“I Met God, She’s Black” and the Death of the Author

The first time I saw “I Met God, She’s Black” it was being worn by a friend at seminary. I thought they made it themselves.

It’s not like there’s a bunch of t-shirt companies who:
a) care about theology
b) even if they did, it would probably be pop-theology. So they could make some money off it
c) that Womanism will become public discourse only when it has some kind of market-value.
So the shirt stood out.

On HuffPo, over the weekend they interviewed the artist of the shirt, Dylan Chenfeld. He’s described as a Jewish Atheist who wants to poke fun of sacred cows.

“I’m taking the idea that God is a white male and doing the opposite of that, which is a black woman.”

Additionally, he says he’s not very religious because it’s sexist (I would add among other things including homophobic, transphobic, pro-capitalism, anti-creation to name a few). Chenfeld’s original intent was to poke fun of the “sacred cows” and maybe some get that point. But it is near impossible to separate the proclamation that #BlackLivesMatter from this shirt. Since August, with the murder of Michael Brown, the shirt has taken on a new meaning and I would add something more powerful. Black lives are divine lives!

In the late 1960’s, cultural and literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes published the essay “The Death of the Author”. He explains that we need to disassociate the text from the author, writing:

“We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture.

God as a black woman is political, theological, and moreover, a cultural artifact, in which the artist’s original intent is just a layer among many other meanings. I am thankful for this shirt, but more thankful of the beautiful meanings that have been encouraged. May #BlackLivesMatter be our mantra until we start living it. Maybe then it will be included in our daily and sacred liturgies.


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