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

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Negro Strivings

Currently reading Michael Eric Dyson's new book, Is Bill Cosby Right?, (along with a grip of other books) in preparation for a panel I'll be sitting on for the After Evangelicalism conference in September. I will be dealing with the subject of race and diversity in the emerging church movement. Dyson's reflections have been helpful for me as I navigate through this discourse on race.

I am also writing a review of Carson's book for an online journal, Reformation Revival. Reading this book has been quite informative. To be honest I have never read any of Carson's work before. Hopefully, I will get to meet him one day so I can ask him to further elaborate on this particular thought in his book. The context of this thought is in the middle of his criticism of McLaren and those in the emerging church supposed over-emphasis on narrative preaching and presentation over and against a didactic form of the old, old story:

Yet, to put things in perspective, I have heard a fair number of African preachers handle narrative texts very ably, but can think of only three or four African preachers who can expound on Romans very well. The narrative culture of many Africans (though that is now changing somewhat) produced certain limitations; the heritage of Western epistemology and culture produced another set of limitations. (p. 67)

I'd be interested in knowing what an exemplary exposition of Romans looks like? Also, what are these limitations in African narrative culture? And why does he suppose that all African theologizing is in the form of telling stories?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Is God trying to tell us something? Pt. 1: The State of the Church in General

From The Soul of Rod Garvin:

On Monday July 18, 2005 I was browsing through my email inbox trying to decide what I wanted to read first and what I would simply delete. In the "Subject" field of my daily dispatch from the Charlotte Observer was the following headline: "Why many of us don't go to church." As someone who loves God, but at times finds himself dragging himself out of bed to go church as if I'm going to work, I reflexively clicked on the email to see why people in the Charlotte area (a microcosm of the larger society) did not even bother to go at all. More..

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

What is Ghetto Crackery?

Anthony Bradley, a research fellow at the Acton Institute, has some provocative thoughts on this. I have serious reservations about characterizing the black urban poor as "ghetto crackers". However, I understand his point. It is a debate and discussion that needs to happen within black culture. But...will this kind of message endear the masses of "ghetto crackers" across the cities of America and "rednecks" in the hills of rural America to his timely message?

Maybe his words will start a revolution among the young black urban poor to throw off the chains of ghetto crackery. Maybe they will chance his article on the Acton Institute's website. Maybe. I hope that is brother Anthony Bradley's goal and not to simply revel in what he see as absurdities in aspects of black popular culture. At least I hope so. If not, then why even play like that?

Of course there is one aspect of ghetto crackery he left out. I just want to throw one more image out there to capture this occurrence of strange bedfellows:

Surprised? You didn't think ghetto crackers were alone in producing their own absurdities did you? I mean...somebody has to market this stuff...right?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Kingdom of God Series

Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University and author of the Jesus Creed blog, is starting what I think will be some great posts on the kingdom of God. He has recently appeared on PBS's weekly program , RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, discussing the emerging church movement. I'll be creeping in and out with much interest.

Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

An Exploration of the Emerging Church in the U.S. by Aaron Flores

Image from Warehouse 242, an emerging church in Charlotte, NC.

I haven't had the opportunity to read all the way through but I have skimmed through it. It appears to be very good.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Rize: non-violent dance against the Powers

Maurice Broaddus has written a review of the movie Rize. Some of his insights deeply resonate with me. For the past couple of years I have been straining my soul to find my place in the Body of Christ. One of the products of that straining has been this notion of having a post-modern, ancient-future, black Christian faith. Through the works of Leonard Sweet and Robert Webber I have been blown away by this concept of ancient-future. And what has come about over the past several months has been an exercise in imagination: what would an ancient-future, postmodern, black Christianity look like. And what Maurice describes definitly fits into this vision.

Here are some of his thoughts:

Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13

Brought to us by director David LaChapelle (the fashion photographer whose contribution to pop culture includes the Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" video), Rize is a documentary chronicling the practice of "Clowning" and "Krumping". Odds are that you've never heard of either way of dancing, though you may have seen the hyper-kinetic hip-hop dance stylings in videos (the dance is often so frenetic that the film has to assure us that the frames haven't been sped up).

The movie makes the case that this radical dance form serves an enormous (potential) role in the black communities in South Central Los Angeles. The dancing is important as serious forms of spiritual; and artistic expression, and as an alternative to gang participation."

Cornel West on Radical Orthodoxy

"Hauerwas' radical imperative of world-denial motivates Milbank's popular Christian orthodoxy that pits the culprits of commodification and secularism against Christian socialism. His sophisticated wholesale attack on secular liberalism and modern capitalism is a fresh reminder of just how marginal prophetic Christianity has become in the age of the American empire. But, like Hauerwas, he fails to appreciate the moral progress, political breathroughs, and spiritual freedoms forged by the heroic efforts of modern citizens of religious and secular traditions. It is just as dangerous to overlook the gains of modernity procured by prophetic religious and progressive secular citizens as it is to overlook the blindness of Constantinian Christians and imperial secularists. And these gains cannot be preserved and deepened by reverting to ecclesiastical refuges or sectarian orthodoxies. Instead they require candor about our religious identity and democratic identity that leads us to critique and resist Constantinian Christianity and imperial America" (Cornel West, Democracy Matters p. 162-163)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Emerging Church on PBS, Part II

I thought it was a positive portrayal of the emerging church. With only ten minutes to explain things McLaren did a pretty good job in my opinion. This program has caused me to gain a deeper appreciation for the emergent cohorts scattered throughout the country. As this conversation gains more visibility people will be wanting spaces where they can inquire about what's going on.

Also some good footage of brief interviews done at the last Emergent Convention. Here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Martin Luther King Jr....Constantinian Christian?

"There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer forwhat they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being 'disturbers of the peace' and 'outside agitators.' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were 'a colony of heaven,'called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be 'astronomically intimidated.' By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests."

"Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of
things as they are."

"But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."

(Excerpt from King's letter from the Birmingham Jail)

As a negro Christian I find some similarities between King and the prophetic black Church and Jim Wallis' work with Sojourners/Call to Renewal. One being their understanding of the Gospel which compelled them to witness to the State as well as to the Church.

Recently there have been some interesting statements from James Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, on Wallis' long-time efforts to bring evangelicals to the table to deal with issues relating to social justice and Christians becoming prophetic, transcending the tired-old liberal/conservative chasm. Jim Wallis' newest book God's Politics has stirred up some great discussion and debate in regards the Church's relationship to the Nation-State.

Smith is one of the voices of Radical Orthodoxy, an interesting school of Christian thought and praxis that has deeply resonated with me on many levels. Some of the scholars and theologians I have read are Smith, William Cavanaugh, John Milbank, D. Stephen Long, and Daniel Bell. Their critique of liberal social orders resonates with me as I try and struggle to be faithful to the Gospel in this North American

But statements like this (from Smith) make me wonder:

"Instead of Wallis' leftish civil theology, I'll continue to believe that our most important political action remains the act of discipleship through worship."

(Before you read on, please read Smith's comments in full to get some context of what he saying.)

Here is my question:

Were Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those in the prophetic black Church during the Civil Rights movement Constantinian Christians because they used the mechanism of the "nation-state" to bring about a more just society? Were they "statist" Christians?

If so, then I wonder, I really really wonder: What would James Smith and those in the Radical Orthodoxy camp have told black Christians in Montgomery, Alabama, during Jim Crow? What would Smith and others say to young black Christians who wanted to see change in the society? "Go to church and worship Jesus"? "Wait for white Christians in power to become virtuous Christians on the issue of race and class"?

What's up?

The reason I ask this is because there is much I agree with in Radical Orthodoxy -- their critique of liberal individualism, the pathologies of capitalism, and so forth. I suspect it's for these same reasons that I see Radical Orthodoxy books on alot of emerging church bloggers' reading lists.

But I am still torn about this question: What would America be like now ... What would many churches be like right now without the prophetic witness of Christians like King towards both the State and the Church, had they simply remained in their respective church buildings worshipping King Jesus? I think that is a question that
Radical Orthodoxy needs to answer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bernie Ebbers and the Failure of the Church

My friend Rod Garvin has posted some great thoughts on the whole Bernie Ebbers deal. Something to ponder on.

I read a good book a while ago that speaks to some of these issues, Christianity Incorporated by Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Diversity and the Emerging Church

Charlotte Emergent Cohort

I just saw a ten minute snippet of the Religion and Ethics piece on the emerging church conversation-movement. Thanks DJ for the link! In the last moments of this snippet the question was put forth about diversity and the emerging church. Will it break beyond a white middle class demographic? Well it has. Which is not to say that we have arrived. Honestly, I don't know what it means to arrive there. Only time will tell.

I have been getting emails from people all over the country who are not a part of this demographic but find common ground with many features of the emerging church. There are aspects of the conversation that resonate with people outside of this demographic. Which brings to mind the issue of diversity. I have been wrestling with this issue. But here are some thoughts that are becoming more concrete in my mind. I want to hear your thoughts on this...if there is anybody out there.

I posted these thoughts on Susie Albert Miller's blog (with a few amendments):

I am hopeful that emergent and the emerging church at large will grow more diverse ethnically and socio-economically as time goes on. As a Christian that comes from a predominantly African American context as it relates to Christianity, Evangelical Christianity in particular (with a dash of Pentecostalism), my journey here to the emerging church has been a wild ride. I am encouraged by the growing amount of ethnic voices I see joining this conversation. I am getting emails weekly of people who are trying to find other ethnic voices that are a part of this conversation. One of the things I am seeing in this conversation is a congruence of strange bedfellows. Many of the people I am talking with have been wrestling with some of the issues Emergent seeks to deal with before they found this conversation. In Emergent many are finding a conversation partner that is on a similar journey in our time and place. This needs to be clear as we begin to seriously talk about diversity and the emerging church. My journey into this whole deal started with a chance visit to a pawn shop in Bremerton, Washington (outside of Seattle on the Kitsap Peninsula) back in 95' where I picked up a tattered copy of David Bosch's book "Transforming Mission". I wasn't looking to be Emerging...I was looking to be faithful to the gospel given my North American context. Emergent has been one of the many conversation partners that has equipped me to better articulate what I am seeing. This has led me to other voices and texts. It has also led me to a greater appreciation for the Christianity of my African and African-American ancestors. Through the emphasis on ancient-futuring the emerging church has created space and time for me to gain a deeper appreciation of how black folks followed Jesus down through the ages. Hence the name postmodern negro.

My point. I came to this conversation not because I wanted to see "diversity". Diversity wasn't the telos that has brought me here. What has brought me here are some of the similar features in my thinking and practice of Christianity and Emergent. Emergent is singing the same song I am singing in many ways. I believe diversity is something that should be intentional but not coerced. We have to be careful to look at the various narratives and ideas relating to diversity that are flying around in our culture...based upon our particular social order. Diversity, in our culture, in many ways, has become somewhat of a ethic of coercion foisted upon the dominant culture. Such an understanding of diversity does not embody the peaceableness of the gospel. Diversity is something, I believe, that is the outworking of participating in the very life of God. When we break bread together, pray together, fuss, fight, dialogue, debate, share our joys, our sorrows together God may see fit to bless with His Spirit to guide our bodies to reflect the sociality of the Father, Son, and the Spirit. Which I believe is true diversity. The telos or goal of our diversity should be living life together in God...not diversity for diversity's sake. When diversity is sought after for its own sake it can easily turn into some thing...some narrative...some idol that is foreign to the story of God. Let's break bread together and see what happens.

What has happened in my emerging church journey, thus far, has been the befriending of Steve Knight. If anything, me and Steve's friendship represents the future of this conversation. There other like friendships spread throughout the emerging church conversation. I know we are not alone.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bonhoeffer and the Negro Church

"The race question has been a real problem for American Christianity from the beginning. Today about one American in ten is a Negro. The turning aside of the newly arising generation of Negroes from the faith of their elders, which, with its strong eschatological orientation, seems to them to be a hindrance to the progress of their race and their rights is one of the ominous signs of a failing of the church in past centuries and a hard problem for the future. If it has come about that today the 'black Christ' has to be led into the field against the 'white Christ' by a young Negro poet, than a deep cleft in the church of Jesus Christ is indicated." Read on.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Emerging Church on PBS

"Washington, D.C., June 27, 2005 - RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, the award-winning newsmagazine program hosted by Bob Abernethy and produced by Thirteen/WNET, will present a special series on a new movement in Protestant Christianity -- "The Emerging Church" -- to be included in programs distributed Friday July 8 and July 15 to PBS stations nationwide at 5 p.m. ET (check local listings)

In this two-part report, correspondent Kim Lawton examines how some evangelical and mainline Protestants are rethinking Christianity for a new generation." more here.

Practicing Pentecost

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. Acts 2:5

As a continuation of the discussion about normative gaze I want to interject something I think can be a powerful transformative practice in a conversation that is seeking greater ethnic/economic diversity...that is the practice of Pentecost. The practice of Pentecost are intentional practices, that will have sets of subpractices, that will transform us into faithful participants in the very life of God through the Holy Spirit. Assuming the Spirit shows up. As we faithfully participate in the very life of God together we will reflect the sociality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Practicing Pentecost is not a coercive ethic of diversity that is foisted upon the dominant culture. It becomes a joyous occasion where we break bread and worship together. A party where we begin to see our place at the table as a "gift" from a Holy God...and not necessarily a "right" that is more abstract and non-relational. A placing at the table that is more commensurate with the peaceableness of the gospel and not the coercion and violence that is part of the narrative of race and diversity of our culture.

But here are some more thoughts on this practice:

On the issue of diversity. Part of the problem is the language and practices we use in the church to discuss these issues.

Diversity, as it is often talked about in the church, is no different than the language and practices that constitute the liberal capitalist social order we call America. Diversity becomes an end in and of itself. Diversity becomes a coercive ethic that gets foisted upon the dominant culture. Diversity and inclusion is often seen as a "right" of those that have been "excluded" from the table in the past and present. Diversity cannot be a coerced ethic. Our stiving to be a diverse conversation has to be commensurate with the gospel of peace. This doesn't exclude intentionality of creating such a space I just hope that all those involved be aware of the narratives that inform our notions and practices of diversity.

I often find the language of "diversity" problematic. For one it is often grounded in a theology and political philosophy, I believe, that can be at odds with the gospel. As Christians I do not think that "diversity" or "difference" should be the telos of our desire to be an embracing church. I believe the telos should be participation in the very life of God. Which means that we participate in God's triunity which becomes reflected in our worship and practice of the Faith. I believe the telos is to reflect the sociality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as we worship together the potential idols that oftentimes hold the church in bondage (e.g. race and class) become seen for what they are. In participating in the very life of God together we gain the ability and tools to "name" and properly "engage" the "powers" of "race" and "class". We also can begin to create spaces, such as this one where we can redeem them and bring them under submission to the gospel. We will be able to "name" the way race and class have become our idols. But also in this participation in the life of God together we begin to see how our particular creatureliness (my Africaness...your Europeaness) can be and are good gifts from our Creator.

So I am concerned about the telos or goal of such a conversation. I hope and pray that we don't succumb to the temptation of having diversity for its own sake. That diversity will be the product of our friendships as we worship and break bread together. I think that the specific practices involved will be centered around the breaking of bread and of doing life together. Until we all meetup in the Upper Room together in Worship and in the breaking of bread in the very presence of God we may be more determined by language and practices that are foreign to the story of God.

More later.


Saturday, July 02, 2005

Sweet Home Alabama


(left to right)Isaiah, Deborah, and Israel

Finally made it. It was great seeing the kids again after almost three weeks. We'll be taking the two youngest, Abraham and Deborah, back with us Monday. The two oldest, Isaiah and Israel, will be going fishing on the Gulf of Mexico with their granpa in a couple of days.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Luther Vandross passed away

One of my favorite R&B artists passed away today. Like many black homes in my generation Luther's music was very much a part of the architecture. His voice will be missed. My prayers and thoughts go out to his family

Pickin up the Chillen

Heading back to Alabama this weekend to pick up my two youngest chillens, Abraham and Deborah.

This should be a nostalgic weekend. My dad's bar-b-cue, crazy relatives cussin each other out, and my favorite time...listening to my grandmother tell our family history.

Paul and Empire

Steve Bush over at Harbinger has linked this great article based on recent scholarship about St. Paul in his historical context.