I think it’s honestly pretty cool how we honestly started with something we learned on the first day: there is no one “black church” in the conventional sense. It’s nice to wrap up all of the stuff that we’ve learned by going back to something that fundamental, but now it’s been put in context by everything that we’ve read and been taught this semester.
I most enjoyed the sermon out of all of the assignments today because it speaks to today as well. I believe that everything MLK Jr said in that sermon still applies today, and it was actually very uplifting to hear. The idea of civil disobedience today is shunned, and those who practice it are seen as a threat to the country. I have no doubt that the people in the civil rights movement were seen as a threat as well back in their time. Still, if they could do it then, we can do it now. The sermon gives me hope, because it reminds me of speeches and papers I’ve heard and read from modern times, uplifting modern protesters.
I wanted to look up some videos about the history of the Ethiopian Hebrew identity, but nothing immediately came to light except a video with a link in the description to the “Lion of Judah Society” website. I didn’t even realize what Rastafarianism was up until that point, so it was really interesting to see the connection between it and the Ethiopian Hebrew identity talked about in the first Weisenfeld chapter this week. In general, I think it’s interesting how many fringe-to-large African American movements decided to align themselves with either Judaism or Islam, and the myriad odd ways in which they chose to do so. I had never heard of Moorish anything at least within recent history until this week, and when I found out that there is still a fairly sizable congregation belonging to the Moorish Science Temple of America, I was kinda shocked. It’s definitely cool, but it’s also a little bit annoying how many people try to use very similar words to describe themselves, and the ways in which they can get tangled up.
Here’s the video that led me down that weird rabbit trail, though:
At first as I was reading our selection of Garvey, I was optimistic that he would do better than Booker T Washington or WEB DuBois in articulating on behalf of black people. Instead, I think he changed the game a bit. While one side previously called to just let African Americans live with their conditions, pack up their marbles and go home, and the other called to try to change things, Garvey seems to combine these two. Instead of just packing up and going home, they’re packing up, going home, and setting up shop there. I don’t know that he had the right idea, but I thought it was a cool one.
While WEB DuBois’s prayer and writing this week seemed honestly pretty normal to me given the historical context, Booker T Washington’s speech absolutely irritated me. The entire speech was pandering to white people in the most inane ways, talking about how well-behaved his race would be now and how ignorant they were to try to gain political office and how his advice to black people is to just be content with their station. It was positively the most depressing speech I’ve ever read. While it’s understandable that he felt the need to downplay the conflict between black and white people given he was responding to the rising conflicts (and lynchings) of the times, it’s a little bit spooky as a minority to see a major figure in another minority have represented themselves as docile and willing to work with those extremely nice oppressors they’ve got, instead of fighting back tooth and nail. However, that might also be my own refusal to compromise on anything speaking as well.
The thing that’s so interesting to me about Jarena Lee is how much her story reads like a novel, and honestly, just how relatable it could be to my generation if retold.
She begins with her backstory, and this entirely reads as someone with major depression. She speaks at least three times of her want to kill herself, and while she says that it’s directly from the devil, one would be hard-pressed to provide an explanation as to how depression isn’t from the devil if you believe in that. This is the set-up, the exposition. She then talks about the conflicts she endured while trying to come to Christ– rising action and initial conflict. An especially eye-catching part of this is when she is given a novel to read instead of being allowed to read the Bible, as it sets up a direct human v human conflict. She also has visions of not quite a person v God conflict, but its inverse. Finally the setup is done when she is sanctified by the Lord in a secret place, away from both man and I guess the devil, has a moment of conflict, and then is a Christian. It’s a very normal setup to see within a novel.
You then have the main plot, which is her call and action to preach, and a subplot: her marriage. Finally, the rising action culminates in her being vindicated by her former mentor and going on to preach a sermon on the following Sunday that brought members of the congregation to tears. Then you’ve got a moment of falling conflict while she talks about the rest of her life continuing to preach in various places to various congregations: a happy ending of complete resolution.
This follows very well the traditional story arc of a novel, with mini-climaxes of conflict rising towards the major conflict’s resolution, and then falling action from there, with at least a bit of exposition at the beginning and follow-up at the end.
When I was a student author, this was the type of chart I was taught, and it amazes me how closely Lee’s story mirrors this chart.
You could easily make a novel or even a movie out of this by dramatising the conflicts between her and the devil, her own inner struggle with depression, and her fight to actually be allowed to preach as a woman minister. It’s really cool.
In the primary reading by Brown, one of the people he interviewed told him that nobody would believe her in her church that she was truly a Christian until she “had one shouting spell.” Furthermore, she finally faked it to get them off her backs. This was part of a bigger narrative of what I believe was entirely performative religion to get money and status, but it reminded me that this weird branch of performative-ness is still alive and kicking in the church. Specifically, people really like speaking in tongues (and various other “gifts of the Spirit”) to prove that they’re holy. I had a youth minister at one point who told me she had the gift of prophecy, and that she knew every little thing in my life because Jesus told her so. Not gonna lie, I was never happier than the day I moved away from that church.
But like, a lot of people fake speaking in tongues, and it’s…. really obvious. I can’t remember what sect it is of Christianity that likes all their members to have a really obvious (by which I mean weird) fruit of the spirit, but those people very much enjoy speaking in tongues, and it’s…. pretty fake.
This is the kind of thing I mean. I’ve seen it on mission trips and at church, and every time I’m amazed by how forced it seems and how little it seems to do for anyone. On the flip side, though, it means you’re definitely holy, so people will stop getting on you for why you’re not going to heaven.
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An interesting thing stuck out to me reading Richard Allen– his experience extremely closely mirrored the way I was taught about slavery when I was a child. I was taught that most slave owners were actually very good to their slaves, that they treated them like family, and that most people only owned a couple of slaves. It wasn’t until high school or later that I realized how few slaves actually had this experience. It makes me wonder if Richard Allen and Jupiter Hammon’s testimonies informed historical accounts of slavery so much for white people that their accounts became culturally ubiquitous. The idea that white slave owners might take their accounts and begin spreading them as normal cultural fact makes a lot of sense to me. They both assuage white guilt in a way that most slave accounts couldn’t possibly do.
The reading by Raboteau (sp?) for this week was extremely interesting but, as per usual, the thing that really caught my eye was the part of the reading that mirrors current events. That is to say, the pages in part one that dealt with Christians who owned slaves in the 1700s.
The overarching mindset seemed to me before this reading and honestly still appears to be “we will use literally any argument that allows us to dehumanize people we want to use.” If the slaves are pagans, then they deserve to be overworked. If they are Christians, they will allow themselves to be overworked or they aren’t really Christians. If they’re animals, then God created them to be overworked. If they’re men, see above pagan thought process.
Coming from an evangelical (and notably white) Christian background, you’re supposed to save everyone you can. So it’s honestly rather impressive the ability of some to ignore people’s humanity in favor of profit. And this still happens. Thankfully the people who think of, say, black people as animals are now considered radicals and white supremacists, and not generally “that nice man next door.” However, I’m willing to bet that almost everyone has a relative or at least knows someone who thinks that “homeless people deserve to be homeless because they aren’t willing to find a job and make things better for themselves” or “people who are on welfare are on welfare because they want to be on welfare.” The fundamental ideas behind these beliefs are “they’re not like you and me, so they don’t deserve the life we have.” In a similar vein, you get the idea that because evolution isn’t Christian, it shouldn’t be taught in schools, and we can only celebrate Christian religious holidays– anything else and you need to ask off special and probably miss something that a Christian most certainly wouldn’t have to miss. “Those filthy non-Christians don’t deserve an education, or they only deserve one that aims to convert them.” The foundation of all of these beliefs is that the Bible is mutable (when I choose to let it be, don’t get it twisted and think that you can just say the Bible means what you want it to), but we didn’t choose it to be interpreted this way, this is the way it’s always been and God has finally revealed to us his truth, again. The entire foundational belief is warped in a way that’s almost impossible to decipher, even for someone who was raised a conservative Christian. When the Bible is mutable (not for you, but for God’s purpose that just happens to have always been this way *and* align perfectly with my generally bigoted belief system), you can mistreat slaves because they’re pagans or maybe not even human. You can ignore the homeless, the widows and orphans, because they chose their life of sin and God probably said nothing about helping sinners. You can deny people an education or shame them for their beliefs, because that’s probably Biblical.
I can’t think of a way to conclude this, so uh. End angry rant here.