Family Resemblances Part 3

In Part 2 we talked about the similarity of belief and practice between Emergent theology and prophetic Black Christianity in the affirmation that the church is an alternative civitas or eschatological community that lives in a tension between the present age and the age to come. A community that embodies the future in the present. A foretaste, a sign, and vehicle of Christ’s coming kingdom. In this post I want to talk about another similarity between these family members that deeply resonates with me: subversive narration. I don’t know if someone has used this word before me. It kind of popped up in my head as I was reflecting on an old Negro Spiritual, Go Down Moses. Here are a few stanzas from the old spiritual:

When Israel was in Egypt’s Land,Let my people go,
Opressed so hard they could not stand,Let my people go.
Chorus: Go down, Moses,Way down in Egypt’s Land.Tell ol’ Pharoah,Let my people go.
Thus saith the Lord, bold Moses said,Let my people go,If not, I’ll smite your first-born dead,Let my people go.
Chorus: Go down, Moses,Way down in Egypt’s Land.Tell ol’ Pharoah,Let my people go.
No more shall they in bondage toil,Let my people go,Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil,Let my people go.
Chorus: Go down, Moses,Way down in Egypt’s Land.Tell ol’ Pharoah,Let my people go.
This particular spiritual is a popular hymn in black churches going back several generations in black Christianity. What it highlights is how black churches grabbed hold of the powerful narrative of Scripture that talked of a God that comes down to the nitty gritty of life. In the midst of social and economic oppression and delivers God’s people from the Pharoah.
This particular narrative still exercises a big influence in black church experience. Naturally, it makes sense. Black folks were introduced to American Christianity during slavery. It makes sense that the Exodus narrative would seize their souls. The Exodus narrative gave black Christians critical tools to ‘deconstruct’ the peculiar institution in the South. The appropriation of the Exodus narrative in black Christianity was a subversive appropriation whereby black folks could possess hope that God would redeem them in their slavery. The Exodus narrative was embodied by black Churches creating social space where they could be human beings…the imago dei. Not only did the Exodus narrative provide this kind of reality for black folks so did the cross and resurrection of Christ. Seen as the climax and lense through which all of history and existence is to be interpreted the Gospel’s Jesus deeply resonated with black Christians. If anybody understood suffering black Christians did. That’s why the stories in the gospels were appropriated in profound and subversive ways by black Christians. This is mostly seen through the negro spirituals and slave narratives. Here is a link to a website that has a lot of old negro spirituals that can be quite uplifting for the soul.
So what has this to do with Emergent? Where is the family resemblance between the subversive narration of black Christianity and the Emergent movement?
I think Emergent examples this kind of subversive narration the way it ‘deconstructs’ the ruins of Modernity and the way Modernity is reflected in theological reflection and practice in American Christianity. And also the way it narrates a missional self-understanding of the Church as it participates in the missio dei. I have noticed in quite a few books by Emergent-like thinkers (and the theological griots it listens to) a re-telling of the story of Modernity. Whether it be in the form of re-telling Church History, Epistemology, Church practices, etc.. There is always a story being told about how Modernist Christianity began with ‘cogito ergo sum’ to the present with its foundationalist theologies making a final grab for survival in a post-post-modern world. The way that Emergent-like storytellers and griots ‘deconstruct’ reductionist accounts of the gospel and the influence of American-styled individualism. Also the way many Emergent voices are preaching the gospel in a way that challenges our own certainties and our accomodation to our consumerist society. So I see alot of subversive narration goin on in the Emergent camp. There is more to this I am sure, but I find it one more family resemblance that needs to be discussed at the table of Emergent. I will reflect more on this particular family resemblance later. Before I sign off I do want to leave you with another taste of subversive narration:
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water
God’s a-going to trouble the water
See that host all dressed in white
God’s a-going to trouble the water
The leader looks like the Israelite
God’s a-going to trouble the water
See that band all dressed in red
God’s a-going to trouble the water
Looks like the band that Moses led
God’s a-going to trouble the water
Look over yonder, what do you see?
God’s a-going to trouble the water
The Holy Ghost a-coming on me
God’s a-going to trouble the water
If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed
God’s a-going to trouble the water
Just follow me down to the Jordan’s stream
God’s a-going to trouble the water
As I look over the Emerging Church Blogsphere I cannot help but think that God maybe troubling the waters of American Christianity. Awakening it from its complacency and thirst for relevance and power. More later.

2 thoughts on “Family Resemblances Part 3

Add yours

  1. Beautiful. The Exodus account is supposed to shape all our spirituality. The thought occurred to me while reading Go Down Moses that the price of slavery for the South was their first-born sons, too. That was also part of the price of Israel/Judah when God allowed them to be overtaken for their lack of social justice. Wow!

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