My friend and colleague, Amey Victoria Adkins, served up the commentary on Charleston that I needed to read. “Before I Wake” is live over at Syndicate Theology. It features one of the most vivid accounts of baptism in the Black Church tradition while contextualizing the role of race and Christianity in American life.
Here are some of the passages that have been sitting with me:
We weren’t the kind of church who said words like “remember your baptism” next to “remember your death.” But death was a constant of life, and one we didn’t forget. We sang songs about it—about expecting it, preparing for it, about not being afraid of it. Tattered lives, torn worlds, imaginaries of great big yonders and o’er theres—these were gospel truths of struggle, experience, gratitude and hope all in one.
What happened at Charleston is exactly the opposite of incalculable evil, precisely because it rests on a math that everyone has already done.
The murder of innocents in Charleston is critical because it shows us the shape of our shadows, the truths of our beliefs and the incomprehensibility of our failure to ask real questions about what is and whose lives are valued.
Adkins gives a shout out to Willie James Jennings and his recent award-winning book, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press, 2011). Marginalia’s interview with Jennings is well worth your time as well.
Richard Newton, PhD is curator of Sowing the Seed and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures.