The forty days of Lent observed by much of the Christian tradition is a solemn time of preparation of the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It calls for prayer, benevolent giving, repentance, and self-sacrifice or fasting. Conceptually, it is the season that causes us to live into the gratitude of the resurrection by denying ourselves comfortability or pleasure. After this year of engaging our sociopolitical climate I am not sure that lent is exactly what I need. Self-denial and benevolent giving is a normative state of being for marginalized communities. For me particularly, living in my Black embodiment means being in a constant state of generosity, just navigating the dominant culture. In a negrophobic society, Black ontological integrity suffers compromise. In such a society, blackness mutates as negation, nonbeing, nothingness; Blackness insinuates an “other” so radically different that the Black humanity is discredited (Copeland 2010). I fail to see what benefit lent brings to communities that live in constant lamentation.
Perhaps this year, lent should be reserved for those most in need of prayer, repentance, and self-sacrifice. My mind goes to the recentspecial call meeting of the United Methodist Church. There are many otherspaces in need of Lent, but this fresh wound is an excellent example of wherethis liturgical season should be lifted and centered. No matter what side ofthe issues you fall on, one has to see the divisions and fractures within thechurch as hurtful and damaging to whole body, but particularly damaging tomarginalized groups within the church. These meetings fly in the face of whatChrist calls the Church to be, as we are called to be one. This is not new orshocking; it is the DNA of Methodism in United States. While John Wesleyinstructed Francis Asbury -the first Bishop of American Methodist- to ban allslaveholders from the church, American Methodist ideologues seemed determinedto give racism irrefutable theological grounding. By 1856 the central thesis ofMethodist writing was that slavery per se, is right…. Domestic slavery, as aninstitution, is fully justified by the condition and circumstances God hadsanctioned for the African race in this country (Griffin 1999). Usingthe Bible to justify bigotry and exclusion is central to the MethodistNarrative. Let us not forget that the African Methodist Episcopal Church wasfounded because Black people were not allowed to pray at the altar in Methodistchurches. Splitting over full inclusion is the tradition. Here is a need forLent. Here is where the Church is called to prayerful repentance and those withpower are called to self-sacrificing.
For those of us who live in marginalized spaces, I amcalling for a different liturgical season. The season of hope. Hope that pointstoward resurrection. The Gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to explainedin a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidaritywith the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive isthe faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hopeout of despair, as revealed in the biblical account of Jesus resurrection (Cone 2011). Holy hope invites us into a season ofprophetic imagination, where we dare for forty days to dream a picture of a preferredfuture. What if we actively remember the goodness of the opulent andextravagant Universe. A season where we intentionally discuss the goodness ofthe world both human and nonhuman. I am calling for a season of Holy Hope wherewe see the potential for life while staring death directly in the face. Holy hope does not ask us to ignore the fissuresand brokenness of our flawed existence, rather it dares us to proclaim goodnews to poor and broken-hearted people who are weary of systems of oppressionand sublimation.
This season of Holy hope begs us for experimental liturgies. Liturgies of resistance which alter and arrest the Lenten liturgies common to us and reshape them in ways that offer prophetic hopeful encounter with the Divine. Rituals are really shared actions that are expressive of common strivings and rooted in common values (Fromm 1950). Holy hope as a common value invites me to engage the congregation in singing bright songs and dancing! Dancing is an act of resistance to the oppressive systems that dare to challenge the way I own my personhood and my space. My embodiment is never a problem or a question therefore, Holy hope invites me to counterhegemonic movement that puts my selfhood on full display! This season leading to the Easter celebration will be one of singing and dancing and radical love. I invite all marginalized people into the season of Holy hope, knowing that death must give way to victory.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Directorof Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical ProfessorSCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY| SEATTLEUNIVERSITY
Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.
Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion.New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Griffin, Paul R. 1999. Seeds of Racism in the United States of America . Cleveland : The Pilgrim Press .