Perhaps you have picked up on theme here. My focus is Black Theology and race in America as told through the lens of black writers and theologians. What might come as a surprise to you who listen to me and who read what I write is that my reading list for Lent is an active and ongoing act of repentance.
Yes. I said repentance.
This list is an act of repentance in its truest form because repentance as we tend to think of it through our 21st Century American lens is pretty far removed from what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” As my friend David Henson said in his recent blog post when Jesus is talking about repentance he is talking about transformation. Henson goes on to write “In calling on the people to repent, Jesus is proclaiming the transformation of the world and of us. He’s preaching a new paradigm in the world. He is welcoming the new reality of the kingdom of God here among us and within us.” Perhaps one of the most helpful understandings of the truest form of repentance comes from the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:2 when he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The Greek word for repentance, which is metanoia means renewal and transformation. Richard Rohr has helpfully defined it by talking about repentance in terms of “moving beyond the mind” or crossing over the threshold from one way of seeing the world to an entirely new way of seeing the world. This is why I have a pile of books in front of me during Lent and knowing full well that books are limited in their ability to open my eyes and change my thinking I also attended the ERACCE 2 ½ day Anti-Racism training this past weekend along with three other members of our congregation. The Leadership Board has committed to attending this training as well as to sending 20 members of the congregation to the training over the next year. But I will say more about that in entries to come. For now I want to stick to my own journey of repentance.
In my office I have three bookshelves jam-packed with theology, ethics, church growth, Biblical commentary, leadership development, community formation, worship development, and liturgy. And yes, I’ve read most of them. The thing is probably 99 percent of those books are written by either dead white guys, or white guys 70 year and older. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with dead white guys or “elder” white guys, it just suggests to me that my theological worldview has been perhaps shaped by a very particular mindset – upper middle class wealthy white Americans (with a handful of German’s in there). These guys by and large have influenced the majority of white liberal protest theology and Christian Ethics in the past 70 plus years. Their theology isn’t bad and it isn’t wrong. Matter of fact, James Cone spends significant time discussing the importance of the works of Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth, but in his celebration of their works he also points out brilliantly the limitations of their works given them by their whiteness in a world that elevates white culture - sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously – above and beyond other non-majority cultures. Case in point is my own theological education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. This is an institution that seems to work very hard at establishing a racially diverse faculty, at holding an Anti-Racist identity, and lifting up a value of multi-cultural educational experiences. So why is it then that when I graduated and came home with a trunk full of books the only persons of color represented in my library were Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone, and Howard Thurman with only one work per author? Why? Because of the subconscious elevation of white culture in this case.
The point I am trying to make is that we who are white unquestionably have a worldview that has been shaped by people who look and largely live the same way we look and live. And for me this year, my act of repentance is leaning into the metanoia transformation of seeing the world through a new lens. Surely those who have known little suffering in life are going to have a drastically different understanding of the cross of Jesus Christ than those who have endured the suffering of slavery, mass lynching, legal segregation, Jim Crow laws, and disproportionate mass incarceration. Surely. Right? The thing is I don’t know what their understanding of the cross is, because I have never considered it. However, every year as we move towards holy week I find myself drawn to and repelled by the suffering Jesus endured on the cross of his crucifixion. I proclaim from the pulpit that we cannot fully understand or celebrate his resurrection if we do not first contemplate his death. I want desperately to be moved and transformed by Jesus’ suffering on Good Friday and I want desperately to be overcome by joy when we celebrate his resurrection on Easter. I who know little suffering as a member of the culture of people who have far more often been the hands of suffering than the victims of suffering want to understand the death and resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of those who have suffered. And I hope that this process will move me “beyond my mind” and as Richard Rohr instructs, to a transformed understanding of the world we live in, and the presence and activity of Jesus Christ in this world.
“Do not be conformed to this world…” wrote Paul. Repentance is non-conformist. It is grasping how the world’s narrative has been crafted and taking the risk of learning another alternative narrative. This is my transformation. My Renewal. My Repentance. My Lent.