Dispatches from College Ministries: On Meeting Cornel West

Dispatches from College Campus Ministries:

I hesitate to state that I’ll be starting a new post series that will essentially be my journaling of various interactions with (often problematic) Christian ministries on my campus. I’ll try to keep them brief and succinct.


I'm on the left.

I’m on the left.

YES he was as awesome as I thought he’d be- perhaps even more so, actually! Got to attend the reception ( which is where the photo above was taken). I was told by ( some obviously bitter people) that West wouldn’t take photos, sign books, or talk about personal life with people –  HE DID ALL OF THE ABOVE. Granted, it was tough trying to get to him,there was a SWARM of people (students, faculty, community members) wanting to speak with Dr. West, get their copies of Democracy Matters signed, and a picture. He actually asked me how school was going, but I was too tongue-tied and star-struck to give an articulate answer so I said something to the tune of “School’s going well, you’re such an inspiration to me!!” LOlz….

English: Cornel West, keynote speaker at the M...

English: Cornel West, keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Week. University of Utah. Contrast enhanced, sensor noise filtered, saturation adjusted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

            West’s lecture was INCREDIBLE. Everything I hoped and more. I can not articulate how happy I was for the predominantly white college I attend to be exposed to someone like West. As many noted, his “lecture” , in his delivery, histrionics, and content was more like a “sermon” – a social justice sermon. He name-dropped so many blues/funk artists, it was jarring. He made me want to listen to the Blues in describing it as “the music of the oppressed” – it wasn’t optimistic, but in recognizing the hell they were living in due to their status of being despised people, they simply sang about it, yet refused to compromise their moral character in the process and retained a high premium on the notion of unconditional love for one another. I had posted a FB status the day after his incredible speech, that essentially sums up many of his quotes throughout the night –

– Never cease Socratic questioning of the American empire; – Never cease self-examination and self-questioning (dying so that we might live) and evaluating the extent to which we are colluding with imperialistic patterns and forces of our own nation; -Become a prophetic voice in the age of empire, as the Negro national anthem says “lift every VOICE (not echoes of empire) and sing!” – Dr. Cornel West


– This semester, while I haven’t been attending Cru “large group” ( a Christian campus ministry- interdenominational ((only not))), I have been attending men’s bible studies. We’ve always been outnumbered by the girls of Cru by quite a bit, and so our men’s bible study has been just as intimate- 4 or 5 guys ( the same 4 or 5). It’s been good  for the most part, but I am annoyed by an attempt to make Hebrews 9:26 -28 refer to/support the “P”in Calvinism’s TULIP (perseverance of the saints). That in addition to the general theology of “God hates the people who end up in Hell b/c they didn’t trust Jesus as their celestial firefighter” … is it rude to offer drastically differing theological lenses as a bible study where everyone else seems to be on the same accord?

Also, every year, Cru at UNCA does this program called “Blanket America” where we ( and other Crus students , sometimes, in the W. North Carolina. E. Tennessee region) travel to the 3rd poorest county in the nation – Clay Co. Kentucky , to this clothing shelter , sponsored by a local church , where we then distribute blankets, winter coats, (fattening) snacks, bibles,  etc. But before any of this happens, we take the lined up poor/homeless folk to this room ( each of us are assigned someone in line) and we share the “gospel” with the aid of this tract supposedly depicting us before and after Christ. We start out by asking them “Do you have a relationship with God” and then depending on their answer we share the “gospel” or talk about it a bit more, and then we proceed to get them their winter goods. I only did this my freshman year and have not participated ever since.

Besides the problematic “gospel” they want us to share, I was so happy the other day when a student (whom I’m good friends with) who had gone on the trip pointed out that we’re not really helping them or showing long-term support to these impoverished people. They wait every year for that one day and then we leave and they’re left to be dependent on our will to come and volunteer. At this point I chimed “solidarity over charity!” – she was essentially pointing out that the Blanket America operation doesn’t force us to show long-term solidarity with these folks, but just cheap, short-term charity ( for one weekend of a year!). She then said “yes!” and proceeded to ask where I heard that from, at which point, I shared  Rod’s post on solidarity being preferable to charity.  Broken down to its core, Blanket America is essentially a chance for a mostly white , middle-class kids who profess the Christian faith to feel good about themselves without being too closely associated with the downtrodden because they can then go home and tell mommy, daddy, friends, and pastors back home that they “ministered to the physical and spiritual needs” of the poor. After this short weekend, however, they’re relived of this and while these people are left dependent on this short day, the privileged are left with a good, magical feeling in their hearts of having done “the Lord’s work”.  Mind you, 1 in 6 people in W. North Carolina don’t have access to basic needs or have ample food security  or may live in a food desert – but no, let’s travel 4 hours away to Kentucky and forget about ( and never interact with) the issues in our own backyard. In the time they have all these retreats, parties, hang-outs, game nights, etc.; I am sure a good bit of it could be spent showing solidarity with marginalized groups in the Asheville area ( there are PLENTY) – for these reasons I have ceased attending Cru as often – I want para –Church, NOT para-entertainment. 

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0 thoughts on “Dispatches from College Ministries: On Meeting Cornel West

  1. Curt Day

    I met Cornel West earlier this year at what was billed as an anti-Drone rally that was, in reality, a 9-11 truth rally. Very small turnout but he gave it his all in demonstrating and speaking and did a heck of a job.

  2. Phil Walton

    Good word. If we need to travel a hundred miles to find a poor person to help, we probably aren’t paying attention.

  3. Pingback: Dispatches from Campus Ministries: The International Cult..I mean Church of Christ | Political Jesus

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