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

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Location: United States

Monday, May 30, 2005

Emergent and the issue of Race

My man Charlie Wear over at Next-Wave offered an interesting observation about a report by Van S of missionthink who attended the recent Emergent convention in Nashville. Charlie asked the question, "Emergent, mostly white males?"

Great question Charlie. I have participated in the discussion. And have thought about why Emergent is mostly white...for now. And I should say that Emergent US and UK are mostly white. I am not sure about the Emergent conversation that is taking place in other parts of the globe. The most obvious one is that the conversation started in white evangelical churches. So there is the historical fact that the conversation was started by white evangelicals that were concerned about particular issues relating to the church's mission in the world of our time. So I don't buy into the conspiracy theory that those really involved in Emergent...those that initiated the conversation were purposely trying to keep the "others" out of it. I think that would be a more charitable rendering of the pervasiveness of whiteness of the Emergent conversation to suggest that the conversation just simply started this way.

Secondly, another reason why Emergent is mostly white has to do with the history of race and Christianity in America. I have said this before in another thread and am looking forward to the response but it is this: the reason why there is a white church and a black church is because of racist white Christians. White Christian racism created the dichotomy between black and white churches. As a matter of fact there is no such social designation named "white" or "black" church prior to the peculiar way race played out here in America. White racism created the black church. The black church was a reaction to white idolatry of race. There would have not been a black church had many of our white Christian brothers and sisters had not been blinded by the false belief in white superiority. And this historical matter has continued to play itself out in American Christianity. The white/black church distinction was created because Christians violated the unity that is to be embodied in the Eucharist. The reason why Emergent is mostly white is because Christians failed to embody the Eucharist. We simply failed to be the body of Christ. And I cannot see any serious discussion of race in the Emergent conversation without calling for a serious discussion as to how and why our Christian forefathers and foremothers broke the Eucharist by idolizing their whiteness. I can't see how we can deal with the race issue without dealing with the specifics of how this whole thing came about. It very much needs to be a part of the catechism of the Emergent conversation. Assuming of course Emergent wants to deal seriously with embodying a "deep ecclesiology". We'll see.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Merton On My Mind

I told myself I was going to take a break from reading. I tend to read myself into despair. There is definitely some truth to the biblical injunction that much reading is weariness to the soul. I know that sounds bad but I'm being honest here. I read very little fiction which I heard is not good as well (not reading fiction that is). I have been thinking about picking up a good novel. Any suggestions?

I did run across a refreshing voice the other day, Thomas Merton. Where has this cat been all my life? There is something about this gentlemen's writing that stirs me up. I have been reading Luke-Acts along with some of Merton's writings. I picked up a book edited by Robert Inchausti, author of Subersive Orthodoxy, that is a collection of quotes and passages from Merton's various writings.

Here is something that got my day going. It came at an opportune time after a conversation I had with some of my co-workers, who happen to be Christian, about the notion of worldliness. There were a varying range of ideas about "worldliness". From going to the strip club to drinking beer, to cussin to all the other "worldly" things Christians are infamous for prognosticating on . In reading Merton this morning I stumbled upon a notion of worldliness that, to me, really captures what the biblical narrative is getting at when it uses the word "world" or "wordly":

I think the question of "turning to the world" is in fact a question of being patient with the unprepossessing surface of it, in order to break through to the deep goodness that is underneath. But to my way of thinking, "the world" is precisely the dehumanized surface. What is under the surface, and often stifled and destroyed, is more than "the world": it is the spirit and likeness of God in men. Much of the ambiguity in talk about the world-especially mine-is that everyone tends to be quite selective about the elements he admits into his concept of "the world." My particular concept focuses on the sham, the unreality, the alienation, the forced systematization of life, and not on the human reality that is alienated and suppressed. This has to be made clear. (p.27-28)

What did I get from Merton here? What stuck to my soul? It was the notion that the "world" is a sham, an unreality that is foisted upon us all. A sham we accept and are willing to sacrifice our souls and children for at the drop of a hat. A sham. A sham life of serving only my interests and not that of others, sham dreams of being the most important, sham aspirations of climbing over others to get to the top, sham relationships based upon utility. When someone now tells me that Jesus saves me from the "world" the gospel has more of a real meaning now. The world ceases to be a nebulous concept. The world ceases to be something that receives arbitrary moral judgments.

The world is a sham. It is the sham. It is the world-as-it-is-presented. A world that blurs the soul and makes it difficult to distinguish between the "flesh" and the "spirit". That part of me that is attached to the old age and the other part of me, the spirit, that is captured by a new age inaugurated by Christ on the cross and in his resurrection.

Merton has helped me go one step further in imagining salvation as something real and not an a-historical proposition I have to eject my mind in order to desperately hold on to. He is helping me read the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles aright. Salvation has a concrete reality to it. May God's grace keep me and save me on the journey of my soul!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Thanks For Your Prayers

I want to thank everyone who has been praying for my mother-in-law, Regina. My wife called me last night to tell me she is beginning to re-gain sensation on her right side. If you recall she had a stroke a couple of weeks ago. And while hospitalized the doctors discovered she was in the terminal stages of cancer. My wife took her for a spin in her wheelchair around the nursing facility she is at now. My wife started singing, under her breath, Third Days' song "Your Love Oh Lord". She began to cry. She told my wife that was her favorite song. I can't really capture the power of this moment because my wife and her mom have had somewhat of a distant relationship over the years (not just geographical). Regina began to tell my wife how grateful she was for all that God had given her and thankful she was that there were people around the country praying for her that don't know her. My wife said she was really blessed to hear that there are people all over the country praying for her. Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Singing A New Song

This past weekend I have gained a deeper appreciation for music as a profound analogy of living in unity with God. I have never really reflected on it in-depth before. Worship this weekend while attending Warehouse 242 got me thinking about how I can re-imagine living this life. One of the band members leading worship song a song titled "Peace into me". It is a very beautiful song. It reminded me of the brokenness and finitude of my existence and my need to fall down on my knees at the foot of the Peasant. Another song popped up in my head. It is a classic and have heard that this was Martin Luther King's favorite negro spiritual (the best rendition is again by Mahalia Jackson...ah...Heavenly):

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my works in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

Refrain

If you cant preach like Peter,
If you cant pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

What these two songs have helped me realize is how I can imagine the Christian life as singing a new song. Not only singing a new song but a performance of a song in a world seriously out of tune. Stanley Hauerwas helps us try to use our imaginations in seeing the Christian life as a faithful performance:

"The church is therefore called to perform the good news of God's redeeming love in Christ. That is its vocation. What it means to be a good performer of the gospel, then is not simply a matter of finding the right words - although it is clearly that- but it is also a matter of finding the right key in which to sing our song, the right meter and cadence in which to say our poem, the right register in which to play our piece. All performances of God's called people, in other words, are repeat performances, at once emulating the one true performance of God in Christ but also an extension and variation- an improvisation, if you will- of that singularly defining performance. The elements of continuity and discontinuity, sameness and difference, old and new, make assessing the faithfulness of Christian performance an ongoing task." (Performing the Faith, p. 103)

What a way to imagine living this life. I find many parallels in playing a song and living this new life. I once was a saxophonist. Both the soprano and the alto. One of the parallels I see in playing these particular musical instruments and my tutelage under the Peasant is that there were times I would give a stellar performance. But before there were stellar performances there were those horrible performances normally done during practice.

All of this of course reminds me of how finite I am. We are all like artists rough around the edges. We need practice. We need terrible performances as well as stellar performances to make us faithful performers.

As a Christian I look at my life and see all the horrible performances I have made and the very few stellar performances I have under my belt and wonder what the next piece will be five minutes from now, later today, tomorrow. Will I rise to the occasion? Will I blow the house down? Will I tear up the stage? Will I dazzle the audience with my Christian virtuosity? Well...again Hauerwas pops my bubble when he suggests that being "best" is not a theological category. What is a proper theological category for us Christians as we seek to stay in tune with the Peasant? I am suspicious that it is to be faithful performers of the gospel.

More random thoughts later...

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Me and the kids broke down (actually I did) to go see Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith last night. I am a fan of the Star Wars legacy. Star Wars was the first movie I actually saw or remember as a kid. I was somewhat disappointed with the previous two movies. I still liked them. Don't want to get into why I was disappointed except to say this last installment of the epic was probably the best out of the previous two. I have read some of the reviews. Its the typical stuff. The script was poorly written. Some of the character's interaction with each other seemed wooden (like the romance between Anakin and Padme). Aside from the window dressing issues people may have with the movie I couldn't help but feel like Lucas was up to something. I don't want to spoil it for you but I was wondering if this installment of Star Wars has more of a cultural message than the previous ones. Of course they all tell a story that has various elements of our culture and history but something about this episode of Star Wars spoke to our current global situation to me. I won't say more. But here is a line in the move that caught me and stayed with me as I was walking out of the movie theatre:

"Anakin, Siths deal in absolutes!" - Obi-Wan

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Prayers for Regina

For the few people that actually stumble upon this blog I would like to request your prayers for my mother-in-law, Regina. She recently suffered a terrible stroke. While in the hospital recovering from the stroke it was discovered that she has terminal cancer. The doctors don't expect her to live no longer than two to three months. My wife, Yashica, and my baby girl, Deborah, have flown up to the Seattle area to be at my mother-in-law's side. We all wanted to go but monetary limitations have stepped in the way. We decided to send my baby girl with my wife since her mother has never laid eyes on her...except for pictures.

We are still holding out hope for God's healing hand. At this point we are just leaving ourselves open for God's mercy and grace.

My prayers have been starving for words to describe my feelings. I find myself only able to pray this:

Father, thy will be done. Have mercy on Regina. Amen

I don't know what else to say. Pray for our family during this difficult time.

What is the prophetic?

Recently I was asked what I meant by the "prophetic". A difficult question for me. My Christian journey began in a Charismatic church that had a particular understanding of the "prophetic". Although it was a bitter-sweet experience I believe God used it to teach me alot of things about God. For one, God is "real" in Charismatic churches. God isn't an abstraction. Neither is God described as the "Ground of Being" or as the conclusion to a syllogism. God is usually described as being "here" in the Charismatic church. But one of the most profound things I learned in that context was that God "speaks" to the people of God. That God has something to "say" to us. I don't want to get into any cessationist arguments I just want bear witness to my understanding of the prophetic.

The prophetic was first introduced to me as God's "speaking" to the people. The prophetic is God saying something through the presence of the Holy Spirit to those that bear God's name. Of course I moved out of the Charismatic context. I still go back from time to time to remember where I came from. I still keep one foot in that particular Christian world. It don't consider it an "upward" move for me. More like a lateral move. Stepping into another web of understanding in regards the prophetic. The web expanded as I began to study Old Testament scholars like Walter Brueggeman who offers us this definition of the prophetic as he reflects on the career of the Hebrew Prophets and ultimately Jesus Christ:

"The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us." (from The Prophetic Imagination, p. 13)

It is this understanding of the prophetic that I began to understand and appreciate more prophetic voices like Martin Luther King Jr., Diettrich Bonhoffer, Martin Luther, Sojourner Truth, John Howard Yoder, and many many other prophetic voices that presented Christ's body with an alternative consciousness and perspective. Some of these people were pastors, preachers, liberators, theologians, and all of them were trouble-makers in their own way. Which seems to go with the terrain of being prophetic. It is easy to be labled a trouble-maker when you begin to present something out of the box...especially when you are saying that the box has been too small. The prophetic can be scary at times. It is telling those that reside comfortably in the box that we are actually in a big room. The prophetic says get out of the box.

One of the things that has captured my imagination in regards the prophetic has been the hebrew word for "prophet". Before I get lambasted about my Hebrew let me warn you...most of my learning on these matters has been quite Gramscian. My seminary training has been mostly on my toilet. So forgive me for the roughness in which I articulate this stuff. Kittel describes the word "prophet" or the Hebrew word "nabi" as having multilayered descriptions. One of those descriptions is that of a "bubbling up". Ecstatic speech inspired by God's manifest presence. A prophet is one who bubbles up ecstatic speech inspired by God. It is a speaking after God after one has come near to God's manifest presence. I know this is beginning to sound kooky. But I will conclude with where I am now with this weird thing called the "prophetic".

The prophetic seems to me to be about being intoxicated with God's passion and love for the world. God's love and passion from the biblical narrative seems to be about God repairing a broken fallen world (tikkun olam). And no...I am not into Kabbalah. I just find something powerful about the vision thatGod is repairing the world. When reading the Hebrew Prophets I see individuals captured and literally possessed by God's vision of redemption and restoration of broken individuals, people, social and political orders.

The prophetic is about being caught up and intoxicated with God's passion and love for the world we live in.

More later.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Worship in the Spirit of Justice

Brian McLaren and CRCC will be hosting a number of gatherings in D.C. during June and July dealing with issues related to justice and peace throughout the globe. I might be going.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Hip-hop Violinists

I love it when people are innovative. Especially with music. Some people may think that the terms "emergent" "postmodern", and "negro" seem strange together, but what about hip-hop classical music? This is hot! I got this from Urban Onramps, Rudy Carassco's blog.

If I was ever on the creative team of an urban emergent community this would definitely be in the line up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Sometimes weariness can come to this young negros soul from reading too much. For the next couple of days I will be spending time meditating on simple scripture and listening to old negro spirituals. I was reflecting on this popular African-american hymn today. This was one of Rev. Martin Luther Kings Jr.'s favorites. If you ever get a chance listen to gospel music's godmother Mahalia Jackson's rendition. Its heavenly.

Precious Lord, Take My Hand
Words & Music by Thomas A. Dorsey (1939):
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me standI'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
When my way grows drear
Precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious
Lord, lead me home.
When the darkness appears
And the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious
Lord, lead me home.
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious
Lord, lead me home.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ate and Drank with Jesus today

Today was a decent Mother's Day. It was odd. The wife was missing, the center of the celebration. I visited my friend Steve Knight's church today, Warehouse 242. Pastor Marcey has been teaching a series titled "Coffee with Jesus". Essentially the topic is about pressing questions you would ask Jesus if you had the chance to sit down and drink a cup of joe with him. Today's question centered around "why did Jesus have to die for my sins?". Good question. He challenged us not to ask or answer this with preconceived notions (a challenge to be sure) or a pre-fabricated system. Essentially the question and the answer have to do with the nature and character of the God Christians worship...and the status of humanity before a Holy God. Good stuff. I did jot down a few questions during his sermon to ask myself later.

The highlight of the service was the Eucharist (Communion). I have been in a vagabond existence as far as Church membership goes for the past couple of years. This was the first time in a long time that I participated in the Eucharist. The pastor directed us to take a moment of reflection on our lives. The thought that came to me while partaking of the sacraments was what Jesus says on his way up to the cross. The words from the gospels came to mind when Jesus, on the road to Golgatha, says he is making all things new. The insight today while partaking of the body and blood of Christ is that I am participating in God's mission to make all things new. I know there is much more to the Eucharist than that but that was the fruit of my reflection as I ate and drank with Jesus today. Thank God for the hospitality of the saints.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Reflections on Mother's Day Eve

Well...the wife is out of town on business. We had flowers and stuff sent to her hotel room. The kids aren't too happy about their mother being out of town on mother's day. What to do? I was thinking about going to a restaurant with the kids and putting her on speaker phone. We'll see how that plays out. She'll be back next week. We'll do something then.

I am at a lost about Mother's Day to be honest with you. Actually all of the holidays where American's take time to honor mothers, fathers, grandparents, pastors, etc.. I would think giving honor to mothers would be something that should be done more than once a year. I am sure that many people do take time out to honor mothers more than once a year. So what is special about Mother's Day? seriously. I will be "celebrating" it, but I am hardpressed this year. 1. My wife isn't here. 2. My mother lives in a different state.

The whole affair just seems so impersonal to me. I feel like I'm missing a sale at Walmart for not getting jazzed about this whole deal.

But I purposely took the time to reflect on the times in which my Mother's presence was vital. During the 80s growing up in Birmingham, Alabama.

In the 80s it was beginning to get tough growing up in my hood. Gangs were on the rise (bloods and crips were becoming all the rage). One of my childhood friends was shot down dead (about three houses down from me). His name was Hassan Jones (14 ). We lived by the Airport near Zion City. If anyone is familiar with Birmingham you know this is a rough part of town. I remember those years. Almost all of my friends (with the exception of a few) are either dead, in jail, or doing dirt on the streets.

My home was far from a complete haven from the violence and drugs that overwhelmed the community. My father was addicted to crack cocaine (now he is clean). It was a hold over from a heroine addiction he got while serving in the military over in Vietnam. There was domestic violence quite often in my home. I saw some pretty ravenous stuff. I remember at the ripe age of 14 wanting to kill my father in his sleep. There were alot of homes like mine where I came from. But there was something redemptive about my mother's presence. That's why I can completely empathize when young black men attain some kind of celebrity they almost always give primary praise to their mothers. I can understand that. If I were to achieve some sort of platform I would most definitely give praise to my mom.

But my mother's presence was redemptive. See...she was a different kind of woman then alot of the other grown women I would encounter in my neighborhood. In my neighborhood standard fare was the women flocking to church on Sunday, working their 9-5s, getting ready for the weekend, partying, family gossip, grown folks card night, going to the horse or dog track, going to a Frankie Beverly concert...or some other old school joint. There is more to this. I don't want to create a caricature of an entire community of people. My mom did participate in some of these things...but she would do weird stuff like play monopoloy with me and my brother on Friday night and discussing Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"! It wouldn't be until later that I would appreciate such things. We'd talk about history, science, philosophy, religion. She introduced me to jazz, blues, classic r/b. She also made sure that I had a vital relationship with my grandparents who would also play a significant role in my upbringing.

And there is more to this story. I actually can't write anymore about this. The images are too strong. But I love my mother. Because of her life I am here...with kids...with a beautiful wife...with my sanity (me thinks).

Thanks mom.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Everyday Apocalypse of Hip Hop

As a hip hop junkie I often find myself seeking the grace of God in this beautiful genre. I remember when I first fell in love with hip hop. It was the first time I heard LL Cool J's hit single Rock the Bells (opening verse):

L.L. Cool J. is hard as hell
Battle anybody I don't care who you tell
I excel, they all fail
I'm gonna crack shells, Double-L must rock the bells


I remember the celebration...the joy of hip hop in the old days. Why the nostalgia? I have been reading David Dark's book "Everyday Apocalypse". There is a quote in his book that got me thinking of the good old days of Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Africabambata, and many many countless others that represent a stream of hip hop I believe is what Darks describes as "apocalyptic". He says:

Hip-hop, which often regards women contemptuously, romanticizes violence, and celebrates material wealth as the height of success, has largely renounced its apocalyptic birthright, but Blackalicious, Jurassic Five, Lauryn Hill, and the Beastie Boys are inspiring exceptions. (Dark, Everyday Apocalypse p. 20)

I think there are hip-hop artists today that wax apocalyptic. Such as Talib Kweli, MosDef, Common, Kanye West, and recently The Game, to some extent, waxes apocalyptic with his hit single "Hate it or Love it". In it he describes life on the underside of the American Dream:

Used to see 5-0 throw the crack by the bench
Now i'm f!@#$% with ~5-0~ it's all startin to make ~sense~
My moms happy she ain't gotta pay the rent
And she got a red bow on that brand new Benz
Waitin on Sha Money to land sittin in the Range
Thinkin how they spend 30 million dollars on airplanes
When there's kids starvin
Pac is gone and Brendas still throwin babies in the garbage
I wanna know what's goin on like i hear Marvin
No school books they use that wood to build coffins
Whenever I'm in the booth and i get exhausted
I think what if Marie Banker got that abortion
I love ya Ma'

What does apocalyptic mean?

Apocalyptic shows us what we're not seeing. It can't be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of "the way things are" whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as "the way things ought to be" and whose greatest virtue is in being "realistic". Thinking through what we mean when we say "realistic" is where apocalyptic begins. If these powers are the boot that, to borrow Orwell's phrase, presses down upon the human face forever, apocalyptic is the speech of that human face. Apocalyptic denies, in spite of all the appearances to the contrary, the "forever" part. (Dark, p. 10).

There is something about hip-hop when it waxes apocalyptic. Its like Flavor flav when he used to wear those large clocks around his neck. I used to do that back in the day. My friends thought I was crazy, but many didn't catch the metaphor of wearing a clock around your neck in those days. You were basically saying you knew what time it was. What was really going on...hence the large clock around your neck.

Hip-hop told you the forever told to you by the powers was not really forever...it was a false forever. But here's the rub. I think hip-hop is missing something when Jesus Christ is not the center of its apocalyptic or atleast in its proximity. I cannot help but interject this as a Christian. Especially when the strongest apocalyptic every thrown down in speech in America was by a short black prophet by the name of Martin Luther King Jr.. His prophetic speech to the soul of the American nation was apocalyptic. It uncovered the "forever" of Jim Crow...and offered a more imaginative vision. And at the end of his life he waxed apocalyptic about the "forever" of poverty. Which is another whole subject altogether....the forever of poverty.

But to not get off too much here...cause I am just ramblin on here. I am kind of like (as I am writing this) doing a little apocalyptic free flow. The recent craze in hip-hop is dirty south crunk music. I have often wondered if there is an apocalyptic residue in this stream of hip-hop. I think there is. There is a raw energy there...untapped but cannot be seen by Christians in close proximity to it. We are blinded by our Victorian sensibilities to not see Legion in our midst. Why was Legion Legion? Ah...the parable of hip-hop culture. I think Franz Fanon could tell us why Legion was Legion. Legion bore in his being the wounds of systemic and personal oppression. Not only was he scarred by his own self-inflicted wombs he was scarred by Roman Occupation. An Occupation of the mind...a Colonization of the mind. And in a hip-hop apocalyptic do I see the Occupation being exposed for what it is...a false tommorrow.

A true apocalyptic says, "Jesus is our peace...that world is without end."








Monday, May 02, 2005

Dinner Dialogue I (Common Christian Party)

Here is an overview of an event me and my best friend Rod hosted (as members of the Common Christian Party). Our first dinner dialogue...takin' it to the streets. The burning question: What does it mean to be a Christian in a Bank Town?