In homage to Black History Month, I’m reposting this essay about one of my heroes Dr. Vincent Harding (1932-2014). This is slightly edited from the original which was written for “The Movement Makes Us Human”, Rock! Paper! Scissors!, Vol 1, No 1, edited by Joanna Shenk, 2018. A bit out of the beaten path of these essays, but revealing the roots of my own journey through this time.
We knew how blessed we were by the gifts of Vincent Harding as a historian, educator, and “veteran of hope.” Less known is the contribution Harding made to the development of the first generation of black theology.
Theologian Dwight Hopkins writes that Harding “has had a profound effect on the development of contemporary black theology in the United States, particularly the young black theology of the 1960s and early 1970s.” Harding’s essays in the mid-1960s preceded James Cone’s writings and described a religious spirit rooted in the beauty, horror, and creativity of the black experience. But Harding disavowed any formal interest in black liberation theology. “I’m much more interested,” Harding told Hopkins, “in the liberation of spirituality.” It’s the contribution of Vincent Harding to liberation spirituality that interests me here. [See Dwight Hopkins, Black Theology USA and South Africa: Politics, Culture, and Liberation, “Vincent Harding,” Wipf & Stock, 2005, pages 81-84].
By Lindsay Airey (right, on the banks of Nandewine Sippy)
You say I have a heart so big it needs its own moon to orbit around.
I say this heart of mine feels weary from carrying around so much weight it often feels like it will drown me.
You say what clarity you bring! What love and joy and challenge… How is it possible? In one being.
I say I am so tired… from being one being: feeling fire-tending raging weeping feeling it seeing it saying it wiping your tears building you up holding you up digging you out of the pit with all these hard-fought tears, and knowing.
From Jesmyn Ward in The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race (2016)
Though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black: no hands in your pockets, no playing music, no sudden movements, no driving your car, no walking at night, no walking in the day, no turning onto this street, no entering this building, no standing your ground, no standing here, no standing there, no talking back, no playing with toy guns, no living while black.
Happy Birthday to Ched Myers! Today, we honor this cherished mentor and elder with an excerpt from Binding the Strong Man, Uncle Ched’s groundbreaking political reading of Mark’s Gospel. Written in the late 80s. More relevant than ever!
The radical discipleship movement today is beleaguered and weary. So many of our communities, which struggled so hard to integrate the pastoral and prophetic, the personal and the political, resistance and contemplation, work and recreation, love and justice, are disintegrating. The powerful centrifugal forces of personal and social alienation tear us apart; the “gravity” exerted by imperial culture’s seductions, deadly mediocrities, and deadly codes of conformity pull our aspirations plummeting down. Our economic and political efforts are similarly besieged. The ability of metropolis to either crush or co-opt movements of dissent seems inexhaustible.
By Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, Senior Minister, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and Director and Chief Visionary, Faith Strategies, LLC
In my ministry in the 1980s in Roxbury, Massachusetts with the recovering community from drug addiction, I encountered one of our struggling addicts and his spouse. He had been using though he was supposed to be in recovery. I shall never forget his explanation of his struggle to remain clean. He said when questioned by me, that I did not understand, his “relapses were getting shorter and his recoveries were getting longer!” His spouse agreed with that reasoned explanation, though I realized his con, but unfortunately his spouse enabled his addictive behavior until he died of an overdose. This was a poignant lesson for me. I see in this lesson how we may enable destructive behavior seeking and hoping that the reasoning and rationalization is true. The rationalization deters us from confronting the real issues where the so-called recovering addict was not recovering, but the avoidance of the issue and the realities would offer some comfort even while eventually leading to death.
As I see it, the United States is in the same boat as the recovering addict. The nation claims to be dealing with its problem of racism, white supremacy, and white idolatry, or claims at times that it has dealt with its problem, rationalizing the progress, when the progress is strained if at all existent. Our behavior as a nation has not changed, and we rationalize our race problems, and pretend that what exists does not exist, and that before long we will be cured. This is how racism and white supremacy remain a persistent disease in the country, and after more than 400 years have not been dealt with, and we continue to claim that our “recoveries are getting longer” and our “relapses are getting shorter,” but the problems of racism and white supremacy remain a fixed reality as most of America delude itself believing that we as a nation is getting better.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . . and learn war no more.
My arm aches.
It’s the second day at the forge, and the sound of hammers and the fumes of coal smoke surround me as my classmates work on their own projects. I pull out what I’ve prepared for today: the barrel of my 9mm handgun, inexpertly cut from the rest of the gun which now sits useless at home.
By Rev. Solveig Nilsen-Goodin, Salt and Light Lutheran Church, Sunday, January 24, 2021, Mark 1:14 – 20
Well friends, it’s January 24. Far and away the most common response I’ve received to the question, How are you feeling since January 20? is…RELIEVED. Not a naive, “Oh everything is going to be fine now” kind of relieved, but a clear and palpable sense of relief nonetheless.
Two images of the nation’s capitol, two weeks apart, have now been seared into our psyches and could not be more striking…one from January 6, and one from the very same place just two weeks later on January 20. Nearly everyone who spoke on Inauguration Day spoke to this stark contrast, though Amanda Gorman said it best:
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”
It is significant that the federal holiday that honors Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is celebrated in January. On his birthday. Not in April when he was murdered. It is also significant that this year, Easter Sunday is penciled in for April 4, the anniversary of King’s assassination. Spirit is seconding the motions, putting our resurrection theology to the test. So that we might bear witness to Dr. King’s ongoing life and breath in America. King, like Jesus, was killed by empire—and, like Jesus, King is still with us. Not as a symbol or token, but in spirit and truth. Like Jesus, he lives forever to intercede for us.
Last month, I was texting with Rev. Dr. Timothy Adkins-Jones about resurrection. He got me contemplating how the death of Jesus does an awful lot of theological digging for me, especially in the wake of so much senseless dying. However, resurrection has the power to break the seal of empire with subversive energy. The empty tomb opens up a kind of wonder. I’m not referring to a resurrection that just moves on by holding our loved ones in our hearts because they are in heaven. I am awakening to a brand of resurrection where the dead transition to a new realm in our midst, where we can renew our relationship, where we listen for an ancestral cadence calling us beyond the grave to re-connect with them in a redemptive dance on earth as it is in heaven.