Flights of Faith

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Denying Oneself: What Does It Look Like?

Luke 9: 20

[Jesus] said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God.
Luk 9:21
And he straitly charged them, and commanded [them] to tell no man that thing;
Luk 9:22
Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.
Luk 9:23
And he said to [them] all, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Luk 9:24
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
Luk 9:25
For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?
Luk 9:26
For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and [in his] Father's, and of the holy angels.
Luk 9:27
But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.

We've all probably read or heard this verse. It's often used to juxtapose Peter's eventual denial of Christ. In the same way that it seemed to be so easy for Peter to confess Christ as Savior, it also seems easy to interpret this verse some 2000 years later. But let's ask ourselves. What does this look like? Disengaged from the Bible just as Peter was disengaged from Jesus (let us remember this is voluntary on our parts), our lives are all the more human. God only exists as a defensive front. We take over the rest.

Denying ourselves cannot be interpreted as simply saying we're Christians. It's a start but how many Christians have fallen because Christ's work has become their work and the righteousness of Christ's message has become that of their own? So, again, what does denying ourselves look like? Must we say "Well, thanks for saying I'm a great guy...but it's only because of Christ"? Yes and no. It is important for us to live a message of Christ. Words are, in fact, important, and I think that's why Jesus asks them to be spoken when he obviously knows the answer as well as Peter's answer. But if we keep speaking, we stop the process of divine synthesis. Not knowledge being mapped onto a situation. Instead, the space where the logic gap of this Earth creaks to remind humans of the Unknown, begging them to find Glory in the Truth.

As Christians, denying ourselves in the faith process is the most important step for reconnecting to God each morning. Moreover, God gives us such divine wisdom by encouraging us to take up our cross and follow him each day. According to Jesus, our crosses do not separate us from God; rather, they position us to follow him. Think about how much Jesus must have been focusing on God while carrying his physical cross. God would not place a burden on ourselves that limits further glimpses of Grace. Our struggles demand them in order for us to be delivered out of them, not necessarily with an earthly change but through God's transforming love in our lives.

Lastly, we cannot be ashamed of any of this. We should be just as joyful being soldiers for the Lord as some imagery depicts or as serfs. There is a time for courage informed by God's strength and a time for humility informed by God's prodigiousness. We must not become too attached (in a human understanding) to either nor make them mutually exclusive. Just as Jesus managed to be humble on the cross and not boast of or perform His miraculous powers, we should strive to pray earnestly for God to give us strength, humility, and the wisdom to rely on You to determine what our individual combination of those two blessings will look like.

In Christ.

Monday, January 22, 2007

God As Liberatator (Part 3): Everyone's Gift

But who then claims such a contested place like America? Perhaps, this resistance and struggle to redefine the dominant narrative is our collective claim. Each piece of legislation wraps a new tale of incorporation or exclusion while artists try to dismantle the structure further and opt for bigger societal pushes. Although petitioners to the dominant narrative need to respect those who don’t follow its normative paths (either Christianity or the Constitution), it is also important to recognize claims like Laura Tohe’s only attack the oppressor (in this case, Richard Henry Pratt). This makes the claim distant to future populations while the silent apathetic population that let those atrocities happen in the past remains the problem in the present day (ix). Instead, scholars need to actively identify oppressors while also excavating the silent populations from their time period. In this way, we can examine how populations of color challenged their actions through the dominant discourse to reach the widest audience. J.W.C. Pennigton’s account of slavery demonstrates the urgency and fury he had over these people with “lesser problems” whose beliefs somehow absolved them of responsibility. Frustrated by the notion of “kind” and “Christian masters,” Pennigton pointed out that no matter how well they treated their slaves their efforts allowed slavery to exist as a successful economic model. Despite any outward signs of redemption, “[Kind and Christian masters were] not masters of the system. The system [was] a master of them” (Johnson 218).

If Fredrickson’s quote goes uncontested, then so do the countless voices that have negotiated the dominant culture whether it be by attaching personal experience to their religious beliefs, finding “truth” in an artform, or by banding together to claim a space. Western racism is unique; therefore, it invites a unique response that allows populations of color to challenge the dominant discourse by appealing to a mainstream experience and convincing those followers that the dominant discourse, itself, is an illusion unless it contains their voice. This process combines a shared experience with an eventual subversion that acts as a form of resistance the dominant culture can either accept or reject. For Christians, it means “to defend [themselves] against [their] enemy but…also defend [their] faith within the revolutionary process” by never letting the religion become co-opted by colonization or corrupt principalities (Menchu 246). Like the dominant narrative, Christianity should remain the people’s. All people’s.

Labels: , , ,

God As Liberatator (Part 2): Finding Truth in Experience

Native American artists in who stole the teepee? use their tragic history and Christian beliefs to attack colonists while affirming their statuses as survivors. By adopting a Christian discourse that creates space for multiple accounts of experience, these artists question the way dominant society views Christianity and inject a new ideology into this framework. For example, Dorothy Grandbois links the oppression of Indian school attendees with the suffering of Jesus Christ by laying transposing the images onto one another. She does not question Jesus’ narrative in this piece; instead, she finds fault “with the human aspect of Catholicism and how they abuse their power” (43). Similarly, Jim Logan’s piece A Rethinking of the Western Front uses this notion of religious revision to transition the audience into thinking about other alterations, in this case, art being defined by the Classical era and the white body. Making Michaelangeo’s Creation of Adam feature Native American bodies, he not only questions the status of God and Adam as white men, but he also questions why normative equals white. His child-like scrawls around the piece emphasize this belief is imposed on the audience at a young age (44). Just as Logan’s piece presents a dual revelation, this theory is also useful in debates void of Christianity. For example, Hopi Indian photographers essentialize their skills and claim their viewpoint is directly tied to their status as Hopi. One photographer says that:

Non-Indians have never been able to correctly capture the picture of the Hopi people. There have been many attempts, sometimes by good people. But they can’t find the real truth. Only Hopis can do that (Younger 85).

While this notion of truth tied to an ethnic identity is problematic, it clearly exists and empowers these once oppressed populations, so that, in at least one regard, they have the power of truth and can shape their environment in that way. Certain entities like the governmental structure of America are clearly inspired by faith and secular knowledge giving populations of color easy ways insert their voice.

The Chilocco school also exists as a semi-religious foundation that claims to civilize as it Christianizes. Although that tactic can be denied, scholars cannot deny the moment of contact that happened when Native Americans experienced this school. As it became a lived experience, they were empowered with the agency to either resist or accept its teachings giving them ownership. As Lomawaima states in her conclusion after denying a passive Native American experience, “Indian people made Chilocco their own. Chilocco was an Indian school.” Despite any white presence in the school, Native American existence made it possible for them to claim that space.

God as Liberatator (Part 1): Dual Freedoms

Fredrickson’s quote from his book, Racism, completely ignores resistance and revision done by populations of color to find the truth through experiences of oppression in the Constitution, but more importantly, the Bible and Christianity. Fredrickson’s quote assumes that white men colonizing ethnic populations are followers of the Bible and that their logic is frozen never to be challenged. Moreover, he is asserting that white men define teachings of the Bible over colonized populations while these colored bodies silently agree to every word. Finally, his quote assumes that the entire white population co-opted Christianity and that this unfortunate real existence of Biblical manipulation did not occur through individuals spreading a message of hatred and separation. Alternatively, Fredrickson rejects any possibility that there were multiple components attached to accepting this “white Christian” ideology besides Europeans simply having blind contempt for people of color. By relying on endless assumptions of white behavior and the dormancy of populations of color, Fredrickson does not deconstruct Western racism; instead, he builds more walls by accepting a hegemonic white supremacist world that allows no room for contestation within that group or outside of it.

Fredrickson’s model is not only superficially problematic, but it also affects living populations of color that are practicing Christians. If the call to decolonize these populations is to strip them of their religions and replace them with foreign ones regardless of the brutality that brought about this loss, then how would that be any different than any other form of benevolent supremacy? Instead, scholars like Fredrickson need to acknowledge the resistance and negotiation that occurred as populations were introduced to Christianity. This specific conflict, in turn, sheds light on how these populations navigated secular aspects of society and provided ideal models for the dominant society in the process.

One of the most obvious examples of religious negotiation is African-American Christian’s dual call for salvation and equality. While this statement may bring about images of the Civil Rights movement, these beliefs were present since slavery. After all, this horrific experience of slavery is what connects African-Americans to enslaved Israelites. Although this ideology is grounded in the Bible, it has always existed in secular forms of protest. As Sherman Jackson notes, “Black Religion is an instrument of holy protest against white supremacy and its material and psychological effects” (25). Jackson calls this theory black religion as opposed to black Christianity because he found that its existence comes from the terrible circumstances blacks were placed in as opposed to the theology of any individual religion. Black Christianity, though, has the power of revising one of the most dominant aspects of Western society and exposing its faults and revealing false promises. It is probably this experience that made challenges against other dominant theories, like the Constitution, possible. This is also not isolated to a Black experience. Mexican and Fillipino workers, “sons of the same God,” use religious discourse in Plan de Delano calling their poverty a sin. In fact, any oppressed members of ethnic populations go through a similar process of establishing agency through this negotiation process.

King Teaching King

I loved 2006. It was an amazing year of growth for me.
It was the most radical year of my faith life
that followed the most radical period of my racial identity.
Conflict seemed inevitable.

That Christmas vacation I really struggled with how to identify as both a black person and a Christian. I knew that the debate was not important spiritually, but it was a road block in understanding my place in the world.

My peace was found through justice.
Being black, for me, is not an excitement that I’m a certain pigmentation.
It’s about showing the world I’m 5/5, honoring the legacy of those that never had that choice, and helping others that have not realized their value because of cultural or structural reasons, including the myriad forms of injustice that continue to devalue our community.

As long as I tempered my pride from being a certain race with the knowledge that I am this race for a reason, I knew I was fine. I felt a renewed sense of energy because these two forces don’t conflict; instead, they go hand in hand.

In the end, only one thing changed superficially. I already tried never to deny my blackness or the anti-racism efforts that come with that consciousness despite how awkward that might make interactions. Now, I try to represent my Christianity in that same way to make my identities alive in the most respectful way possible.

Dedicated to a man who realized a Christian movement is a movement with an understanding of love and justice.

Labels: , ,