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Keyonni in the Booth: narrating A Womanist Theology of Worship

I've always loved to read. I've been an avid reader since the age of nine. For me books were and have always been an escape from a sometimes-unpleasant reality, or just simply an adventure into another world unfamiliar to my own. As the years have passed, I've come to love reading simply for the opportunity to learn, which is what I love about narrating audiobooks. I get to read books that are interesting and full of information I would not normally seek out, or I do seek out, but don't always prioritize for recreational reading. I call myself a bibliophile. I have a huge book collection, some read, some unread. I makes lists and lists of books constantly, that I want to read, or plan to read, and think that one day, when life has slowed down a little, I'll read all those books. I envision myself, just RVing in my Airstream (which I don't have yet), visiting National Parks, reading, and narrating. Because I don't narrate fulltime-I'm a public health professional by day (a career that I love and have built over 20 years), I love that I get this opportunity to narrate audiobooks (a part-time career that I have also worked diligently at). It combines two things I'm passionate about-reading/books and the spoken voice. There's something beautiful and enlightening about a voice that can envelope and bring a listener into a story, or conversation, which is why I love narrating nonfiction.

I'm currently narrating the book, A Womanist Theology of Worship: Liturgy, Justice, and Communal Righteousness, written by Dr. Lisa Allen. Allen describes this book as, "a love letter to the Black Church", and I love that she wrote this book because it is exactly that, a love letter! This is a book dedicated to naming and reimagining aspects of black theology and worship and exploring the origin of these practices from the African continent to the evolution of present-day worship. Dr. Allen has taken a historical look at the way we as black people have worshipped from the antebellum period-as an enslaved people in an "invisible institution" to present-day, and the way that Christianity, as an organized religion shaped how we worshipped and the trajectory of that theology and practice in "independent black congregations." Dr. Allen names many ills which have been visited upon black worshippers and churches as a result of Eurocentric/Anglo theologies and ideologies, and she explains supremacist nature and origins of these theologies and worship practices, and their impact on the black psyche-emotionally, socially and spiritually. She discusses concepts like "white paternalism", "anti-blackness", "double-consciousness", "hereditary heathenism", "divine superiority" and others, some of which stemmed from New England puritanical ideology and theology. Many of these notions, in summary were constructs which Christians used to justify slavery as an institution, and as psychological, and sociological constructs, shaped societal beliefs about race which Christianity and the Black Church still struggle with today.

This book was so powerful for me because it named for me many of the issues I have had with Christianity. I once heard it said, Black people are the only race of people which serve a god/gods which don't look like them. From a very early age, growing up in the Baptist church, I had questions about these symbolisms in Christianity. Why is Jesus depicted as white, and if Jesus is white, then by default, his father is white right? Questions like this always plagued me. Also, the womanist in me always critically analyzed how women were depicted in Christianity, and the messages that were ascribed to us (e.g., subservience, cause of the fallibility of humans). These messages never sat right in my spirit as a child, and especially later in life as I began to really think more critically about how we as humans, are socially constructed, or conditioned to navigate in this world. I guess you can say that as a kid, I had a very literal understanding of Christianly, and because of this literal understanding of religion and worship I concluded early on that there was something inherently wrong with me, a little black girl, worshipping a 'spirit' or 'being' or God, that inherently did not look like me, especially when I was living in world where the living physical representation of that 'spirit' or 'being', did not seem to value me, nor my race.

As a narrator, I consider myself lucky when I get to narrate a book that resonates with my own philosophical worldviews, and this was one of those books. This was also a heavily researched book, which referenced a number of quotes, passages, and annotations which required that I take extra care in helping the listener distinguish from the original thoughts of the writer and those ideas of others referenced in the book. In addition, there were numerous references to verses from the bible, which thanks to my Baptist upbringing, made referencing these verses fairly easy. As I read this book in prepping for narration, I constantly thought about my audience. I imagined that the person buying or listening to the finished audiobook would be peers of Dr. Allen’s (clergy, educators, theologians), students as well as historians, and as these images came to mind while narrating, they helped me remain consistent in how I was delivering my performance.

As I mentioned earlier, I am a bibliophile, and as I prepped this book for narration, I noticed that Dr. Allen in her book, A Womanist Theology of Worship, referenced Kenyan Professor, John Mbiti' seminal book, African Religions and Philosophy, a book I was delighted to find on my bookshelf after I realized who she was referencing. As I went to my bookshelf and pulled Professor Mbiti's book down, I felt immediately justified in my spirit that narrating A Womanist Theology of Worship was fate.


If you have questions about how I prepped for this book, or any technical aspects of narrating please reach out. Thanks for reading!

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