Here Is Your Win

I left home today saying a needed a win today. It has been a rough couple of weeks but I have been resilient in my pursuit, nonetheless. Well, instead of doing my normal trip to chapel and community lunch, at Chicago Theological Seminary, I was going to stay home. I was not feeling overly excited about how life was punching my in the mouth with disappointment. Then, I remembered that we were honoring the Muslim sisters and brothers killed by the white supremacist in New Zealand. After getting there late, and being apart of one of the Muslim prayers, we went to community lunch. Before I was getting ready to leave Brian E. Smith called me over to his table and asked me some questions about his son and baseball. He introduced me to a sister at the table and shared with her that I played professional baseball with Dodgers and was currently a Ph.D student. This sister, a Muslim mother of 2 (teenage boy and a younger girl) asked how I went from professional baseball to a Ph.D. student. I shared my journey and I told her that initially, I was not going to come over to the campus today. I preceded to tell her that I left home thinking, “God, I need a win.” Her reply to me was, “Well here is your win: my son! He needed to hear your story.” Now, I am not sure why but she said it was a win for him being there today.

At that table a Black Christian man from America sat with a Muslim woman from Great Britain and shared the grace of God together.

Real community is safe and affirming…we win.

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The Frostbitten Rumination

The way that I experienced the cold this morning was unbelievable; I may have been on the pre-stages of hyperthermia as my hands were on fire. As I was removing three days of snow off my wife’s car, in a temperature with a -15 wind chill, I wondered how could a country allow homelessness in such frigid conditions. My 10 minutes in these conditions were just meager, as I was geared up from head to toe, but, I ponder on how do those without such gear survive in such conditions. And, the sad truth, is that we believe we are heroes and saints because we over blankets and warm meals when in actuality they should have had them in the first place.
Thus, the need for philanthropy becomes the quest of the day. Philanthropy is an unjust metaphor for the wealthy to find news to overt paying taxes, that in turn produce means for those in need of blankets.
We live in a broken system where wealth is measured on the backs of the broken. Evidently, there will be a price to pay for exploited the broken and the broken will seize the moment to rebel against the broken system.
By the time I came out of my rumination and pondering, I was convinced that the fires of hell are actually frostbitten events to the body.

Do #BlackLivesMatter to (all) Black Theologians

It is an affront that Black people would even have to ask whether they “mattered” to those with whom they have an invested interest. The collective notion that one has to request whether #BlackLivesMatter to (all) Black theologians beckons at an opaqueness and level of Tupac-ean hypocrisy.[1] Tupac makes a clear distinction about ecclesiological/theological authority in the third verse of Blasphemous.[2] Tupac writes:

The preacher want me buried, why? Cause I know he a liar

Have you ever seen a crackhead, that’s eternal fire

Why you got these kids’ minds thinking that they evil?

While the preacher being freaky you say “honor God’s people”

Should we cry when the Pope die? My request

We should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X.[3]

 

This is the rebellious stance of a woke generation. This assertion of Albert Camus’s essays of revolt constitute a means to be engaged in the process and impetus of rebellion; it is the “awareness” – being woke or awakened to the moment.[4] Tupac critiques the theological powers of the Black church with claims of negligence and malfeasance coupled with trickery of young minds. Furthermore, he is re-adjusting the theological lens through which he (and, maybe others) will envision a just God. Tupac is connecting the freakiness of the pastor with the honorability of God: if the pastor is crooked then God must also be captured within the same crookedness for allowing such a person to function. Ultimately, Tupac’s final critique, “We should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X,” belies the false piety of the theological/ ecclesial powers residing in the preachers/pastors and the Black theologian. Tupac identified how “papal authority undergirds the exploitation of colonized people, and he contrasts this colonial authority with Malcolm X’s authority, one who fought for the liberation of marginalized peoples.”[5]

What Tupac, other musicians and young activist express through their art and actions is a call to “report and reflect.”[6] It is the urgency of the moment that announces “so precisely the nature of the society, and of [the artist or theologian] in that society, that other [people] will be moved by the exactness of [their] rendering…”[7] These young Black activist are making Black theologians answer the call to re-imagine their theological ethic: to consider the need of those on the outer margin of the margins – Black bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies, criminals and the poor. It is the rethinking of how to make theology an existential practice that is usable for the everyday believer and not a theological sword fight in the academy between scholars.

#BlackLivesMatter: The Hip Hop Aesthetic  

The voice of Hip Hop is gradually “becoming” a viable stream of conscious that is beginning to register in the minds of Black theologians. The consequence of Hip Hop’s ontic swag, cautions many Black theologians to completely solidify it as an authoritative or persuasive voice within the church. I would claim that Hip Hop “is” the voice of the unheard with the same epistemological intensity that the riot “is” the voice of the unheard. I am deploying “is” as more of a locative term rather than a descriptive term. My attempt is to use it as a way of describing time, context and location in contrast with metaphorical usage. Thus “is” is more indicative of how King’s words were appropriated in the sixties; I am asserting that Hip Hop fuels this generation with the same fierceness. Therefore, Tupac clearly articulates, “I am not saying I will rule the world but I am going to spark the brain that will change the world.”[8] Kendrick Lamar is the product of that spark and his song becomes the soundtrack for the movement, We Gon Be Alright.[9]

Hip Hop captures the sensibilities of the #BlackLivesMatter movement through a poetic aesthetic – authenticating itself as a soundtrack for life. But, Hip Hop not only stands as a musical accompaniment to/for the movement; Hip Hop embodies an ontological metaphor of how many young activist enter into the convening space of protest. Their claiming of identity and ability to, genuinely, synthesize with a diverse group is a Hip Hop aesthetic.[10] In Faith and Ferguson, Leah Gunning Francis pens a memoir of what it resembles to engage, theologically, with such a group.[11] She makes the claim: “this was not an ideological movement, but a process in which bodies were taking to the streets to be seen and heard in the quest for justice.” [12] This is #BlackLivesMatter operating within a Hip Hop aesthetic that is calling the church to task, existentially. The calling is through active engagement on the streets, and not simply through sermons, prayers and useless words.

Francis recognizes the synergy that is happening amongst these young people and some Black theologians/preachers. There are “God moments.”[13] But, there are moments when the young activist insist on coming into the space with a Hip Hop aesthetic – doing it our way, protesting without prayer. And, this may be a place of contestation for some clergy, who are trapped in a puritanical Christianity: They can only envision assistance one particular way, and all other forms are wrong. This re-adjusting period is the gap or the fissure where one may propose whether #BlackLivesMatter to Black Theologians or is it indeed just a photo opportunity. Because the appearance is such, that one could assume, that if the Black Theologians cannot speak, they become useless. Retrospectively, for the young Black activist this may signal an inauthentic relationship with (their) God, ultimately, questioning their overall commitment and more importantly, their theology.[14]

Conclusion

Does #BlackLivesMatter to (all) Black Theologians? That is a personal question that each Black theologian and preacher/pastor must answer for themselves. What I have presented in the few pages here was not an answer but more of a complication of the question. This is a process often employed by James Baldwin throughout his speeches. His methodology was to complicate the question, and by doing so, he would – inadvertently, but purposely – answer the question.

I suspect that Francis gets it right in her presentation of Faith and Ferguson: she lets the narrative tell itself. What we find in her work are theologians and pastors who are willing to take a backseat to the young Black activist, who are boots on the ground in Ferguson. They are there for support when needed and soldiering up for the fight at other times. Comprehensively, the end result is:

The fight for justice in this movement is a fight for the freedom to be seen and valued as human beings “just as you are” –not in a prescribed way that renders you acceptable so long as you fit a particular mold, but in an authentic way that makes room for each person to be able to be fully him-or herself.[15]

 

 

[1] I am drawing on the framework of Charles Long’s usage of the “theology of opaqueness.” This thought was introduced to me by Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Ph.D. student, Bryson White, during a conversation about Tupac. White acknowledges Tupac as opaque theologian that is addressing the sociopolitical ills of Black bodies trapped in a neocolonial project. Charles Long, Signification: Sign, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion, Davis Group Publishing: 1996., 199-213.

[2] I am intending, purposely, to make the pastor/preacher and the theologian to reside in the same existential setting. Though they may function in a slightly different manner, I am situating them in alignment with each other as a (Black) figure that Tupac would be addressing within the church.

[3]Tupac, Blasphemy [Explicit] (Interscope; 1996)

[4] “Awareness, no matter how confused it may be, develops from every act of rebellion.” Albert Camus, The Rebel, Vintage International: New York, 1956.,14.

[5] This was a point of contention that was made from Bryson White in our discussion about Tupac’s critique of the church.

[6] LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Home, New York: William Morrow, 1996., 251.

[7] Ibid.

[8] I Will Spark The Brain That Will Change The World – Tupac [September 14, 2014]. Youtube Video [September, 2014] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uijBebYpoto

[9] Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly, [Interscope, 2015]

[10] Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson makes this clear in the The Hip Hop Church: “You would think that their various takes on truth would make this kind of postmodern freedom march impossible, but it seems as if in the urban community there is a way to bring people of faith together with people of goodwill around issues of social justice. Hip hop culture has an influence as well as a tolerance that brings disparate people groups together… A more liberal political agenda seems to lead to a relative stance on truth, with high regard for multicultural tolerance.” Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson. The Hip Hop Church, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005., 110-111.

[11] Leah Gunning Francis, Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community, Chalice Press, St. Louis, Missouri, 2015.

[12] Ibid., 58.

[13] Ibid., 24.

[14] This is with the theological supposition that theology has the potential to drive practice.

[15] Ibid., 109.

Ph.D. Coursework: the refreshing or a bullet (I had some time to kill)

For the past few months, I have wrestled and wondered about the importance of finishing my Ph.D. program. I figured , I could read the same books and have the same stimulating conversation with the brilliant, Black minds without the neverending deadlines. But, every week, I find myself mining through the books and conversations, trying to push Black hope just one inch further. I admit, there are moments of guilt and resentment, when I see brothers and sisters in the midst of the struggle, while I am sitting at my table trying to analyze the political theology between Tommie Shelby, Charles Mills and John Rawls.

 
Ph.D. coursework feels like an infinite fight between two futile adversaries and no one wins.

 
This constant need to be in the fight is a strange calling; it is a call to something that is greater than you but appears to register your being. Honestly, coursework has the same feeling but it operates in a different mode. There is another type of calling that pulls at different places of the spirit –an overwhelming, that transforms into a refreshing and/or a bullet.

 
How you view and experience the bullet is the strange place…

A Few Thoughts: Thinking Through Ephesians 6:13

There is always the thought: when is something going to change.
I have been toiling the roads of theology, ministry and church for over 20 years: I have been through 5 church plants/church renewals, I have been a part of a pastoral staff at an all-white Lutheran church, endured a racist candidacy process with people whom claim to love the same God as me, I have sat in rooms with Bishops/prophets/apostles/elders, I have had conversations with some of the greatest theologians in the country, I have interviewed at more churches than I care to admit and applied to more than I remember, and I am entering my second semester of a PhD. in Theology and Ethics. And, I ask myself, “What am I missing?”

 
I am not sure but I keep plugging until something changes. I have been told that maybe that is God’s way of telling you that you should be doing something else. All these doors keep getting slammed in your face; when will you get the message, that God does not want you in the church. God keeps closing the doors so that you will move on to something else. My reply, “Maybe you are right but I’m going to walk this out a little while longer.”

 
I felt like writing today because I needed to express where I am in my soul. This, is where I am in my soul. It is that moment when you have made all the moves you can make, now you wait for God to make the next move. Having done all the stand…stand. (Ephesians 6:13)
The church and the academy are tricky places to understand even when they, supposedly, represent God.