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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

All Black Everything

I have a knack for being a late-comer to all things fashionable, so of course I have just now discovered Lupe Fiasco, an amazing hip hop artist who I take to be one of the most prophetic artistic voices that you are ever likely to hear on the radio. I’ve been infatuated with this song over the last week, letting it sink in as a theological text of eschatological vision that encapsulates what I take to be the sort of social imagination that Christ makes possible in a world of structural whiteness that positions black life as locked into and determined by a particular ideology of history: one that is articulated through and recycled by the socially embedded and culturally celebrated idea that the West’s progressive trek across land and time–an imperial campaign of terror that claims for its own historical project of bodily and spacial accumulation those (non-) subjects determined as ahistorical or not sufficiently historical–was the way that history necessarily had to turn out. Here Lupe Fiasco is calling for an end, and therefore an apocalyptic reversal, to that history. He is calling for  a poetic imagining of the end of the world that is both an end (an apocalypse) and a new beginning (an eschatology) all at once. He is producing through what Anthony Pinn calls “creative disregard”, the questioning and disruption of normative sites of power through artistic and novel imagination, a new history in which black life is no longer determined by the terror of whiteness. “All black Everything” means the end of whiteness, and therefore the end of blackness as determined by whiteness. It means that the world has ended and that an eschatological reality has been inaugurated in Christ’s body–the body that has re-made all bodies so that human existence is no longer defined by the destructive and ontologically forced confines of whiteness, accumulation, and Western imperial reality. Have a listen and imagine the possibility.

“All Black Everything” by Lupe Fiasco

[Hook] You would never know
If you could ever be
If you never try
You would never see
Stayed in Africa
We ain’t never leave
So there were no slaves in our history
Were no slave ships, were no misery, call me crazy, or isn’t he
See I fell asleep and I had a dream, it was all black everything

Uh, and we ain’t get exploited
White man ain’t feared it so he did not destroy it
We ain’t work for free, see they had to employ it
Built it up together so we equally appointed
First 400 years, see we actually enjoyed it
Constitution written by W.E.B. Du Bois
Were no reconstructions, civil war got avoided
Little black sambo grows up to be a lawyer
Extra extra on the news stands
Black woman voted head of Ku Klux Klan
Malcolm Little dies as an old man
Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him
Followed by Bill O’Reilly who read from the Quran
President Bush sends condolences from Iran
Where Fox News reports live
That Ahmadinejad wins Mandela peace prize

Uh, and it ain’t no projects
Keepin it real is not an understood concept
Yea, complexion’s not a contest
Cause racism has no context
Hip-hop ain’t got a section called conscious
Everybody rappin like crack never happened
Crips never occurred nor bloods to attack them
Matter of fact no hood to attack in
Somalia is a great place to relax in
Fred Astaire was the first to do a backspin
The rat pack was cool group of black men
That inspired the five white guys called the Jacksons
Eminem fitted in but then again he inspired a black rapper tryin to mimic him
And thats what really rose up out of Michigan, the sign of white rapper by the name of 50 cent

[Hook]

Uh, and I know it’s just a fantasy
I cordially invite you to ask why can’t it be
Now we can do nothing bout the past
But we can do something about the future that we have
We can make it fast or we can make it last
Every woman queen and every man a king and
When those color lines come we can’t see between
We just close our eyes till its all black everything

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You are affirmed by God

Here’s a wonderful quotation from my professor, J. Kameron Carter, for whom I am currently writing a paper on Jesus and human particularity:

“It can thus be said that all particular persons, in the unique and often tragic histories that constitute them as persons, by virtue of their residence in the prototype–or stated differently, by virtue of their histories being embraced from beyond themselves through the incarnation–are of eternal and salvific significance. Christ as prototype frees creation in its fullness–from persons and their histories, to the ecological order, the the animal kingdom–to be a symphonic expression of the freedom of God, for in him the opposition between the universal and particular collapses inasmuch as he is the concrete universal…the One-Many, that sets all particularity free to exist beyond itself or “to be” in and for God. He is the tune–a jazz or blues tune of suffering divine things–that the symphony of creation, the many, plays.”

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Here is a sermon I preached for the camp counselors and staff I am working with this summer. We have been going through a series termed “basic Christianity” all summer. I was given the topic “the essential gospel” to preach.

“If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17

I would like to open our time together this morning by reading excerpts from a letter written by a man named Emmanuel Kataliko, the Catholic Archbishop of Bukavu (which is a city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Southwestern Africa). The letter, written on the occasion of Christmas, was addressed to the suffering Christian community residing in the Congo, who, along with other citizens, had endured a state of constant war, horrific violence, and brutal oppression stemming from a war that began in the Autumn of 1996. In his Christmas letter, the Archbishop describes the situation:

“Our Church herself is not spared. A number of parishes, presbyteries, and convents have already been sacked. Our priests and members of the religious life have been beaten, tortured, and killed because they denounce the flagrant injustice into which their people have been plunged, condemning the war and preaching reconciliation, forgiveness, and nonviolence. Needless to say, there have been no investigations carried out to ring the guilty parties to justice. [¶] The moral decay has reached so absurd a level that some of our countrymen do not hesitate to hand over their brother for a ten or twenty-dollar bill.38

What follows is the Archbishop’s response to such a seemingly hopeless situation:

“My brothers and sisters,

Let us be conscious of these bonds of servitude! Let us recognize our responsibility in this sinful situation that bears down upon us. Let us take the risky path of liberation through the guidance of the Spirit!

Our Christian message is a message of hope. This is the message of Jesus Himself. He, the Son of God, entered into solidarity with our human condition. Born into poverty, persecuted from the first moments of his life, forced into exile in a strange land, he died on the cross so that we might know the love of God the Father. He never avoided the costs of this solidarity, and facing death, he did not turn away.

Today, we His Church cannot betray the hope which He has brought to us. We, His children, are called to continue His mission: to proclaim life and life in abundance, to resist evil in all its forms, and denounce all that degrades the human person. We are engaged with courage, with a firm spirit and an unshakeable faith to be near all those who are oppressed, if necessary, with our own blood, as [many of our friends] and so many other Christians have already done.

The Gospel calls us to reject the use of arms as a means of resolving conflicts. It is through our suffering and our prayers that we will fight for freedom and bring our oppressors to reason and inner freedom.

We commemorate this day the birth of Jesus our brother. He invites us to know him, to love him, to follow him and to be like him. Christ is born from the Virgin Mary: he invites us to receive the incredible newness of grace and praise him with the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest!”

Written from Bukavu, the 24th of December, 1999

Mgr. Emmanuel Kataliko

Archbishop of Bukavu

These are Powerful words. Almost unthinkable words. Words that, let’s be honest, go against our common sense. In such a context of constant violence and instability as that which the Congolese find themselves, these are words that strike us as foolish, and words that come off as absurdly naïve and, if we are talking about practicality, totally ineffective and useless in the real world.

The Archbishop’s insistence for the community to not retaliate might come off nicely on paper, but when the rubber hits the road, when there are lives at stake and when there is the threat of violence against innocent people, we all know that the best way to fight injustice, oppression, violence, and the like is by flexing our muscles back at the threat. What the Christian community in the Congo really needs is for the “good guys” to go in and kill the “bad guys” so that some semblance of peace can once again exist in the Congo.

Really, it seems that this is the best we can really do or imagine, because, lets face it, we live in a broken world, and in order for this world not to simply deteriorate into chaos and oblivion we  need to be realistic about what it takes to survive in a world of war. We know that the gospel has something to do with “peace”, but “peace”, as we tend to think, is really just a figurative term that doesn’t really apply to certain areas of our lives because “peace” is just not all that realistic.

And lets not kid ourselves, this is the way that we in the West typically think about our lives as Christians—particularly in America, where we are generally removed from immediate threats to our security and stability (only because those threats have been moved elsewhere). And this way of thinking has trickled into our understanding of what constitutes the gospel.

Contrary to having our everyday lives and political worldview radically shaped by what God has done in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we tend to think that the gospel is really about our souls and where they will go when we die. We tend to think that the “good news” of the “gospel” is that our sin won’t count against us when it comes to God’s judgment at the end of the world. A comforting idea, isn’t it? And so, as Christians, we convince ourselves that life on Earth is really about convincing as many people as we can that where we go when we die is all that really matters about Christianity.

But this isn’t really the Christianity of the New Testament. Nor is it the Christianity of Archbishop Kataliko. This is the Christianity of America, the Christianity of those who don’t really want a gospel that challenges the status quo or bids us to relinquish control over our lives. This is a purely “spiritual” gospel that teaches us that Christianity really only boils down to a “personal relationship with God”.

And it makes sense to construct this sort of gospel—one that is relegated to the personal, spiritual realm and one that doesn’t very often interfere with a “the way things are is the way it has to be” mentality—one that doesn’t really interfere with the political reality around us (that is, the way the world actually runs).  Here in America, we don’t really need the sort of gospel that the Archbishop spoke of in his letter—the sort of gospel that teaches us to deny the most obvious answer to the threats around us—because, when it comes down to it, we believe more in our common sense and our security as citizens than a in a God who shows us what true freedom means by pathetically dying on a cross.

Within this frame of mind, we don’t really want a gospel that teaches us to suffer instead of fighting back; a gospel that teaches us to say “Glory to God in the Highest” when everything is falling down around us; a gospel that teaches us to have such a radical hope that the worship of God is what really determines our lives, a gospel that shows us that true freedom is following Christ to his cross. We don’t want this sort of gospel because we have duped ourselves into believing that our freedom, security, and well-being is really taken care of by our ability to fight back—or at least have someone fight back for us.

As Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw ask from the perspective of the modern world,

“Who needs a Creator when we can sculpt mountains?”

“Who needs a Great physician when we can heal ourselves?”

“Who needs a savior when we have a four-hundred billion dollar defense shield?

And he’s right. Really, who needs Jesus when we live in a world where everything we need can be bought down the street at Wal-mart? Who needs the Kingdom of God when we already have America?

But maybe there is a different way to understand what the “good news” of Jesus Christ actually means for us here today. In order to understand, let’s go back to our passage—our very short and simple passage—that we heard a moment ago. “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation”.

What could this possibly mean for us here? What could it mean to be in Christ new creations when we are citizens of nations, when we live in an obviously sinful world. What could it mean as we live out our lives under and in the midst of what Paul refers to as the fallen “Powers” and Principalities”—that is, those fallen systems, structures, constructed identities, philosophies, governments, constitutions, shopping malls, television sets, mega-churches, fashion trends, cars, boats, Universities, military-industrial-complexes, economies, nationalities, radio stations, fast-food chains, agri-corporations, banks, televangelists, lattes and frappachinos, cable news stations, etc., etc.,  etc.—basically all those things that make up a world of division and injustice and wish to control the status quo by keeping us comatose to the deeper reality of God’s grace and peace. What could it possibly mean to be a NEW Creation in the midst of this world?

Well, first of all, Paul’s statement—that in Christ we are new creations—is incredibly good news. You see, this litany of powers and principalities I’ve just listed—the world we live in—it all seeks to enslave us to a particular logic of scarcity, fear, division and stagnation. As creatures who have rebelled against the free gift of God’s love and grace, we are powerless to resist the powers’ hold over our lives; we cannot help but to operate under the backwards logic of the world—we are slaves.

Yet it is precisely over against our enslavement to the fallen world around us that the gospel of Jesus Christ is really good news (and it really is news: its a public proclamation from God to humanity that there is a new reality in Christ) The new reality is that God’s incarnation in Jesus—where he defeated the powers by dying on a cross and being raised again, thus killing the logic of death and ushering in a new history of life—has freed us from the powers’ hold over our lives; the powers’ prison door has been unhinged so that humanity no longer has to operate under its logic of captivity.

The good news is freedom! Its new creation! In Christ, we have been re-created and have received new minds; we have received a new logic and with it a whole new possibility of life. We have received life where there was previously death; we have received reconciliation with God and with each other; in Christ we now have the freedom to live outside of the logic of the fallen world and live freely in the Kingdom of God that has come in Jesus Christ; we have received newness.

What I want to say to you today is that this newness, this radically new identity and logic that we have received in our baptism and as we have chosen to follow Jesus to his cross—this  is the gospel. This is the good news.

The gospel is the proclamation of pure freedom—real freedom, not freedom in the sense of “I get to go shopping and have infinite choice about pursuing “happiness”—but rather,  the freedom to live in God’s Kingdom; freedom to imagine a deeper reality; freedom to no longer be a slave to the logic of the world; it is freedom to live life in an overflowing reality of love, peace, friendship, creativity, joy, community, sharing, and reconciliation; it is the freedom to embody a different reality—to live under a different logic—than the fallen world around us. It’s the freedom to relinquish control over our lives and given them over completely to the grace and peace of God. Hear the good news: Jesus makes us new creations in a world of death. Jesus makes possible what was before impossible.

For instance, the world says that it is impossible to live peacefully, that it is impossible to refuse violence at all times. The world says that it is impossible to imagine a world not defined by war, that it is impossible to love our enemies. The world says that it is impossible to share with each other unconditionally. The world says that it is impossible to reconcile ourselves across constructed divisions of nationality, race, religion, sexuality, economics, and other differences of ideology. The world says that it is foolish to trust our lives to the grace of God and abandon the “logic” of the world—again, that is, the idea that “the way things are is the way things have to be”.

The world says all of these things, but Jesus has shown us and given us a new possibility—one that, yes, is indeed an actual possibility for us to embody as we learn together to make our lives conform to the way of the cross—the way of selfless and non-resistant love that proclaims an infinitely deeper reality than the reality of the fallen world.

Here is the essential gospel, the essential good news in Jesus: we have been set free—set free in the most real and concrete way imaginable. We are set free to resist the logic of fear and scarcity. We are set free to love each other without condition. We are set free to care for those people whom the world has left behind. We are set free to feed the hungry, house the homeless, befriend the imprisoned, come alongside the sick, and suffer with those who are oppressed. We are set free to proclaim and embody the Kingdom come.

I would like to end our time together this afternoon by going back to Archbishop Kataliko’s letter that we heard earlier. In this letter, we see the good news of Jesus being lived out as a real possibility. We hear the Archbishop residing in a different reality than that of the violent world he finds himself. This is an example of someone who has learned to abandon the already defeated powers of coercion and oppression that Christ has set us free from; this is an example of someone who has learned to live in the logic of love, truthful worship, and trust in the sovereignty of God.

Again, as the Archbishop reminds us of the truth of Christmas, the truth of God’s good news for us in the form of a child, “[God] invites us to know him, to love him, to follow him and to be like him. Christ is born from the Virgin Mary: he invites us to receive the incredible newness of grace and praise him with the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest!”

As the church, the gospel is our reality. The world waits for the gospel to be proclaimed through our lives that are determined by a savior who chose to die on a cross rather than fight back. The world waits to hear that peace is a deeper reality than war; that love is deeper than sin.

We here today  find ourselves caught up in that story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as we learn to follow him together. We are caught up in a story of wonderful news which only makes sense when we learn to join in the chorus of the angels singing that Christmas hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace among those whom he favors.” Hear the good news: Christ has set us free. Amen.

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This world and that

Our bodies are not something to be simply discarded as a transitional cage in which we are currently trapped. Rather, our bodies are part of the redemptive and transformative story that God is telling through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who makes all things new and fit for the Kingdom of God. We will have body in heaven that is continuous–yet transformed–with our body on earth.

I used part of this passage from Barth in a paper on 1 Corinthians 15:35-41 last week:

To the outlook of man in the Old and New Testament there belongs the consciousness of existing as an earthly creature in the presence and with the participation of this other sphere. Even apart from his relationship to God this man is not alone. With his cosmos which he can see and in which he is at home he is not alone even apart from God. Another cosmic sphere has also been created by God and is also present in addition to his own. There are celestial as well as terrestrial bodies, even though the glory of the celestial is one and that of the terrestrial another ( 1 Cor. 15:40). There are knees which can bow in heaven as well as on earth ( Phil. 2:10). There is a binding and loosing in heaven corresponding to what takes place on earth ( Mt. 1619 and 1818). There is a connexion, a relationship, a common tie. The prodigal son does not sin only before his father but also against heaven, and he sins against heaven first and only then before his father ( Lk. 15:18). Similarly in 2 Chron. 28:9 we read of a transgression which cries aloud to heaven. As the earth can mourn, heaven too can wrap itself in darkness ( Jer. 428). And heaven no less than earth can rejoice and be glad ( Ps. 9611, Is. 4913, Rev. 1212 and passim). Together heaven and earth grow old and are renewed. And if in Eph. 1:10 the end of the ways of God is described as the process in which heavenly and earthly reality come to have their Head in Christ, this is to be understood as a confirmation of their mutual relationship and confrontation as grounded in their creation ( Col. 116). –CD III,3 (§§ 48-51), 424.

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“I am interested in exploring theology’s role in confronting the strangeness of the everyday. Such an approach attends as much to the silence that defines us, to our discursive gaps, as to our explicit words and reasoned justifications. The Christian is one whose ear has been trained to hear the strained inflections of the the so-called minority voice. She is one who has learned to become attentive to the little lies we tell ourselves every day, our subtle strategies of self-legitimation. And so she is skilled at identifying the many ways in which our key theological claims work against themselves. At one time, before Christians became uncomfortable with the idea of sin, before being Christian became confused with being happy, this sort of task was understood to be included as part of Christian grammar of sin. But such grammar has become as strange and foreign as the figure of the theologian itself, not least in those places in which the theologian is said to be at home” -Chris Huebner, from A Precarious Peace: Yoderian Explorations on Theology, Knowledge, and Identity

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Last night Stanley Hauerwas was publically interviewed by an Anglican Priest/News Anchorman (weird combination, I know) in the divinity school. I had heard Dr Hauerwas speak in chapel a few weeks ago, which was a great experience as expected. The sermon was on a passage from 1 Corinthians and was fairly straightforward and not particularly controversial. His language was appropriate for a church service and his countenance was that of a minister, not a professor. Last night, however, we were able to get a glimpse of the Hauerwas that has become legendary in theological circles for certain slips of the tongue. Hauerwas the Texan was fully present last night as the interviewer asked him questions pertaining to “being a Christian in today’s world.” Aside from many  typically rich, challenging, profound, and elegant reflections on being a Christian in the modern world were the Hauerwasian one-liners that make Hauerwas the legend that he has come to be. Here are my favorites from last night (please excuse some of the language):

On Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens: “Dawkins and Hitchens simply represent the fact that Christians have become so stupid that they have ceased to give the world anything interesting to think about. It’s not atheism that’s killing the Church, but sentimentality.”

On Christian marriage: “The problem with most sex is that it’s not very intimate…Our spouses get to know us better than we know ourselves, and it just scares the shit out of us.”

On health care reform: “If you live a crappy life there is no reason that you shouldn’t die a crappy death.”

On the recent developments between the Vatican and Anglicans: “I think what Benedict did was absolute shit…They just can’t give up on England. Why they would want England beats the hell out of me”

On the south: “Southern civility is one of the most calculated forms of cruelty I can think of.”

Of course, all of these soundbites were part of much broader and deeply thought-out reflections on the particular issues, but the one-liners are always the fun part. Yet, despite such fun, I was reminded last night just what is at stake when I call myself a Christian and proclaim Jesus as Lord in a world that has no time for God. Here is a passage from Hauerwas that is perhaps more insightful than a mere soundbite:

“Do  I think the truthfulness of Christian witness is compromised when Christians accept the practices of the ‘culture of death’–abortion, suicide, capital punishment, and war? Yes! On every count, the answer is ‘Yes’…Christians betray the grammar of the Christian faith when we try to answer the charge of circularity by divorcing what we believe from the way our beliefs are embedded in the church. In short, I am suggesting that Christians in modernity have lost the ability to answer questions about the truthfulness of what we believe because we have accepted beliefs about the world that presuppose that God does not matter. The problem for Christians and non-Christians alike is the Christian inability to live in a way that enables us to articulate what difference it makes that we are or are not Christian.” -from With the Grain of the Universe

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Why we exist.

Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certian way: as significant, as wanted. The whole story of Christ’s body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this, so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God. -Rowan Williams, The Body’s Grace

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