Part of a Long Line of Prophetic Perishing

An excerpt from Dr. James Perkinson’s 2001 essay “Theology and the City: Learning to Cry, Struggling to See.”

The Christian tradition that underwrites the theology elaborated here offers — as its primary icon of “how” and “where “God is present in the world and “who” God is in the world — an image of a human being hanging on an instrument of state torture, crying out to God, against God (Mark 15:34). That God is not ripped down miraculously from that piece of wood (Mark 15:29-30). That God does not make it into comfy old age. While still alive “in the flesh,” that God did not always have a full belly (Matt. 12:1-4), did not live in the posh quarters of the city (Luke 9:58), was not greeted with acclaim by the movers and shakers of his day (John 7:45-52), did not have a good retirement policy. “He” regularly angered the foundations like the Sanhedrin or the Herodian Temple Corporation that would otherwise have funded his ministry (Mark 3:11-6). He publicly blessed the welfare queens, hookers, day laborers and beggars, and other assorted “rabble” who had been downsized out of legitimate livelihoods (Luke 6:20-23). He publicly cursed the banquet-givers (Luke 6:24-26), and conference-goers, and upright, uptight stalwart citizens, who, as the pillars of their community, continuously expropriated land from the “people” by means of the debt-code in order to reemploy them as tenant farmers on their own lands (Matt. 20:1-16; see Herzog, 1994, 79-97). He loudly and loquaciously denounced the lifestyle supported by such exploitative practices and labeled “abomination” what the elites claimed as “God’s blessing” (Herzog, 1994, 53-73; 2000, 90-108; Myers, 1997, 125). He openly charged the scribal ideologues and their judicial patrons with privately wrestling widows’ last pennies away from them (Mark 12:38-44) even as they were publicly encouraging the sons to give their mothers’ estates away “to God” through the Temple apparatus called “corban” (that, in effect, transferred such endowments from the marginalized elderly to the Temple’s rapacious high-priestly high-livers) (Mark 7:5-13).

Continue reading “Part of a Long Line of Prophetic Perishing”

did the psalm get it wrong?

by jim perkinson, on psalm 19 and john 2:13-22

what is this language the psalmist,
in fervor, trumpets forth like a meteor?
it is loud today, and harsh as silence,
reverberating, pounding, whispering,
like a flame going up a pine, or a wave
on a city street in flood, as unseen as
a virus, or potent as a blizzard in texas
indeed, these have no words
they have no need of words
they have no need of bombast and advertising

Continue reading “did the psalm get it wrong?”

A Divine Offering in a Food Tray for Animals

PerkBy Jim Perkinson, from Political Spirituality in an Age of Eco-Apocalypse (2015)

Undoubtedly anxious, perhaps even terrified, Mary breaks water under the bureaucratic duress. Motel 6 is filled, as is the local youth hostel. Tradition has it she camps out in a cave—likely one of the rocky caverns around Bethlehem that shepherds used as corrals. In short order, she has her newborn in a “manger,” feeding trough for domesticated livestock, enslaved creatures whose own wildlands grazing has been reduced to slopping beheaded grain from a wood or stone container.

Meanwhile local herding folk, out on the hills with their flocks, reading the stars and weather, tending to the night cacophony for any hint of danger, schooled, not in texts of Torah but in the sensuous spells of the wild holiness that is their “bible,” are struck with an apparition, an emergent power of the outback, taking shape on the rocks, whispering omens, filtering light into a strange miasma of significance. They hear, are terrified, then comforted. Offered “good news.” An event has taken place. Continue reading “A Divine Offering in a Food Tray for Animals”

On Getting Stoned: A Sermon on Outback/Wilderness

By Jim Perkinson, for the St. Peter’s Episcopal community in Detroit, MI on October 4, 2020 (Romans 8:18-27; Matthew 3:1-4:11)

Detroit Will Breathe

So we are up against the wall now, facing the logic of the country, as our settler colonial and white supremacist history rises up incarnate in an orange-headed inciter.   We have lived without yet fully facing what we have visited on others—on Natives, genocidally eliminated to the tune of 95% (somewhere between 60-90 million killed over 500 years), African folk enslaved (behind the 12 million carried across the Atlantic and sold on the auction block, 30-40 million killed before getting here), 553 other places invaded over the course of 244 years, resources pirated, garbage and pollution outsourced to the rest of the globe, an ocean heating and full of plastic, 200 species pushed into extinction per day, Water and Fire as Great Living Beings, now shouting back, and a tiny microbe whispering warning: full halt, stop your self-absorption as a species, recognize the rest of the biosphere as well as the all the displaced marginalized people, as Creatures of Beauty and Worth and Mystery.  Do we—who have been the beneficiaries—think we should continue to be exempted from what we have visited on so many others?  We are on the Titanic, the iceberg is in full view, there is probably not time to turn the rudder, what now?! 

Continue reading “On Getting Stoned: A Sermon on Outback/Wilderness”

Holy Ghost

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

Dr. James Perkinson, offering a spoken word at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, Michigan.

The word for today is “woe.”  Woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe!  The potency of a cry!  It is the season of the sob—the wail of grief, the howl of anger, the warning of danger!  But we live in a society that is illiterate in the language of lamentation.  Neither the tears of mourning nor the rage of wounding is acceptable in the halls of power or the decorum of wealth.  Lose a spouse or child to disease?  We give three days off from work.   Then you better be fully functional and productive again, not talk of the agony, not exhibit the melancholy.  Go private with the pain; pretend in public.  Lose a spouse or child to violence—it is the same.  Lose entire families and communities to violence—like generation after generation of black folk up against the nooses and walls, choke-holds and policies, traffic stops and bullet barrages of white folk?  Swallow hard and invisibly, smile politely and submissively, and re-assume “the position.”  Dare arch an eyebrow?  Your funeral is next.  March in the streets?  Now we really uncover the history and reality of the country.  Out come the labels, the AKs, the white-sheet posses (now dressed Hawaiian or khaki), the full metal jacket riot squads hot-to-trot, itching-to-swat, backed by bellicosities Fox and Hannity, Carlson profanity, Barr absurdity and the sheer inanity of an Orange-headed contempt for fact and truth and reasonable conversation.

Continue reading “Holy Ghost”

Apocalypse of Whiteness

whitenessBy Jim Perkinson, a sermon for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (Detroit, MI)

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. (Paul, heading off to Rome and ultimately, his death, in II Cor 13:11)

Farewell.  The entirety of the message for today.  Farewell to the world you thought you knew.  Farewell to the country.  To certainty.  To your identity.  To the expectation of progress, well-being, comfort, a good end.  And maybe, most important of all, farewell to the story we have been living in.  We live inside stories—a whole mess of stories—origins stories, initiation stories, trickster stories.  Leslie Marmon Silko says at the end of the day, when the dominators come, when the colonists come, when the supremacists come, when the humans come (if you are a fish or plant or mountain top) all we have are our stories (yes, even non-human creatures probably have stories they live).  But if we are the ones who have been doing the dominating, the colonizing, the reducing, being the “human masters over” everything else as the Psalmist unfortunately says—then what our responsibility comes down to is narrating—and embracing—an “ending.”  How do we end and end well?  Continue reading “Apocalypse of Whiteness”

the wind from the tomb

JPerk
Dr. Jim Perkinson offering a spoken word at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, MI

by jim perkinson, 04.19.2020, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (Detroit, MI)

we worry now
about breath
where it has been
whose kiss it carries and whose
nostril-curl in zephyr-spins
of night or day or twirling
door-gush rushing to the street
and we now see how primal
is the air of earth, the river
whence we cruise and where
we move, like fish-in-flow or
a swallow on the wing at dusk—we,
feet on dust, head up-thrust and strolling Continue reading “the wind from the tomb”

the second coming of easter

Water Shift
A pre-pandemic water shift in Detroit, MI.

By Jim Perkinson

empty churches preaching empty tombs
to empty pews, a vision of gloom,
the doom of the poor now creeping
close in corona-spoor knocking even
at the door of the rich and who would
have thought it all could upend
in a single dash of air-splash, invisible,
carrying not quite living code from animal
to our abode everywhere, leading all
but rash, bible-brash evangelical hubris
to hunker in shelter, or fear-trembled,
in hovels or dense-packed streets of
homeless retreats or refugee tents
a world of babel towers
and fake news showers and glowering, bulge-veined purveyors of cover
for the bankers and oil exec wankers to push profit-margins to the edge of the cliff . . . Continue reading “the second coming of easter”

o, woman

Water Transfer 3
Re-loading cases of water to deliver to victims of water shut-off.

By Jim Perkinson, on John 4:5-42, for the beloved community that meets at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (right) at the corner of Trumbull and Michigan in Detroit.  

o, the waters, the waters, the waters

o jacob, my father
o leah, my mother
o rachel, crying after the lost ones Continue reading “o, woman”

Indigenous Wisdom Re-Schooling Christian Vision

LilyFrom the Center For Babaylan Studies, this webinar is live tomorrow at 2pmEST. Click here to register!

Is it possible to learn from indigenous wisdom and practice across the globe and then re-read the biblical writings with an eye to the indigenous traces not entirely erased there? Or is going back to indigenous ways the same as going back to superstitious belief? Does following Jesus mean forsaking all other ancestral ways? This webinar will walk through the scriptural tradition to explore a possibility of calling Christianity to depth-work in recovering some of its own indigenous, anti-imperial roots. Continue reading “Indigenous Wisdom Re-Schooling Christian Vision”