National Museum of African American History & Culture

Also, see a related interview by Anita Little at Religious Dispatch on Religion and Resistance. She speaks with the DC curator of the Center for the Study of African American Religion, Rev. Yolanda Pierce. That new center is housed in the NMAAHC. My favorite part of the interview is here–all this lovely stuff about the ancestors and symbolism–when Rev. Pierce discusses President Obama’s part in ringing a 500-pound church bell. This is fascinating to see this wonderful treasure open:

As a gesture, as a symbol, it is so powerful. The bell is tangible, it’s this huge thing that’s traveled to the seat of power, Washington, D.C. It came from this community of enslaved people who could have never imagined in their lifetime an African American president or an African American museum in our nation’s capital. It’s no small thing, we are at the evening of President Obama’s presidency.

A lot of the people coming on opening day are coming partially to say goodbye to President Obama in what will be one of his last public acts as president.

For me personally, it makes me think of the spirits of the ancestors, all the men and women who never lived to see this moment, all of our ancestors who died en route to the United States and whose bones now litter the Atlantic Ocean. The resounding clang of that bell as it reaches the heavens will remind me of those who could not be present.

The RD piece is here.

Millennials & Church & Protestantism

I read an article at Religion Dispatches with interest. It’s about why the Roman Catholic church is having a hard time keeping Millennials in their churches while mentioning several Millennial groups within Catholicism which are intentionally bucking that same dwindling trend.

Among the comments in the piece is the difference between doctrinal teaching in the RC church and the implicit theological agreements–often the result of a public and cultural version of theological formation–of those the church wishes to attract.

Thanks to Luis Llerena & Stock.Snap

Thanks to Luis Llerena & Stock.Snap

I wonder how Protestants come at this material. There are doctrines, i.e., church teachings, that most Protestants disagree with, and the impact of that disagreement isn’t as noticeable as it would be in the catholic setting but it’s there. People come and go, join and lose commitment. Perhaps we don’t count the way the RC church does, but are we attending to our own losses and, as importantly, the reasons behind them?

I thought of this article as I was talking with my small group Wednesday. We’re reading short stories for the summer. Every week one of us offers a piece of fiction for the group and we discuss it. The other night we read my story which was ZZ Packer’s “Speaking in Tongues” from her memorable Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.

Among the comments that emerged was the tight and unrealistic ways churches offer curricula to youth and young adults, particularly around topics like sexuality and bodies and creativity; we talked about the ways we are parented and how communication or the lack thereof shapes us even when we don’t notice it.

A couple people affirmed the church’s established place to offer doctrines (i.e., teachings) but doctrines-in-relation-to the lives that we live. We spoke about our continued longing for churches to live into that offered place and to actually engage in hard subjects.

I’d add now that the church’s inevitable place is as a shaper of morality in most people’s lives. It offers–or can offer–uniquely an environment where we learn to integrate our theology (thinking and speaking about God), our ethics (thinking and speaking about ourselves in relation to others), our practice (doing and being and living), and our hopes (aspirations and envisioned futures).

If our teachings, if whatever way explicate, doesn’t reach into and come out of an appreciation of real life, we’ll lose the people around the table. We’ll never continue to capture the imaginations of those who are yet to come. We’ll never engage the critical questions which make passing on our/any faith possible. That didn’t all come from the RD article, but the elements and residuals are there.

Read the article here.

“Concerted Effort By All Churches”

When it comes to racism in America, and specifically acts of violence against black Christians and black churches, the past is not even the past—it is a very present danger. While academics might argue about the death of the black church, racists know the history of the black church in America is a threat to white supremacy.

The current efforts to take down the Confederate flag across America, battle police violence, and improve black lives are also under attack. clergy and their church communities are spearheading much of this work.

The practicalities of protecting black houses of worship, however, are very much of this world. Many may not remember that during the years of 1995-1998, 670 churches burned, according to the Community Relations Service, and in 1996, the Church Arson Prevention Act was signed by then-President Clinton.

In light of the shooting at Emanuel AME and the church burnings, the White House, FEMA and Homeland Security recently held a conference call to help clergy members protect their churches and acquaint them with various governmental resources that churches can use to be “at the ready” in case of active shooter attacks, acts of arson, and other types of events that pose threats to buildings of worship.

While this is important, it focuses on prevention—not cure or eradication of racism or religion-based hate crimes.

These actions are a start, but they do not get to the root causes of racism and violence against black churches. Good white supremacists—some of them confessional Christians—fail to understand that the racial history of America has them captive. Some may have even come to their racist beliefs through biblical interpretations of the supposed inferiority of people of African descent.

What needs to happen is a concerted effort by all churches, black and white alike, to confront the issue of racism in America with fervor.

Read the full piece by Dr. Butler at RD here.

Jesus Went to Hell

This article refers to the early and often used Apostles Creed; it is so worth preaching:

…but before his resurrection, Jesus “descended to the dead.” The Athanasian Creed of at least a century later is more explicit, Christ “descended into hell.” Depending on context and translation Jesus either journeyed to Sheol, Hades, or Hell. But allowing for differences in language Christianity held—and technically still holds as a central tenet—the view that Jesus spent the gap between his death and resurrection “harrowing” Hell, that is journeying to the underworld to liberate the imprisoned souls of the Hebrew patriarchs who had been imprisoned there since their deaths.

Contemporary congregations will often translate “hell” into a more palatable “death” or “the grave.” There is something unseemly in the idea of Jesus among the murders, rapists, fornicators and heretics of Hell. And yet it was central to Christological accounts of salvation for two millennia that God Himself be present in the lowest rung of creation  to justify redemption for all mankind.

Holy Saturday was a day in which God was not in His heaven, but rather in his Hell.

From “Jesus Went to Hell” in the RD here.