faces.
I pulled out a small book with the Catholic Rite to Exorcism, breaking a few of their priestly rules, but using their prayers to compel the evil spirits out I made the sign of the cross and shouted:
“Depart, then, transgressors. Depart, seducers, full of lies and cunning, foe of virtue, persecutors of the innocent. Give place, abominable creatures, give way, you monsters, give way to Christ, in whom you found none of your works. For he has already stripped you of your powers and laid waste your kingdom, bound you prisoners and plundered your weapons. He has cast you forth into the outer darkness, where everlasting ruin awaits you and your abettors. The power of Christ compels you!”
I could feel the stirring of the spirits. I could sense the Gxddess was up to a new thing. For we were marching together, in unison, as a vibrant representation of justice for marginalized and oppressed people: trans folx, Latinx, Chicana, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Bahai, for the differently abled, nuero-divergent, women, feme, queers and immigrants of all kinds. We were attempting to bring about the Beloved Community on Earth, in Berkeley, to see justice, and equality for all people.
We were a force of spiritual goodness that saturated the streets of Berkeley for the hope that one day we would live again in a fascist free America.
Confession: I’ve got some practicing to do with my role as an exorcist; the militant riot cops didn’t budge.
So, as a collective group we attempted to march around the city, sharing the gospel of hope and love, while also finding a new route to the park to announce to the fascist organizers that we were here to defend, protect, and center marginalized groups they were hoping to beat up, cage, or murder.
Much like in the movie, The Exorcist, the moment the priest starts praying over the possessed girl she fights back: she throws up, is jolted around on her bed, her head spins in circles, and she screams wild profanities at the priest. It’s clear that the demonic spirit is defending itself form the righteous priestly attack.
Oddly enough, when exorcising the demons of fascism, a similar response ensues.
The police barricaded us in, forcing us to either be arrested or run to retreat. We refused to simply back down and tried re-routing our group through various back roads. At each stop we were met by police in heavy riot gear and loaded weapons pointed directly at us. I haven’t stared down the barrel of a gun in my life until I stared at the riot cops who had their weapons directly pointed at my face.
I specifically remember when a group of counter-protestors tried to use a fence as a shield from the armed, aiming, and ready to fire police, the riot cops immediately responded with lethal blows. They fired rubber bullets, smoke bombs, and flash bangs at us.
My ears were splitting with pain, I was couldn’t stop coughing, and as I tried to run for safety I was caught between a construction barrier and a giant concrete wall, I had to climb up an over the fence to retreat into safety and away from the military style attack.
Our medics rushed in to help those of us who were brutally terrorized by their violence, providing the immediate care needed in such a battle field. I offered prayer and compassionate care, as a pastor to the activists violently attacked.
The use of “Less lethal” weapons against activists fighting for a more just and liberatory world is absolutely terrifying as “’less lethal’ is no longer a technical term but a vision of how much torment a body can take, of how close someone can come to death without dying” (Anna Feigenbaum, Tear Gas).
I’ve started to wonder if the demon possessed girl in The Exorcist was using less-than-lethal tactics too.
So, we live in Trump’s America. We live in a world were racist attacks are on the rise, where swastikas are daily graffitied on Jewish temples, and white cis hetero men go around on mass shooting sprees to then be taken in by the police peacefully smiling in handcuffs.
We live in a country where white people are calling the police on black people in Oakland for barbecuing in the park, or in Texas when their kids set up lemonade stands on the sidewalk, or when they’re waiting for a friend in a Starbucks coffee shop, or when they fall asleep in their Yale study room, or again in Oakland when they’re a fireman trying to save lives and housing, or in Ohio when they’re a 12 year old kid running a lawn mowing business.
To be black in this country is a death sentence.
But we also have hope, faith, and love. We have the power of the holy spirit, we have the favor of the Divine One, we have the Prince of Peace, and the King of Kings, we have Jesus the Christ, who conquers sin and death with compassion and love.
“Gxd will pour out their Spirit on all people.” The prophet Joel said, “Your sons and daughters, and gender non-conforming kids, will prophesy, your elders will dream dreams, your young people will see visions of a new world!”
It’s time friends, that we start dreaming, prophesying, and bringing about the better world, the Beloved Community, here, now and in the shell of this broken world.
It is absolutely vital that we Christians begin to train each other to be exorcists, to fight the forces of evil in this world with the power of Christ. It is important that we put our bodies on the front lines for the Beloved Community, that we speak truth to power, that we caste out the “powers and principalities” of this world for the sake of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that we do it in Jesus’ name!
We’ve got climate change demons, fascist demons, white supremacist demons, homophobic demons, capitalist economic demons, imperialist, and patriarchal demons.
We’ve also got the belt of truth around our waists, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that make for peace, a shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit, and the word of the Gxddess! (Ephesians 6:10-18)
We’ve got all we need in this battle against hate, in this battle of spiritual warfare and it’s about time we pick a side. Are we on the side of the demonic spirits possessing our world with hate, bigotry, and oppression or are we on the side of the Gxddess’ Beloved Community?
As Gxd’s royal priesthood, we are called into action, we are called to bring about the Beloved Community here and now! There is no time to waste. Let’s get to work. I’ll see you on the front lines!
Amen and blessed be.
This sermon was made possible by New Community of Faith! Thank you/them for their solidarity.