Sunday, September 10, 2017
Where is God in this?
It’s the question I pondered when I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m., trembling because Irma is on the way. The massive hurricane that has already killed 23 people in the Caribbean is approaching Key West with gush winds up to 82 mph. Prayers to limit the devastation will be lifted in churches as the damaging winds and heavy rain moves through Florida.
Where is God in this?
What sermons will be preached as the eleven o’clock hour begins worship in most churches? Will there be mention of what tomorrow represents – 911 – the day the twin towers came tumbling down in the name of American tyranny?
Will preachers blame the trinity of storms – Harvey, Irma and Jose – on God, or will more emphasis be placed on the love and compassion of Jesus as we pray for the storms to go away. Will Irma be used to promote a political agenda, or will Americans come together, again, to demonstrate we have more in common than we think?
Natural disasters have a way of presenting the fallacies of our theological views. We like to keep God in a nicely packed box of conceptions constructed to make us feel better. Faith becomes a roadmap to all things desired, and human struggles are used to illustrate the consequence of disobedience. Church talk, liturgy and theology help undergird the message of American privilege.
Isn’t this the American dream? Blessed are those who abide in God’s will. They will succeed. They shall be protected by God. God removes from their lives the pain of destruction. As for the disobedient, their lives will be damaged by a series of lessons aimed to stir their path. They shall witness death and pain due to their evil ways.
This is the message of American privilege. God rewards America for faithful witness. America totes the flag of freedom for the world to view. America leads the way. This is the bond between American nationalism and a theology girded by the American dream. Americans believe they are more honorable than the rest of the world. We embrace the American witness of faith and privilege for the world to see.
But, where is God in the storm?
Did God do this to teach America a lesson? Some will preach that this morning. This is the discipline of God. This is God’s judgment for electing Donald Trump. This is those chickens coming home to roost. They will preach this is the zeal of God. This is a call for national humility after years of institutionalized hypocrisy.
I’m reminded of the lessons of Thomas Langford, my former professor of Christian Theology at Duke University. He told me to not craft a theology that made God into Atlas, the titan in Greek Mythology responsible for bearing the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. He challenged me to structure theology that considers the balance between creation and chaos while offering space for freedom.
This is the challenge of ministry. It’s work that celebrates the beauty and grace of God’s good creation, while conceding the ongoing movement of chaos. This is the balance that defies the simplistic messages of faith. No, not everything is God’s will. All death is not ordered by God to teach a lesson. Some people die for reasons other than disobedience. They simply find themselves caught in the midst of the force of chaos.
It is not God’s will when a child dies by shots fired from a speeding car. Where is the grace in uttering the 23, mostly black and brown people, dead due to hurricane Irma is God’s lesson regarding American sin? Why would they die for what Americans do wrong?
Where is God in the storm?
The honest answer is I don’t know. Maybe there is no answer to the question. Maybe it’s not the time to ask.
I do know where God is within the devastation. It’s the place where God has always been. God remains there to teach lessons about faith, love, compassion and peace. God is with us in the damage to remind us we are not alone.
“God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law,” Jurgen Moltmann, said in his book The Crucified God. “God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”I may not know where God is in the storm, but I do know where God is when the storm appears. God is with us, enduring the madness of the storm, to remind us we are not alone.
Friday, September 8, 2017
What happened to the days of black solidarity? Some will say it never existed. It’s no more than a false narrative about the good ole days when all black folks held hands, sang songs, marched together and fought to overcome racism.
A true reading of history reminds us that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t embraced by the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. In fact, the opposition at the 1961 annual convention in Kansas City, Mo was so intense a fist fight broke out, an elderly man died and King, Ralph Abernathy and Gardner C. Taylor withdrew from the group to form the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
There has never been a congruous black voice. Not everyone stood behind Marcus Garvey when he challenged black people to love themselves, to develop a black economic infrastructure and to return to Africa. Not everyone shouted “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” or replaced the attire of white corporate America with African apparel. Not everyone embraced their natural hair, sat during the national anthem while marching in defiance.
There is no monolithic black voice. That has never been the case.
But, black people talk a lot about unity. Its part of the declaration made during the celebration of Kwanzaa. Umoja (unity) is the first principal of the week. Black people light the first red candle placed in the kinara while conjuring the promise to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kwanza is the seven day celebration of black people overcoming. It’s a week set aside to teach lessons about unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity and faith. The seven principles (Nguzo Saba) reflect the best qualities of the “first fruit” festivals celebrated throughout Africa.
It’s a reminder of where black people come from. It’s a call for unity and an embrace of the fruits that emerge when black people refuse to be measured by a Eurocentric agenda. Black people living in America applaud life in their country, but they find strength in their collective journey. That’s where the pride flows and that is the place that brews massive change.
So, back to the initial question - what happened to the days of black solidarity? Or, what happened to the promise regarding what solidarity would stimulate?
Durham, NC is a city built on the back of black pride and solidarity. It was unity that inspired the rise of the Black Wall Street. Unity, combined with a bunch of collective work and responsibility, fueled the imagination of James Edward Shepard to build the National Religious Training School at Chautauqua in 1909. We now know it as North Carolina Central University, the first public liberal arts institution for blacks in the nation.
What happened to the unity that inspired growth for our children? Have blacks become so engulfed in their individual quest in living the American dream that they have forgotten the principles that helped them overcome?
Why are blacks in Durham engaged in massive cannibalism while placing personal agendas above our collective needs? Why can’t black people talk, plan, mobilize and succeed together? Where is that black faith that grounds the black community and keeps them moving?
Why are five black people running for mayor against one white person? I get people being called to public office. I understand being compelled to press what the spirit has inspired from that place beyond human understanding. No one should be denied that right, but where is the unity that moves black people forward –together as a people?
How did this happen?
When did the endorsement of a predominately white political action committee become more important than the collective agenda of the black community? When did the platform of white people, albeit progressives, overrule the veracity of what black people aspire to be – a community in search for unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity while being moved by a common faith?
When did the hope for unity end?
I suppose it’s what happens when we assume we’ve made it to the Promised Land.