Once upon a time…Jesus came to the Americas
“They went across the Atlantic Ocean to the region of the Americas. When Jesus got out of the boat, an army of unconscious people with a violent impure collective spirit came from the socially unconscious places of America to meet him. These folks lived in urban and suburban and rural tombs, and no one could bind this unchecked inhumane power anymore, not even with laws, State and Federal. For they had often been chained hand and foot with legislative changes and local state laws, but they tore the chains apart and broke the irons on their feet.
No one was strong enough to subdue them. Night and day among the tombs and throughout the United States they would cry out and cut themselves down with genocidal animus oftentimes with the power of the State.
When they saw Jesus from a distance, they ran and fell on their knees in front of him. They shouted at the top of their voices, “What do you want with us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture us!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of these people, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Amerikkka,” he replied, “for we are many.”
My Name Is (Part 2)
“Then Jesus asked, “What is your name?” “My name is Amerikkka” it replied, “for we are many.” And they begged Jesus again and again not to decolonize the people and liberate the land by sending them out of the United States. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the coast. The Amerikkkan demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them and hide in the souls of those given in to perversity, uncleanness and violence.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, millions upon millions, rushed from the West Coast to the East Coast tumbled down into the Atlantic Ocean and were drowned.” (where once upon a time thousands upon thousands of black bodies were thrown off of slave ships by Amerikkka into watery graves, the irony!)
My Name is (Conclusion)
“Those tending the pigs ran off and reported the forceful systemic exorcism of Amerikkka, and people from all over the United States went out to the East Coast to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the millions of human beings who had been possessed by Amerikkka and was now AMERICA, sitting there, dressed and in their collective, healthy, just, liberated, freedom-blessed right mind; and the rest of the country was afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the millions formerly possessed by Amerikkka—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people, captured by their own internalized oppression could not imagine America not possessed by Amerikkka began to plead with Jesus to leave the United States cause the freedom of the kingdom of God was too liberating and that it rearranges power and uncovers privilege.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the people who had been Amerikkka (now turned into America) begged to go with Jesus.
Jesus did not let them, but said, “Go…
Go back to the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
To the mighty mountains of New York.
To the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
To the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
To the curvaceous slopes of California.
The Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Go to every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
To the rolling piedmont of North Carolina
To every mountainside!
Go back to your homes to your own people and tell them how the Lord drove out that ancient murderous power named Amerikkka and how they too have been anointed with kingdom power to do the same.
So, many Americans (formerly Amerikkkans) went away and began to testify throughout all of the United States how much Jesus had done for them. And how Jesus abolished and drove out an ancient power that devalued black and brown life in the United States. And all the people were amazed.”
When one contemplatively reads the gospel stories about Jesus we discover a Jesus that transgresses…
Transgress: to violate a law, command, moral code, etc.; offend; sin; to literally ‘step across’.
Jesus is often found saying in the gospels “you’ve heard it said…but now I say to you.” Transgressive.
Jesus said: “something greater than the temple is here.” Transgressive.
Jesus touched the untouchable. Ate with the unclean. Drank with the scourge of his community. Transgressive.
What are some other ways to describe this Jesus?
Scandal. Horror. Calamity. Catastrophic.
We are talking about the God-enfleshed that transgresses the false worlds and systems that seek to exclude, oppress, annihilate difference. Jesus transgresses the habit of human systems that pour out death on human communities.
How do we follow a transgressive Jesus in a community filled with violence, disinterested narrow political and economic interests, status-quo Christianity (or as Frederick Douglass called ‘slave-holding religion’)?
What does it look like to follow a Jesus that scandalizes human systems?
A Jesus that evokes horror in the souls of the powerful?
Provokes calamitous feelings in the hearts of the presumptuous pious?
A catastrophic Jesus that was possessed by the powerful Holy Spirit: bringer and energizer of a disturbing new creation?
Our times need a Jesus that transgresses cultural sentimentality and the status quo.
Jesus’ deep solidarity with the margins and those that suffer in society was a profound transgressive act that got him killed.
Our times are crying for followers of Jesus willing to be transgressors like him…
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” Jesus, Gospel according to John 14:12
I was invited by my friends and fellow co-conspirators (Transform) of goodness Steve Knight and Holly Roach to a gathering called the CANA Initiative. The CANA Initiative is being framed as a ‘network of networks’ or a ‘meta-network’. A meta-network seeking to be a hub for collective action and collaboration. Stephanie Spellers, one of the initators holding the space, presented on the last day a promising initiating collaborative description or edited conversation starter for future collective action:
What is CANA?
A collective of Christian leaders, organizations and networks across the United States who collaborate to embody and act on a courageous, liberating and compassionate faith.
There were many individuals and networks present for this gathering. Many important conversations and issues raised by folks like Alexia Salvatierra, Lisa Sharon Harper, Peter Matthews and Brian McLaren around this question:
Who is not here for this initial gathering and conversation?
While there were many great people and networks present and issues raised (I hope to talk about that in a subsequent post) this became one of the dominant themes of the gathering for me. And a big takeaway that must be resolved if we are to truly represent a new Christian wineskin in the United States. In asking that question we were confronted by a deep and long history of white supremacy that has been in existence for several centuries. A white supremacy that has morphed in each generation (think: transatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, etc.). It is a history that must be worked through, processed, repented of, becoming more self-aware of and not simply dismissed as playing identity politics (a sign of privilege) or by saying I have a few non-white friends. You will know if Mista Charlie is present by who is in the room, who you are speaking on behalf of, and by what you are saying. Don’t be offended by that last statement. It is true.
There was tension in the room when it became apparent that this issue might get skipped again and not addressed in a meaningful way by all the stakeholders present Yet, we broached the issue. I sensed it was uncomfortable for many. You could feel it in the room. While there was a tension there was a very pronounced presence of the Holy Spirit in the room (When Lisa Sharon Harper testified about her work on immigration reform and the impact this issue is having on many of our immigrant sisters and brothers). We almost quenched the Spirit by moving too quickly from Lisa’s testimony. We persisted. I suspect that there is a good reason to be hopeful due to the enormous goodwill and sincerity that was present. However, the next stage will be crucial for this embryonic meta-network. We must attend and intend to how we carry this space from here on out. We can’t jump the track of American history ignoring the necessary deep ongoing work of racial repentance.
We also encountered our own exceptionalism by initially attempting to speak on behalf of the planet by saying we were wanting to be a global meta-network. A globe that was not present at the gathering. By the grace of God and the past spiritual-cultural work of many present we were quickly unblinded by our own global privilege by naming and lovingly owning our own location as the locus of our work: the United States of America.
We were reminded by our brother, Gareth Higgins, that many of us tend to hold the United States at a critical arms length (for often good and honorable reasons) rather than learn and practice a deep love for, be a redemptive presence within and be prophetic voice and witness to the United States. Basically, we must love our country as God loves it yet be prophetic to it as God is wanting more from it than war, inequality and our participating in and complicity with the destruction of the planet.
These are my initial thoughts of the CANA Initiative itself nowhere near an exhaustive commentary. I do want to give a shout out to my new friends Christy and Bryan Berghoef for their hospitality for letting a few of us stay with them in their home for the duration of the gathering. Beautiful folks doing beautiful kingdom of God work in Washington DC. Also, special thanks to the Washington National Cathedral for letting us convene in their space.
Thankful for the leadership of Stephanie Spellers, Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt in giving the rallying call for this much needed meta-network.
There were so many friends present and new friends made. Many great networks present bringing their full attention into the space. Forgive me for not mentioning you and the good work you are doing.
I asked this question during the gathering: what do I tell my friends back home when they ask “who showed up at the table?”
This will be my response: I believe the Spirit showed up in the midst of a well intentioned group of sincere and loving network of people answering a call to be present in the United States as a courageous, liberating, prophetic, justice-seeking and compassionate Christian social witness.
The next step will be crucial…
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it has been brought to my attention that the issue of diversity (racial/gender) and emergence christianity has bubbled back up to the surface in some conversations and places. i am deeply invested in this conversation on a more local level for the past couple of years. i have not really engaged emergence christianity in a larger arena for a while. largely because i have been engaged and entrenched in my local context doing gospel work. but a recent conversation with a dear friend has sparked my interest in making public my thoughts on emergence christianity and diversity. in particular, racial diversity.
this weekend i hope to post a series of reflections on emergence christianity and racial diversity. my thoughts on this have changed over the past ten years that i have consciously participated in emergence christianity.
let me be clear: i am no token negro when it comes to emergence christianity. i believe i can speak with authenticity as an emergent christian that just so happens to be black. i am thoroughly invested in this movement. and i am embarrassed to say that i have neglected my duties to support friends that have been publicly challenged in ways that could very well embolden white supremacy and racial narratives and embodiedments that stand in the way of diversity.
to all parties involved in differents streams of this conversation, and you know who you are, i apologize. i did not have your back when you needed me. but now i am here.
so here is the ground i hope to cover this weekend:
1. emergence christianity and the lack of diversity (why?)
2. the legacy of white supremacy in north american christianity
3. why protests/boycotts keep white supremacy emboldened
4. resisting white supremacy will require something more challenging than boycotts: spiritual disciplines. the embodied unconscious habits of white supremacy, i am learning, are best unseated through spiritual disciplines (like spiritual friendships). We will talk more about that.
5. my suggested list of spiritual disciplines of resisting white supremacy in north american christianity.