ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
God calls: Who will answer? The familiar pattern of call and response throughout the Bible and the history
of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam concerns all of us. African cultural communication patterns
of call and response continue to shape the culture, religion, and social patterns in the African diaspora.
God calls: Who will answer?
Isaiah 6.1-13, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11, Psalm 138, Luke 5.1-11
A birthday sermon by Ralph G. Clingan
Lord Baden-Powell of England started the scouting movement after he lived for a few years with the Zulu nation in East Africa. He believed urbanized British children grew up so divorced from the natural world and so lacking in the skills, virtues and relationships the Zulu people so powerfully manifested and taught him. He developed a program of activities and lessons to enable equip and empower British boys to become as exemplary as the Zulu scouts who had taught him so much. Lord Powell brought the movement to the United States where it became a strong organization housed mainly in Anglican and Presbyterian churches. Of course Scout troops now lodge within Synagogues, Mosques, and churches of all denominations throughout the United States and the world. There are also Hindu and Buddhist Boy Scouts! Zulu culture still forms the basis for Scouting: The Scout Oath or Promise formed the basis for the litany I copied from the website of the Boy Scouts of America. What is the motto? Outdoor skills like hiking and camping, aquatics, physical fitness, cooking, conservation and merit badges in both Girl and Boy Scouts help boys and girls grow spiritually, personally, morally and recreationally into physically fit adults who are prepared for morally and spiritually healthy hobbies and careers.
February is Black History Month. The focus rests on African-American history, through the historical works and studies of such historic scholar leaders as William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and the NAACP. They embraced my Cherokee and other Native American ancestors with other peoples of color, including people of Asian and Hispanic heritage. The Bible played a key role in the liberation struggles of all the groups. Studies published in Americas Womens History Review; in the Cross Cultural Studies Institute of Seoul National University by Dr. Christine Sungjin Chang; and by students of womens history in African and south Asian nations demonstrate the vital contribution of Bible women to the rapid growth of Protestant Christianity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They read todays texts, heard God call them, and answered with their lives.
African American women slaves learned how to read while working in the homes of slave owners like Puritan Theologian Cotton Mather in 17th century Boston. They insisted that Rev. Mather help them organize a church where they could feel comfortable studying the Bible and praising God. African Bible women taught fellow slaves how to read and write in secret throughout the Southern states during the days of slavery. God called and women were among the first to answer with their lives. When Protestants translated the Bible into Mayan and Incan languages and brought Spanish translations into Central and South American nations, women and men read the Bible without the control of Catholic priests and both within Catholicism in the form of Contra fraternal congregations and in separate Protestant churches, Bible-based Christianity spread and continues to spread. Society did not allow women slaves to be free, but the voice of God liberated them; men did not allow women to be free, but the voice of the God of the Bible did liberate them because when God called them, they answered with their lives.
God calls: Who will answer? The familiar pattern of call and response throughout the Bible and the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam concerns all of us. African cultural communication patterns of call and response continue to shape the culture, religion, and social patterns in the African diaspora. I experience this verbalized pattern of call and response in African American churches and when I preached in Kenya. There, Bible women distributed and taught the Bible in the early days of the women missionaries the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland sent there. Reporters in Haiti following the tragic earthquakes there sent back videotaped and written reports of call and response worship events among the Haitian survivors. I will come back to the variety of call-and-response patterns expressed by Haitian survivors of the recent earthquakes later on in todays sermon as we meditate on what the Lord God of Jesus calls us to do and how we will answer.
Initially, todays scripture texts provide very different forms of the question and the answer pattern in very different historical contexts. The problem of ascertaining Gods call and deciding our answer to Gods call presents complex problems for us nowadays, depending on our contexts. Our exploration of the mission the Lord God of Israel called Isaiah the Prophet to fulfill in the context of an Israeli national crisis will yield one form of the call and response pattern. Then, our exploration of what Gods call meant to the apostle Paul and his answer will yield still another form in another context. Of course the call of Jesus to the first of his followers and their answer provides yet another form of the call-and-response pattern in the context of the exiled Jewish Christian community of first century Syria.
We all enjoy reading Isaiah 6.1-13. We enjoy singing what has become the favorite hymn in the denominations that use Dan Schuttes Here I Am, Lord, which he composed in 1981 for a Jesuit Deaconal ordination in San Francisco. Teachers of liturgics, or worship, like Professor Huh and I enjoy relying on Isaiah 6.1-13 in seminaries and schools of theology because it determines the parts of the order of worship used by Jews, Christians, and Muslims all over the world. The details of each tradition may vary, but the pattern remains the same. There always is a special, sacred place with sacred designs or objects, a sacred book or books to study and preach and a conversation between members of the community and their Allah/God. The call of the Lord God/Allah and the communitys obedient response makes up the order of theophany or encounter with God/Allah. Religious languages only point us toward that being greater than which none exists; they cannot define or confine the divine power. When the power beyond all powers which we call the Lord God calls, we answer with our lives.
A study of Isaiah 6 in the immediate context of the book leads to an appreciation as to why the prophet at first refused to fulfill Gods call. The chapter before 6, chapter 5, contains a poem of 7 Hebrew stanzas probably sung by the prophet. A song about how the Lord God would destroy Israel because of the greedy who lived to acquire more property, drank alcoholic beverages for breakfast and celebrated nightly orgies, dragged iniquity along as one would pull a cart along with ropes, called good evil and evil good, put darkness in place of light and bitter for sweet. Shrewd and wise in their own estimation, they were a bunch of drunks who acquitted the guilty for bribes and deprived innocent people of their rights. The Lord God gave this song for Isaiah to sing to the very rich and powerful people the Lord God condemned!
Naturally, Isaiah feared the task of singing such a dire song to people who had the wealth and power to execute him on the spot. Such threats by cultural forces have cost the lives of people who responded to Gods call with their lives. Some did survive, like Sojourner Truth in the southern states, Celia Ortiz, the first woman ordained Pastor in Cuba and Duk Ji Choi the first woman ordained Korean Pastor.
The Roman empire of the first century did not differ very much from Israel and Judah just before the Babylonian exile five or six hundred years before. The Romans ruled their tributary states like poor little Israel, which they lumped together with Syria, with an iron hand. Their greed knew no boundaries, nor their love of strong drink, wild orgies, iniquities, evil injustices and unjust treatment of innocent people. Local powers slavishly obeyed Rome like Herod the Great and his son who followed him, Herod Antipas and the Herodian sect of Judaism. They went along with the Roman culture, religion, and society.
Syria suffered under the boot heel of Roman oppression but was safer for exiles than Palestine. The Jewish Christian community in Antioch, Syria consisted of refugees from Jerusalem. The Romans had destroyed all the Jewish cities between 68 and 70 of the Common Era. All the Jewish survivors of this mass execution fled in all directions. Some fled to Africa where they invented the first basic form of Christian communities and schools. Others went to India with Thomas. Still others fled up into Persia and Chaldea, now called Iran and Iraq. Others fled up into Russia. Some went into Asia Minor, which we call Turkey. This was Pauls home country, too. Another West Asian Jewish Christian wrote Luke, and Paul wrote his letters in very different contexts. The founders of the Jewish Christian Church in Corinth, Greece, came from Asia Minor, modern Turkey, where a woman named Lydia after the West Asian province trained them and that number included another Asian Jewish woman Priscilla, who trained Apollo the powerful African preacher whose work was celebrated by the apostle Paul Benjamin. When the Lord God called, Asian Jewish Christian women Lydia and Priscilla answered with their lives.
We do not know the name of the author of Luke. Most scholars believe Luke was the last of our four gospels, written between 80 and 90 of the Common Era. Most scholars now believe Jesus of Nazareth became a Rabbi at about 19 or 20 years of age and enjoyed a ministry at the Capernaum synagogue of about 10 years. The fishing community together with all the other Jews of Capernaum knew Rabbi Jesus well enough to know when he was at home in his house there and when he was away. From among the fourteen or so versions of the life of Jesus in existence by 80-90 CE, the anonymous author of Luke depicted the life of Jesus to appeal to sympathetic Romans as well as fellow West Asian, Syrian Jewish Christians and exiled Jewish Christians who had fled to Syria after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.
This makes Luke the most multicultural of the gospels, which may have been one reason John Ross in Korea and many other Bible scholars on the other continents also translated and distributed and sent Luke out among the first of the Bible books. Luke mentions women more often and more favorably than all the other gospels combined. Women heard God call them through Luke. Women of color in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the United States could understand, distribute, teach and risk their very lives because of Lukes Jesus because [He] loved, healed, forgave and empowered women!
Corinth was a Roman city on a peninsula in the province of Achaia less than 50 miles from Athens to the east; another ocean side city to which Jewish refugees fled. Pauls version of the gospel of Jesus which he preached to them represents a very different content from that of any of the four canonical gospels. Why?
First, probably because Jesus never knew Jesus of Nazareth personally; the risen Jesus confronted the man formerly known as Saul Benjamin. Neither Lydia nor Priscilla nor Apollo ever knew Jesus personally either, but Jesus called them anyway and they responded with their lives. Just like Sojourner Truth, Celia Ortiz and Duk Ji Choi among so many others.
Second, Saul Benjamin probably learned about Jesus second hand from the very reluctant Ananias a Christian Rabbi of the church in Damascus, Syria. The early Scottish and North American missionaries thought of African slaves, Latin American Maya and Inca what they thought of Koreans. Kim Eunjoo Mary reported that missionaries said Koreans were poor as church mice, lazy as dogs, dirty as pigs, ravenous as wolves and proud as hypocrites. (121)
Third, of course, he probably learned another version of the Christian faith from the apostle Peter, an eyewitness to the risen Jesus. He listed hundreds of others to whom the risen Jesus appeared and a few notables like James, but the fact is that the letters of Paul do not speak of the experience of Jesus after his death as an experience derived from facts but as a belief, a faith. In other words, the Apostle Pauls letters develop an early Christian theology and set of beliefs to distinguish from and relate to their native Jewish religion and the Roman religion. What did the Asian refugees of Corinth believe in spite of all Roman attempts to destroy them?
The same thing African, Native American, Asian and Latin American recipients of Gods call through the Bible believed no less than such Gay theologians as Chris Glaser and such Lesbian theologians as Letty Russell. According to Kim Eunjoo Mary who teaches at the Iliff Seminary in Denver:
The fantastic news of the gospel for Koreans was the emphasis on total equality between men and women, old and young, masters and slaves, literate and illiterate, haves and have nots. This radically differed from traditional Confucianism, which is based on hierarchism, classism and sexism and had been the foundation of personal and social norms in Korean culture for centuries. (121) The powers that keep on subjugating people of color and other groups they wish to oppress and suppress have reached the end of their ropes. Max Scheler wrote their epitaph in his phenomenological prediction made before WW1, that world civilization would change from reason toward emotion, side with children against adults, with women against men, with the masses against the elites, with peoples of color against white people of privilege, and rest on psychology, the subconscious reality and overthrow powers based on conscious reality (Powell by Clingan, 45).
God still calls through Bible texts like the lessons we read today, and the people most unlikely to answer with their lives still do so. Our mission rests on our courageous overthrow of all the powers that oppress and suppress women, children, peoples of color. We must make room at Gods Table for people who live with the challenges of hearing, eyesight and mobility, too. God calls: Will we answer with our lives?
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Chang, Christine Sungjin, Hidden but Real: The Vital Contribution of Bible Women to the Rapid Growth of Korean Protestantism, 1892-1945, Routledge: Womens History Review, 2008
Clingan, Ralph Garlin Against Cheap Grace in a World Come of Age, an intellectual biography of Clayton Powell, 1865-1953 (New York: Peter Lang, 2002)
Glaser, Chris Coming Out as Sacrament and Uncommon Calling, 1988 Sermons on line at the Virginia-Highlands Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, where he serves as Interim Pastor.
Ortiz Suarez, Ofelia, retired President of the Evangelical Theological Seminary, Matanzas, Cuba. Many articles and books on liberation theology themes in Spanish.
Kim, Eunjoo Mary Women Preaching, Theology and Practice Through the Ages (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2004)
Russell, Letty, many books and articles on liberation theology themes.
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The Rev. Ralph Garlin Clingan, PhD, H.R., moderates the Public Policy Advocacy Network and represents the Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association to the Synod of the Northeast of the Presbyterian Church (USA). His books include Against Cheap Grace in a World Come of Age, an intellectual biography of Clayton Powell, 18651953, Vol. 9, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Studies in Religion, Culture, and Social Development, edited by Mozella Mitchell (New York: Peter Lang Publishing Group, 2002), and An Action Preaching Manual, available in Korean and English from Seoul, Koreas Preaching Academy, 2005. Another book on how to prepare a sermon quickly, which will contain three years of Clingans sermons, will be available from the same publisher later in 2007. Dr. Clingan taught homiletics and liturgics in The Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, 19801988.
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By Bart D. Ehrman
The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else’s name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptablehence, a forgery. While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman’s introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book’s main point, is especially valuable.Publishers Weekly / Forged Bart Ehrmans New Salvo (
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of a Growing Religion in America
By Miguel A. De La Torre
This book by Miguel De la Torre offers a fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture of Santeria — a religious tradition that, despite persecution, suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a million adherents in the United States alone. Santeria is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots, rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the wake of Castro’s revolution in 1959, Santeria came to the United States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a legitimate faith tradition.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 20 February 2010