A good friend I grow in admiration of every time we break bread together is Jimmy McGee. And although I’ve mentioned him on this blog before, I cannot fully express how much I learn from this man simply being in his presence and in conversation with him.
If you’ve never heard of Jimmy, I invite you to check out his first published article entitled “Re-visiting Rev. Wright.”
I recommend it particularly if you were turned off by the statements that Jeremiah Wright made that were turned into fodder for the political machine recently. My own mother felt that a Christian who made such bold, seemingly anti-American statements was not fit to pastor a presidential candidate and that a serious presidential candidate should not be found in a church like Wright’s. But the thing that many people missed out on was the fact that this man is not a raging anarchist, in fact, on the contrary, he’s thoughtful and active in service. The posture that I have come appreciate about Black theology and of Wright in particular is they have enough detachment and skepticism about the powers and principalities of this world to question them and call the US government or any government really to the carpet about these issues. They take the biblical role of prophet seriously in asking how the church is to be a light unto the world, and therefore questioning those inclinations where the world can co-opt the mission of the church. Here’s a clip from Jimmy’s article and a video of Wright’s sermon (again, I highly recommend reading it in its entirety):
The mainstream also does not understand that our critique comes from a deep love for the country and the ideas captured in the Declaration of the Independence and the Constitution of the United States. We have historically participated in every war that jeopardizes the values held in these documents. We have also fought with the hope that the freedoms we defended would be extended to our community, and our humanity recognized as equal in worth.
When the sermon of Rev. Wright was being replayed on YouTube and news services throughout the country, all of a sudden the country was “peeking behind the veil” into the second consciousness of Black folks. This consciousness is not a singular phenomenon, but a collective one….
Eventually, it became humorous to hear evangelicals join in the chorus of criticism aimed at Rev. Wright and question his position as an under shepherd caring for the flock of Jesus’ followers. I wondered how they would’ve responded to Frederick Douglas and his comments regarding Christianity within the United States in his book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave:
“… between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: …Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.”
I find this posture absent in the Asian American communities of faith – meaning that it seems that we care more about our citizenship in heaven and completely disregard any obligation or struggle that we should tend to here; or we seem to remain complicit to the authorities and play by their rules and somehow expect to “win” at this game by being good citizens as though that were to reflect the strength of our faith. And it is from our shallowness that we lament the fact that our youth are leaving the church in droves. But what do we expect, really? The language that we use about the gospel is more doctrinaire than challenging, it is more about application than inspiration. How can a gospel based on pragmatism and compliance ever give people a glimpse of the radical nature of Christ? Would we ever have the courage to turn over the tables of business in our houses of worship? Would we ever shout down our idols of prosperity and education from our pulpits, even as our robes are filled with the pomp and circumstance of those very golden calves?
We exegete a passage but cannot understand the signs, diagnose the wounds in our midst, relate to God in light of our neighbors, or expand the vocabulary of our worship. We never answer the question of how we might sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, but merely adopt the songs of the natives, as though we had no ownership and responsibility to tell how the Lord delivered us to the generations to come. We should retreat from the Promised Land into a Gilgal if nothing more than to circumcize ourselves again, to hold up the American dreams of our parents and sacrifice them all. The days of random acts of kindness should be banished. We must inquire of the Lord what it is He has created us and called us to do. We are not honorary Whites, we are not honor students, we are the called out ones. We must step into a confidence of who we are and remember who we were made to be. I’m tired of grasping for reasons why our youth are falling away and our services trite, it is not merely for lack of prayer, it is for lack of dreaming and hoping that there is more to this Christ than what we can see. There is much more we have not been willing to see or to take hold of. And in taking hold of it, we can hold others and other communities accountable to the calling God has respectively given to them as well.