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.
The implicit search for truth is an uncanny presentation of courage. One must muster the power to see past their own myopic point of tension in order to develop a plan of change. It is change that we struggle with not difference. Change requires a total rebuilding of what we have held on to for so long while difference recalls upon past or present realities that will inform. Change calls for reformation instead of acceptance. For most it is easy to accept people but it is hard to change ones heart about what they have done. The old cliché, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is parenthetically used to soften the ugliness that we harbor within our Christianized hearts.
The body of Christ has mangled the relational aspects of the Gospel and pawn them off as cheap jewelry. We have forgotten how to love with unadulterated, fierce intensity but replaced it with rhetorical sidesteps of utopia – “skubala.” The Gospel presents love with a captive freedom that harnesses beauty. It invites us all to the table of the Eucharist/Communion with the intention of robbing us of our pride, misconduct and hatred in order to pollute us with sharing, honesty and love. It is the Gospel that renders us to places where we may not understand but allows us to wrestle with the Spirit of God to unpack our confusion.
The body of Christ has conflated the Gospel with self-righteousness only to find that they are violently incompatible. The Gospel is only suitable for a perichoretic situation that represents community with high awareness. The importance of self is lost in the push to secure love for all. There is no self-identification due to the overshadowing pursuit of community –no one is free until everyone is free. If we lived within that frame of thought greed, hunger, and racism would be wiped out by the next day.
That is the Gospel –the anomaly of the church.
The tragicomedy played out in life is one filled with constant shifts and triumphs. The price of the ticket to experience the opportunity to explore what it means to come and dwell with us (John1:14) –the incarnation –is one that is a life changing event. There is a real and present danger that resonates within the incarnation though triumphant for the masses, it is potentially deadly for the one called to incarnate.
To live a life where you are called to live out the incarnation, existentially, is a life where service is greater than salary. This prophetic presence speaks of a revolutionary, radical fellowship that invites all to experience the high call of leadership of dying empty. The capacity to understand with extreme levels of empathy that surpasses the superficial and misguided sympathy exists as strange fruit in the life of one who stands with courage. It is the effort to exude courage within a framework that is systematically engineered to destroy those who take a stand. This vocation where theology places you in the center of an incarnational moment en route to an introduction with a revolutionary paideia –the process of educating man/woman into his true form, the real and genuine human nature. Cornel West simplifies it with these words
“..I would just characterize it as moving from the superficial to the substantial, moving from the frivolous to the serious, and then cultivating a self to wrestle with reality and history and mortality and, most importantly, promoting a maturation of the soul.”
The incarnational, paideia experience re-informs thinking and reshapes the narrative. Meaning becomes more subjective in previous places where it materialized as rhetoric. The cost of experience becomes a soul-wrenching testament that speaks through a closed mouth. This theo-tainment of beholding takes a real presence as others begin to perceive how God through the hardship of life refashions the heart. Dr. Martin Luther King encounters this moment while sitting at his kitchen table,
“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.”
“The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory.” I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
“At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
We all have moments in our lives when the call of God becomes an existential reality. We are part of the sovereign plan that God has orchestrated to produce his will. The method may be extremely chaotic from our vantage point but ultimately it places us in the impetus of what will evidently need.
Over the past year, I have encountered such an experience with God. I have been through some of the lowest times of my life to the point that I contemplated taken my own life. It seemed that everything continued to get worse and worse as the weeks went by. It then culminated with me be arrested for something that I didn’t do and spending some time in jail. That time changed me more than I realized. At the age of 40, I have never been in handcuffs. Yes, I have seen many people go to jail as well as work their way through the judicial system. But until my experience, I could never understand the lingering aftermath of jail until I went. Though I was innocent, I had the experience that reshape my entire narrative.
As I navigated through the murky waters of confusion and pondering the” why me”, I received some good wisdom. My friend, professor and mentor said to me, “Brian, welcome to the fraternity.” He started to unpack a system that has proclivities to place all black men in handcuffs at least once in their lives. His disquieting connections help me make sense out of the senseless. It was doing my incarnational,paideia experience where I had to the chance to see first-hand what injustice looks like from another perspective other than being black. Now, I was black in handcuffs (feet and hands) and was treated as if I was truly the wretched of the earth. As I talk with young brothers –black ,white and Mexican –my heart was troubled at the criminal element that governed their entire mental model. They were comfortable with being incarcerated.
As I laid on the steel bed, I reflected upon Jesus coming and dwelling with us on Earth. I thought that it had to be something special for him to allow himself to be incarnated into a place that was so foreign to him as jail was foreign to me. The ability to display love at such a high order in an unfamiliar place brought a sense of urgency that I have been unable to shake. Being incarnated into that jail made me come to some realization that the church is losing, and losing bad.
This new fraternity is not one that we celebrate but one that we hold with extreme empathy. It is one where the danger of incarnation becomes a burden and our greek letters are…
That is word agape’ which means love…Dr. Martin Luther King articulates agape with these words:
Agape is not weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to sacrifice in the interest of mutuality. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community.
So as I crossed over a couple of weeks ago, Brian was destroyed and renamed inmate 251456, and resurfaced as one ready to serve. This new fraternity though forged in the fires of shame and embarrassment has transformed and re-established the essence of Sankofa in my life.
Welcome to the fraternity!!!!