In the midst of this year's most recent racially incited tragedies between communities of color and police officers circulated by mass media I've not been as vocal as times past. For those who know me personally, professionally and civically, my commentary has not mirrored the presumed expectation of me. Partly because, well what does one say, when day after day life is prematurely extracted from this earth? What does one say when what you've already said seems played out like the top 40 hit that is now mundane instead of inspiring? To be honest, I've not written because I've been praying and pleading with the Holy Spirit to share with me what to say.
Not surprisingly, this theme of being at a loss for words seems to be emerging with other scholars and anti-racism activists. I recently read a post, “Something more is required of us now. What?” by legal scholar and activist Michelle Alexander expressing a similar state of being. So many are at a loss for the regurgitation of words that seem to continuously fall on deaf ears, leaving us to question further, “Is any of it working?” I echo the sentiments of Alexander when she writes, “I am inspired again and again by so much of the beautiful, brilliant and daring activism that is unfolding all over the country. Yet I also know that more is required than purely reactive protest and politics. A profound shift in our collective consciousness must occur, a shift that makes possible a new America.” In spite of generations of resisting racism, we have yet to produce the desired results of seismic transformation that yields the unprecedented, institutionally-manifested, valuing of human life and dignity in communities of color throughout this nation. On the surface we may hope for a post-racial society, but research continues to suggest that we’ve done more to simply mask racism as opposed to dismantling it.
Further, it’s more evident that there is a growing widespread titillating thirst for violence against humanity. The voters who seem to be emerging out of the woodworks excited by and embracing the racially charged political rhetoric are evidence of this. The millions upon millions of replayed views of bullets piercing the bodies of unarmed people in front of their children, partners and community also reflect our fascination with violence. Need I mention websites like WorldStar that exists primarily to show people brutally fighting one another? Or video games like Call of Duty and others that simulate war violence so effectively that they are used in military and law enforcement training programs? We've convinced ourselves that a society that values human dignity is what we should pursue, but our wide-scale normalized collective practices ultimately reveal otherwise leaving the pursuit of humanizing justice as mostly rhetoric.
Thus, what else is there to not only say, what else are we to do? People have been saying the system is broken; but academically I've been studying this way too long and know that the system is functioning exactly the way it was designed to function. It is a political-social system built on the practice of oppression—even if in theoretical language it seems to suggest otherwise, which it actually doesn't—and so oppression it begets. There is nothing new about this under the sun. Hard as the pill may be to swallow, wanting to fix what isn’t broken is an exercise in futility.
Exploratory Presidential task forces won't cut it. More legislation rhetorically legalizing equity practices hasn't done it either. So now what? Like so many others, I'm at a loss of what will effectively change our social political structure and need more than time to mull it over. But thank God, as a person of faith who happens to be an academic, I am not limited to intellectual and political redresses to the problems we face.
I recently saw a meme from Rev. Otis Moss, III that stated the following:
Jesus was a refugee, under Roman occupation, racially profiled and familiar with the stop and frisk policy of the Roman military and the incarceration and torture practiced by the colonizer…In other words Jesus knows all about our troubles…
I don't quote Rev. Moss in efforts to take him personally to task or start some rivalry cloaked in a hiphop era masked self-promoting beef. Nor am I reducing his larger sermonic content to this one a social media meme. My concern is genuinely with the take away theology, of which many others also proclaim, and the current state of the church in such a time as this. I absolutely agree with the proffered cultural description of Jesus on earth and the reality that "He knows all about our troubles." But what I say next is the revelation I was offered in this period of "silence" for me as I sought the Spirit on what to say.
I may lose a slew of "friends" with what I've been given, but say it I must. In knowing the conditions of oppression under which Jesus the man lived and following in his example of how he addressed things, the refugee, poverty-stricken, physically harassed and killed by operatives of the state Jesus never led one march, rally, or petition for laws to be changed before the state. Even when his disciples wondered if now was the time that he would over take Rome as King, they were chided for having missed the point. Consequently, I must ask, have we been seeking and investing in the wrong things?
Jesus’ global revolution was a revolution of and in the Spirit.
Never did he attempt to reform or tear down the man made geo-political structure that was the Roman Empire. However, knowing that political kingdoms, nation states would come and go ad nausea—some that would be more mindful of God and justice, others that would be lovers of themselves—the tectonic shift in Jesus' liberation strategies was of the Spirit, which could be lived and replicated for infinity regardless of the conditions of the culture and body. Do not misread what's being stated here, for I would never suggest Christ did not live a theology of the oppressed. However, Jesus advocated for a method that liberated people in the Spirit to the point where no longer was the charge simply a matter of loving others as one knew to love oneself, for even in that one could be limited in the love of oneself and thereby others. But Jesus shift becomes “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Trusting in the law as the guidepost for social structure and interaction has never benefited the people of God. The law only reveals how far we are from living divine love that honors the Spirit in each of us. We’ve established laws for millennia instructing one another to treat others justly because it is in our nature not to do so. We don’t have laws admonishing each other not to dump waste in outer space because no one is doing that (at least not yet); but we have had to legislate ourselves in regard to homicide because people are killing people. Therefore, in following Jesus' footsteps, we can never trust our salvation or faith to the operations of the state. We must know that the United States of America(s), the Rome(s), Babylon(s), Egypt(s) will always exist as long as this earth exists. And the attempts to conquer them by the tools of their own design are ineffectual.
The liberating, salvific space for ourselves and ultimately societies across the globe rests in the movement of the Spirit that causes one to value the very beingness of others far above the value of one’s self. The people of God have gravely been ignoring the Spirit of God and we need a revival in the Holy Spirit if we are to ever overcome the wickedness we face.
Across this nation, we (yes I include myself here) have allowed for the promotion of the godliness in form, but not in power (Read 2 Tim 3:1-7). We have neglected en mass to speak and walk in intimate fellowship under the anointing of the Holy Spirit so that we can actually live out Christ’s revolutionary commandment and tear down the strongholds that have so many bound and dying. God is not incapable of ending violence in our communities and providing the vitality of life. It’s not even that God does not desire to answer our petitions. However, if the petitions from the people of God are coming from the lips of those who are exalting themselves, refuse to study and walk in the Spirit (the only way to seek God’s face), and are holding on to our own wickedness, we simply will not hear from Heaven (2 Chron 7:14).
How can I say so confidently that the Church collective is existing primarily in form and lacking power? Because when operating in the Spirit, the intended results of the Spirit always manifest. One will not find an incident in the Bible where anyone speaking and moving in the full authority and under the anointing of the Holy Spirit did not produce the results of the prophetic word spoken. If we are fighting against the demonic forces in our communities and nothing is happening, then the failure is in us. Often we are focusing on strategies that deny primarily what must happen first in the Spirit. In our humility, may God forgive us and revitalize the measure of faith in all of us. We must get this corrected; our very lives depend upon it.