Tag Archives: emergent

Dispatches from Campus Ministries: From being post-modern to pre-modern

For the past couple of years, I’ve set, for myself, about the closest things to “New Year’s Resolutions” I would ever make for myself. More like “Themes” for each year. They’re mindsets and modes of being, I suppose. Last year, at the start of 2013, it was “Vive le Revolution!”- essentially all about radical Christianity, politics, and really just aligning myself even further with the burdens of the oppressed in the world. Of course this will always be a major focal point of mine, but I think it’s good each year to explore news modes of being that may help or further the former. For 2014, I promised myself to dream more! “Life is but a dream in 2014!”

Already, it seems as though I’ve been pushed in that direction – especially in one particular class I am taking this semester. At UNC Asheville, with it being a Liberal Arts university, there are required core classes spanning various fields and one program that everyone must go through is the Humanities program. Being a senior, I am enrolled in the final humanities course ( one of the options for the final one, at least) entitled “Cultivating Global Citizenship”! I won’t waste too much time singing the praises of my professor , but he really is incredible. He’s in the poli. sci. faculty and is a political theorist – perfect for this course!

We’re currently reading , for instance, a book entitled “Radical Hope:Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation”- the book is essentially a scholastic account of an interview with the chief of the Crow indians – Plenty Coup, and cultivating a new sense of courage in the age of cultural genocide- where does a family, culture, or tribe go from there? How do they face the future?

Prior to this humanities class, is Humanities 324: the Modern World! I had the distinct pleasure/honor of having the token existential Marxist of the philosophy department as my professor for his course. We learned about the proliferation of science/math and many other fields, not the least of which (neoliberal) economics; we learned about how all of this development and ascension out of the “dark ages” all colluded to bring us what would become the “gospel of modernity”- the glorious good news that the human condition might be ameliorated through the ideals of certainty, exacting numbers, mastering and possessing of nature ( and ultimately black bodies!!) , technology/industry, etc.. Now,being a Marxist, of course, the professor was ( I believe rightly so) putting a truthful, yet dissenting slant on this period of history – his solution?  – POST-modernity. Calling into question the ideals of progress that came into being and ultimately led to the European gangstering of land from indigenous peoples and other atrocious crimes against humanity along the way. Existential philosophy that tackled with the idea that life has at all an essence, the ideas of absurdity that ultimately helped to be a critique of modernity. I was inspired by it at the time- which is what led me to liking  a lot of “Emergent Church fathers” and existential theologian Peter Rollins. It went hand -in-hand with my resolution to pursue radical revolution! Any of my friends will tell you how into existential philosophy I was ( and I suppose I still am but to a much lesser extent now)

Jumping back to Cultivating Global Citizenship (or LS479), my professor said some things that have “knocked the post-modern” out of me, so to speak.We start each class off with 3 minute contemplation- lights off, eyes shut. He has stated that it teaches us just to run through our thoughts and allow us to think them, without making judgements- very important for becoming more self-aware and a better global citizen! But, he always says such profound things immediately after we all open our eyes. One day, he opened the class up by saying “What do we end up throwing away and what do we keep?” At first I was puzzled, underwhelmed, and even a bit annoyed…but little do I know, this is one of the most profound questions humanity must ask itself. He then repeated himself “What do we end up throwing away and what do we keep, and how do we make that distinction/decision?” He used an example of how he had seashells at once, but being a political SCIENTIST, he felt they were no longer of use in an art exercise he’d have one of this classes perform using those seashells he once had. He lamented over wishing he hadn’t thrown them away because of the value of art even in political science ( or any science, for that matter) Pretty pedestrian example, right? But then, he gets far deeper… “What ideas, philosophies, or people do we throw away? And which do we keep?” There was something so convicting about this question, immediately. “What has the modern man thrown away from humanity before him- which lessons, technology, ideas about community, ecology, care, God, etc., has he thrown away, and what has he kept? I believe the modern man in contemporary society is becoming increasingly sorry that he threw away that which the pre-modern man had to give – those pre-modern notions of community , the technology of contemplation( silence was sacred to Natives because it means being whole!), of prayer to God/gods, etc…. once you throw something away, it’s tough to get back…”


One of the last indigenous pre-modern tribes left on the planet- a Mongolian family; courtesy of Pinterest



My mind was racing and I couldn’t help but have a massive smile on my face. Maybe, my professor’s intent was to simply get our gears turning, but for me it was tremendously uplifting. It made me discover that perhaps the whole appeal of post-modern existential thought, is the point us to pre-modern ideas and practices. Another brilliant thing he said ( which is tremendously post-modern as well) was “What if, with all our modern advances in math, science, and technology, we end up coming to conclusions that pre-modern indigenous people already knew, but we would have had no way of knowing because we (namely, white colonialist aggressors) wiped them out before they would record their knowledge? (Perhaps because we threw them away…)” = MIND BLOWN!!!! This is the stuff that makes you wanna just delve deep into the folktales and stories( which were important for community cohesion to many!) of the many of indigenous civilizations of Africa, Asia, North & South America, etc. What lessons could we learn? The Crow Indians ( and many pre-modren civ.) saw animals as imbued with ethical characters/ lessons. Many saw ecology as a teacher- something to be learned from, but the modern man has decided that nature is no longer our teacher, but our slave- to be raped and pillaged. Western notions of philosophy and civics essentially illustrate the idea that the experiences/thought of pre-modern civilizations before us don’t matter. (…kinda like some white male theologians of today….? hrmmmm…) Of course this all has quite a few implications for religion. For me, this makes liberation theology all the more exciting and germane because it speaks to the particularity of a culture/ civilization.

Besides this whole class being a dream itself, we’ve been taught the role of dreaming in many indigenous societies – specifically Natives. Dreams meant something and are important for projecting in the future. Often the emotions/dreams of children illustrate that they can pick up on tension far beyond most adults can- and how many pre-modern civilizations knew this already? The ability to imagine and interpret dreams is significant. Dreams in the sleepy-sense but also dreaming in the MLK Jr. sense. Dreams allow us to come out of cultural devastation and dream about a possibility different from the stark reality a people may be facing. What is the role of dreaming in cultivating a thicker sense of community in a world/society where it’s sadly paper thin.

Returning to the implication for faith, I love how he acknowledge prayer as a “technology”… what “technology” /cultural pieces did Christ seek to keep of the Hebrew tradition, which did he throw away? ( perhaps supercessionists think a tad too much…) It’s as if the call of Christ, in part, was a call to pre-modernity, a call to not forsake the necessities of community, love, harmony, and the value of that which can’t be quantified- the value of those things that pre-modern society understood. No I’m not summing up his ministry to that, but just a spin on it… if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s the true value and blessing that could come when we’re one church but many tribes.


Image courtesy of diocoeseoflansing.org

Can The Subaltern Blog? Part 3: On "Invitations" And Safe Spaces

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.

An attempt at a discrimination graphic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can the subaltern blog? Part 1: Institutional Sexism & the Biblioblogs (from 2009)

Can The Subaltern Blog Part 2: Theology Studio And The Rhetoric Of Gender Dialogue (from last December 2012)

After last week’s conversation on race and emergence Christianity had died down somewhat, Tony Jones went back to work with an invitation to Christian feminists and womanists to submit entries (accepted by a small group of people without Jones) to be posted on Theoblogy, without comment or moderation from Jones himself. A few questions have come up: Is TheoBlogy really a safe place for dissenting voices? (I don’t even know if PJ is a safe place for others sometimes, but its my and the other authors’ safe space so there!). Why was this particular invitation given by a person who has derided womanists and feminists as angry, emotional, unreasonable (to the point of not meeting him face to face for “reconciliation”), and too dedicated to identity politics to validly critique his “incarnational” theology.

A more important question that we should be asking, like Caryn Riswald did yesterday; by the way, please read her post, A Blog Of Our Own. Why should womanist and feminist Christians be concerned to “teaching” Jones and his audience what they are doing wrong? Why is this their responsibility, their burden to bear? Why should the experience of Jones and his audience be placed at the center? Isn’t that the problem to begin with?

The problem I brought up in my previous two parts, “Can The Subaltern Blog?,” is the question of power and gender relations, and marginalization of women in the real world in seminaries and Bible colleges.

From Christianity Today, The Seminary Gender Gap:

“Perhaps the lack of job prospects is a deterrent: Why pay the tuition if you are not guaranteed a job afterwards? Or perhaps it is a matter of theology since some traditions discourage women from the pastorate on biblical grounds. Still, other churches support the idea of female leaders in principle, but simply fail to take the steps necessary to cultivate women’s gifts.

Combined, these factors produce a persistent minority of female, evangelical seminarians with a rather tumultuous seminary experience. Evangelical women who discern a call to seminary often find themselves without much community and without many resources. Whether or not they are seeking ordination, women report feeling ostracized by male classmates.”

The quest for safe spaces for women and racial minorities to work out their own faith journeys online is important. As one person on twitter pointed out, with one fewer moderater (the author), it would be open season on feminists and womanists whose articles were accepted by Jones’ “committee.” From what I have seen and read, Jones’ supporters use ad hom attacks themselves on the blogs of his critics. So, yeah, the lack of a safe space is a pressing issue.

I have two examples of constructive actions that Tony Jones and whoever else is interested in seeing things from “the Other’s” perspective: it starts with reading books by people who do not look or think like you do. Reading is just the first step, the second step is something my friend J.K. Gayle calls “rhetorical listening,” actually hearing out “the Other’s” argument and maybe engaging in some self-criticism. This part of listening happens when we let other voices than our own define themselves, and maybe even re-define you in the position that you see yourself. For an example of this, see J.K.’s reflections on racial gazes and rhetoric: About Biblioblogging…?: Jacqueline Jones Royster’s voices.

The other example is my friend James Bradford Pate, who regularly reads and blogs on books about controversial issues, even by authors he does not agree with. Like last year, he did series during Women’s History Month and Black History Month. James uses rhetorical listening to give authors who may not look like him a fair hearing. Both JK and James regularly blog about religion, race, gender, and politics. In both instances, these white men did the hard work themselves and were changed for the better. The oft-quoted, oft-attributed quote from Ghandi, “You are the change you seek” comes to mind.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Whiteness & Emergence Christianity: Tony Jones, Jason Richwine, And Other Race Science Hustles


English: Cross

English: Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“So many (and again, not all) privileged people (and, honestly, though I focused on two dudes in this piece this often includes privileged white women as well) who claim to be progressive Christians act like they want a world where everyone has a “seat at the table.”

But they want it on their terms.

They tell oppressed groups what they can and cannot say. They tell oppressed groups what words they can use to define their oppressions. They even dictate whether or not the experiences and thoughts of oppressed groups are valid.”

– Sarah N. Moon, Tony Jones, Peter Rollins, and the trend of “don’t call me racist!”

“He seems to write about his understanding of the gospel as if it’s objectively better, rather than experientially better. We should all remember that whether we like it or not, religious experience is subjective. The quality or value of a doctrine or belief is determined by one’s own context and experience. I think it’s okay to say that an interpretation of the Bible is more culturally palatable, more accurate (as is conceivably possible when translating from one language to another), or even more useful in one’s own context… But Jones’ progressive interpretation of the Bible is only “better” in the sense that we live in a society which is becoming more progressive.”

– Crystal St. Marie Lewis, White Men Can’t Jump Out of the Frying Pan that Easily

Today, I was just minding my own business at work when a friend sent me a facebook message informing me of his disappointment in Tony Jones’ latest blog post,I am Tired Of Being Called a Racist, in response to Cristena Cleveland’s first post in her series, “Diversity Repellent” “We Have a better version of the Gospel than you: Diversity Repellent.” Jones complains that he was misquoted, he said “better” not “best”: good better best, never let it rest, til your good is better and your better is best. Jones’ defense is that it is more of a referent, and not comparative. Fair enough, the correction was made, so what is the big fuss over anyhow?

One would think that when Cleveland editted her post, admitted she had editted at the bottom of the post (which is good Christian blogging ethics by the way), that should have ended the squabble, no? Does this change the problematic nature of Jones’ comments today or in the past? Um, no, it does not. Jones at Fuller Theological Seminary a couple of years ago was confronted for his problematic approach to the Global South Pentecostalism at a conversation of “emergence spirituality.” If you watch the video in its entirety, the framing of the discussion was very much Euro-centric, and void of any talk of place or context (except when historian Lauren Winner was speaking). Part of the invisibility of white supremacy in progressive groups is that whites do not have to talk about race or context or place at all. This is a big problem with much of the emergence Christianity literature I have ran into: see for example Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis.

On another level, by comparison, Tony Jones’ view that the Global South’s theology reveals a colonizing gaze for a few reasons I would like to discuss. When you have this idea that the West, North American religion/society in particular, has a “high level intellectual Christianity” with a “more sophisticated theology” than them down there, and YOU have to ask if it is colonialism or not, you are participating in the history of white supremacist propaganda against People of Color. The dark art of racecraft has a long history, but in short, as Frederick Douglass said, power concedes nothing, meaning it must continue to justify itself. White supremacy in even progressive mainline religious circles finds a way to rear its ugly head under the guise of concepts such as “People in the 2/3rd’s world are not intellectual enough,” they are economically poor and therefore need some of the West’s white theological fatness. Take for example Jason Richwine’s pseudo-scientific research that was exposed this week: he made the argument that Latin@s are less intelligent than whites, and therefore, we should have closed borders. If people of color from the Global South are seen as nothing but bodies, things without minds, they must be treated as a threat to the purity of white U.S. American society. Jason Richwine was making academic arguments, in fact, a PhD dissertation in working to justify white supremacy of the conservative sort.

Likewise, Tony Jones also made his arguments in an academic setting: “I made a statement of preference, that I think the nascent Pentecostalism practiced in much of the Global South would benefit from being in dialogue with the older, more developed theologies of the West.” The defense of his position is not borderline racist; it’s just plain rank imperialism. The exchange is not mutual, and presupposes that there has been some theological vacuum in “Latin America.” Is good theology only owned by white male bodies? What about Leonardo Boff? Pope Francis the First? Gustavo Guttierez? Joao Chaves of Brazil? Are not these theologians who have a “developed” theology who were or have been placed in the “Global South” at one time or another? Why do “these people” need you? The invisibility of location and context that is glaringly familiar in white liberal Christian literature makes its way here once again. The Christianity of “high intellectualism” that Tony Jones is stressing here is culturally bound by an epistemology (way of knowing) grounded in the racist history of superior Western, white male rational subject.

FYI Mr. Jones, I’ve read that you have “global experience” and that you “have good friends who are Pentecostal” but Racism 101, heard it all before “but I have a black friend

“2. I have a black friend.

variant a. I have an Asian child.

variant b. I have a non-white boyfriend/girlfriend.”

OR ANY other version thereof does not excuse the exercise of colonizing gazes in the name of “theological arguments.” Just by even bringing up your context of American and Western, there is no such thing as a “purely” theological argument. But of course, as an “Incarnational” Christian you should know that.

Speaking of Incarnation, to get back to the root of the problem, the notion of the “highly sophisticated” and uber-intellectual white subject over and against the mindless Pentecostal bodies of color: 2 things: first, at the Incarnation, Christ does not let us forget our particularity, and we should very well remember Jesus’ place as well, where heaven and a 2nd century Jewish human are united and tied together for the sake of saving Jews and Gentiles together in reconciliation. Secondly, the Incarnation according to John 1, teaches us that people are more than bodies, that they are more than the good minds (Logos/logos/logic/wisdom) that God has given them. In that light, I am tired of black women being called emotional and angry, as you and your commenters suggested in the past and today. I am tired of women being silenced when they stand up to both institutional sexism and men’s personal sexism. I am tired of reading books by and listening to white progressive Christians who don’t want to talk about their own place or race or context.

Good better best. Never let it rest. Til your good is better, and your better is best.


Enhanced by Zemanta