October 2, 2023

An Invitation to Shapeshift: A Talmudo-Poetic Conversation on Post-Activism with Báyò Akómoláfé 

By Nate DeGroot

Editor’s Preface

The following is an after-image of a recent conversation between Dr. Báyò Akómoláfé and Rabbi Nate DeGroot. Báyò is a Yoruba philosopher, psychologist, essayist, professor, and award-winning public intellectual renowned for his unconventional, “onto-fugitive” views on global crises and social change. As a deeply engaged Jewish activist, Nate has been particularly fascinated with Báyò’s provocative concept of “post-activism” for some time, wrestling with its possible applications to the progressive Jewish movement that he works to advance in his leadership role at The Shalom Center. 

From the outset, Báyò and Nate knew that teiku would be the final destination of this conversation. For not only is teiku the name of this column presented by Ayin Press, it’s also an ancient Aramaic acronym from the Talmud indicating the indeterminacy of certainty—the pregnant pause necessitated by disputes that won’t find resolution on this side of eternity. In Báyò and Nate’s encounter, teiku becomes a praxis of answerless inquiry, in which the absence of closure powers the exploration of a potently pathless land. Here, in the proverbial wilderness, we are inspired to develop teiku as an epistemology of the unspeakable—a trickster method by which we might “ordain stuckness,” in Báyò’s words, and in which we are invited to uncover the prophetic possibilities of getting lost.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


Nate DeGroot

Welcome Báyò. In the Jewish tradition, there is a concept called teiku. In the Talmud, the rabbinic compilation of conversation, debate, and inquiry, when a debate can’t be solved—when multiple sides have presented their viewpoints, and there’s no resolution—that’s called a teiku, meaning “let it stand.” Let the inquiry stand without resolution. 

Some people actually understand teiku to be an acronym for “the prophet Elijah will decide”1—this idea that it’s only the arrival of the Messiah that will retroactively give us enough perspective to fully understand the contours of that debate. Teiku points to a deeper knowing that the answer isn’t the point. 

I know that you also come from a tradition with an answerless kind of inquiry, the mbari.2 So, that’s really what I want to invite you into today: the teiku, the mbari. Or put another way, a hevruta, a traditional Jewish process of questioning and “with-nissing,” as you like to say, between fellows, where there are at least three forces present: the two people learning together, and the space between us, the unknowable space into (or from) which divinity might emerge. So welcome Báyò. It’s an honor to speak with you today and to see what divinity might emerge between us. 

Báyò Akómoláfé

That is the most ravishing welcome that I’ve ever received, brother. I feel very much at home in the beautiful way that you frame that. Thank you so much.

Báyò Akómoláfé sitting on the grass in jeans and t-shirt, his arm resting over his knee, looking at the camera
Dr. Báyò Akómoláfé

ND

What I want to ask you to begin is this: We’re in the midst of a tremendous amount of flashing up right now in the world. Crisis, pandemic, violence, loss. Even though we’re looking towards the future in this conversation, I think it might feel helpful to ground ourselves in the present. Why are we in the predicament we’re in right now? How would you describe these times that we’re in and what’s your hypothesis for how we’ve landed here? What are some of the elements that have contributed to us living in the midst of what feels so existentially overwhelming?

BA

Thank you, brother. I would come into that with the idea of teiku, which feels incredibly generative for me. The understanding that what we think counts isn’t what counts. Sometimes count-ability isn’t accountability. Just because we can name it and count it doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly reducible to our terms of reference. The world exceeds the ways that we speak about it. The world is not just a linguistic convenience. The world is not just available for debate. The world will sometimes kick back. The road ahead of us will sometimes bend its back and resist continuity. Teiku just feels like a rich, explorative, generative way of speaking, in the terms of the Afro-Martinican philosopher Édouard Glissant, about our “right to opacity.” I am a bundle of contradictions. The world resists the coherence of clean resolution.

Teiku feels like an invitation to rest in knowing that sometimes we will not have justification. The world is kicking back. The world is no longer stretching into the instrumentality of our purposes. Those of us gestating in modern civilization have lived in a space of luxurious settlement, which creates an affect of permanence and longevity and continuity. I refer to this as white modernity. But it would be a mistake to think of whiteness as referring to white people.

Rather, whiteness is a spatio-temporal arrangement of bodies, a racialization of bodies in order to produce certain kinds of realities. It excludes, demonizes, and pathologizes certain kinds of bodies, Black bodies, brown bodies, molecular bodies, anything that is not in close proximity to the idealized idea of the body, which is the white male. But the paradigm, the arrangements that made that possible are hollowing out. So what we’re experiencing now is what I would call blackness as dis-architecture. By blackness, I also don’t mean Black people. It’s a positional and always provisional reading of things that exceed debate. It’s a humbling noticing that we are part of the frothing edge of this explosion that is reality.

By blackness, I mean the geo-philosophical resistance of imperialism. It’s how the world continually tugs on the sleeves of permanence, how the world says “no, you will not continue.” It’s how the world becomes autistic. Meandering away from straight and narrow paths. Blackness as dis-architecture is blackness as the entropy that withers and flails and disturbs and disrupts the edges of white modernity. That’s what I think we are witnessing today. Cracks are emerging in the midst and in the abundance of public space. And these cracks are monstrous figures. Anytime the new wants to emerge, there is a proliferation of the monstrous, and as these monsters emerge, we’re doing our darndest to flatten it again. It’s a pandemic, flatten it out. It’s climate chaos, get back to normal. We’re doing our best to smooth out the cracks. But cracks are invitations to a new kind of politics. We’re in such a time when we are being invaded by the things that have been externalized, and now we have to sit with the trouble.

The world exceeds the ways that we speak about it. The world is not just a linguistic convenience. The world is not just available for debate. The world will sometimes kick back. 

ND

So in the midst of the world kicking back on white modernity, many of us turn to activism to try to address what feels so hard and broken. You speak with great insight and provocation about how activism sometimes falls short or even reinforces the problem. One of the questions that you ask that I find deeply evocative and insightful is, “what if the response to the crisis is part of the crisis?” Can you talk about how ideas like justice, protest, and activism often fail to adequately address, or even solidify, the crises we face today?

A head shot of Rabbi Nate DeGroot
Rabbi Nate DeGroot

BA

I love the story of Prometheus, the Titan, and his battle with the Olympians. Prometheus grants fire to humans and angers the God, Zeus. And Zeus takes it out on Prometheus. And how does he do this? He throws a tantrum and ties him to a rock called Caucasia—literally ties him to a rock called “whiteness.” And Prometheus suffers day and night. Every morning a giant eagle eats his divine liver and by night it grows back again. Such a macabre and horrific torturous punishment this is. And so that continues. 

But what if we climbed this Mount Caucasia at night and we met Prometheus, still incarcerated to the side of that rock, and we congratulated him, and said: “You’re healing up nicely! Things are not so bad! Congratulations on your healing and restoration.” I think he would spit in our faces, because at this time he would be unable to differentiate between the healing and the trauma. Because they would be doing the same thing. They would be sustaining the permanence, the intelligibility of his body as a site of torture. Death would be a release for him. He wouldn’t want his body to act in tandem with the machinations of Zeus. He would probably hope that his body would refuse to heal so that when the eagle comes in the morning, there would be no liver to eat. And then he would decay and die and at least he would be released from his eternal burden. That’s what he would hope for.

But his body is working against him as part of Zeus’s entire machine of torture. Sometimes the way that we respond to a crisis is the crisis. It’s Zeus’s plan all along. Our activism, for instance, might seek to champion justice, but justice is the secretion or the algorithm of a public that depends on the citizen’s intelligibility. You have to show up. You have to be seen in order for justice to be enacted. But what are the costs of being seen? What goes into being recognized in a surveillance system that is increasingly tethered towards recognition and the control and the instrumentality of recognition? These are the bio-machinations and the violence of being recognized.

As Prometheus would know, even justice can get in the way of transformation. Even healing can get in the way of transmutation. For instance, the Black community in the United States articulates something like “Black excellence,” which is, by many measures of the word, by many interpretations of the word, an increasingly deep centralization of minoritarian bodies. It’s basically, let’s get the power. Let’s get that money too. Let’s get the recognition. Let’s get all the things that are good about this system. But you see, in doing that, we are reinforcing our tethering, our entanglement, with a deeply violent ontology, with a deeply violent framing of what it means to be in the society. Coming up from the lower deck of the slave ship to the upper deck of the slave ship, right? Doing that might give me fresh air, but it still leaves me on a vessel of torture and imprisonment.

So my invitation is what I would call selah, from Jewish wisdom, the place of the pause. I know there is a lot of conversation around what selah actually refers to. You might have some insights to share with me, and I have my notes ready to take brother, but I use the word and I deploy selah as the site of explosions, where a crack emerges and it becomes a prophetic space for experimentation. Something just comes out of the text, out of the linguistic device before us. Something out of the text emerges and sprouts up and flashes through, and we’re being invited to stay there as a site of politics. Selah becomes an invitation to listen anew, to look again.

An emancipatory politics will not emerge from arriving at a final destination. It’ll come through us creating branching alliances with the things that we’ve otherized for so long. 

ND

So the Torah begins with the letter bet. The first word is bereshit. But bet is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Why does the Torah begin with the second letter of the alphabet? Why not the first letter, aleph? Because there is a silent aleph, the pause before the words. That is the divine aleph, the hidden aleph, the space before speech. Perhaps a pre-selah. And then there’s the space after speech. One of my teachers, Rabbi Dr. Nehemia Polen, says that the real reason that we sing a niggun, a wordless melody, is for the pause after we’ve stopped singing, when the vibrations are still lingering and dancing in the air, but there’s no audible sound. We sing and we sing and we harmonize and we pour our hearts out. And the whole reason is actually for the pause after the words have stopped. This feels similar to the way you’ve described selah.

Another teacher of mine, Rabbi Benay Lappe, might call this moment in history a kind of crash moment, a moment when generative destruction occurs, when a crack opens. The paradigmatic crash moment for Judaism is the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Lappe describes a few different options in response to such a paradigmatic crash. One is to burrow our heads and deny that the destruction ever happened. The second option is to run away from the crash moment. And then the third option she describes is a spiraling of readjusting, retelling, and reimagining our meta-narrative, reframing our relationship to the site of the crash, becoming an endless cycle of evolution. 

One of the places of crash right now, as I’ve heard you speak about before, is the role and understanding of the individual in society. In the Torah’s creation story, humanity is formed from the soil of the earth, and God breathes life into that clump of earth. And so the rabbis ask, from which soil did God gather the clumps for forming this first human? Some say it’s the soil from precisely the spot where the Temple in Jerusalem would eventually be built. A very narrow focus. But another interpretation says that the soil from which humanity (in Hebrew, adam) was created is the soil from all four corners of the earth (in Hebrew, adamah).

This interpretation queers, in your language, our understanding of home, our understanding of self, our relationship to one another and to earth. If we are made of soil that’s been jumbled from all parts of the earth, then perhaps we are home wherever we are. If we recognize that each one of us is also jumbled, mixed up soil from all corners of the earth, then there’s maybe a shared understanding and a kind of dissolution of the boundary of self. So I’m curious how you see notions of the individual and how alternative ontological understandings of our own human boundaries and definitions might beckon us into different relationships with the world. 

BA

I once raised the fascinating phenomenon of deep fakes with my students. I played them a Jay-Z track and told them to close their eyes and asked if they could recognize this voice. And they all said Jay-Z. But then I changed the plot and pointed out to them that it’s not actually Jay-Z. It’s a white band that has been able to make a track with Jay-Z’s voice, and we entered into a conversation about the ways our voices are no longer ours and maybe have never been.

And our faces are not ours. You know the very tiny critters that live in our faces called demodex? They’re cousins to spiders and they live in the pores of our skin where the hair follicles are. They live there, they defecate there, they reproduce, they probably do land acknowledgments before they eat. So whose face is it? Who owns your face? It’s no longer enough to speak about individuals as if they were separate from ecology. I love the retelling of the story of God taking from the four corners of the earth and weaving the human. It suggests to me quite strongly now that we never really left the dirt.

We have always been indebted to dirt. The dominant intelligences of neoliberal capitalism and its traditional readings of fundamental separation are now traveling away. The world is arching its back and saying, “you will not cross.” Gilbert Simondon, one of my favorite philosophers, said that we can no longer speak about the individual as a fait accompli, but rather as a process that is never finished. The individual only appears to be stable. But when you change perspective, you see that the stability is just a temporary convergence. So we are processes in becoming. We’re no longer citizens boundaried by the dictates of the state. We are now the state in its becoming. We are caught up in fields of intensities. There are principalities and powers we must contend with. This changes the entire territory.

Now we must engage these algorithms. Now we must speak about how morality itself travels. And this is how I differentiate ethics from morality. Morality is the convergence of institutionalized practices that seek to stabilize the individual. But ethics is about the eruptions that allow morality to flow. It’s like a block of ice bobbing along in a river. They’re made of the same material, but one is temporarily fashioned as if it were solid and unto itself, but it’s indebted to the flow all around it. I think in the same way the individual is a moral invention, but now new ethical demands are teasing apart the individual. AI, microbial entities, pandemics, affective demands on our psyches, social media. All of these remind us that we have never been alone. Suddenly we have to take into consideration the post-human. This is where notions of a panentheistic3 God inhering in everything, or of home as both diasporic and local, comes into the picture.

ND

Your image of ice reminds me of a story about two waves, a big wave and a little wave, who are bobbing along in the ocean making their way to shore. The big wave glimpses the shore off in the distance and sees that all the other waves are crashing onto the shore and dissolving back into the water. The little wave looks up and sees the fear in the big wave’s eyes and asks, “what’s wrong?” So the big wave turns to the little wave and explains that we’re heading towards our demise, to crash on the shore. In that moment, the little wave turns to the big wave and says, “you know—we’re not waves, we’re water.” We are part of a larger whole. We’re not these individual waves. We are water. This is the idea of the divinity within and around all things, which is the core credo of Judaism as I understand it. 

The Hebrew name of God is often represented with the four Hebrew letters, yud, hey, vav, and hey. Linguistically, this seems to be a kind of gibberish collection of four letters together, and we are instructed not to try to pronounce this name, or perhaps there’s no possible way to pronounce it. My teacher, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, had the revolutionary insight that if you do try to pronounce those four letters—yud, hey, vav, and hey—without assigning them any vowels, what you get is some kind of approximation of breathing. The divine is the interbreathing of all life. All life is breathing together. 

Another understanding of God’s name is that yud-hey-vav-hey combines all three temporal tenses of the verb “to be.” In God, “that which was,” “that which is,” and “that which will be” are combined into a perpetual process of simultaneous interbreathing, within which we all exist. 

You’ve suggested that we need a different notion of time altogether. Time shapes our reality, what we do, how we think, how we perceive. The Jewish calendar is outside of the Gregorian dominant Western calendar that shapes and molds and directs our life. Existing in relationship to the ebbs and flows of our Jewish calendar cycle, then, yields a different experience of reality.

The Jewish holiday festivals are interruptions of normative time that produce different ways of being. You’ve referenced Theresa Brennan, who offered the concept of transmission of affect—that we don’t have emotions, but emotions have us. And I think the Jewish calendar offers that in certain ways. In some seasons, the affect is mourning and loss and sorrow, and in some seasons, it’s joy and exaltation and love, and in some seasons, it’s self-reflection. In some seasons, it’s sowing, and in some seasons, it’s harvesting. Sometimes it’s narrowness, sometimes it’s expansiveness. We are kind of tossed and turned in the cycles of intertwining time and affect. I’m curious what you mean when you say that we need a different notion of time altogether, and how you think about embodying the various realities that alternative versions of time can afford us.

BA

Beautiful, brother. Beautiful. Have you watched the movie “Old” by M. Night Shayamalan? It’s about a resort that is built on a fascinating discovery of a temporarily dense site. The resort is established near this very queer place. It’s a valley with a beach where time behaves strangely. If you enter into this place, it’s like a force field. You’re trapped and you start to grow old fast. Babies are conceived and born in hours. Children become adults in a day. It’s a wonderful exploration of how time often behaves strangely. But the Black people don’t seem to be aging that much. And one of the Black characters turns to the other Black characters and says, “oh, now they’re noticing that Black don’t crack.” And I started to think about the idea of melanin and temporality and how is it that Black doesn’t crack?

Maybe blackness can be conceived as a dis-temporality or a dissing of temporality where temporality is not some naturally-occurring given. We often think of time as if it were already there, but time is not just already out there. Time is still being made. Our bodies secrete time. We create assemblages of temporality. Modernity is a moral assemblage that secretes time as if it were a linear thing that proceeds from the past, navigates the present in a thin way and then rushes off into the future that is constantly receding and never really arriving. But this idea of time is the concatenation of bodies, technologies, microbial activisms. It is a heterogeneous network and networking of pre-individuals in how they navigate the world. If we understand temporality that way, then we can notice that temporality or the way we think about time is coterminous with imperialism. 

So when I speak about blackness as a dis-temporality, when I speak about selah, when I speak about onto-fugitivity—I’m referring to the ways that time often behaves autistically. Like a branching strand, time could circle away from the dominant highway and breach its purity like time mutinied against time, ecstasied against time, and then create something different. And this might seem sci-fi, but other-than-human species are already engaged in the creation of different times, different time zones, different temporalities. So when I say we need a different notion of time, I am also saying that our bodies need to shapeshift. I’m also saying that we need to create new experimentations—attempts to breach the puritanical linearity of imperial clock time. This is post-activism, this is selah, this is the opening.

We often think of time as if it were already there, but time is not just already out there. Time is still being made. Our bodies secrete time.

ND

The commandment that appears more than any other commandment in the Torah is some version of “don’t oppress the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” or alternatively “love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Over the years, my focus has mostly resided in the “don’t oppress” part of this equation. But in conjunction with your inquiries of post-activism, my focus has shifted toward a new opening or crack in the linearity of oppression to highlight the “stranger” piece of this commandment. If we can de-stranger the other, what does that do to our ability to oppress and the notion of oppression itself? If we know someone, if we are connected, if we have broken down the barrier of the individual and seen the stranger as ourselves, seen ourselves as actually part of the same mixture of soil, then it perhaps renders the ability to oppress impossible.

I don’t want to diminish the importance of activism as it has been handed down to us. And I know you don’t either. The flashings up of Stonewall and the Civil Rights movement, and gay marriage, and all of the different victories that are so critical to staving off the most intense and violent impacts of today’s society. Maybe that’s the “don’t oppress.” And yet, you speak of an untapped need for post-activism as well, the “de-strangering.” That in order to feel into a new sense of justice, in order to find your way, you must get lost. In your words: “The left, the right, the middle, all sides: we’re stuck, and we’re reproducing each other, and the thing to do is to have a cosmology that says, let’s sit together.” And I think here you’re referring to sitting with the monsters, as well as perhaps the left and right and middle. “Let’s eat together,” you say, “and maybe in doing this we might divine something together. We might conjure or alchemize a new path.” What does this new path look like? What does it feel like? Why is it important and where might it take us?

A piece of Hebrew scribal art with the word "teiku" and under it, the Hebrew "tishbi yetaretz kushiyot u-bayot," תִּשְׁבִּי יְתָרֵץ קוּשְׁיוֹת וּבְעָיוֹת
Some say that “teiku” is an anagram for “tishbi yetaretz kushiyot u-bayot“—”the Tishbite (Eliyahu ha-Navi) will solve all questions and puzzles (in the World to Come).” Calligraphy by Julie Seltzer, Photo by Adam Sher

BA

This is a good place to bring back teiku, because teiku seems to be a beautiful way to ordain stuckness, understanding that speaking further isn’t really producing anything generatively exquisite. Presently now in the United States, we can recognize that the left is behaving like the right and the right is behaving like the left, that they’re feeding off each other and the polarities are increasing. It’s beginning to eat itself up. When politics does that, when it becomes increasingly hardened, when our rituals no longer gesture towards new possibilities and their only work is to stabilize the familiar, that’s when the Trickster shows up.

The Trickster is the porosity of every moral enterprise. The ecstasy, the incompleteness, the promiscuity that inhabits every formulation of reality. And the Trickster archetypally breaks through binaries, right? It’s like the saying within the teiku, that prophet Elijah will have something to say about this, when prophet Elijah arrives. It’s almost messianic. But I wouldn’t produce the messianic at the end of history, I would produce it in the meantime. The messianic is always happening. The extraordinary inhabits the ordinary. This is how cracks proliferate. That’s how monsters are born. And monsters are invitations to spill. Monsters are like the invitation from the small wave to the big wave. Hey, we are not waves, we are water. That’s a crack. Cracks are not pro this or pro that. Cracks are not partisan. Cracks are places of unspeakability. 

The crack is the heart of post-activism. Post-activism is the dis-arrangement of lines of continuity that produces exquisite possibilities for framing reality in different ways. The invitation is to shapeshift. Post-activism is the spirituality of the messianic, it’s the spirituality of apocalypse. It’s “now, we don’t know what comes next, but we are at the very edge of temporality. We are in the end time, and in this space, this boundary, this ecotone, there is a possibility to become different.”

I speak about cracks as failure in the ways that astrophysicists, physicists might speak about black holes as a cosmic failure. They eat up everything near them, yet a black hole sits at the very heart of the Milky Way galaxy. There’s one called Sagittarius A that is 4.1 million times denser than the sun. And it was awakened recently, two hundred years ago, when a dust cloud floated nearby and just irritated its nostrils and then it produced jazz music. This syncopation of reality, this rhythmic disruption of the world as we hear it and we sense it, is post-activism. And we sense it in our bones that something can be different, but we don’t know how to articulate it. Some other thing is calling us phenomenologically into a different kind of relationship.

So post-activism opens a way for experiments, which I call chiasmagraphy. Chiasma is simultaneously crack and crossroads. It’s the ethnography of the cracks. It is sitting with the crack in our bones instead of healing. It is an ethnographical, cartographical project. This might take the form of storytelling. This might take the form of sitting with autistic children and instead of rehabilitating them, tracing their outlines. There’s a lot of tracing that goes on in the methods that I prescribe. But none of them are supposed to be taken as standard measures, they’re invitations to lose our way. And in losing our way, we break out of the sensorial monoculture that is the highway. And in doing so, I think we are met.

The Trickster is the porosity of every moral enterprise. The ecstasy, the incompleteness, the promiscuity that inhabits every formulation of reality. And the Trickster archetypally breaks through binaries, right?

ND

The mystical Jewish creation story of Kabbalah is a story of cracks and brokenness. Kabbalah means receiving, as opposed to being the pioneer who goes out to search for and define God—it’s actually an opening, a surrender, a falling on one’s face. The story goes that in primordial time, God—the infinite energy of divine light and love—was all that existed. But God was lonely. God had no partner, no relationship, it was only God. So God withdrew God-self and created a black hole of retraction which caused the shattering of the infinite into infinite pieces, each containing a little bit of that divine light. And the work of being human in this conception is tikkun olam, healing, repairing, mending the broken vessels to once again form a container that can hold the infinite love and light of the divine. So on the one hand you might say that that is a kind of utopian arrival that we are striving for, to repair the broken vessel into a kind of sensible whole that can contain all. And at the same time, it’s impossible to repair something that has infinite pieces. We never quite arrive. 

The story of Moses is that he doesn’t get to the promised land. This singular, liberatory figure doesn’t make it to the promised land, and it’s a new generation that enters. And we put this story into practice ritually during Simchat Torah, the holiday that marks the completion of the reading of the Torah. We read the very last words of the Torah scroll, and without even taking a breath in between, we then read the first words, the start of the creation story. Just as we feel like we’re finishing, we actually begin again without even a breath in between. We’re striving for a recognition of the impossibility of arrival and yet honoring the insatiable desire for arrival. 

You recently shared a dream that left you with the words: “In the geometry of the exquisite, the lines never connect.” The lines never quite reach. The infinite is always gaping between those two lines. The breath brings us from the end back to the beginning without pause. We began this conversation with teiku, that we’ll only know when Elijah comes. I’m curious if you could speak to your sense of utopia, arrival, and the space in between.

BA

I love the idea of the yearning as utopia in place of the arrival. This utopia is the imaginative, it is the anticipatory, it is the bacterial, it is the material, it is the societal, it is the ethical—it is all of these things in its gesturing forward. That is how the world feels into itself. 

I read Zionism as the concatenation of the desire to be settled, to be gathered, to arrive in a way that might feel stable for all time, eternalizing settlement and inadvertently pathologizing diaspora and movement. But this is a time when it seems difficult to think about the world apart from movement. Something about the Trickster disrupts the binary between rest and movement. Movement is always happening. Bodies moving, boundaries moving, the interchangeability of values, the sloshiness of positions and standpoints. If we’re to start to think about the refusal to pathologize diasporic movements, and displacement, then we must open up a different kind of politics that is yet to come.

Something that doesn’t arrive, something that is an invitation to create new alliances. An emancipatory politics will not emerge from arriving at a final destination. It’ll come through us creating branching alliances with the things that we’ve otherized for so long. It might look like faith, and faith may not look like anything we know as faith today. Faith may look like creating new fidelities. Faith may look like the symbiotic relationship between a crocodile and a bird on its nostrils. That is faith. Faith might look like strategy instead of finality. This is the kind of politics I’m hoping to situate with others like you and the communities that you are representing, brother, and the fields of imagination that swirl around us. 

Faith may look like creating new fidelities. Faith may look like the symbiotic relationship between a crocodile and a bird on its nostrils.

ND

In Hebrew, faith is emuna, and faith is situated in the darkness, in the blackness as you say. Faith comes at night, emunatchah ba’laylot. Faith is a darkness practice—the unintelligibility of what comes next. When Moses asks God, “what shall I call you? What should I tell the people your name is when they ask?,” God responds, “ehyeh asher ehyeh”—“I will be that which I will be.” There’s no way to grasp on and hold and contain what will be. It is an ever-unfolding proliferation. God is “I will be that which I will be.” 

Báyò, I really want to thank you. I appreciate you deeply. There’s so much more that I want to talk about with you.

BA

Thank you so much, brother. This is the first of many conversations to come. I’m in love with you already. Let’s do more work together.

ND

Hineini as we say in Hebrew. I am here. 

BA

As am I. 

Footnotes

  1. The Tishbite (Eliyahu ha-Navi) will solve all questions and puzzles (in the World to Come).”
  2. Mbari (also transliterated as umbari) was a conciliatory ritual convened by local priests in eastern Nigeria in response to the call of the all-powerful earth goddess, Ala. The practice consisted of the communal construction of two-story mud houses that were then left to decay back to the earth. Read more from Báyò Akómoláfé on mbari at the UC Berkeley Democracy and Belonging Forum.
  3. Panentheism is the belief that God is immanent in the world while also transcending it (in contrast to pantheism, in which God is coterminous with the world).
  4. “Bayo Akomolafe | ‘Why We need Postactivism Today,’” Schumacher Center for a New Economics, filmed April 29, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGlbUqEizNY.

Báyò Akómoláfé, PhD, rooted with the Yoruba people in a more-than-human world, is the father to Alethea and Kyah, grateful life-partner to Ije, son, and brother. Dr. Akómoláfé is a widely celebrated international speaker, post-humanist thinker, poet, teacher, public intellectual, essayist, and author of two books, These Wilds Beyond our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity’s Search for Home (2017) and, with Molefi Kete Asante and Augustine Nwoye, We Will Tell our Own Story: The Lions of Africa Speak (2018). He is the founder of The Emergence Network and host of the post-activist course/festival/event, We Will Dance with Mountains. He currently lectures at Pacifica Graduate Institute in California. He sits on the board of many organizations including Science and Non-Duality (US) and Ancient Futures (Australia). In July 2022, Dr. Akómoláfé was appointed the inaugural Global Senior Fellow at the Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California Berkeley. He has also been appointed a fellow for The New Institute in Hamburg, Germany, and a visiting critic-in-residence at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. He is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). In addition, Dr. Akómoláfé is the recipient of the New Thought Leadership Award in 2021 and the Excellence in Ethnocultural Psychotherapy Award by the African Mental Health Summit in 2022.

Rabbi Nate DeGroot was ordained at Hebrew College in 2016 and currently serves as Associate Director for The Shalom Center, where he is helping to support the future planning and present rollout of the organization’s new strategic vision. At Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s request, DeGroot humbly anticipates succeeding Rabbi Waskow as director of The Shalom Center in January of 2025. Rabbi DeGroot has extensive experience in the Jewish justice and experiential education field. He has served as a facilitator with Encounter, he was a rabbinical fellow with T’ruah, and he has worked with AJWS, the Amir Project, and more. Additionally, Rabbi DeGroot has served as the Associate Director and the Spiritual & Program Director at Hazon (now Adamah) in Detroit, and he was an inaugural Jewish Emergent Network Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR in Los Angeles. An accomplished speaker and writer, DeGroot has published numerous articles and book chapters, and has been an invited speaker at venues such as The Chautauqua Institution. Living in Detroit, Michigan with his wife and two kiddos, Rabbi DeGroot also serves locally as a part-time congregational rabbi, educator, and speaker. 


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