To the Incoming Class of the American Baptist Seminary of the West:
It is with great pleasure and humility that I extend this welcome to you as incoming seminarians at the American Baptist Seminary of the West (“ABSW”). Rest assured, your life will be forever transformed and your theology developed and honed in preparation for service unto the oppressed people of the world. For this indeed is a blessed opportunity for you to study God’s Word for its application in this 21st Century global economy, where avarice and self-aggrandizement often reign over piousness, relief for the poor, and dedication to Jesus’ mandated recorded in Matt. 25:31-40 of caring for the “least amongst us.” On behalf of the Student Body of ABSW, we welcome you to this sacred academy.
The Student Body of ABSW is a diverse, intimate academic fellowship. Consistent with tradition, we will meet in Chapel for worship every Monday evening, followed by a delicious communal meal. We will also structure activities to interface each others families and loved ones as well as worship together at our respective churches. We will break-bread together, pray together, study together, commiserate together, celebrate together, and, most importantly, laugh together – for a “merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Prov. 17:22 (KJV). The objective is to forge an impenetrable, everlasting bond within this fellowship for the ultimate success of the collective, which will unequivocally yield fruitful ministries for each individual community member.
Finally, if you have questions or challenges during this scholastic year, please do not hesitate to contact me or a member of my administration. My cellular number is xxx-xxx-xxxx; email: …………@aol.com. My door is always open. If I am unable to address your concern, however, a member of my administration will assist you. Your Student Officers are: LaDonna Harris (Vice President), Michele Austin (Treasurer), Sonia Henry (Secretary), Michael Gilbert (Chaplin) and Beverly Thompson (Special Projects). It is our sincere purpose and intent to make your inaugural year at ABSW a most spirit-filled, enlightening experience. We pray that God will continue bless your journey, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will one day stand in the Temple and declare, like Jesus: “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel unto the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, and to preach deliverance to the captives…, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” Luke 4:18 (KJV).
In His Service,
Rev. Richard Carnell Baker, Esq.
ABSW Student Moderator, 2015-2016
Last week’s public release of “HellYouTalmbout,” a newly revised song by six-time Grammy nominated performer Janelle Monáe and her team of artists, Wondaland, caught on like spirit-fire in the soul of the Black Lives Matter movement and has swiftly propelled Monáe — a young, gifted, and socially conscious artist — to the forefront of the voices and faces in the public square.
“HellYouTalmbout” is both anthem and war chant to Afro-Caribbean drum beats that elicit the sounds of throbbing hearts as each name of murdered black men and women is called with the driving command to “Say his/her name.” It is not a love ode, but a protest anthem for freedom. After her Eephus tour August 12 in Phildelphia, and leading a protest march there against police brutality, Monáe posted on Instagram:
“This song is a vessel. It carries the unbearable anguish of millions. We recorded it to channel the pain, fear, and trauma caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters. We recorded it to challenge the indifference, disregard, and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue. Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon. They say a question lives forever until it gets the answer it deserves… Won’t you say their names?”
My first listen to “HellYouTalmbout” raised emotions of tearful sadness, anger, and determination. It has the profound draw of an anthem, a battle cry — the rhythmic, pulsing music of protest with strong male and female voices shouting a death chant of remembrance. “Hell YouTalmbout” is a tool of defiant signification, a refusal to forget those cut down by systemic violence of militarized policing and racial profiling long embedded in the social fabric of urban, inner city life as a “ground-zero” battleground of survival.
At the August 17 Black Out festival in Millennium Park, Chicago, Monáe said, “We don’t come here as artists, as celebrities. We come here as people. I come here as a black woman. We come as a black man, black human beings.”
She was joined at the festival by Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland — a victim of an arrest for an alleged traffic violation that resulted in her brutal death while in police custody, whose name is among the roll call of the martyred in the anthem.
Protest anthems are not new, from field slave chants like Wade in the Water, with Underground Railroad calls of freedom, to the message of resistance in a church favorite, I’m On the Battlefield for my Lord.
But unlike those infused with the sacristy of church hymnody sung during the civil rights era led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the sanctuaries of Southern congregations, there is street cred in “Hell YouTalmbout” and other millennial anthems of the Black Lives Matter movement.
These artists have undeniably adopted protest tools that speak to the gritty life of being poor with limited opportunities for survival in the streets, of life-threatening avenues of risky commerce, and of too-frequent monitoring, if not manipulation, by police as modern-day overseers meting out extrajudicial death sentences.
Anthems as hymns crafted for the public square raise challenging lyrics that are no less spiritual, yet are intended for civic conversion of societal systems and strictures rather than individual conversion of internalized salvation.
And just as young celebrities increasingly have come forward to add voice to the injustice of egregious brutality by police, Monáe also invokes a Christian profession of God as just judge against human injustices of racism, violence, and supremacist ideologies.
She began, “Yes Lord! God bless America! God bless all the lost lives to police brutality. We want white America to know that we stand tall today. We want black America to know we stand tall today. We will not be silenced—”
The rest of her message was interrupted inexplicably. In the re-broadcast, the omission of the entire performance sparked the wrath of social media networks, because this censorship — the act of preventing disquieted voices — was tinder to the fire of the anthem’s message: Protest the disregard for black bodies unseen and voices unheard.
Monáe’s lyrics in her original 2013 song of a similar title state:
Red, white, and blue. Here come the sirens only to dance with the little girls on the corner. There’s a war in the streets. Nobody speaks and now a boy laying on the ground
Now what the hell – Hell you talking ‘bout?…
“We’re laughing together right – right when the shooting comes
Baby what the hell you talking ‘bout?”
A conundrum arises for traditional churches that resist the comingling of sacred and secular — what songs of Zion can reach the populous of disenchanted generations that fill the streets, and what actions can be taken without threat to ecclesial respectability?
Perhaps some will continue to turn deaf ears to the rallying cry for public theology as incarnational gospel of church without walls. Others will prefer to close doors on dwindling numbers rather than turn from a Hallmark-a-cized Christ to a radicalized Jesus.
But those questions are not posed in the prophetic public theology among theologians and church leaders who increasingly embrace the prophetic call-to-action. These leaders are joining the crowds to enact a radical gospel that demands love, dignity, peace, and equity. The numbers of faith leaders in the public square continue to grow, and by their actions, demonstrate that Christ and street cred are both public sanctuary where black lives must be held as sacred.
In the public square, the power of Jesus’ outcry to “take up your cross and follow me” is fueling public theology. Today’s rallying cries are not heavily centered on proselytization but on positive social change. Likewise, the chants — “Black Lives Matter“, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot“, “We want freedom, freedom“, and “Say His/Her Name” — joins unified voices of multi-racial and multi-generational protesters whose beliefs propel them to solidarity in allied disruption.
At the core of these anthems is the premise that God created one human family — that God’s movement as liberator holds an ethical foundation for the equal right to be free. Here in the streets is where both church and community will continue to demand: Hell you talmbout?
Rev. Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble, DMin, PhD, is Assistant Professor, Ministerial Leadership & Practical Theology for the American Baptist Seminary of the West.
And so it happened yesterday that the faculty stumbled upon a Trustee (and alum). Selfies happen.
The faculty and staff of the seminary met yesterday to discuss the new academic semester and plan for the arrival of the new students. We shared the work we did over the summer (theology conferences, teaching in Africa, book proposals, activism, and the arts) with one another. It was an enlivening opportunity to catch up.
We are also excited about what we are offering this semester. We are teaching online and in the physical classroom. We are focusing on the discipline of public theology in most of our classes.
We can talk about that. Or not. I don’t know if I can explain it. If you’ve read anything around here before, you know I have a tendency to talk (a lot) about my relationship with words. But let’s not, right now.
Let’s just be real about right now.
I am terrified.
You maybe know that things have changed for me. The Fellows Program came to an end; I cried. I left Greensboro; I cried. I spent a summer at home; I cried a little bit. I moved to Durham a week ago (and yes, I cried).
Tomorrow, I begin my first day of classes as a Master of Theological Studies student at Duke Divinity School.
I. am. terrified.
I don’t like change, all that much. And I really, really, don’t like not knowing. I don’t like that I don’t know how to get…
(This is too long and lengthy, I know. But, I wish readers of it, would share excerpts of it on social media, encouraging not rebuttals, but add-ons, expansion and deepening, etc. It is now yours, be gentle as you respond. : – ) gil caldwell)
During the Civil Rights Movement we used to sing, “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom”. This morning “I woke up this morning with my mind, heart, spirit, stayed on ‘Black Lives Matter'” And, I wondered, and am now wondering, should it also be “Blacks Matter” as a way of thinking of Blacks as a collective, rather than as individual black lives separated and isolated from the collective experience of blacks since arriving in the America’s?
Israel exists because of the collective and historical experience of Jews. Japan was rebuilt because of the destruction wrought by atomic bombs dropped by the USA. Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the USA because of our war with Japan, were given reparations. Native Americans were given casino rights and land because of their mistreatment, not as individuals, but as a Native American collective. Blacks however are viewed as individuals who will benefit from the “rising tide that lifts all boats”, when in fact history and the present, have kept blacks out of boats and/or allowed blacks to get in boats that were so defective that they would not rise. The “Black Lives Matter” Movement is seeking to help Senator Bernie Sanders and his staff as he contends for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, to understand that the unique negative particularities of Black history, experience and reality, require particular responses!
Ta-Nehisi Coates in his book, Between The World and Me, writes this about a question a news show host asked him; “…the host wished to know why I felt that white American progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe they are white, was built on looting and violence…The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates and his family we read, have gone, or are preparing to go to spend a year in France! When one is an 81 year old former Civil Rights Movement activist and proponent of the Black Theology writings of James Cone and Gayraud Wilmore, who made his first trip to Africa/Tanzania in 1971, to participate in an NCBC-sponsored African and African American gathering of church and government leaders, I have lived with what I call, “A healthy paranoia”. Coates’ writings have been described by Toni Morrison as being, “visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive”, and we who read him agree. Morrison writes that Coates has filled the intellectual void left by the death of James Baldwin. But my paranoia asks, “Have Coates and his family been encouraged to go to France, not because James Baldwin spent time there as an expatriate, but because of his ATLANTIC cover story article; “The Case for Reparations” and the eloquent and elegant ways he describes so powerfully, the historic and continuing damage being done to “black bodies”? May the message of Coates the messenger remain with us, even as he “The Messenger”, has gone to Paris.
I wish those who read the above, would ask and answer for themselves and other these questions. It is a kind of a “Jazz Riff” that needs the complementary responses of first, “The young, gifted and black” participants/leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and then secondly, the rest of us.
Is this a moment in the history of the USA when the Black Justice struggle will and should be reformed, re-constructed and re-built in ways that subsequent generations of blacks and our allies, will not have to over and over again, engage in the “same old, same old”?
When we look back and remember how candidate Barack Obama was demeaned, diminished and dehumanized because of his membership in Trinity Church in Chicago, and its unapologetic, Black-based biblical interpretation and theology, should we have seen this as an “individualizing” of a black would be President, who might govern in ways that were “reparational” for blacks in response to our nation’s anti-black history?
Bonhoeffer wrote of “cheap grace”. Could Black nonviolence and capacity for “forgiveness of those who kill blacks”, be less-than-transforming because they have not radically transformed those who continue to do damage to “black bodies”? The public and media attention given to the nonviolence and forgiveness of Black people of faith, and Black leaders, that does not encourage transformation in word and deed of those who notice, makes of Black nonviolence and forgiveness, “cheap and without cost”.
The death of Julian Bond brings to memory and these moments, the positive and less-than-positive interactions between SCLC and SNCC. What have we learned from that history that is applicable in these “Black Lives Matter” moments? Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture spoke to our United Methodist Black Caucus and in one of the Churches that I pastored. Should not Stokely be remembered as we are remembering Julian Bond and John Lewis, upon the death of Julian Bond? If the conflict between Bond and Lewis as they ran against each other for Congress is worth remembering, why not Stokely Carmichael and Black Power and his constant repeating of “organize, organize, organize”?
The Congressional Black Caucus, once, maybe still does, had as their motto/ theme; “We have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests”. Are not those interests shaped by the continuing gaps between blacks and whites; economically, educationally, in incarceration, healthcare, home ownership, jobs, and net worth, etc?
I write not as a Black Nationalist, Separatist, nor as one who believes in self segregation. The “Blacks Matter” theme/identification that I suggest will become a reality only asthose who are not black embrace it. We who are Black, in either our homes, our neighborhoods, churches, mosques, colleges, fraternities/sororities, love of Jazz, Blues, Gospels, Rap, Hip-Hop, sports, etc. have been taught/learned that “Blacks Matter”. But, we have allowed American individualism, and the individual successes of Blacks, keep us from focusing on the negatives that Blacks/African Americans continue to experience. Some had thought that the Civil Rights Movement, then Oprah and then an Obama, would enable the gaps to be bridged. But they have not been bridged.
The nominating process and then the election of a President in 2016 can be like all other nominating and presidential campaigns. But the interventions of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement in the campaigning and policy development process this year, ought offer new hope for African Americans and the nation. I can hear again the voice and words of Fannie Lou Hamer at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention:
OT – 8174 INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT: This course will provide a basic online introduction to the study and message of the OT. The successful student will have 1) acquired a socio-cultural and theological overview of the Old Testament with foci on basic content as well as critical issues and exegetical and hermeneutical methodologies; 2) developed a self-awareness concerning his/her own social location and its relationship to the reading, thinking, and doing of biblical, historical, and theological work. Follow #ABSWBible across social media. Dr. LeAnn Snow Flesher, Dean and Professor of Old Testament, instructor
ST – 8284 THEOLOGY AS LIVING CONVERSATION: AN INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY: In this online course, students will be introduced to the complex and diverse discipline of Christian theology, conceived as a living conversation that takes place across time and cultures. The course will encourage students to claim their own places in this living conversation, and to grow into their identities as valued, theological conversation contributors, self-aware of their own social and cultural locations. Students will engage various theological methods, including ordinary, practical, systematic/constructive, liturgical, biblical, and public theology. Students’ understandings will be assessed through written work, online discussion, a media-appropriate project (involving perhaps Twitter, Storify, blogs, or infographics), and a final imaginative dialogue. The course will be taught from a commitment to liberative pedagogy in which students’ voices and experiences are encouraged and valued. Appropriate for MDiv, MCL, and MA students, and satisfies the required core theology course for at ABSW. Students from across the GTU are most welcome and encouraged to sign up for this course as well. Follow @TALC_theology on Twitter and #TALCabsw across social media. Dr. Jennifer Davidson, Associate Professor of Worship and Theology, instructor
LS – 8100 MISSIONAL LITURGY: This online course will address the relationship between social justice, ethical Christian formation, liturgical spirituality, and worship. Worship can happen anytime, anywhere. This course will examine missional implications of Sunday morning worship, but it will also explore emergent worship, worship at the margins, and the creation of worship spaces that are spaces of “eruption” where God’s transformative spirit is invited to erupt in the midst of oppressive circumstances. This course is intended for MDiv, MCL, and MA students. The course will require weekly written responses, Online collaborative engagement, and a final project of the student’s design. Follow @MissionaLiturgy on Twitter and #ABSWLiturgy across social media. Rev. Tripp Hudgins, PhD student and Director of Admissions at ABSW, instructor
How many hours, Lord? How many hours Will he lay out in the sun Under the gaze, Lord, Under the gaze Of Darren Wilson’s gun? Four hours… Four hours… Is four hours long enough For Michael Brown To lay out in the sun?
It has been a year.
A year since Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown.
A year since Ferguson erupted.
And they aren’t done yet.
Students from the Pacific School of Religion and American Baptist Seminary of the West are there now with students from Eden Seminary studying with activists and theologians asking the same question that many in this country are asking, “Do black and brown lives matter as much as others?”
They are standing in the streets chanting with the crowds gathered there, “Tell me what a family looks like; this is what a family looks like.”
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Tell me what a family looks like.
This is what a family looks like.
From Baltimore to Berkeley, people are asking the question. Do black lives matter? It has been a year and we cannot seem to find an answer to the question. “Of course they do” some people state. “Then why is it so hard for so many to be black or brown in this country?” is the question that follows.
“Maybe if they just pulled their pants up and turned the music down,” is a common enough retort. Then, as I hope you can see, we’re back where we started.
A young man walks into Mother Emmanuel AME Church and nine lives come to a tragic end. The “politics of respectability” cannot save black and brown lives either. You can be a respected member of the state government, a pastor, a grandmother, and none of that will matter. You can be President of the United States of America and it won’t matter. Your race will be a strike against you.
You fail to signal when changing lanes.
You turn your music up too loudly.
You dress like a young punk because you are a young punk…
You talk back.
You exercise your right to speak your mind and…
…nowhere. It gets you nowhere. It gets you killed. And you despair.
How many years, Lord How many years Has the freedom song been sung Under the gaze, Lord Under the gaze, Of a white man with a gun? Four hundred years… Four hundred years… Four hundred years is long enough Under the gaze Under the gaze Of a white man with a gun.
But it doesn’t end there, either. No, the reach of this thing is larger. This violence, this greed, this fear knows no bounds of race, color, creed, gender…
Zachary Hammond, an unarmed white nineteen year old, was killed in a drug bust in a Hardee’s parking lot where his friend was found in possession of ten grams of marijuana. No one said a word except for the #BlackLivesMatter movement social media community. There was no outrage from the white community (whatever that is) about the death of one of our own. The #AllLivesMatter community said nothing. Nothing. Why is that?
The media, too, was silent. The only stories published in major news outlets were about how there were no stories published in major news outlets.
We do know what sells column inches and website clicks, don’t we?
What do we think is normal?
What have we become accustomed to?
What do we think is necessary to maintain an orderly society?
What do we think is just and fair?
What do we believe is Beautiful, Good, and True?
Does an orderly society necessitate the deaths of its young women and men?
This is our sad truth.
“O my daughter, O my son! Would that it were me…”
No, our voices are silent.
Or we’re fearfully sitting at home grateful that it is not us, it is not our son.
The power of empire is seductive. King David strove for it. His son, Absalom, longed for it. In a tale that rivals Game of Thrones in its chaotic violence, rape, incest, fratricide, and plain old murder, the kingdom is in an uproar. There is no one innocent and good in this tale. There is no helpless victim here.
Yet, Absalom hangs from a tree, executed by those whom King David charged with Absalom’s safety have taken it upon themselves to execute him. Guilty or not, insurrectionist or not, they took power into their own hands and executed Absalom. They lynched him.
After all the clamoring for power, lives are destroyed. Heartbroken, the king wails.
“O Absalom, my son, my son. Would I had died in stead of you!”
But he didn’t. And his rule continued.
I’ve been pondering the death of Absalom, David’s hubris, and the brokenness of systems this week. What if we looked to the death of each and every victim of violence as our son, our daughter, the person with whom we would readily change places if we could?
The body hanging lifeless from the tree is your child. Weep, for your soul has been crushed and your future is uncertain. You have broken covenant with God.
Weep. Wail. It is your daughter dead in the jail cell. It is your son’s body lying in the street. “How many hours, Lord, how many hours…”
To live in the covenant is always a choice. It is a choice we frequently avoid.
Our national story is not a new one. Our predicament is not unusual nor are the choices we are making.
People of the Christian faith especially should recognize what is afoot in all of this. Those of us who gather week after week and hear the story of a man executed by the power of the status quo should find none of this surprising.
Jesus wanted us to see past the false promises of the power of empire in all its social forms: political or religious. Instead, he wanted us to broaden our vision. Empires demand the deaths of their young people to keep order.
“I am the bread of life,” is an invitation to see a larger world than what empire can promise us. It is a world where hunger is satisfied and thirst is quenched.
This is the covenant that Jesus envisions. This is the fruit of your baptism. To live into this covenant is a choice we all must make every moment of our lives. Will we live into this covenant or won’t we? Do we have the strength today?
There are people in the streets begging us to choose to live into the covenant.
They are begging us to live into the life Christ proclaimed.
They are begging us to live in love.
They are begging us to live in truth.
They are begging us to create a life where black lives matter as much as white lives and where empire is not the last word.
They are begging us to speak out.
They are begging us to rise.
Church, arise! Be resurrected!
Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.
Punks and prostitutes followed him, people who likely had ten grams of something in their pockets while their pants hung down too low, followed him. They played their music too loudly. They marched. They caused trouble. But so did he.
He was accused of false teaching.
He was accused of public disruption.
He was accused of insurrection.
They marched and sang.
He was executed.
His body hung from a tree.
And yet he rose.
The stone was rolled away,
and he rose.
Friends of God, take, eat.
Live in love.
This is the bread of life.
This is God’s insurrection.