Working for a Different Way to Live

lilyBy Lily Mendoza, from “Healing Historical Trauma: Ethnoautobiography as Decolonizing Practice,” a talk delivered at the Graduate Center, University of Pretoria, August 16, 2016:

Indeed, there is hope in remembering that for the majority of our time on the planet, we have lived very differently than we do today. We did not make war a way of life; we did not treat the Earth as mere resource to do with as we please; we did not deem ourselves the most important creatures on the planet; we did not always enslave; we did not take more than we needed and without giving back; we did not build businesses out of imprisoning huge numbers of our population, or out of producing weapons of mass destruction or psychotropic drugs meant to numb our pain and boredom; we did not take over every square inch of land driving every other species out their habitat and into extinction, etc. In other words, if, for the majority of our life on the planet, we did not do any of these things—i.e., we did not rape, pillage, and plunder—surely we can stop doing so again and start desiring and working for a different way to live on our shared planet?  Continue reading “Working for a Different Way to Live”

The Healing Potential of Hatred

By Tommy Airey

Four years ago this month, Lindsay and I found ourselves, for a short time, living in Bend, a rapidly developing whitopia in Central Oregon where the Great Basin Desert meets the Cascade Mountains. While we waited for the birth of our nephew Milo Brooks, my brother-in-law and I spent several nights bonding over the Portland Trailblazers, who boasted a backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, two smaller guards who played at obscure division one colleges. Lillard, who reps the number 0 to honor Oakland – his hometown – was and is the face of the franchise. His signature celebration is what fans affectionately refer to as “Dame Time.” After a big shot, he lifts up his left hand to the crowd and taps the invisible watch on his wrist. It’s not just game time. It’s Dame time.

In the first round of the 2019 playoffs, Dame and the Blazers were pitted against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook, the all-star point guard from L.A. who also wears 0. When Russ does something spectacular, he brings his hands together and rocks back and forth, like he is cradling an invisible baby. When smaller opponents (like Dame) try to guard him, Russ treats them like little babies. Lillard carries himself with a quiet confidence energized by who he is for (the team, the city, his family, his hometown). Russ stays locked in on who is out to get him (real or imagined). While Dame Time taps into self-love, Westbrook’s trademark gesture is a taunt. His staring, glaring brand of bully ball is dead-set on diminishing others. Russ was (and is) so easy to root against.

Continue reading “The Healing Potential of Hatred”

The Resurrection is Against the Law

BillAn excerpt from Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s classic Seasons of Faith and Conscience (1991).

The sealing of the tomb is, I believe, notoriously misunderstood. I grew up with a Sunday School notion that to seal the tomb was a matter of hefting the big stone and cementing it tight. The seal, in my mind’s eye, was something like first-century caulking–puttying up the cracks to keep the stink in. Not so. This is a legal seal. Cords would be strung across the rock and anchored at each end with clay. To move the stone would break the seal and indicate tampering. Continue reading “The Resurrection is Against the Law”

The Faith of Abused and Scandalized People

Lynching TreeOn Good Friday, we get back to the basics: an excerpt from James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2013).

The real scandal of the gospel is this: humanity’s salvation is revealed in the cross of the condemned criminal Jesus, and humanity’s salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst. Faith that emerged out of the scandal of the cross is not a faith of intellectuals or elites of any sort. This is the faith of abused and scandalized people—the losers and the down and out. It was this faith that gave blacks the strength and courage to hope, “to keep on keeping on,” struggling against the odds with what Paul Tillich called “the courage to be.”

The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree.

The Donkey-Human Rides Again

By Jim Perkinson, a Palm Sunday sermon for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, MI (04.02.2023)

And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Beth′phage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of an ass.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”

So, begins the most profound communication in the public career of Jesus of Nazareth.  At the apex of his popularity, bringing his own movement “posse” from their home turf in the outback of Galilee to the central city in Occupied Palestine for an ultimate showdown in the Temple-State shrine, he confesses “lack.”  He “needs.”  And what he needs is a burro. Or ass.  Or donkey—they are all words for the same animal (but not a mule, as we shall see, and not a horse). 

Continue reading “The Donkey-Human Rides Again”

In Memphis. On the Mountaintop.

An excerpt from Dr. King’s final speech, in Memphis, on April 3, 1968. Exactly 55 years ago.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.

Continue reading “In Memphis. On the Mountaintop.”

A Lexicon of Stringfellow’s Theology

By Bill Wylie-Kellermann, the author of William Stringfellow: Essential Writings (2013)

*See below for a chronological list of Stringfellow’s works (corresponding to initials & page numbers at the end of each entry).

Babel…means the means the inversion of language, verbal inflation, libel, rumor, euphemism and coded phrases, rhetorical wantonness, redundancy, hyperbole, such profusion in speech and sound that comprehension is impaired, nonsense, sophistry, jargon, noise, incoherence, a chaos of voices and tongues, falsehood, blasphemy. And, in all of this, babel means violence…By the 1970s in America, successive regimes had been so captivated by babel that babel had become the means of ruling the nation, the principal form of coercion employed by the governing authorities against human beings. EC, p.106-7.

Baptism …is often profoundly misunderstood. It is widely thought to be the sacrament of the unity of the Church. But that is not what baptism is; just as it is not mere membership or initiation ritual. Baptism is the assurance – accepted, enacted, verified, and represented by Christians – of the unity of all humanity in Christ… The oneness of the Church is the example and guarantee of the reconciliation of all humankind to God and of the unity of all humanity and all creation in the life of God. The Church, the baptized society is asked to be the image of all humanity, the one and intimate community of God. ID, p.111.

Blasphemy. In Revelation it denotes wanton and contemptuous usurpation of the very vocation of God, vilification of the Word of God and persecution of life as life originates in the Word of God, preemptive attempt against the sovereignty of the Word of God in this world, brute aggression against human life which confesses or appeals to the Word of God. CO, p. 69.

Continue reading “A Lexicon of Stringfellow’s Theology”

Banal Liberal Calls to Unity

An excerpt from a 2016 interview with professor, author and organizer Dylan Rodriguez, re-posted from theblackscholar.org

The following interview was conducted by Casey Goonan, an editor with True Leap Press. It originally appeared in the independent, open-access journal Propter Nos

Casey Goonan: The US white-supremacist state operates today through a different set of discourses and cultural structures than in previous epochs. Your work interrogates such shifts at a level of depth and nuance that is of particular importance for emergent struggles against racist state violence. “Multiculturalist white supremacy,” “post-racial liberal optimism,” “white academic raciality”—such terms are utilized throughout your work to interrogate a myriad of theoretical and historical conundrums that define the post-Civil Rights era, particularly in regards to racial violence and subjectivity. Can you, in very broad strokes, lay out what you are trying to accomplish with these interventions in the discourses, practices, and forms of embodiment that so violently delimit the possibilities for radical social change in the United States?

Dylan Rodríguez: The aftermath of American apartheid’s formal abolition has been overwhelmed by a grand national-cultural vindication of “Civil Rights” as the vessel of fully actualized gendered-racial citizenship. This fraud has, in various ways, facilitated rather than interrupted the full, horrific exercise of a domestic war-waging regime. For the sake of momentary simplicity, we can think about it along these lines: the half-century narrative of Civil Rights victory rests on an always-fragile but persistent common sense—the idea that national political culture (“America”) and the spirit of law and statecraft (let’s call this “The Dream”) endorse formal racial equality. Bound by this narrative-political context, the racist state’s mechanics shift and multiply to rearticulate a condition of normalized racist violence that is condoned or even applauded by the institutionalized regimes of Civil Rights. (It is not difficult to see how the NAACP, JACL, LULAC, Lambda, NOW, Urban League and other like-minded organizations condone or applaud domestic racial war, so long as it is directed at the correct targets: gang members, drug dealers, “violent criminals,” terrorists, etc.). In other words, the contemporary crisis of racist state violence is not reducible to “police brutality” and homicidal policing, or even the structuring asymmetries of incarceration: it is also a primary derivative of the Civil Rights regime.

Continue reading “Banal Liberal Calls to Unity”

Unrepresented and Overlooked

From author and activist Rebecca Solnit, re-posted from social media.

Memo to my fellow white people ostentatiously complaining about how they didn’t like Everything Everywhere All At Once. I loved the film but if I didn’t I’d be aware how meaningful it is to other people–notably Asian and Asian American viewers– and not dump on their joy. It’s a huge breakthrough film in a white-dominated industry, and some of you are sounding pretty….checked-out…in your grousing.

[There are lots of other works of art where it’s very clear how meaningful it is to someone else, often because they have long gone unrepresented and overlooked, and if it’s not resonating the same way for me, it’s my goal to be attuned to why it resonates for them, not foreground my grumpy limitations and my luxury of already having films/ music/ stories/ songs enough about people like me. But there’s also always the question of why something doesn’t resonate. Can you not identify with characters of another race/sexual orientation/background or enjoy spending time watching their lives unfold? If not, you might want to explore that. A lot of young and queer people also loved the film. I’m not saying everyone must like it; but I am saying that thinking about the why or why not could be useful and also that a lot of the complaining sounds pretty close-minded and mean-spirited and very middle-aged. Black journalist Eugene Robinson wrote today: “That is a level of Asian representation we have never seen before at the Oscars. In the past, the message from Hollywood to Asian actors and creators has ranged from, effectively, “squeeze yourself into this stereotyped pigeonhole” to “just stay the hell away.”’]