From The Uppity Negro Network, Living In Liminality, The Typewriter Series Presents: “To Serve This Present Age: The Black Church and Post-Modernity”

typewriter and coffeeI’m doing a series, just about three or four, might be five, can’t remember, blog posts that I had actually typewritten on a Royal Typewriter Futura.  These are my thoughts during that fateful period this past summer while I was on my internship and was without my laptop for about three FULL weeks.  I had to endure crappy cable that only went up to channel 30 and essentially no internet for that period of time.  Here are my my thoughts from that time period. JLL

This is really just me writing for the sake of writing, but its in sort of a limbo.  Currently, I’m without my laptop and the world is passing me by as of recent.  Aside from the public fracas of President Obama commenting on the Henry Louis Gates arrest by Cambridge polic, and how most are saying he should have kept his mouth shut, personally, I was fighting my own fight against some status-quo, anti-intellectual Negroes at the church I recently preached for in the month of June.

Primary of concern was the fact that the pastor informed me that I needed to be “less Jeremiah Wright and more me.”  Actually, I had told this blogging community about it when it first happened, but later the pastor decided to write an evaluation, email it to me and let me know again.  This time, he went so far as to accuse me of plagiarism, and that it was clear to him that 90% of the content was not mine.  He went on to inform me that the next time that I use someone elses material that I should give credit up front.  So aside from my pride being hurt, he had truly leveled me where it hurt: charging a writer with plagiarism is the supreme insult.  But I reviewed my sermon and I stand 100% behind each written word and I realized that it was probably the message that he had issues with the most.  If for no other reason, I was speaking a different language; to him everything I was saying could easily be categorized as being indicative of post-modern thought, therefore, I was totally off base.  This combined with the fact the message of heavy social justice probably didn’t resonate too comfortably with him.  It is here that I want to make the point of departure for the rest of this blog.

As most of you know, I’ve read a few books this summer and the latest book I’ve endeavored upon is Preaching to a Postmodern World by Graham Johnston.  So far this summer, two of the books I read were of interest to the social work of African Americans and the other two had a much more Anglo-Saxon point of departure.  While the two overlap in many instances, perhaps Cleophus LaRue, Princeton Theological Seminary homiletics professor was correct in his essay that the Black Church and the traditionally white churches are like “two ships in the night” passing each other unaware of the presence of the other.  That got me to thinking as I began reading this last book.  The author’s entire premise seems to be based on the idea that church membership attrition and declining polling numbers of those professing to be Christians is as a result of the postmodern listener.

Without doing an actual book review (for that will come later), a quick definition, modernity is the time period that has its roots in the Enlightenment period that focused on rationalism and scientific though.  At the time Enlightenment and rational thought rejected the idea of theology which had been the superior ideal on the grounds of the scientific method; theology ideas of faith doesn’t hold up to rigidity of the cause and effect of a science.  However, as theology still trucked along, it encompassed the Victorian ideals of a family structure and it lead to the Great Awakening when the area of theology had a new insurgence and it also birthed the quintessential “fire and brimstone” preaching usually typified with Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon—and I still don’t know what his text was.

The seeds of post-modernity, one could argue, have their inception in the 1960s, of course, but I wouldn’t make the argument personally, that the transformation wasn’t official till about 1990s.  Many will say that post-modern thought was birthed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Cold War era was non-existent in its present form.  In the 90’s, my decade of pre-eminent foundational growth, it was clear that a new generation had emerged, and yet was not quite the Gen Xers.  Post-modernity questions everything and struggles with objective and subjective approaches to life.  Ultimately, however, because most of us reject the notion that one should be marginalized, which most will admit, post-modernity goes so far as to not just reject marginality, but to reject the center as well—in that case, everything is categorically subjective.  The problem this poses for the Church Universal is that while the church proclaims “Jesus is the answer,” post-modernity asks “What was the question in the first place.”

Where my issue come in is clearly a generational issue that I’ve talked about in this blog prior to this summer, it’s one of my soap box pedestals.  It’s more than evident that I clearly resonated with a good 90% of the tenets put forth in Johnston’s book concerning post-modernity.  I’ve often easily questioned, without a need for a concretized answer, the need for adults and our “seasoned saints” to make a big deal over young me who sag their pants and wear doo-rags and baseball caps—and dare to even wear earrings.  I’ll further allege that the adults’ inability to accept where those young people are on their journey of life forces the rift to grow wider between the generations.  We’re sick and damn tired of being lectured to!  This includes even by Barack Obama.  I’m convinced some adults just want to hear themselves talk because any human can tell when teenagers tune out adults that go into lecture mode.   While I’ll admit that this book was written mainly with white churches or mixed at best in mind, I’ll more than willingly make the charge that black preachers and pastors would do well to read it.

I’m sure that some would agree that while the in the midst of that glorious 10 to 11 o’clock hour or two on Sunday morning that some of the post-modern generation may remove their glasses of post-modernity for the sake of being an active part of the worship service, but many are now putting on glasses of modernity to see only in church, just to remove them once Sunday services are done.  By in large, we live, breathe and be in a post-modern world.

For your average black family, church is a once a week activity as a family.  More family outings occur over dinner, a little league game or a dance recital than centered around church.  In fact in many households, church holds the same importance as the football game on Friday nights.  The Black Church would do well to recognize that and not use the same conquering methods of damn near trying to institute a theocracy from the pulpit.

Seriously, as I go on this tangent, is that not what many of us hear on Sunday concerning the “kingdom of God” and this idea that this country is amoral and that we should be governed by God?  Yeah, we saw how well that went over in the course of world history as far as theocratic governments.

While non-denominational megachurches are often times preaching some otherworldly salve to the days’ problems through the preached word on Sundays, the mainline churches are too often preaching to an aging congregation and have failed epically at effectively ministering to a younger generation.  The first issue that Johnston raises is the homiletical point of departure.  He suggests that the tried and true method of beginning and ending with the biblical scripture (more or less known as deductive preaching, intro, thesis, three points and a story to close) doesn’t quite work for the younger members of our congregation.  Why?  Because it presupposes, often times incorrectly, that the listener, as he says, is fully interested in what Paul had to say to the church at Ephesus.  That preachers would do better to pick secular topic to begin with and draw a parallel with biblical verses.  That’s why all of these younger preachers do so well with these salacious sermon titles such as E. Dewey Smith’s “I’m in Love With a Stripper.”  Or to use two friend’s sermon titles one for an Resurrection Sunday sermon “After I Hit The G-spot” for Jesus’ journey from the garden at Gethsemane, to Golgotha to Glory and then another for that following Sunday entitled “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” surrounding Thomas wanting to touch Jesus hands to see the wounds.

I tried that and the pastor at the church essentially said it was a bad sermon.

Oh well.

I think without making this too long of a post which is already is I see, the Church, not just the Black Church is called to serve this present age as the title says.  It’s actually from the first part of the second verse to the song “A Charge to Keep” and the Church would do well to recognize that.  As far as the Black Church is concerned, those that are in the mainline denominations are slowly rendering themselves obsolete everytime they fail to make a connection between the older and younger generations.  The inability to connect results in the type of passivity that breeds complacency and neutrality because one doesn’t want to deal with the ubiquitous church fight.  It then becomes easier for the old guard to just wait for the Saturday funerals than find some way to pass it on to a younger generation.

The ability to question, even God, I think shows of God’s handiwork.  If you believe that we were created by some grand Deity, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that we have been given these minds to do all of this great stuff; so don’t let it just sit idle and be okay with the way things are, but rather its okay to ask questions and daresay challenge that what it is you know.

The Black Church specifically, appears to be doing either of the following: a) nothing more than indoctrinating and inculcating younger generation with the ways of the elders that isn’t necessarily applicable to this “present age” or b) completely not speaking to the needs of the younger generation which further pushes them into some sort of disillusioned cognitive dissonance at best and plain nihilism at the worst.  Generally we make the argument that “we’ve talked enough let’s make some actions,” so hopefully now is the time we can deliver on that.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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One thought on “From The Uppity Negro Network, Living In Liminality, The Typewriter Series Presents: “To Serve This Present Age: The Black Church and Post-Modernity”

  1. While sort of off topic, check out this interesting article from Huffington Post by Caroline Myss.

    Crimes Against the Soul of America

    The article, IMO, addresses the grievous damage to the soul of America in an uppity sort of way.

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