Two central concepts of the Christian faith have inspired Karen Baker-Fletcher’s latest theological work: crucifixion and resurrection. She witnessed both in a trip to El Salvador seven years ago, and now they’re part of her next book, Inspired Dust, Resurrected Dust: Womanist Reflections on Resurrection.
The seeds were planted on a 2013 Perkins faculty immersion trip to El Salvador, led by Hal Recinos, which included a visit to the chapel where Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass. Group members saw the robe, ridden with bullet holes, in which Romero was killed.
Romero’s story, Baker-Fletcher said, is a story of crucifixion.
“We live in a world of crucifixion where people are being unjustly killed daily,” she said. “It did not begin or end with Jesus Christ. We were never promised that crucifixion will end when we want. It’s an ongoing struggle.”
The group visited a classroom at the University of Central America and heard a lecture on the school, its history, and the El Salvadoran Civil war.
“I finally made the connection between standing up for truth and justice in the lives of Óscar Romero and Martin Luther King Jr., and how that transcends countries and places and spaces,” she said. “It’s living the way of Jesus Christ to the point of knowing that you will probably be killed for standing up for truth. The Greek meaning of the word ‘martyr’ is simply someone who stands up for truth, not necessarily someone who dies doing so, but who does so regardless.”
The phrase “inspired dust” in the book’s title was coined by fellow Perkins faculty member, Theodore Walker, Jr., as he taught Baker-Fletcher’s earlier book, Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit: Womanist Wordings on God and Creation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).
“I use the term to emphasize that we human beings are literally dust and spirit,” she said. “We’re a little bit of matter and a large percentage of water.”
For stories of resurrection, the new book also looks to Coretta Scott King and Rufina Amaya, the sole survivor of the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which 800 civilians were killed by the Salvadoran Army.
“Coretta Scott King and Rufina Amaya both went on to continue movements for truth,” said Baker-Fletcher. “Amaya led a resurrection in the lives of the El Salvadoran people, who continue the struggle for truth, justice, and freedom. That was very visible to me in the faces of people who were prepping for Oscar Romero Day during our visit in 2013. The human rights movement has never died. It continues today, with Black Lives Matter.”
“I’ve been writing poetry since I was a child,” she said. “My grandmother was poet laureate of her church and her local library. My poetry is very much connected to what is going on now, and to humankind’s lived experiences, and specifically, the lived experiences of black women and African Americans.”
Baker-Fletcher is a member of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, another source of inspiration for her work.
“The church has a history of civic involvement and of standing up for truth and justice,” she said. “The books that I am writing are directly connected to my church and community life.”
Baker-Fletcher balances her busy schedule with regular contemplative practices. She’s enrolled in Perkins’ Certification in Spiritual Direction program and sits about twice a week at the Maria Kannon Zen Center. (Perkins faculty member Ruben L. F. Habito is founding teacher of the Zen Center, which is currently holding its meditation sessions online.)
“When you’re meditating, whether it’s in the Zen tradition or the Christian tradition, you’re sitting still and immovable, like Mount Fuji, or Mount Sinai,” she said. “You learn to see distracting thoughts as just clouds. You don’t pursue them. You don’t push them away.”
“I enjoy sharing a variety of contemplative practices with others, encouraging them in their own journeys and their own discovery of their relationship with God and with ultimate reality.”
Concepts of God, divine love, process theism, ecology, relational theologies, women and theology, contemporary and historical African American religious thought, 19th century holiness women, global theologies, Wesley’s concepts of divine grace and perfect love, intercultural constructive theology, religion and literature, religion and culture.
Favorite Bible Verse
Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God. “I am a very active person and a social person,” Baker-Fletcher said. “I always have projects. I’m always doing speaking engagements, at churches, schools, or radio shows. I need the reminder. Also, systematic theology is conceptual. The reality we are talking about is more than concepts and words. After teaching, I’ve got all these concepts running through my head. Being still and knowing God is helpful for letting that go.”
Book on her Nightstand Now
The Gathering, A Womanist Church by the Rev. Dr. Irie Lynne Session and the Rev. Kamila Hall Sharp (Eugene Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2020). (The authors are co-pastors of a church by the same name in Dallas.)
Baker-Fletcher would invite her ancestors, including one named Dilcey, an enslaved woman originally from the West Indies. “We know nothing about her except that her baby boy was taken from her arms,” she said. “That child was Steve McBeth, my maternal great-great-great grandfather. He was sold to another part of the world, Brandon, Miss., and raised in the home of Robert Lowry, as his own son. Later, Steve McBeth’s brother came looking for his family and introduced himself. He told the family that he and his brother had been separated. I just want to know the truth.”
Baker-Fletcher’s spouse, Garth Baker-Fletcher, also is a theologian and ethicist who taught for many years, as well as a musician and composer. He’s retired now and is in the MSM program at Perkins in composition. The Baker-Fletchers have three adult children; Kristen and Desiree, both SMU graduates, and Kenneth, a personal trainer. Also, the family has a cat named Ray.
Favorite Travel Destination
Anywhere near the ocean, and locally, the Dallas Arboretum.
Baker-Fletcher has a brown belt in karate.
For the holidays, she cooks traditional soul food: greens with smoked turkey, sweet potato casserole, corn bread, stuffing with lots of sage, and black–eyed peas with smoked turkey.
Question She’d Ask at the Pearly Gates
“Are you going to let me in?”