A Few Thoughts: Thinking Through Ephesians 6:13

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.

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Disconnected Theology to the Exhausted

Every day, I wake up wondering what the day will hold for me. I awake with the question, How long God? How long will they continue to kill us? How long will injustice prevail in the face of the black men and women locked in the racist system called america?…How long?

I then make my way to a seminary campus, which is 95% white that’s located in the midst of an 88% black community. Within the classrooms of this seminary, I hear about Luther, Wesley and Calvin but quite honestly the talk about the theology of race is usually an uncomfortable subject with tremendous scares attached. The notion or better yet audacity, that an evangelical God is concerned about the social welfare of black folks and the poor in general is shelved (by some) for what can be denoted as the need to preach the Gospel faithfully –“whatever that really means.” A Gospel that is disconnected from the “least of these” is not salvific, not the Gospel and simply useless.

I spend most of my days peddling through seminary courses with utter disbelief of how disconnected the church has become to the plight of the real world. We peruse through our seminary world in a microcosm of theological vanity, searching for new vocabulary to tell people how to share and love while injustice becomes the norm of the day. As James Cone asks, “Is it not time for theologians to get upset?” Where is the anger? Where is the prophetic preaching for change? Why is the liturgy not representative of the chaotic state of emergency that we live within? Why are there not prayers for systemic change being rendered for the community that embodies those who are being murdered disproportionately by cops? God cannot be pleased with the senseless murders of young black people by those sworn to protect –Black Lives Matter!

We live in a world that has managed to reduce the lives of black folks to replaceable inconveniences –we get rid of one, another replaces them and becomes another inconvenience. The value of black life in a theological sense is couched for the love of all. Blame is lobbed at the feet of those whom the system has targeted. We expect those caught in the trap to get themselves out. Think about that…they are caught in a trap and we want them to get themselves out. The whole intent of the trap is to ensnare not to free so we as the church must take the initiative to radically bring about freedom.

“It is expensive to be poor” laments James Baldwin but “exhausting to be black in america” replied one of my white brethren.

It is a call from God that ushers in a revolutionary experience of Shalom even while sitting in this midst of the powder keg called america. It may be hard to see the image of God in a riot but it is problematic and sinful to sit silently, while injustice reigns.

A Theology in Flux

Does God make mistakes? My grandmother would declare that he doesn’t, and I may agree, but he is surely above my thought level. I like many others who have been bless with carmel skin waited for a verdict that would serve justice for the black people.( In all honesty we knew what the deal was…) We gazed at the television, listened to the radio, peeped out twitter and Facebook, to once again find out that we are BLACK.

It is quite obvious that america has no concern or care for black bodies. The black body represents a trope that refashions atrocities as complaints in what Maya Angelou called “ these yet to be united states of america.” The sufferings of a community of people have been lost in media hype as the church sits idle making attempts to evangelize without addressing justice. The Gospel disconnected from justice is a consumeristic explanation of suffering that minimizes the value of people in pain. Many want the Gospel, but, they want a Gospel that is denuded from justice. They want a God that abides in the Eucharist and dwells in the water of baptism but not a God who stands on the side of the oppressed and marginalized –the Blacks in america.

Maybe the imago dei is represented in the rioting…–Is God not outraged at injustice?

Riots are the voice of the unheard? – Dr. Martin Luther King

still wrestling…

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.