Musings of a Postmodern Negro

"During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism."- Howard Thurman

Location: United States

Friday, April 29, 2005

Hotel Rwanda and The Last Word

Just saw it a couple of days ago for the first time. Very moving. Then I ate my dinner. But to my credit me and fam have been sponsoring a family in Africa for a year now through Worldvision. Which isn't really to my credit it was my kids that suggested it first. Thank God for the faith of children. One of my favorite professors in college Dr. Azevedo, born and raised in Mozambique, first awakened me to the reality of Africa. I plan on going with him to Africa one day to see what I have read about. There is something deep inside me as an African american that wants to kiss the ground of my ancestors. But I seem so detached from that reality. I have no African friends or acquaintances. Its strange really. Being African american and all.

What many black folks experience here in America pales in comparison to the existential realities of people living in particular African countries. What can I do? I have thought about this. Other than give to charities. I want to be on the right side of God's revolution on this issue. I am tired of being a spectator.

I have been reading Brian McLaren's new book The Last Word and Word After That. There is chapter (which I think is the first real wake up call in the book) that sort of reminds me of the movie Hotel Rwanda. There is a scene in McLaren's book where the character's Neil and Dan are discussing the issue of hell and the afterlife. Specifically they are discussing the issue of the individual soul after death. Here is a wonderful passage in the book that reminded me of the movie Hotel Rwanda. In this particular passage they have been discussing some of the beliefs Christians have held regarding the afterlife (eternal conscious torment, universalism, etc.). But this passage right here grabbed me and reminded me of the world in which we live in and has brought home to me the importance of really saying yes to the gospel of God's coming kingdom:

Neil: "The problem with Universalism is not just the answer it provides. True, its answers create problems - but so do the alternative answers. The problem is the question it seeks to answer. The question assumes that the purpose of the gospel is to get individual souls into heaven after they die. No matter how good your answer is, its not good enough if you're askingthe wrong question."

Dan: "And the right question would be...?"

Neil: "Not just how individuals souls will be saved but instead how the world will be saved. When I say 'saved,' I mean not just from hell, and not just from God's wrath either. After all, God's wrath is a good thing, a saving thing. No, Daniel, the gospel is about how the world will be saved from human sin and all that goes with it - human greed, human lust, human pride, human oppression, human hypocrisy, and dishonesty, human violence and racism, human chauvinism, human injustice. It's answer the question, How will humanity be saved from humanity? How will earth be saved from evil that springs from within human individuals and human groups?" (McLaren, The Last Word, pgs. 69-70).

Jesus once said, "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice." What else needs to be said?

Other than amen? Maybe an oh-me?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Being Christian in a Bank Town

Although not an official Common Christian Party event "Being Christian in a Bank Town" will be hosted by members of CCP (at this time there are only two of us). I just ask for your prayers as me and my friend Rod venture out into the community and present a different Christian narrative to some of our counterparts. We are going to be hosting a dinner/dialogue/conversation with some of our friends and acquaintances that share a concern for the displacement and alienation that is occurring in our community due to the constant shifting economic/social forces here in Charlotte, NC.. We basically want to bring the gospel to bear on a precarious situation we see emerging here in Charlotte.

Also, we have been doing a poor people's fast. Rod got this idea from an article he read in the Christian Century. Essentially, the idea is to incorporate a diet that is the diet of most of the people of the world. What it does is create greater empathy for those less fortunate than us. In our culture it is becoming more difficult to create spaces where people can have empathy towards others. We are so fragmented and lonely...and distracted by our toys (whatever guise they may come in). So we are engaging in this holy discipline to allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us and through us as we invite some of the good people here in Charlotte to a kingdom feast.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Civil Rights, prophetic Black Christianity, and the future Church

My man Zossima over at Forgetting Ourselves has laid out some beautiful thoughts on the relationship between American Evangelicalism and the African-american Church tradition.
His thoughts have helped me realize why I don't find the recent criticisms of Emergent that amusing. I find myself in a different church/theological orbit than those that lodge conservative theological complaints at Emergent. What I see in Emergent is a willingness to have the kind of dialogue I see taking place with Zossima. However, I do not believe that Zossima identifies with the Emerging church/movement/conversation/etc. but I do see these kinds of discussions taking place in this conversation. Which I find to be quite refreshing. And the more I get into this conversation with Emergent type folks the more I find myself debating epistemology with its detractors. Honestly, I don't know if that is worth the effort. I find issues of poverty, economic justice, and 'real' eschatological issues grabbing my theological palatte. Am I wrong for feeling this way? Someone help a brutha out! Let me know something.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Brueggemann on Evangelism

I have been reflecting on the mission of the Church. I often hear that one of the roles is the Church is 'win the lost'. I know what this means in certain places, but I offer up one of my favorite definitions of evangelism by biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann:

Evangelism is no safe church activity that will sustain a conventional church, nor a routine enterprise that will support a societal status quo. Evangelism as here understood is an activity of transformed consciousness that results in an altered perception of the world, neighbor, and self, and an authorization to live differently in that world. The news that God has triumphed means that a transformed life, i.e., one changed by the hearing of the news, works to bring more and more of life, personal and public, under the rule of this world-transforming, slave-liberating, covenant-making, promise-keeping, justice-commanding God. (p. 129, from Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism)

Keep Your Head to The Sky

I am a part of an Emerging Church discussion group here in Charlotte, NC. Its a great group of brothas and sistas. One of the issues that has come to our attention is how we have waxed eloquent in all things epistemological and theological. So...we have decided to have our discussions tempered with reflection on time-honored Christian practices (e.g. prayer, meditation, etc.) and also dialogue about some of the pressing cultural, philosophical, and theological issues of our day. So for my group here in Charlotte and to all of those who feel what I'm sayin I offer this meditation for your personal time with the Master.

Master told me one day
I'd find peace in every way,
but in search for the clue
wrong things I was bound to do

Keep my head to the sky
for the clouds to tell me why
As I grew with strength
Master kept me as I repent

Keep your head to the sky
Keep your head to the sky

Gave me the will to be free
purpose to live is reality
Found myself never alone
changes come to make me strong

Step right up, be a man
You need faith to understand
so we're saying for you to hear
Keep your head in faith's atmosphere...

Keep your head to the sky
Keep your head to the sky
- Earth, Wind & Fire

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Issues I have with criticism of Emergent

I have been surfing through the blogworld and have seen alot of criticism of the Emerging Church/movement/discussion/conversation. What trips me out is that most of the stringent voices criticizing Emergent are not in my church orbit. I know there are premier conservative Evangelical voices that have some strong things to say about Emergent. And I can actually appreciate them. The issue I have though is that when I get into discussion about Emergent especially those that criticize it I cannot help remind some of these people that they don't speak for "Christianity". I find myself reminding them that you are one voice in a 2,000 year conversation. And that this conversation called Christianity has been around longer than the Protestant Reformation. And what I see in alot of criticism is Martin Luther-ish and John Calvin-ish interpretations of Christianity as the grid through which Emergent is being criticized. This is not to say that these grids have no truth to them its just that I see in Emergent a conversation that extends beyond Reformation theology. While I have mad respect for a D.A. Carson and a Norman Geisler...they don't speak to me. They typically speak to a particular arm of the Protestant Evangelical church. But I will be reading them nonetheless.


Saturday, April 09, 2005

Walking in the Valley of the Suburban Death-Matrix

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

This does have a happy ending contrary to the title of this short musing/rant.

I am walking through the streets of my neighborhood. My very own surburban death-matrix. I don't know my neighbors. Well...I only know one neighbor. I used to know a couple of'em, but one went to Federal prison and the other went to the State pen.. The point being that I don't know my neighbors as well as I should. Speaking of neighbors, my kids were in an uproar when a kid a couple of houses down decided to play basketball on their goal without asking. I instructed them on the fine art of neighborly love. I told them to put their basketball up in the garage next time. That way...he won't be able to play basketball here anymore without asking. I might have clued you in as to why I don't know my neighbors.But I remembered my kiddie days in Birmingham, Alabama. Those were different times ( the 80's). Back in those days basketballs, footballs (especially the nerf kind), wiffle ball bats, and other recreational items were all community property. Of course we didn't use wiffle balls. Those were normally lost in the woods. We'd use rocks. That was part of my life-training from being raised in a black working class neighborhood...make something out of nothing. So in my retro-spection I changed my mind as to what they should do about this fiasco with DaeShon's use of the basketball goal. I told them to let him use it. To their chagrin I told my boys to play with him. DaeShon is a rather rotund little fella. He's about the same age as my third child, Abraham (7). DaeShon gets picked on alot because of his weight and some of the kids don't want to play with him. Well...cause he is a little whiny (so is one of my kids which I won't mention for fear of retribution from my wife). Plus DaeShon doesn't have adult male presence at his home. His mother appears to be a single mom. So my third, Abraham, plays with him. They play basketball together and other recreational and imaginative activities (e.g. digging lakes in my backyard!). Its all love. And ultimately that's what this is all about. So while I walk through the Suburban death-matrix I do see love in the midst of broken homes, neighbor-less neighbors, lawn-fetishsizers, drive ways parked with SUV's, and suburban teenage wannabe hip-hop thugs. I see this love, this agape love in the midst of brokeness. And while we walk through this suburban death-matrix I know the Lord is with us. And while the Lord is with us we will be with those that share our brokeness.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Pope John Paul II

I love this past Pope. His attempt to hold a consistent "ethic of life" raised him above the fray of tired arguments between conservatives and liberals. Thus making this past Pope a complex figure. Opposes abortion, the war in Iraq, and the death penalty. And a controversial figure in his refusal to deal with radical changes (e.g. women in the clergy and priest marrying). His witness about global poverty and his chastisement of western democracies in their failure (as he perceived) to do all it could do for the poor both domestically and globally. I consider him a true Christian leader. And what Christian leader is without controversy? None that I know of. So I want to give a shot out to this past Pope and all my Catholic brothers and sisters out there. I am in mourning with you.

I hooked up a link to my man over at the Naked Church blog. He has some good comments as well.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Common Christian Party

In an effort to expand the conversation me and my good friend Rod Garvin have started a blog over at Common Christian Party. It is a project we plan to take to the community in a couple of weeks. We will be dealing with some of the issues I have raised here and on this particular blog. I hope you get a chance to peruse it.

Here's the link:

Sunday, April 03, 2005

My baby boy turned 7 today

I was reminded that blogs are supposed to be more like a personal journal. Of course I have also been told that blogs can be anything you want it to be. So I thought I'd put up something a little personal about myself and the fam. I am married (wife's name is Yashica) with fo' kids (Isaiah, Israel, Abraham, and Deborah). I guess you can tell I used to be a fundamentalist. All my kids have Bible names. Its cool though. They love it. Their names have profound meanings. Which means alot to me. Especially now that I work in a local Social Security office here in North Carolina. Some of the names black folks name their children. I have entertained writing a book about that particular topic: Why do black folks name their kids that way? I have various theories as to why but that's for another discussion. What I do want to talk about is my baby boy, Abraham. I wanted to post a picture of him here but I don't know how to. I will have to read up on it.

He is number three. He turned seven years old today. We had a beautiful birthday party for him today. Some of my friends brought their chillen over for the festivities. It was quite a kingdom extravaganza. Black and white kids tearing up my front and backyard. It was beautiful. But Abraham had a great time. We are blessed by God to have friends to share these kinds of moments.


My current reading list (Updated 4/09/05)

The Last Word and the Word after That : A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren

Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World by Robert Webber

After Christianity -- by Gianni Vattimo, Luca D'Isanto (Translator)

Practical Theology for Black Churches: Bridging Black Theology and African American Folk Religion by Dale P. Andrews

Believing in the Future: Toward a Missiology of Western Culture (Christian Mission and Modern Culture) by David Jacobus Bosch

Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, And Other Christians In Disguise by Robert Inchausti

"Jesus Walks" in Brian McLaren's Church?

You would think Brian McLaren was an undercover brutha. I was surfing the blogsphere and decided to check out his church's (Cedar Ridge Community Church) website to see his latest 'talk'. What caught my attention was McLaren's recent message centering around a theme they had for the month about the different pictures of Jesus. In this particular message McLaren was dealing with Jesus as Sagely Teacher. It was a challenging and encouraging talk about how Christ's subversive wisdom was brilliant and how Christ's wisdom is often ridiculed in our modern era. But what got my goat was a video he played for his congregation. It was Jesus Walks by hip-hop artist Kanye West. At first I was like, "where is he going with this?" I was asking myself, "can he pulled this off?" By and large I think he did. His exposition of West's rap was on point. I was thrown for a loop. I was like, "generous orthodoxy in full fx!" Firstly, I don't know too many white Evangelical pastors that listen to hip-hop culture. Maybe some of y'all do...I don't. Secondly, not only did he play the video he gave some very insightful commentary on West's video. McLaren's commentary captured the essense of Kanye's song as it dealt with the personal and social ruptures in our society: terrorism, racism, economic exploitation, personal/existential despair. I was quite refreshed to see this kind of commentary done by an Emergent leader. Mainly because I am a hip-hop junkie. I burned up my Kanye West CD College Dropout by playing it so much. Its a great album and captures a raw telling of Jesus that I believe could wake the church from its complacency in many areas. is a link to McLaren's message "Pictures of Jesus: The Sagely Jesus"

And here is a link to Kanye West's video "Jesus Walks":

Tell me what you see and hear.


Friday, April 01, 2005

Negro Spirituals as subversive Christian practice

One of the things that deeply resonates with me about Emergent is the re-appropriation and appreciation of ancient Christian practices. Ancient Christian practices like lectio divina, pilgrimage, stations of the cross, etc.. I find these many practices of the Christian tradition very fascinating. I do a little lectio divina myself. But one practice I engage in is listening to old negro spirituals. Either I will listen to old recordings or simply sing them in my devotional time alone. I find them quite encouraging and they bring to my remembrance the closeness of God to my people as they were delivered from one of the worse forms of human oppression ever. Which brings to mind the importance of 'memory'. Remembering is simply a matter of cognition or remembering. Singing these old songs remind me of Who's world I live in and Who has the final say...not governments, not political pundits, not presidents, not multinational firms, not even absolutist forms of religion...but God. The God of surprise...the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not only negro spirituals but the Blues/Jazz and some R&B and hip-hop bring to my rememberance the God of my fathers and mothers. The other day I was thinking about John Coltrane's, jazz saxophonist, classic "Love Supreme". FYI, the album was dedicated to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Coltrane's song "Love Supreme" captures what theologian Robert Jenson says in words describing this God in his triology "Systematic Theology". He says the words YHWH or I am who I am is better said, "I will be who you will discover me to be". Such a God is captured in the Negro Spirituals and their sometimes wayward children R&B, Jazz, Blues, and hip-hop/rap.

Family Resemblances Part 3

In Part 2 we talked about the similarity of belief and practice between Emergent theology and prophetic Black Christianity in the affirmation that the church is an alternative civitas or eschatological community that lives in a tension between the present age and the age to come. A community that embodies the future in the present. A foretaste, a sign, and vehicle of Christ's coming kingdom. In this post I want to talk about another similarity between these family members that deeply resonates with me: subversive narration. I don't know if someone has used this word before me. It kind of popped up in my head as I was reflecting on an old Negro Spiritual, Go Down Moses. Here are a few stanzas from the old spiritual:

When Israel was in Egypt's Land,Let my people go,
Opressed so hard they could not stand,Let my people go.
Chorus: Go down, Moses,Way down in Egypt's Land.Tell ol' Pharoah,Let my people go.

Thus saith the Lord, bold Moses said,Let my people go,If not, I'll smite your first-born dead,Let my people go.

Chorus: Go down, Moses,Way down in Egypt's Land.Tell ol' Pharoah,Let my people go.

No more shall they in bondage toil,Let my people go,Let them come out with Egypt's spoil,Let my people go.

Chorus: Go down, Moses,Way down in Egypt's Land.Tell ol' Pharoah,Let my people go.

This particular spiritual is a popular hymn in black churches going back several generations in black Christianity. What it highlights is how black churches grabbed hold of the powerful narrative of Scripture that talked of a God that comes down to the nitty gritty of life. In the midst of social and economic oppression and delivers God's people from the Pharoah.
This particular narrative still exercises a big influence in black church experience. Naturally, it makes sense. Black folks were introduced to American Christianity during slavery. It makes sense that the Exodus narrative would seize their souls. The Exodus narrative gave black Christians critical tools to 'deconstruct' the peculiar institution in the South. The appropriation of the Exodus narrative in black Christianity was a subversive appropriation whereby black folks could possess hope that God would redeem them in their slavery. The Exodus narrative was embodied by black Churches creating social space where they could be human beings...the imago dei. Not only did the Exodus narrative provide this kind of reality for black folks so did the cross and resurrection of Christ. Seen as the climax and lense through which all of history and existence is to be interpreted the Gospel's Jesus deeply resonated with black Christians. If anybody understood suffering black Christians did. That's why the stories in the gospels were appropriated in profound and subversive ways by black Christians. This is mostly seen through the negro spirituals and slave narratives. Here is a link to a website that has a lot of old negro spirituals that can be quite uplifting for the soul.
So what has this to do with Emergent? Where is the family resemblance between the subversive narration of black Christianity and the Emergent movement?
I think Emergent examples this kind of subversive narration the way it 'deconstructs' the ruins of Modernity and the way Modernity is reflected in theological reflection and practice in American Christianity. And also the way it narrates a missional self-understanding of the Church as it participates in the missio dei. I have noticed in quite a few books by Emergent-like thinkers (and the theological griots it listens to) a re-telling of the story of Modernity. Whether it be in the form of re-telling Church History, Epistemology, Church practices, etc.. There is always a story being told about how Modernist Christianity began with 'cogito ergo sum' to the present with its foundationalist theologies making a final grab for survival in a post-post-modern world. The way that Emergent-like storytellers and griots 'deconstruct' reductionist accounts of the gospel and the influence of American-styled individualism. Also the way many Emergent voices are preaching the gospel in a way that challenges our own certainties and our accomodation to our consumerist society. So I see alot of subversive narration goin on in the Emergent camp. There is more to this I am sure, but I find it one more family resemblance that needs to be discussed at the table of Emergent. I will reflect more on this particular family resemblance later. Before I sign off I do want to leave you with another taste of subversive narration:
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water
God's a-going to trouble the water
See that host all dressed in white
God's a-going to trouble the water
The leader looks like the Israelite
God's a-going to trouble the water

See that band all dressed in red
God's a-going to trouble the water
Looks like the band that Moses led
God's a-going to trouble the water

Look over yonder, what do you see?
God's a-going to trouble the water
The Holy Ghost a-coming on me
God's a-going to trouble the water

If you don't believe I've been redeemed
God's a-going to trouble the water
Just follow me down to the Jordan's stream
God's a-going to trouble the water
As I look over the Emerging Church Blogsphere I cannot help but think that God maybe troubling the waters of American Christianity. Awakening it from its complacency and thirst for relevance and power. More later.