How wide is your theological imagination?

One of the most theological imaginative ideas in the last 50 years: Capitalism isn’t working. Another World is Possible!

Another World is Possible

A week before Christmas, Pastor Tim Keller tweeted:

Tim Keller 2

This comes as no surprise. For Keller, evangelicals, and other Christian conservatives, Jesus’ main objective was to forgive sins. For this reason, accordingly, Jesus was put on a cross to suffer and die. Jesus’ teachings, which concerned bringing God’s Realm to Earth, are often ignored, so that these evangelicals may put words into Jesus’ last dying breaths. 

Honestly, this tweet was easy for me to ignore. It neither brings a new perspective to evangelical theology, nor does it deny their anti-world, spiritualized theology. It also confirms, once again, that for evangelicals, God is not on the side of the poor and oppressed. 

What I can’t ignore though is what Keller tweeted this week: 

Tim Keller

This is an “It’s okay to be white” tweet. A tweet that commends historical and current oppression, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy. Keller, in this tweet, believes that God has chosen those to be blessed by surveying the genocide of Native peoples, the lynchings and slavery of black people, and second class citizenship of Latinx people, etc. For him, everything happens for a reason whether good or bad and it’s all ordained by God.

And yet,

a “gift of God” for one is

the stolen land of another

enslavement of another

the death of thousands for another 

and extreme poverty and despair of another

This same kind of unholy logic Keller purports could be used in the case of Erica and Eric Garner. Eric Garner, in the summer of 2014, was unjustly put in a chokehold and killed by a police officer on Staten Island for selling untaxed cigarettes. His daughter, Erica Garner, spoke out for her father’s life, against police brutality, and for a freer world. Unfortunately, her body could no longer handle the weight of the systematic racism, the sorrow of her father’s death, and the despair that things will only get worse in the US under this administration. Neither of these Garners should be dead. Neither should the other countless individuals killed by police officers or the military, for that matter. These deaths are not happening because God desires them to happen, but because humanity continues to perpetuate unjust systems. 

One of the problems I find with Christian theology is a lack of imagination. For Keller and ilk, things are the way they are because God wouldn’t want them any other way. Really? This is the best God could do? If this is true, I think we should expect an apology. The idea that everything happens for a reason is dangerous and unimaginative,

With a lack of theological imagination:

  • systems of oppression go unchecked
  • pastors can continue with spiritual abuse (women should be subservient to men; God blesses the USA; abusers strengthen your faith; the end is coming soon, so donate your monies to the church, etc. )
  • the Earth is only temporary, God can make a new one
  • God is a caring Father, who cares about *His* children 

Maybe the question is not “How wide is your theological imagination?” but “What does your theological imagination smell like?” Mine somedays smells like the stinky compost I put on the rooftop garden at the church, or the smell my hand absorbs after shaking the hand of the volunteer who enjoys taking out the trash from the soup kitchen, or the smell of sajjige that my friend gives me after it being in her purse all day. These smells represent growth, kindness, and friendship. Things that seem to be lacking in some of our theological imaginations. 

The world is not as it should be. With the help of bolder theological imaginations, we might create, with God, a more just-filled world. 

like any good ghost, the holy ghost haunts the world towards justice #halloweentheology

I wrote this paper a few years back and think it’s good to revisit it, especially on Halloween!

“for in the one spook we were all haunted into one house
jews or greeks, slaves or free
and we were all made to be spooked by the phantasm.”
1 Corinthians 12:13 (New Revised Specter Version)

white ghost outline shapes

In the Pentecostal church of my youth, we read the King James Version Bible, which has sprinkled throughout the New Testament a most halloween-ey phrase, a holy ghost. I witnessed this ghost spook congregations with healings, tongues-talkin’, and spontaneous revivals. Yet, this holy ghost has not stopped frightening me, even outside my Pentecostal tradition! This specter whispers visions of God’s Realm, but it is not able to transform the world on its own; rather, it seeks agency from humans and creatures alike. John Caputo, a self-identified weak theologian, spells out divinity not as a strong force siding with the wealthy and powerful, but as a call, a promise found with the no-bodies and the marginalized. In this way, God intervenes not through economics, politics, or any system where the powerful reign, but as the Scriptures assumes: through sex workers, stutterers, the imprisoned, and a poor Palestinian Jew killed by an Empire. I will focus on two aspects of the holy specter: 1) the equalizing measure of the holy ghost to fall on anyone, non-discriminate of race, class, or social location. 2) the anti-oppressive spooking found in early Pentecostalism, which still haunts white supremacy today. Like any good ghost, the holy specter haunts and beckons: it calls for justice and equality, expecting humans and creatures to help transform the world for God’s Realm.

Caputo declares that all are subject to the haunting specter. But before we step into the realm or the whisper of the unknown, it would be best to write some about weak or radical theology. This line of thought started with the Death of God theologians, most notably Thomas J.J. Altizer, who claimed God’s death in the 1960’s. Altizer and his ilk exclaimed that the supernatural God found in the holy scriptures no longer existed, if this God ever existed. They insisted that divinity is not above the Earth floating around in the heavens, but is immanent and became immanent because of Jesus. As well, for them, since on Christ’s cross God died, no split exists between the secular and the divine; rather, divinity permeates the universe. Weak theology picks up where Death of God theology left and adds to the conversation of immanence  with Jacques Derrida. For weak theology, God does not exist and instead of taking the Tillichian route of God as existence, takes the less worn road and declares, “God insists. God is neither presence nor absence, but insistence. God does not subsist; God insists.” [1] 

If Caputo is correct, and I believe he is, that the holy specter is haunting all, what might this look like? First off, the negative cultural residue must be wiped away from “haunting.” In Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, she writes, “Being haunted draws us affectively, something against our will and always a bit magically, into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition.”[2] Haunting opens new faculties of knowledge, away from cerebral only understandings of life. Many Pentecostal and Charismatic worship services are haunted in this way. They become spaces in which one’s theological knowledge becomes obsolete because new experiences of the wholly ghastly are overwhelming. For instance, every Sunday morning in my youth, my great-grandmother would speak in tongues during worship. The holy ghost landed on this woman, who was born and raised in a country trailer park. She had no formal education above middle school and this hallowed haunter swept into her during the service without any qualms. She was haunted, and I can still see its shadow.

Second, the holy ghost can be found haunting the pages of our sacred script declaring an egalitarian religious participation. Paul, influenced by the specter, included the well-known ancient metaphor of the body in 1st Corinthians 12:12-31. In this passage, Paul wrote that ghastly gifts are all necessary and equal. If one is an ear they should do their best to listen well and if one is a foot they should respect their position and walk or run the best they are able. Then, adding a twist to this seemingly hierarchical metaphor, Paul declares, “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (12:24-25). As a result, the specter’s gifts are for the common good, whether it is wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, or interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8-10). And these gifts, which we receive from the holy ghost are an extension of God’s grace. Thus, what we receive is for the building up of our communities and not for personal gain.

Thirdly, since the holy ghost rests beyond our idea of presence or absence, no one or group is able to have a definitive word on this mysterious character. Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, German theologian, understanding this conundrum writes, “It seems easier to talk about God or about Jesus as the Christ than to try to describe in doctrinal form a reality that encompasses us when we encounter it and evaporates as soon as we try to pin it down.”[3] Like the negative theologians of the past, we are at a loss for words when it comes to this holy specter. We stand on equal footing, knowing that at any time the haunter of hopes can cast its shadow anywhere or at anytime transforming the world all together.

Notably, the Early Pentecostal Revivalist and Reverend William Seymour wrote of the strange workings of the hauntingly specter. In his magazine, Apostolic Faith, he wrote a section in 1908, titled “Questions Answered.” One of the questions asked was, “Is it necessary for a person to leave their home duties in order to wait at some place for the Holy Ghost?” He responded profoundly, “No; you can wait right in the kitchen or in the parlor or in the barn. Some have received the baptism of the Spirit in their barns, some in the kitchen, some at family worship, some on their porch, some about their business.”[4] The holy ghost can spook anyone at anytime, no where is safe.  For the holy ghost is not a kindly Casper the Friendly Ghost, who got along with everyone without any problems. No, this holy specter haunts the world for the common good, often disrupting the lives of the comfortable and well-off.

For a short time my grandparents lived in North Carolina. They lived on a farm and were faithful members of the Catholic Church. My grandmother will frequently share with me a story about her interaction with the Klu Klux Klan when she lived there. My father was only a few months old, around 1962, and one night she heard some chaos pursuing outside at the farm across the hill. She looked out the kitchen window and sees the KKK dressed in their white robes burning crosses at her African American neighbor’s farm. She calls the police. The police do not show up and the African American family move days later. That story haunts my grandmother because she knows that this was a violent act. Agreeing with our ghostly theorist Avery Gordon, “haunting, unlike trauma by contrast, is distinctive for producing a something-to-be-done.”[5] For my grandmother, she retells this story to haunt her hearers to not be like them.

The haunting that the KKK performs cannot compare to the haunting of the holy haunter. While the KKK burns crosses, kills black and brown persons, and seemingly dress like ghosts. The holy specter calls for justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality, and love.[6] The specter of specters is heard, but not seen. It spooks. When the holy specter enters a KKK meeting, members repent of their violent ghosting, they burn their sheets, and humble themselves to listen and ask for forgiveness from black and brown families and communities they have harmed.

In the early American Pentecostal Movement, racism was at the forefront. Two preachers founded American Pentecostalism. First, the founder of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, KS and one of the first preachers to teach on speaking in tongues, a white man named Charles Parham. He was the pastor of the service in January 1901, where speaking in tongues first occurred. A few years later, a young black man, a son of two slaves, and blind in one eye came to hear Parham speak about this phenomenon, his name was William J. Seymour. Because of the racist laws, Seymour was not able to sit in the same room to hear Parham speak, but sat outside the door and listened. After spending a few days there, Seymour took up the cause of Pentecostalism and started to preach about it. He eventually led the Azusa Street Revival from 1906-1909.

Seymour as a Pentecostal had the holy spirit as the most important Person of his theology. He believed that the geist of eternity did not commend social or racial divisions. Gastón Espinosa, a Pentecostal Latino theologian wrote that the Azusa Revival “grew precisely because it was a transgressive social space wherein racial-ethnic minorities, women, the working class, and others could cross some of the deeply inscribed unbiblical racial-ethnic, class, gender, and national borders and boundaries of the day.”[7] This revival transcended time and place. Being is spooked by time.[8] When spaces are smoked with holy fire, time vanishes.

Racism, sexism, and classism are so prevalent in the US then and now. The haunter causes discomfort in the powers-that-be. When Parham visited the Azusa Revival, he condemned it in an editorial piece writing, “frequently a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big buck nigger and held tightly as she shook in freak imitation of Pentecost.”[9] Parham’s vision of Pentecostalism was segregated; blacks and whites should attend different services. The Azusa Street Revival spooked him and after this Seymour never publicly wrote of Parham again.

Ghosts, and specifically the holy specter, haunt us not that we become fearful of it, but so it may waver our present state of comfort. For Parham, the state of his racism, his sympathy for the KKK, and his pro-Jim Crow attitude shook when he encountered the revival. When the holy ghost enters churches today, it often shakes them of their apathy of the poor, their neglect of the systems of injustice including racism, sexism, transphobia, the prison-industrial complex, and the disregard of single parents sitting in the pews. The holy specter does not side with the powerful, but haunts them until they share with those without. The haunter of hearts does not accept the apathy of the middle class manager, yet spooks them until they have relationships with their neighbors. The holy ghost haunts that we may love better, share fuller, and listen more deeply to the needs of others.

The Christian tradition does not play enough with pneumatology. For example, Augustine wrote that the Holy Spirit is the love between God the Father and God the Son. In this case, God’s Spirit has little to no human contact. Or process theologian, Blair Reynolds, who wrote, “Life in the Spirit means more than merely acting in harmony with or in obedience to the will of God. Because God is not beyond or exclusive of the world but is its receptacle, we are in direct contact with God, hence capable of entering into a mutual relationship with God.”[11] Therefore, it is impossible to leave God’s presence, which may seem logical for panentheists, but without the haunting that I’ve described why would there be a need to be transformed? What I attempted to do in this post is combine popular culture, God-talk, and social justice to sort out a spooktacular pneumatology.

The holy specter cannot be controlled. It can visit us at any moment and it will. It spooks. Or in the words of Caputo, “Specters are highly egalitarian; they disturb everyone.”[12]  It haunts us, calling us to live as if we’re already in God’s Realm.

ghost-clip-art-aieo4bxi4


[1] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 31-33

[2] Avery F. Gordon and Janice Radway, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, 2nd edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008). p. 8

[3] Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis (New York : Geneva: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1996). p. 5

[4] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 194

[5] Avery F. Gordon, “Who”s there?’: some answers to questions about Ghostly Matters., website, October 26, 2007, http://www.averygordon.net/writing-haunting/whos-there/.

[6] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 31

[7] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 101

[8] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 34

[9] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 99

[11] Blair Reynolds, Toward a Process Pneumatology (Selinsgrove Pa. : London ; Cranbury, NJ: Susquehanna Univ Pr, 1990). pg. 158

[12] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 19


Bibliography

Caputo, John D., Katharine Sarah Moody, Tad DeLay, Ross Pennock, Micah Purnell, John Hardt, Joshua Harris, et al. It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call. Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015.

Espinosa, Gastón. William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History. Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014.

Gordon, Avery F., and Janice Radway. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. 2nd edition. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Jensen, David H., ed. The Lord and Giver of Life: Perspectives on Constructive Pneumatology. Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Moltmann, Jurgen. The Spirit of Life. 3rd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Muller-Fahrenholz, Geiko. God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis. New York : Geneva: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1996.

Reynolds, Blair. Toward a Process Pneumatology. Selinsgrove Pa. : London ; Cranbury, NJ: Susquehanna Univ Pr, 1990.

 

Youth Group Worship Service Concerning Social Justice

I had a wonderful time leading a Vesper-like service for a youth group from Yorktown, NY. The theme of the service was faith and social justice. Tonight they also volunteered with food prep and will help out tomorrow at the soup kitchen. I thought I’d share the bulletin since I enjoyed creating it so much! 

Christ of the Breadlines.jpg

 

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.

– Thomas Merton


Tonight’s service will grapple with God’s calling for justice
throughout Scripture and our response.


Creation as a whole is very good

Genesis 1:29-31 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that was made, and indeed, it was very good.

Reflection: What goodness have you seen this last week? Has there been a moment when everything in world seemed to be working together?

“King of My Heart” by John Mark and Sarah McMillan

Let the King of my heart
be the mountain where I run
The Fountain I drink from
You are my Song

Let the King of my heart
be the shadow where I hide
the ransom for my life
You are my Song

Refrain:
You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh

Let the King of my heart
be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
You are my Song

Let the King of my heart
be the fire inside my veins
the echo of my days
You are my Song

Refrain

When the night is holding onto me
God is holding on.

When the night is holding onto me
God is holding on


Yet the world is not as it should be

Habakkuk 1:2-4
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong doing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore, judgment comes forth perverted.

Reflection: God has called the world and us good. Where have you seen us screw it up this week?

Prayer: Let us write down on post-it notes those places and situations where the world could be better. Once you’ve written it down, please place it on the prayer wall.

“Lord, listen to Your Children Praying”

Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Lord, Send Your Spirit in this Place
Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Send us love, send us power, send us grace


Jesus’ call for justice

Luke 6:27-36 Jesus said, “But I say to you that listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Holy One; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, just as God is compassionate.”

Reflection: Have you seen or heard about someone who follows Christ and performs such acts?

“For Everyone Born”
Shirley Murray (vs. 1,2,4) and Chris Shelton (v. 3)

For everyone born.jpg


James on how we judge the poor

James 2:1-7 My sisters and brothers, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen up: Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that God has promised? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

Reflection: Are you surprised that these verses are in our Scriptures? Ponder on those moments when you’ve judged another person based on how they dressed, or what they drove, or how they spoke.


All of creation yearns for justice

Romans 8:18-25 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for creation was subjected to uselessness, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that all of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Prayer: Use the markers to color in the world based on what you think the world needs.

Love: Purple
Peace: Blue
Justice: Green
Compassion: Yellow
Kindness: Red
Healthy Relationships: Orange

Globe.jpg


We pursue justice together, not alone

“We have all known the long loneliness
and we have learned that the only solution is love
and that love comes with community.”
– Dorothy Day

“Guide My Feet”

Guide my feet while I run this race
Guide my feet while I run this race
Guide my feet while I run this race
For I don’t want to run alone

Hold my hand…

Search my heart…

The Prophet Isaiah of America Saith

Isaiah 2:2-4

In the days to come
God’s justice will extend beyond the heavens
encircling galaxies, borders, and flags
All peoples and creatures shall recognize such love
They will say, “Have you heard? The Not-Yet has become the Now-Is!
People who once lived on the streets, now have roofs over their heads.
Our bellies are full of food and joy. Prisons are empty!
Oil is no longer necessary to survive!”
God has given us all these beautiful resources
and imparted in us how to use them.
World peace agreements will be immediately signed
with God overseeing that they are enacted
Warheads, drones, tanks, and guns shall
be melted into communion tables,
tennis rackets, and new bridges.
The people of nations will learn gardening skills,
they’ll design new musical instruments,
and neighbor will care outrageously for neighbor.

Theology, the future, and pop culture

The abstract for my paper, “The Eschatological Lens of Saga,” has been accepted at the Mid-Atlantic Pop and American Culture Conference in November. I’ve been so excited for it that I even started to re-read one of my sources for the paper, Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope.

One quote struck me tonight, it reads,

“Theological concepts do not give a fixed for to reality, but they are expanded by hope and anticipate future being. They do not limp after reality and gaze on it with the night eyes of Minerva’s owl, but they illuminate reality by displaying its future. Their knowledge is grounded not in the will to dominate, but in love to the future of things” (36).

giphy.gif

According to Moltmann, it’s not necessarily the historical relevance of how a theological concept came about, but what the concept is pointing towards. For example, to assume that everyone deserves hell because of original sin presents a certain future, which one can act out in the present by being selfish or only enjoying the company of fellow-heaven goers. Rather than actually caring for those around you who are in need. Our theology shows us what we want the future to be like through our present actions. For a similar reason, I love reading Saga. Unlike other futuristic sci-fi films, such as Her and Lucy, which only white people are represented, Saga writer Brian Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples construct a future-universe much like the present: full of diverse populations, creatures, and hopes. A world I love being in living in New York.

I guess my conclusion is: theological concepts and visioning another world are not so different after all.

A People’s History of Prayer: Elizabeth Haile

Elizabeth Haile1

“O God the Creator,” a hymn by Elizabeth Haile, Shinnecock, and Cecil Corbett, Nez Perce/Choctaw

O God the Creator, the Three in One
The Creator of Earth and moon and sun
You have loved and protected us since time first begun
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love, in God’s love.
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love.

For the Earth is our Mother, where all things grow
And her valleys are green where the waters flow
Gentle deer and the eagle and the mighty buffalo
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love, in God’s love
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love

We are one in the Spirit, in the great mystery
Walk together in beauty as we dwell in harmony
Bringing all of God’s children into one community.
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love, in God’s love
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love.

Send a sense of Your presence as we seek leadership
Pray that God will join us in our vision quest
Welcome God to come into our hearts as our guest
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love, in God’s love
And we’re brothers and sisters in God’s love.

“O God the Creator” was co-written by Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile, a Shinnecock Elder, in 1977. The song describes the Earth as our Mother, the Spirit as bringing all God’s children into one community, and asks God to join our vision quest. It was written to be sung to the melody of “They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love,” which was composed by a Catholic priest, Peter R. Scholtes. He wrote it as an ecumenical civil rights song in 1968. When Haileasked to use the melody, Scholtes denied her. It wasn’t until 1989 when Joy Patterson wrote the tune KASTAAK to accompany these epic words. This hymn can be found in the New Century Hymnal and the Presbyterian Hymnal: hymns, songs, and spiritual songs (sadly it did not transfer to the newest Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God).

You can learn more about Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile here.

A People’s History of Prayer: Gwendolyn Brooks

A People'sHistory of Prayer
The Preacher Ruminates Behind the Sermon

I think it must be lonely to be God. 
Nobody loves a master. No. Despite 
The bright hosannas, bright dear-Lords, and bright 
Determined reverence of Sunday eyes. 

Picture Jehovah striding through the hall 
Of His importance, creatures running out 
From servant-corners to acclaim, to shout 
Appreciation of His merit’s glare. 

But who walks with Him?—dares to take His arm, 
To clap Him on the shoulder, tweak His ear, 
Buy Him a Coca-Cola or a beer, 
Pooh-pooh His politics, call Him a fool? 

Perhaps—who knows?—He tires of looking down. 
Those eyes are never lifted. Never straight. 
Perhaps sometimes He tires of being great 
In solitude. Without a hand to hold.

A People’s History of Prayer: An Introduction

A People'sHistoryof Prayer

 

Ever since I first heard of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, I have been fascinated with the series. Most recently I read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Her thoughtful prose and love for the subject has filled me with such intrigue and sorrow for all the ways we have and continue to displace and oppress Native Americans. I highly recommend it to raise one’s social consciousness.

This semester our chapel staff at Union Theological Seminary suggested the theme of prayer. Immediately, A People’s History of Prayer came to mind. I decided to take it on, in which I will, as Walter Benjamin famously wrote, “brush history against the grain” and mine for forgotten/neglected prayers, poems, and/or pleas of the people.

I hope for this project to be weekly, sometimes with commentary and other times just their prayers.

 

 

 

“No one chooses refugee camps or strip searches”

An accidental forte I’ve developed over the years is not staying in one place for too long. In the last six years I’ve moved over ten times and this doesn’t count the in-between months of staying on friends’ couches. When I visited my parents’ house at the beginning of the summer my dad counted how many times my brother and me have moved. It was a feat. My parents had moved twice since they married in 1983. Although, we went on many road trips across the US to see outstanding landmarks, we were always tourists.

Last year Penguin book released a series titled “Philosophy In Transit.”The concept of the series is to be a good commuter book, as well emphasize movement(s) in philosophy. The first book in the series, Truth, was written by postmodern philosopher and theologian John Caputo. He reveals that the history of the philosophical tradition was very localized yet spoken universally. For example, Immanuel Kant, lived in Königsberg, Prussia his entire life. The problem isn’t that he never moved. The problem is that he taught at least one Geography course a year at the university where he described that those who lived in African countries could not develop intellectually as Europeans because of the warm environment. Disgusting!

I am not trying to suggest that those who live in the same area for their entire lives that somehow are intolerant. With the presence and shared platforms of the internet, social media, and global news, socially and politically aware people show up from everywhere. What I am suggesting though is that one may be limited in experiences with otherness, especially in homogenous areas, which can be a struggle.

No one chooses to be a refugee

The news for these last few weeks has focused on the millions of refugees who have no choice in the matter of leaving their homes. They leave out of desperation, never out of privilege. They are forced out because of violence, war, and drought.

Poet Warsan Shire sums up the conditions of refugees as,

You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. No one chooses refugee camps or strip searches where your body is left aching or prison, because prison is safer than a city of fire and one prison guard in the night is better than a truckload of men who look like your father.

This is so heartbreaking. Refugees exist because their homelands are unsafe, inhabitable. They seek safety and refuge. Their journeys are full of tears, stress, and the smallest hint of hope for another world. A world where violence no longer exists; where womyn are treated with dignity and respect; where they can practice their faith freely; where children can grow up without fearing their neighbors and government. I pray for this world as well and try to enact it too.

Migration and refugee status is as old as Abram. Genesis 12:10 explains the beginning of his family’s refugee journey: “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an (refugee), for the famine was severe in the land.” God promised Abram another world, a land full of life, but first he had to become a refugee. I pray for the safety of refugees around the world. I pray for the countries accepting refugees that they may be hospitable and have plentiful resources for all who enter. May perspectives be transformed. May love abound. May we care for another without judgment.

Thomas Merton on Love

Pentecostalism and Weak Pneumatology

I presented this paper at the Fordham Theological Graduate Conference on May 2, 2015. It was fun to write and think through my family’s tradition. Enjoy!

John Caputo called one Sunday afternoon and said that he wanted to meet me that night at an Assemblies of God church for a revival. I agreed and arrived at the church extra early so I could save a seat for him. Of course, he arrived as the service started and sat in the pew behind me. The organ wailed, some prayers prayed, and tongues commenced. At this point, Caputo leans forward and in a hushed voice says, “It spooks.” Intrigued by this curious phrase, I wait for some explanation, but instead he sits back. A little later in the service, there’s time for testimonies. A mother stood from her pew and shared her thankfulness for the congregation. They had provided her family with meals and kind words, after her daughter died tragically. Caputo hands me a ripped out bible page with the words, “It spooks.” As the sermon started, Caputo got up and left. After the service, he met me in the graveled parking lot outside. He didn’t say a word and so we stood there, people watching. We observed hugs exchanged, hands held, and dinner plans made. I turn around and he’s gone. But on my dirty car window, he had etched “It spooks.” I leave slightly confused and go back to my apartment to think on these things. (for those wondering, this is a fictional story.)

The following presentation is inspired by John Caputo’s recent essay, It Spooks, which uses the language of haunting and spooking to speak of God’s Spirit. I take up the language of spooking throughout this paper because it is a fine conduit between Pentecostalism and weak theology.

Pentecostalism and weak theology represent different poles on the spectrum of theology and practice. On the one pole, Pentecostalism in the US exemplifies the very essence of conservatism, anti-intellectualism, and exclusivism. Culturally characterized as snake-handlers and tongues speakers, they emphasize God’s Spirit as healer, gift-giver, and sustainer of the universe. Far on the other pole, waves weak theology. This was popularized in John Caputo’s book, The Weakness of God, where he writes, “I do not take the name of God to pick out an entity, … but an event, an advent, a future and a promise, a call and a claim, a hope and an aspiration.” (123-124). Weak theology, an arm of postmodern theology, explains that the name of God is found in the event, but is not the event itself. It rejects, or at least, holds loosely, any kind of religious doctrine, recognizing that certainty got us into this mess, and it certainly can’t help what we’re in today. Thus, any attempt to put into discussion Pentecostalism and weak theology, one must carefully not envelope either side into the other. In this paper, I want to demonstrate that Pentecostalism has the tools for revolution, i.e. anti-hierarchical and direct democracy. And here the spirit spooks and the function of this spooking is to suspend binaries of race, class, sex, and gender. But to help sharpen these revolutionary tools, I propose that weak theology encourages novelty in the Pentecostalism Project.

Pentecostalism, from its genesis, found non-cerebral ways to experience the holy specter. Avery Gordon theorizes haunting in her book Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. She writes, “Being haunted draws us affectively, something against our will and always a bit magically, into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition.”[1] In other words, haunting opens new faculties of knowledge, away from the cerebral-only understandings of life. Many Pentecostal and Charismatic worship services are haunted in this way. They are spaces in which one’s theological knowledge is deferred because of the overwhelming experiences of the wholly ghastly. For instance, every Sunday morning of my youth, my great-grandmother would speak in tongues during worship. The holy ghost landed on this woman, who was born and raised in a country trailer park. She had no formal education beyond middle school and this hallowed haunter swept into her during the service without any qualms. She was haunted.

To gain some context, let’s start at the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement. Two ministers helped establish American Pentecostalism. First was the founder of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, KS and was one of the first preachers to teach about speaking-in-tongues. He was a Southern white man named Charles Parham. He was pastor of the service in January 1901, where speaking in tongues was first inaugurated. A few years later, a young black man, the son of two slaves and blind in one eye, came to hear Parham speak about this phenomenon. He was William J. Seymour. Yet because of the Jim Crow reality, Seymour was not able to sit in the same room as Parham, so he sat outside the door and listened. After spending a few days there, Seymour took up the cause of Pentecostalism and started to preach about it. And he would eventually lead the Azusa Street Revival from 1906-1909.

From the very beginning, Seymour believed that the geist of eternity did not commend social or racial divisions. Gastón Espinosa, a Pentecostal Latino theologian wrote that the Azusa Revival “grew precisely because it was a transgressive social space wherein racial-ethnic minorities, women, the working class, and others could cross some of the deeply inscribed unbiblical racial-ethnic, class, gender, and national borders and boundaries of the day.”[2] This revival transcended time and place, growing in number and color.

In those three years, Charles Parham visited the Azusa Street Revival a few times. The last time he attended, he wrote an editorial piece condemning the Revival for its African-American spirituality wrapped up in Pentecostalism. He wrote, “Frequently a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big buck [blank] and held tightly as she shook in freak imitation of Pentecost.”[3] Parham’s original vision of Pentecostalism was segregated. Blacks, browns, and whites should not attend the same services. The Azusa Street Revival spooked him and after the editorial, Seymour never publicly wrote of or acknowledged Parham again.

Transitioning to the biblical text, this holy ghost can be found haunting the pages of Christianity’s sacred script declaring an egalitarian religious participation. Paul included a well-known ancient metaphor of the body in 1st Corinthians 12:12-31, which is highly functional: if one is an ear they should do their best to listen well and if one is a foot they should respect their position and walk or run the best they are able. Yet, Paul equalizing this seemingly hierarchical metaphor declares, “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (12:24-25). As a result, the holy ghost’s gifts are for the common good, whether it is wisdom, knowledge, healing, miraculous powers, speaking in tongues, or the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8-10). And these gifts, which are received from the holy ghost are an extension of God’s grace. Thus, what one receives from the holy haunter is for the building up of faith communities and not for personal gain.

This political cartoon takes the interpretative lens of the passage from 1st Corinthians as hierarchical. William Seymour is pictured as the foot inside the church with seemingly all white men, which was certainly not the case historically. Standing outside is Charles Parham with an oversized head and a book of the apostolic faith, which apparently Seymour was not following. This political cartoon is trying to, as Mason in the film Snowpiercer says to those lower class persons in the caboose of the train, “When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”

Moving forward, the holy specter disrupts oppression through haunting. Once again, Avery Gordon lays out a beautifully theological statement:

The ghost is not other or alterity as such, ever. It is pregnant with unfulfilled possibility, with the something to be done that the wavering present is demanding. This something to be done is not a return to the past but a reckoning with its repression in the present, a reckoning with what which we have lost, but never had.[4]

Ghosts, and specifically the holy specter, haunts not so that one becomes fearful of it, but so that it can waver one’s present state of comfort. For Parham, the state of his racism, his sympathy for the KKK, and his pro-Jim Crow attitude shook when he encountered the revival. Potentially, when the ghoulish spirit enters faith communities today, it could shake them of their apathy for the poor, their neglect of the systems of injustice including racism, sexism, transphobia, and so many more I could name. Hence the holy specter does not side with the powerful, but haunts them until they share with those without.

Yet, where might the haunting happen? William Seymour provides for us a response. He wrote an article in 1908, titled “Questions Answered” featured in the magazine Apostolic Faith. One of the questions asked was, “Is it necessary for a person to leave their home duties in order to wait at some place for the Holy Ghost?” He responded, “No; you can wait right in the kitchen or in the parlor or in the barn. Some have received the baptism of the Spirit in their barns, some in the kitchen, some at family worship, some on their porch, some about their business.”[5] The holy ghost can spook anyone at anytime, no where is safe. For the holy ghost is not a kindly Casper the Friendly Ghost, who got along with everyone without any problems. No, this holy specter haunts the world for the common good disrupting the lives of the comfortable and well-off. The holy specter haunts: that one can love better, share fuller, and listen more deeply to the needs of others.

Pentecostalism was one of the first Christian denominations, especially the Azusa Street Revival, to demonstrate equality among all persons regardless of race, class, or gender. Yet, has forgotten its tradition and become crystallized in conservative ideology and rhetoric. Weak theology, seen throughout this paper as constructing new possibilities in pneumatological discourse, haunts one towards justice. Once again, Avery Gordon, our spookologist, writes, “haunting, unlike trauma by contrast, is distinctive for producing a something-to-be-done.”[6] As we heard Caputo in the opening story creepily say and spell out, “It spooks.” Pentecostalism has rendered these words, in some way, for more than a hundred years, but sometimes need to be reminded again and again.

[1] Avery F. Gordon and Janice Radway, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, 2nd edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008), 8.

[2] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014), 101.

[3] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014), 99.

[4] Avery F. Gordon and Janice Radway, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, 2nd edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008), 183.

[5] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014), 194.

[6] Avery F. Gordon, “Who”s there?’: some answers to questions about Ghostly Matters., website, October 26, 2007, http://www.averygordon.net/writing-haunting/whos-there/.