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.

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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 .

 

 

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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 .

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