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It Ain’t What you Think

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24, NRSV)

The last forty years in American public life have been the most socially and culturally divisive, perhaps since the Civil War. The American republic has always been made of complex perspectives on a wide variety of issues.Throughout American history the divisions of black versus white, free versus enslaved, indigenous versus immigrant, North versus South, Christian versus “everybody else”, gay versus straight, east coast versus west coast, and just about any other division has dominated our portrayal of our selves as Americans.

While our divisions were built into American identity from the outset, the last half century has given way to consequential tears in the fabric of the Republic. We have used certain divisions to reinforce other in order to build coalitions, voting blocs and larger groups of influence. Our social discourse complexifies with compound descriptors like “Christian-southern-whites”, or “non-immigrant native-speaking persons of color”, or “black Southern gay men”. All of these descriptors are not just describing realities, but in fact are making out tribal distinctions. The carve out new spaces for entrenchment-home encampments to find like-minded believers  in order to feel “at home” somewhere. We shape these tribes (with their particularly ascribed stereotypes, ideologies and political instincts) in order to make the world digestible and manageable.

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BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Probably the most maligned of these complex tribal distinctions is any one of them that include the moniker Christian-a very well earned distinction. Throughout the centuries, Christianity has perpetuated some of the most egregious crimes or acts on other people. Slavery, indigenous conquest, and the subjugation of non whites, were all perpetrated with Christian institutional endorsement. Continuing in that surrogacy, we as Americans have used the Christian moniker to create new and distinct tribal groups to reinforce political and social beliefs. Since the Moral Majority of the late 1970s, to be Christian in America is to be part of the “Conservative” tribe and political party. For the mainstream, to be Christian means believing in creationism, being pro-life, for a singular definition of marriage (between a man and woman) and to believe in the divine right to American Manifest Destiny.

The problem will of this is the truth of the Judeo-Christian faith; it does not neatly fit into such well constructed, poll-tested, hermetically sealed demographic voting categories. Jesus was not a republican or a democrat. He didn’t defend unborn life at the expense of the living. He didn’t campaign for tax reform or wrap himself up in anyone’s patriotic symbology. He didn’t promote biblical adherence in schools, idolatrous belief in a state-sponsored savior, and he sure as heaven didn’t count on America as being the vehicle for the Kingdom of God.

Jesus wasn’t a progressive either. He wasn’t an American liberal seeking to harmony with everyone and promoting peace, love and soul. He didn’t believe in pro-choice, a government sponsored social safety net, and the unity of all humanity under one banner of peace. He wasn’t a socialist who believed in the redistribution of wealth (despite what you might read in the Gospel of Luke). He’s not the Jesus of the elitist and pontifical Left, or the xenophobic hypocritical Right. A pox on both our houses!

The American tribal adjective- Christian is a perversion of the ancient teachings of the one called the Christ. We lack the seriousness to believe the faith we practice. No, I am not suggestion that “we all fall short of the glory of God”. I am asserting that we (as Americans) intentionally avoid the hard practice of The Way! To be a follower of Jesus means leaving “stuff” behind, denying yourself, and taking up a cross. It means hearing the voice from eternity call you to “drop your nets” and follow him. It means you (and this nation) are far from the kingdom values we espouse and say we believe. Its just easier to pervert the gospel than to live it.

Only the words of the prophet Amos can give us the wisdom we need in our hypocritical and fiercely partisan time. God wants none of our worship, festivals or pomp when we cannot see the third way of moral justice. The vision of truth can only be revealed when we let go of our tribalism and let Christ challenge us all…

 

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Church, Civil Religion, Discipleship, Justice, Old Testament, Political Theology, Sacred Memory, Uncategorized

The Return of the Truth

(It’s been a long time since Ive posted. In fact, its been four years (How telling??). A lot has happened in those years- and a lot remains the same. I apologize for the silence, but the truth of the matter is that its more complacency on my part than anything. A confession: I got comfortable in the status quo of equal rights, healthcare for all, and having a black President. And in the face of continued injustices somehow I are complacent…For that I pray for God’s forgiveness. There is still too much to work for and to not be coopted into normalcy. For things are NOT normal…

I am reactivating and recommitting my self to the spiritual practice of my writing. The clarity of thought and purpose of thinking, and the calling to stand for what is moral, Godly, and true. Some are called to march, others to be arrested, others still to be run for office….I have always been called to teach, educate and empower. This blog is a means to the end.)

 

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“But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” –Daniel 3:12-18

 

In our house we listen to Christian contemporary radio station. It’s one in our home 24 hours a day. Our children love the music, and for my wife and me, (two theologically educated clergy persons), the messages are more theologically consistent than most of the gospel music being played. The music and messages that are on the station are often found to be in more evangelical churches and that is fine because they speak a truth that we can affirm in our house. Occasionally, the station has guests on to talk about inspirational topics our to simply encourage listeners on certain topics.

This was the case this past Friday. In the aftermath of a most divisive election and on the day of a deeply unpopular inauguration, the station had a Christian counselor to come on  and to talk about strategies to heal and restore relationships.(- good topic right? sigh) When responding to the question about what we are to do as Christians in the aftermath of the election, the guest put forth the classic answer of Christian conformity- “we are to pray for our leaders as the Bible instructs.”Citing Daniel and Paul, the guest went on to say our prayers for our president’s success mean we are being faithful to the Bible.

I was infuriated.

Livid that such a perversion of the faith could be on my “theologically consistent” radio station, I started yelling at the radio in the car.

“How stupid!”

“Thats the best answer you can give??!!”

The truth is that the Bible offers dueling views on our role as people of faith in relationship to government. Sometimes the text tells us to stay and pray for the powers (Jeremiah’s message to the exiles). At other times it tells us to stand up and fight for the oppressed (Moses against Pharaoh). While the guests comments weren’t wrong, they didn’t tell the whole truth. Protest, resistance and standing up for God in the face of impending death is very much a faithful response to government as much as “praying for our leaders”. The above text from Daniel demonstrates that for us.

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These three boys who are coopted into the Babylonian governmental service still know the truth of their heritage and faith. Their names and identities were coopted for the purposes of social control by Nebuchadnezzer, but they knew who they were. And while they could do many things for the government of the king, they would not blaspheme their God by bowing to another. Therefore, they resist.  The speak truth at the risk of their lives. They exercise a faith filled response-trusting God over the king or any political system.

Beloved, people of faith have failed. We have failed. Faithful living is not conformity. It never has been and it never will be. To be faithful is to be radical according to our societal norms. We as American Christians have lost our saltiness, and traded it for prosperity and stability.

As faithful people, we are not Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, red or blue. Those are the definitions that society imposes. Our job is to resist those and any other attempts at categorization. We are people of the Way of Jesus Christ. The Way that always finds a different path. The Way that risks all to save all. The Way that reveals the visions of truth in a world full of lies. I’m back now…let the work begin.

 

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Civil Religion, Community, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Uncategorized

Open Letter to the leaders of “THE SHIFT”

The following open letter is has been written in response to a press release that announced a new initiative of the International Fellowship of Full Gospel Baptist Churches. (Link here: Announcement for “THE SHIFT” ) .

The Shift” as it has been named has been introduced as the key intuitive to reinvigorate the Christian church….only one problem…. NO WOMEN were present!!!! NONE! ZERO!!! Here is a response to which I, and many others have lent my voice! What about you?????

December 12, 2013

 

Open Letter to Presiding Bishop-Elect Joseph W. Walker III and the “By Invitation Only” Attendees of the Inaugural Meeting of the SHIFT

 

Brothers,

How an initiative begins significantly affects how it goes forward.

We read with interest the well-crafted December 9  press release  of the coming “SHIFT,” a new initiative spearheaded by Rev. Joseph W. Walker III, Presiding Bishop-Elect of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. We paid special attention to the quotations and looked at the pictures. What a curious title: “Rebranding in the body of Christ: The Ultimate Leader Shift.”

As we read the letter, we became increasingly more disturbed and troubled. Although our first response was “no women were in the room,” in fact our concerns are deeper. It was just sinful and wrongheaded for a group of men to gather without active, real participation of women. We want to be clear about what disturbs us in this moment. Generally, we ignore lists of “100 most influential,” “10 best preachers,” etc.—how could we know who are the 10 best preachers, given all the powerful preachers who will never have a stage? So we read “chosen ones” and

“greatest movement” with a grain of salt. But if those gathered intended to communicate an inclusive, progressive, dynamic, forward thinking agenda, your images and rhetoric failed you.

The  post-letter from Bishop Walker—apparently written in response to comments made about the  absence of women—said “a number of women who were invited… many were unable to attend” (though there were NONE present). We are hard-pressed to believe that all those busy men could come to the SHIFT meeting, but not one woman was available at the time. Quite frankly, if scheduling the meeting proved to be that problematic for women only, then one would be forced to rethink its planning strategies and organization. In the interest of being in solidarity with your womanist sister clergy, if this initiative really intended to be “new,” “progressive,” and “bold,” we think our Womanist/Black Feminist allies in the photo ought have refused to meet or release anything without a critical mass of sister leaders present, not as tokens, but as full participants. If there were men in that room who were in fact appalled by the lack of female representation because they did not know beforehand who would attend, we would hope that our brother allies would publicly declare their disappointment that a meeting with no women present was not rescheduled.

That’s what solidarity and ally-ship look like.

We’ve been chastened not to call black male church leaders out in public. We’ve been told that we have misunderstood. The rising bishop responded in his follow-up letter in what he called “a teaching moment” that we should “ask questions” rather than assume, presumably to correct his errant critics. We say that the gathered brotherhood of clergy should make their commitments clearer. What exactly do they hope to accomplish on behalf of the church? Does it matter to anyone other than women that women are invisible in a gathering of putatively this import? The Bishop’s letter read like a justification for  male privilege. The usually “invisible cloak” of arrogance and male-only leadership was visible. All the rhetoric sounded like everything we’ve ever heard from male-dominated meetings.

As Womanists-Feminists-preachers-scholars-activists our responses come from several places. We are not making assumptions. Your press release and its attending images speak volumes. You are not interested in iconoclastically breaking from tradition. You’ve made clear that even if women were invited their insight, input, or wisdom was not considered significant enough for the group to wait. Indeed, the notion that women have to be “included” is itself a male privilege power move. Surely, you are aware that most black churches are comprised of as much as 80% female membership. We also know  that women do the majority of the work of the church, without whose labor the organization and mission would fail. To be crystal clear, women’s gifts and capacities in all aspects of church leadership are as critical to the survival, relevance and progression of the church as men’s. Are women not already included in God’s plans?

You’ve communicated—loudly—that  (male) “Generals” would strategize and tell all the foot soldiers what to do. A clear inference one gets from your invitation to meet is that God only calls “Generals” who are notorious and already “celebrity” preachers, i.e., those considered “important” and “special” people. Only those with thousands of members know anything about impact or leadership. We understand. That presumption makes sense in an entrepreneurial understanding of the church, where faithfulness is measured only in dollars and size. It smacks of religious elitism. What could an inner-city pastor with only a few members who’s faced gangs and helped people who are poor and struggling to thrive possibly have to offer? You’ve communicated that the hierarchical, “Fathers-know-best,” male-centric table works for you and you’ll scoot over and cram in a couple more of some you deem “worthy.” It is presumptuous and ill thought-out.

We will take you at your word that you didn’t intend to communicate most of the above, if you’ll take our word that’s how many people who care equally about the future of the church received it.

Intent and impact are two very different things. Be clear. Images matter. Rhetoric matters.

In this climate in which the black church finds itself on the brink of becoming irrelevant in the public’s eyes and where black preachers are portrayed on TV as money-grubbing pimps in the pulpit, it would seem that preachers serious about redeeming the times and restoring the reputation of the black church would be committed to justice that reflects genuine shared leadership with women. More than 27 years ago, Rev. Prathia Hall challenged the black Baptist Church on its rampant patronizing exclusion of women, and we find ourselves having to do the same. Dr. Renita Weems once asked, “What will it mean in the history of the church if record droves of women experience and accept their call and we go on with business as usual?” By your omission, you dishonor the legacy, ministry and lives of the biblical general Deborah and prophet Huldah; the church house leader Chloe; and deacon Phoebe and co-workers in the gospel Euodia and Syntyche. You dishonor the work and ministry of women such as Jarena Lee, Septima Clark, Ella P. Mitchell, Brenda Piper Little, Shirley Prince, and Bishop Barbara Harris, and countless of notable and unnamed others.

The challenge with critiquing SHIFT and movements that exclude more of God’s people than they include is that onlookers immediately think it’s personal. Religious male-centered leadership is “normal” and “sacred” and any attempt to question it is deemed perverse or personal. Our call is not for women to have access to patriarchal power, but that we all work together to create new, healthier, more humane—and therefore more godly—systems. We ask you to consider, not only those at the table you’ve spread, but those who are not present. We believe such consideration is central to the ministry of Christ. Women are invisible at the table, but so are many others, including, self-identified same-gender loving Christians. As you consider what or who has their feet on the necks of those you want to liberate, consider whose necks your feet may be holding down. Self-reflection and self-critique are deeply important in justice work.

In response to your invitation for dialogue, here are a few questions to get the dialogue going: How do leaders who claim to fight for justice not know that sexism—excluding women or only including them as afterthoughts—is just as vile and sinful as racism and that it takes intentionality to transform, if in fact you intend to do so? How do self-proclaimed Womanist allies not include women and men who are Womanists and/or Black Feminists in the shaping of vision? Womanist/Black Feminists are not concerned only with the “inclusion” of women in public religious life. That’s about numbers. As people of faith, committed to the cause of radical inclusion, justice and love, we would be remiss in our integrity and derelict in our respective vocations, if we did not speak to injustices and oppressions as evidenced by this introduction of your initiative. We are interested in vision and shared influence and the building of the Commonwealth of God, beloved communities where everyone is valued, heard, protected, and helped to thrive, even if we disagree with them on a number of fronts. Jesus modeled this expansive community best and thus was persecuted for it by self-styled religious movers and shakers of his day.

One last point. You can understand, can’t you, why talk about “core family values” by a fraternity of male preachers raises concern for many of us? We have seen from this last election cycle what happens to women, poor families, and same-gender loving people when right-wing conservatives draft laws and draw up policies in the name of God and family values. Is SHIFT an initiative of black men merely reflecting the same toxic politics and policies? In other words, who is permitted to sit at the table and to fully participate as self-possessed people? Are single people okay as single, or are they people who need to get married? What about single people who’ve adopted children and built families on the village model—a very African approach to family? Is there room for LGBTQ families already among your ranks, or is yours a movement bent on silencing, demonizing, or maligning them? Is there enough emotional, theological, and intellectual bandwidth within the organization to partner for social change with people with whom you don’t agree? I wonder what would happen if you thought Dream Defenders, New Black Man (in Exile), Moral Monday activists or Black Youth Project members, leaders of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, for example, were just as important collaborating partners FROM THE BEGINNING?

Bishop Walker noted that women’s full inclusion is a key priority. If so, one social justice organizer said, “If you say it’s for ‘us,’ don’t do it without us.” A noted activist once said that if you’re comfortable with everyone in the room, you’re not leading a revolution.

Finally, you may ask: “What do you want to happen?”

We want this group to commit that all future SHIFT meetings will include women religious leaders around the table, clergy and lay, pastors and academics—the presence of women whose voices you admit are critical and crucial to participating with male religious leaders in redeeming the times and redeeming the future of the black church.

We want members of the group to publicly acknowledge that, though you may not have intended the slight, this first gathering was sinful and flawed by these exclusions. If this exclusion was not the intended message, take a good faith opportunity to correct that error.

We raise these concerns and questions because it is faithful and just to do so.  As catalyst for this letter, Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, along with any number of the undersigned are willing to be in an open dialogue with Bishop-Elect Walker and any of those in that first meeting.

 

In the Struggle and in the Spirit,

 

Rev. Valerie Bridgeman, Ph.D.Biblical and Homiletics Scholar

President & CEO of WomanPreach! Inc.

Board of Trustees, Samuel

DeWitt Proctor Conference

 

Dr. Iva E. Carruthers

General Secretary

Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

 

Rev. Carolyn Ann Knight

The Seminary Without Walls

Smyrna, Georgia

 

Bishop Yvette Flunder

Presiding Prelate, The

Fellowship of Affirming Ministries

Pastor, City of Refuge

San Francisco, CA

 

Rev. Leslie D. Callahan, Ph.D.

Pastor, St. Paul’s Baptist Church Philadelphia, PA

 

Jaha Zainabu, Poet

 

Rev. Maisha I. K. Handy, Ph.D.

Pastor, Rize Community Church Associate Provost Interdenominational  Theological Center

 

Robert Hoggard

Founder & President

American Baptist College Affiliate of S.C.L.C

 

Matthew Wesley Williams

Lithonia, GA

 

Rev. Donna M. Vanhook

Burlington, NC

 

Rev. Marsha Foster Boyd, PhD Englewood OH

 

Rev. Cedrick Von Jackson

 

The Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD Chair of the Biblical Area and Associate Professor, Hebrew, Jewish and Christian Scripture The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

 

Min. Jamie Eaddy

 

Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson

Executive Pastor

The Concord Baptist Church of

Christ, Brooklyn, NY

 

Rev. Andrea Clark

Assistant Pastor

Antioch Baptist Church

Tulsa, OK

 

Rev. Quincy James Rineheart,

M.Div., S.T.M.

 

Rev. Dawnn M. Brumfield,

Associate Pastor

Urban Village Church

Chicago, IL

 

Ashon Crawley

 

Pastor Michelle E. Freeman,

M.Div., Houston, TX

 

Min. L. Proverbs Briggs, Atlanta, GA

 

Rev. Dollie Howell Pankey, MACM, MTS

Pastor, St. James Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Jasper, Alabama

 

Rev. Catharine A. Cummings, M.Div.

Pastor, Wesley UMC Church, Springfield, MA

 

Rev. Earle J. Fisher, M.Div. Senior Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church (Memphis) Adjunct Instructor of Contemporary Theology at Rhodes College

 

Rev Dr Mitzi J. Smith, Ph.D

 

Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. Professor, Biblical Interpretation New York Theological Seminary Visiting Scholar of Religion & African American Studies, Columbia University

 

Min. Hazel M. Cherry, Oakland, CA,

M.Div. Candidate

Howard University School of

Divinity

 

Bishop Andre L. Jackson

Founding Pastor, New Vision

Full Gospel Baptist Church, East Orange, NJ

MA in Practical Theology/ M.Ed Candidate

Regent University, VA

 

Rev Candace Lewis, United

Methodist clergy

 

Rev. JoAnne Marie Terrell, PhD Associate Professor of Ethics, Theology, and

the Arts

Chicago Theological Seminary

 

Rev. Dianna N. Watkins-

Dickerson

Chaplain, USAF

 

Larry T. Crudup

M.Div. Candidate

Perkins School of Theology

 

Rev. Rosalyn R. Nichols, D.Min. Organizing Pastor, Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church (DOC) Memphis, TN

 

Min. Guy Sebastian Johnson, Leesburg, VA, M.Div. Candidate Lancaster Theological Seminary

 

EL Kornegay Jr., Ph.D. CEO/Founder

The Baldwin~Delaney Institute

Chicago, IL

 

Liz S. Alexander, Seminarian

Chicago, IL

Candice M. Benbow

Durham, North Carolina

 

Dr. Irie Lynne Session

Senior Pastor

The Avenue – Warren Avenue Christian Church | Dallas, Texas MDiv. Black Church Studies Concentration | Brite Divinity School DMin. Transformative Leadership & Prophetic Preaching | Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

 

Rev. Dionne P. Boissiere, M.Div. Consultant, WomanPreach! Inc.

& Director, Women’s Center  

New York Theological Seminary

 

Rev. Stephanie A. Duzant, MSW

Hollis, Queens NYC

 

Min. Louis J. Mitchell

South Congregational Church

Springfield, MA

 

Minister Rhonda White-Warner, M.Div., D.Min. Candidate, SF Theological Seminary

Founder Alabaster Jar

Ministries, Oakland, CA

 

 

Toby D. Sanders, Pastor

Beloved Community

 

 

Rev. Reginald W. Williams, Jr. Pastor, First Baptist Church of University Park

University Park, IL

 

Bishop John Selders Pastor Amistad UCC & Bishop Presider Interdenominational  Conference of Liberation Congregations and Ministries

 

Rev. Marilyn E. Thornton, Director/Campus Minister

The Wesley Foundation at Fisk

University, Nashville, TN

 

Rev. Wm. Jermaine Richardson

 

Dr. Safiyah Fosua Assistant Professor Congregational Worship Wesley Seminary @ IWU

Brittney C. Cooper, Ph.D.Departments of Women’s &

Gender Studies & Africana Studies

Rutgers University

 

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright

Board of Trustees, Samuel

DeWitt Proctor Conference

 

Myia Williams-Sanders

 

Rev. Martin L. Espinosa

Senior Pastor

Ray of Hope Community

Church, Nashville, TN

 

Rev. Vivian Nixon, Chief

Executive Officer College and Community Fellowship and Founder

Education Inside Out Coalition

J.T. Thomas, Cleveland, OH

 

Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson

Senior Pastor

The Concord Baptist Church of

Christ, Brooklyn NY

Associate Professor of Homiletics,

Drew Theological Seminary

 

Keri Day, PhD

Professor of Ethics & Director of

Black Church Studies,

Brite Divinity School

 

Rev Toni DiPina, Pastor Rockdale Congregational Church Northbridge, MA

 

Rashad D. Grove

 

Rev. Carla A. Jones

 

Jeralyn B. Major

 

Charles Bowie, Ph.D

 

Rev. Carla Patterson

Associate Minister

Friendship Missionary Baptist

Church, Charlotte, NC

 

Rev. Vanessa M. Brown

 

Karlene Griffiths Sekou, MPH, MTS

President

Dignidad International

Cambridge, MA

 

Rev. Felicia Y. Thomas

 

Rev. Carla Patterson

 

Rev. Alisha Lola Jones, M.Div.

CEO & Founder

InSight Initiative, Inc.

 

Rev. Margaret Aymer, Ph. D.

Associate Professor

Interdenominational  Theological

Center

 

Min. Brenda Summerville, M.Div.

Chicago, IL

 

Roger A. Sneed, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Religion

Furman University

 

Rev. Andre E. Johnson, PhD.

Pastor, Gifts of Life Ministries, Memphis, TN

 

Dr. James L Netters Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Religion and African American Studies,

Memphis Theological Seminary

 

Rev. Althea Bailey

 

Rev. Yvette A. Assem, M.Div. Womanist Missionary

Language of the

Black Woman’s Touch

 

Min. Robin P. Sessoms, M.Div.

Rev. Dorothy Harris, J.D., Pastor

Unity Fellowship Church of

Columbia (Maryland)

 

Carla E. Banks

Rev. Toni Dunbar, D.Min.

Associate Pastor & Dean

City of Refuge United Church of

Christ, Oakland, CA

Executive Director, YA Flunder

Foundation

Founder & Director, Refuge Leadership Development Institute

 

Rev. Gwen Thomas, M. Ed. Author, LGBT activist, & Huffington Post blogger

 

The Rev. Canon Terence

Alexander Lee, Rector

St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, Hollis, NY

 

Rev. W. Jeffrey Campbell, Executive Director

Hudson Pride Connections

Center, Jersey City, NJ

 

Evan R. Bunch

 

Pastor Genetta Y Hatcher

Detroit, Michigan

 

The Rev. Fr. Marcus G. Halley,

Associate Priest

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO

 

Rev. Dr. MarQuita Carmichael

Burton

 

Rev. Don Darius Butler, Pastor Tabernacle Community Baptist Church

Milwaukee, WI

 

Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, Ph.D.

The Historic Ebenezer Baptist

Church, Atlanta, GA

 

Dr. Tony McNeill, DWS, Director of Worship & The Arts

Historic Ebenezer Baptist

Church – Atlanta, GA

 

Min. Davica Williams-Warren, M.Div., Miami, FL

 

Rev. Frank A. Thomas, Ph.D.

Director of the Academy of

Preaching and Celebration

The Nettie Sweeney and Hugh T. Miller

Professor of Homelitics

Christian Theological Seminary

 

Rev. William I. Spencer

 

Min. Kymberly McNair

Social Justice Coordinator

Antioch Baptist Church

Bedford Hills, NY

 

Dr. Teresa Fry Brown

Director Black Church Studies Program

And Professor of Homiletics

Emory University, Atlanta, GA

 

Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce,

Director, Black Church Studies

Princeton Theological Seminary

 

Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis

Director of the Center for African American Ministries & Black Church Studies and

Adjunct Professor

McCormick Theological Seminary

Chicago, IL

UCC Pastor

 

Rev. Kimberly G. Walker, Pastor

Village of Hope CME Church

Stone Mountain, GA

 

Joshua Crutchfield

Nashville, TN

 

Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings

New Covenant Christian Church

Nashville, TN

 

Rev. Dominique C. Atchison, M.Div.

Associate Minister

Brown Memorial Baptist Church

Sacred Conversations on Race Coordinator

Connecticut Conference UCC

 

Rev. Chaka S. Holley, MSW, M.Div.

 

Dr. Lynne S. Darden

Assistant Professor New Testament

Interdenominational Theological Seminary

Atlanta, GA

 

Rev. Cassandry Redmond, M.Div.

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Richmond, CA

 

Renita J. Weems, Ph.D.Biblical Scholar

Nashville, TN

 

Pamela R. Lightsey, PhD

Boston University School of Theology

 

Rev. Asa J. Lee

Arlington, VA

 

Rev. Carolyn Hutchinson

Temple Hills, MD

 

Rev. Rashad D. Grove, Pastor

First Baptist Church of Wayne Wayne, PA

 

The Rev. Dr. Violet Lee

 

Tamura A. Lomax, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies

Virginia Commonwealth

University

 

Darnell L. Moore writer and activist

 

Estee Nena Dillard

 

Rev. Cherisna Jean-Marie

Atlanta, GA

 

Rev. Tawana Davis

Executive Minister

Shorter Community AME Church Assistant Coordinator, Rocky Mountain District Women in Ministry

 

Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt,

Chicago Theological Seminary

Chicago, IL, UCC

 

Jamall Andrew Calloway, S.T.M. Associate Minister

Mt. Aery Baptist Church, Bridgeport, CT

 

Rev. Benjamin Ledell Reynolds,

PhD student

Chicago Theological Seminary

 

Fallon Wilson, M.A., ABD University of Chicago

 

Rev. Karyn Carlo PhD

 

Rev. Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes

Assistant Pastor of Special Projects

Union Baptist Church

Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor

Colby College, Waterville, Maine

 

Rev. Charisse R. Tucker,

Minister of Administration

St. Paul’s Baptist Church,

Philadelphia, PA

 

Terry T. Hocker, Sr.

Pastor/Founder

Bound By Truth And Love

Ministries, Cincinnati, OH

 

Rev. Jamie D. Hawley, Chaplain

University of Michigan

 

Rev. Kendal Brown

Dean of Students

Lancaster Theological Seminary

 

Rev. Melva L. Sampson

 

M. Brandon McCormack, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Departments of Pan-African Studies and Humanities (Religious Studies)

University of Louisville

 

Charlotte Caldwell

 

Rev. Brian Foulks

Lexington, SC

 

Lisa Ann Anderson

 

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou

Pastor for Formation and Justice

The First Baptist Church in

Jamaica Plain (Boston, MA)

 

Rev. Dorian Mendez-Vaz, President & Founder

Within Her Reach, Inc.

 

Min. Ryan Hawthorne, M.Div. Princeton Theological Seminary

 

Rev. Kimberly Henderson

Philadelphia, PA

 

Rev. Raedorah C. Stewart, MA Preacher, Poet, Mother of a Son

 

Rev. T. Renée Crutcher, Founder/President

Sankofa Ministries & Tellin’ Our

Story Publishing, Inc.

Atlanta, GA

 

Min. Kamilah Hall Sharp, J.D. M. Div. Candidate

Memphis Theological Seminary

 

Bishop Dwayne D. Royster,

Senior Pastor, Living Water

United Church of Christ General Secretary, Higher Ground Christian Fellowship International

 

 

Dr. Donique McIntosh

Associate Pastor

Namaste’ United Church of

Christ

 

Minister Kelli X, M.Div

Madison, TN

 

Rev. Sharon L. Bowers

UMC Pastor

ITC Alumna

 

Rev. James A. Hardaway, M.Div., MACE

Pastor, Mount Gilead AME Church, Columbus, GA

 

Rev. Stephanie Buckhanon

Crowder, Ph.D.

 

Keith Crawford, Jr.

 

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‘Biblical’ Challenges…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NRSV)

Unless you have been under a rock for the last month or so, you have missed one of the most controversial and yet ‘trendiest’ topics in pop culture……The Bible. This 13-part miniseries seeks to cover some of the pivotal and definitive stories of the Biblical text. Unlike most History channel programming about the Bible, this series contains little to no scholarship or commentary (in fact very little narration). Instead this series seeks to ‘tell the story’ with, according to the series, a fervor and vibrancy that “bring the Bible to life.”

With a multi-racial cast and a eye toward an interpretative acting, the series offers insight into an angle on the scriptures that a segment of our Christian family affirms. Retelling the stories of pivotal stores of Creation in Genesis, Samson in Judges, Moses in Exodus and David in the history texts among others, the series hopes to bring the Bible and its narratives into the mainstream of the public consciousness and conversation. To that end, the series has been widely successful. It has trended on Twitter, been followed closely by TV personalities like TJ Holmes and Roland Martin and has been featured on several news networks. The series has also been deeply criticized by biblical scholars, feminists, and Christians from all over the world. I too, add my voice to that criticism of the series…

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I have watched the series produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, (both avowed evangelical Christians), each week with excitement and bitter resentment. Excitement to see the stories of my Christian heritage brought to life and resentment as to how they would be butchered and skewered in the grinder of cultural, social and contextual blindness. They have selected the stories, chosen what was relevant and used their multi racial cast in such a narrowed view that Egyptians are white and Jews are British. Their choices have left no doubt about their intentions, directions and purposes in telling their narratives about the bible.

In watching last night, I found myself repulsed by the brunette Brit that was supposed to represent my Jesus. Weirdly, I previously tolerated a British Moses and Pharaoh, a peculiarly black Samson (with a thing for white women), the gross mischaracterization of David’s ‘rape’ of Bathsheba and the casting of President Obama’s twin as the devil in the earlier installments of the series. Yet, I found this week that this interpretation of Jesus was a bridge too far….

The truth of the matter is that the casting of colonial Jesus essentially completes a ‘whitewashing’ of the continual portrayal of the Biblical narrative. For centuries, the truths of the African and ‘colored’ heritage of the text has been undermined by colonial powers and forces that sought to rewrite and patronize the what the ancient writers sought to convey. Many folks have said that the color of Jesus shouldn’t matter as long as we appreciate and believe what he did for us. If Jesus’ color doesn’t matter, then why are nearly all of the depictions of Jesus in western culture of a white man? The ‘color’ of our stories matters because they help us to inculcate and in grain the narratives in our lives. Culture, context, gender roles and power all matter in the telling of sacred narratives because they help to expose the continual truth of God’s engagement in the culture, context and power of our present lives.

One colleague commented on reviewing one of the episodes that I, “should not be surprised or astonished, because Burnett and Downey could not be expected to do multicultural telling of the Bible.” My reply was that “my expectations were not unrealistic and in fact were even more normative given that this is the 21st century and we have a broader view of the text and the messages of the text.” Expecting Abraham to be middle eastern and speak something other than English (with a British accent) is not an unreasonable expectation in the 21st century. Expecting a culturally and textually appropriate portrayal of any Biblical character is not an unreasonable expectation of white producers or of the History Channel. Expecting that critical elements of the narratives of Christian heritage not be redacting or edited is also a reasonable expectation.

Unknown-1The text for this week is a passage that I often struggle with. In and of itself, this passage (which has been used by many preachers to support the efficacy of the Bible), on its surface validates the use of scripture because ‘scripture says so’! However, the more nuanced understanding of the text offers a view that the Bible is relevant for teaching because of the inherent truth of the witness of God throughout all generations in the totality of scripture. I believe the writers of the biblical text told the truth of the stories with an awareness of God’s action in and through and by and with the messiness of our human existence. That truth of the text is what makes  the text “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

In my vocation as a pastor and religious educator, I plan to use the series and all of its flaws. I plan to use it to teach the power of hermeneutics and enculturation in reading the bible. The History Channel series is no different than many of the other portrayals of the Bible (see ‘Ten Commandments’, ‘One Night with the King’, ‘Prince of Egypt’, etc.). All of these movies and shows tell the stories of the Bible in ways that are intentional in leading us to believe what they want us to. In many ways, these tellings reinforce cultural mores and norms that continually oppress and undermine the real meaning of the text. In teaching about this form of redaction, I hope to empower many in our faith to counteract these tendencies when we see it so that we may be empowered in our views of pop cultural representations of our faith.

I take REAL issue with redaction (even in the ancient traditions in the Old Testament). Redaction is a power grab and a selective revisionist view toward telling the truth. Its misleading with intent and purpose. If we are ever going to get a free and fair glimpse of the vision of truth, we are going to need to tell the story of our faith free from redaction, revision and with a healthy wrestling with God in the text.

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Learning to Get Unstuck…

At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ 3He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’ (Matthew 12:1-8, NRSV)

In our life together we are so often bound by the traditions, rules and regulations of our own creation. Traditions that shape our familial practice, careers, and religious practices all shape our life. After all, these traditions can help to keep us grounded and focused when the vicissitudes of life keep us in flux. Our morning routines, the rules we follow on our jobs, the expectations and standards that we promote in our lives all serve to create consistency that we rely on in the day-to-day moments of existence. But what happens when those rules that guide become ties that bind? When do our traditions and experiences that so helpfully regulate our lives, become limiting and restrictive to the life?

There are times when our expectations and life traditions do in fact hinder us. The rules we make around dating and relationships, what we will and won’t do, and the circumstances by which we would perform and extraordinary task all have the dangerous propensity for limiting life as much as they define it. I have talked with people who have grown old and bitter because of the rules they have made for themselves. They didn’t get married because they wanted a particular type of spouse. They didn’t work in the field of their heart’s desire because of the traditions that their family assumed about being a musician or artist or teacher. They have limited their lives because of the rules and ideologies they made for themselves.

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Such is the case in the New Testament with respect to the rules and traditions of religious practice. Jesus is born into a religious context that has long been shaped by thousands of years of religious tradition and interpretation. The laws and regulations that shape Jewish religiosity are strict and specifically enforced by the Pharisees. Despite the intense regulation of obedience to the laws (and the traditions), Jesus is countercultural in nearly every respect of those very traditions.

In the above passage, Jesus has finished providing instructions and teaching to the disciples. After he concludes they begin their journey to a new town. Nothing wrong in this except that their travel begins and continues on the sabbath. Traveling on the Sabbath means that he is already in violation of the laws concerning work for Jews during this period. Worse yet, in the middle of the journey, the disciples get hungry and instead of stopping and resting, they decide to keep walking through a grain field and pick off the heads of grains. All is well until the disciples gets caught by the Pharisees.

The interchange that takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees is one in which Jesus critiques the understanding of the purpose of the law and not just a general interpretation. By challenging the very notion of the function of tradition, Jesus exposes the risk of strict adherence to the rules. Rules can be dangerously limiting and deny life when you focus on the rule and not the purpose of the rule. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that rules exist for a reason and to ignore the reason and keep the rules makes the rules irrelevant and legalistic.

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The truth of the matter is that we too, build fortresses of rules and traditions and hide inside. We often forget why we create these rules and what purpose they served in our life. Instead we cling to the rules blindly and watch happiness in life pass us by. Jesus in the passage reminds us that rules have a purpose. Once the purpose has changed, the rules need to be changed (or maybe even omitted). Our hypocrisy, contortions of belief and the undermining of relational happiness emanate from blind allegiance to the rules.

Life is happening all around us. Life is engaging and changing in the brief moments of love, charity and interaction. Traditions are important to shaping and defining life for each one of us. Traditions do not, however, bring life, they merely maintain the status quo. Doing what you always have done because it’s what has been done, is never good enough and will never yield life. Being responsive to the needs of life  and the needs you have means sometimes changing (or breaking) the rules. It’s not the end of the world, but the promise of life. After all, the visions of truth only come outside of the rule box!

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“A Tangled Web we Weave…”

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,

and speak the truth from their heart;

3 who do not slander with their tongue,

and do no evil to their friends,

nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,

but who honor those who fear the Lord;

who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

5 who do not lend money at interest,

and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15, NRSV)

In the last few weeks we have been riveted by the scandals of public and private lies. Former cyclist super star Lance Armstrong admitted that after nearly a decade of perpetual truth bending, bullying and manipulation he did all the things that his detractors accused him of. He spent millions of dollars, armies of lawyers and a whole host public relations specialists to keep the lie going for years. In spite of all of his efforts, the lies eventually caught up with him.

In another stunning case, the hallowed triumph-over-tragedy story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s deceased girlfriend also turned out to be false. Manti reportedly was the victim of what is called ‘catfishing’- being involved in a virtual relationship with someone posing as an alternate identity on social networking site. (In other words a BIG FAT LIE). Manti reportedly was led to believe that his (now fictional) girlfriend was in a car accident and died of either the car accident or of Leukemia (or both). He never met this girl in person, never saw her live directly face to face (each time they tried to FaceTime, she could see him, but he could not see her), never went on a date, no gifts exchanged and not even a shared experience together in the real world. She didn’t exist……at all….a complicated and devious deceit only meant to entertain her creators at the expense of Te’o (who may know more than he has led the public to believe).

Both of these very tragic and public incidents have exposed the near constant truth of the nature of lies. Lying is an art designed only to confound and undermine the truth. It is a universal experience that lying destroys relationships and is the easiest way to build distrust and erode credibility. While the above examples of lying are really complex schemes that require a great deal of time and investment, the reality is that a lie takes time and energy to promote and maintain.

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Our text for today comes from the corpus of Psalms. In the 15th Psalm the writer highlights the virtues of living an upright life by posing the question, “Who shall abide in God’s Sanctuary?”. Ultimately, the characteristics of one who is invited into God’s presence is holiness and purity. The Psalmist here is promoting the ideal and not necessarily a pragmatic vision of our discipleship. However, the significant revelation from the text is found in the delineation of the effects of unrighteous behavior on our relationships. Specifically, the writer connects righteous behavior with what pleases God with communally acceptable behavior. Doing good to each other in human relationships pleases God as well as one another.

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The disease of lying and the complicated systems we create to lie are part of our inhumanity to one another. Lying displeases God and violates our relationships with one another. Armstrong’s behavior and the acts of catfishers highlight the level of selfish dysfunction that is maintained through our lying to one another. For the sake of wholeness in community and a positive relationship with God, truth-telling has to be promoted in our lives together.

A vision of truth has to include better ways to communicate the truth to each other……together.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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