Monya A. Stubbs – "Indebted Love: Paul’s Subjection Language in Romans" (Post 2)

I’ve been out of writing commission for a little while now.  My only excuse is: this baby is coming, and life is upside down!

… That doesn’t change, does it?

Monya A. Stubbs
I can honestly say that my reading in black theology has deeply impacted me in my day-to-day thinking.  It’s not that I didn’t think about the issues of race, class, privilege and identity before.  These are things I’ve been wrestling with for the last decade.  But the clarity of moral purpose and vision in the work of these theologians convicts me all over again.  “How can we sit still?!” 

I’m also reminded, as I write and petition for the equality and affirmation of my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, that the continuing battle for civil rights cannot pick and choose whom to favor.  The progress for LGBTQ acceptance has come leaps and bounds, even in the last decade (and I'm living proof of that).  Simultaneously, the present-day U.S. political landscape seems to continually unwind much of the racial progress made in the Civil Rights Movement.  Contemporary Tea Party/Libertarian dogma deconstructs the responsibility of a government (“by the people, for the people…”) to defend certain basic rights, leaving it in the hands of a free and unfettered marketplace to somehow elevate human greed into a benevolent, equalizing force.

Similar arguments can be made about the stymied progress of the Feminist Movement.

I am convicted, spiritually and intellectually, that the Civil Rights Movement needs to be reignited, and broadened in its scope.  We cannot call for affirmation of our gay and lesbian neighbors if we are not demanding equality and liberation for our black and brown neighbors, as well as parity for women.  We too easily pick and choose where our focus goes (understandably, because time and resources are finite) rather than demanding all civil rights for all people, in simultaneity.  But energy builds on itself, and when enough of us begin to speak with one voice, the finitude of our efforts becomes unimportant because of the number of us standing up and saying: we demand human rights; we demand equality; we demand justice.

Stubbs writes:

When asked how she felt about the success she experienced in leading so many enslaved men, women, and children to the free North, Harriett Tubman is reported to have replied… “I freed a thousand slaves.  If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.”  The greatest challenge Tubman encountered was not the dangers of escaping from the South to the North…  Rather, according to Tubman’s statement(s), the greatest challenge she faced was one of ideology.  The enslaved men and women whom she could not convince understood the institution of chattel slavery as natural and absolute. (29)

What injustices and oppressions have we accepted as natural and absolute?  What horrors have we numbed ourselves to, rather than facing head-on?  How do we change the tide, starting today?

Indebted Love: Paul’s Subjection Language in Romans - Monya Stubbs (Post 1)

Indebted Love: Paul’s Subjection Language in Romans
-       Monya A. Stubbs

After a few books featuring more social criticism and less theology (West and Dyson), it’s been a pleasure digging into the singular focus that develops in Stubbs’ Indebted Love.  The first chapter opens with an introduction to Stubbs’ use of Harriet Tubman as the interpretive rubric through which she evaluates the meaning of Paul’s subjection language in Romans.

The book begins with this quotation from Tubman:

I had reasoned it out in my mind, there were one or two things I had a right to – freedom or death.  If I could not have the one, I would have the other, but no man would take me alive.  I would fight for my freedom as long as my breath lasted, and when the time come for me to go, the Lord would let them take me Harriet Tubman. (1)

From Tubman’s words, Stubbs discerns three key interpretive points:
-       First, Tubman recognized the landscape she inhabited.  Under chattel slavery, she and other slaves were subject to institutional oppression.  By her own words, she first “reasoned it out” that she was subject to this oppression.  This required recognition of the systemic violence and domination.

-       Second, Tubman demonstrated the spiritual and ultimately the theological value of reason and examination.  Tubman did not simply reject slavery out of hand, but she followed an intellectual and evaluative process that led her to determine that because slavery denied human dignity, it could not be God’s will (immediately this process parallel’s my own deconstruction of traditional church teaching on homosexuality).

-       Third, out of Tubman’s recognition of slavery’s oppressive evil, she experienced empowerment and transformation.  Her worldview, beliefs and actions were altered.

Stubbs explores the tension presented in Paul’s instruction to live under subjection to God, to governing bodies and powers, and to one-another as mutually-submissive members of Christ’s body.  Paul seems to affirm this paradigm, but then illustrates Christ’s rescuing of humanity from the domination-subjection reality. (24)

More to come…

Coming Soon: "Indebted Love: Paul's Subjection Language in Romans"...

I've started reading Indebted Love: Paul's Subjection Language in Romans, by Dr. Monya Stubbs, and am looking forward to sharing some reflections.
Monya A. Stubbs is Associate Professor of New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Austin, Texas). She is the author of ""1 Thessalonians"" in Revised Women's Bible Commentary (2012); ""Philippians"" in True to Our Native Land (2007); and coauthor of A Contextual Reading of Matthew's Gospel (2001).

Reflecting Black - Michael Eric Dyson (Post 3)

The remainder of my texts finally arrived in the mail after a 1-month delay - very exciting!

As I wrap up my reading of Michael Eric Dyson, there are all sorts of things I want to share with you.

In The Liberal Theory of Race, Dyson critics the contemporary failure to effectively articulate present-day oppression.  In Dyson’s estimation, modern liberals remain baffled by stories of black Americans – particularly young black men who play by society’s rules, pursue higher education, dress well, and avoid brushes with the law – who find themselves in prison, or shot by police or civilians. 

The liberal understanding of race in the United States is modeled on the white European immigrant experience.  In making this experience paradigmatic, liberal theorists have lumped race together with other variables – religion, language, and nationality, for example – and taken them all to constitute a larger ethnic identity that is more crucial than race in explaining the condition of black people. (136)

Not to mention that the implication of "playing by society's rules" is inherently racist, because black Americans are consistently held to a standard white Americans are not.  A white teenager with Skittles and a hoodie doesn't get tracked and harassed by neighborhood watch.

The white European immigrant experience does not parallel the reality of black Americans brought here by force amid torture and genocide, and forced for two centuries to labor as human property.  White Europeans did not experience the “hunting” of the Jim Crow South.  Where European immigrants were able to largely assimilate into mainstream American culture, black Americans could not “hide” in the crowd.  “Because it conceives of race as merely a part of one’s broader ethnic identity, liberal race theory is unable to make sense of the particular forms of oppression generated primarily by racial identity.” (137)

In 2008 I watched liberal whites around me recoil at the sound-byte from Rev. Jeremiah Wright: “God damn America.”  I did not recoil when I heard that.  By 2008, I had enough introduction to liberation theology to understand the tradition of Wright’s words. 

But I confess it is deeply uncomfortable to hear those words.  I should be.  Those words imply that I bear ownership for the sins of the past.  And I believe I do.  If society is to move forward, to grow, to redeem its past sins, then we must OWN the sins we did not commit with our own hands.  Our African American sisters and brothers are still suffering from those sins. 

Faith & Culture Writers Conference: George Fox

I'm taking a quick break from my focus on black theology and culture to attend George Fox University's Faith & Culture Writers conference this weekend.

As any "regular" readers of this blog know, I've been lazy with my writing in the last couple of years.  It's hard to get taken under the wing of a significant, widely-published author, and lose that relationship quickly and without explanation.  When that happened to me, I grieved for a few years.  Admittedly, I allowed that to become an excuse not to try.

More recently, some professors at George Fox Seminary have been encouraging me, and as limited as my time is, I'm finding some new energy to start to work again.  That's exciting, even if my progress is slow.

I'll have the opportunity to talk with some publishers, agents and editors at this conference.  My "pitch" will be bridge-building - finding ways to create dialogue, relationship and even fellowship between liberals and evangelicals.  When those folks come to this blog, they're going to find a recent series of posts about black liberation theology.  Yes, it's for a seminary assignment.  But it's also a subject near and dear to my heart.  And Liberation Theology is hardly a "moderate" manifestation of the gospel message.  But that's the thing...  finding common ground, and creating safe space for dialogue between liberals and conservatives, should not and frankly does not entail finding a milktoast middle ground. WHO CARES ABOUT HEARING FROM PEOPLE WITH NO PASSION?!  When the Spirit moves, the bosom burns (to co-opt a phrase from the Latter Day Saints)!  I want to build relationships with the most PASSIONATE conservatives -- not the ones who don't really care.  And my evangelical friends, the ones really passionate about their own faith, want to talk with real, bona fide, on-fire liberals!

The most beautiful opportunity for engagement and common ground can surprisingly exist in the most polarized fringes... if the Spirit is there to move us to listen.

May we all be "converted" to the gospel of the other.

And hopefully those folks will give me the time of day...

Reflecting Black - Michael Eric Dyson (Post 2)

As mentioned in my last post, it’s hard to know where to focus with Dyson’s Reflecting Black.  He covers so much ground, and it would take at least half the length of his 300-plus pages to adequately evaluate and comment on the 21 essays.
Chapter Four explores the postmodern spirituality of Michael Jackson.  Dyson calls him “a Promethean allperson who traverses traditional boundaries that separate, categorize, and define differences: innocent/shrewd, young/old, black/white, male/female, and religious/secular.” (35)  Dyson acknowledges that this liminal character is frightening, because it defies the delineators and definitions that make us comfortable.  I’m reminded of my first encounter with the music of transgender musician Antony Hegarty, of the band Antony and the Johnsons (  Hegarty’s voice is ethereal, at once masculine and feminine, and frankly a little disturbing.  As I listen, my subconscious mind continues to try to assign gender to the voice I’m hearing, but the voice shifts and morphs before labels can be ascribed.
Dyson acknowledges the “Peter Pan” fantasy that surrounded Jackson’s persona, and juxtaposes it with the shrewd business-savvy evidenced in Jackson’s career.  But it’s Jackson’s unique spiritual and religious consciousness that defines Jackson beyond the songs he sings.
Dyson explores the definitions of postmodernity for the uninitiated, and I’m reminded that one of my favorite definitions of postmodernism came from Dyson in my readings several years ago:
Postmodernism has enjoyed a thrilling if problematic run as a leading intellectual and cultural movement among some (mostly liberal or progressive) academics. Postmodernism is composed of a complex, even ambiguous, set of ideas and practices, such as blurring the boundaries between "high" and "low" culture, rejecting grand narratives - for instance, "truth" with a capital "T," - embracing pastiche and fragmentation, and emphasizing playfulness and irony in one's intellectual exercises. A major criticism of postmodernism is that some of its advocates avoid concrete history and politics while rhapsodizing about difference, marginality, parody, and provisionality. This may account for the many American postmodernists who have overlooked the homegrown varieties of black postmodernism - and the challenges they may pose to the European imports that have colored our understanding of the concept. (The Michael Eric Dyson Reader)
In Reflecting Black, Dyson points to Jackson’s “persistent preoccupation with images, symbols, and themes that are informed by his own religious background.” (38)  This affinity for imagery, propelled by a globalized brand of American capitalism, is not bound to a specific religious practice or identity, despite his upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness.
Michael Jackson seizes the parameters of the artistically possible and expands them to dimensions beyond most of our imaginations.  He increases the influence of black religious experience and practices by articulating through televisual media his brand of African-American secular spirituality and institution-transcending piety, rife with appropriate religious and cultural imagery.  He also transforms the stage into a world-extending sanctuary on which he enacts rituals of religious ecstasy, moral courage, and spiritual passion that mediate substantive concerns about love, peace, and justice, simultaneously subverting cultural consensus about what constitutes the really “bad” and the “good.” (58)
Cynically, Jackson and artists like him should be evaluated through a lens of consumption and capitalism.  Jackson was both a tool for corporate profit, and a self-defined entrepreneurial mogul genius himself.  These are undeniable.  But Jackson also consistently demonstrated himself to be a sensitive empath, moved by suffering and need as well as creative beauty and artistry.  Without the programmatic manipulation that too often accompanies contemporary worship, the modern (or postmodern) church would do well to explore the kind of transcendent, experiential spiritual expression Jackson epitomized.
Commentary on Jackson’s possible transgressions come after the 1993 publishing date of Dyson’s book.

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