Brothers In Conversation About Race (Part 8)

Religion is a space where the boundaries of God are fortified through tension and reified through reformation. It avails itself to a strong critique while offering solutions that are filled with active love. Oftentimes, this is not the picture that is painted by the Christian church. Walter, in part 7, introduced the notion of a space where Black people are given the freedom to be, inextricably, themselves. One of the few spaces where black people can relive their liberation is the black church. The black church has provided black folks with a liberating space where their visibility and presence is honored. Racism loses its power within the midst of this fictive kinship.

Racism is a retardant that hinders sound judgement from processing. The oppress are influenced to look past their oppression and reinterpret it as security, instead of seeking freedom. Racism discourages freedom because freedom fuels intellect. Consequently, it is hard to keep intelligent people oppressed. No longer can the plight of white power and white privilege be held as doctrines of a constructed god, who dehumanizes and beguiles black people into believing that oppression is acceptable and godly. When the oppressed start to rebel against the oppressor, their words against oppression are labeled as radicalized hatred.  James Baldwin declares this is when

“white power is broken.”

Baldwin also proclaims that when this white power is broken:

“an English man can’t tell an African what it means to be African and he believes it; a white man can’t tell a negro what it means to be a negro and he believes it, anymore.”

The black church has been the space where our humanity is unquestionable. It has been the sacred site of resistance where beauty emerges in spite of pain and trauma. The black church, constantly reconstructing herself as the avant-guard against this constructed, neo-liberal god that sanctions racism. The black church is a complex institution, constantly on the front-lines fighting against racism. It is a creative space where black genius reclaims the identity of Jesus. A Jesus that racism refuses to accept or serve.

Prophetic Urges from Orlando: Part 1

Over the next 8 weeks or so, we will have a few of my friends, classmates and fellow pastors write on their feelings of the church, their thoughts, hopes and theology after Orlando.  Some you may agree with while other you may be the voice of dissent. Nonetheless, it will hopefully spark honest dialogue for change:

I am Brian Foulks. I am a heterosexual male and married with children. I am black male that grew up in the Black Baptist church but now part of the ELCA. Yes, the ELCA that is 96% white. Yes, the ELCA that ordains folks for the LGBTQIA community. Yes, I am pro-black but I am not anti-white. Yes, I read James Baldwin and James Cone. Yes, I love Hip Hop. I have three master’s degrees but still get looked at strange in many Lutheran circles. Yes, I grew up in a two-parent home where my parents have been married for 43 years. Yes, I grew up in Lexington, SC. Yes, I have friends and classmates who are Muslims and I care deeply about them.

Why did you say all of that? Because in the midst of all those labels and categories, I am lost for words. My honest critique of the church and the concern  for human life, after the terrorism in Orlando, has left me numb once again. It is that same numbness that I felt after the Mother Emmanuel terrorist attack: It was that feeling of what do we do now. Where will all of our “believe in Jesus” and “trust the Lord” rhetoric get us now? When the senseless slaughter of human life becomes synonymous with a loving God, then it may be time for us to create a new god. Some may declare that creating a new god teeters on the verge of heresy but so does condoning of the murder of LGBTQIA lives and the owning of a AR-15.

Honestly, I don’t understand everything there is to know about the LGBTQIA culture. Somethings I may not understand or can reason but, I do have friends in that community of beautiful people. Yes, the brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA community have taught me how to love in the midst of the terrible face of evil. I have been made better by interaction and fellowship with this community.

As I wrestled through the murders of Mother Emmanuel, the love of a crucified Christ looked more like a crucified Christ finding no reason to love. Then to imagine 50 or more, brothers and sisters, mowed down by an AR-15 becomes a place where love is non-existent but the crucified Christ stands in the midst of the bloody dead bodies. The Crucified Christ standing, heart torn asunder because 50 lives have been stolen by sin. The Crucified Christ, always present. We mourn the lives of the brothers and sisters stolen too soon. There is no celebration for me. There is anger. There is unease. There is fear for my children. There are places where faith has appeared to relinquish its mode of life. The Crucified Christ is present…but sometimes I ponder on Langston Hughes’ Goodbye Christ:

Listen, Christ,

You did alright in your day, I reckon-

But that day’s gone now.

They ghosted you up a swell story, too,

Called it Bible-

But it’s dead now,

The popes and the preachers’ve

Made too much money from it.

They’ve sold you to too many

 

Kings, generals, robbers, and killers-

Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,

Even to Rockefeller’s Church,

Even to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.

You ain’t no good no more.

They’ve pawned you

Till you’ve done wore out.

 

Goodbye,

Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,

Beat it on away from here now.

Make way for a new guy with no religion at all-

A real guy named

Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME-

I said, ME!

 

Go ahead on now,

You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.

And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,

And Saint Pope Pius,

And Saint Aimee McPherson,

And big black Saint Becton

Of the Consecrated Dime.

And step on the gas, Christ!

Move!

 

Don’t be so slow about movin?

The world is mine from now on-

And nobody’s gonna sell ME

To a king, or a general,

Or a millionaire.

Then I remember, the Crucified Christ is present. He gets down in the mess with us. He stands in the bloody mangled bodies weeping for the broken fellowship. So what can we do as the church: be present.

 

The Pedagogy of Pain

 

If there is one thing that life teaches, it is that there will be moments of failure and loss. There will be times when you have done everything right –you followed the blueprint for success but you still failed. What do you do when failure is a definite but you know success is in your destiny?

The simple answer is you keep grinding…

2012 to 2014 was some of the hardest years I have every experienced. I went through a health scare, lost home, marriage ended, cars repossessed, and little to no income. Why was this happening to me? I have leadership skills, I managed over 100 million dollars’ worth of assets, I have two masters’ degrees (working on a third), I have trained thousands. My leadership qualities, talents and training speak for themselves.

But, for those 2 years all I seemed to experience was failure and loss. Every time I would get close to a breakthrough, it fell apart. I had job offers rescinded for no reasons. Lucrative opportunities taken off the table for no reason. It just appeared that failure and hard times was the path that was chosen for me. In 2014, I experienced loss in some fashion or another on a weekly basis. Without a place to live, I moved to a seminary campus apartment and I remember one of my neighbors saying to me, “That every day she saw me she thanked God.” She could not believe that one person could take such trauma in such a short period of time without wanting to kill themselves. The truth of the matter is that I thought about it every single day. There were moments, that I would sit in my apartment, wondering what I was going to eat, because I had no money or food. I was thankful that I had a place to stay but still experiencing the feeling of loss and failure.

Then on October 29, 2014, I experience loss at a level that would forever change my life –I got arrested for clerical mistake by the clerk of the court. I had spoken with the clerk of the court about my child support and showed them all the paperwork that detailed every aspect of repayment. She took my paperwork and said that there was no need to come to court because my paperwork addressed all of the issues that they were needing answers too. Well she told me one thing but failed to do any of it and on October 29th, 2014, I was called out of class and arrested on campus. I was in jail for about 2 days but it left a hole in my heart. Here I was and 40 years old and this was my first time in handcuffs or in a courtroom shackled. I was shackled the same way that they would have shackled a murderer or rapist. For the first time in about 20 years, I was embarrassed.

I remember being in that cell with 7 other men and wondering what in the world makes people want to come back to this place. I hated jail –the confinement, the loss of humanity and the lack of freedom. But, some of the young brothers I saw in the jail were as if they were in the confines of home. They slept and ate with smiles upon their faces. For me there was frustration because this appeared to be my culmination of 40 years’ worth of work. After this was cleared up and I was back in the “free world,” I started seeing life through a different lens. I saw how the transition for those coming from jail was so difficult. The understanding of empathy had changed because now I knew what the practical outcome of the New Jim Crow meant in real time. But, there was still the loss and level of failure attached that troubled me. What was the use of trying to be and get better; what sense did more degrees make; why was everything that I was trying failing and failing with a high cost attached to it.

So that night, when I hit rock bottom, I grabbed the 12 pills and started toward my mouth. I had been battling the pain for 3 hours and I lost –hope was a fleeting memory and despair was a present reality. As I started toward my mouth with the pills, my phone vibrated and it was an email from a friend. She said I just felt as if I needed to send you an email to check on you. That email saved my life that day.

It that brief second I lost perspective of what life entails. In that brief moment life appeared to be just endless amounts of sorrow and pain. Failure became an obstacle instead of a ladder for greater success. I was later reminded of something I used to tell everyone one: “I want to make people better than they ever thought they could be.” What I did not realize that through all my failures and loss I was receiving a training that college, seminary or graduate school could never teach me. I was learning how to push past pain. I was learning to never quit and that God was in the midst of the chaos with me.

James Baldwin was told by a reporter that he was born black, poor and gay…How much more disadvantaged can you get? Baldwin response was, “I hit the jackpot. It gave me something to write about.” Failure and loss may give the impression that you have lost but in retrospect you have hit the jackpot because the learning potential is there if we push past the pain.

Two Brothers Talking: A Running Dialog on the Incarnation and being Black Part 2

Life as a black man in (a)merica is a strange predicament wedged between misery and sublime while being rushed by transcendence. The addition of a loving God would appear to deconstruct the misery that ultimately leads to a different life. Unfortunately, that is not always the cause for many black people trekking through this life in the Western world. On a bigger picture it can be assumed that God is not that fond of black people (men or women) due in part by the mass levels of oppression. We have endured years of unfairness, injustice and pure racism just for us to be seen as human. That in itself would make anybody question the intentions of a loving God.

The incarnation, Walter says in his response, means that “God will do something about the suffering.” It appears that what God did about the suffering was allow more suffering. There is not this overwhelming sensation of triumph that has overtaken the black community that signifies everything is alright –we will be alright but there is no overwhelming sensation that alerts us to the phenomenon. James Baldwin articulates, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If he cannot do this, it is time we get rid of him.” Although this reply is harsh there is some level of contemplation that can be rendered upon this statement.

The continual suffering of a group of people does not equate to love in most places. The systemic displacement of black and brown people, not to mention the Indians, has made life difficult to negotiate in america. When you have become numb to ignorance instead of vigilante, then acceptance looms as an apparent answer. This is where many black Christians live. They live on the edge of sheer apathy with comedic hope for change. They will succumb to mistreatment by standing on a faith that change is around the corner. Well, all of that is good but there also needs to be a voice that addresses the wrong and provides a plan for change. But, God must be actively present in the midst of the chaos. Now, I digress and admit that God may very well be actively present in the midst but my understanding is lacking to comprehend what is actual going on. That is my hope and but the appearance of this mayhem in the lives of black folks makes me wonder at times.   

The dialog continues…

Perichoretically Baldwin

I get asked all the time, “Why do you quote James Baldwin so much?” My answer oftentimes, “Why don’t you quote him at all?” Baldwin is the epitome of what art should resemble. His writings are piercing critiques of an (a)merican system that refuses to honor a morality that it proclaims on paper. Baldwin requires that the system do a self-examination, however painful and uncomfortable, he places a mirror before the (a)merican power structure and says, “LOOK!!!”

James Baldwin is a paradox as El Kornegay so aptly states in his book The Queering of Black Theology. G.K. Chesterton describes a paradox as truth standing on its head screaming to get everyone’s attention. Baldwin becomes this paradox not by shameful antics for attention but by mere activation of a love that drives his compassion for humanity. He is driven by this insane love for humanity.( I reference his love as insane because it would appear that the work of getting others to understand humanity and the treatment of humanity is an impossible task.) The hatred that revolves around this country is unfathomable to most and ignored by many unless you are considered a minority. Baldwin’s daunting attempt to reconcile people to truth is what makes people uncomfortable with his art. This sacred beauty that invites us to grapple with injustice and explore a world of diversity. His ability to perichoretically improvise life, gives us a sense of what a true community in God might resemble –the ability to be honest, authentic, in/with love filled with compassion.