Category: Western Alternatives


hsosIt is my firm belief that God works through all cultures of the world and uses them to reflect his attributes and ways. This is definitely true in the case of African American culture. In writing this book, I have written about the journey of a people as they have sought freedom and equality in a land that was not their own. In spite of all this, they maintained a level of dignity and humanity in the face of suffering and showed the world that tragedy can be turned into triumph. I wrote this book because I love two things: God and myself. I am an African American male and the product of the black church. One thing that frustrates me is the lack of literature and resources that highlight my heritage and my faith. Black History month has been a time to celebrate the rich legacy of African Americans and their contribution to the world, but it has been divorced from one of the things that has made that contribution so rich: the faith of African Americans, which is largely found in Jesus Christ.

This book is for all those who have an interest in African American culture and history. It can be used to enlighten and give understanding to African Americans and it also can serve as an introduction to Black History for those who are not African American. So if you are curious about Black History then this is a small taste of the historical figures and accomplishments that have made a great impact in the world.

Secondly, it is for those who are hungering for a way to integrate their faith with their heritage. This is to show the ways in which God is not divorced from the African American experience and he is not divorced from your life as a black person in the United States. In the same way that he was with your ancestors he will be with you when you face the fiery trials and weighty burdens of life. Your faith is not “the white man’s religion ” but something that is uniquely yours.

Lastly, this is for all those who are on a spiritual quest. Wherever you are on your journey this book has something for you. If you are spiritually curious then you will find in these pages something that will get you thinking and meditating. The Christian faith of African Americans provides a unique spiritual legacy. It was a resource that helped to bolster them in the harshest conditions . This rich spiritual tradition is something that can benefit anyone who is spiritually hungry or curious.

(Introduction. Mayo, Ramon. His Story, Our Story)

His Story, Our Story is a 31 day Black History devotional. It is a collection of biographical sketches on great figures in African American history along with devotional thoughts, discussion questions and prayers on themes from the Bible. It connects the journey of African Americans with the God who sustained and liberated them. Containing biographical information on a variety of different characters in Black History, His Story Our Story uses the heritage of African Americans to help you go forward in your spiritual journey.

His Story, Our Story is available in paperback and as an ebook download. You can find out more about Ramon Mayo and his work at his website.

I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago to come across an online journal called Christ and Cascadia, which “explores the cultural challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities for Christianity in Cascadia. The journal is committed to cultivating thoughtful conversations that are contextually aware, theologically rich, and culturally creative”. It is the online journal of the Fuller Institute of Theology and Northwest Culture, who also hosts conferences and creates courses designed to raise the dialogue for engaging with these communities.

Proposed flag for Cascadia

Proposed flag for Cascadia

“Cascadia” is the name of the bioregion shared by Oregon and Washington (sometimes Northern California, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana), USA and British Columbia, Canada. At times a political movement, the name has come to refer more generally to the culture of the peoples that live in the Pacific Northwest of North America. You can read more about that culture here- Cascadian Culture: Grasping a Slippery Salmon.

As an example, the blog titled “God and the Seattle Seahawks” uses distinctive facets of a professional American Football team to illustrate Cascadian culture. Continue reading

preaching_webDJ Chuang was asked recently about how best to access Asian American influenced preaching available in podcasts. His page links to a “list of Asian American pastors that regularly preach and teach at their churches and particularly contextualize the Gospel for all peoples, those who are bicultural, interracial, and multiethnic (in contrast to some who may speak from a generic Gospel perspective, not that there’s anything wrong with that… //…to be listed, there needs to be podcast feeds that can be subscribed in iTunes and Android, as well as contextualizing Gospel to cultures.”

LINK: Leading voices among Asian American preachers

I have followed DJ Chuang online and admired his gift for networking, especially among multicultural strands of the North American church. I encourage you to click through and listen to some of those podcasts (I only know one of of the pastors personally, but I am acquainted with several and have grown personally through my interaction with their writing and speaking.)

For more from DJ Chuang about the North American church and Asian American influences, find his website here.

minimumArtist Joey Novak has an installation of minimalist interpretations of books of the Bible (LINK). Out of respect for his work, I will not post the images here, but encourage you to follow the link to see for yourself.

Questions to consider:

What symbols carry the most power in his art?

How do we assign meaning to symbols (enough meaning that they can convey so much more than words)?

What other symbols exist that we can use to communicate the gospel and discipleship?

Black Jesus by Stanley Rayfield

Black Jesus by Stanley Rayfield

In the 1960s, theologian James Cone was writing in an era of civil unrest due to racial disparity in the presence of a majority church largely unaware and unconcerned with the injustices common to his experience.

Rather than postpone the triumph over injustice to some abstract, heavenly future, he stresses the incarnation of Christ into the lives of the oppressed. This emphasis empowers the oppressed as well as challenges the privileged. This hermeneutic introduces reconciliation as a necessity for mature discipleship.

Below is an excerpt from James Cone’s book, Black Theology and Black Power:

“The way of the church is related to the fact that the Kyrios Lord himself is on his way in the world, …and the church has no choice but to follow him who precedes. Consequently obedience and witness to the Kyrios require the discernment of the opening which he provides and the willingness to step into this opening.” –Thomas Weiser

The opening has been made and the Church must follow. To follow means that the Church is more than a talking or a resolution-passing community. Its talk is backed up with relevant involvement in the world as a witness, through action, that what it says is in fact true.

Where is “the opening” that Christ provides? Where does he lead his people?
Continue reading

macrinaMacrina was born in 327 to a wealthy family living in Turkey. She was named after her grandmother, who had studied theology and been persecuted in the third-century. Macrina was the oldest of 10 siblings and responsible for educating her younger brothers and sisters. She was arranged to be married but he died before the wedding, at which point Macrina dedicated herself to assisting her mother before entering the monastic life.

Convincing her mother to relinquish her estate among her siblings after the death of her husband, the two women began a convent consisting of freed slaves. Their religious devotion would leave a greater impact than they could have imagined. Continue reading

Farid De La Ossa Arrieta: God, the Mother (2002)

Farid De La Ossa Arrieta: God, the Mother (2002)

Mother’s Day makes me think about God’s maternal side. Christianity has been guilty of a patriarchal history that has been oppressive of women. Our conception of God as masculine, e.g. God as Father or King, certainly contributes to our slide into patriarchy. Although written in patriarchal contexts, the Bible itself does not refer to God exclusively in masculine metaphors. There are, albeit few, feminine metaphors used to describe God in the Bible. In this post, I want to highlight the maternal or motherly metaphors used.

God as Mother Bird & Mother Bear

One of the common images is God as a mother bird sheltering her children under her wings. We see this in Ruth 2:12 – “May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (All references are from Today’s New International Version.) The Psalms used this imagery a number of times:

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psa. 17:8)

“… I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (Psa. 57:1)

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge …” (Psa. 91:4)

Jesus picks up these images when he laments over Jerusalem: Continue reading

How do we incorporate the cultural expectations of our particular locations in our own theological development? What elements inform our community’s imagination and supply meaning to its spiritual vocabulary? How can we communicate effectively who Christ is and the significance of the gospel?

In 1927, Po Ch’en Kuang viewed the Chinese religious classics Analects, Mencius, and the Book of Songs and Rites as comparable to the prophets, Psalms, and Deuteronomy of the Hebrew Scriptures that were included in the canon by non-Hebrew Christian groups. As Kwok Pui Lan summarized his argument, “since the Bible contains the important classics of the Jewish people which preceded Jesus, he could see no reason why the Chinese would not include their own” (“Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World.” Voices from the Margins. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed.  1991, 302).

Some Christian communities in India exemplify this approach through the incorporation of Vedic Hindu Scriptures. The Vedas and Hindu traditions define the lexicon of the spirituality and so to access this subsystem of the culture requires fluency in the associated terms and grammar. Thangaraj describes the possibility of viewing the Hindu scriptures as a type of “Old Testament for Indian Christians” and the need to “…read the Hindu Scriptures in the light of Christ, just as the early Jewish disciples of Jesus had done with the Hebrew Scriptures” (“The Bible as Veda: Biblical Hermeneutics in Tamil Christianity.” Vernacular Hermeneutics. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1999, 136). This perspective takes seriously the extent to which the Hinduism and the Vedic scriptures have shaped the culture and religious expectation in India. One must mine the cultural influence of the Hindu Scripture to present an image of Christ that is recognizable and incorporated into the lives of the community.

Which of these is closest to the image of Christ?

Within these convergent communities, local theologians utilize the existing thought forms and archetypes to mold their unique Christologies. As a North American example, Gabe Lyons, in his book The Next Christians (2010), labels some communities of North American Christians restorers, in clear differentiation from a former buzzword, relevant. A defining characteristic of these communities is a countercultural relationship with the majority culture. The term “countercultural” is not void of meaning to this community, however, as they possess preconceived images that define it. To view Christ as countercultural places him in a category of other iconoclasts and may conjure images of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, or Bob Dylan. Elements of the lives of each of these men find greater definition when applied to Christ, such as commitment to societal change, redefining oneself in relation to one’s commitment to faith, or using poetic language to convey a message of hope and love. A more contemporary example of the countercultural iconoclast is the street artist Banksy, an anonymous activist known to beautify public places in an attempt to bring attention to injustices or awaken people to a life of deeper significance.  The theologizing of the restorers follows the pre-existing pattern to determine the type of countercultural figure Jesus is and the manner in which the community can align their lives after his in discipleship.  For this community to comprehend Christ, they begin with the images with which they are familiar and then seek the direction of scripture to add greater definition.

What elements exist within your community that form its “lexicon of spirituality”? How can these  be used and re-interpreted to convey the gospel?

This essay was excerpted from “Form, Re-Form: Religious and Cultural Identity in the Formation of Christian Theology” , by Michael Shepherd. The full material can be found here and is open for dialogue and review.

50 years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his poignant essay “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. A watershed moment for the American Civil Rights Movement, King’s letter continues to be an entry point for understanding Christian opposition to systemic injustice. The stark realities of churches captive to cultural notions of superiority echo from its pages and should give us reason again to acknowledge our complicity in mistreatment of our neighbor (regardless their ethnicity, gender, or creed) and resolve to change ourselves and our communities.

In his address, King is writing to white pastors who were silent or resistant to the need for social justice regarding civil rights for African-Americans, and his call resounds to  Christians who are ignorant of the histories and current realities of ethnically and historically marginalized groups. Continuing to ignore the reality (or the identity-creating history) perpetuates the cultural divides that subtly (and not-so-subtly) influence contemporary Christianity.

Below is the letter in it’s entirety.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms. Continue reading

I once had a professor refer to modernity as a “300-year cul-de-sac”. He was speaking glibly about the ways in which post-modern theory in application resembles cultures that never experienced the contextual forces of the West, which produced modernity.

Modernity, at the risk of over-simplification, is the philosophical context produced and sustained by the European Enlightenment era. The prioritized assumptions of this era became normative for Europeans and North Americans. Within the last century, these assumptions have come under greater scrutiny and alternative realities have been posited. The collection of these perspectives fall under the nebulous category of “post-modernity”.

By consequence of the attention given to post-modernity, non-Western perspectives have also risen to examination. As one explores these views, there is a tentative label of “pre-modernity”. I believe this designation to be ineffective however, as it implies a linear, evolutionary path for cultures. From a primitive existence, through enlightenment (by which we mean the prioritization of Western methods and assumptions), to eventually settle where the post-modern’s have pioneered.

But this process is not necessarily the path all cultures must follow. Some will never experience modernity, others will experience their own unique changes through the influence of globalization and migration patterns.

I propose a different term, amodernity. Although still referencing its antithesis, there is no evolutionary bias (pre-/post-) or negation (non-). The neologism can serve as a more inclusive term when referring to perspectives or cultural contexts. The philosophies represented within amodernity are diverse and can represent a community of thought ranging from ancients to avant-garde and bring a source of commonality to a myriad of “post-philosophies”: post-colonial, post-structural, post-Christendom, post-foundational, post-empirical, etc.

Within this shared pool of philosophies, meaningful dialogue can take place to further develop the impact of these unique perspectives. By alignment, the currently disparate philosophies can borrow from one another’s strengths and benefit from communal critique. These values are familiar to the disparate contextual communities now falling under the categories of pre/post-modern.

This essay is still preliminary and welcome to critique.

If you identify with a particular philosophical context, how would definition under “amodernity” affect your current self-understanding?

How do you effectively balance an attention to the unique perspective of a group yet also bridge to commonality? (In theory? In practice?)

This site is primarily interested in the influence of culture upon theology and Biblical interpretation (as well as the reverse). The application of amodernity, however, would also have implication for other fields of study. I am especially intrigued at the potential of the worldwide church to be a laboratory of sorts for amodernal thinking and action, as it is a diverse organization (“body”, some might say) cutting across cultures, languages, contextual realities, social class, and time.

Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies and Hope International University. His research into the cultural influences upon theological identity led him to create the collaborative blog GlobalTheology.org. He currently works for a local non-profit agency and serves as an adjunct professor.

“Then he (Jesus) appointed seventy others and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go… heal the sick and proclaim that the kingdom has come near.” (Luke 10:1-9)
Throughout history, God has called certain individuals or groups to become trail blazers, pioneers, explorers, discoverers, entrepreneurs, the avant garde of the march towards the future. Today, January 24, we celebrate the feast of Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman to be ordained in the worldwide Anglican Communion. (Click to Tweet) We also read about the calling of the seventy disciples to go ahead of Jesus to announce that the kingdom of God has come near.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for his accomplishments in the area of civil rights and fighting against injustice. He will always be remembered as a “drum major for justice” and as a man who had a dream of equality for all. What many do not know is that along with being an activist King was a theologian. King’s activism was rooted in a theology that was rich and deep and drew upon a variety of sources. Let’s take a look at what influenced one of the greatest Americans of all time.Martin Luther King Jr.

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 348 other followers