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.

 

Hyper-Masculinity Default

I came to the conclusion, yesterday, that I am hyper-masculine. There is this constructed sense of male bravado that governs my life. When love is extended to me by my wife or daughter, I tend to pull away with extreme countermeasures –a simple form of affection becomes a sacred place of tension. Where did this thinking come from? I am not sure…

As I read through some of the phenomenal womanist and feminist works, I am challenged by all the hyper-masculinity that is so easily spewed in American culture. America tends to isolate men in a space of invulnerability. One’s manhood is in question when that man starts to appreciate the humanity of another; violence has become a distinction of what manhood entails; money has become one of the primal characteristics of what being a man represents.

I tried to model myself after those false attributes of what a man should resemble. I overlooked the humanity of other people when it jeopardize my manhood; my reflection were always laden with metaphors of violence; I thought money was the answer to all problems. What I found was that the roads of such a journey are tainted with tragedy?

When life hands you a mirror and says take a look, the staggering blow of hypocrisy looms large. No longer can you deny the myth and façade that has become the norm in your life. You must now come to terms with the sexist, homophobic and prejudice person that you are. Being in community with women and the LGTBQ community gave me a sense of reality that had previously been detoured from my life. No longer was my hyper –masculine default viable.

There were questions that were asked that challenged me to be better: Do I always agree with my womanist and feminist sisters; no! Do I always agree with the LGBTQ community; no! Do I always agree with white men; no? But, I learned to grow in community in spite of our differences.

Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without. – William Sloane Coffin

Unmasking a Preserved Blackness: Infrastructure for Reconciliation

(White and black church are used as terms of identification not for separation identifiers.)

The need for a dialog about racial reconciliation is long overdue. The Trayvon Martin Trial (I use the Trayvon Martin Trial because he appeared to be the one on trial not George Zimmerman) brought an end to the entire premise of post-racial. The margin between black and white became extended with intensified reluctance from both parties in a search for a common place of peace. Even my own perspective highlights this point as well. Yes, I believe Trayvon was murdered because he was a young black male with a hoodie. There are others who believe Zimmerman was honestly trying to defend himself. But opposing views are highly based upon race. At the end of the day the only person who knows the real truth is George Zimmerman.

What this case has done is bring light to the racial disparity that this country has never really dealt with and probably never will deal with. But to add insult to injury the church has done an even poorer job of the very same thing. We have replaced reconciliation with silence and a theological stance of providence. We have not brought our prejudices to the table with clarity and boldness in order to develop a comprehensive plan of attack in our local context.

Here are my three points to ponder;

1. There must be an honest understanding leveraged by the white church that denotes that racial divide is a direct reflection of their behavior. There would not have been a need for a black church if everyone was treated equal. Black folks wanted and needed a black church to worship without feeling the need to still be in a submissive status to the slave master. (Even today many older black folks raise one figure up when leaving the church.) This was sign to the master that they need to excuse themselves and the finger was their form of asking permission. The maltreatment of black folks in church produces an AME church, National Baptist Convention, Progressive National Convention, COGIC and many more.

” America’s sin of racism has never even been confessed, much less repented for. Repenting for past sins against each other and being reconciled to one other” — Jim Wallis

2. The Black church is really not interested in having that conversation or a meaningful fellowship in white mainline denominations. These organizations have developed a theology and precedent that they are not ready to release in order to make white churches feel comfortable. They have carved out a sacred space that places them in preservation mode. There are traditional practices that have become emblems of progress and change that the black church will never relinquish just to be considered diverse.  To allow the white church to infiltrate that would resemble something remotely close to a Trojan Horse ethos.

3. Most pastors will not engage this topic for the simple fact that it might expose them as being the main culprits of the act. There is not that type of honest introspection being done by most because they live a box with people who look like them. There is an escapism mentality that calls for the problem of racism to be overlooked. It is Derrick Bell who quotes a friend when he says,

“People looking to escape are not worried about solutions.”- Derrick Bell

This is something to start the dialog. There are a lot of things flowing in my mind but I think this gets it going in a right direction.

Unmasking a Preserved Blackness: Ontological Blackness in Evangelical Circles Part 2

Dr. (William Augustus) Jones, in his book, God in the ghetto, argues quite accurately that one’s theology, how I see God, determines one’s anthropology, how I see humans, and one’s anthropology then determines one’s sociology, how I order my society.

Now, the implications from the outside are obvious. If I see God as male, if I see God as white male, if I see God as superior, as God over us and not Immanuel, which means “God with us,” if I see God as mean, vengeful, authoritarian, sexist, or misogynist, then I see humans through that lens.

My theological lens shapes my anthropological lens. And as a result, white males are superior; all others are inferior.- Dr. Jeremiah Wright

 

Is there ever a better time to embrace my blackness? Some would and have cautioned me to slow my intentional broadcasting of my blackness. I then caution them that my blackness in no way sidelines my understanding and love for diversity. It is within diversity where honest dialog can transform a community. True informed dialog will prove useless if all parties are unwilling to be honest to themselves or have a lack of personal introspection.

It is James Baldwin that shapes my thinking when the topic of diversity in on the table. His ability to speak with such honesty about the plight of black folks in America but yet move within many white circles was epic. He never coward away from an issue because of it would prove uncomfortable for his audience.  Though he spoke with an unwavering intent about his love for the black community he still had a love for diversity. It is uncommon today, especially in the church, to see folks who can make this type of transcendence.

Many times a false theological approach is used when the topic of race comes to the table. The attempt is to draw attention away from hard topics instead of drawing them to it. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King says,

“So we have come today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

That is what the black church has to do many times in order to spark change in evangelical circles; they have to incite and infuse the issue into the masses by all means that are viable. The evangelical circles many times dismiss this as false doctrine and then cover it with focus on pseudo- “Jesus talk.” In a bigger scheme of things the Jesus talk would be warranted, -salvifically- but in this case it is more of a smokescreen-a intentional practice to draw the attention away from any issues.

The value of black skin is minimized in society so the need to address any concerns about black skin becomes good missional talk but bad practical methodology.  So you get evangelical circles that will provide missional efforts to the continent of Africa but have turned a blind eye to the African descendants (blacks in America) around the corner from their church. This is problematic and highlights how our perspectives guide our engagements with others.

Still wrestling…

What Does it Mean to be Black- Just My Thoughts

As much as we try to hid behind the myth that racism is dead, the realities are inescapable.  If you scan the local headlines you see the impact of racism everyday thus proven its permanence.

As I sit and ponder,“What does it mean to be black in America,” racism sits as a constant identifier of/for change. To be honest you cannot even answer the question without making the connection of racism and black people. Sadly, the make-up of many blacks is shaped and warped by the insidious impact of racism.

A simple task of escaping the concept of race has proven many times over to be an endless task. The very essence of life in America is interwoven with the heighten sense of racism. It has become a booming business scheme as well as a financial tool to manipulate wealth.

I submit that this is not a senseless cry of foul play,-but a honest look at my blackness. A blackness that is wrapped in an authentic sense of self awareness and love for other blacks who endured the same. A blackness that has reconsidered the position of others in spite of their heinous treatment. A blackness that is steeped in the love that beacons upon God to define why suffering looks to be the norm. A blackness that has a definition that is articulated and developed by everyone except those locked in this very blackness.

To be black in America is to deal with racism from the stance of normal rather than being surprised when encountered. Blackness is taught to be ignored even if you are black.

We have adopted the term minority but cringe at the very notion of be called African.

Americanism is a subtle subtitle for a systematic process that results in the power structure that has managed to marginalize the black.

What does it mean to be black?

It means to have tears that are labeled as shame rather than righteous indignation. A smile that is reduced to an evil smirk because fear has been embraced by onlookers-misunderstood. Being black means to relinquish certain aspects of your authenticity in order to provide a sense of moral uplift for others.

 Blackness can be defined many ways with many different terms, but one thing is sure- many want to experience the black but do not want the black experience.

Just my thoughts.