An excerpt from Detroit-based theologian Dr. Jim Perkinson’s classic piece “Theology and the City: Learning to Cry Struggling to See.“
*To live in a suburb “neutrally” is to participate in the American fiction of innocence.
…In complex, globally interdependent societies like those we now live in, theology that is not simply ideology requires a kind of militancy. It must enter a fray that is neither gentle nor innocent. But it has not ever been different for Christian “God talk.” In the first centuries of the church’s life, for instance, the early meaning of paganism was both “rural-dweller” and “noncombatant.” To become a believer in the early church meant to enlist. In the Roman imperial order, a sacramentum was an oath of loyalty taken by a soldier to Caesar. For Christians living under that imperial regime, celebrating “sacraments” like the Eucharist was a practice of political resistance in a struggle that engaged war-making as its nonviolent, but combative opposite. From the beginning, Christianity has been about spiritual warfare, when it has not forgotten its calling. And Christian theology in the mix is the articulation of where God is most likely to be encountered in the ongoing conflict.
By Jim Perkinson, on Matthew 2:1-12
So, the stage is set. Matthew has an old horny codger taking up a young nubile teenager (could be a headline on CNN tomorrow) but then discovering he is late to the freshness. She already has a loaf in the oven. He resolves to part in quiet but is accosted by a Dream-Time appearance counseling adventure—the child is Spirit-born, the event is “Emmanuel,” the promise is deliverance. He wakes and tries to stay “woke.” Continue reading
By James W. Perkinson
*This is the first of a year-long series of posts from contributors all over North America each answering the question, “How would you define radical discipleship?” We will be posting responses regularly on Mondays during 2019.
“Radical discipleship” is one way of stating the call of the gospel. At face value, it means something like “following the root” (“radical” comes from the Latin “radix,” meaning “root”). But Christianity since Constantine has become so much the creature of urban imperial regimes that we typically approach the language of roots and plants as metaphor—nice “conceits” from earlier times that we have more literally “left behind” in our collaboration with a high-tech takeover of the planet. Indeed, in evangelical circles the great hope of the age in books going by the “Left Behind” nomenclature is to be “raptured” out of the mess of history and the barbarity of nature. The vision of salvation is one of exiting everything to do with earthly living—such as plant bodies growing, root-systems exchanging with soil, or animals eating and reproducing. Indeed, if heaven offers any “food” delights (like pizza or beer, in my paradise)—they will surely not issue in bacterial-driven metabolic processing and defecation or entail beheading of wheat or fermenting yeast or fungi handing off nitrogen to roots! (Not to mention anything as scandalous as sexual intercourse!) Continue reading
By Jim Perkinson, a sermon on John 6:1-12 for the radical disciples who gather at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Detroit (July 29, 2018)
I preached here earlier this year on Jonah and fish and began that sermon by saying “I am not a fish person.” But then offered that fish were central to the gospel, that Jonah had in fact been saved by a fish, that fish were on par with bread in feeding the multitudes in the wilderness, and that Jesus was even called, in subsequent tradition (notably North African theologian Tertullian) “The Great Fish.” Continue reading
Icon of the Unburnt Bush
By Jim Perkinson, a homily on John 15:1-8 and Acts 8:26-40 preached last Sunday to the beloved community at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit
I begin by thanking four primary ancestors: my own Celtic, Nordic, Saxon, Frankish kin deep in the past before my people became sick with white supremacy; the African Eve of all of our origins whose black folk offspring of Detroit engaged survival efforts and justice demands and creation-in-spite-of that are nothing short of prophetic and wondrous; the Algonquian and Haudenosaunee communities of the Strait who lived by profound dignity and wisdom on the land and waters; and all the non-human denizens of this place themselves, whose continuous gift makes possible the breathing and loving and struggle of all of us sitting here. For all of them: gratitude. And indebtedness to live, worthy. Continue reading
By Jim Perkinson, a sermon on John 3: 14-21 and Numbers 21:4-9 (March 11, 2018, St. Peter’s Episcopal, Detroit, MI)
The sermon begins today with this year’s early advent of the parade for St. Patrick. The sea of green we already witnessing this morning provides interesting backdrop for the lectionary readings. In mainstream Christian invocation, Patrick is remembered for clearing the snakes from Ireland and often depicted as such, with crozier in hand and coiled serpents at his feet. Patrick mastered the slithering ones. But for our purposes here, it is important likewise to lift up Afro-diaspora creativity with the Gaelic saint and his serpents. In colonized Haiti, the displaced slaves amalgamated their traditional Yoruban-Dahomean-Congolese spiritual practices with the Roman Catholic orthodoxy into which they were forced. For them, the depiction of the snake-mastering Patrick “spoke” of Damballah, the Creator-Serpent-Spirit (or Loa, in their terminology) whose surreptitious presence they saw “mounting” Patrick in possession and using his snake proclivity to express something quite different. Far from banning the Serpent Power, for the creolized community of the French colony, Patrick became the host body for this African indigenous spirit-guide. The Snake mastered Patrick. And something like that intuition will help us open the Hebrew text to its indigenous root this morning. Continue reading
By Jim Perkinson (right), an excerpt from “Jesters, tricksters, taggers and haints: Hipping the church to the Afro-hop, pop-‘n-lock mock-up currently rocking apocalyptic Detroit,” a November 2017 article in Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies (HTS):
In many places today, the joke is all we have left to pry open the prison gate – a jest and a belly laugh rooted in the deep past and the abandoned margins. But its truth remains absolute, despite corporate pretention otherwise. We all finally will come apart at the seams and decay into streams of composting liquid and molecules – even US drones and bankers’ computer screens, blinking with algorithms. The only question is when and for what.
In recognition of such an eventuality of equality, may we choose well where to expend our breath and exercise our push back and dreaming otherwise. May we become soldiers of the unrepentant joke, militant laughers learning our hope from the least. May we keep our jest visceral and its spear-point like a razor, ready for whatever crack of freedom the Mystery of Wild Hilarity that created this planet may open. May we do so, even if that possibility is ephemeral and uphill as a spray-painted st and a stenciled demand on a tower and the political struggle to ‘free the ow’ that follows! Indeed, may we finally be strong like water and as insurgent as a tower growing from concrete!