CANA Initiative: An Initial Response

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…


Scot McKnight recently spoke at the Westminster Theological Seminary Student Association Conference An Eternal Word in an ‘Emerging World’? His talk, entitled “What is the Emerging Church?”, is available in its entirety in PDF format for download here.

Recently gave a talk with my good friend Rod Garvin @ Davidson College in Davidson, NC on October 26th.  Titled: Living in a White World.  In it we discuss part of our faith testimony; how we became “racially conscious”; the way in which black music has captured the African-American experience; and the on-going challenges of being black in today’s society.  Listen here.

Last week.  Got a chance to see Brian McLaren deliver a sermon @ Wake Forest University.  Briefly dialogued with Brian afterwards.  Talked about some of the exciting things happening globally in the church.   

Decoding The Da Vinci Racial Code


I saw the DaVinci Code last night.  Intriguing story.  I now see why so many Christians are upset about the movie.  It does challenge  basic beliefs of particular Christian traditions (e.g. Divinity of Christ).  Throughout the months I have heard numerous critiques and reviews of the movie or at least the ideas being presented in the movie.  However, what I am struck by is the relative silence regarding the religious aesthetic and particular racial inference of Jesus and his descendants in the movie.  One of the main issues I have with those who take issue with this particular  movie is the silence on the racial dynamics and aesthetics of the movie.  As it turns out Jesus' descendants are white Europeans.  No surprise there!  Racial Constantinianism is a mutha!  This should be expected in light of 500 years of white supremacy and normalization (or what I call the symbolic universe of ecclesial whiteness).  This movie has normative gaze in full effect.  Why am I pointing this out?  Because I have seen little mention of this reality on blogs that claim to represent a stance against the bad habits of modernity (e.g. absolutism, etc.).  I don't want to give away the movie except to say that I found it interesting that one of the characters in the story that displays a concern for justice for women, dark-skinned folks, and the marginalized is characterized as a crack pot.  

This is one more Jesus movie that gives further credence to what theologian Stanley Hauerwas says about Constantinianism:  it is a hard habit to break.  I would also add that racial Constantinianism is a hard habit to break.  One wonders if part of the disdain for this movie that comes from particular Christian camps is the way the movie is purported to impugn the 'purity' of Jesus.  Maybe it does but the other question is this:  which purity is being impugned? These are initial thoughts…

Racial Constantinianism and why Andre is post-Emergent (Part I)

My friend Andre Daley has blogged about why he is post-Emergent.  Here are his basic five points:

  1. The conversation still looks to much like the old conversation, white, male and academic. The dominant culture still dominates.
  2. The values behind the conversation aren’t readily expressed in actions. No generous orthopraxis to go with the generous orthodoxy. (see my previous post)
  3. The lexicon of the white European theological framework which still dominates. There is very little inclusion of black theologians and the theological framework of people of color. People of color seem to be included in the conversation only if they are willing to use this language and framework. It seems we all need to read NT Wright in order to have any credibility.
  4. Talk, talk and more talk. My experience is we love to talk about this stuff but other than retro worship stuff we don’t get around to acting on it. Even so talk about diversity has never come to the fore. I want to be the church and act like the church not just talk like the church.
  5. Ultimately its about relationships and I have made some good ones which go beyond the whole emergent (non movement) thing. So I’ll go about the spiritual practice of reconciliation through relationships with my brothers and sisters and leave emergent tag to others.

I have been slow to respond to this because I wanted to give some thought on this particular issue.  When I went to the Emergent Theological Conversation with Miroslav Volf at Yale Divinity School last month I was not suprised by the dominance of white faces in the crowd.  This is pretty typical of these kinds of conversations, in my experience at least.  During the conference I was blessed to talk with a brother from Atlanta named Tony Bronsink.  Tony just recently attended a conference where Darrell Guder of Our Gospel and Culture Network was giving his thoughts on the emerging church.  In his recounting of Guder’s thoughts he mentioned that there is a danger in the emerging church in not  thoroughly discerning its sharing in the American experience.  This has been one of the valid criticisms, I believe, of the emerging church conversation.  That somehow we have moved on from modernity and have found (and still finding) a faithful way to follow Jesus in postmodernity.  I believe this to be a dangerous temptation.  The temptation being that we have faithfully (possibly completely) named our capitulation to the bad habits of modernity.  The emerging church, in many ways, has the resources to ‘name’ these bad habits.  But one bad habit has gone typically unscathed in the broader conversation: the racial Constantinianism of North American Christianity.

I believe this is at least one reason why Andre is post-Emergent.  Andre, like he says, sees that “the dominant culture still dominates”.  Why call this racial Constantinianism?  Because I hope to get the attention of those in the conversation I believe have the resources to counter-act this bad habit before Emergent and the emerging church conversation create more conjeeled structures and communities that reflect the politics (eccelsial bodies) of Constantinian Christianity…albeit a more posh version of it.

I must confess.  I am part-way a member of the Hauerwasian mafia.  I am coming out of the closet.  My imagination has been captured by theologians Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder in how they have named American Christianity’s theo-sociopolitical captivity to what they describe as Constantinianism.  What these two theologians have taught us is that the church has been profoundly shaped in its theological and ecclesial habits by the sociopolitical order of the Western political order:

“The decline of the old, Constantinian synthesis between the church and the world means that we American Christians are at last free to be faithful in a way that makes being a Christian today an exciting adventure.”- p. 16 Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Theologian Michael Cartwright expounds on Hauerwas’ project:

Hauerwas’s theological project also involves questioning the institutions, practices, dispositions, and habits that have been formed under the conditions of Christendom, which imaged the unity of church and world under the (official or unofficial) sponsorship of so-called Christian governments from Constantine to so-called Christian America.  The name of the first Christian emperior has come to be associated with the complex of institutional changes and alliances that led Christians in the West to see churches and nation-states to be aligned within a God-given order within which Christians would exercise leadership.  The vestiges of this ‘Constantinian synthesis,’ while obviously weakened and unstable, continue to tempt contemporary Christians to believe that they don’t have to take responsibility for the church’s own discourse and practices because the powers that be (whether the Emperor Constantine or the latest incumbent of the White House) are “Christian” and Christianity is on the side of Western “progress”.- p. 629, The Hauerwas Reader

Cartwright then quotes Hauerwas:

“Constantinianism is a hard habit to break.  It is particularly hard when it seems that we can do so much good by remaining ‘in power.’  It is hard to break because all our categories have been set by the church’s establishment as a necessary part of Western civilization”- Hauerwas, After Christendom

The synthesis that I see that goes largely unscathed in these kinds of conversations is the way much of the discourse named emergent, emerging church or missional is tied to a racial order that we have inherited from Christendom’s capitulation to the principality and power of ‘race’.  Or more specifically what I like to the call the dominance of the symbolic universe of whiteness.  It is racial Constantinianism.  A form of Constantinianism that created a racial order whereby whites were at the top and blacks at the bottom. 

We see vestiges of this racial Constantinianism when Christians engage in theological conversation and praxis that exclude non-white voices.  This exclusionary practice is difficult to name because of our captivity to individualism…the the reducing of racial Constantinianism to purely personal prejudice (“I don’t hate non-whites…or have ill-feelings toward them”).  Such thoughts reflect the politics of America.  More later… 







My brother Maurice Broaddus has been writing some soulful indigenous theology out of Indianapolis.  I look forward to dialoging with him.  I hope others in the conversation will engage him as well.

A Theology of Slavery Part I and Part II 

From part I:

A lesson we have to keep re-learning is that words mean things. So, when pastors speak of God’s ownership of us, it’s going to resonate differently with black folks. When we speak of God buying us at a price, images of auction blocks swim through our collective unconscious. When we speak of Adam laying dominion over creation by naming things, we can’t help but be reminded of slave owners giving us new names. The “elect”–the chosen–means “called out” and implies that there are those excluded. Though people forget that the elect are called out for a purpose, the poor identify with the excluded. When they talk of sin being black and the need for people to be washed whiter than snow, well, you get the picture of the mental conditioning.


Ontological Blackness

My brother Maurice Broaddus has been plugging away with some great thoughts on ontological ‘blackness’ and nigrescence.  Something I have been thinking about myself…especially in light of my involvement in the emerging church.  There have been times in this journey with the emerging church my ‘blackness’ has been suspect by some (I ought to post some of the emails I have gotten…I probably need to post a picture of myself as exhibit A).  It is a strange feeling to have one’s ‘blackness’ challenged….especially when it has never been ‘challenged’ or ‘questioned’ your whole life.  I guess calling myself ‘postmodern negro’ doesn’t help.  Maurice has penned some great thoughts on this subject.  Thanks brother.

Parts 1 and 2.

Back in the Saddle: The Christian calendar, God’s invasion, and the kenosis of Christ

I have been inspired by both the Advent and Christmas seasons to be more committed to blogging with greater consistency and frequency.  I am looking forward to celebrating Epiphany that will be coming up the first week of January. 

Lately, I have been reading up on the Christian calendar.  I became a Christian in a Christian tradition that either ignored or cared little about the Christian year.  I am becoming more appreciative of the rhythms of following a time that is attempting to walking out the gospel narrative in the everyday.

During Advent and the beginning of the Christmas season the Incarnation of God in Christ has captured my imagination.  Especially the kenosis or self-emptying of God to become the Word- or Logos-made-flesh.  The Divine solidaritization of God (Note: I previously had ‘condenscenion’ but a friend of mine reminded me that God becoming incarnate was more about God coming into solidarity with humans) speaks profoundly to me as I reflect upon how racialized our imaginations are in our North American context.  Paul says (in Philippians 2), regarding the kenosis or self-emptying of Christ, that:

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 6Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 7but made himself nothing,
      taking the very natureof a servant,
      being made in human likeness.

The incarnation of Christ is the kenosis of God.  It is the shedding of privilege. And coming to a place of soldarity with His creatures.  And Paul says that we are to have the same attitude or mind of Christ in this regard.  What would this mean for Christians who have been enslaved by the ‘principality’ of white privilege and for Christians who have been enslaved by the ‘principality’ of self-hatred. 

Enslavements that are a product of un-righteous or un-just social-political-ecclesial relations. Such enslavements have a long history in the American Church.

What would it mean for Christians during both Advent and the Christmas season to practice kenosis (a radical solidaritization) in our racialized world? 






Thinking about Tookie

Many thoughts. Very few words. I have been thinking about Stan “Tookie” Williams alot lately. Actually I am a little depressed about the whole deal. I found this quote from one of my favorite theologians, D. Stephen Long in his book The Goodness of God. I thought it somehow applicable to this situation.

Christianity was born out of the imprisonment and execution of an innocent person. Given our history, we cannot seek the solution to crime in a punitive prison industry. Although Christians and other innocent persons have often been labeled as criminals, this does not imply that all criminals are unjustly persecuted. Some people do evil things that require the kind of correction imprisonment could potentially bring. Imprisonment should not be a time of punitive retribution but an opportunity for people to face the reality of the evil they have committed in hope that they might yet repent and turn toward the good. p. 299

Did Stan turn toward the good? I hope so. Whatever good that he did do I hope that it finds it way towards the hood in the midst of nihilism and violence. I hope the good that Stan may have done be not swallowed up by the revenge of the State. Much more to think about.

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