Postmodern Black Church (or a church where a Negro can feel at home): A thought experiment on being a Missional Negro Christian



What kind of church would a postmodernegro feel at home with? For the next couple of weeks I plan on talking about this kind of church. I want to go on a thought experiment…a journey of imagineering. I have been really struggling with this…and doing some serious praying about church. I want to be a part of Christian community…a local ekklesia. But I want to feel at “home”. Not in a consumeristic sense, but in a sense that it will challenge me, provoke me, encourage me, to be a part of the missio Dei or God’s mission of salvation in the Land. When I think about the kind of church community that would draw me…my imagination always goes to images like these. Am I crazy?


Anyways…I hope some of you that read this blog will join in with me on this imagineering experiment. I plan on giving more commentary on these images. Why they resonate with me? why I feel that this is more than just aesthetics, in more than a simplistic sense, involved here? And other thoughts. Even if it doesn’t materialize I think this particular use of imagination can and will be helpful.

Here are some quotes from Walter Brueggemann that I saw linked from NextReformation that have started me on this journey of imagineering what a missional negro church would look like.

Compare this to Walter Brueggemann,

“The task of prophetic imagination is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there..”

“Isaiah gives his people a remarkable gift. He gives them back their faith by rearticulating the old story. He gives them the linguistic capacity to confront despair rather than be surrounded by it. And he creates new standing ground outside the dominant consciousness upon which new humanness is possible.”

“The dominant consciousness must be radically criticized and the dominant community must be finally dismantled. The purpose of an alternative community with an alternative consciousness is for the sake of that criticism and dismantling.”

Walter Brueggemann in the second edition of “The Prophetic Imagination”

This thought experiment finds bedfellows with these posts from other blogs:

Is God trying to tell us something Pt. 2: The State of the Negro Church (From a Black Male Perspective) by Rod Garvin

Away From and Toward: Emerging Hope and the Dreaming of Dreams. by Paul Fromont

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21 thoughts on “Postmodern Black Church (or a church where a Negro can feel at home): A thought experiment on being a Missional Negro Christian

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  1. Hi, great blog. At one point I would join in the imagining, but now I think that is too much consumerism and seeking my kind of church versus sacrificing for others, learning to love people not like me, etc. I hear you, I’m just realizing the body is less perfect than that. And so am I.

  2. David,

    But what does a worship gathering look like that creates space that creates people that are transformed into those that live for others and love their neighbors. These kinds of things don’t happen in a vaccum. I hope you don’t interpret my post here as seeking my kind of church…it is about honestly trying to be a part something that I feel at home with…something to be part of that recognizes my ethnic particularity…and the ways black folks, Christian black folks, have created spaces and culture that has shaped the very things you have talked about. I don’t believe that these things take place in a cultural vaccum.

    There are more and more black folks who are being drawn to this conversation…and they don’t feel comfortable chilling with bobos in paradise. Nothing against alot of emerging churches, but alot of this is still euro-centric in expression. Which isn’t a bad thing…but why is it that when a brutha wants to engage in how this would look in a negro context…something is wrong? Why is that?

  3. This is very interesting. Great and wonderful blog you have here, by the way. I am currently reading a book called Black and Mennonite: the Search for Identity, by Hubert L. Brown. I picked up this book because, though I am a black woman, I am particularly drawn to Anabaptist thought and belief. It’s certainly out of the norm, culturally, but I am asking myself what the ideal church would look like for me. This book does a good job of talking about black theology, the black experience and how it affects our views of God — but when we find ourselves in the context of a predominately white denomination, where do we fit in? How do we make this thing work? Does this denomination speak to where we are as black people, even if we agree with its philosophies and values? I stand with you in your experiment of imagining.

    Peace, brother…
    Michele

  4. Michele,

    Is hubert brown the pastor of the mennonite congregation in boone, nc? There is a black mennonite congregation in boone, nc I have wanted to go visit. I have thought of going on a pilgrimage up there.

    Ant

  5. Hi again. So much of this makes sense to me, it’s just that there’s something right about sacrifice, the greater Body, the different traditions coming together, not having it look like I’d like it to look, and shaping from inside out the hearts and minds of in my case my mostly White church. I’m okay with that, i love my church, not because it’s me, I used to grieve this, but because people are people, and I had to shed a lot of me than I was willing to be honest about me, as in, you’re not like me, i’m more complex, you don’t get me, etc. when I want gallo pinto and nacatamales (i go to my favorite Nicaraguan restaurant), when I want sacrifice, selflesness, other centeredness, giving of myself, sharing my life with non-me looking people, I go to my church, and there I grow, I am stretched. One day, will I have the kind of church I’m ‘looking for’, I find that most of that is me disatisfied with people, and God wants to change that in us. Great stuff.

  6. Anthony, thanks for dropping by. A big “wow” from me that the same Brueggemann quote resonated in two very different contexts.

    May your journey and your “imagineering” (what a great expression – thanks Steve K) be fruitful in bringing “to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there…”

    http://prodigal.typepad.com

  7. David,

    You say, “it’s just that there’s something right about sacrifice, the greater Body, the different traditions coming together, not having it look like I’d like it to look, and shaping from inside out the hearts and minds of in my case my mostly White church.”

    I have a question. What church do you know of that incorporates “all” the various ethnic expressions of American Christianity…with a diverse leadership structure? I would like to know. Seriously. I want to know who is doing work like that.

    One more thing. Why do you assume an either/or with this particular issue. It seems as though you are saying that either your church expresses a specific ethnic expression of worship OR it is faithful to self-giving sacrifice. I think that can be a false dichotomy. For instance, I have seen Doug Pagitt’s church, Solomon Porch. They emphasize the same things you hold dear, but his church is predominantly white…with a particular white worship expression. Does that mean his church has “failed”? I don’t think so. I think church should be intentional in reflecting the context in which they find themselves…but if you are planting a church in the hood…and the predominant population are those of a specific ethnicity…would it be authentic to herd folk in from the suburbs? I don’t know…I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Anthony

  8. The images invoke both a singleness and collective feel.

    We all long for that place where race isn’t the most important topic, but yet it is fully recognized for the powerful influences it has on the “color of our shades”; meaning that we see the world through different lenses.

    That place we want call home is like the Olympics. All athletes walk in under banner of the own country for the opening ceromonies. During the closing ceromonies, all athletes walk in under the Olympic banner showing solidarity in something bigger than themselves, yet never minimizing their own uniquness.

  9. A Christian community that looks like a jazz club in it’s composition and improvisation…
    I think the concept has potential.

    I hear saxophones and drums, rap songs and negro spirituals. I see people dancing, singing… and talking. Each table has a bottle of wine and a freshly baked loaf of bread for Communion. Yeah, I think that might feel like the Kingdom of God.

  10. That’s exactly the kind of church I ‘m working at planting right now.

    We are trying to incorporate elements of old and new Afro-Christian experiences Passion raps, reggae praise, drums, African language songs, interactive/expressive sermons, images from today’s African-American culture.

    So I’m up for imagineering it can be a inspiration.

  11. Anthony,

    Sorry I’m just now reading your reply to my comment. I’m not sure if Hubert Brown is the pastor of that Mennonite church in Boone, NC, but I have heard of that church in my research on black mennonites. I imagine how wonderful it would be to visit and experience this unlikely balance! I definitely think you should make the pilgrimage. And me, too!

    Michele

  12. “But what does a worship gathering look like that creates space that creates people that are transformed into those that live for others and love their neighbors. These kinds of things don’t happen in a vaccum. ”

    ant, i love the images, and the idea of church with jazz music in addition to other music genres, as well as the imagineering of a great black postmodern church. but would love it to be so much more… a multi-ethnic church, where we celebrate and embrace difference, learning frm the myriad of ways that we worship!

    however, even moreso, i love your words, (quoted above) that speak of your hunger for authentic and transforming community… i am wondering if this is best done in small numbers, in community with others who know us well enough to not let us escape the call of Jesus by living in the vaccuous pull of busyness…thought walking and worshiping alongside others with whomo we share a genuine conviction of what it means to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with G-d… to really see and embrace “the other” as my neighbor.

    we are just beginning to see some fruits from these types of seeds, planted long ago, at my local church, and neddless to say it is causing a rucus 😉

    look forward to imagineering with you.
    shalom, my new friend.

  13. susie,

    interestingly enough jazz is one of the few deep musical genres that has crossed ethnic boundaries. and blues as well. i can imagine an multi-ethnic church. hence, the second part of my title (a place where a negro can feel at home).

    Hey, we can have some readings of levinas with some John Coltrane playing in the background…Love Supreme.

    thanks for stopping by

  14. Was wondering about a few things about postmodern/emerging church imagineering, especially in the context of the black church.

    1. It seems to me that some things already “fit” into emerging that are characteristic of the black church – narrative preaching, appreciation of history, sense of being part of community, emphasis on social justice

    2. But there are some things that I can’t picture what it would look like in a postmodern context
    · Role of pastor – often is more of a Moses before Jethro kind of person
    · View of pastor/1st lady – it seems that there is a big gap between clergy and family that can offset the community focus of postmodern church (more like an orchestra conductor leading than band than Miles sitting in and playing trumpet)
    · Multi-cultural – it doesn’t seem that many black churches do to well at keeping up with changing demographics and are becoming “regional” churches as opposed to a neighborhood church
    · “Almost” Theological Absolutes – it seems that the “God is good” statement can often be kind of trite (though God is good) when used to answer complex problems and that making lemonade out of the lemons that people give us doesn’t quite cut it. These beliefs were needed to get by, but is there something more? Do they often ignore real issues and put people in a place of always being a victim of circumstances over being an agent of choice and impact?
    · Modern Ideology – It seems that a cultural ideology of “The Mind is a terrible thing to waste” can lead to a content based, knowledge only, institutional model of church that equates transformation with knowledge. Though we absolutely need sound doctrine and education, will this line of thinking, which is very modern and very American-centric, need to be revaluated to make an impact in the postermodern world we are now challenged with living in

    I know these are huge broad stroke generalizations, but they are things that are popping up in my mind when wondering about the whole emerging church idea, especially in the context of differences that might be found for the postmodern Negro

  15. Hi Ant,

    Great blog. I want to be part of the conversation with you but I frankly don’t have too many answers. I guess what I really desire is to be around similar thinking black Christians who just cannot get with present day iteration of the black church.

    I am down with jazz or whatever, but I think what we are really seeking is deeper, more authentic community with people who look like we do.

    Right now, I feel like I found water in a dry and thirsty land. I have been searching up and down for black folk in this so called post modern church conversation and have finally found you.

    -Marc

  16. Brian,
    sure you right. These are some great observations and represent some of the things I struggle with in my conversations with other emerging church folks who are Anglo.

    One question I keep asking is, Can Anglo emergents church accept the idea that the flat model of leadership may not be appropriate for afro Christians emergents?

  17. Anthony, I really appreciate your blog. It gives me two things: an opportunity to see outside my own environment and, honestly, I relate to it.

    I’m a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church. (And about as white as they come.) The Orthodox Church as it is in America faces challenges that are not totally unrelated. In other countries Orthodoxy spread as a result of mission work and the grounding principle — at least in theory — was to bring witness to the Orthodox faith but to respect the culture, to do no violence to it, and to “baptize” it and allow the unique cultural of that people to shape the expression of the Church in that area.

    In America the Church, outside from missionary work in Alaska in the 18th & 19th centuries, was mostly imported by and for the Greek, Slavic, and Arabic immigrants. As a result the Church in America is challenged with many questions of culture and ethnicity. Today in most parishes English is the primary language of the liturgy, but you’ll still find places where there is so much Greek, or to a lesser extent Church Slavonic (which isn’t the same as modern Russian) that it can be a real obstacle for the American converts and even the 2nd and 3rd generation offspring of the original immigrants.

    And it’s not only a matter of language. In so many areas there is confusion about where culture ends and Orthodoxy begins. This is natural enough since Orthodoxy mostly existed in relatively mono-cultural nations where orthopraxy and culture deeply infused each other. There’s a lot of talk about a genuinely American culture of Orthodoxy, but American culture is… heh… what is it? It exists, certainly, but you know the challenges as well or better than I do. And it is not helped one bit by those amongst us by the noisy minority who seem to think that in order for American converts to become fully Orthodox they must also become Russophiles or Hellenists. A few of these are immigrants who have an abiding mistrust of “the West” or America in particular, but an amazing number of converts — hell, I was even one of these for a while — not only embrace this cultural “adoption” but demand it as a necessity.

    As ugly as all this is, why do I stay? The Orthodox Church won my heart with it’s depth and richness of Tradition which has made Christ so much more real to me.

    By the way, I’m not intending any of this as advice to you — not at all. I was just inspired by your questions and wanted to relate my own experiences which are to some small degree parallel to your own.

    For what it’s worth I’ve argued that a truly American liturgical music would be deeply imbued with the blues and jazz. In the history of Orthodoxy each culture has taken the liturgical music it learned from the missionaries and adapted it for their own use — always it seems to have grown out of the roots music of the culture. Blues and jazz seem to me to be the foundation stone of American music. But I could be biased… I’d be quite happy hearing Coltrane’s A Love Supreme every Sunday. That album still awes me into prayer.

  18. To me, the issues that EC deals with are Euro issues, not African American iddues, hence there is no relevance to us. WE have no problem accepting the Bible as the Word of God, we aren’t trying to find a way to say, “Jesus is Lord.” The issues for our community are more related to “how come the clear people can talk about “Jesus loves you, and so do we,” but be content to see our children in decaying schools, violent neighborhoods secured by violent policemen, and feel nothing but relief that it’s “NIMBY?”–>

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