A Call to the Prophets

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As I sit here contemplating the magnitude of pain associated with the sinister act of terrorism the world experienced yesterday I am more convinced than ever that religious dialogue must reclaim its prophetic voice. Manchester may have been the site of a bombing, but what ails this society cannot be limited to a specific act or location. There is a cancerous evil eating away at the fabric of our global community. This violent lovelessness experienced as terrorism, extreme capitalism, imperialism, and a host of other social ills is fueled in part by extreme religious fundamentalism in multiple faith traditions.  Extreme fundamentalism can be identified in any religion by a fixation on specific concepts, rituals, and forms of conduct and thereby is not the sole burden of any one particular faith tradition (Soelle 2001).  I am left in my musing with a call for prophetic voices who will both decry the current state of abysmal folly and paint for us a picture of a preferable future.

My own faith tradition is full of prophets of one sort or another, but has failed miserably in its ability to remain true to the prophetic paradigm of its founder. A prophet is person who threatens culture’s power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads (Pearce 2002). However, a true prophet does not stop there, it is their task to then forecast and proclaim an image of the future where the present impediments to human flourishing cease to be. This in the end is what Christian faith as a prophetic religion is all about—being of God, for the sake of human flourishing (Volf 2011).  Whether Christian or not, “God,” in religious consciousness, names that power which is the foundation not only of existence, but of liberation, enlightenment, and healing (Farley 1990). The prophetic voice always points people Godward.

In our churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship have we truly made room for the prophetic voice? Prophets take risks and speak out in righteous indignation against society’s treatment of the poor, even risking their lives, because courage is the primary test of prophesy. In some sectors of faith communities people who mysteriously and magically call out phone numbers or tell of new cars are calling themselves prophets, but this totally misses the mark of the true prophetic voice. Prophets understand that suffering is the inevitable fate of those who stand up to the forces of hatred (Cone 2011). Suffering or not, we must stand up and we must make communities where standing up to injustice is not just the norm, but the required. A prophet and a prophetic people will speak back to the interlocking systems of our world’s politic by lifting the voices of those most marginalized by the insidious nature of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchal norms. Each community will have to ask itself, what ways are we inviting and welcoming prophetic inspiration in our fellowship, music, teaching, preaching, and even Eucharistic moments?

Because religion in many spheres has been hijacked by hate, we who are justice-loving religious practitioners must provide prophetic insight not limited to what injustice looks like, we must engage a narrative of justice loving.  Salvation can no longer be solely the work of inward calmness or an invisible cure in the afterworld, it must engage a more just and humane here and now.  We must become godlike by entering the depths of pain and oppression and working to liberate humanity from all human evils (Hopkins 1999).  Prophetic work must focus on salvation, which is both to be saved from oppressive systems of domination and to be saved to self-love and the ethic of neighbor love. Our world is looking for prophets who will speak of an eschatological moment where the Kindom of God comes for all the wretched of the earth. The world longs for prophetic voices that recognize the DNA of our thinking, those powerful and pervasive prejudgments based on race, gender, sexuality, and religious constructs that comprise an active epistemic framework affecting what we see and how we engage the world are all bending toward new realities (Kornegay 2013).  May our houses of worship become the epicenter of prophetic declarations of goodwill and peace on earth.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

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

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

Hopkins, Dwight N. 1999. Introducing Black theology of Liberaton . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Jr., El Kornegay. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pearce, Joseph Clinton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street press.

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

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Pulic Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good . Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Graduation Reflections

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Over the course of the next few weeks seminaries and schools of theology across the nation will be holding graduations. Sending out into the world people who are academically trained as theologians and ministry practitioners, these institutions will begin preparing for a new group of eager minds to mold. I am curious as I contemplate this season of transition, whether these students have been prepared to face the challenges of ministry in our present global sociopolitical context.

Anyone who follows my work knows that I am particularly concerned with imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy and the ways in which interlocking systems of marginalization continue to collude to further disenfranchise a multitude of people. A quick glance at my work will reveal a strong cultural critique from a liberative lens, but what may not be a clear is my deep concern for tradition, legacy, and heritage. I do not hold a socially progressive lens in polarity to a deeply traditioned orientation, I see the two engaged in a sacred dance requiring each to hold tension with the other. Seminarians are graduating into a crisis that falls in the midst of that sacred tension; I fear many do not know it.

Our global community is in a time of unrest. The sociopolitical realities across the world are creating a common existential crisis. From Brexit, to the election of Donald Trump, to hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, humanity is wrestling with the very foundations of safety and human flourishing. At the same time religious education has focused its attention on preparing students for job placement after graduation. Often at the expense of deep education of the soul many seminaries are offering shallow schooling of the mind.  This education versus schooling is in my opinion held by many institutions as a binary construct that favors a false dichotomy of  head over heart.  The need for institutions to be financially sustainable has put unjust pressure on them to fill seats and sometimes the filling of seats disallows the filling of hearts.

As a Bishop and educator, I would like to invite us into a deeper exploration beyond binaries.  Here at Seattle University the faculty and staff are constantly in dialogue around how to provide students with education that is formation oriented while preparing them for real-world job placement. My own bias says that the School of Theology and Ministry is doing a stellar job of living into that tension. Nevertheless, I am deeply troubled as I take in the national landscape of religious education.

I believe viable theology has a reciprocal relationship with the community with which it interacts, and the current sociopolitical climate of the global community demands extensive education in liberation theology with a resistance edge.  The principal insight of liberation theology insists that redemption is not only the rescue of certain individuals for eternal life in another world, but the fulfillment of all humanity in the political and social realities of this world  (McFague 1987). A spirituality of resistance implies that if an oppressed people have pride in their own culture and heritage, as well as the knowledge that they are children of God, then they will not be as vulnerable to the oppressive structures, systems, and ideologies that attempt to convince them that they are nobody, and that their lives are not worth living (Douglas 1994).

The Kindom of God is neither the thesis of individual enterprise nor the antithesis of collective enterprise, but a synthesis that reconciles the truth of both (King 2015). If seminaries and schools of theology are to indeed prepare graduates to find gainful employment while building a more just and human world, it is my opinion that they must redouble their efforts and commitment to teaching through a liberation lens, in a world where so many are so broken by so few. To the class of 2017, may you indeed be empowered to live the Spirit in the world!

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

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

King, Martin Luther. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.

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

 

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

The Invitation and Danger of The Internet

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We live in a world which has been made microscopic by the advent of the internet and even more so by social media. For those of us who tweet, the vastness of our humanities has been reduced to one hundred and forty characters. People and their experience have been truncated to FaceBook statuses and Instagram posts. Much of who we are is subjected to “likes” by followers or “friends.” With the great majority, we share no actual lived experience. This is our new normal; and what it means to be “in community” has changed. Social media platforms are in some ways our new congregations.

As we think about our current worship communities in the technological age, we must be acutely aware that at any moment a snippet of our liturgy, or the full liturgy, may be captured online and shared across the world. In that moment the world will make a decision about who we are and what we represent.  Cell phones and other recording devices abound in every congregation, at all times. It would be wise to give attention to that truth as we think through our liturgical moments.

Are our liturgies capacious enough to hold and honor the diversity of a vast audience? There are questions that must be asked of all of our congregations such as; do we still sing songs that lyrically privilege whiteness on a color hierarchy?  That is not just a question for white mainline protestant churches alone. Oppression sickness has so infiltrated all of Christendom that Black, Asian, and Indigenous congregations are all steeped in hymnody that is damaging to the collective psyche.  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 many church traditions with classism, sexism, heteroprivilege and more. Unfortunately, inferior feeling groups often seek to make someone else more inferior (Flunder 2005). The result of this sickness is that we lack the moral tenacity and vigilance to self-critique our enculturated expressions of worship.

We must interrogate our liturgies to discover where we both portray and betray the Gospel message. I shudder to think of the microaggressions, microassualts, and micoinvalidations that our congregations may unintentionally be transmitting to the world via our social media and our other online presence. The church in our time must be very mindful of ideological hegemony. Ideological hegemony is descriptive of those systems of practices, meanings, and values which provide legitimacy to the dominant society’s institutional arrangements and interest (Yarber 2015). It is easy for us to become blind to our own insensitivity when we are not diligent in checking our own privilege and our own lenses.

The internet offers religion an opportunity to craft a new narrative. For far too many, religion has been the coping mechanism, or human response to the trauma of self-consciousness; designed to keep internal and external hysteria under control. Because of this function of religion as the security system of human life, many have been guilty of shaping God and worship after their own image (Spong 1998). We can change this limited and limiting portrayal of religion by creating liturgical moments informed by a theology which is a self-conscious awareness that all of us can be God bearers and life givers—and that our deepest religious task is to give ourselves away.

In this sense the church must itself play the role of rescuer by reaching out to those who seem to be marginalized and dispossessed.  We human beings cannot incorporate all that we are into wholeness by ourselves; we need community. The primary task of the faith community then is to assist in the creation of wholeness (Spong 2001). Our online presence then is to be the place where each person is nurtured into being. Every facet of our liturgical process, which can at any moment be captured and transmitted to the world, must be consumed with honoring the Divine by making room for all of God’s beloved community. Ask yourself today “is my worship community ready for the world?”

 

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

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

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

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

Yarber, Cody J. Sanders & Angela. 2015. Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church. Louisville : Westminister John Knox Press.

 

 

 

 

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