Excerpt from Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare by James Cone

Malcolm X is the best medicine against genocide. He showed us by example and prophetic preaching that one does not have to stay in the mud. We can wake up; we can stand up; and we can take that long walk toward freedom. Freedom is first and foremost an inner recognition of self-respect, a knowledge that one was not put on this earth to be a nobody. Using drugs and killing each other are the worst forms of nobodyness. Our forefathers fought against great odds (slavery, lynching, and segregation), but they did not self-destruct. Some died fighting, and others, inspired by their example, kept moving toward the promised land of freedom, singing ‘we ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.’ African-Americans can do the same today. We can fight for our dignity and self-respect. To be proud to be black does not mean being against white people, unless whites are against respecting the humanity of blacks. Malcolm was not against whites; he was for blacks and against their exploitation.

Pastor- The Theologian in Residence

What is a theologian in residence?- a pastor. This is the question that we must unpack as we seek a the call of God. This earnest need to connect real life with a theological solution that addresses issues presents “tensions.” Michael Eric Dyson refers to this tension when he states:

“So there are tensions and, in fact, these multiple tensions define my intellectual projects and existential identities: tensions between sacred and secular, tensions between the intellectual and religious, tensions between preaching and teaching, and so on. But I think they are useful, edifying tensions, tensions that help reshape ongoing evolution as a thinker, writer, teacher, preacher and activist.” [1]

These tenuous moments serve as truth that emerges out of the context of one’s experience.[2] A theologian in residence is left to wrestle through such tension in order to provide answers to a searching congregation. It is the tensions that present issues that the theologian in residence is left to find solutions or at best opportunities to develop the faith of the people.

It is James Cone who articulates this tension as a clarion call, “It seems that one weakness of most theological [thinking] is their “coolness” in the investigation of an idea. Is it not time for theologians to get upset?”[3] This call to serve and attend represents a selfless act of bravery and a revolutionary spirit. The role of a theologian in residence is necessary in such a broken and misinformed society. This society forming a world of colonized thoughts must be invaded with theological depth that awakens the people to the obvious. No longer can church be the humdrum of the masses that affords churchgoers free networking opportunities and catwalks to display their new fashion sense with reluctance to provide biblical insight. The theologian in residence must become a catalyst for change, an impetus for creative ideas that reconnects the community back to God.

Theologians can no longer argue over mundane doctrines that only serve to augment the ego. Therefore, theology must be used as a gauge, a tool to break through into new intellectual spaces for communal advancement. Theologians must do the hard work of developing ideas that benefit the believer in objective means rather than subjective arguments, resulting in a “deep faith” dipped in love that does not subscribe to destructive doctrines.[4] These destructive doctrines become subversive and counterproductive as the church goes forth to reach the un-christian—those shaped and impacted by culture rather than biblical faith.

The posture of the theologian in residence must be one that is bothered by the insensitive nature of a community that allows its people to suffer.  Mere homiletical ingenuity without practical engagement renders the church useless –great preaching with no action.

The church is on the eve of losing its missional ethos much the same as Hip Hop lost its face to face value. In its inception, Hip Hop was something that had to be experienced as well as heard. The experience of Hip Hop was in the actual hearing of break beats being manipulated by the DJ. Then the emcee pronounced social commentary through your speaker which would become the centerpiece of all parties and entertainment. There was no Twitter or Facebook to announce the function; you had to be in the area to experience the move. Once the record companies started to see the financial gain that was produced by Hip Hop, the experience was minimized because the experience could be manufactured through a record. So the face the face aesthetic was lost due to corporate takeover. So the message became convoluted with sexual trash instead of the very social commentary that brought it to the forefront. Thus Hip Hop lost its way and the church has fallen victim to the very same aesthetic. It has lost its impact in the community because it has rejected its reason for existing—making disciples. This is the societal change that theologians in residence must find solutions for in order to be transformative in the community.

How do we construct societal change through a theological lens? ­­–is the question. The theologian in residence must adopt what Amira Baraka denotes as a “report and reflect” as he describes black artists during the Harlem Renaissance.[5] The goal is to “report and reflect so precisely the nature of the society, and of himself in that society, that other men will be moved by the exactness of his rendering” that change becomes imminent and obligatory.[6] The “tensions” are escalated daily in order to reshape the narrative through the work of the never ending questioning and assault for truth.

These tensions produce a spiritual salt pack to the spiritual nose of the theologian in residence. Every now and then we must be brought back to reality even as it relates to our faith. As leaders, we get quite complacent with our position and thus rest on our morals. That is around the time that God allows the truth to come and knock at our door. These tensions are constant reminders that we are not too far removed from those whom we serve. This drives home the fact that we must always be mindful of brothers and sisters still trapped in the pitfalls of an unredeemed community, fighting for the opportunity to see what lies outside of that dismal world where “the street corner has become a sanctuary community.”[7]

This is where the hard work begins for the theologian in residence –the constant battle of answering the unknown questions while pointing all people toward Christ. It is the job of the theologian in residence to wrestle with the work of the Lord as an “exegete, prophet, teacher, preacher, and philosopher.”[8] It is becoming all things to all men; it is walking humbly; it is the tedious work of the search, all for the glory of God. The theologian in residence embodies an ethic that is so consumed by God that theology is ever present in everything. There is nothing that is not impacted by theology which includes the theologian. It is this molded mind, this vulnerable space called a theologian that has experienced formation in God that makes the search renewed daily. It is this need that is beyond human understanding that forms the passion of the theologian-“a traumatic event that challenges a person to become a theologian…”[9]

I conclude with the words of a friend, Joseph Boston:

“Being a theologian isn’t the safest way to work out your faith but it’s the best path to having an authentic faith.” (1 Peter3:15)

 

[1] Michael Eric Dyson. Open Mike (United States: Basic Civitas Books, 2003), 12.

[2] James Cone, God of the Oppressed (United States: Harper San Francisco, 1975), 17.

[3] James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power: Twentieth Anniversary Edition (NY: Harper and Row, 1989; reprint of the 1969 original),2-3. The italicized/bracketed words are mine not those of the author.

[4] This is a thought conveyed from a conversation at Princeton from words spoken by Otis Moss III as he reflected on William Sloan Coffin.

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

[6] Ibid.,251.

[7] Harvie Conn. A Clarified Vision of Urban Mission. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing,1987), 44.

[8] Cone, God of the Oppressed, 8.

[9] iJudith Herman. Trauma and Recovery. (New York: Basic Books,1992), 178-188

Theology on Edge: Introduction

Is it not time for theologians to get upset?- James Cone, Black Theology & Black Power

The call to serve represents a selfless act of bravery and a revolutionary spirit. The role of the pastor as theologian is needed and necessary in a broken society. A society, a world of colonized thoughts must be invaded with theological depth that awakens the people to the obvious. No longer can church be the humdrum of the masses that affords churchgoers free networking opportunities and catwalks to display their new fashion sense. It must become a catalyst for change, an impetus for creative ideas that reconnect the community back to God.

Theologians can no longer argue over mundane doctrines that only serve to augment the ego. Theology must be used as a gauge, a tool to break through into new intellectual spaces for communal advancement. Theologians must do the hard work of developing ideas that benefit the believer in objective means rather than subjective arguments.

It is time for theologians to be bothered by the insensitive nature of a country that allows its people to suffer.  Mere homiletical ingenuity without practical engagement is rendering the church useless- great preaching with no action.

How do we construct societal change through an theological lens?- is the question.

 

Reconciling with James Baldwin: My Discontent with the “System” of the Church

I have grown discontent with the “system” of church. This is not to cast dispersion upon the biblical understanding of church but to identify the mis-education that have befalling the church. It has embraced a prideful stance of bigotry, hatred, racism and sexism disguised in Christian jargon and labeled as religious zeal and piety. It has managed to produce a hate based upon personal dislikes that are not comparable to the hatred that is described by God.  Ambiguous theological concepts of the reformers became standard epitaphs that are centered upon inhuman practices of its founders. Though the concepts may be biblically correct the perspectives are humanly divisive. So what it produces is a sacred white boy club that other ethnicities and women have no real chance to ever find solace without conforming to those tenets-at least in those spaces, if at all.

This is not a safe haven speech for egalitarianism but a stark view of the theological perspectives that supposedly galvanized the Christian church when in actuality it was the impetus for the system of church. A high level of importance was placed upon transference of information-evangelism, but little was placed upon building community. (This is why John Calvin and Martin Luther can be embraced though they had pure hatred for one another but James Cone is viewed as a hater because he admonishes the need for the oppress community to strive. Also why Jonathan Edwards can own slaves and still be deemed the greatest pastor /preacher ever in America but Jeremiah Wright, a Marine veteran and pastor, is demonized by the media regardless of the fact that he established many major programs in a poverty stricken community.)  It is important to understand that building community or a kingdom is only possible if there is shared information. The information cannot become a substitute for community. So sharing just for the sake of sharing becomes an aimless tool used to build the system for growth instead of building a people for community. The system of church has become just that- shared information. The power of the church is slowly dying and people are finding discontent with the institutionalized, systematized, programmatic process that disconnects with those who ask the church to defend itself in the name of truth.

I write this today because it was the “system” of church that taught me that homosexuality was vileness of the vile. They would say”we hate the sin but love the sinner” but never displayed that love. Never allowed the very word (logos) that they said was life changing ever do what they proclaimed. They would ridicule the homosexuals into leaving or flat out faking it in order to have fellowship. Because this was so embedded in me, I relinquished all ties with anything that had anything to do with homosexuality. I used unsavory names for homosexuals and thought they were the scum of the earth-go figure. With that I lost the opportunity to read one of the greatest writers who ever lived-James Baldwin. It was Baldwin that showed me a love for God and humanity that Calvin and Luther had no clue. He lived his theology before all men and was willing to tell all how he saw America through that theology.  He would denote:

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

He viewed America through a critical lens because of the love he had for the country and his kinsmen, not because of some pseudo-theological doctrine that implies love. It was Baldwin that caused me to see the system of church for what it is not-the church. The system of church breeds contempt but church embraces an equality of disciplined love. To James Baldwin, I owe that type of perspective.

Rest in Power on your born day…