The REAL Story of Christmas

Image result for black nativity sceneThe story of Christmas is a story of the triumph of humanization. In Christian theology, it is the story of the incarnation; the Word becomes flesh in the baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. It is the reclamation of all those who are dispossessed and the ultimate clap back against the dehumanization of imperialism. Dehumanization which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (although in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human (Oppressed 2000). The Jesus story offers a counter-narrative to hegemonic oppression which robs people of dignity and worth.  A king born in a barn upends the power of the ruling class and shows God’s dignity is found even in abject poverty. For those who do not face racial oppression, the dignity or sacredness of life may become but an abstract principle to be affirmed, but baby Jesus stands in solidarity with marginalized people who bodily experience oppression as a reality of daily experience (Prevot 2017). The baby Jesus points to Divine power which makes resistance to evil possible; resistance not modeled after a power that dominate and destroys (Farley 1990). In the Christmas season, we see that love struggles to transcend and redeem evil and this struggle gives us hope.

Christmas is then more relevant to me today than at any other time in my life. Amid the sociopolitical backdrop of our current regime where greed and power rule over civility and human flourishing, the need to remember the Biblical account of the God of the oppressed finds fresh relevancy.  While the nation spins under leadership which continues to promote a racist supremacy intended to usurp the role of the Divine in the lives of those not in the center of power, it is imperative that we focus on the Divine who breaks into human history in the person of a baby, born to an unwed mother, struggling to pay unjust taxes.  The details of the Christmas story matter when we consider the way in which the Roman government under a tyrant sought to undermine the health of the most vulnerable populations while we experience leadership determined to do everything it can to see to it that vulnerable populations have the least access to health care.  Our conversations about Christmas must be the sites of resistance where we engage resistance discourse in order to empower people in their struggle for humanization.

Image result for black nativity sceneTheology seeks to understand, to interpret, and to impart the word of God and its meaning in various historical, cultural, and social context; it grapples with the conditions and state of culture and society. But, theology meets its critical exigence only when theologians take up comprehensive analysis and reflection on society and its potential meaning for the realization of common human good (Bond 2013). Speaking about Christmas without critical engagement of our current sociopolitical climate is theologically irresponsible. How can one consider the Christmas story without drawing a direct parallel between the Roman Empire and its leadership and the current administration? How can our Christmas pageants and plays not center the narrative of those for who being unhoused is a reality? Are we actively overlooking the police brutality present in the story of Jesus and offering no witness for those bodies presently terrorized by our own state sanctioned police brutality? Have we so sanitized the story of the birth of Jesus that it has become irrelevant and void of its true Gospel power?

Image result for black nativity sceneThis Christmas is an opportunity for those who take seriously the message of Jesus to reform the moment. Capitalism and consumerism have become the featured function of the holiday season. Commercialism has displaced the incarnation as the soul of this religious celebration. Churches are complicit in allowing what should be a celebration of liberation for the poor to become a trap, leading people further into the experience of poverty. What would happen if every church and every individual would decide to use this opportunity bear witness to the radicalism in the message of Jesus? What if this year’s celebrations centered on the critique of dehumanization embedded in the culture of poverty found in the story? Jesus comes in poverty understanding the universal culture of poverty which transcends regional, rural-urban, and even national boundaries and the deep commonality of lower classes all over the world (Taylor 2016). Instead of the thingification of humanity, implicit in the overspending of the highest point in the consumer year, what is possible if we engage in redistribution of wealth. The type of redistribution the Magi imagined when they brought their goods to the baby Jesus might just speak truth to power in ways that would shake the conscious of the wealthiest 1%.  Ask yourself, what is the story of Christmas and how am I telling it?

Feel free to comment below!

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Bond, Adam L. 2013. The Imposing Preacher: Samual DeWitt Proctor & Black Public Faith . Minneapolis: Frotress Press .

Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press.

Oppressed, Pedagogy of the. 2000. Paulo Freire. New York : Bloomsbury.

Prevot, Vincent W. Lloyd and Andrew, ed. 2017. Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books .

Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. 2016. From #BLACKLIVESMATTER to Black Liberation. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Would You Let Jesus In?

Image result for AdventThis Sunday Christians around the world will begin celebrating the season of Advent. Advent marks the time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas as well as the return of Jesus at the Second Coming. Even as commercialized and commodified as this time of the year has become, for the faithful there is still a sense of theological grounding and wrestling that this time of year provides. As theologian, I am particularly curious as to what American churches will find to examine in this contemporary moment when once again Empire is forcing the weight of its power on Black and Brown bodies. The inhumanity of our southern border and the lack of hospitality to the neighbor being examples of the ways our time is being defined. Ethical and moral failure seem to be the hallmarks of the day and in this context, we must draw fresh understanding of the meaning of Advent.

Identity and theology are inextricably linked. Our prophetic God-talk arises from a hermeneutic of hunger, whether or not we want to admit it. A hermeneutic of hunger reads the Bible as an answer to what all forms of oppression bring to bear on human dignity.  We read the sacred text to answer the questions that burn deeply in our souls. Theologies develop in response to questions arising out of specific intellectual, political, and religious situations (Cone 2018). This is why the work of the theologian is always a work of self-disclosure. It has not been suspicion that turns people away from the church; it is hunger that drives them to seek help wherever their rights to have a life are being respected (Soelle 2001). As a constructive theologian with a liberative lens, working and living in these times, I am forced to wrestle with the question what does it mean for Jesus to have come and to come again for those of us living in America under this particular administration. How will our liturgies and preaching orient our parishioners to live into the Gospel of Jesus in this present age? What will the Church offer to the world as a religious insight to resist all forms of domination and oppression?Related image

As I think through these questions the answers seem to emerge from the lived reality of Jesus himself.  Our celebrations of Advent must center the story of Jesus who is born a poor Palestinian Jew under Roman occupation. The economic predicament with which He was identified in birth placed Him initially with the great mass of people on earth. The masses of people are poor. If we dare take the position that in Jesus there was at work some radical destiny, it would be safe to say that in His poverty He was truly the Son of man and the Son of God (Thurman 1976). How can we seriously believe in the baby in a manger Jesus and not see His connection to the children being ripped from their parents at our own southern borders?  If Jesus coming in the flesh is to hold any meaning this Advent it must mean that His coming makes visible the poor, disinherited, and dehumanized among us.  The text cannot be understood apart from the world it creates in the imagination of the hearer, our job is to interpret the text in life giving prophetic ways so that the Advent has real meaning in this present world (Townes, Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope Salvation & Transformation 1997).

This Advent must be a time to query our Christology where we invite the church to interrogate the communion table to discover the blessed, broken body of this Jesus (Luke 22). Through this constructive theology we ask the present liberation theologies to make room for all those bodies among the pews who are broken in many places—where systems of oppression have denied their full humanity. What if the Second Coming of Jesus is centered in postcoImage result for square indigenous painting of jesus and discipleslonial crip-theology (in conversation with crip theory), which takes seriously the beauty of disabled bodies and features non-normativity as its central project? Can we prepare our hearts to do the work of fully living into the story of Jesus or will we continue to reify and privilege the authoritative universal voice found in Eurocentric theological musing? This theology does not abide an undifferentiated whole that obliterates individuality.  The authoritative universal voice usually indicates white male subjectivity masquerading as nonracial, non-gendered, objectivity (Crenshaw 1989). Hegemony maintains that this inequality is seen as normal and right. Hegemony also works to keep the dominant group in power by promoting its own worldview as neutral, universal, and moral (Townes 1995). Such has been the case with theology produced by the dominant culture in most American churches. And those who embrace this theology in non-dominant spaces suffer from oppression sickness and collude with the hegemonic forces that silence prophetic witness.

Advent could be the season of prophetic reckoning in our nation.  Theology could be the force to demand the death of imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy. As over 100 women have been elected to congress and we see our indigenous siblings finally recognized at the congressional table, perhaps we are seeing the beginning of Jesus return, when the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord and of our Christ. What if from our pulpits this Sunday there comes a bold proclamation that Jesus is at the Mexican border and the United States of America won’t let Him in?

Feel Free To Comment Below.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Crenshaw, Keberele. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139-168.

Soelle, Dorothee. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.

Townes, Emilie M., ed. 1997. Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope Salvation & Transformation. Maryknoll: Orbis.

—. 1995. In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spiriutality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Decolonizing Thanksgiving: A Call for Gratitude Day

Image result for ThanksgivingIt is good and right to give thanks, however the American celebration of Thanksgiving as a holiday is morally and religiously bankrupt.  I suggest that in this season of thanks we implore Gratitude Day, where true appreciation for the beneficent Universe is divorced from the imperialist capitalist history of Thanksgiving’s puritan roots. To celebrate the gifts God has allegedly bestowed upon the European settlers, at the expense of the indigenous peoples that were demonized, robbed, displaced, disposed, and disinherited was a theological and moral failure rooted in a deep hypocrisy.  To continue this practice under the same name and without proper repentance is to be complicit in the ongoing alienation and dehumanization of indigenous peoples. It further dehumanizes all those who engage the ritual without a critical eye to the ways in which socio-religious ritual is used to support systems of supremacy in North American culture.

Image result for RacismAmerican racism and white supremacy is a religious expression, in that religious practice seeks to provide a way for individuals and communities to name their experience and to live in response to it (Allen 2008).  White supremacy and racism is a theological dogma grounded in distorted Constantinian Christian understandings of the Biblical text. These corrupted Biblical and theological ideas did not take shape initially among unlettered or unlearned southerners, rather they were first the product of colonial era northern intellectual Puritan ideologues (Griffin 1999).  Whiteness emerged in America as a mark of human superiority, although we know that there is no biological basis. In fact, race itself is a social construct, one that emerges from cognitive mapping, interpretations, and practices based in historical and social manufacture and replication (Copeland 2010).  This social construct has as its insidious goal imposing upon people the status of marginalization in order to secure exploitation in various forms. Whiteness in the formation of early American culture was a central factor in holding together a motley throng of European people and as such became a measure for denigrating other human beings beginning with, but certainly not limited to, Indigenous peoples (Douglas 1999).

Thanksgiving as a celebration is inextricably linked to the emergence of whiteness as a social construct and centers the painful reality of Empire to the those who’s backs are under the foot of oppression. For the Christian, it is the most hypocritical of all practices to engage in the celebration of Thanksgiving given the historical narrative attached to its roots. A holiday which celebrates the gain of one at the expense of another is nothing less than chosen and willful participation in the continued stigmatization and alienation of the Other. It is a failure to acknowledge the sacred worth and dignity of all people. It is colonialist supremacy at its worse. This practice flies in the face of Imago Dei and misrepresents the truth of any Gospel narrative that can be taken seriously.  Any theology in America that fails to challenge white supremacy and God’s liberation for all people from that evil is not Christian theology but a theology of the Antichrist (Cone 2018).

Image result for gratitudeWhat we might better engage as a celebration this year is gratitude. Gratitude centered in a narrative of justice and eschatological hope. Luke’s Gospel is clear: Jesus’s ministry was essentially liberation on behalf of the poor and the oppressed according to Luke 4:8-10. If the ministry of Jesus is centered on liberation then my own theological sensibilities lead me to believe that this is the work of all followers of Jesus and to further believe that this work is and will be completed. That the realm and reign of God means that the kinship of all man will be reconciled in God is the deep well from which I am able to engage gratitude. Because I have adopted a theological perspective that chooses not to privilege the authoritative universal voice found in eurocentric theological musing. This theology does not abide an undifferentiated whole that obliterates individuality (Crenshaw 1989). Therefore, my gratitude is based on a celebration of the diversity and equality of creation with hope that my human siblings will embrace the fullness of their own humanity by seeing the spark of the Divine in all.

This call for gratitude is not the work of liberal erasure and political correctness. It is a call rooted in theological exploration and the work of reconciling the relationship of the person and the Divine. I challenge every person of faith to critically examine participation in any ritual or celebration which can damage or harm any other human sibling and work to reframe from or at least reshape the expression of that celebration until we all come into the fullest expression of our highest collective self.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Allen, Ronald J. 2008. Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian. Minneapolis: Frotress Press.

Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Crenshaw, Keberele. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139-168.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .

Griffin, Paul R. 1999. Seeds of Racism in the United States of America . Cleveland : The Pilgrim Press .

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

An Intervention

IMG_6598.jpegQuintessential contradictions run deep in the fabric of the soul of America. A nation established upon principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with a founding document that dehumanized and disinherited everyone who didn’t fit the immediate demographics of those very persons writing the documents.  This seismic moral chasm has been the thorn in the flesh of this nation, birthed through colonial revolution, the entirety of our grand democratic experiment. The treatment of those on the margins and outside the center of power has rendered us unable to rid ourselves of the tyranny of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy.  The psycho-spiritual trauma of intrinsic inhumanity has damaged the soul of the nation in ways too numerous to name, but it is clear both the souls of those in power and the souls of those on the underside of power have been severely damaged. We have been given over to oligarchs who use their power to create more wealth and power for themselves and those like them. This has always been and remains today a nation in deep need of healing.

We need an intervention, elections alone don’t change moral dilemmas. The illicit marriage of corporate and political elites – so blatant and flagrant in our time, undermines the trust of informed citizens and disallows the voices of prophetic critique to be heard (West 2004). We need elected officials and religious leaders who possess key civic capacities that seem to be missing in our current leadership. Capacities that allow leaders to hold conflict inwardly in a manner that converts it into creativity, allowing it to pull them open to new ideas, new courses of action, and new relationships are necessary in the contemporary moment to explore what a preferred future and a path forward might look like. In a healthy democracy, public conflict is not only inevitable, but prized. Taking advantage of our right to disagree fuels our creativity and allows us to adjudicate critical questions of many sorts (Palmer 2011).  If we are ever to rid ourselves of the toxicity of abusive language that leads to deplorable behavior, rooted in the maintenance of systems of domination, then we will have to hear voices in leadership that are willing to be deeply self-critical. The vitriolic speech we hear in every news cycle sounds to us like anger, but in truth it is deep pain. Anger is the best hiding place for anyone seeking to conceal pain or anguish of spirit (hooks 2004).   The leaders we need IMG_6603.jpegmust arise out of the discursive formation of their particular communities vocalizing resistance discourse steeped in prophetic critique of all systems that continue the long American tradition of dehumanization of the “other”.  We cannot be silent.

What is needed now more than ever from religious communities is a return to the foundations of every religious tradition. The ethic of neighbor love must be centered in every conversation, gathering, or liturgy. The idea that every person is of sacred worth and that humanity must be responsible stewards of the earth must be central to conversation and actions of religious institutions. Religious communities need to create large spaces of welcome, understanding, and confrontation from the pulpit and from the religious programming (Townes 1995).  Bishops, Pastors, Priest, Rabbis, Imams, etc., need to affirm strength and righteous agency.  If religious leaders are at all serious about the survival of the parishioners in the context of the nation then they must risk the comfort and prestige of their respective enclaves of ecclesial privilege and commence a new moment. This moment calls for a new engagement in a public theology of liberation (Warnock 2014). This public theology of liberation must be deliberately intersectional, because if any marginalized group is left out of its redemptive and reconciling narrative there will never be a decentering of normative power. Intersectionality is not the work of liberal erasure; it is the intentional honoring of the ways in which social systems collude to marginalize, disenfranchise, and disinherit people considered nonnormative by the oppressive social systems of those in power. Racial erasure is the sentimental idea that racism would cease to exist if everyone would just forget about race and see each other as human beings who are the same (hooks 1992). This concept of erasure is not limited to race, it has become a sentimentality that moves to make all “otherness” invisible, without considering the systems that problematize difference.

We need a radical intervention that offers prophetic critique of all systems of domination that oppress and marginalize any and all people and calls our nation to heal from deep atrocities and quintessential contradictions that run deep in the fabric of the soul of America.

For related theme’s listen to this week’s edition of Liturgies that Lift:

Feel Free to Comment Below!

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: race and representation. Boston: South End Press.

—. 2004. The Will to Change: Men. Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.

Palmer, Parker. 2011. Healing the Heart of Democracy. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spiriutality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of The Black Church. New York: New York University Press.

West, Cornel. 2004. Democracy Matters. New York: Penguin Press .

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

An Essay On Violence

Violence has long been a tool of the systems of dominance globally. The story of onImage result for pittsburgh tree of lifee group using violence to subjugate another group is as old as the self-awareness of human existence. In the United States of America violence as a tool of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy is the very foundation of socioeconomic realities that make this nation a global superpower. In no way can one separate violence upon marginalized people from the success of our society. Every American advantage has been the direct result of violence perpetrated by the dominant culture on the least of these. Power in contemporary society habitually passes itself off as embodied in the normal as opposed to the superior.  This is common in all forms of power, but it works in a peculiarly seductive way with whiteness, because the way it seems rooted in things other than ethnic difference (hooks 1995). For anyone who is a student of the history of this nation it is easy to see that violence is an indispensable tool of racism. To preach nonviolence in the American context is to be countercultural at the least and antithetical to our existence at the worst. From the genocide inflicted upon indigenous peoples in order to occupy the land to the Maafa in order to work the stolen land, the wealth of this nation is inextricably wed to violence. The egregious and insidious nature of that violence is that it finds itself continually focused by those in power on terrifying those on the margins in a desperate attempt to maintain superiority.  While we have passed ourselves of on the world stage as the global standard for human rights, we are unmerciful and unrelenting in the cultural production of violence.

Our churches and synagogues, our mosque and temples are often the targets of this violence.  For people on the margins, religious spaces often serve as centers of cultural dissidence that ultimately seek to counter the ideological claims, or “hegemony”, of oppressive power (Hendricks 2011). Disinherited people know that any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the souls, the economic conditions that stagnate the soul, and the social conditions that dehumanize the souls, is a dry, dead useless religion of escapism (Warnock 2014). Domestic terrorist target houses of worship beImage result for pittsburgh tree of lifecause these are the very places where resistance emerges. The dominant culture is threatened whenever and wherever marginalized people refuse to accept the dominant world’s definitions of their identities and thus seeks to cut down progressive thought at the heart of its inception (Baldwin 1993).  The experience of power loses meaning if those on the underside of power fail to acknowledge it.  If the position of ascendancy is not acknowledged tacitly and actively by those over who the ascendancy is exercised, then it falls flat (Thurman 1976). The fragility of the American ruling class causes them to visit religious space with violence precisely because the religious space threatens to undermine the power dynamics which make their superiority possible.

In a time when the powers of government overtly traffic in hate propaganda and openly engage supremacist rhetoric, people of the dominant culture have become emboldened to enact violence on anyone they perceive to be outside the circle of supremacy. Religious people of every tradition must engage prophetic critique of the culture like never before. Our task must be to bear creative witness against the sin that alienates the individual self from God and to go to great lengths to struggle collectively in the dismantling of sinful structures that calcify patterns of human alienation in the society (Warnock 2014).  We must demand that the culture of hate, that hate produced, be interrogated. Until this culture can acknowledge the pathology of white supremacy, we will never create a cultural context where the madness of white racist hatred of the other does not daily threaten the safety of all humanity (hooks 1995).

Image result for pittsburgh tree of lifeReligious space must once again assume the role as the central centers of resistance. People need to hear religious leaders loudly proclaim in a clear and unequivocal voice that our preoccupation with dominant culture’s concept of liberty is killing all of us.  Decentering the idea of normativity as superiority must become the foundation of new beloved community. We must rail against systems of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and all other social schisms. There will be no change in the violence of the dominant culture until the voices of the religious faithful unite and disallow petty doctrinal differences from allowing us to push back collectively on the very idea of supremacy. Until we challenge imperialism and capitalism, which are built on the foundation of violence, and offer an alternative social construct, marginalized people will continue to be mercilessly murdered in houses of worship. Gun violence, bombs, and fires have all be used in an attempt to silence the prophetic critique of the religious community, but we who love freedom can not rest until it comes.

For more content on this topic listen to this interview with Dr. Erica Martin:

 

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. 1993. The Fire Next Time. New York: Vintage International .

Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

hooks, bell. 1995. Killing Rage:Ending Racism. New York : Henry Holt and Company.

Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of The Black Church. New York: New York University Press.

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Church Reloaded

The survival and vitality of institutions of our society are threatened in ways that are unique to the contemporary moment in history. It is not that the culture of domination has not existed, nor is that our institutions have been free from scandal and malpractice. It is that never before have we had access to the ways that scandal and malpractice collude in our culture of domination so freely and instantly.  The ability to broadcast the brokenness and corruption of our institutions has married the technology to publish these alarms immediately and directly across every social stratum simultaneously. Just as the printing press changed the shape of every social institution so have modern advances in technology made Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn the latest technological advances to reshape the world we live in. When technology meets the colonizing forces of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy in an era where hate seems to be front and center on the agenda of those in power every institution must evaluate its self-understanding and role in the larger society. We have forgotten that the individual should not be in service of society, society should be in service of persons.  When people are in service of the society, you have a monster state, and that is what is threatening the world at this minute (Campbell 1991).

The church is not exempt from the need to engage critical self-critique to determine both its role and responsibility in the larger society. Just as the whole of Western civilization is being called to question its values and systems the church must also wrestle with understanding its past and present while shaping a conversation and working earnestly toward a new way of being in the future. Theological reflection plays an important role in the life of the church because the church must be self-critical. It must be willing to examine its proclamation and practices to determine their faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the basis and norm of the church’s life and mission (Migliore 2014).   The task of the Christian theologian is to keep the biblical communities of antiquity and contemporary communities in constant tension in order that we may be able to speak meaningfully about God (Cone 1986).  As a theologian, my task in this moment of history is to enter into the conversation about what can emerge as picture of a preferable future for the church in light of my understanding of its past and present.

Perhaps a picture of a preferable future posits the Gospel of Jesus as the cenIMG_3895.jpegtral narrative of the church, which would in essence turn the theological world upside down. The plain fact is that Jesus taught no theology whatsoever. His teaching is entirely spiritual. Historical Christianity, unfortunately has largely concerned itself with theological and doctrinal questions, which in many cases have nothing to do with Gospel teaching, in that, they are devoid of the life-giving principles elucidated by Jesus Himself.  For instance, there is no prescription for ecclesiasticism, of any hierarchy of officials, or system or ritual directly linked to the message of Jesus (Fox 1966).  All creeds of the church are but a commentary on the fundamental teachings of Jesus designed to serve the institutional power needs of the church, which has historically defined itself as the source of all truth, and were intended to exclude those who refused to be subject to the ecclesiastical authority (Spong 1998). This is not to say that ecclesiology is not important, rather to suggest that the church in shaping its future must revisit the message of Jesus in light of our lived realities.

Perhaps the church will begin to talk about salvation with fresh eyes. Salvation that means both to be saved from oppressive systems of domination and to be saved to self-love and the ethic of neighbor love which Jesus says is core to engaging the realm of God. In the stories of the Jewish tradition Jesus was so versed in, Hagar’s exile is the freedom from the tyranny and soul murder of forced surrogacy. Hagar’s situation is congruent with the marginalization and disenfranchisement of today’s poor, the sexually and economically exploited victims of extreme and unjust economic systems, as much as it is congruent with single motherhood and racial disinheriting (Williams 1993).  To divorce civil rights from the evils of environmental concerns is to live in a deadly dualism in which there would be no air to breathe (Townes 1995).  God is with Hagar in surviving and developing an appropriate quality of life. To be saved from oppressive systems does not mean to be saved from oppression. Often disenfranchised and marginalized people still suffer from internalized oppression. It is internalized oppression when any group thinks the same way about themselves as the oppressor. This leads to oppression sickness that causes the oppressed to mimic the oppression of the oppressor.  The dominant culture has greatly infected the Church tradition with classism, sexism, heteroprivilege and more. Unfortunately, inferior-feeling groups often seek to make someone else more inferior (Flunder 2005).

The Church has the opportunity to reimagine herself for the generations to come, where will your congregation be found in the story of unfolding human flourishing?

Feel Free To Comment Below.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. 1991. The Power of Myth. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Anchor Books.

Cone, James H. 1986. A Black Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.

Fox, Emmet. 1966. The Sermon on the Mount. New York: HarperOne.

Migliore, Daniel L. 2014. Faith Seeking Understanding: AnIntroduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.

Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God- Talk. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

A New Vision for Clergy

Discussing clergy abuse in the contemporary moment is important and valuable work. Clergy appreciation month is here and the temptation is to lean into a dialogue of human brokenness and failure, and yet there is also a call in this season for prophetic voices who are willing to paint for us a picture of a pImage result for clergyreferable future.  We can choose to lift the narrative of what clergy should be in a society looking to find a path away from the hate and partisanship that threatens to dismantle any civility left in our culture.  This is the time to ask ourselves what would it look like for clergy to lead the way toward a new era of human flourishing where each individual is invited into their highest self and all systems of oppression, marginalization, disenfranchisement, or dehumanization are dismantled.

Religious practices seek to provide a way for individuals and communities to name their experience and to live in response to it (Allen 2008). If organized religion has at its center the task of assisting people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where soul touches Transcendence, Mystery, and Being, then the clergy’s task is to serve as a practitioner of the sacred (Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die 1998). True leaders invite us past the place of finitude into the realm of the infinite, and to simultaneously offer a principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice. Clergy are those prophetic ambassadors who bring with their very presence a sense of cultural dissidence which ultimately seeks to counter the ideological claims, or hegemony, of oppressive power. It is the clergy’s job to point the community to the Divine in such ways that the fractures in our humanity become clear and that clarity allows for healing to transpire. For the clergy who will help shape a more just and humane world the religious community is one the models an alternative set of values and practices to those of the larger world (Allen 2008).

Image result for clergyThese prophetic clergy who will lead humanity into a new era will be prophetic mystic revolutionaries. Mystics as well as revolutionaries have to cut loose from their selfish needs for a safe and protected existence in order to face without fear the miserable condition of the present world (Nouwen 1972). They dare not use intimate relationship with the Divine to avoid the social evils of our time, rather they fully engage battles with systemic evil precisely because they are grounded in intimate relationship with the Divine. The prophet is creative. They return from the mystical experience to insert themselves into the sweep of time with a view to control the forces of history, and thereby create a fresh world of ideals. Ultimately the true prophet desires to see religious experience transformed into a living world-force as a test of the authenticity of the religious experience. Courage is the primary test of the prophet. Prophets take risks and speak out in righteous indignation against society’s maladjustments, even risking their lives to do so. The wisdom of prophetic community is both radical and subversive (hooks 2003). There is no national community today in which that which is genuinely prophetic does not place the prophet in peril (Cone 2011).

Related imageIn the Christian tradition, the Gospels were written from beneath the heel of dominationist might, by dominated folk, with other dominated folk in mind. Virtually everyone mentioned in the Gospels were poor colonized subjects of Roman imperialism with all the violence, exploitation, fear, insecurity, and psycho-emotional debilitation that attended that status (Hendricks 2011). It would be impossible for a new breed of prophetic mystic revolutionaries to ignore the current imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that are the forces of destruction that threaten the demise of global culture. The church as a community of people bound together by their willingness to journey into the mystery of God, in order to maintain its leadership in the larger society must be led by voices who are completely engaged with the realities of that society. The primary task of a faith community must be to assist in the creation of wholeness. That communities raison d’être is to be the place where each person is nurtured into being for the common good of humanity. We must have leaders concerned with the disparate parts of our humanity being bound together and then kept from being separated again (Spong, A New Christianity For A New World 2001). Salvation on the lips of prophetic mystic revolutionaries means the internal civil war of our highest selves and base self is won by looking the perfection of the Holy.

What would happen if your local congregation invited your clergy persons to this work? What if it was the norm of our expectation that each clergy person reflects these characteristics? What if our liturgies supported this work in every aspect? What picture of a preferable future will you create?

 

Feel Free to Comment Below.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Allen, Ronald J. 2008. Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian. Minneapolis: Frotress Press.

Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

hooks, bell. 2003. Rock My Soul. New York: Atria Books.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 1972. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. New York: Image Doubleday.

Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.

—. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.

 

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