Love as Revolutionary Rhetoric

(This is something that I started writing but it is not finish. These are just my initial thoughts)

There is something strangely suspicious about love. When I say love, I am not talking about love in a concrete form but more around the notion of how it is used rhetorically. How, sophomorically, we offer it as a last resort or a fleeting salutation? This variety of cartoonish love makes for self-aggrandizement that is similar to masturbation— really only serving the one given the performance.

Love is an institution that has been transversely weaponized to simultaneously free the oppressor and the oppress. Therefore, love performed as mere rhetoric ceases to capture the cacophony of emotions that are mandatory for the detailed work of what we call love. It no wonder James Baldwin so eloquently wrote, “Love takes off mask we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” ( Fire Next time, 95) This quote from Baldwin is the amalgamation, I suspect, of Paul Laurence Dunbar and 1 Peter 4:8. In Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask, we are introduced to the infamy—the mask. 

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

       We wear the mask!

Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear The Mask

This is important because Dunbar isolates the issue as a singular event. From the title alone, it appears as if we all wear the same mask which undoubtedly leads to the same place— “dream(s) otherwise.” The mask is not simply serving as a covering but the mask is doubling as a farce and a con. The mask is preserving evil as a representation of nostalgia, this emblem of sacred duty. The mask has rendered itself as “[t]his debt we pay to human guile…” Dunbar envisions the mask as a vital part of the who we are yet he wrestles with how this mask will produce the “dream otherwise.”

Songs of Protest

21 After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old. (Acts 4:21-22)

Peter and John on their way to the temple encounter a lame man and, ultimately, become conduits for healing. This man whom many had passed by numerous of times, on their way to whatever pressing “Godly matters” is now in the presence of two concerned brothers. Peter and John dapped the brother up and encouraged him to “rise up and walk” in the name of that Black Messiah from Nazareth.

Because they had invoked the name of the Black Messiah, Jesus, and stood against the status quo they were unjustly arrested. Their legal protest for free health care got them placed in jail and brought before the corrupt and misinformed rulers. These corrupt rulers did everything in their power to get them to concede and change their talking points. Recognizing that these men had definitely been with the Black Messiah, the rulers made all matter of threats, but, eventually, yielded because the people’s praises were of such a rebellious vibe, it disrupted their desired intentions. These were not just praises of euphoric emotions, these songs of protest appeared to have activated strategies for change. The scripture denotes that the rulers “finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising.” The songs of protest were such a disruption of resistance that all plans were averted.

Rethinking My Radicalism

The mark of my radicalism is upended many days with the word, “Daddy”! Right or wrong my radicalism has a new perspective. As my children get older and my marriage gets longer my revolutionary heart takes on a new norm. This could be a form of wisdom that I am possessing as I get older or it could be a solid fear that I have embraced unknowingly, nonetheless I have changed.

The need to be responsible outweighs the need to be heard here recently. As I think through my life and some of the stands that I have made, I wonder would I be reluctant to make those same stands today. One thing I know for sure- revolution and radicalism comes with a price. I have lost many jobs for taking stands for people who may or may not have done the same for me. It has damaged the financial stability in my home many times because I choose to make a stand for justice and right rather than going with the flow.

At the age of 39, I am rethinking things and how I engage. I am trying to be extremely mindful of what I engage and when. My nature is one of a tenacity to defend those who will not defend themselves. Americans in general tend to turn the other cheek when they see others being the victim of maltreatment but that has always disturbed me. Now, I wrestle with the extent of my involvement for justice at the price of my children eating. Yes, I still speak my mind but my approach has changed from confrontational to informing. I have come to grips with the fact that I am not the average 9-5 company man but I also understand some times you do what you have to do as a father.

I applaud those who make stands for justice at the price of losing financial opportunities-jobs, engagements, speeches, etc. It is a self fulfilling job but the fallout many times brings one to the brink of loneliness and misunderstanding. Many do not understand your call to service and label it as lunacy. They forgo the good you do but deep down they envy your life.

I think of Assata and many of the other revolutionary that made great sacrifices for many of the Africans trapped in these yet to be United States of America. They endured pain, prison and separation from loved ones in order to defend justice for us. (I marvel at their call to duty to be trailblazers that would lead them to short end of injustice.)

The work that many of the black radical/revolutionary preachers engaged in during the 1900’s left an edible mark on my life. They are the reason that I studied theology and continue to do so in pursuit of a pastorate. Their love for God was embodied in their love for black people. They lived on the very notion that God would bring freedom and they were willing to die for that very thing. Many suffered hardship as they developed comprehensive, theological paradigms to catapult blacks into freedom mentalities. They were men/women of intelligence as well as men/women of strength that never coward at the intimidation of racism.

I rest on the shoulders of such great theological minds that lived out their theology regardless of the sacrifice that it made upon their lives. I strive to carry on that prophetic tradition with the same dedication and excellence of such great elders-constant radical revolution.