Black Rage

This is part of a larger work entitled, “Perspectives of a Black Rage Sensibility: (Reshaping) God Through Spaces of Blackness”

I came into a STM (Master of Sacred Theology) program at a Lutheran seminary in that crucible where the disparity between Black America and the America posited by white folks. I came, again, into the dialogue around hatred and race as the seminary struggled to adequately face the death of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and the Charleston Nine. The reflections of this thesis is tattooed on the backs of black bodies in every town in “these yet to be united states of america.”[1] Here begins my fresh perspective of addressing hatred in the face of the Cross.

Imagine being one of seven black students, at a major university, with a current student body of over 40,000 students.  Furthermore, envision attending a philosophy class, where your professor asks all the students to bring in a picture of Jesus to the next class. Finally, on the day of the class, all of the pictures are gathered, and discussed from the perspective of the professor. Most of the pictures are of a nicely manicured white, Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes made popular by Warner Sallman.[2] This Jesus is striking a pose with a full set of beautiful teeth and a look of perfection. But, within the stack of pictures there arises a photo of the mangled black face of Emmitt Till. A face that looks as if all of hell has been unleashed upon it; a face so distorted that it would be hard to notice that it was the face of a human – (head swollen five times its size, tongue out of his mouth from being choked so hard, eyes out of socket, skull split in two from the blade of an axe.)[3] After viewing the picture, the professor asked, “What the hell is this?” The black student responds, “This is what God looks like when he dares to offend white folk!”[4] This narrative isolates, while pinpointing, the vast differences in the ways Jesus is viewed across the black community. When such evil is perpetrated against black bodies, Jesus cannot be viewed through a lens of whiteness.

The need for a Jesus that embodies the pain of an oppressed people is warranted. Albert Cleage expressed this view in the book The Black Messiah, which depicted Jesus as a black revolutionary leader that critically engaged oppressed black people.[5] The by-product of such pain and torture is beheld in Black Rage. Black Rage is distinct from simple rage. Simple rage is compounded by the experience of being black and therefore, the socially acceptable target of enacted hatred. The full possession of one’s blackness thickens the impact of the experience of rage. Even so, blackness simultaneously critiques and identifies the distinguishing factors of trauma. James Cone expresses the need to emphasize the black component of one’s experience in his naming of Black Theology of Liberation.[6] Cone states that he was black before he was a theologian.[7] Cone asserts, “My identity with blackness…controls the investigation.”[8] The reality of Cone’s and others’ black experience augments the overall perception of any emotive concept. Black is not just a color or racial construct. Black is a rigid identity of faith where an embodied rage seeks to understand and interpret God. This identification is similar to Cone’s Black Theology of Liberation where he deliberately focuses on a one-sided view of Jesus. He theologizes upon the injustice done to the black community equating the suffering of blacks with the suffering of Jesus.

Cone’s and Dr. Carter’s depiction of Jesus reinforces a stagnated hope that has plagued the lives of black folks.[9] Even in the midst of massive social chaos, black folks were able to persist in their faith in God. Nonetheless, a history of heinous acts perpetuated upon the black community impacted their faith –Black people endured such hate and still remained able to say there is a loving God. How does a loving God allow such evil to dismantle a particular group of people? These are questions and thoughts that many black Christians and theologians have wrestled with for years.

Black Rage emerged as a social strategy for progress. Black Rage is a catalytic force that helped produce a creative response to terror without reciprocating the level of hatred that was perpetrated upon their bodies. Black Rage, the outcry of people rendered legally and socially invisible, searching for peace in a nation that designated them as the “other.” As the culture of the black community developed over the years from enslavement, to Emancipation, to reconstruction, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement and the backlash of shootings of Boyd, Rice, Martin, Scott, etc., so did the Black community’s understanding and articulation of God. Within those decades and decades of growth and development, the impact of Black Rage surfaced in the black body in many ways: church, jobs, education and imprisonment. The concern of this work is to describe and analyze how Black Rage has shaped how the black community sees God.[10] The thesis of this study is that Black Rage, embodies people who have endured heinous crimes on a continuous basis therefore manufacturing a Black Rage. Black Rage opened the black community to experience God through narratives that detailed their generations of struggle. As a people that respond to God from the experience of pain instead of being the people who are the purveyors of pain, where their Black Rage shaped their hermeneutic for understanding God.

 

 

[1] These Yet to be United States of America is a poem written my Maya Angelou. The use of lower case are mine which are used as a form of protest for brutality levied against the black body.

[2] Warner Sallman was a Christian painter from Chicago. He is most associated with his portrait, “Head of Christ,” of which more than 500 million copies have been sold. In 1994, the New York Times wrote he is likely to be voted the “best-known artist of the century”. Obery Hendricks writes about Sallman’s white Jesus: Then there was the famous blue-eyed Jesus…the most popular and most fanciful image of him (which I, like most folks I knew, thought to be the exact likeness of the Lord). The Scandinavian features and the clipped beard and carefully coiffed blond curls –not to mention the piercing blue eyes –gave Sallman’s Jesus a nobility that assured all who gazed upon him that the last thing he would do was cause trouble or upset anyone’s day.” Obery Hendricks, The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teaching and How They Have Been Corrupted, New York: Three Leaves Press, 2006., 2.

[3] These are words and details that were provided by Mamie Till when she had the opportunity to see her son. Mamie Till, “The Untold Story of Emmitt Louis Till,”TV1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAemBpFM1NI, April 28, 2011. (accessed April 28, 2016)

[4] This is the true story of Dr. Mack King Carter during his undergrad years at Florida State University. He was a major part of the integration of that campus in 1972 and became one of the country’s foremost black preachers. He died in October of 2013.

[5] Albert Cleage Jr., The Black Messiah, Trenton, New Jersey: African World Press, Inc., 1989.

[6] James Cone, Black Theology of Liberation, New York: Lippincott, 1970.

[7] Ibid.

[8] James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, New York: Orbis Books, 1969.,33.

[9] Black people, black community or black folks will be used at different times to indicate the black experience.

[10] I am inserting that to “see God” is to experience the love or lack thereof of the same God one claims. Seeing, then, is just not a visual exercise but a tangible experience of the believer that leaves a permanent pathway to transformation. “Seeing” God is the primordial hope that God enters into the struggle with black people.

 

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I needed to write…(Day 2)

This is day two of trying to find the words to write again. I am not sure what happen but something made me stop. The past couple of days, I have been wrestling with one reason: fear. I have done all of the work to get to this moment of starting a PhD. program and now they will find out that I don’t belong. Never has that been something I have struggled with or hindered by until it dawned upon me a couple days ago. Now, I feel like I am learning to write all over again.
It is hard to be creative in a space where fear is paramount.

I needed to write…(Day 1)

It has been months since I have made an attempt to write anything. I have wrestled with myself: a lack of things to say or simply fear of critique. It appeared for the first time that I had developed an awareness of the critique. What I had labeled a lack of interesting events was really my unwillingness to be vulnerable. Writing places one’s perspective in a space of judgement where all stand as judge and jury. It is a place where the untamed life restructures itself into a sanctuary of peace –chaos becomes fortified spaces of comfort. I had become too consumed by the hustle of “trying to show I belonged.”

How do I feel?

I was asked the question: How do I feel? My response…

There is no unity or peace in spaces where my blackness is not appreciated; in a nation where Christianity is the summation of white, rich men who deem it their responsibility to make (a)merica safe. I awake every day with a crisp “Fuck You” on my mind which is manifested as a serene “Lord Have Mercy.” Knowing that most Christians will feel offended by use of f—k but have little concern for how folks are getting f—ed. We live in such a cynical world, “where cynicism is an unpleasant way of telling the truth.” But Maria Popova enlightens us that:

“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”

So, we are stuck in this cynical moment of reality, where hope is constantly being attacked by white supremacy. A time when the church has found pleasure and refuge in tropes and colloquial sayings while refusing to attend to the needs of the people. We find ourselves in a posture of resistance with the ever-present stench of fear looming: a fear entrenched by a hope that a racist country will do right by the people. We are not defeated but understand the road is less traveled; it is a road that is spoken about but very seldom walked upon.

How do I feel? I feel more like saying, “Fuck Trump” rather than saying, “Let’s pray for him.” There is no debate on whether it is right or wrong, you decide. But it is honest.

Brothers in Conversation About Race (Part 9)

As Brian and I have engaged in this conversation about race, I have been challenged by some who question the benefits of engaging in this conversation. My role as a United Methodist pastor has been put forth as a leading reason for me to disengage from talking about race for fear that my position and opinions will create animosity. Racism has become a topic that is off limits even though we know it is still a problem in the U.S. Yet, we know that the only way to eliminate a problem is through meaningful discussion. This is a discussion that the church ought to be leading because we have the framework which allows truly open and honest discussion that creates the unity we seek without diminishing those who participate in the conversation. We have the cross of Jesus Christ.

American slavery and its legacy of racism seen through the power of the Cross is not about black victimization or white guilt. It is an example of resurrection. The Christian doctrine of resurrection provides the means by which we can discuss racism and how to move forward without assigning guilt or creating victims.

According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ suffered a terrible death on the cross. He was beaten and abused but he is not a victim but a conqueror. Jesus died on the cross but his death is not final. American slavery and the racism that followed created death in so many ways for people of African descent but this death is not final. African-Americans have come through the suffering, pain, and literal and figurative death of slavery and racism to not only survive but live. The experiences of African-Americans brought life to this country. There are many achievements that occurred during and following the suffering and pain that slavery and racism imposed on people of African descent that affirm this point. Viewed through the power of the cross our discussions about racism must not focus on black victimization but rather must focus on the faithfulness of God to bring light out of darkness; joy out of suffering; life out of death.

Likewise, Paul writes in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Immediately preceding this verse, Paul writes about how he wants to do right but evil is close at hand. He writes about the wretchedness that he feels; a wretchedness that he likens to death. It is in the cross of Christ that Paul finds relief and is free of the guilt that comes with sin. So it should be that talk of the sin of slavery and racism among Christians should not lead to condemnation and feelings of wretchedness. Instead, white guilt is replaced by the saving grace of Jesus Christ so that we know that the law of sin is overruled by the law of the Spirit. Paul does not refuse to talk about his sins but he also does not give sin the final say. Our conversation is not centered on the death which comes from sin but on the life found in the Savior.

An understanding of the cross as the source of redeeming suffering and atoning for sin opens the way for the final and complete end of racism, at least among those who claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The power of the cross is greater than our sin, guilt, or suffering. Looking to the cross, let’s start the conversation!