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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A Supreme Injustice

Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in this nation. The damage that it does to women and children is rivaled only by the complete loss of humanity men suffer because the effects of the social construct and participating in it as a norm. Blind obedience is the foundation on which patriarchy stands, it is the repression of all emotions except fear; the destruction of individual willpower; and the repression of thinkingImage result for supreme court whenever it departs from the authority figure’s way of thinking (hooks 2004). This social illness has been on full display in our nation during the confirmation hearings of our newest Supreme Court Justice. In fact, these hearings have been nothing short of the public celebration of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy as the foundation of our nation’s political infrastructure.  It begs the question what can religious bodies offer to a power-sick society?

Power in contemporary society habitually passes itself off as embodied in the normal as opposed to the superior. This normalizing of power ignores the ways systems collude to silence the voices of marginalized people.  Within each set of social relations in U.S. society and culture, there is an imbalance of power. Hegemony maintains this inequality and is seen as normal and right. It also works to keep the dominant group in power by promoting its worldview as neutral, universal, normative, and right. This works so that those who have no power see the world in the same way as those with power (Townes 1995). All marginal groups in this society who suffer grave injustices, who are victimized by institutionalized systems of domination (race, class, gender, etc.), are faced with the peculiar dilemma of developing strategies that draw attention to one’s plight in such a way that will merit regard and consideration without reinscribing a paradigm of victimization (hooks, Killing Rage:Ending Racism 1995). Are our religious institutions offering an alternative narrative that empowers communities ravaged by the interlocking systems of domination that work to disinherit the great majority of people, without victimizing them again?

Image result for supreme courtAll religious traditions have a responsibility to our society in this moment to speak truth to power. 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). This work of liberation theology is done by looking at the praxis of the person Jesus and the values that can be connected with his life and work. The Biblical text suggests that Jesus possessed a perfect ministerial vision of righting relationships between body (individual and community), mind (of humans and tradition), and spirit.  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.Image result for patriarchy

We cannot afford to allow an environment of domination where victimization is called hoax to continue to be the norm in our society. Theology as an art and science is confessional, for the theologian (as exegete, prophet, teacher, preacher, and philosopher) must clarify the church’s faith in relation to its participation in God’s liberating activity in the world (Williams 1993). Viable theology has a reciprocal relationship with the community with which it interacts, and the current sociopolitical climate in the United States demands extensive liberation theology with a resistance edge. What will your response be this week as you gather in your community of faith? Who will be heard?

 

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.

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

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

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

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

The Hidden Gospel of Kavanaugh

Image result for kavanaugh confirmationThe Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judiciary body in the land. It is a life time appointment. There is no redo when appointing someone to it and the impact of its decisions are felt everyday by every American citizen. Who should be confirmed onto the court is of great import to every citizen and a question that has been at the forefront of the news because this particular confirmation has been attached to the historical dehumanization and marginalization of women in American society. The questions raised by the Kavanaugh Confirmation are deeply theological in that they ask about evil and redemption. They challenge us to think about both the victim and the victimizer and what is a holy and just response to both. These hearings ask us if civility is a common ethic.  Can we as a society disagree without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same (Brown 2017)?  If we cannot settle on how an accuser and the accused should be treated when such an important role is hanging in the balance I wonder what we are doing in our religious institutions to respond to community brokenness.

In order for a community to thrive, there must be an understanding of faithful community-building behavior. Faithful community-building behavior suggests that each member of the community concerns him-herself with the effect of her or his behavior on the good of the community (Flunder 2005).  Community is really the coming together of a group of individuals who have learned to how to communicate honestly with each other and accepted the shared responsibility of common ethics.  When the common ethic ground upon which this faithful community-building behavior is violated by any member or members of the community, acknowledgement and repentance are the path to wholeness within a community. Acknowledgement means there is ownership of the wrong doing and repentance means there is a change of mind and corresponding behavior on the part of those who have violated the ethical boundaries of the community. Acknowledgement and repentance happen by naming our objectionable deeds as wrongs, by grieving over the injuries inflicted, and by determining to mend our ways (Volf 2011).Image result for kavanaugh confirmation

With every seat at the table comes an expected and acceptable corresponding behavior, this means that those with power at the table are held to a high standard as they are trusted to set the norms for the entire community. Without this understanding of communal responsibility, ultimately a community is ruled by unrestrained egoism. People in power pridefully considering only their own interest, fracture and ultimately destroy a community.  Dominant groups assert their will over others at all cost in order to achieve what is in their own self-interest. The danger is that they engage in every form of hypocritical reasoning to justify their advantages, and without any hesitation they will use force to maintain those advantages (West 2006). Far too much of this is being seen in our society today.  Even if the accused is innocent, there is a certain remorse for the experience of the victim or for any who have been victimized that demands a civilized, justice based response grounded in the common good.

Image result for kavanaugh confirmationThis repentance should lead us to the door of forgiveness. Not a cheap forgiveness that ignores the violation of community norms, but true forgiveness that frees the victim from the power of the victimizer and calls the victimizer to live forward as their highest self. The absence of forgiveness keeps us mired in shame. Shame breaks and weakens us, keeping us away from the wholeness that healing offers (hooks 2000). Forgiveness is not to displace responsibility nor is it to say that people who have violated community norms should be in positions of power, but it does call us to ask the question, what is just and redemptive for those who violate community norms? We should ask ourselves if they are also souls of sacred worth and how are we called to be present to their wholeness in the community. Do we have the ability to be attentive to the needs of victims and the brokenness of victimizers or does violating the ethics of community call for disposal of personhood?

Each week in our liturgies, we hold space for those who have been wounded, we wrestle with evil and redemption and ritualize good overcoming evil. How do we ritualize the tension in community when people violate our community-building behaviors?

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

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 Pilgram Press.

hooks, bell. 2000. all about love. New York: Harper Perennial.

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

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

 

 

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Re-Imagine Prayer

As we start a new school year together and consider the mission and vision of our University, there is an acute awareness for the need to work toward a more just and humane world. Multiple systems of injustice have in an organized and systematic way worked to insure systems of inequality where the haves get more and the have nots get less. Marginalization and disenfranchisement seem to be celebrated while justice and equity seem to be demonized. Power, greed, control, and false narratives have taken center stage in national and international politics to the degree that there is very little honor left in the public square. In the face of all of this, the field of religion has been rocked by scandal and the public perception of those who work in religious life has been marred. IMG_3521

Humanity is made up of innumerable individuals, no two alike, and yet society is a composite whole moving gradually toward collective ideas and characteristics (Holmes, This Thing Called You 1997). How do we respond to the state of emergency our world finds itself in? Perhaps the answer lies in a return to prayer. Not the type of prayer that is filled mindless or empty platitudes, rather payer that is centered in deep faith that calls humanity to its highest ideas and character.

Despite what may appear, we are not, by choice or ideology, a culture set against solitude, interiority, and prayer. Nor are we more malicious than past generations. We differ from the past more by busyness than badness (Rolheiser 2013). All of our religious traditions have in common a commitment to prayer. The prayer I believe we need is a movement of thought, within the mind of the one praying, along a definite line of meditation; that is, for a specific purpose (Holmes 1997). This prayer is effective because a person’s thoughts become the law of her or his life. As the life of the individual goes, so goes the life of the community, region, nation, and ultimately the world. Prayer is our ability to raise our consciousness above the limitations of the physical plane in connection with any matter and as we see and speak things above what our senses behold we begin to respond to the physical in different ways (Fox 1966). It makes little difference the circumstance or its cause; prayer changes the way one responds to both circumstance and cause, because prayer changes the one praying!

IMG_3517Prayer is a form of thought, and negative thoughts (prayers) can create negative experiences! Professor William R. Parker of Redlands University investigated prayer therapy and discovered that unless prayer is positive it may be dangerous. The thoughts or desires we hold eventually conquer and control our lives (Holmes, A New Design for Living 2010). We can literally teach ourselves and the world around us to function in unhealthy ways if our hearts and minds are tuned to the frequency of negativity. Perhaps our news cycles have been informing our prayers and we can no longer see the ways in which we are complicit in cultural norms that are destructive to human flourishing.

Real prayer has power, not through repetition, rather through genuine belief and acceptance. It is the law of life that as we think and speak we also act.  It is a greater law of life that as we think and speak towards others they respond in kind towards us. This does not mean that every individual will return our kindness, but society becomes the best version of itself when the individual is the best version of themselves. This best self is centered in affirmative prayer that calls us to transcend the bruises of everyday life and seeks to see that which reflects the goodness of The Divine. Prayer gives us the opportunity to experience 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).

What if our religious organizations, churches, temples, or houses of worship began to re-imagine prayer? What if we became the places where we make prayer for ourselves, communities, regions and nations? What would the world look like if people of faith really began to pray?

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

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

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

Holmes, Ernest. 2010. A New Design for Living. Edited by Willis H. Kinnear. New York: Penguin Group.

—. 1997. The Science of Mind. New York: G.P. Putnums Sons.

—. 1997. This Thing Called You. New York: Penguin Group.

Rolheiser, Ronald. 2013. Prayer: Our Deepest Longing. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media.

 

 

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Is Your Church Relevant ?

IMG_3601Viable religion is one that has a working reciprocity with the culture that produces it or with which it interacts (Townes 1995). The call and task of our religious communities lies in the ability to impact the society each assembly operates in. The task of religion is not isolated to personal salvation, rather it is a transformative agent in the world. Healthy religious practices seek to provide a way for individuals and communities to name their experience and to live in response to it. In many ways, religious communities are countercultural models of an alternative set of values and practices to those of the larger society (Allen 2008). Religion stands amidst in the society as a witness of the highest potential of that society and calls all the members of the community to their highest expression. Those concerned with religious experience, whether they are religionist or not, are the most severe critics of social norms and practices, recognizing that humanity’s alienation from the whole, is a threat to individual and collective salvation.

My own Christian faith tradition, in order to be more viable in the world, must recognize its exposure to and role in the patriarchal, paternalistic, domineering society. She must be in the world engaging a prophetic dynamism that is forever questioning the status quo and striving toward conversion on all levels. This means that our faith must engage the process of protest, self-criticism, self- denial, and reform; so that the voice of the church will be credible in a society yearning for liberation (Häring 1970). A church who does not consistently seek to impact mythology, historical analysis, social organization, political organization, creative motif, and ethos of the world around it fails to be at all relevant to the community. By disengaging the culture, a church ceases completely to live out its vocation in the world, and in doing so betrays the very Gospel for which it pretends to stand.

IMG_0986Whatever hermeneutical lens your local assembly engages we can never forget that theology functions within the church. Its task is to ensure the authenticity of the church. That theology is impotent if the church does not act out the Gospel it has received. James H. Cone taught us well that theology is that discipline which has the responsibility of continually examining the proclamation of the church in light of Jesus Christ and then to criticize and revise the language of the church (Cone 1997). Our theology has failed if we are not confronting the evils of this society with its failure to live into the highest ethics and values. Far too much of our highest humanity has been sacrificed to social norms such as extreme capitalism, consumerism, materialism, militarism, war, violence, rape culture, patriarchy, imperialism, and whole host of interlocking social systems. By in large our religious communities seem to have lost the vocal critique of these systems that serve only to oppress and dehumanize the world around us.

IMG_6118What would happen if the church and all religious organizations began to engage in cultural dissidence that seeks to counter the hegemonic narrative of oppressive power? What if we began to craft liturgies that seriously envisioned and revised our collective resistance in terms of the liberating message of all the prophets?  What would it look like for your local assembly to participate in a principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice (Hendricks 2011)? What if the church began to take seriously the lived reality and embodiment of Jesus (Wallace 2002). The poor Jewish Jesus with his non-normative body who shows up with an anti-imperialist message over against the religious tradition of his time.  It is Jesus who unhinges the relationship between the underprivileged and the privileged: born in a manger and becoming King of the Jews without amassing either wealth or military might. It centers the Jesus who is incarcerated and dies in a government-sanctioned execution. What if we engaged preaching that lifted Jesus in his lived reality as a practicing Jew living in a territory controlled by Roman political, military, and economic forces.

If our liturgies employed this prophetic critique, we might have viable religion and be relevant 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

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

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black power. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Häring, Bernard. 1970. A Theology of Protest . Toronto: Doubleday.

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

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

Wallace, Maurice O. 2002. Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in Afircan American Men’s Liturature and Culture 117-1995. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

 

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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.

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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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