“How to Raise Human Dignity Very High and Affirm our Shared Humanity in the most Excellent Way”
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
What a tough message to listen to, and what a hard thing to do!
The command to “Love your enemies” simply means to treat people who do not like you or those who hate you with kindness and understanding; it is also a candid instruction to treat them with the same attitude as those who like, admire, favor, or love you.
The call to love the people who despise you is a clarion call to self-examination, to practice humility, and to work toward internal healing through the process of (self-)forgiveness and freeing yourself from anger and an attitude of retaliation or vengeance. Love allows us to be both vulnerable and self-giving.
To pray for the individuals who are persecuting you or those who are causing you pain and suffering is the highest form of Christian spirituality and the noblest expression of human care and empathy toward someone, including your oppressors and abusers. Praying for your enemies and oppressors will lead you to confront your own alienation and vengeful attitude to pursue the welfare and peace of those individuals. Arguably, praying in this way is an act of self-liberation and mental rehabilitation. Intercessory prayers, like the act and practice of love, invite us to go beyond the possible and the visible.
Interestingly, love and prayer are the best gifts an individual can extend to his or her oppressor and abuser. Loving one’s enemies is act of prayer, that is, to earnestly seek divine favor to embark on the journey of reconciliation and peace-making. We become more human and Christ-like when we love and pray for the individuals who can’t stand us. Loving someone, especially the abuser, the enemy, the oppressor, is another way to celebrate (their) human dignity and to affirm someone’s humanity. In the same line of thought, intercessory prayers on behalf of the abuser, the enemy, and the oppressor is the most effective strategy to promote peace and harmony between two individuals who were once enemies and lived in alienation with one another.
The peacemakers are not only children of God when they live in harmony with God and other human beings; they are also individuals who live in peace with their enemies and seek divine favor or blessings on behalf of their persecutors.
I just don’t like when religious and biblical scholars, and theologians don’t stay in their “academic lane.” A PhD in Theology or Old Testament does not qualify someone to be an authority in the discipline of Chemistry or a specialist in Economics. Learning about God and Christian theology in seminary or Divinity school, or being well-versed in Biblical Studies scholarship does not make someone wise nor does this particular training encompass all different academic territories and epistemologies in the academia and higher learning. Studying the Bible, Yoruba religion, Spirit-based religions, the Qur’an, the Midrash, the Talmud, and the Vedas does not make anyone an expert on every academic discipline outside these religious systems or fields of religion and theology.
In the same line of thought, having a Phd in Physics or Molecular Biology does not make one an expert in Ancient History or Medicine.
If you do not know something, it is okay to say “I do not know.” Please do not mislead students or anyone else with false information or unqualified instructions.
“Rememering Ahmaud Arbery: Justice is Love in Public”
Today, the nation learned that the jurors declared their final verdict to the killers of Mr. Ahmaud Arbery and found all three guilty. We still need to remember Ahmaud Arbery and his family, and all of the innocent people who have been murdered unjustly in this country. Justice is a struggle in our legal system, but justice is what love looks like in public.
On May 8, 2020, I published an article for “The Witness” to reflect on the innocent death of Ahmaud Arbery and to lament on the dehumanization of Black and Brown lives in the American society, and the problem of justice in our Legal system. The title of the piece was “On Ahmaud Arbery, the Killing of Whiteness, & the Preservation of Black Lives “
“There’s something terribly wrong with this country’s justice system if we have to celebrate the arrest of those who have committed horrific acts of evil or violence against Black and African people.
That was the national response yesterday (May 7, 2020) when Glynn County Police Officers arrested the two white supremacists who slaughtered jogger Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia. Arguably, this incident illustrates the gaping hole in America’s democratic wall.
If Black people in this country have to demand and plead for justice every time a crime is committed against us, there’s something tragic about our democracy, our collective moral conscience, and our regard for human life and dignity.”
A year ago (2020), at the passing of Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, I was disturbed because of this grave injustice. The nation was also shocked at the innocent killing of Ahmaud. I spent another sleepless night (It was 4:38 AM. I couldn’t sleep. Yet I had to write this poem and spit out the words that were raging my soul.) thinking about the unnecessary death of Ahmaud Arbery as if he were related to me or that I knew him personally. So, I wrote a poem for him. Thanks be to the God of justice and freedom Ahmaud’s killers are found guilty today (11/24/2021). Ahmaud Arbery and his family will have justice.
“Freedom Shadows” for Ahmaud Arbery
If freedom could speak, how will it instruct you and me? What will it say to you in the morning? What will it teach the world? when the clock is broken; when the wound is not healed; when the pain is not new and stands still; a nightly song to us will it sing? Where will it meet us? at the center, in the prison cell, under the rainbow, or in the valley. The parrots sing to me: “Freedom shadows, freedom shadows, freedom shadows have no location and identity.”
If freedom were a lamp, where will it guide our path? to the stars; to a community of peace; or a country where it does not rain; to a place of despair; or a village where the people live in reconciliation blues. Please tell me if freedom were a shadow, whose image will it reflect? your resemblance; my likeness; or our common humanity. If freedom were a color, what will be its preference? Will it be brown, black, white, ultraviolet, or no color? The children in the streets whisper: “Monsieur, freedom is all the colors in one…at full brightness.”
Yet this country’s freedom betrays me and keeps us in shackles. Freedom here is cold and has no soul. this freedom does not make a loud noise, nor does it explode. It hides itself in the clouds of emptiness, in the sea of solitude, in the valley of ashes. It alienates us and does not restore brokenness. Freedom in this village is is a lie, not mine. It is just a dream, always a dream to me. It is the dream our people dreamed about.
In the land of my birth, freedom passes us like a shadow, in a home with one window, this freedom is shallow and suicidal. It tempts us like the devil. Freedom in this land is like a sacred space between us and them; a period that creates a distance, a sign that indicates a hindrance, a clause that breaks the bond. This freedom is here to stay.
This nation’s freedom does not visit us in the morning; It crosses over our path at dawn. Why is freedom so far away? The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully. The dolphin can dance beautifully. Even the little birds are set free. For you and me, our dance is not free. When our blues are new, our spirituals change the view. This freedom is not our preview; it is their honeydew.
Dreaming in a land where freedom will be for you and me; Dreaming in a land where freedom could be a warranty deed; we could use it as a seal. only if freedom times can stop moving, I could start living. Dreaming in a land where freedom could be free for us and bond all of us; joy will be in all of us. the melody of freedom will find us; freedom dance will rebuild our people; peace will sustain this nation; love will remake us; These freedom shadows are only our shadows.
I have good news to share with you on this beautiful Tuesday morning. My editor from Routledge contacted me this morning to inform me the paperback version of our book on the writings and ideas of the acclaimed Haitian American writer Edwidge Dantical will be released on December 13, 2021. I’ve had the privilege to work with a brilliant team of coeditors and writers/contributors when the hardcover came out last year (2020). My congratulations to you! I am also appreciative to librarians and friends who have recommended and purchased this important book. Also, I am thankful to instructors who have already assigned the book in their courses. “I am because We are.”
“Approaches to Teaching the Works of Edwidge Danticat” edited By Celucien Joseph, Suchi Banerjee , Marvin Hobson , Jr. DrDanny Hoey
The paperback can be pre-ordered online. The price is quite reasonable. Would you please share this good news in your circles!
I wrote this piece below three years ago, precisely in November 22, 2018. I might need to refine it for the sake of greater rhetorical clarity, but my basic thesis stands. It deals with the relationship between theory and practice, and the intersections of religion and culture, and other elements and practices that enrich our shared humanity. It rejects the common thesis in African American abd Haitian Studies that make religion an essential aspect of Black culture. In other words, it rejects a form of (Black) religious ontology connected to a particular form of (Black) cultural essentialism.
I developed this thesis with greater exegetical detail and analytical interpretation in one of my most important books, “Revolutionary Change and Democratic Religion: Christianity, Vodou, and Secularism” (2020)
“The Misappropriation of the Concept of Culture in Black Diasporic Religions: The Case for the ‘Black Church’ and ‘Haitian Vodou”
One of the major issues in Black Diasporic Religious History is the misinterpretation and misappropriation of the concept of “culture” to the sphere of (Black) religion. While African Americans scholars have argued that “The Black or Negro Church” is the birthplace of Black culture, similarly, Haitian scholars have contended that “Vodou” is Haiti’s culture. In both perspectives, black culture is identified with religion as an essential category of black life and existence. In other words, black existence is essentially a religious phenomenon the same way black culture is essentially a religious practice.
It seems to me we’re dealing with a categorical misappropriation and conceptual misunderstanding in both contexts: that of African American, and that of Haitian. Culture includes the sum of all (human) practices, beliefs, philosophy, ideologies, traditions, lifestyle, language, food, music, food, clothing, painting, the arts, ideas of beauty, aesthetics, values, worldviews, rites of passage, family, morality, ethics, etc. Culture is not restricted to just and only one (“cultural”) phenomenon or (“cultural”) element, as noted above. Culture is a broad concept that encompasses multiple (human) expressions, modalities, and the soul of the human experience.
It is a false misappropriation of the concept of culture when one posits that one particular item such as religion constitutes a people’s full and integral culture. The existence of a nation, a people’s or racial group is not contingent to its religious worldview–as important as religion as a human tradition is and might be to help us see through the soul of a people or racial category. Religion is not the sole denominator of a people’s dignity and personhood, in the collective sense. While we understand that religion is an essential characteristic in human existence, but human existence should not be equated restrictively with religion. Religion is not just spiritual, it is a form of social identity in the same way human beings are spiritual as much as they are also relational, rational, and social animals or beings.
Therefore, as social animals, human beings express their humanness (or ontology) through music, painting, food, dance, or any form of entertainment that articulates the human experience in the world. These are different forms of human communication, which do not necessarily associate with faith or which do not have to be linked to religion. Religion is a form of human connection and communication. In the same line of thought, human beings as complex entities articulate their sense of themselves and ways of being in the world through various ethical, religious, and philosophical beliefs and worldviews. A belief does not have to be associated with religion the same way religion can be construed as a body of thought (belief) and as a body of practical rituals, performances, and physical expressions. A philosophy as a body of knowledge is not essentially connected to religion; all philosophical systems are not essentially religious ideas the same way that all ethical frameworks are not essentially philosophical, moral, or religious. On the other hand, there are some philosophical and moral beliefs that have a religious connection or basis. Further, religion not only constitutes a system of belief–whether theological, moral, ethical, philosophical, political–but also a system of practices or rituals. Religion is not only a body of ideas; it also includes everyday practices, but not all ideas are religious in nature and not all everyday practices are (and should be) essentially religious.
Comparatively, it is also a terrific misunderstanding of the idea of religion to be the engine of culture just because of the fact of the complexity of human nature and the various expressions of human interplays in the world. The human (“The Black Experience”) experience is not one of a religion, but some experiences can be religious and non-religious, equally. The elevation of religion to the whole of the human experience in the world, as “The Black Church” (or “The Negro Church”), a form of religion and an expression of the African American culture, is said to be the “birthplace of black culture” and that the whole of the Haitian culture and identity (cultural identity) is essentially linked to “Haitian Vodou,” a form of religion and an expression of Haitian culture, is a categorical fallacy, which needs to be reassessed, even rejected in contemporary African American Religious scholarship and contemporary Haitian Religious scholarship.
Culture is not religion, and religion is not culture. Nonetheless, religion is a constituent of culture or a cultural element and expression just like language, music, dance, food, and painting are various forms of cultural communication. These various forms of culture are either religious and non-religious, profane and spiritual. Religion is one category of the broad concept of culture. Black Diasporic and African-derived religions such as the Shango of Trinidad and Grenada; the Candomblé of Brazil; the Vodou of Haiti, the Santería of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic; the Kunina and Obeah of Jamaica; the Kele of St Lucia; the Confa Obeah of Guyana; and the Vodou and Hoodoo of the United States had their genesis in the broad notion of (Afro-Diasporic) culture; they are all cultural expressions in religion. By consequence, “The Negro Church” is not the birthplace of Black (the African American) culture, both before and after slavery. From the same perspective, Haitian culture is not originated in Haitian Vodou. As previously argued, religion has always been a cultural category and an essential element of culture, both in continental Africa and before the institution of slavery, and after the emancipation of the African people in the United States and the nation of Haiti. While the “The Black Church” emerged from the system of slavery and it is in fact a form of slave culture, African American religion is connected to the pre-slavery (Black African Religious) tradition. This same argument can be made for Haitian Vodou and Haitian culture.”
In a world of rejection…. the tears of the moon become thick The sky is darkened The universe is sad because of you Rough winds carry you afar
Sadness fills your shadow The night devours my soul The cold wind stings my heart Loneliness surrounds my body Longing for a new place to hope Where the oceans kiss the blue sky
The shattered heart I cannot bear A bruise that scars my soul If I ever dream, dream of a new life, dream of love in the future, It is okay…it will be with you If I see destruction and know suffering It will be okay to suffer with you If I go to a distant land, full of charm and your memories You will come with me Your love is my love
Here is a morning poem dedicated to you to help you start your day 🙂
“Morning” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
The mist has left the greening plain, The dew-drops shine like fairy rain, The coquette rose awakes again Her lovely self adorning.
The Wind is hiding in the trees, A sighing, soothing, laughing tease, Until the rose says “kiss me, please” ‘Tis morning, ’tis morning.
With staff in hand and careless-free, The wanderer fares right jauntily, For towns and houses are, thinks he, For scorning, for scorning, My soul is swift upon the wing, And in its deeps a song I bring; come, Love, and we together sing, ” ‘Tis morning, ’tis morning.”