Welcome to Fish Sandwich Heaven: An Introduction
I live somewhere between Heaven and my imagination. My house is about four miles south of Oz (the town founded in 1975, not 1938). It’s located in the borough of Saturn, where Stevie Wonder was our founding mayor. It’s kinda like Wakanda but we are just Everyday People. We have no waterfalls or secret labs or royal lineages or superheroes. Unless you think patience for a ripening avocado and braiding your own hair down is a superpower. And it is.
Here, we just have garlic bread that never runs out, roofs on top of our brownstones where we watch the stars, and friends who know you underneath it all. Here we play “Down, Down Baby” discreetly during prayer and jump rope while singing “Strawberry Shortcake, Cream on Top.”
I don’t really live on Earth. This is just where I have clothes and a toothbrush. I’m not trying to be here forever, either.
It has been hard to live on this Earth when I know something else is possible. I have seen Heaven a few times. Thankfully, I didn’t have to die to get there. Neither do you. Heaven can happen today. Heaven is a Revolution that can, and must, happen here on Earth. Come with me there.
It’s Halloween. We’re walking down Fulton Street in Brooklyn. Children are skipping and talking with mouthfuls of pink goo. Dads are holding daughters wearing purple curly wigs. Bodega owners with cat tails attached to holey jeans and drawn-on whiskers. Candy. Compliments. Masks. Smiles. Moms and Big Sisters explaining the candy-acquisition plan. Neighbors and kin all somehow organized to pretend to be something else for just an afternoon.
Halloween season in Black neighborhoods can be heavenly because we get a chance to see Black kids dream and Black families organize life-bringing fun. People come together with softer hearts for an evening. There is nothing sweeter than afro puffs under a pink Power Ranger helmet. Imagination does something. And whatever it does for a person, it might also do for a community.
“Who are you supposed to be?” answered with “I AM Iron Spiderman!”
“Iron Spiderman? Both?”
“YES!” And of course, exclaimed with a knowing neckroll.
It’s in this land of make-believe, in everyday cosplay, in turning a milk crate into a basketball hoop and a towel into a superhero cape, where Heaven lives.
Imagination makes a difference.
My younger brother and I had matching Batman pajamas, complete with capes. There were no Robins. My parents, doubly careful to ensure that he would not be sidekick for his age and that I would not be sidekick for my gender, let us both be Batman. With less than two years between us, any hierarchy would be the beginning of a fight. To this day, I’m grateful for the memory.
As I reflect back, I notice that my parents were trying to teach us a very important lesson. There is enough room for us to be exactly who we dream of being. We can both be Batman. Who is to say that you can’t be? It’s a sweet lesson that what we practice in our imagination has consequences for who we can be in “real life.” The opposite is also true. What we encounter in “real life” informs what we are able to imagine.
Imagination is a propellant for a concept called Afrofuturism. Author Ytasha Womack describes this concept as one where “the past and future meet.” It is a unique blend of theologies, cosmologies, myths, political thought, art, and science fiction of the Diaspora. Dreaming is not just for Halloween.
Imagine Octavia Butler. Imagine The Wiz. Imagine Janelle Monae. Who could we be if we had not been colonized? What advances in health, technology, culture, philosophy could we have made? That’s the allure of Wakanda.
Imagine a world without prisons.
Imagine a world where we do not send children through scanning machines before class.
Imagine a world where there’s enough money to pay your rent and bills and have some money left over.
Hell, imagine a world where we don’t need money.
I can see Heaven because I’ve been taught to dream about it. But thanks to White Supremacist Theologies, we believe the Empire instead of the Good News. And we misunderstand heaven as the place Holy people go when they die. Heaven has rules which oddly resemble the clubs we should not be [caught] in.
No hats, no durags, no Timberland boots, no black folks who cuss, no tattoos, no piercings, no colored hair, no queer folk, no unwed mothers, and no jeans.
Between Televangelist A and Christian Celebrity B, we missed our opportunity to see Heaven as a demand for a new reality. We selfishly imagine there’s a spot for us if we can perform more like Saints and less like Ain’ts. But it takes imagination to believe that you deserve to be somewhere where no one will “put you out.” It is an exercise in imagining something cosmically impossible in this realm to believe that there’s a place where all of you is welcomed at once. It is, at most, a fantasy. It requires imaginative cosplay in which our burdens are laid down for one moment and we can pick up joy and laughter.
For my people burdened by the debt incurred by unpayable student loans, the impossibility of living wages, and fables of affordable housing in the neighborhoods of our upbringing, we desperately need a Place like Heaven. Institutional and governmental greed dissolves our already delicate communities. Where shall we find each other? Where is the Place?
In the fourteenth chapter of John, we meet Jesus (who I see as an early Afrofuturist) imagining the Place. “Place” is a generic term used throughout the New Testament. What makes the Place Jesus describes special are the words around it.
Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
When you prepare for guests at your home, you leave a towel and a washcloth for them. You clean the common spaces. You set aside a spare set of keys. Preparation indicates thoughtfulness. Jesus knows his disciples, and us, enough to know what we need.
Maybe Heaven is a Place where we are thoughtful about our effect on others. Is it not heavenly to know there are organizers who use a Black queer feminist lens to diminish the number of arrests at subway stations through the #SwipeItForward campaign? Is it not heavenly to browse for books penned by Black women in a pop-up library? In a world that seeks to destroy and forget us as Black women, it is affirming to remember that someone prepared for you.
We know what it is like to be forgotten.
As Black people. As women. As people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, asexual, intersex. As people who live with chronic illness and disabilities. As colonized peoples. As people who are undocumented. As young people written off because of our age. As elders written off because of our age. As people who belong to more than one of these categories at a time and whose lives slice the illusion of “a single issue life.” It seems as though the only people who have “a place” in our world are the cishet White able-bodied property-owning men. Or anyone close to that.
So many of us have felt that we do not have a Place prepared for us. And it is not just a “feeling.” It is a fact.
Yet Jesus says to his friends, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Like a second grader on the playground recounting an adventure to everyone gathered, Jesus nearly says, “If I’m lying, I’m flying!”
Oh, so, y’all don’t remember that time we fed thousands with one fish sandwich? Why would I lie about this?!
We have to keep building sustainable trustworthy, honest, loving, and brave Places. Dinner parties matter. FaceTime giggles matter. Dates to the nail salon matter because they help us Know each other. We will not get free without Fellowship. Heaven is more than a place. It is a relationship. Jesus describes heaven as a place where He is. Consider the often misremembered Harriet Tubman. Multiple times, Tubman went back and forth to bring her folks somewhere to a Place that treated them less like property. On her deathbed nearly 100 years ago, she reportedly said to friends and family present, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
What kind of relationships do you think she made throughout all those trips? She knew her folx.
At the risk of decoding sacred language, this is why Jesus’ words mean so much to me and to us. We know what it is like in our own cultural vocabulary to wish that the chariot would just come on and swing low and carry us home. Wondering when we’ll be taken Home is how we hope and act. In Tubman’s case, this Prepared Place was not some spiritually vague land of theoretical milk and honey. The Place was Freedom. These things are real. And in an Earth that feels more like Hell than anything else, Heaven has consequences. And it ought to be available now while we so desperately need it.
You deserve a Place. You deserve to have your needs met. I pray for your living wage and healthcare. For affordable housing and dental care. For a fridge which always has enough food for you and someone else. For your safety and laughter. For families that are welcoming and loving. For rest. For sponsored vacations. For student loan forgiveness (do it for me, Lord). For the Place prepared for You.
But until that Day comes, we got us. Heaven can happen here. It must. There is a place prepared for us, even if that means we gotta turn church basements into reception halls and nightclubs into worship spaces. Even if it means we gotta bump the same $25 dollars around our PayPal accounts so we can each pay a part of our phone bill until payday. Even if it means we take our Mamas out of prison cages ourselves.
So that is what this space hopes to get us towards. “Fish Sandwich Heaven” has been a concept I’ve played with for some years. My favorite miracle is Jesus feeding thousands of people with one boy’s lunch (you’ll find a sermon on this in the reflection space). Everybody gets to eat, and even after everyone eats, there is still some left over. Heaven is in the places where we have abundance, where we share, where needs are met, where we take care of each other. I am too Black and too Baptist to see this miracle as anything other than a fish fry. And our fish frys, our rent parties, our mutual aid projects are miracles. These are the spaces we conquer the demon of capitalism and exploitation. This is how we render exploitative ways of life as useless and “nonfactors.”
So, this Place is a landing page for dreaming and building that kind of heaven. Together. You’ll find sermons, reflections, bible study lesson plan resources (including worksheets!), and something really special! I’ll be interviewing people in our community who are building heaven. Organizers, educators, healers, mamas, cousins, nurses, artists, dreamers, advocates, urban farmers and whoever else is trying to get us free. We’ll learn from other people’s examples and see what’s worth replicating.
I can tell you about it, or I can show you.
If you like what you see and you’d like to collaborate on something deeper, reach out. I’m happy to conspire with people who want to see a liberating Heavenly revolution right here on Earth.
May we each find the Place prepared for us. See you on the other side. It won’t be heaven without you.
Note: This reflection has had several lives. First, as a sermon at a chapel while I was in seminary. Then, as a blog. Now, as an intro to “why Fish Sandwich Heaven?” If it sounds like I’m repeating myself, I think I might be.