Friday, December 29, 2006

The "Talking Book" Talks Back

Late last week I read an interesting op-ed by Washington Post journalist E.J. Dionne in my hometown newspaper.

Partly a review of Allen Dwight Callahan's recently published The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible, a carefully researched and (if I may) in places poetically and powerfully written multidisciplinary analysis of how some African Americans have responded to, interpreted, lived out, criticized, and embraced various biblical texts, Dionne argues that via insights drawn from Callahan's book, folks would do well to remember that Jesus' birth signaled a revolutionary moment in history.

Dionne makes some interesting observations. For instance, he opens with: "Great traditions are subversive. They constantly call the imperfections of the present to account in the name of a more exalted standard." From here he suggests to readers that the nativity story annually disrupts "understandings of power and privilege." Dionne also quotes Callahan, such as when Callahan observes that the scripture "privileges those without privilege and honors those without honor," as well as the notion that the Bible "has a penchant for bringing peripheral people to the center of history."

Dionne ends by stating that Jesus spoke to "[t]he poor, the outcastes, [and] the slaves," who have responded to him throughout history. Earlier in the piece Dionne also takes shots at some on the far Left and far Right who each ignore the revolutionary witness Jesus bore.

"The African-American religious tradition is a blessing to all," Dionne's concluding sentence reads, "because it requires us to remember that Jesus of Nazareth really did revolutionize the world."

I applaud Dionne for such an important reminder. Yet, I still feel unsettled. For one, the totalizing statement "The African-American religious tradition" (italics mine) only generalizes and fails to capture the complexity of African American religious experiences across time and space. Perhaps this is just a historian's quibble, but it is important to state nonetheless. In the end, though, Dionne's op-ed reads as a polite liberal nod to what African Americans can teach about the life of Jesus.

Not only do some of the scripture readings Callahan highlights "require us to remember" the radicality of the nativity, but to act, to hope, to long, and to live the Advent revolution. This is where my criticism with Dionne lies. The op-ed's intellectual acuity subverts real solutions to the powers and principalities Jesus' life bore witness against. In other words, to quote bell hooks from her book Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995, p. 185): "When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do emobdy white supremacist values and beliefs even though they may not embrace racism as prejudice or domination (especially domination that involves coervice control), they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they profess to wish to see eradicated."

(For more on what the Advent revolution is, read this, this, and this. And for a reading of Jesus' life as revolutionary see Obery Hendricks' new book.)

Readers of this blog know what to expect at this point: a word from James Baldwin.

Today's thoughts come from a short piece that appeared Creative America in 1962 titled "The Creative Process." Baldwin describes the artist as one always "at war" with society, bearing witness to justice, peace, and equity, in fact very similar the the Hebrew prophets one reads about in the Old Testament. So, for Baldwin the artist lives in prophetic spaces. And those about whom Callahan writes in The Talking Book are artists, from James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw in the 1770s to Tupac Shakur in the 1990s for example, who offer a better picture.

Yet the best artists -- those to whom Baldwin refers and those about whom Callahan writes -- are often provacative, bearing witness to (and against) realities in the past that shape present conditions, in this case the white supremacy upon which North Atlantic/American slavery rested and which still structures many things today. The artist paints a picture of the past that, if seen, can prophetically and constructively influence the present and shape the future.

Here's Baldwin: "We know, in the case of the person, that whoever cannot tell himself the truth about his past is trapped in it, is immobilized in the prison of his undiscovered self. This is also true of nations. We know how a person, in such a paralysis, is unable to assess either his weaknesses or his strengths, and how frequently indeed he mistakes one for the other. And this, I think, we do. We are the strongest nation in the western world, but this is not for the reasons that we think. It is because we have an opportunity which no other nation has of moving beyond the Old World concepts of race and class and caste, and create, finally, what we must have had in mind when we first began speaking of the New World. But the price for this is a long look backward when we came and an unflinching assessment of the record. For an artist, the record of that journey is most clearly revealed in the personalities of the people the journey produced. Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover's war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself, and with that revelation, make freedom real."

If you listen, the book talks back.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What's That I Hear?

Partly inspired by this post, and partly a result of my own interests, (and, I should say, thanks to a nice gift card from a student of mine) I picked up Matisyahu's new CD today titled No Place to Be. It was released on 12./26. There are 7 tracks along with a DVD that features interviews intersperced with footage from a live show in Israel.

I'm not a music critic, can neither sing nor play an instrument, but this music, to my ears and interests, is quite unique and resonates at deep levels. Hasidic. Jewish. Reggae. Hip Hop. Torah. Jerusalem. Shalom. Tikkun Olam.

It's music that comes from the heart, can shape the mind, and inspire and encourage the weary. In a certain way, Matisyahu is a kind of griot for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

Playing the CD for my two young sons, ages 3 and 5, I remarked to my wife with a wry smile that this is "family friendly hip hop." They recognize some of the Old Testament stories and individuals (e.g., Joseph, Moses) that they've heard before, and they quite enjoy Matisyahu's amazing beatboxing abilities.

Enough said. Listen, enjoy, and offer your own thoughts.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Religion, the Spiritual Marketplace, and Other News

It is fashionable among some scholars to use the image, or metaphor, of a marketplace to describe the religious dynamics that exist in the United States. Producers compete for consumers while consumers seemingly make rational choices about which producer to affiliate with or buy into. Producers attempt to gain a market share by diversifying products, by recalibrating what they offer, all attuned to the tastes and preferences of consumers.

In this scenario, Joel Osteen is one of the savviest of the religious producers in America's religious marketplace, competing with fellow producers like Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, and so many others.

Most of you are no doubt familiar with Osteen's book, Your Best Life Now, a handbook to divine blessing organized around 7 life principles. Well, not only can you read the book, when hanging out with family over the holidays you can play your way to your best life now. That's right, it's the "Your Best Life Now: The Game."

For those who live in the religious marketplace, this is a brilliant move. To my knowledge, this is the only major preacher in American history who has had a book turned into a boardgame. I'd love to hear confirmation if this is actually the case. In a way, this validates the sociological work of Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, and exemplifies the perspective of R. Laurence Moore, among others.

In other news, the first book about Joel Osteen is due out soon. Written by Richard Young, it is titled The Rise of Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen. From news reports it sounds like a book that offers glowing praise for the man and the ministry; I'm not sure to what extent it sets Osteen in the context of American religious history and culture.

For more on that, I will soon unveil a project I'm working on with a sociologist at Tulane University....stay tuned.

Is Jesus Black?, Part 2

Well, "tomorrow" has arrived, though much later than expected.

After I returned from seeing The Color of the Cross a couple of weeks back, I reread Baldwin’s 1968 address to the World Council of Churches titled “White Racism or World Community?” The essay is poignantly sharp and prophetically accusatory, which is to say Baldwin’s critical comments contain a seed of hope, the possibility of redemption. Baldwin describes his life as a minister in The Fire Next Time and makes connection to this story in this essay. In my opinion, Baldwin’s prophetic voice resonates precisely because he left the church of his youth. Sometimes distance provides clarity, and deconversion sometimes results in faith. Such is the irony of life.

The operative dynamic in the essay is that of confrontation. Baldwin boldly confronts white supremacy in the church just as The Color of the Cross confronts the image, the aesthetics, in short the panopticon of a Euro-American Jesus.

Listen to Baldwin:
“Now it would seem to me that the nature of the confrontation, the actual historical confrontation between the non-white peoples of the world and the white peoples of the world, between the Christian Church and those people outside the Christian Church who are unable to conceive themselves as being equally the sons of God, the nature of that confrontation is involved with the nature of the experience which a black person represents vis-à-vis the Cross of Christ, and vis-à-vis that enormous structure which is called the Church….This has to do, of course, with the fact that though he was born in Nazareth under a very hot sun, and though we know that he spent his life between that sun, the Christ I was presented with was presented to me with blue eyes and blond hair, and all the virtues to which I, as a black man, was expected to aspired had, by definition, to be white. This may seems a very simple thing and from some points of view it might even seem to be a desirable thing. But in fact what it did was make me very early, make us, the blacks, very early distrust our own experience and refuse, in effect, to articulate that experience to the Christians who were our oppressors. That was a great loss for me, as a black man. I want to suggest that is was also a great loss for you, as white people” (pp. 753-54).

He goes on to interpret Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God as a “claim that was a revelation and a revolution because it means that we are all the sons of God” (p. 755).

Baldwin suggests first that a way forward is possible, though it will take a keen eye to see the panopticon and a bold resovle to risk confronting the ubiquity of a Euro-American Jesus. This, I think, is the kind of revelation Baldwin suggests could spark a revolution.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Is Jesus Black?, Part I

Is Jesus black? Is the son of God a person of African descent? A recent movie, The Color of the Cross, imagines – or rather argues – that Jesus is indeed black.

First brought to my attention by hip-hop intellectual and assistant professor of African American religion at UC-Riverside Jonathan Walton, I went to see this movie recently. It debuted on Friday, November 10. (For those not familiar with Walton’s work, you need to check it out. And you need to mull over his own thoughts about the movie.)

As I watched the movie, my mind went back and forth between what I’ve learned from my reading of James Cone and my deep interest in James Baldwin, two writers who each in their own way interrogates, deconstructs, and ultimately rejects conventional North American/Western images of a Euro-American Jesus. (My comrade Anthony Smith describes the white aesthetic of the Western Jesus as a panopticon and offers reflections here.) Cone makes a profound and compelling theological case borne out of his early life experiences in the American South, while Baldwin muses about the topic in reflections on the vicissitudes of life as a black man in mid-twentieth century America. Similarly, the music of Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu (and here) offers its own critique of society, with redemptive dimensions that pulsate through the beats and emerge poetically through the rhymes.

It is obvious – or is it? – that a movie such as The Color of the Cross would resituate Jesus of Nazareth as a “Black Jew” and therefore offer cinematic commentary on first-century Palestinian society. A laborer from the margins of Palestinian society who spoke funny, who claimed to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, who claimed to be God? It is also clear that in 21st century North American society such a film would interrogate the white supremacist structures of American society, and in particular the panopticon of many North American churches. To my knowledge no white church rented out theatres for their parishioners to see the movie, no white churches have screened the film in their churches and hosted discussions about what it can teach about Jesus’ life. Sadly, I’m afraid that such a response suggests that most white churches lack the humility to listen and will therefore lose an important opportunity to enact Jesus’ redemptive message and life. Pardon the pun, but in a year’s time, “the Passion” has subsided. Remember the fury and flurry of interest over Mel Gibson’s film?

The silence of the white evangelical community about this film attests to the prophetic power the movie contains. Do they (we) have eyes to see and ears to hear?

Tune in tomorrow to hear James Baldwin speak to these issues.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

WWJD?: A Meditation on Redemption, Suffering, and Community

Driving to the library to do research on Tuesday afternoon, I heard a story on NPR's All Things Considered about the shootings at the Amish school in Pennsylvania. While the focus of the story was on growing Amish interest in and use of mental health services, the latter end of the piece related how some members of the community are already seeking to reach out to the shooter's family and extend hands of forgiveness. The bloggers over at GetReligion noted this element of the events as well.

For some reason, this story struck me today. How, I wondered, could people in the midst of rupture, death, and destruction think about extending grace and forgiveness? Of course the Amish are well known for pacifist convictions, yet to hear that, according to this story, some practice what they preach, it was refreshing and encouraging to say the least.

And in a day where (un)righteous revenge very often informs and dictates matters of national import, it is nice to hear that some people have a sensible answer to the now commodified question, "What Would Jesus Do?"

Though ironic and mysterious, hope exists in the midst of despair, community in the midst of fracture, life in the midst of death, and redemption in the midst of suffering.

As the liturgy says, "Lord, hear our prayers."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

World Christianity in St. Louis

In addition to the recently formed institutes devoted to the study of world Christianity in the global south -- Calvin College's Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity and New York Theological Seminary's Center for World Christianity -- Saint Louis University professor Michael J. McClymond's vision, organizing, and collaboration led to the formation of The Institute for World Christianity. According to its website, the institute "exists to heal divisions and to promote mutual understanding and fruitful collaboration among Christian leaders from all cultures, regions, and traditions." In addition, the institute will hold a consulation for emerging church leaders in January.

Here's the blurb: "An important event in the life of the Institute is the annual Consultation for Emerging Leaders. The IWC week-long January consultation will be a select gathering up to 70 younger Christian leaders (mostly under 35 years of age) who will (1) pray and worship the Lord together, (2) listen to and learn from one another about what God is doing in churches throughout the world, and (3) develop new strategies and plans during the week for their own fields of ministry and Christian service. The food and housing costs in St. Louis will be met by the IWC, and, in most cases, the travel expenses to and from St. Louis will also be covered."

This is surely a notable development, and will not doubt lead to fruitful conversation, interesting collaboration, and continue the conversation about the multiform expressions of Christiainty in the global south.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Disputatio on Dissertating: Dispatches from the Archives

While this post is not really a "disputatio" in the formal sense, I suppose after I finish the dissertation my defense will be a disputatio. Nevertheless, now that I'm ABD (like another friend in the blogosphere), and thanks to generous funding from this department, it is time to travel to New England to comb the archives.

My dissertation examines the role of ministers in eighteenth-century New England (the Atlantic and Southern colonies as well), and looks specifically at pastoral dismissal, or "dismission" in eighteenth-century parlance. No scholar as yet has offered a critical analysis of eighteenth century dismissals, explusions partly due to the rising prominence of the legal profession, in addition to a growing consumer/market economy, not to mention theological contests, local church politics, sexual scandals, personality conflicts, and ministerial fatigue. While Jonathan Edwards' dismissal is no doubt the most well-known and best documented dismissal, I have identified a number of others. It also strikes me that pastoral dismissal as a theme in American religious history is something interesting to think about; there are certainly numerous examples of pulpit punts in the 19th and 20th centuries (and I'm sure many in this century).

I'll poke around in the archives at the Essex Museum, Harvard, Massachusetts Historical Society, and the American Antiquarian Society and then head west to the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale and the Connecticut Historical Society, with a stop thereafter at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to explore their colonial clergy holdings. Since I'm in the neighborhood, I also hope to visit the Hartford Institute for Religion Research as I continue working on two projects (one project with this sociologist) related to Joel Osteen, megachurches, and American religion.

I'll consume large, no, obscene amounts of coffee to have the energy to keep this itinerary and hope to see several friends (1, 2, and 3) along the way.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Suburban Theology

Interesting thoughts about spirituality and suburbia I'm still mulling over. Read and mull here.

And speaking of suburbia and spirituality, Albert Hsu has a forthcoming book with InterVarsity Press titled The Suburban Christian. It should be interesting, as is his blog.

Interested readers should also check out Kevin Kruse's White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton UP, 2005). He teaches history at Princeton and there's a nice interview about the book on his webpage. Kruse draws important connections between the rise of suburbia, racism, and the emergence of right-wing politics. Such things fit hand in glove and he sets an important historical context that all should think critically about. Kruse is at work on a book about the Religious Right and also has a forthcoming collection of essays on what is called the new suburban history. Read more here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Multiracial Churches and Sixth Americans

Read through Michael O. Emerson’s (with Rodney M. Woo) People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States last night and today. It is a fabulous book that explores internal and external dynamics in the U.S., replete with (sometimes) dense sociological data and gripping accounts (some written by Rodney Woo) of personal and congregational transformation. Much of the data explains the history and life of Wilcrest Baptist Church, located in Houston.

Emerson chose to use multiracial instead of multicultural or multiethnic because he argues that the “fundamental cleavage” (fn2, p. 34) in the U.S. is race, not ethnicity. Therefore, “multiracial” more fully captures the immediacy of experiences people have in these congregations.

In terms of numbers, Emerson’s research shows that only about 7% of congregations in the U.S. could be described as multiracial, where “no one racial group comprises 80 percent or more of the people” (35). According to Emerson, the percentages decrease further when one examines Christianity in general, and then Protestantism in particular. Readers should spend time on chapter 2 particularly since it is here Emerson lays out a thoroughgoing but helpful explanation of the data he compiled and analyzed. He identifies various factors that contribute to or limit a congregation’s multiracial character, as well as important “pathways” (p. 161) to becoming racially diverse. I won’t belabor all of the statistical data; spend time reading it to illuminate the rest of the book. Chapter 7 offers a nice, crisp summary of the research as well.

From interviews and observations, Emerson identifies what he calls the “Sixth American” (99), a play off of David Hollinger’s Postethnic America (1995) which identifies 5 racial groups in the U.S, in essences 5 “types” (99) of Americans (Indian/Native American, African American/Black, European American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian American/Asian). Hollinger’s definitions note the cultural creation and meaning of “race.” Sixth Americans, in Emerson’s estimation, are individuals who are members of multiracial congregations, and those who intentionally pursue multiracial friendship and fellowship, in public and in private, on the job, and at church. As Emerson importantly points out, these people are Sixth Americans by “choice” (100).

This is an important point to make, and one I wish to highlight. At the present time, what little data exists on this particular question, I think it reveals intentionality toward community in these multiracial congregations. In sociological and historical terms, one might say that people in multiracial congregations deconstruct societal notions of race to reconstruct racial identity in the context of a community that affirms both individuals and structural forms of integration. In spiritual terms, Sixth Americans commit themselves to racial equality and all that it implies, taking Spirit-led risks to form a fabric of Christian community that takes time and patience to stitch, as different needles are used to thread the whole cloth. And needles will need to be carefully passed to future generations. That only 7% of U.S. congregations are multiracial (according to the data), means that very few people embrace a rigorous intentionality in terms of living a life of multiracial possibilities and existence.

George Yancey's One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches (2003), a book written using the same data Emerson accessed, has a good chapter on the concept and enactment of intentionality (pp. 108-117).

Emerson notes that multiracial congregations are in a “toddler stage” (160), but he does sense a “swelling momentum” (170) among and within these communities. After noting the unique nature of multiracial congregations when compared the entirety of America’s racialized, religious landscapes, Emerson strikes something of a prophetic, hopeful tone: “These congregations may be harbingers of a new stage of U.S. race relations” (193).

This book is a must read.

And, I end with a question: Are you a Sixth American? What stories can you share that will help us "see" the possibilites of being a Sixth American?

Speaking in Electronic Tongues: Pentecostalism's Centennial

Arlene Sanchez-Walsh, professor at Azusa Pacific University and chair of the Haggard School of Theology, just informed me that the fabulous radio show Speaking of Faith did a recent program on Pentecostalism. Check it out.

Friday, March 03, 2006

On Peace

My comrade over at Musings wrote this piece on peace. It is short, yet weighty, and simple, yet profound.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Moving Beyond Racial Gridlock and Embracing Mutual Responsibility

In a previous post I alerted readers to George Yancey’s forthcoming book, Beyond Racial Gridlock. I received my copy in the mail this afternoon, and read the book this evening.

Yancey argues that racial reconciliation will require intentional effort that demands honesty. He intriguingly references the issue of abortion to point out that religious faith informs that way some Christians reject this practice. If religious faith dictates one’s position with respect to abortion, Yancey asks why does religious faith not inform the way Christians view racism?

Yancey writes that “Racial issues are moral issues” (11) and spends the first five chapters delineating what he terms “secular models” of dealing with racism. Too often, Yancey argues, many Christians adopt secular models for addressing racism. These models are not wrong in and of themselves, Yancey maintains, and each model has its strengths. Some are individualist in thrust, while others address structural modes of racism. The major problem, he asserts, is that these models are incomplete.

Yancey identifies four models:

a. Individualist models
1. the colorblindness model
2. the Anglo-conformity model

b. Structural models
3. multiculturalism model
4. white responsibility model

Yancey ably exposits each of these models, offers helpful sociological data to undergird his assertions, and provides a brief historical sketch of where, when, and how each model emerged. Yancey is charitable in that he finds something positive in each of these models, yet does not withhold criticism when identifying the inadequacies of each approach. Read the book for specifics, and check the footnotes for a load of helpful sources.

So, what are Yancey’s proposals to move beyond racial gridlock?

First, he says people must acknowledge humanity’s sin nature. This means that sin is at the root of racism, and that racism is therefore a moral problem. Further, to acknowledge human sin, Yancey points out, opens up the possibility for honesty in dealing with racism and extends grace where grace should be extended.

Yancey writes: “I want to start what I hope will be an ongoing Christian dialogue about how our faith can help us deal with the sin nature that gives rise to our racial problems” (85). He calls this approach the “mutual responsibility model” (78).

The mutual responsibility model involves the intentional actions and thoughts by both European Americans and racial minorities (Yancey’s categories of description). “The sins of both majority and minority group members contribute to our society’s racial conflicts, but that does not mean both groups have identical roles in the solution” (88). This perspective informs Yancey’s chapters on European Americans and racial minorities.

Yancey’s chapter on European Americans and sin nature offers a brief historical sketch of institutional racism, offering theft of Native American lands and white flight as two key examples. What should be the response to these institutional sins? Corporate repentance. While Yancey acknowledges that some whites are not racist like their ancestors, they do benefit from the racism of their ancestors in myriad ways. In the spirit of mutual responsibility, white folks must acknowledge this dimension of institutional sin and own up to what white privilege was and is. Yancey concludes: “The mutual responsibility model balances concerns about past sins with the need for healing in future relationships” (98).

Yancey’s chapter on racial minorities and sin nature again points to the different responsibilities European Americans and racial minorities have in the context of embracing a mutual responsibility approach to racial reconciliation. Yancey decries playing the race card, and argues that “[f]ew actions damage race relations more than playing the race card” (101). Yancey goes on to discuss reparations, noting that in theory the idea is worthy of pursuit, but that in the end an economic response to centuries of racism and economic inequality would work against any genuine talk of reconciliation. This is a critical part of this chapter, and invites serious reflection and discussion. Regarding the pursuit of justice, Yancey suggests that “loving interracial relationships” (107) provide a way to pursue justice effectively. As a corollary of corporate repentance, Yancey argues that racial minorities should respond with corporate forgiveness to white people. In addition, he discusses reconciliation between persons of color as well.

The upshot of these two chapters – strong, convincing, and prophetic – means that “[o]nly if whites and nonwhites take their responsibilities seriously can we overcome the effects of centuries of racial alienation” (112).

Yancey cites Jesus as the “ultimate reconciler” (113) for 3 reasons. First, Christ’s prayer on the eve of his execution included a petition for reconciliation. Second, as a majority member of society, Jesus pursued reconciliation with the woman at the well, affirming her dignity yet acknowledging and forgiving her sin. Second, as a minority member of society, Jesus asked a member of the oppressors (Matthew) to be a follower, and then challenged the centurion to pursue the life of faith. As a member of the oppressed minority in these cases, Jesus “embraced grace” toward the Roman oppressor. And the application: from a majority group position, Yancey concludes, Jesus challenges a quest to maintain a white status quo, and from a minority group position, Jesus challenges hatred and dismissal of white folks with the necessity of service and “loving intergroup relationships” (124) even while pursuing racial justice.

Yancey also has a good and thorough chapter on what he calls the “fear factor” in racial reconciliation: the fear whites have of being labeled racist for broaching conversations about race and the fear racial minorities have of being labeled troublemakers for consistently pointing out racial inequities. Yancey suggests that churches create safe places to honestly reveal and discuss fears, and challenges church leaders to devote the time necessary to help create these kinds of spaces.

In a powerful closing chapter, Yancey asks what a “Christian approach” to end racial alienation might look like. He offers an analogy from marriage (using his own marriage to make his points) to describe the nature of new relationships that must emerge, and discusses affirmative action. Finally, Yancey suggests four places to begin to end racial gridlock: multiracial congregations, social networks, political activism, and the responsibilities of both students and faculty at Christian schools and colleges to confront, challenge, and offer a new vision for the church’s racial future.

Beyond Racial Gridlock, by its author’s admission, is not a complete picture, but what he hopes is a true start to end racial alienation in a community whose founder prayed (and prays) for its unity.

Doing "Hood Theology" in the "West"

Check out Rod Garvin's latest post here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Critical Reflection on Race

Maurice Broaddus offers his thoughts on a theology of slavery here and here (HT: Anthony). Andre Daley explains why he's postemergent here (HT: JazzTheo). And JazzTheo continues with insights on living a life of jazz theology, particularly probing the extent to which folks live a life of conformity to whiteness.

I've been reading some more of James Cone and a lot of James Baldwin lately, and there are some reflections stirring and some thoughts brewing......I'll post them at some point.

Imperative to Act: Sudan and Darfur

The program I co-organized with friends in Houston is now viewable on-line.

The Sudan program is here, while the Darfur talk is here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sudan and Darfur in Houston

Here's a forum I've co-organized relating to Sudan and Darfur.

Spread the word, write letters, send e-mails, and stand in solidarity with friends in Sudan and Darfur.

Read about it here, and here, and download a flyer here.

A Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, or an Outrageous Idea (in) Christian Scholarship?

In his justly famous Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, historian Mark Noll makes this hopeful observation with respect to evangelicalism's future: "Evangelicals who believe that God desires to be worshiped with thought as well as activity may well remain evangelicals, but they will find intellectual depth – a way of praising God through the mind – in ideas developed by confessional or mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, or perhaps even the Eastern Orthodox" (p. 239).

Since writing these words, Noll has written a very important book on evangelical engagement with Roman Catholicism, and is now moving to one of the premier Roman Catholic schools in the United States (Notre Dame) to replace his friend and colleague George Marsden. (HT: Steve Bush)

Perhaps Maxie Birch's fine book The Evangelical Historians: The Historiography of George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, and Mark Noll will appear in a second edition and Roman Catholic-Evangelical dialogue will continue to remain rigorous and interesting.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Caught in a Webb and Liking It

While I don't customarily offer musical commentary here, Derek Webb's new CD Mockingbird has prompted some reflections.

In short, Webb is something of a prophetic voice within evangelical Christianity, and I'd like to offer several comments.

1. In a way, he puts Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind to music in "A New Law." About the wider evangelical world in the United States and its attendant subculture Webb sings:

"...don’t teach me about politics and government, just tell me who to vote for; don’t teach me about truth and beauty, just label my music; don’t teach me how to live like a free man, just give me a new law i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy, so just bring it down from the mountain to me..."

2. In "A King and a Kingdom" and "Rich Young Ruler" Webb roundly condemns the contradictory politics of many conservative evangelicals, and offers his own take on the matter:


my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom

there are two great lies that i’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

"Rich Young Ruler"
poverty is so hard to see, when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town;
where we’re all living so good, that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood;
where he’s hungry and not feeling so good, from going through our trash;
he says, more than just your cash and coin
i want your time, i want your voice
i want the things you just can’t give me....

because what you do to the least of these
my brother’s [sic], you have done it to me
because i want the things you just can’t give me

3. Finally, Webb weighs in on U.S. foreign policy and seems to take aim at George W. Bush in "My Enemies Are Men Like Me":

how can i kill the ones i’m supposed to love
my enemies are men like me
i will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well
my enemies are men like me

peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication
it’s like telling someone murder is wrong
and then showing them by way of execution

when justice is bought and sold just like weapons of war
the ones who always pay are the poorest of the poor

Interestingly enough, toward the end of this song Martin Luther King's voice emerges, and Webb includes clips from King's 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "nonviolence is the answer to the moral and poitical questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence."

4. Webb's Mockingbird is not sophisticated musically, though it is pleasantly simple; it has a rich yet pedestrian quality about it, and possesses the edginess of Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz; it displays the social consciousness of a Sojourners, and offers a social commentary akin to a Stanley Hauerwas or Brian McLaren (who, by the way, endorse the CD).

Listen, and listen often.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Forthcoming Book to Read, 2

From Princeton University Press:
It is sometimes said that the most segregated time of the week in the United States is Sunday morning. Even as workplaces and public institutions such as the military have become racially integrated, racial separation in Christian religious congregations is the norm. And yet some congregations remain stubbornly, racially mixed.

People of the Dream is the most complete study of this phenomenon ever undertaken. Author Michael Emerson explores such questions as: how do racially mixed congregations come together? How are they sustained? Who attends them, how did they get there, and what are their experiences? Engagingly written, the book enters the worlds of these congregations through national surveys and in-depth studies of those attending racially mixed churches. Data for the book was collected over seven years by the author and his research team. It includes more than 2,500 telephone interviews, hundreds of written surveys, and extensive visits to mixed-race congregations throughout the United States.

People of the Dream argues that multiracial congregations are bridge organizations that gather and facilitate cross-racial friendships, disproportionately housing people who have substantially more racially diverse social networks than do other Americans. The book concludes that multiracial congregations and the people in them may be harbingers of racial change to come in the United States.

Forthcoming Book to Read, 1

From InterVarsity Press:
Christians have struggled with racial issues for centuries, and often inadvertently contribute to the problem. Many proposed solutions have been helpful, but these only take us so far. Adding to this complex situation is the reality that Christians of different races see the issues differently.

Sociologist George Yancey surveys a range of approaches to racial healing that Christians have used and offers a new model for moving forward. The first part of the book analyzes four secular models regarding race used by Christians (colorblindness, Anglo-conformity, multiculturalism and white responsibility) and shows how each has its own advantages and limitations. Part two offers a new "mutual responsibility" model, which acknowledges that both majority and minority cultures have their own challenges, tendencies, and sins to repent of, and that people of different races approach racial reconciliation and justice in differing but complementary ways.

Yancey's vision offers hope that people of all races can walk together on a shared path--not as adversaries, but as partners.

Monday, January 02, 2006

My Favorite Books of 2005

Click here to read "Thinking Back to 2005 in 2006: Reflections of a Historian."