Why #BlackLivesMatter Must Matter In Religious Space

IMG_3005Killing unarmed Black men is an American sport. Black and Brown bodies are under assault walking down the street carrying skittles, driving in cars, listening to music, and yes even minding their own business in their apartments. From the dehumanizing chattel slave trade to the demoralizing institution of slavery, and from the era of lynching to contemporary police brutality the most dangerous thing one can be in America is Black. Without a serious response to this reality religion ceases to be of any real usefulness in our current cultural reality. For any spiritual people to ignore this fact or downplay the insidious evil visited upon Black and Brown bodies is to make that religious group complicit in each death. For me, as a constructive theologian with a liberative lens, Christian theology is language about God’s liberating activity in the world on behalf of the oppressed. Any talk about God that fails to make God’s liberation of the oppressed its starting point is not Christian (Cone 1999). That is not to let any religious group off the hook, rather it situates me particularly in my own religious sensibilities. This however extends to  all faith traditions in that authentic religious engagement is that which leads to human flourishing through relationship with Mystery.

The task of theology is to critique and revise the language of the church. This includes not only the language of uttered speech, but also the language of radical involvement in the world (Cone 1997). Theology is always political, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement is one of the most important theopolitical movements of our time. Politics is the ancient and honorable endeavor to create a community in which the weak as well as the strong can flourish, where love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day (Palmer 2011). By its nature, which includes its social engagement and praxis, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is both a political and theological movement. It is a movement of radical solidarity not born from political theory, but rather out of a shared, lived experience and circumstance.  #BlackLivesMatter is more than a slogan; it is indeed a movement because—based on its tenets—it seeks action. Movements are not mere intellectual pursuits; they are primarily concerned with how one changes the system (Fromm 1994). It is our task, as practitioners of the sacred, to assist people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being, and even love are discovered, and then to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998).IMG_3004

The ethos of the ministry of Christ was constantly befriending the friendless and identifying himself with the underprivileged.  According to the New Testament (Luke 4:18-19), Jesus’ self-proclaimed mission is inexplicable apart from others. Others, of course, are all people, particularly the oppressed and unwanted of society.  Here is God coming into the depths of human existence for the sole purpose of striking off the chains of slavery, thereby freeing humanity from the ungodly principalities and powers that hinder people’s relationship with God (Cone 1997).  As Jesus becomes a friend to outcasts (Matt. 11:19), inviting them to eat with him, he epitomizes the scandal of inclusiveness for his time. What is manifested in his healing of the sick is pushed to an extreme in Luke 11 by his invitation to the ritually unclean to dine with him (McFague 1987).  Even the crucifixion of Christ models the praxis of his ministry in that it most clearly and radically identifies Jesus with the slave community. It forged an inextricable bond between the two. Through the cross, Jesus’ suffering and the slaves’ suffering of his era and all times become one (Douglas 1994).  The life and praxis of Jesus then does three things: (1) reflects an intimate relationship between Jesus and the oppressed; (2) radicalizes the oppressed to fight for their freedom; and (3) highlights the contradiction between the Divine and the oppressor.

IMG_2999#BlackLivesMatter is an important social transformation movement, not only for Black people but for the whole of U.S. society. It echoes the themes of dignity of the Black Power movement for the Black community and speaks truth to the power of the dominant culture.  It is true that talk about liberation becomes hard to justify where freedom appears as nothing more than defiant self-assertion of a revolutionary racial consciousness that requires for its legitimacy the opposition of white racism. However, it is also true that we are in a historical moment that demands opposition to imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, heteropatriarchy (Sanders 1998). What the church must do in this era of police brutality and the worthlessness of Black bodies is more than chant #BlackLivesMatter. The church must center Black and Brown bodies and their survival as paramount to its message and mission. We must respond.

Ask yourself in what ways is my church intentionally centering Black and Brown bodies in our message and mission through each liturgical exercise and budget decision?

Please 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. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

—. 1999. Speaking the Truth:Ecumenism, Liberation, and Black Theology. MaryKnoll: Orbis Press.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

Fromm, Erich. 1994. On Being Human. New York: Continuum.

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Palmer, Parker J. 2011. Healing The Heart of Democracy. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sanders, Cheryl J. 1998. “The Problem of Irrelavance in Black and Womanist Theologies.” In What Does it Mean to Be Black and Christian: Pulpit, Pew, and Academy in Dialogue, Volume 2, edited by Forest E. Harris Sr, 73-82. Nashville: Townsend Press.

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

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

The Power and Purpose of Eulogy

Rev. Jasper Williams Jr.The attention of our nation and the world has been arrested in the last week by the public celebrations of the lives of both The Queen of Soul, Ms. Aretha Franklin, and The Maverick, Senator John McCain.  While these two celebrations of life were vastly different in that they represented the community norms specific to their individual social locations, religio- cultural norms, and ethnic backgrounds, each featured opportunity for speech making. The occasion of public speaking at the funeral of those who have transitioned the earthly plane of consciousness is perhaps one of the most sensitive moments in the liturgy. Through the witness of mass media, we have seen examples of both the best and worst execution of the task on full display as the world has mourned collectively.

Death is one certainty in every life, the one inevitable event. But every death is unique and has different impact on individuals, families, and communities. We must never pretend that it is unimportant or underestimate the effects of how a person dies on those who remain, but we must also remember that death no matter how it comes, is common to us all (Chapman 199Image result for john mccain funeral9). With that in mind, the liturgy must bare all the dignity and respect human transition deserves and hold special care for those who mourn. Speaking at the funeral is an honor, but we must never forget it is a liturgical act. It is sacred, and as a part of Holy Ritual, it must not be treated as a platform for personal agenda. As it is a liturgical act, a ritual, it is therefore an exercise of communal speech. The eulogist must be particularly aware that preaching does not take place in a vacuum, but within the action and discipline of the assembly. Dogma is embodied in the assembly. It can even be argued that the eulogist gains importance primarily because they are servants of the assembly (Lathrup 1998).  It is a momentous disservice to the family, the assembly, and the deceased for the eulogist to offer words that are tone deaf to the community they stand in service of.  The highest honor the eulogist can give to their call is to speak Gospel in such a way that it resonates in the hearts of the assembled.

As a Bishop, my own postcolonialist sensibilities call me to acknowledge, and share with the clergy in my charge, that cultures themselves are always mixed, even “mongrel”, ever-changing amalgamations of social influences. Even our liturgies are hybrid and intermingled because we are living in and enjoying the fruits of many cultures (Wilkey 2014). The Eulogy must be the most transcultural moment that reaches beyond the eulogist personality and speaks to the assembly words that help put life and death, particularly the times and season of the deceased, into context for the assembly. The eulogist engages, together with the whole church, in moral formation and character development (Anderson 1993). This happens partly through direct moral teaching, but primarily through retelling the Gospel narrative and the narrative of God’s work in the life of the deceased.  It is the creative rehearsing of this material blending the ancient text with the contemporary witness of the life of the deceased that cultivates the moral imagination of the assembly. The Eulogist should never marginalize or demean the assembly; there is no room in this liturgical moment to allow one’s personal agenda to overshadow the lifting of the collective consciousness.

Image result for Aretha funeralThe eulogist must never forget that everyone wishes that when they are eulogized, they are forgiven. That any and all lapses, greed, errors, would be looked upon with charity or at best spoken about in charitable context (Baldwin 1955).This is the last thing the assembly can give to each other: the agape, grace, and forgiveness commanded by Holy Writ. This is not cheap grace that excuses a person’s failings; this is a communal forgiveness which allows the assembly to move on to resurrection. The eulogist never forgets the message is to the living.  The family is primary witness of the life of the deceased, but the whole assembly together is witness to the eulogy and call is to engage the assembly in the work of better living in preparation for their individual and collective transition. Central to the service should be the love and the care of those dealing with grief and loss. Never should these moments be taken to invoke fear for that would be the most egregious form emotional abuse and spiritual manipulation. There is a way to lift up the values of the community and even its theological claims without victimizing those already traumatized by grief and loss.

As we consider the power and mistakes of our most recent public celebrations of life let us consider the purpose for which we gather in ritual when those we love and cherish transition.

 

Please 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

Anderson, Terence R. 1993. Walking the Way: Christian Ethics as a Guide. Vancouver, BC: Regent College.

Baldwin, James. 1955. Notes of A Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press.

Chapman, Raymond. 1999. A Pastoral Prayer Book: Occasional Prayers for times of Change, Concern, and Celebration. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1998. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wilkey, Glaucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Forgien Country or Homeland? Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

 

 

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A Call to Progressive Pentecostals

IMG_5862Pentecostalism as we know it today began at the dawn of the twentieth century as a progressive theo-social movement grounded in the appearance of glossolalia or speaking with other tongues.  It is a movement that began with only a handful of students and increased steadily throughout the world during the twentieth century until by 1993 it had become the largest family of Protestants in the world (Liardon 2006).  As a Bishop in the Pentecostal church, I am keenly aware that Pentecostalism is often overlooked and undervalued in academic dialogue because its roots do not lend themselves to the euro-centric racially biased philosophical frameworks that are rooted in western constructs of male dominance and sexism; however, it is a great failure and oversight on the part of the academy to ignore the sheer size and impact of its global presence. This movement was birthed in Kansas among white adherents, but quickly spread to the Los Angeles area, where it gained its original popularity and broadest reach, through the teaching and leadership of a Black man (Synan 1971).  Pentecostalism from its earliest roots was movement of racial reconciliation. Leadership from women like Bishop Alma White, founder of the “Pillar of Fire” movement, was normative in the roots of Pentecostalism.  This female leadership was extremely progressive and helped usher in the Women’s Rights Movement.

While it is popular thought that the conservative theology of the Pentecostal movement has always meant conservative politics, the truth is Pentecostalism is historically progressive in matters of race and gender equality. It is unfortunate that this movement with so much progressive potential would eventually fragment onto racIMG_5853ial prejudice and division. The clearest sign of this division was the birth of the Assemblies of God. Now the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world, The AOG was formed out of the Church of God In Christ which was led by a Black man. When the white men of the COGIC no longer wished to be led by a Black man, they met during the annual meeting and formed a separate white led organization and thus began the real move away from progressive social policies in Pentecost (Menzies 1971). Throughout the twentieth century, white Pentecostals more than Black Pentecostals have been preoccupied with glossolalia. The Black church has sought to retain the tension between holiness, spiritual encounter/empowerment, and the prophetic Christian social consciousness (Clemmons 1996).

As racism came so did the sexism and other demoralizing social ills, such as classism, creep into the Pentecostal movement.  Original Pentecostal culture was a safe haven for the wealthy and the poor to coexist peacefully with no hierarchy based on finance. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case in the Pentecostal church where consumerism, capitalism, and classism now have found their theological home through the prosperity gospel.  In the Kansas school where glossolalia is said to have originally occurred everyone sold their possessions and pooled their money equally to attend the school for the one year it was in operation (Liardon 2006).  This type of radical anticapitalistic community was not uncommon for early Holiness/Pentecostals and can be seen in the formation of Zion City by Alexander Dowie (Synan 1971). How far Pentecostalism has drifted from its roots.

IMG_5867What would happen if the largest Protestant branch of Christianity returned to its socially progressive roots? How would the world change if globally the Pentecostal movement would adopt an intentionally radically progressive agenda in keeping with its foundations? The church could engage transformation of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy so enmeshed in the social fabric of western society by offering the countercultural narrative that we are one. If Pentecostalism could be the catalyst to bring about social progress during Jim and Jane Crow and Woman’s fight for voting rights, how much more could progressive Pentecostals give voice to the need for social change in this contemporary moment. We must respond to the pettiness of elected officials who seek to divide rather than unite. As we face the spread of fascism at home in the United States, as well as globally, progressive Pentecostals can bear witness to the radically inclusive message of the Christian faith.  Being that on the day of Pentecost the first miracle was unity, there is embedded in true Pentecostalism a call to unity in the most divisive times.

I am calling for all Pentecostal liturgist and all liturgist of good will to think over the next few weeks about the ways in which Spirit is inviting us into a space of progress.  How do we make room in our worship experiences for the “other”? What praxis in your weekly worship is contrary to human flourishing? How have we lifted cultural norms above the liberative message of the Christian faith?  How do we hold fast to our heritage of social progress in the face of hate? How do we intentionally combat sexism, classism, racism and all other divisive forces that try to thwart the unity of the faith and taint our witness in the world?

 

Please 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

Clemmons, Bishop Ithiel C. 1996. Bishop C. H. Mason and the Roots of the Church of God in Christ. Lanham: Pneuma Life Publishing.

Liardon, Roberts. 2006. The Azusa Street Revival. Shippensburg: Destiny Image.

Menzies, William W. 1971. Anointed to Serve: The Story of The Assemblies fo God. Springfield: Missouri.

Synan, Vinson. 1971. The Holiness- Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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The Purification of Religion

Authentic religious piety or spirituality is about one’s sensibilities or taste for the infinite. Although early in life some religious ideation is shaped for many around moral rules handed down which perpetuate old tribal taboos, actual religious life and spirituality is centered in relationship with the Divine (Ward 2002) . Creeds and speculative beliefs aside, there is an intuition in the human psyche that draws us into listening for the Sacred. This listening has in recent history been interrupted and even hijacked for scores of people by the commodification of religion. Somehow, we have managed to make the rituals of seeking connection with God into mere acts of cultural production. The popularization of religion as entertainment has IMG_4411caused us to lose our deep passion for knowing and being known. Spirituality has been replaced by marketing techniques intended to create a sense of comfort, familiarity, and intimate connections with personalities rather than quenching our thirst to apprehend our part in the Universal orchestra of God.

Where our religious life once left us feeling paralyzed and simultaneously intoxicated by the presence of the Divine, cameras with wide-angle lenses and panoramic shots designed to exaggerate the size of the crowd and the effectiveness of the speaker now memorize us into thinking that obedience to the speaker is Holiness. For major portions of the contemporary religious milieu, it is the believer’s ethical duty to follow and fully exploit an opportunity to turn a profit as fulfillment of one’s duty to glorify God with one’s labor (Walton 2009). Even our conservative religious siblings seem to be more interested in being visible as curators of cultural production than curators of authentic soul change.

Spirituality is the method and manner by which the ultimately real actually touches the depth of being of the human personality, transforms it, and causes it to long for true community (Bridges 2001). Authentic spirituality converts the entire existence. The vitriol we see in the mass media and the venom spewed from the highest political office in the land is symptomatic of a loss of deep spirituality in our society. Our tolerance for showmanship over substance is at an all-time high while there seems to be a huge void in genuine meaning making.  It seems to me, we need religious ritual and ritualizing more now than ever before. We need spaces that celebrate, promote, and create patterns of behavior that lift the collective soul of humanity to the highest levels of virtue (West 2006).  Religious ritual that functions as links between contemporary cultural events and ancient symbols and texts that extol the personal and universal excellence that spirituality calls us to, is essential to reclaiming the soul of our nation and global community.

IMG_4312A properly functioning spirituality nudges us to go beyond what is morally permissible and calls us to what is morally excellent (Volf 2011). As long as we are less interested in what is profitable than we are in what is profit driven we will continue to experience a moral bankruptcy in our realities. Our call must be toward a spirituality which is consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption, but of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives (Hartin 2010).  We must raise the bar on what our liturgies present as spiritual. Our preaching must become prophetic as leaders everywhere boldly begin to speak truth to power regularly. Our music must move pass the temptation of vacuous entertainment to hold in it resistance discourse that brings people into intimate accountability with the truth of the Divine. Our prayers must not be routine, empty platitudes and vain oblations, rather they must be filled with the fire and passion of well-chosen words that convict the hearts of people and articulate the vastness of the Holy.  We cannot afford to succumb to the ethos of our contemporary moment, we must be Holy People.

This week as you consider your religious services, ask yourself if your worship experience is a cheap act of cultural production replete with bells and whistles or if it is an invitation for collective spirituality?  Where specifically in your gathering are the spaces and points where people are invited to engage the Divine? Is the call for your time together profit driven or is it universally profitable?

Feel free to comment below.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

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

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Bridges, Flora Wilson. 2001. Resurrection Song: African American Spirituality. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Hartin, Patrick J. 2010. Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.

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

Walton, Jonathan L. 2009. Watch This! The Ethics and asthetics of Black Televangelism. NewYork: New York University Press.

Ward, Kieth. 2002. God: A Guide for the Perplexed. Oxford: OneWorld.

West, Traci. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.

 

 

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Radical Hospitality

IMG_3525I have traveled the United States rather extensively this summer. Learning, loving, and listening in fellowship with congregations and communities that span the theological spectrum from ultra- conservative to ultra- liberal has been both riveting and eye opening. In my experience, the more thriving and life affirming gatherings have been those hosted by groups committed to radical hospitality. Our nation is in a spiritual crisis, when it is okay for the President to call a Black woman who is a former employee a dog, which is clearly a polite way of saying something much more culturally offensive, we have lost all sense of moral grounding.   The religious spaces with the most exclusionary theology and practices seem to struggle with the ability to speak to the crisis we find ourselves living through. Those who feature and take seriously the concept of Imago Dei understand the deep longing of people in this hour for connection with the Divine and belonging to community. Imago Dei is the theological concept (based on Genesis 1:26-34) that God made the first people in a way that very much resembles God’s own self. The doctrine purports that humanity is made in God’s image and, therefore, the individual is of sacred worth (Lightsey 2015).  Further, the doctrine of Imago Dei postulates that humanity in its authenticity is united with God in character and nature—even if brokenness and sin, in some theologies, has transgressed this original nature (Ruether 1993).  In light of this, our task—as people made in the image and likeness of God—is to overcome the temptation not to love and appreciate all those whom God has called good (Lightsey 2015).

Radical hospitality in religious spaces makes identity legible; no matter what else you might be, you are God’s creation and therefore you are of sacred worth. Mistreatment based on any social identifier such as race, poverty, gender, sexuality, or being unhoused is overturned in environments of hospitality that reflect the welcoming voice of the cosmic Christ who invites whosoever will to come (Rev 22:17, Rom. 10:13). I found that in those spaces dedicated to radical hospitality people were healed and made whole because they were invited into belonging.  The key to building true belonging practices is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection (Brown 2017).  I have been reminded in my travels that the more exclusive we are the more we are tempted to create walls. These walls are erected around our churches, temples, and other houses of worship and ultimately there are those calling for walls to be erected around our nation, because we are no longer rooted in love and compassion and therefore committed to our bunkers where it is safe to dehumanize others based solely on their otherness.

IMG_3445My own faith tradition of Pentecostalism was noteworthy in its inception for its egalitarian ethos of worship, with race and gender not determining leadership roles, but later collapsed and fragmented, due in large part to such race and gender equality presenting too radical a departure from prevailing social norms (Lewin 2018).  Now it is often the women of Pentecostalism that hold the strangest criticism of progressive social policies, when once they themselves were liberated by the radical hospitality of the Church. It is fascinating to me to see those who were once oppressed use their liberation as a tool of oppression. I often wonder what would happen in the world if those Pentecostal people I am so familiar with, those women, those poor, those Black, those marginalized people would with the fiery power of the Holy Spirit use their liberation to liberate other groups on the margins of society?  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 effort to mimic dominant culture has greatly infected the Black Church tradition with classism, sexism, privilege, dozens of phobias, and more. Unfortunately, inferior-feeling groups often seek to make someone else more inferior (Flunder 2005).

This week as you enter into your community of faith ask yourself if it is a place of radical hospitality?  Who is the stranger here? Who have we made an outsider? Have we justified being unloving and therefore betrayed the Gospel because someone is other? Where are we living into the idea that everyone is made in the image of God and how are we failing to acknowledge the sacred worth of even one individual?  For those who really be seeking the healing and wholeness of our broken world radical hospitality is not an option (Luke 14:12-14).

Please feel free to comment below.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

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

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Brown, Brene. 2017. Braving the Wilderness. New York: Random House.

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

Lewin, Ellen. 2018. Filled with The Spirit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lightsey, Pamela R. 2015. Our Lives Matter. Eugene, Or: Pickwick Publications.

Ruether, Rosemary. 1993. Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press.

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The Death of Xenophobia

Xenophobia 3Xenophobia has a way of becoming respectable when fear rules. When hate masquerades under the guise of patriotism, xenophobia becomes justified and takes on the status of sacred among those who traffic in fear. Our emotional reactions to situations cause us to adopt measures that bring quick and temporary relief from immediate pressures, but do not have much effect on the long-term brokenness found in human relations (Thurman 1984). Our fear of the “other” is based in our own broken sense of self, for if we truly loved ourselves we would see our humanity reflected in all and neither fear nor hate could take root in our hearts. When we consider as Terence expressed “nothing human is alien to me”; we realize that we carry within ourselves all of humanity; that, in spite of the fact that there are no two individuals who are the same, we all carry the same substance. Nothing exist in any human being that does not exist within the potential of my self (Fromm 2005). All forms and manifestations of xenophobia are ultimately rejections of the self.

 

When a nation begins to create laws targeted at a people group based on the creation of a radical “other”, it speaks volumes about how that nation sees itself in the master narrative of humanity. Historically people of power and privilege demonize anyone who they deem a threat to the maintenance of their power and privilege. Imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, those interlocking systems of power and domination which serve the ruling class in American culture, are built in response to the fragile smallness of the people who constructed them and those who work to maintain them. The rise in rudeness, open prejudice, and all out bands and restrictions on free travel, we see evident in abundance, show that our current national culture is steeped in fear in ways that give hate formal dignity and respectability.  There is underneath the surface of nationalism fragility and lack of interior security that no Supreme Court decision can settle.

 

xenophobiaThe first immigration and naturalization act, in 1790, allowed only “white persons” to attain citizenship, and that radical understanding of citizenship persisted until 1954 (Jr. 2016). It seemed that by 1954 our nation was ready to face its own impoverished sense of self; however, history reveals that the bruised hearts of the dominant culture are still crafting the same narrative of xenophobia and hate, in order to protect power and privilege. This self-preservation of the ruling class comes at the expense of dehumanizing anyone who’s presence shows the foolishness and folly of the power structure. Our democratic experience is in a radical conundrum in that we believe in democracy and we are simultaneously committed to imperialist white supremacy. The national fear is a political fear which reaches beyond fright or anxiety experienced by an individual. Its fervor and frenzy is a deeply felt, collectively held fear shared by people who together believe that something threatens them and their way of life (Jr. 2016). This fear we traffic in is the fear that we are not the greatest or most powerful; in fact, it is the fear that everyone is stronger than us. Unfortunately, many in our nation who share this fear are not even of the dominant culture, nor are they at the center of power. Oppression sickness has so infected the hearts of both the oppressor and the oppressed that the oppressed believe what is good for the oppressor is also good for them.

 

Our nation is currently seeing the manifestation of fear that becomes rage. The trigger for rage in the dominant culture is the advancement of marginalized people. Advancements such as Black president always cause backlash from the center of power and privilege. It is not the presence of minoritized people that triggers fear or rage, it is the audacity of those marginalized people to show up with ambition and drive. For those people, not of the dominate culture to show aspirations and demand full and equal citizenship and to refuse to accept subjugation is more than those in power can bear (Carol Anderson 2016). A formidable array of policy assaults and legal contortions has always been the answer of the powerful to the brazen audacity of hope.

 

xenophobia 2Hatred often begins in a situation in which there is contact without fellowship, contact that is devoid of any of the primary overtures of warmth and genuineness (Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited 1976). The task of the liturgist is to respond to the brokenness of our lack of self-love in ways that foster life giving fellowship. Moral people everywhere must call for the death of xenophobia, beginning in our religious institution and spreading to the larger culture. This week ask yourself if your religious community markets hate speech under the guise of orthodoxy?  Do you promote xenophobia in the name of being faithful? Is there a largess to your liturgy that speaks to the full range of humanity? How does your community gathering decenter cultural norms and make room for the “other”?  These questions are the beginning of reclaiming our nations wounded heart.

 

Feel free to comment below.

 

Peace is Possible,

+Donalson

 

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

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Carol Anderson, Ph.D. 2016. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury.

Fromm, Erich. 2005. On Being Human. New York: Continuum .

Jr., Eddie S. Glaude. 2016. Democracy in Black. New York: Crown Publishers.

Thurman, Howard. 1984. For The Inward Journy: The Writings of Howard Thurman Selected by Anne Spencer Thurman. Richmond: Friends United Meeting.

—. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.

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Black Sacred Music: A Soundtrack of Refuge

This month is Black Music Month among other designations. As I write, today is World Refugee Day, named so by the United Nations. I am fortunate enough to hdonald Lawrenceave been raised in an environment where every day was a celebration of Black music and Black sacred music especially held a prominent place in community. Black sacred music is an art form and worship expression born as a prophetic critique of the oppressive Christianity of the North American slavocracy. It is the musical counter-hegemonic process by which Black people redefined biblical events and their present realities, envisioning and revising their existence in terms of radical freedom. Perhaps more than ever Black sacred music should be lifted in the mainstream of our theological conversations and liturgical experiences as The Church wrestles with ways to speak truth to power and be prophetic witness in the face of global Fascism. If the intention of the liturgy is to manifest the presence of God in an assembly, a merciful presence is not just meant for the particular assembly but for the world (Lathrup 1998).

Black sacred music exists because there is no strict line of demarcation between existential weariness of a disenfranchised people and the sacred disciplines of prayer, worship, and service to humanity (III 2015). The sensibilities of the Spirituals (the first form of Black sacred music) should be considered to constitute the normative elements of Black sacred music. These sensibilities include the prophetic functions of naming the oppressive reality and exhorting resistance to it, as well as an eschatological expectation of justice in this world (Hendricks 2011). Unfortunately, much of what is produced by Black people in our present market driven and consumer reality neglects as its focus on these basic foundations of Black sacred music. The present genre has been over taken by the evangelical narrative that sees the end goal of liturgical music as either retelling and glorifying the story of the cross, compelling listeners to affirm faith in Jesus and therefore be saved from hell, or singing about how splendid God is. The music of the Black church more than ever bears the influence of the theology of dominate culture. The prosperity gospel most identified with the Word of Faith movement and its leaders like Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland has taken over (Heilbut 2012).   A real conversation must be convoked to reexamine the production and purpose of Black sacred music in our current sociopolitical climate.

Yvette FlunderAt its worst this new breed of Black sacred music is all motivated by the ultimate goal of record sales and profit margins.  The thin writing seems to have abandoned the normative elements of Black sacred music which posture the gospel of Jesus not as a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, rather as a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to a government sanctioned execution on a cross (Cone 2011).  Authentic Black sacred music expresses collective acknowledgement of oppression, prophetic critique of the race-based system and sensibilities that produce and perpetuate that oppression, exhortation to resist the political, social, and political importunities of that systematic oppression, while simultaneously offering comfort and empathy in its midst.  The problem with the commodification of modern Black sacred music is not that it is profitable, rather that it is profit driven and this is most unprofitable to the Church because it lacks integrity and rich prophetic tradition (Hendricks 2011).

As the United States has a long history of tearing apart families of those on the underside of power and dismissing the humanity of both parent and child, perhaps we can return to making authentic Black sacred music? Perhaps churches of the dominate culture can look to the lyrics and musicality of said music to guide them toward dialogue of resistance and actions of repentance? Careful not to be guilty of cultural appropriation by short sighted performance of music not authentic to their own experience, these churches may find in the tradition of Black sacred music the courage to be honest about their role in oppression of all minoritized communities.  As we wrestle through the realities of our present immigration conversations and the unethical treatment of humans based in xenophobia and unholy nationalism, authentic Black sacred music provides for us the narrative of a people who refused to allow religion to be hijacked by hate, and dared to find a path to forward toward full humanity in the face of the worse abandonment of humanity on the part of those with privilege and power.

 

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

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. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Heilbut, Anthony. 2012. The Fan WHo Knew Too Much. New York: Alfred A Knopf.

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

III, Otis Moss. 2015. Blue Note Preaching in a Post- Soul World. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1998. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

 

 

 

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