KARMEN MICHAEL’S STORY
Who are you?
I am a seeker, a black queer theologian, and a human being who is just trying to be his best self and help others become legends in their own lives.
Tell us about your Poor Culture (your organization)
I was in seminary, and I heard the Spirit say,” Start a digital congregation”. And I was like, What? I have no idea what you’re talking about. So, I’m like, Okay, I’ll do it and I guess I’ll be led. I started organizing and meeting with people in their homes and having small services. I then realized that I didn’t have a name for it. I prayed about it and I was sitting on the edge of the bed getting dressed when I heard “Poor Culture” I was like, I don’t like the name. But my relationship with God says to trust him. And I’m like, I’m just going to rest with it for a couple of days. And what I got was, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”. And I thought, Jesus was always counter to the culture. We talk about being in the world, but not of it and the world has taught us that to be Poor in Spirit or to be poor in anything is the antithesis Of God. We’re always waiting for God to bless us. God finds capacity and likes to fill it, but we have to be without it so that God can provide the “with” part. It’s like we need to be an empty cup so that God can fill us. We need to be poor in spirit so that God can make us rich in love. So, I said, Got it! Poor Culture it is.
So, Poor Culture is an experimental faith community. I tried having Traditional services online, but it didn’t feel true and honest. I then decided to learn to disc jockey (DJ). By this time, we’re in the pandemic, mind you, we started in 2017 and everyone’s like,” we have to go online.” I’m thinking, we’ve been online. I took up DJ lessons and eventually started spinning gospel music and preaching short (10-15 min) sermons. And that grew as an affirming space…for a while.
About two years into that (2021), I didn’t feel like we were growing and reaching the Black queer community anymore, but I keep moving. I trusted my gut feeling that here’s something else, and so I suspended services until I could get clear about where God was leading Poor Culture. Because, it’s not where I want to lead, but it’s where God leads me. So now we host in-person events, or as I call them “the Gathering” They are geared towards the spiritual but not religious crowd.They are still music-driven, they are still creative (with themes); still worship and word and inspiration. But they’re pop-ups.
They are in spaces like happy hours. We partnered with The Juice Joint in Wilmington, Delaware to host “Church Hurt”, in September. We invite artists (open mic style) to talk about the ways in which the church has hurt them, but to do it through spoken word, poetry, and rap. We want to hear what the community and culture come up with. We are simply, an experimental Faith community practicing love First, God first as our lifestyle, not as a Sunday morning thing.
That’s beautiful! So, let’s talk about music. When did you start singing?
I tell people all the time that I grew up on the third pew of the church. I am a church boy, for real. Since being very little, I don’t remember a time when my family wasn’t in church. I was drawn to it. My mom sang in the choir. She wasn’t the best singer, but it was the community, the belonging, and the music. And so, I was the three or four-year-old who would go to the choir rehearsal with my mom although, back then, kids were not allowed into grown-up spaces. I would sit there, and I had to be quiet and just listen. I was observing. So, I started absorbing all of that. And so, I joined the kid’s choir when I was four to five years old, and it kept going since then. I used to go from church to church as the “special guest” to sing with choirs. It was “something” to have this little kid up there singing the church folk into a frenzy. And I loved it.
Wonderful! So, I see you have just released a song titled “Unconditional Love”. Now, can you tell us more about that? The inspiration behind it and why that title?
As a Black queer minister, being able to speak to people and go into places opens your eyes to the needs of God’s people. I don’t think that we need another hero. We don’t need another central figure leading the world, telling them what to do. I believe that every person needs to be the leader in their lives having a personal relationship with God. So, it’s not about me, which is why I released the song under the moniker “Everi Mann” because it’s not about Karmen.
I wrote this song in 2020 and was actually looking for other people to sing it because I was like, oh no, I’m not going to sing anymore. I haven’t sung in nearly 10 years, but God wouldn’t let me shake it loose. I was very nervous at the beginning of the recording process, but it came together because utilized what I saw and experienced in my own life that the Black church (religion) is sick. And it focuses on sickness (sin) and not life (love). We always talk about “don’t tell God about your problems” rather, tell your problems about God. But the first thing we say to people all the time is: You are a sinner saved by grace. You are a sinner! You are a sinner! We hate the sin not the sinner. Why do we start there? And why do we keep telling people you are a sinner? We keep Focusing on the sin and God is like saying “I ‘m love and I love you.”. And so, maybe the thing that will liberate people is not to focus on the fact that you are a sinner part, but rather focus on God’s love. “God loves you. God loves me. God loves everyone that you see, unconditional.” If everyone could absorb this in their life on an everyday basis (like an affirmation) maybe the world would be a better place for all.
Wow! Thank you so much for that. What message do you have for people struggling to accept God’s love because of their sexuality?
I would challenge the struggle. It is not that I don’t believe that people struggle to accept God’s love. I think that we as human beings have separated God’s love from the people who need it most. If what we saw daily, if what was lifted every day in the news and on social media was God’s love in action for the “least of these,” then maybe accepting the love that God (not the church) is offering us wouldn’t be so difficult.
God loves you and you can’t do anything about it. God loves all of us and we can’t do anything about it. And so maybe it is the question of: will I walk in my divinity and my grace? Or will I allow other people to define who I am and label me and dictate how I’m living? People don’t have a heaven or hell to put you in and cannot dictate your relationship with God. You have a relationship with your mother or your father that is a personal one-on-one relationship and no one gets to dictate it. Use that as an example to say that my heavenly father and mother God are my parents, and they love me unconditionally… and there is nothing that anybody can do about it.
I am full. Thank you for your time, Karmen.