Monday, May 21, 2012

Lost in a Familiar Place

by Brian Foulks
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor

I once read an article that suggested that the best thing that ever happened to Christianity was Philosophy. Philosophy caused Christianity to explain it vagueness and affirm its foundational truths. It caused Christians to answer the question of Why?-a definite question with a mass of rhetorical responses.

In the past couple of months, questions have been brought to the table that has once again cause Christianity to explain itself. These questions have produced a climate of estrangement within a context that supposedly exemplifies community. It has called Christianity to either take action or to continue being cheerleaders. Many have aligned themselves with the latter taken refuge in a misappropriation of scripture. The Trayvon Martin case and the President‘s stance of same gender marriages have called Christianity to the floor.

Regardless of the position you take, the questions leads to what Paul Tillich terms “existential doubt.” This is a place that brings one to rigorous reflection, as he/she wrestles with a decision. This decision has the potential to many times fly in the face of a particular truth that you have been taught. Therein lays the impasse for many Christians- do we forgo what we have been taught or allow this revelation to change our position.

The aforementioned issues have been highlighted in the black church, as we wrestle with ourselves to provide answers. Action is minimized when dialogue is unorganized which appears to fall heavily on many black churches. Disagreement does not always warrant stoppage but it solicits clarification. But in many cases disagreement becomes the exact opposite-it becomes a place to hinder a movement or action.

The black church has fallen victim to tradition and alienated itself from responsibility. That is not a slight on the work it has done and is doing but an observation from one indigenous of that context. The window of opportunity will close and if we have not aligned ourselves properly to “all”, we will miss the chance to speak on any type of level or topic. Yes, we will disagree but that does not mean that we have to be in competition with each other. That does not mean that we have to prove our legitimacy; it only means that we need to improve our understanding of each other.

Issues of this magnitude give us opportunity to reassess our positions while in relationship. It is easy to stand behind a pulpit, make profound statements via Facebook and Twitter versus looking someone in the face as you denigrate them with your words. Our theological perspectives are worthless if we refuse to live them out before men. Our churches are useless if we make proclamations that are traditional but lack a sense of contextualization of the moment. Our Christianity becomes a familiar place that we ultimately find ourselves lost within because we have forgetting the vision and call for the sake of being connected with the norm. We start to preach to others things that we ourselves totally disagree with in order to carry-out the preacher motif. We try so hard to fit in that we actually forget to change the environment but we allow the environment to change us.

Familiar places become unfamiliar when you fail to pay attention…Michael Patton in his piece “Drowning Man” identifies this when he says,
“I used to have green eyes. My green eyes used to be an endearing and attractive means by which I lured many young ladies to my side. I don’t know what color they are now.”

Though he looks in the mirror everyday he fails to comprehend the very color of his eyes. He has lost sight of t he very thing that gives him sight-vision. The black church has slowly inched itself into the drowning man complex to where it is becoming a lost space for those who are familiar with its culture. The once convening space has now become a place for the performative rather than a hub for change. Can we reengage and re-familiarize ourselves, where we fight for the least of these?-whoever that may be.


The MommyWife said...

You ask the question: "Can we reengage and re-familiarize ourselves, where we fight for the least of these?-whoever that may be." Honestly, I'm not sure the collective church can do this. There is too much at stake. The very pillars on which they stand (theological stance) won't allow it. It is chocked full of rhetoric from the days of old when the culture was extremely different from what it is now, and unfortunately many reject those of us who have reengaged in a different, more thoughtful way that aligns itself more with Christ's example rather than the traditions they hold so much more dear.

Although the collective church probably won't shrink from its performative ways, it is upon us (those of us who are willing to reengage and not acquiesce) to spark change--however we may--in order to pierce the national stage of what Christianity is really all about.

It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.

And I'm in.

Brian said...

This may be way I findit so hard to work through all of he church stuff. It appears that rhetoric and doctrinal positions have overshadowed practice-as long as your orthodoxy is right your orthapraxy is overlooked. you can see that in many of the reformers-Luther, Calvin and Edwards. They had no drive to evangelize but was heavy on teaching. No compassion just straight up and down my arguement is better than yours.

This may be why there is such discontent for a person like Cone or Rev. Wright because they love the Lord Jesus and practice it in public as well-contrary to what most think.

Great resposne nonetheless Vetta, one that gets me thinking.

And I am in as well.

Pastor Jim said...

I'm with you on the importance of ortho-praxy.

The MommyWife said...

Well said, Brian. Well said. While I respect Calvin's and Luther's contributions to my understanding of the Scriptures on many levels, I cannot overlook the orthopraxy. It's blatant. And it's sad. And many of our brothers and sisters have followed suit. But change starts with the one person I can control (me) and hopefully I can spark change one person at a time through love as well as truth :)

Brian said...

I believe we have missed the boat especially in the black church. We have such amazing preaching that we get so caught up in the rhetorical skill set that sometime we forget to actually use the information. Jay-Z was definitely on to something when he wrote the Gift and the Curse and the black church has the same ethos applied to them.

Dr. Johnson wrote a great piece on the rhetorical skills of Cone, verbally and written, that would add such great commentary on this subject.