Sunday, February 28, 2010

What They Learn (Especially Our Daughters): Teach Your Children Well

I will have to say, however, that [Monica A. Coleman's] assessment that Black theology was for both black men and boys is wrong.  In fact, very little theology is written with children in mind, girls and boys alike. There is a certain amount of subjectivity and experience assumed on the part of the theologian. How can a person's embedded theology go under deconstruction if that person is a child, and does not know anything about God?  Also, do the experience of children contribute to scholarship? Are they able to think theologically? I would affirm both.

Often disconnected from their native taxonomies, the Présence Africaine was manifest in the secret syntactical structures through which other languages were spoken, in the stories and tales told to children, in religious practices and beliefs, in spiritual life, the arts, crafts, musical forms and rhythms of both slave and postemancipation societies. Africa, the signified that could not be represented directly in slavery, remained and remains the unspoken, unspeakable "presence" in Caribbean culture and, arguably, elsewhere in the Americas. It is "hiding" behind every verbal inflection, every narrative twist.... Pedagogically, the Présence Africaine revised or signified or "reread" every Western text, including the Bible.... The heuristic goal, if not the reconstruction of Western civilization, was and remains the representation of the African Diasporic presence.
"The African Diaspora as Construct and Lived Experience"

      In the following paragraphs, I give a brief overview of the context that contributes to my identity as a stranger.  Foreignness among others characterizes one's exilic state.  Having been born wearing a darker skin color in apartheid South Africa meant becoming a foreigner from the moment of birth, ironically a stranger in the land of one's ancestors.
      Such foreignness was compounded in baby girls' lives given the underlying African cultural perception that a girl child "naturally" belonged to her future husband's home, a situation that also privileged boy children over girl children in terms of education (Masenya ["'... But You Shall Let Every Girl Live': Reading Exodus 1:1-2:10 the Bosadi (Womanhood) Way," Old Testament Essays Vol 15] 2002: [page] 99)
      My gender continues to determine my place in a patriarchal context.  Life in the latter context is typified by constant fear on account of the pervasive acts of violence perpetuated against female bodies.  One's sex still has a say in the place where and the extent to which one can exercise one's God-gifting in ministry.  Whether one is at home or in the public sphere of work, church, and the broader society, one remains an exile -- despite fourteen years of independence in South Africa!
"Exiled in My Own Home:  An African-South African Perspective on the Bible" 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Reappropriating Parable: recovery to interrogate the ideology of slavery and absolute submission in the parables

Ancient Roman slavery ideology that required absolute submission and unyielding loyalty from slaves and freedpersons is reflected in the New Testament.  These reflections of the social reality of slavery and slave ideology are not limited to Pauline texts.  But the Pauline and deuteropauline texts that mandate the submission of slaves and women certainly have evoked creative responses from African Americans, forcing us either to reinterpret oppressive texts or to find refuge, affirmation, and hope in other, more liberating texts.
      Confronted with the potential obstacle of [slave and woman] oppressive Pauline texts, African American women appropriated other texts to support God's call on their lives....
      Certainly, many Pauline texts are ostensibly antithetical to the claims of Gal. 3:28 and have been used to oppress women and others.  But the Pauline texts are not the only texts that reinscribe and fail to challenge prevailing ancient slavery stereotypes and ideologies.  For example, several parables in the Synoptic Gospels reinscribe ancient slave ideology.  The parables about slave-master relationships promote proper servile behavior and condone severe punishment of noncompliant slaves.
      Why is there not as much indignation [of African Americans] expressed toward slave language in the Gospels as in the Pauline texts?  Jennifer Glancy makes a helpful point:  "Slavery in the parables typically functions metaphorically, representing the Christian's relationship to God.  Perhaps because of this theological displacement, New Testament scholars have been slow to interrogate the ideology of slavery in the parables." ....
      Slavery in first-century Roman society was no less cruel and inhumane than in any other slave society....  In general the oppressive ideals of ancient Roman slavery are reinscribed upon some biblical texts....  African Americans have reinterpreted, trumped, and rejected such oppressive texts and the oppressive hermeneutical maneuvers that have relied on such texts.  But African Americans must [also] treat with suspicion other biblical texts, such as parable narratives that also reinscribe ancient slave/ master [and male/ female and any oppressive one human / another, subjugating] ideology.  Therefore, African Americans ... should acknowledge the merit in Audre Lorde's admonition that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."  But this affirmation should not presuppose that every tool the master uses belongs solely to or was conceived of or created by the master.  When white slave-masters claimed sole authority over the Bible and its interpretation, our ancestors creatively seized and reappropriated some of the very tools the master used against them.


above, an excerpt from the chapter "Slavery in the Early Church," by Dr. Mitzi J. Smith, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Origins, Detroit Center, Ashland Theological Seminary, in  True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary.  (HT Rod)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Black Comparisons

Yesterday, I listened to G. K. Chesterton's introduction to Aesop's Fables.  (This is one of the advantages of modern technologies - plays right into my iPhone through the automobile speakers while I'm driving).  As I listened to what Chesterton has written about Aesop and his fables, I couldn't help but make comparisons to what Aristotle has also written about Aesop and his fables.

Generally, I like things that Chesterton writes because he tends to open up meanings, like Aesop and his fables do.  But in his Introduction, Chesterton closes down meanings like Aristotle does; he tries to box meanings up much more like Aristotle does.

So let's compare.  Here's Chesterton on Aesop and his fables:
The historical AEsop, in so far as he was historical, would seem to have been a Phrygian slave, or at least one not to be specially and symbolically adorned with the Phrygian cap of liberty. He lived, if he did live, about the sixth century before Christ, in the time of that Croesus whose story we love and suspect like everything else in Herodotus. There are also stories of deformity of feature and a ready ribaldry of tongue: stories which (as the celebrated Cardinal said) explain, though they do not excuse, his having been hurled over a high precipice at Delphi. It is for those who read the Fables to judge whether he was really thrown over the cliff for being ugly and offensive, or rather for being highly moral and correct. But there is no kind of doubt that the general legend of him may justly rank him with a race too easily forgotten in our modern comparisons: the race of the great philosophic slaves. AEsop may have been a fiction like Uncle Remus: he was also, like Uncle Remus, a fact. It is a fact that slaves in the old world could be worshipped like AEsop, or loved like Uncle Remus. It is odd to note that both the great slaves told their best stories about beasts and birds.
Now, here's Aristotle:
It remains to speak of the proofs common to all branches of Rhetoric, since the particular proofs have been discussed. These common proofs are of two kinds, example and enthymeme (for the maxim is part of an enthymeme).  Let us then first speak of the example; for the example resembles induction, and induction is a beginning.  There are two kinds of examples; namely, one which consists in relating things that have happened before, and another in inventing them oneself.  The latter are subdivided into comparisons or fables, such as those of Aesop and the Libyan.
Λοιπὸν δὲ περὶ τῶν κοινῶν πίστεων ἅπασιν εἰπεῖν, ἐπείπερ εἴρηται περὶ τῶν ἰδίων. εἰσὶ δ’ αἱ κοιναὶ πίστεις δύο τῷ γένει, παράδειγμα καὶ ἐνθύμημα· ἡ γὰρ γνώμη μέρος ἐνθυμήματός ἐστιν. πρῶτον μὲν οὖν περὶ παραδείγματος λέγωμεν· ὅμοιον γὰρ ἐπαγωγῇ τὸ παράδειγμα, ἡ δ’ ἐπαγωγὴ ἀρχή. παραδειγμάτων δὲ εἴδη δύο· ἓν μὲν γάρ ἐστιν παραδείγματος εἶδος τὸ λέγειν πράγματα προγενομένα, ἓν δὲ τὸ αὐτὸν ποιεῖν. τούτου δὲ ἓν μὲν παραβολὴ ἓν δὲ λόγοι, οἷον οἱ Αἰσώπειοι καὶ Λιβυκοί.
The translation above by J. H. Freese is older and technical English, which compares pretty well to Aristotle's older and technical Greek.  We could compare this with a newer English translation, one by W. Rhys Roberts, which actually shows how Aristotle (whether he intends to or not) is performing the kind of "rhetorics" that he, by logic, is trying to map out rather objectively.  Note how translator Roberts uses several English language devices -- (a) the grammar parenthesis, (b) the abbreviation "e.g., for example," and (c) the appositive -- to make more of a direct comparison in the last line here:
... and the fable (e.g. the fables of Aesop, those from Libya). 
Now, when we look at the statements of Chesterton and Aristotle side by side, what we may begin to notice are similarities.  Both Chesterton and Aristotle narrowly construct what Aesop's fables are (i.e., what they are vs. what they are not).  The categories of both Chesterton and Aristotle could be severely critiqued as not only limiting but also, in some instances, as inaccurate.

(Chesterton, for example, says "fables" are "not fairy tales," and he goes on to assert that Aesop "understood that, for a fable, all the persons must be impersonal. They must be like abstractions in algebra, or like pieces in chess. The lion must always be stronger than the wolf, just as four is always double of two. The fox in a fable must move crooked, as the knight in chess must move crooked. The sheep in a fable must march on, as the pawn in chess must march on. The fable must not allow for the crooked captures of the pawn.... Something of the same sort may have been meant by the animal worship, in which Egyptian and Indian and many other great peoples have combined. Men do not, I think, love beetles or cats or crocodiles with a wholly personal love; they salute them as expressions of that abstract and anonymous energy in nature which to any one is awful, and to an atheist must be frightful. So in all the fables that are or are not AEsop's all the animal forces drive like inanimate forces, like great rivers or growing trees. It is the limit and the loss of all such things that they cannot be anything but themselves: it is their tragedy that they could not lose their souls."

Notice in the words I've bolded above how Chesterton works to essentialize what fables are and are not; in essence, they are other than fairy tales, are abstractions, are pieces, are dependent on the essential nature of animals, are not fairy tales.  Notice how "other," how "impersonal," how "awful," how "Egyptian and Indian," how "abstract," how supposedly "Natural" Chesterton's categories for Aesop's fables must be for him.  However, when you read the fables of Aesop yourself, you can easily find counterexamples to Chesterton's assertions.  He can't keep Aesop or his fables in the box he constructs for them.  If you yourself read Aesop's fables, you can easily find in some of them humans interacting with animals as the Greek gods and goddesses interact with their humans.  You can easily see that the animals are personal and not always predictable.  And when we read Aesop's fables, ironically and fascinatingly, you see how Chesterton himself does much of what Aesop does -- what he tries to ignore the fable teller doing:  they both use comparisons to make points for, and with, the reader and listener.  This is like Aristotle too, who is using comparisons while disparaging certain "essential" aspects of fables qua rhetoric.  Aristotle is trying to be logical, at best trying to sound logical.  He opens his treatise on Rhetoric with a definition:  "Rhetoric is the antistrophos of Dialectic."  Essentially, rhetoric is different from dialectic -- and both are under logic, which can define them.  The funny, ironic thing is that Aristotle ends up abandoning pure logic when giving examples of fables, which he categorizes and essentializes.)

What is most interesting, when comparing Chesterton and Aristotle writing, is how the two white men are comparing Aesop (likely a slave) and his fables to black people and their fables.  Chesterton says -- insinuating that Aesop could have been "ugly and offensive" -- that readers of Aesop really "may justly rank him with a race:  ... a race too easily forgotten in our modern comparisons: the race of the great philosophic slaves."  Chesterton then names Uncle Remus, an African American storyteller.

Aristotle, who writes to elite pure Greek males, makes this comparison:   τούτου δὲ ἓν μὲν παραβολὴ ἓν δὲ λόγοι οἷον οἱ Αἰσώπειοι καὶ Λιβυκοί.  To compare that with our barbarian English it goes something like this:  "There are stories thrown violently alongside your own:  Aesop's and Libyans'."  And just as Chesterton's readers and listeners understand the "race" and the name of "Uncle Remus" so Aristotle's readers and listeners understand the black race and his naming of the Libyans.

Uncle Remus, of course, is the black storyteller of African American folktales ostensibly.  And the Libyans, who might they be?

In the Odyssey, Homer suggests where Libya is.  And he insinuates what it's like, Afric, exotic, a place where goods and slaves are bought and sold.  The Greek hero Odysseus says, "I wandered to Cyprus and Phoenicia, and to the Egyptians, and reached the Ethiopians, Sidonians, and Erembi, and Libya, where rams become horned suddenly" (4.83-85) and "he put me on a seafaring ship to Libya, falsely advising me that I'd be bringing back cargo with him, but so he could sell me there and get an untold price for me" (14.295-97).

But Libya for the Greeks is also a woman.  She is a half goddess and a foreigner raped by a god to produce foreign men.  And Libyans also are related to Gorgones:
Pliny (H. N. iv. 31) thought that they were a race of savage, swift, and hair-covered women; and Diodorus (iii. 55) regards them as a race of women inhabiting the western parts of Libya, who had been extirpated by Heracles in traversing Libya.
The most famous Gorgon, of course, is the infamous Medusa:
In her images, her hair sometimes resembles dread locks, showing her origins in Africa. There she had a hidden, dangerous face. It was inscribed that no one could possibly lift her veil, and that to look upon her face was to glimpse ones own death as she saw your future.
So, when Aristotle compares Aesop to Libyans and their stories with one another, there is something either intentional or at best unconsciously denigrating.  Aristotle was not fond of slaves, or barbaric foreigners, or females, or their rhetorics.

I'm running out of time here.  But I do want to say that during black history month it's helpful for us to think more about "fable."  The Greek word Aristotle uses here (in his Rhetoric 1393a line 30) is παραβολὴ [transliterated with the English alfabeta as parabolḕ].  In other contexts of Aristotle's writings, translators tend to render that in English as "comparisons."  Bible translators tend to make it "sayings" or "words" when bringing the Greek translation of the Hebrew into English (i.e., from the LXX).  When it's "Jesus" telling the fables or giving the sayings or speaking the words, then Bible translators tend to technically assign that to him as "parables."  What's lost is the apt comparison of Jesus and his rhetorical methods to Aesop and his methods.  What's lost is the violence of a story thrown beside one's own, of a para bola.  What's lost is the simultaneous safety that hearing such a story provides the listener with ears to hear -- since the story is not exactly my story, I can suspend judgment.  What's lost is the apt comparison of Jesus to women, to black women especially.

Now, most of you already know I am neither black nor a woman.  But you do know how interesting, helpful, I think it is to compare afrafeminist methods with good parabolizing, as good translating.  When Suzanne calls my bible-reading influences "very feminist," I am very grateful how she notices.  And yet I think some of us, like me, have still a lot to learn from very (black) feminists such as Gayl Jones, who, like Chesterton's Aesop and Aristotle's Aesop, throw violent stories (call them fables, comparisons, and parables) beside our own.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Aint I a Womanist Too?

Womanist theology is a response to sexism in black theology and racism in feminist theology.  When early black theologians spoke of “the black experience,” they only included the experience of black men and boys.  They did not address the unique oppression of black women.  Feminist theologians, on the other hand, unwittingly spoke only of white women’s experience, especially of middle- and upper-class white women.  They did not include issues of race and economics in their critiques.  Many womanists also feel that feminist theology operates in opposition to men and is anathema to the church.  Womanist theologians want to maintain their connection to black men and remain faithful to the church traditions from which they come.  The term womanist allows black women to affirm their identity as black while also owning a connection with feminism.  Employing Alice Walker’s definition of womanist in her 1983 collection of essays In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, womanist theology makes significant contributions to the fields of black and liberation theologies.

above, an excerpt from the Introduction to Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology, by Monica A. Coleman.
This evening, Coleman gives the opening lecture - “Ain’t I A Womanist Too?: Third Wave Womanist Religious Thought” - for the Third Wave Womanism Conference at Claremont School of Theology.  (HT Rod of Alexandria)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

she opened the way

Born a slave in Maryland in 1837, Amanda Berry was the daughter of a slave who was able to buy his freedom and that of his wife and five children. The Berry family moved to Pennsylvania where their home became a station on the Underground Railroad. After her first husband was killed while serving in the African Regiments in the Civil War, Amanda remarried and moved to Philadelphia. There, she was born again, joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and received her call to preach. In 1869, she began preaching in churches and at Holiness camp meetings in New York and New Jersey, becoming a popular speaker to both black and white audiences. By the end of the decade, she was known as far north as Maine and as far south as Tennessee. Although she was not ordained or financially supported by the AME Church or any other organization, she became the first black woman to work as an international evangelist in 1878. She served for twelve years in England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and various African countries. She emerged as one of the A.M.E. Church’s most effective missionaries and one of the most remarkable preachers of the age. In the process, she opened the way for more black women to preach in the A.M.E. church.
from The Color Line Has Been Washed Away in the Blood 
at the blog  The Celebration
(HT PolycarpThe Color Line of Pentecostalism)

Race, psyche, body, the Bible, personal safety, and local ethos

I pen this postscript [in 2009] in Montpelier, Vermont, a fortuitous set of circumstances having brought me to this historic capital in a state, several of whose cities and towns were purportedly home to stations on the Underground Railroad....
      As I wander the streets immersing myself in the local culture of this unusually vibrant town, I appreciate how much has changed in more than two and one half centuries, how different our experience must be from that of my Africana forebears who came here in the early to mid-1800s on a different kind of journey.  The leader of the free world is now African American.  Vermont was a "Blue State" in the last presidential election.  Cars with "Obama-Biden" bumper stickers abound.  I am here voluntarily, rather than through forced exodus.  I am a citizen whose basic rights are protected by federal and state laws.  I have a choice in lodging.  I arrived by light of day, rather than under the cloak of darkness.  For the most part, local merchants have greeted me with warmth.  By and large, I am no different than any other tourist.
      Yet, from time to time I am conscious of palpable feelings of "otherness."  On some occasions I appear to be almost unnoticeable to [the] passerby; on others, the continuous "gaze" of the random onlooker makes me feel hyper-visible.  It could be that I am an obvious anomaly in a state with an overall population that is roughly 96.8 percent White and only 0.8 percent Black.  Perhaps it is because in a city of 7,760 any newcomer stands out, particularly if that woman or man is a person of color; or that at 52, I am twelve years older than the typical Montpelier resident.  Whatever the case, whether in clergy collar, business attire, or the urban bohemian garb de rigueur for so many, I seem to attract attention.  Blending in is difficult to say the least.  I have the occasional thought of perhaps retiring here.  Yet, as was the case with those Africans who sought liberty here and farther north long ago, I am conscious of how race and the experience of Diaspora have been written into my psyche and my physical body.  I wonder how such may have been etched, subtly or overtly, into the collective consciousness of Vermonters.  I realize that nearby cities like Jerusalem, Goshen, and Jericho reflect colonial American inscriptions of the Bible onto the state's landscape.  I wonder what subtle messages about person hood, derived from that same source, have been comparably inscribed, and to what extent they are in conversation with the ideals espoused in the state's Constitution and the tradition of political autonomy that continues to find expression in local Green initiatives and secessionist rhetoric.  I wonder why questions akin to these seem to arise whether I am at home or on the road.  I also wonder if such musings about the Bible, personal safety, and local ethos have been and remain a hallmark of life in Diaspora.
      Nonetheless, I recognize that by conjuring -- and refusing to relinquish -- memories of the Underground Railroad, Montpelier has become, at least for me, holy ground; and my trip here has taken on a special quality.  Consequently, this postscript has been transformed into a contemplative reflection on both The Africana Bible and the milieu from which it has come.  As far as my role in preparing these closing words, it has evolved.  I am, for the moment, far more than simply a general editor writing a concluding essay from a hotel situated along the Winoooski River.  I walk in the footsteps, and hold close the memory, of those passengers for whom that secret railway was the route to freedom.  I write realizing that The Africana Bible is, in fact, part of the cultural fabric they helped to write.
      Narratives of crisis, social dissolution, pilgrimage, exile, displacement, and restoration have been the primary texts through which many of ancient Israel's scriptures have been parsed and alongside of which they have been read in various Africana settings.  Every experience -- actual, imagined, or hoped for -- is a prism for interpretation, a canon for appropriation.....
above, an excerpt from the chapter "Notes from a Station Stop: An Editorial Postscript," by Rev. Dr. Hugh R. Page, Jr., Dean of the First Year of Studies, Associate Professor of Theology, and Associate Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Notre Dame, in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora.  (HT David Ker)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Of Slaves "and" Women

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. 
-- Toni Morrison 
(and/ or Morrison's griot
the wise blind woman, 
"the daughter of slaves,
[who] lives alone
in a small house
outside of town") 

Aristotle's project was systematic, a linguistic insurance policy against slippery-slope language.  Aristotle's project was to separate each natural thing from other things in Nature and to place them all into neat, differentiated, named categories.  A "natural born slave" is inherently different from its "master."  A "female" is essentially other than "the male" who chooses to marry her.  "Obedience from one's own slave" is one thing.  "Obedience from the female who is one's own wife" is another thing. 

This method of separation is what many in the West still tend to use when they try to make subjugation of a person by race different from subjugation of a person by gender or by class or even by sexual orientation.  This is even what some today do when they try to separate Roman slavery from American slavery.  And this is why Aristotle and contemporary Aristotelians are so careful to name their separate categories.  Contemporary Aristotelians, for example, will say that Aristotle or the Apostle Paul might (1) "command wives to submit to their husbands" but that this must be kept separate from the fact that Aristotle and Paul might (2) allow natural born "slavery."  Contemporary Aristotelians warn that it is not good to mix "suffrage" with "abolition" or to put "egalitarianism" in the same category as "civil rights."  "The slave analogy" -- or worse the metaphor "wife submission is slavery" -- is just illogical.  And, of course, "most feminists" must be separated from "the christian feminists."

So notice how "logical" separation tends to label one thing over the other.  The language of logic will exclude the middle and will put everything in its proper place on the map to under-stand hierarchical Nature.  Separate is only equal in the abstract ideal.  Syllogistic reasoning -- from the premise of an objective given to the next premise to the next to the invariable conclusion -- is real logic, the language of Nature's objective reality.  Hence:  "Master" is over his "slave."  "Husband" is over his "wife."  "Roman slavery" is over "the golden rule" which is over "American slavery."  "Complementary" Christian marriage in the twenty-first century understanding of the submissive wife is over the now-illegal "complementary" Christian institution of slavery with its now-outdated understanding of the obedient slave.  And, of course, "the christian feminists who try to use the Bible to support their case" are conclusively more logical than "most feminists."

Nonetheless, it may be good for us to remind ourselves that many, some Christians even, have not found Aristotle's logic method of separation so useful.   We might listen, for example, to Nancy Mairs, who is a feminist christian "and" a christian feminist too:
The fundamental structure of patriarchy is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false. . . . It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation. It demands rupture, the split into halves engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites. 
Which is not women’s language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it. Some theorists would claim that all subjects function thus. But as Julia Kristeva points out, female subjectivity, traditionally linked to cyclical and monumental time rather than to linear time, lies outside “language considered as the enunciation of sentences (noun + verb, topic – comment, beginning – ending).” Possessing an “irreducible identity, without equal in the opposite sex and, as such, exploded, plural, fluid,” a woman may be driven “to break the code, to shatter language, to find a specific discourse closer to the body and the emotions, to the unnamable repressed by the social contract.” (Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer, page 41)
Hearing the name "Nancy," one might naturally label her a "female" and, therefore, more naturally a "feminist."

Nonetheless, it may be good for us to remind ourselves that many men, some black and enslaved and others white and always free, have not found Aristotle's logic method of separation so useful.  You may want to stay with me just a bit more for a couple of examples.  Here they are:

Frederick Douglass and John Stuart Mill saw the enslavement of the black race "and" the subjugation of women and as inextricably linked.  Therefore, they acted and spoke out as if they believed that to work "and" argue on behalf of the rights of the one group was also to work "and" argue for the other group as well.

Douglass was a black boy, a slave.  In 1830, when it was illegal for him to be taught to read because he was a black slave, a white woman, Sophia Auld, broke the law and taught Douglass how to read before he was a teenager.  And by age sixteen, he was breaking the law by teaching other slaves to read parts of the Bible and other works that he considered abolitionist.  Some years later, he married a freed slave Anna Murray -- who gained her freedom as a black person before he could; they worked together side by side.  In 1846, he was the publisher of several abolitionist newspapers, including the North Star, which had as it's motto:  “Right is of no sex--Truth is of no color--God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren."  Note the inclusivity of persons with respect to both gender "and" race.  In 1848, Douglass participated in the first women's conference in the United States of America in Seneca Falls, New York, where he signed the Declaration of Sentiments.  By 1863, Douglass had been engaging President Abraham Lincoln in conversation about abolitionism and, that year, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  In 1870, the fifteenth amendment was passed, giving blacks but not women the right to vote.   In 1872, Douglass ran as the U.S. Vice President candidate of a woman, Victoria Clafin Woodhull, a candidate for President.  Woodhull could not vote although Douglass could.  In 1882, Douglass's wife Anna passed away and, a couple of years later, Douglass remarried and wed Helen Pitts, who caused controversy because they were a mixed-race couple.  Douglass, of mixed race himself, said:  "This proves I am impartial. My first wife was the color of my mother and the second, the color of my father."  Douglass worked side by side with Helen, for eleven years as husband and wife, until the day he took his last breath (February 20, 1890 when he died of a heart attack in the evening at home); it was a day when Douglass, still fighting against the subjugation of women, had taken the platform at the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C.  (Just to complete some of the timeline here:  it was not until 1920, some thirty years after Douglass passed away, that women in the USA were granted the right to vote.)  Douglass saw the subjugation of people because of race as the same sort of problem as the subjugation of people because of gender. 

I won't take as long here to sketch out the contributions of John Stuart Mill.  I do want to show that a free, white male in high power can still sound like Toni Morrison's wise black slave women, blind but seeing the blurring of Aristotle's convenient categories as important for freeing blacks from slavery and women from bondage in marriage, religion, politics, and civil society.

Mill wrote a work, "The Subjection of Women," in 1869 in England where for some time he was an influential Member of Parliament.  (He had worked side by side with Harriet Taylor, as husband and wife of seven years, before she passed away in 1858.)  By the title and content of Mill's essay, you can gather that he's advocating for women's rights.  But I want you to see how Mill deconstructs Aristotle's notion of separate categories.  I want you to know that Mill was an early expert on Aristotle.  This post will end now rather abruptly with Mill's words as he sees no difference between the awful subjection of women to the powers of men "and" the awful subjection of blacks to the powers of whites:
Some will object, that a comparison cannot fairly be made between the government of the male sex and the forms of unjust power which I have adduced in illustration of it, since these are arbitrary, and the effect of mere usurpation, while it on the contrary is natural. But was there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it? There was a time when the division of mankind into two classes, a small one of masters and a numerous one of slaves, appeared, even to the most cultivated minds, to be natural, and the only natural, condition of the human race. No less an intellect, and one which contributed no less to the progress of human thought, than Aristotle, held this opinion without doubt or misgiving; and rested it on the same premises on which the same assertion in regard to the dominion of men over women is usually based, namely that there are different natures among mankind, free natures, and slave natures; that the Greeks were of a free nature, the barbarian races of Thracians and Asiatics of a slave nature. But why need I go back to Aristotle? Did not the slave-owners of the Southern United States maintain the same doctrine, with all the fanaticism with which men cling to the theories that justify their passions and legitimate their personal interests? Did they not call heaven and earth to witness that the dominion of the white man over the black is natural, that the black race is by nature incapable of freedom, and marked out for slavery? some even going so far as to say that the freedom of manual labourers is an unnatural order of things anywhere.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gender Debate in the Blogosphere

At Suzanne's Bookshelf, she points out how and where in the blogosphere "the gender debate has warmed up again."  Unfortunately, Suzanne herself "happen[s] to be quite busy at the moment and ... [un]able to maintain an exchange of comments."  Fortunately, she does note how she does "disapprove of the subordination of women." 

And more fortunately, Suzanne has written several of her own short posts that point out contradictions if not just rather bizarre statements of those who do "approve" of the subordination of women.  The rather bizarre position is by John Hobbins, who lives as a self-identified "egalitarian" but somehow approves of the subordination of women by others (whether bible-interpretation subordination of a wife to her husband or of a female wanting to minister to or to preach for or to teach the males in her congregation).  Go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Jesus and Luke like Phillis Wheatley

We may tend to read the title of this post with some objections.  We pretend that our objections will not say more about us than about these six words of text.  At the very least, we tend not to think about us thinking about the titular text.  And we say things like:

"Phillis Wheatley came after Luke.  She could not have exercised any influence over Jesus whatsoever.  Moreover, she is a she, and she was a slave, and her texts were mere poetry, rhetorical poetry at best.  That is not who Jesus is or who Luke was."

This is where our objectivity gets us.  "But we're not talking about us," we object again.  So we switch to the passive voice (our cool, passive aggressive voice):  "What must be talked about is Truth, the Nature of Time and of History and of not mixing Culture and Gender and neither neglecting Texts nor the Author and his Intention."

By my title, don't I intend something?  Yes, we've already gone beyond our position of Aristotelian objectivity to suspecting hyperbole or parable or ambiguity or narrative suspension of disbelief.  Aren't we used to Jesus doing that, and maybe Luke in a lesser way (lesser since Luke is just a recorder, right)? 

"So, okay.  We'll play along now.  But please do clarify the difference between the Son of God and the writer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Luke and a little black girl who's poetry was suspect before it was even published."

By the title of this post, I intended to get to things that Emerson B. Powery says about Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, Jarena Lee, Rosa Parks, and Jesus.  By the title, I wanted us to consider very carefully what Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder sees in Phillis Wheatley and Luke.  I already, yesterday, let Vincent L. Wimbush say that St. Paul, Hosea the prophet, and his (LXX) translators write like Toni Morrison.  So now, today (below), I wanted to get us setting aside some time to recover what Phillis Wheatley has done since she herself seems to be so like the womanist writer Gloria Naylor, the 'new black [male]' writer Trey Ellis, and the older history rewriting black man Ishmael Reed.

Yes, I understand the implications:  that this puts Jesus, and at least one gospel writer (i.e., Luke), and Paul, and at least one Prophet (i.e., Hosea), and all of the Jewish translators in between Hosea and Jesus, Luke, and Paul (i.e., the LXX translators) in the later tradition of translingual African American writers.  Hear then.  Here then are a few brave African American writers:
The need to act bravely has a long history in African American tradition.  Phillis Wheatley's published poems were scrutinized by Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, and other (white) intellectuals of the day.  Sojourner Truth challenged male-only suffrage of blacks, Jarena Lee pursued her God-given call to preach.  Rosa Parks would not give up her seat on the bus.
      Just as the woman understood ("knew") changes in her body, so Jesus recognized ("knew") changes in his body.
Here's more:
Luke's actions are similar to those of African poet Phillis Wheatley.  Wheatley, a native of Senegal, arrived in Boston on a slave ship in 1761.  She was the first woman of African descent to have a book published.  Her literary and verbal skills won her much acclaim....  Some might argue that Wheatley's writings were passive aggressive and thus still oriented toward resistance.  While she did not attack slavery directly, her writings did bring attention to its brutality.  His fear of Rome's power and potential retribution forced Luke to challenge Roman imperialism in the same passive aggressive manner.
And here's that bit for later, if we like.  It's a consideration of how Phillis Wheatley (whom the gospel writers seem to write like) is just like other writers just as brave.

Friday, February 19, 2010

homme est mort?

Authorship, for example, Pauline authorship of Pauline and Pseudo-Pauline letters, is an idea fostered by Enlightenment notions of the self and Lockean concepts concerning the ownership of property; it is of vital importance for some Christians to believe that the apostle Paul, wrote, for example, Ephesians, because he is the owner of the text, the subject that imparts wisdom, and therefore he owns it, and he belongs to the apostolic tradition and therefore Paul’s writings are inerrant because Paul wrote them (Paul being the subject/author, which Foucault said was “dead”). Why is it important for Paul to be the author? Because of our own concepts of ownership, which remain foreign to the Greco-Roman project of writing, which includes secretaries such as the one Paul uses in his their letter to the Romans.
-- from "Fridays with Foucault" by Rod, at his blog 
The above is Rod's example of what Michael Foucault meant when he authored the words, “homme est mort.”  This is quite important because Foucault was very much alive when he wrote what he wrote and when somebody else also alive translated that into English as, “man is dead.”

So where does author-ity come from?  And who exactly does a text come from?  Well, you and I are reading all of this, aren't we?  We're participating in meaning, in meaning making, in meaning construction, and in meaning deconstruction, aren't we?  This is some Rod's point, isn't it?  It's one of his points, you see, don't you?

But I want us to step back a bit here.

I'm not going to go all postmodern on you, as one of my blogger friends accused me of doing.  (He meant it not the way I took it -- as a compliment).   I'm also not trying to be difficult, as another of my blogger friends charged me with.  (And he was not trying to be kind).  I am wanting us together to listen.  Listen to what oppressive men write.  Listen to how the oppressed write.  Listen to how you write.  How I write.  Here goes:

To try to pin "authorship" on the likes of Enlightenment men like Descartes or modern(ist) men such as John Locke seems like a bad end game.  Yes, I know how they tried to distance themselves from the perhaps more-collaborative and, therefore somehow, more-inclusive "Greco-Roman project of writing."   However, these fellows all are playing King of the Mountain, it seems to me.  (Someone could even write a dissertation on how influenced by certain Greeks, namely Aristotle, writers like many Roman men, and most anti-Aristotelian Enlightenment men, and more modern modernist men were.  And didn't they all, like Aristotle, try to be brighter than the next guy, even to the point of calling Aristotle names like unEnlightened and pre-modern and such?)  The whole system of authorship and ownership is older probably, I think, than history.  Sometimes it's the point of history to have authority over and to own.  Which is why Canada and the United States of America do well to take a month of each year for 'Black History Month' and then 'Woman History Month.'  By the people, red and yellow black and white, for the people, men and women, and of the people, the governments can for a couple of months allow authority to get checked.  This isn't just intellectualism or political correctness gone haywire.  There are consequences to who owns texts and how they are owned.  There is deconstruction and reconstruction and civil rights re-rightings to be done.  There is recovery and reviewing and rewriting to be done.

If we were a Jewish-Ukrainian polyglottal Portuguese-writing Brazilian named Clarice Lispector, yes even a woman, then we might call the typically male notion of "author-I-ty" how Mario Vargas Llosa, Marilyn French, and Hélène Cixous (in their 1996 project together) translate Lispector describing "It":
the ‘phallocratic system,’ the [author-It-ative] ‘system of inflexible last judgment, which does not permit even a second of incredulity
The thing to note, and Cixous does this well, is that
Lispector herself ‘did not think in terms of phallogocentrism.’  How could she?
If we were an African-American woman named Toni Morrison whose Nobel Prize for Literature allows an opportunity to think on these things with an audience, then we would not think in terms of phallogocentrism either, would we?  No.  How could we?  What kind of authority is that?  Rather, we'd listen, as her griot, the wise blind woman, "the daughter of slaves, black, American, [who] lives alone in a small house outside of town" listens.  Yes, it's Toni Morrison.  She's thanking the Nobel committee out loud.  She is telling a parable like Jesus would.  She might be telling on us, like Nathan told on David by letting David tell on himself.  Here's a story thrown beside (y)our own.  Listen (if there are ears to hear):
She is worried about how the language she dreams in, given to her at birth, is handled, put into service, even withheld from her for certain nefarious purposes. Being a writer she thinks of language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency - as an act with consequences. So the question the children put to her: "Is it living or dead?" is not unreal because she thinks of language as susceptible to death, erasure; certainly imperiled and salvageable only by an effort of the will....

She is convinced that when language dies, out of carelessness, disuse, indifference and absence of esteem, or killed by fiat, not only she herself, but all users and makers are accountable for its demise...
The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. 

Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

The old woman is keenly aware that no intellectual mercenary, nor insatiable dictator, no paid-for politician or demagogue; no counterfeit journalist would be persuaded by her thoughts. There is and will be rousing language to keep citizens armed and arming; slaughtered and slaughtering in the malls, courthouses, post offices, playgrounds, bedrooms and boulevards; stirring, memorializing language to mask the pity and waste of needless death. There will be more diplomatic language to countenance rape, torture, assassination. There is and will be more seductive, mutant language designed to throttle women, to pack their throats like paté-producing geese with their own unsayable, transgressive words; there will be more of the language of surveillance disguised as research; of politics and history calculated to render the suffering of millions mute; language glamorized to thrill the dissatisfied and bereft into assaulting their neighbors; arrogant pseudo-empirical language crafted to lock creative people into cages of inferiority and hopelessness.
"It" is that ‘system of inflexible last judgment, which does not permit even a second of incredulity’ - "Author-I-ty" is that ‘systematic looting of language ... recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation.

Now when we go back to thinking about Paul as a writer, as a collaborative writer, as not so in authoritative control of his text as an author should be, then can't we see how we might start thinking about ourselves?  If you are not oppressed, or if your parent or your grandparent or your great-grandparent wasn't, then there's something going on.  Without wanting to side or to take sides, maybe you already have.  Then there really are other sides here.  Can Paul write something that keeps slaves slaves?  That keeps wives submitted and silent?  That keeps gays damned?  And if you hear that "he" does write these things, that the text does say that, then what?

How about we listen a little more to what Dr. Vincent L. Wimbush says in  True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary?
      Here are the radicalism and power of the interpretive stance taken and shared by [Toni] Morrison  and [W. E. B.] DuBois and so many other critics of African American life--that for black and subaltern critical consciousness there is no meaning in any Western-translated narrative, script, text, and tradition unless such is first ripped, broken, and then "entranced," blackened, made usable for weaving meaning.
      The metaphors here and throughout my article are mixed; they rather deliciously and poignantly run amok. Speaking so -- "in other words" -- is necessary in order to address complexity and pain and trauma. "Ripping the veil" means refusing to think according to and live dreamily within the realm of doxa, the realm of the canonical. It means accessing the sites of memory. Social therapy can begin only when these memories on their own terms -- not behind the "veil" of canonical text -- are woven together or "(re)textualized" (in the original meaning of that term) as "scriptures." And in agreement with writer-critic Ishmael Reed, it may mean, with ramifications most radical, that ultimately "we will make our own future text."

through Toni Morrison, Paul, LXX Translators, Hosea: Beloved

      Beloved has been and continues to be interpreted in myriad ways, with many different types of interpreters representing many different angles, agendas, and perspectives, responding to what appears to be [Toni Morrison] the author's invitation to read and probe and discuss the book.  There is raging debate still about the character Beloved--whence she comes, who or what she represents, the meaning or import of this or that statement or action attributed to her/it, whither it/she goes.  But all interpreters generally agree that Beloved is a story about a haunting, the haunting of those who are survivor-heirs of the "sixty million and more" made to undergo the Middle Passage (and to whom the book is dedicated).  It is a story about the failure on the part of all of us to remember those who died in such an experience.  It is about the refusal of those who died to go away and remain forgotten; it is about the haunting of the memory of those who died.  It is about why and how the memory of those who died is prevented, held back, made difficult or impossible to embrace.  Why the memory persists.  Why it hurts, traumatizes.  It is about consciousness, the impact the haunting has on the black soul, on the black consciousness.  It is about the impact of the loss of memory, the prevention and refusal of memory upon the black soul.  It is also ultimately about how the black soul may be reconstituted, healed, and united.  So it is also consciousness, interpretation, and articulation about the terms on which, and the framework within which, the black self, the one who is survivor-heir of the Middle Passage may now look back, remember, interpret, negotiate, and speak to the world about what it thinks, how it feels, and how it travels and experiences.  It is about "ripping the veil" that prevents the black self from remembering and healing itself.  It is a pointing in the direction in which the psychological-social stitching, weaving work can be carried out.
      Although it is clear what character in the book does the haunting, not entirely clear in every part of the book is the matter how the haunting is to be understood, that is, how the haunting works, why it persists, what the haunting is really all about.  It should occasion little surprise that I would notice and want to exploit, as very few other interpreters have, Morrison's epigraph, which is taken from Paul's letter to the Romans (9:25), and which also supplies the name of the character for whom the book is named:
I will call them my people,
Which were not my people;
and her beloved,
which was not beloved.
      No argument need be made about the importance of epigraphs in summing up a writer's agenda.  What I want to stress here is the importance of the epigraph in naming the issue behind the (narrative plotline) issue.  In order for this to be clear, it is important that the larger context of Paul's statement (actually a quotation of Hos 2:25, with word agreement with the LXX of 1:9) be established.  The larger discursive-argumentative context is Paul's effort to address the believers at Rome of mixed background ... regarding what appears to be ... an ironic, even paradoxical twist of fate and circumstance -- the phenomenon of the turning to God in great numbers on the part of Gentiles.... Paul tries his best to clarify matters; it does not work.  His arguments are halting, elliptical, and confusing....
      I think it is important to note that the end of the larger section, Romans 9-11, in which the the prophetic statement that Morrison used for her epigraph is found, Paul sums up....  At the beginning of the larger section Paul engages in a wonderful play on the word "call" (kaleo) before he draws a conclusion regarding the "mystery."  It is this word and Paul's play with it -- that is, signifying on it as marker of "hidden meanin'," of paradox -- that seem to draw Morrison's attention and inspire her usage.
      Morrison seems to have applied the Pauline "mystery" that equate "the call" (as election) and being called "beloved" to her book and black existence.  She renders the historical and perduring exclusion and marginalization; the historical enslavement, the other-ness, and subjugation; and the hoped-for elevation and self-possession in society and culture of black peoples mysterious.  Paul's rendering of Hosea's being called "beloved" is translated by Morrison as black folks' coming to be loved.  So it seems that what is most mysterious is the matter of how they were first enslaved and how they can or may come to be healed, elevated.  In Morrison's thinking -- through Paul [ -- through the LXX translators -- through Hosea] -- black peoples are the Gentiles, the ones thought at first to be outside, at first considered marginals, slaves, in terms of some grand design.  And just as mysterious a thing happened with the Gentiles of Paul's day, as even they were brought into the fold, so black folks, according to Morrison, are destined to be "called," to be loved.


above, an excerpt from the chapter "We Will Make Our Own Future Text," by Dr. Vincent L. Wimbush, in  True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary.  (HT Rod)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

submissive status: Hosea, other texts, & their misuse

       The informality of household instruction was reinforced by the more formal attentions of [white] Yankee clergymen [in the late 1700s]. Ministers like Cotton Mather and John Usher commonly inquired into the conduct of their black parishioners, continually urging them onward in the Christian life. Ministers also catechized groups..., preaching special sermons to the black members of their congregations and lecturing to black religious and social associations….
      The social aspects of Christian fellowship at first must have been more attractive to potential converts than the theology preached to the servant population. The religion tendered slaves was not the Weberian Puritanism of the protestant ethic; instead, slave religion inculcated servility and Augustinian acceptance of menial status and submission to authority. In New England, as throughout the United States, Protestant Christianity was presented to slaves as a defense of the status quo.
      Christianity, as Cotton Mather noted in his Catechism for Negroes, made better servants, since blacks who knew God would also know their proper place….
      Among the texts used by [white] New England ministers for special lectures to the blacks were Luke 14:16-24, Ephesians 1:5-7, Psalms 68:31, Romans 5:12, Jeremiah 5:4, Job 27:8, and Hosea 13:13. Lorenzo Greene contends that prominent among themes was emphasis upon faithful service and abstention from theft and fornication; but conversion is the most important theme in the texts noted above. Comparatively, the favorite text of sermons to slaves in the Old South was Ephesians 5:5-8, “Servants obey in all things your masters.”


above, excerpts from Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth- Century New England by the late Dr. William D. Pierson, History Professor, Chair of the History Department, and Chair of the Division of Social Sciences at Fisk University.

marriage metaphor: Hosea & its Misuse

The image of God moving from pathos to pathology can be problematic in black communities as it potentially affirms acts of desperation and violence against women by suffering black men.  In black communities, even though leadership is prominent among black women, patriarchy unfortunately still is assumed....  Unfortunately, black men's suffering has often led to pathological responses, including the beating, public humiliation, and even murder of women who could not otherwise be controlled....

Reading under, behind, within, and over Hosea renders a complex, intriguing, and problematic interpretation that can either lead to new possibilities or reify old habits and beliefs.  The writings of this eighth-century prophet as composites of an ancient, patriarchal worldview are rife with language that oppresses women, thus thwarting the potential for liberation and redemption among the whole community.  One must not choose among oppressions, for if one group is oppressed, ultimately all are in bondage.  The fascination with other cultures parallels modern economic prosperity concerns for the church, which often have no interest in justice.  Inclusive justice heightens questions regarding ongoing tensions about segregation versus integration, particularly when commitment to mutuality and inclusivity is not present.  The pathological Yahweh/Hosea characterization reflects how twenty-first-century leadership can corrupt congregations and society.  Can this God be redeemed?  This misuse of the marriage metaphor may have served as the catalyst for many an act of domestic violence--psychological and physical.  Where we go from here with Hosea is a respect for the text, a suspicion of what it says, and caution when it comes to interpretation, proclamation, and engagement.
above, an excerpt from the chapter "Hosea," by Rev. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield II, in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora.  (HT David Ker)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Subversive Rhetoric: Phillis Wheatley "Plays" Roman

 MAECENAS, you, beneath the myrtle shade,
Read o'er what poets sung, and shepherds play'd.
What felt those poets but you feel the same?
Does not your soul possess the sacred flame?

. . . .
The happier Terence all the choir inspir'd,
His soul replenish'd, and his bosom fir'd;
But say, ye Muses, why this partial grace,
To one alone of Afric's sable race;

The previous post "Subversive Rhetoric: Against Slave-Owning Americans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans" is Herbert Marbury's illustration of how slaves used double-meanings in songs, scripture, and poetry as subversive rhetoric.  In this post, there's more:

Phillis Wheatley's subversive use of Roman culture, her particular "'play' in and among the interpretive gaps and disjunctions between the social worlds of slave and slave holder."
First, (re)read her poem "To Maecenas."

Next, (re)view why white men could not at first believe she herself wrote it (black, African, a female, a girl no less, a slave too of course).

Finally, (re)cover the double meanings that you may have missed (but that one of Carol Percy's students could begin to hear).

Subversive Rhetoric: Against Slave-Owning Americans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans

If you get there before I do
Coming for to carry me home
Tell all my friends I'm coming too
Coming for to carry me home

      Within a matrix of overwhelming repressive power, the rhetoric of the spiritual and its ability to "play" in and among the interpretive gaps and disjunctions between the social worlds of slave and slave holder became a powerful subversive tool against repression.  Such rhetoric is political; it takes sides.  It simultaneously subverts and directs power.  Black preachers and others who employed the song ["Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"] for political purposes carefully crafted a multivocal rhetoric in which both slave and slave master could participate, albeit with very different interests and understandings.
      Since the rhetoric was appropriately constructed to attend to each group's social and political interests, each group could participate in their own symbolic world of meaning.  The slaveholder certainly would not have been aware that the rhetoric signaled the arrival of the Underground Railroad and the slaves' intent for freedom here instead of the hereafter.  Those slaves who had not read 2 Kings or heard the story of Elijah preached might not have been aware that there was another signification for the rhetoric in the planter class's romanticized notions of slave piety.  Only those individuals who traveled between both worlds, such as slave preachers, would have understood the rhetoric's double signification and why the song needed such a multivalent character to be effective.
      The separatist rhetoric of Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 10-13 is similarly multivalent.  Like the spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," the rhetoric of Ezra and Nehemiah also emerges from a context of repression.  Judah suffered under Persian domination that was no less brutal than that of the Assyrians and Babylonians before them or that of the Greeks and Romans who succeeded them.
above, an excerpt from the chapter "Ezra and Nehemiah," by Rev. Dr. Herbert Marbury, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University, and Clergy of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference, in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora.  (HT David Ker)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sifting: An African American Woman Reading

below, an excerpt from her chapter "Sirach," by Dr. Naomi P. Franklin, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Virginia Union University, and Preacher at Pilgrim Journey Baptist Church, in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora.  (HT David Ker)
      For Africana people, Sirach [also known as Ecclesiasticus, written by Jesus son of Sirach and translated into Greek by his grandson] is problematic, for it contains misogynistic advice and negative advice about slaves.  However, alongside that negative information, one finds constructive advice about living.  His [i.e., the author's] teachings are contradictory.  In one chapter, he speaks of the "wickedness" and "anger of women" (25:13, 15), yet in the very next one he speaks about the happiness of the man who finds a good wife (26:1).  His greatest appreciation seems to be for a silent wife, seeing her as a gift from the Lord (26:14).  This reflects the influence on Sirach of Hellenism, with its narrow view of the place of women in society and its negative view of women ([Claudia] Camp ["Becoming Canon: Women, Texts and Scribes in Proverbs and Sirach"] 2005: [page] 377).  For Africana women in particular and the community in general, these teachings must be eschewed.  Likewise, readers will find the negative advice about slaves and their treatment disconcerting, given our long and tortuous experience of slavery.
      While Sirach is part of the corpus of Wisdom literature, there is much within it that cannot be considered wisdom in the modern context.  His advice regarding women and children and how to live in society must be sifted in order to find that which can be useful in a modern context....

Sifting: Principled Preaching

During black history month in the United States of America, a place where not very long ago Africans were not Americans but were the slaves of Euro Americans, I went to church.  The preacher preached right through I Timothy 5:17 - 6:2, verse by verse.

The context here is important.  The preacher is himself Euro American, and male, a husband.  He grew up in New York but is preaching on Valentines Day in Texas. And his text is by another Euro male (a Roman citizen writing in imperial Greek as a Jewish male elitist, purist, who's converted to a sect of Judaism that he once tried to crush politically) to another Euro male (a late-circumcised half-Jew Greek) on how to order an assembly (a synagogue, an ekklesia) of people consisting of half slaves and half women.

(White, Euro American friends of mine invited me to this church this day in this place; there are others like them, like us, in the audience but no Africans or African Americans among us, not even one.  I'm going to make a big deal out of my own personal context here so perhaps you'll be willing to consider yours with me.  A number of bloggers - you included - can and do look at the text that I heard preached on Sunday.  Each one of us, yes you and me, read the text through our own gendered, and our own raced, lens.  We have history, histories.  We either want change, need change, or we resist change.  We sift the text.  White, Euro Males tend to let the text be -- to read it as authoritative twenty centuries later in the place where they are on top.  They -- and some of you -- tend to be in the top positions in their assemblies, whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian.  They -- and some of you -- tend to take the top place in their marriages over their wives.  They  -- and some of you -- tend to hold the top positions in their places of employment.  They -- and some of you -- tend to read the text as normative for them.  But, thankfully, none of us can use the text now to justify slavery, as it was used for so long until just recently.  Thankfully, we all have to sift through the first-century text that has been used, once upon a time, to sanction African slavery among us!  We have Black history, and this is our black history month.  We can remember.  So listen in, with me, to this pastor sifting now.)

"The elders in the first century," said the pastor in America in the twenty-first century, "were men only."  And he added, "If I had written this, there would have been women elders too.  But notice the principle of honor - double honor - for those in senior positions."  (I Timothy 5:17)

"Paul has Timothy turn with him to a principle of the Jewish scripture for the way a congregation was to treat elders and pastors," he added.  "I'm from the City, so what do I know about oxen and muzzles and treading grain?  Notice, however, the principle of allowing the ones doing work for others to benefit from the work."  (I Timothy 5:18)

"Here the writer takes much care to describe the care in keeping elders on the hook.  Let's include youth pastors and senior pastors and all paid leaders today in this principle."  (I Timothy 5:19, 20, 21, 22)

"Now we come to a parenthesis in the text.  It's direct advice from Paul to Timothy about using alcohol, using wine.  I don't know why Paul put that in the text and why he put that here exactly.  It seems to be the principle of best-known medicine."  (I Timothy 5:23)

"Now Paul comes back to the points he was making earlier.  The principle is that nothing leaders do will ultimately be in secret." (I Timothy 5:24, 25)

"Today, we don't live in a society with slaves.  When this was written, half of society was enslaved.  The text gives us a principle analogous to our current situation but, of course, it's different.  We don't live as slaves or as slave owners.  The principle we can make is to the workplace, to being employees, to having a boss.  We can give honor to our bosses, 'all honor.'  And if we're a boss who is a believer, then there are principles of honor for us too."  (I Timothy 6:1, 2)

Notice the humility of the pastor preaching.  Notice his appeal to the text and his appeal to his own context now - so far away, as if reading somebody else's mail.  Notice too our legacy of whites and blacks reading the texts now, in different places, during our black history month.

(Suzanne's Bookshelf has been linking to a number of bloggers' posts on the issue of using the texts to justify gendered positioning in the twenty-first century:  here, here, and here.  These are worth reading for more on this principle of sifting for principles.  The sifting principle -- which also is used by white euro males -- must be used by African American women; for example, here's a scholar and preacher, Dr. Naomi Franklin, who introduces the principle of sifting a text.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

The European Male has not wanted this to happen

Vic Method, Vice President, Ski Jumping USA:   "The European Male has not wanted this to happen.  We've been told that to our face.  Think about this.  I go down an icy run at 55 mph, and I propel myself the length of a football field through the air.  That makes the European Male kinda look bad because this little girl just flew as far as I did?"

Anna Bloom, Producer, MSNBC News:  "And sometimes even farther.  In fact, not so long ago, one little girl set the men's record for jumping on the course where the Olympics will be held."

Method:  "The men and women both started from the same starting point.  And I'll be darned, Lindsey Van sets the record for the hill.  That record still stands [from one year ago].  This coming February when the Olympics are held the television announcers will be talking about the hill record, held on the normal hill, as held by world champion Lindsey Van, and she can't be here because she's a girl."

"It's like jumping down two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view." -- Gian-Franco Kasper, President, International Ski Federation, and Member, International Olympic Committee

Why Can't Women Ski Jump in the Olympics?

ht Don 

Sexist & Racist Indoctrination in the Olympics

"It is true that women cannot compete with men in the Olympics, but women have other strengths," concedes Suzanne McCarthy.  And yet she concludes, "If women were really so weak, then some men would not have to waste so much bluster indoctrinating women into their own subordination."

Here's evidence of sexist indoctrinating around the 2010 Winter Olympics (from blogger Laura Leonard):
In Olympic tradition, 216 athletes will march behind our flag tonight as members of the U.S. Olympic team — 123 men, 93 women. But, according to Olympic Women and the Media, a new book by University of Alberta professor Pirkko Markula, the women will have received only 5 percent of pre-Olympics media coverage, and will receive only 25.2 percent during the Games, despite composing half of the team. When those female Olympians do receive attention, Markula notes, it tends to be for their appearance rather than their skill.

Case in point: American skier Lindsey Vonn. She’s competing in her third Olympics at age 25, is the current world champion in the Downhill Super-G, and a two-time World Cup season overall champion. She’s considered America’s best hope for gold in Vancouver. But when Sports Illustrated featured her on the cover of their Olympic Preview issue last week, Lindsey Vonn, world-class athlete, became Lindsey Vonn, Olympic sex symbol.

On the cover, Vonn wears her Team USA uniform, standard gear, and what at least resembles standard tuck form for her sport. The cover ignited a controversy over the sexualization of female athletes, though perhaps unfairly, since it’s nearly identical to the 1992 Olympic Preview cover, which featured male skier A. J. Kitt. But then Vonn appeared again in this week’s issue: the annual Swimsuit issue. Vonn, along with three other female Olympians, wears a bikini in the snow to promote her Olympic bid.

Sports Illustrated features women on its cover 4 percent of the time. For a weekly magazine, that means about 2 out of every 52 issues. And with the Swimsuit issue accounting for one each year, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for acknowledging female athletes.

It’s a problem, certainly, that we can’t seem to talk about female athletes without talking about sex.
Likewise, here's evidence of racist indoctrinating (as noticed by blogger Monica Roberts):
With the Vancouver Games starting today and it also being Black History month, I have pondered why we haven’t had as many excellent African-American winter Olympians as we consistently produce for the Summer Games....  African-Americans have a long and distinguished history in Summer Games competition dating back to the 1904 St. Louis Games. George Poage not only was the first African-American competitor, he took two bronze medals in the 200m the 400m hurdles.
From Jesse Owens to Flo Jo to the Dream Team, it’s a long and proud history of sterling athletic achievement. But when it comes to the Winter Games, we’ve been invisible.

defining (Black) women


People of African descent have long been told that slavery, mercifully, introduced Africans (and, later, African Americans) to Christianity.  However, this assertion is not completely true.  Proof of this is found in 1 and 2 Esdras, two apocryphal books that have roots connecting them directly to two African countries--Ethiopia and Egypt....  The book of 1 Esdras, estimated to be written in the first century, is canonical for Coptic Christians....  Coptic Orthodox Christianity is said to have been established by the Apostle Mark in Egypt during the first century....  In addition, 2 Edras is absent from the Western Christian canon but is canonical for Ethiopian Christians....  The Ethiopian Church still credits its beginnings to the evangelism of Philip [evangelizing the Ethiopian eunuch].
      While those in the African diaspora, in general, may be helped by 1 and 2 Edras, African American women in particular may be helped by chapter 4 of Esdras.  Of interest is the story in Chapter 4 that depicts the king's three bodyguards competing to prove the meaning of true strength.  It is the third bodyguard, Zerubbabel, who wins the contest by combining knowledge of womanhood and truth to highlight strength....  Zurubbabel portends two images of women--the concubine or mistress, and the dutiful wife.  Attaching images or even labels to women is nothing new.  For example, since most Black women during antebellum America were enslaved, many in society expected them to play the role of plantation "mistress."  This usually occurred through either coercion or force.  Historically, Black women were rarely perceived as the "dutiful wife" as there were no legal systems to protect this social designation for the enslaved.  Among other things, marriages was seen as a sign of civilization and social stability.  In this way, Zerubbabel helps by highlighting the strength and social contributions of wives and mothers.
       Contemporary literary critics suggest that the fictional writings of Black women in nineteenth-century America demonstrate a dialectic tension between marriage and freedom....  [E]nslaved Black women were rarely afforded protection or status through marriage.  While Zurubbabel's admiration of women is undoubtedly high, his two images of womanhood are rather narrow.  Contemporary Black women might ask, "Are we only mothers or mistresses?"  Perhaps this serves as a reminder that even the best intention to define women can be insufficient:  no one can define us better than we can.


above, an excerpt from the chapter "1-2 Esdras," by C. L. Nash, in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora.  (HT David Ker)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Moses ReMix: God as Mommies, as "Other" Daughters

Below is an excerpt from the chapter "Exodus," by Judy Fentress-Williams, in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora. HT David Ker

      The metaphorical language of the Bible is like music, allowing the story of exodus to move from event to tradition and organizing motif.  It can be retold with differing emphasis, resulting in a remix that seeks not to replace earlier accounts but to affirm and respond to earlier accounts.  For example, if the exodus is the point of orientation for Israel's identity and imagination, then the exile becomes the "anti-exodus" and the return to the land is a second exodus, all variations on a theme.  In the prophetic tradition, the familiar language and images of the exodus are remixed to offer a new understanding of who God is.  Take the example of the prophet Amos:
"Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the LORD.  Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?" (Amos 9:7)
      The inclusivity of a remix stands in contrast to the practice of sampling.  In sampling, a small segment of a recording is repeated, or looped, to form the foundation of another song.  Sampling allows a song to cross genres and to fit into other settings.  It is a way for music to live on in subsequent generations, as the example of James Brown makes clear.  However, taken from its original arrangement, the small piece of music takes on a different character.  The inherent danger of sampling is that the subsequent generations do know the song in its entirety, the original artist, or the context....

      Moses's basket is discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, who not only rescues the baby but hires the child's mother to be his wet nurse.  This story of deliverance stands out from what has gone before because the daughter of the Pharaoh is "other" by virtue of her ethnicity, gender, and position.  Like the previous stories we have examined, her rescue of the child involves the collaboration of others.  What is most noteworthy in this account is the way that Pharaoh's daughter "prefigures" God's action in redeeming Israel.  In 2:6, we read:  "When she opened it, she saw the child.  He was crying and she took pity on him.  'This must be one of the Hebrews' children,' she said."
      Pharaoh's daughter saw the child, heard him (he was crying), and took pity on him.  That action preceded her decision to keep him as her own.  In Exod. 3:7, we hear YHWY say to Moses:  "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.  Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians."  Like Pharaoh's daughter, God see, hears, and has pity.
      Pharaoh's daughter rescues and names the child, making him her own.  His name, Moses, works across language lines.  His Egyptian mother named him Moses because "I drew him out of the water" (2:10).  In Egyptian, the name Moses is likely derived from Thutmose, meaning "child of."  In Hebrew, it means the one who draws out," not "one drawn out" as Pharaoh's daughter claims.  Here we can conclude that although Moses's adoptive mother had one thing in mind when she named him, there was another plan for his life embedded in that name.
      Thus far, the would-be delivered Moses is delivered again and again by women who model God's act of redemption.  Each act of deliverance tells the reader something about how and why God will deliver Israel.  In the story of the midwives, we learn that God will deliver Israel in defiance of Pharaoh and that God will dupe the Egyptians ruler.  In the second story, we observe that Israel is God's child and that God's devotion to God's people is fierce like that of a mother to her baby.  In the third story, we see that God's act of redemption will be made manifest through the collaboration of unlikely people.  God's act of redemption is not limited by gender or race of any of the lines of division created by humans.
      Moses was nurtured by two women and most likely loved them both.  As a result, he had two languages, two cultures, and two peoples.  His upbringing demanded multiple consciousnesses.  If he was connected to two peoples, how did he understand the prophetic words he uttered, "Let my people go"?  Moses's multiple identities afforded him a perspective that revealed that the work of redemption was about more than two people.  God's work of redemption is relentless in its intentions to work across our designate boundaries so that all of God's people have the opportunity to be redeemed.