Better Futures

Today’s scripture reading is the end of Psalm 22. As we heard, these are words of rejoicing. The psalm predicts that one day, everyone will be taken care of, those who were poor, afflicted, oppressed. All will be elevated. Even the rich will be happy and will worship God willingly and cheerfully. All nations will recognize the God who has made their lives possible. It is a vision of a future that works, for everyone.

This psalm has been sung by Christians and Jews for thousands of years. And for Christians, it has a special significance because Christ quotes it. He quotes its first line as one of the last things he says as he is dying on the cross. You know the line: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s how this psalm begins, in utter despair. The writer feels as though he has been abandoned by God. The psalm says that people have scorned him, insulted him, rolled dice for his clothes, written him off for dead. The first half of the psalm is filled with despair. Yet, then it turns, and we hear the words of hope that Laura read today. That God will bring about a future that works, for everyone, high and low, rich, and poor, weak, and strong. Christ knows this psalm, so did all the Jews who heard him say it that day from the cross. He is saying, I know things look bad now, but there is hope. In God, all things are possible.

Our culture finds it easier to identify with the first half of that psalm than with how it ends. We can easily imagine futures that don’t work, where it feels like God has forsaken us. Just look at our science fiction stories, especially the ones that get made into movies. The future is apocalyptic. It will be a fight of all against all. Nuclear war will devastate the planet, caused by humans, robots, or both. In some stories, disease brings disaster, allowing apes to take over the world, like the recent Planet of the Apes films. In the television series The Last of Us, it is a fungal infection that wipes out most of humanity, leaving destroyed cities and killer zombies. We have become very good at imagining a future that works for no one, where it will simply be a war of all against all. People keep going to these movies, where survivors fight for survival, and shoot anything or anyone that seems threatening.  

But to Black scholars, this future doesn’t sound new at all. It sounds like the past. They tell us that what we imagine in these apocalyptic fantasies has already happened, many times. Black and Indigenous people know what it is like to be wiped out by disease, to be treated like enemies who must be shot or enslaved. That’s just the history of how the Americas were colonized. European settlers moved in, introduced deadly diseases, took the land, and displaced or killed people out who got in the way or resisted. This is how the West was won. Canada’s Black scholar Robyn Maynard [1] has argued that there’s nothing new about the apocalypse, it has already happened, many times. That’s how colonialism works. 

So, when white people imagine a future where you can shoot anyone who seems like a threat – that’s really just fantasizing about colonialism in the future. When Elon Musk and others talks about putting humans on Mars, it’s called a Mars Colony. The plan is to go there and take over, not to fit in quietly without making a disturbance. White people, who are in control of mainstream culture, fantasize about a future where it will be ok to colonize all over again. [2] The future will be the past, and violence will be its song.

It's like we got stuck reading just the first half of Psalm 22, and we don’t bother reading the ending. Ruha Benjamin, a Black sociologist from the United States, has argued that white culture’s fixation on colonization in dreams and policies has hobbled our moral imagination. We dream of the future as a place where violence is expected, and so is poverty, despite advanced technology. We have lost the ability to dream of a future that works for everyone. [3]

This is Black history month, a time when are meant to remember key Black figures. There are a few who are already famous, of course. People like Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He played a key role in attaining civil rights for Blacks in the 1960s. And like many Black leaders, his power came not just for what he did in the present, but for how he imagined the future. Here is some of what he said in the famous march on Washington speech in 1963:

You’ll note that his future does not sound apocalyptic or colonial. It doesn’t mention anything about technology – there are no spaceships or flying cars. He doesn’t dream of Black people taking over society in some kind of revenge fantasy. There’s no Black minority ruling everyone else. Instead, he imagines a future that works for everyone, where understanding and respect will be the rules of common behaviour. 

Dr King is just one of many Black dreamers. There is a genre of literature dedicated to this. It is called Afro-Futurism. It is dedicated to imagining the future from a Black point of view. And the writers who imagine a Black future often sketch a future very different from what we’re used to. The most famous vision is of Wakanda, a fictional Black African country that appears in the Black Panther comic books and movies. Wakanda is located in Central Africa and is many decades ahead of every other nation on Earth. They have advanced technology based on a mineral found only in their country. Here’s what it looks like:

The city is conceived as a place where poverty has been eradicated. The production designer, Hannah Beachler, created a place where futuristic technology sits side by side old tribal rituals. She wanted to show an African country that had never been colonized, never had its past interrupted by conquest. [4]

Another Afro-Futurist vision is offered by Janelle Monae, in a recent work of fiction called The Memory Librarian

 She is a hip hop artist and actress who has released several concept albums devoted to a Black vision of the future. [5]

In her stories, white people make a mess of the future. They create an authoritarian regime that insists on absolute conformity in behaviour, dress and even thought. Using new technology, rebellious thoughts and memories are erased, so people cannot even remember that they once resisted the system. 

Monae’s heroes are the people who escape from these authoritarian cities. They set up communities of their own, off the grid, away from the prying eyes of the rulers. In these communities, people can be anyone they want. That includes every kind of consensual sexuality, every gender expression, and every race and kind of physical mobility. One of the communities is composed mostly of women. Each week there is a gathering for clothing sharing. People donate whatever they are not using anymore. Everyone happily rummages through the pile, looking for something they like. The result is a community where people wear whatever they want, no matter how outlandish. Monae imagines a future free from soul-crushing conformity. Every day is a costume ball, since there’s no reason to wear the same drab, mass produced clothes if people are truly free. Monae reminds us that if the future were to be free, it would look outlandish by today’s standards – and that’s a good thing. 

There are Afro futurists who dream of space travel.[6] But it isn’t to conquer other worlds, but to escape racism and oppression here on Earth. Black writers have drawn inspiration from the story of Exodus and Noah’s ark, a chance to create new, fair societies on other worlds if white people here refuse to change. But what is distinct about these Black futures is that everyone is invited. Human dignity is the goal, the theme that drives these stories. They don’t dream of the future in terms of machines and technological superiority, but whether it will be a fair future for all. Where every building is accessible. Where people can dress any way they want, without judgment. Where expressing yourself through your body is normal. Where poverty is an unacceptable crisis. 

While Christ was on the cross, he invoked Psalm 22, quoting its opening lines, knowing how it ends. We are not called to simply give up on the future, to accept that things will only get worse. That is not God’s way. Instead, we are told, over and over again in scripture, that God dreams of a world where no one will be scorned, afflicted or poor. Every human being, of every colour, gender, sexuality, and ability deserves to live in freedom. For that dream to come true, the future must be imagined in full colour, not apocalyptic greys. 

So, let’s imagine for a moment what the future of this church might look like 30 years from now, on a Sunday. Imagine that very few people get here by car. Most come on foot, by bicycle, or even by horse drawn carriages. Bayview Avenue is quiet, and smells of horse manure. Most people wear used clothes, often stitched together in weird ways. It sounds like society has crashed, been driven into reverse. Has the apocalypse happened?

But what if the reason people arrive this way is because of a worldwide decision. What if, after decades of droughts, famines and cities lost to rising sea levels, what if our world woke up and decided to stop burning fossil fuels completely for ten years. And it made that decision because it had realized that the life of a poor African farmer, or a peasant in Malaysia was as important as the life of a wealthy CEO. That changes things, doesn’t it? What looks like a step backward could be a massive step forward for our global civilization. A revolution of the heart, rather than of technology. Perhaps we should be dreaming not of the space age, but of the soul, where human dignity is the most important goal. 

It matters what we dream about. It matters what kind of future we imagine. Our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters have already been dreaming about futures where people come first, all people. They would like everyone to join them in this dreaming. A future where, as Psalm 22 says, the afflicted and scorned will find comfort, the poor will eat and be satisfied, and even the rich will feast, worship and be happy. This dream is nothing new – God has been calling for it for thousands of years. It sounded like science fiction when Psalm 22 was written. It is still. But it could become reality if we wanted it to. God is waiting for us to level those mountains of opposition, and to make the crooked ways straight. 




[1] Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Rehearsals for Living, p.9.
[2] Ruha Benjamin, Imagination: A Manifesto, (New York, 2024), 92.
[3] Ruha Benjamin, Imagination: A Manifesto, (New York, 2024), p. 40
[5] Janelle Monae, The Memory Librarian, 2023.
[6] Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Expanded Edition (Beacon Press 2022), p.88.