Flights of Faith

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Required Reading

This is what I will be up to during Winter break and Summer break. Hopefully, that will be enough time to consider these greats.

The works of Howard Thurman
The works of C.S. Lewis
The works of Paul Gilroy
The works of Hazel Carby
The works of W.E.B. DuBois
The works of Audre Lorde
The works of James Baldwin
The works of Karl Rahner
The works of bell hooks
God's Politics by Jim Wallis
The Holy Bible

I have a real desire to see the ways minds work and how they develop over time. I am going to start chronologically with each author's works and then just hopefully bulldoze through them while writing some essays and such. I am gonna need some good fiction to keep me motivated through these more academic personas, but I definitely am excited to delve into thinkers with robust theories and beliefs.


Blogger Danielle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

I haven't read either of those books. I'll have to check them out.

Souls of Black Folk is a great book. I'm actually doing a presentation on it tomorrow (need to start that asap lol). It's gonna deal with his spiritual strivings in the book and his direct references to faith in comparison to Lose Your Mother by Sadiya Hartman, who is an atheist. Her book is equally spiritual since she's in the process of seeking and journeying. It's going to be interesting.

I have to reread 'Souls' again to discuss the book as a whole. I love the double consciousness theory simply because it really speaks to "in the world, but not of it." However, double consciousness leaves a lot of identities out and sort of fractured the academy in many ways. If you say consciousness is split between black and white then where is gender? Where is religion? It's an imperfect theory largely lauded as "the standard." DuBois made a huge mistake with that one and the academy is still reeling from it since these "separate" identities wrote separate books and confirmed the divide that DuBois started in the absence of an inclusive dialogue.

Well, I am in a group called Salt of the Earth: Christians for social justice. It's around 10 or so students who feel a call to shed light on God's heart for justice and righteousness and then carry that out into the world.

We're a racially mixed bunch, and we definitely hold firm to a necessary Christian witness against racism and bigotry while affirming coalition building in and among communities of color and beyond. I think our end is always desiring these stronger communities to see injustice at the root of racism and to mobilize to defeat it. From that, we hope and pray God convicts them of His justice.

For us, Jesus is at the center of what we do.

Our other non-SALT social justice allies often grew up in the church or thought briefly about Christianity but were disillusioned by the religion's current corruption and complicity in manufactured injustices. Additionally, some belong to other faith backgrounds, practicing and non-practicing. These people are generally appreciative of who we are and what we believe. Most times, we end up operating in a framework of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit being real in our world, but not in theirs. I think that's respectful and fair. There certainly is not much God/Jesus/Holy Spirit bashing. More, insulting (or really being disappointed by) specific churches and religious figures.

In classes, I think beginners tend to criticize anything Western. At first, they include Christianity in that critique. Then, they learn that Jesus was probably brown, The Bible isn't really Western, Christianity has been at the heart many North and South American social movements, and more awesome stuff like the social gospel, liberation theology, militant pacifism, non-aggressive missionary development and aid, etc. After that, it becomes much more balanced. Still, I definitely see some people force a divide between people who are horrible and believed and amazing people who happened to be Christian. Unless that actor defined their place in a Christian landscape (MLK in Letter from Birmingham), the tendency is to praise their humanity and mention their belief. In the end, people become exceptions and we don't really know what made the difference most times between them and "Christian" oppressors.

I really don't think the Church does a good job at that either. That would really help it be self-critical and honest.

What has your experience been like?

5:52 AM  
Blogger Danielle said...

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9:08 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

The Ethnic Studies department at my school is still really small. It officially became a major fall of last year, and I think they only accepted 6 students at that point (all of whom were students switching majors, as opposed to incoming freshmen). The major still isn’t very visible, so the few of us in the major are working to inform not only our campus, but high schools throughout the state about the new program.

I go to a polytechnic school, so the most well-known majors are engineering and the sciences. The College of Liberal Arts is growing, but still underdeveloped. The professors they are hiring in my department are really brilliant, and I think most of them decided to come to my school to more or less be part of a grassroots movement to expand the department. My school is 65% white/non-Hispanic, and most people have absolutely no idea what Ethnic Studies is when I tell them it’s my major (that question is of course followed up w/ a 2nd question of, “So, what do you plan on doing with that?).

My school also has a huge agriculture department, which attracts lots of really conservative farm kids from small towns. Basically, the school is split between really conservative Christians that come from predominantly WASP areas, or extremely progressive/liberal students that are from places like Berkeley or San Francisco, and who are for the most part anti-Christian.

Of course I know that is speaking in generalizations, but there isn’t too much middle ground. One of the first Ethnic Studies classes I took was Sex & Gender in the African American Community, which I absolutely loved, but felt really attacked in. Most of my classes are discussion-based, so we would sit in circles to discuss various novels and articles we were reading. On several different occasions, students would attack the Bible, attack Biblical roles of men and women, and attack anything remotely anti-homosexual. The teacher even distributed a handout that talked about homosexuality being a person’s God-given right, and was twisting scripture. I tried to contest what she was saying the best I could without offending anyone and by trying to share w/ a Christ-like attitude, but my teacher just gave me this look like I was so ignorant. I was pretty upset over it and was almost in tears, but nobody saw.

That was during my sophomore year, the same quarter that I switched into the major, and I began really second-guessing if I could make it in that kind of environment. I loved my classes and did really well in them, but the divisions in my school just seem so distinct, that trying to be a follower of Christ and an advocate of various issues raised in my classes seemed impossible. I know that this isn’t the case, but like I said, there isn’t a lot of middle ground here.

Last year I was gone doing missions work in East Asia with Campus Crusade for Christ. I had to take an academically leave of absence, but when I returned home in July, I didn’t know if I wanted to go back to my school. I actually was about 99% sure I would not be going back there, and planned to apply somewhere else; but, God is sovereign and faithful to guide me.

So, clearly I am back at my school and didn’t decide to study somewhere else. This past quarter was such an amazing experience for me, and it reminded me how much I really do love Ethnic Studies, and how God has made my heart so passionate about it. I think what’s difficult for me is that God is calling me to be a more visible leader; He wants me to be a path-setter for others to follow behind, but it’s scary for me to take those bold steps of faith. I am the only Christian in my department, and often I feel really hesitant to talk about my faith or even share the fact that I’m a Christian because of the negative connotations attached to it, particularly at my school. I don’t see how a person could be a Christian and not fight for social justice, though.

I realize that so much of Christianity is seeped in “Americanness,” and has lost sight of the Biblical foundations it is supposedly built upon. I think it took me getting away for a year to realize that so much of the faith we are taught here is one heavily influenced by culture, but not necessarily His Word. If it were the “normal Christian thing” to fight for these things and to study Ethnic Studies in the first place, people would be on board with it, but it seems as though—at least from my experience—my area of study has been labeled anti-Christian (even my dad has criticized my desire to study what I do, saying I’ve been won over by the wrong agenda).

Anyway, that is more or less why I felt compelled to find someone else on this planet who can tell me I’m not crazy and that faith in Christ and Ethnic Studies are not mutually exclusive. The group you are in (Salt of the Earth) sounds so amazing, and I wish we had something even remotely similar on our campus. I’m guessing your campus not only has a much more well-established Ethnic Studies department, but also a more diverse population of student backgrounds, interests, passions, majors, etc.

What were the bigger comparisons you touched on in your presentation on DuBois and Sadiya Hartman? Have you read The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano? It was so interesting to see that although the diaspora robbed Equiano of a specific place to call home, he was able to find belonging and identity in his relationship with God. I love learning about the African American Christian experience. I’m planning to read the Complete Writings of Phillis Wheatley over break because one of my professors said she was not resentful about slavery because she found Christ as a result of it. If you have more insight or knowledge about slaves and their faith, I would love to hear it. By the way, what do you study?

9:10 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Hey...sorry to take so long to respond. I am a strange procrastinator as evidenced by the six word stories.

Yeah, it sometimes feels very lonely as a Christian passionate about his faith but also passionate about the role Christ gave me as a person of color awakened to the problems of the world in this time period, which I think extends to all people. For me, it was matured through thinking about race and racial injustice brought about by my experiences as a black man in America. For all the negative baggage race has brought into our society (American and otherwise), it also has developed a delightful existentialism grounded in the tenuous notion of life, its abuses, and the societal constructs that drive it.

Acknowledging its place as a construction, I hope to use race to pull the tablecloth on how we have constructed something as a society that is not of God. I hope this will be a beginning step in getting us all to think deeply about the root of the Gospel and the universal message to love God (by accepting Jesus' love that bled out on the Cross) and others (by following God's words that demand faith in its varying forms of prayer, reflection, AND action) stripped from the ways societies soften and contort and control that message to promote a safe and comfortable partial gospel, which leads to a at best, a small and incomplete christianity and, at worst, wounded and damaged believers and former believers.

I think you'd be really interested in my argument on the works of DuBois and Hartman because it involves a theory that builds on the Stuff of faith that spins out into Christianity. Over time, I've learned that there are occasions where I have to put the weight of God into a word like trust or hope or faith knowing that these are His values and creations. They are bridges to find Him. Just as I have to closely read texts, I should also closely read the way my life might come off in a situation. If I'm already known as a Christian and one who is dedicated to his faith, then it might make more sense for me to trust my faith in bridge-building words instead of, perhaps, making use of abused Christian rhetoric to people who might be abused by the religion. It's something I pray about regularly and in this paper it was my only entry point, in many ways.

I started with an examination of somewhat spiritual myths of healed communities being jarred by the trauma of reality. Then, I introduced C.S. Lewis' theory of the myth becoming fact (Jesus as a mythic story that is real and, thus, becomes fact). After that, I presented the myths of DuBois and Hartman. DuBois' myth is one of community (largely, a black community where he belongs. Also, an American community where be belongs.) and of freedom, one that strives for human actualization, which I sort of drew out into the beloved community King and some other early liberation theologians mention.

Hartman's myth is twofold. A myth of the return to Africa as a homecoming, which she presents as false from the first pages and deconstructs for the rest of the pages. The second myth, the one she strives for, is a myth of a home for someone who lost their identity on the middle passage. The traumatic realities that intercede these myths are pretty clear. Injustice and enslavement.

I conclude by saying none of their myths were answered in the same way Lewis' myth is answered by Christ; however, a certain notion of community and freedom and a resolve to fight injustice (the only "home" Hartman finds in West Africa) consist of enough Stuff of faith that they require a belief that demanded the religious rhetoric (and I believe, religious hope) sprinkled throughout both books. My posturing was kind of obvious, but I thought it did not pander since I am trying to uproot a sense of faith from the books instead of silence them.

Also, DuBois' life is REALLY interesting. He basically ended up as someone so wounded by the apathy of religion and dormant believers that he considered himself agnostic but seemed to still believe in the Christian God if pressed. I think he wanted to make clear he did not believe in the same thing as the average apathetic American Christian, which I think is a horrible strategy given all the scripture about us as one body without disagreement (1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30). Hartman ends her religious bio as a middle school self-described atheist, living as agnostic.

Yeah, we read Equiano's narrative for this class. I actually traveled to Ghana (for free) to visit the slave castles and meet with Ghanaian professors and experience the journey across the Middle Passage. I will hopefully blog about it sometime.

Oh, and I study American Studies (basically an interdisciplinary program that critically examines America's role in the world historically up until now; I'm using it as an alternative History major) and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration (which is our ten year old, more or less, Ethnic Studies department). I am applying to divinity school now and I hope to become a pastor and theologian who writes about the intersections of societal identities like race, social justice, and the Christian faith. In addition, I'd like to get a law degree after div school to battle some of the injustice on the ground as a civ right/hum rights lawyer.

I was also thinking about becoming a professor until last summer but I decided that road would draw me away from communities I seek to help, understand, and work with around issues of injustice while also advocating a form of scholarship unavailable to most due to the costs and time length involved. I am still unsure if I will come back to it at a later time. If I do, I think it would have to be in the religious history of liberation theology. I find tons of value in teaching and writing. I just don't know if it's for me. Through divinity school, I obtain some flexibility since I think I can teach and write with an M.Div at some schools.

Happy New Year!

10:57 AM  

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