“A Brief Note on Wallace Best’s Langston’s Salvation”

“A Brief Note on Wallace Best’s Langston’s Salvation”

It’s good to know that there’s a resurgence in African American Religious History/Studies and that many fine scholars (such as Wallace D. Best on Hughes, Blum and Kahn on Du Bois, Harris on Ellison, Buck on Locke, etc.) are reassessing the religious sensibility and life of many prominent African American thinkers such as Langston Hughes.

What a fine book Prof. Wallace Best has written on one of my favorite poet-religious thinkers, Langston Hughes!

One of the most important features of this book is Best’s attempt to periodize and historicize Hughes’s attitude toward religion, which he also associates historically with Hughes’s poetic corpus, and some of Hughes’s fiction writings. We learned from Best that Hughes’s attitude toward faith has evolved over the course of his career as a writer, thinker, and public intellectual. Best’s attention to Hughes’s theology and its role in his writings is remarkable, illuminating, and nuanced. Third, the book is meticulously researched and well-written. Finally, “Langston’s Salvation” is a compelling story about the complexity of religion and theology in African American Intellectual tradition.

Nonetheless, in 1935, Hughes wrote an important play entitled “Emperor of Haiti: A Historical Play,” which was staged in 1938. Scholars have not paid attention to the religious ethos of this text, but Hughes has integrated many relgious modalities and expressions in the piece. In 2013, I wrote an article to explore Hughes’s engagement with religion, black heroism, and the Haitian Revolution in the play.

“Memory, the Spirit of the Revolution, and Slave Religion: The Representation of the Haitian Revolution in Langston Hughes’s Emperor of Haiti,” Journal of Postcolonial Theory and Theology 4:1 (April 2013): 1-35

Hopefully, future scholarship will reevaluate the attitude of Jessie Redmon Fauset, Hubert Harrison, James Weldon Johnson, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Marcus Garvey, George. Schuyler, A. Philip Randolph, etc. toward religion.

Thank you, sir, for writing this excellent text!

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“In Praise of Vertières, and In Praise of Freedom and the Haitian Revolution”

“In Praise of Vertières, and In Praise of Freedom and the Haitian Revolution”

O Vertières, how could we forget Thee!

You remind us that God created men and women to be free and not to be enchained and enslaved by men.

O Glorious Vertières, where we wrought our freedom and independence through our shed blood, You will always be a scar on our hearts and the path of freedom and inspiration for today’s troubles.

Today, the Haitian people are celebrating the Battle of Vertières (November 18, 1803) which gave birth to two significant events in world history: the end of slavery and the founding of the first postcolonial state and the first slave-free Republic of Haiti in the Western world. It was in Vertières African revolutionarries and men and women who dared to die free and independent conquered the greatest military and imperial power in the world: France.

To remember Vertières is to never forget the danger and threat of the unholy trinity of institutional slavery, colonization, and White supremacy in the world.

To remember Vertières also means to continue the fight against the vestiges of slavery (modern day slavery), colonization (neocolonization), imperialism, and any form of human oppression that engenders human suffering, dehumanizes people, defers human dignity, and challenges the image of God in humanity.

“On National Security and Internal Terrorism”

“On National Security and Internal Terrorism”

There are two current great threats to national security and peace in America. The continuous threat and fear of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, and the great amount of democratic freedom and group expression they are allowed to carry out in this culture. These two great American evils are a severe threat to our children, a moral danger and an ethical menace to the welfare of our society, and a demoralizing force to the American future.

If the American government does not take strick measures against these nationally-spread white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, one day it will be impossible for people in this country to go anywhere without the fear of a gun or bomb attack; or it will be inconceivable for individuals in this country to go socialize in any public places and learning centers (i.e. churches, temples, mosques, grade schools, universities, movie theaters, coffee shops, shopping malls and centers, goverment offices, doctors’ offices, hospitals, medical centers, recreational places) without the threat of death and internal terrorism.

Stricter laws and effective interventions must be put in place and are necessary to stop these internal (state-wide) terrorist groups and national violence. There is no democracy without internal peace. It is impossible to have national unity if we’re constantly (death-) threatening our neighbor and killing each other. Evidently, this is a democracy in decay.

Further, NO, it does not make any sense in any civilized country in the world for every institution to have to hire an armed security guard or a police officer to prevent possible gun crimes and bomb attacks and to promote the safety and peace of individuals.

If it is necessary for people in position of authority, power, and administrators (or any American citizen per se) (to have) to carry a concealed weapon or gun in our public places, we must agree that we have a national crisis of high proportion that can’t be controlled by our government, police forces, and our current criminal laws and justice system. It is either our government is not working efficiently and diligently to protect the American people or our current laws and police forces are inadequate to foster greater national security and maintain national peace. Clearly, we’re dealing with a justice issue and the miscarriage of integral justice in this country.

It is recently reported that “Thirty-nine members of the United Aryan Brotherhood and Unforgiven neo-Nazi groups were arrested in a Florida drug trafficking sting — and one had functional pipe bombs in his home.Tampa’s WFTS-TV reported that the multi-agency sting codenamed “Operation Blackjack,” a three-year-long investigation, led to the seizure of more than 110 illegal firearms, a rocket launcher and two pipe bombs from the individuals mostly based in Pasco County, Florida.”

To read further about this matter, click on the link below:

https://www.rawstory.com/2018/11/authorities-find-rocket-launcher-pipe-bomb-massive-florida-white-supremacist-sting/

“Redefining Poverty and what It Means to be Human”

“Redefining Poverty and what It Means to be Human”

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1. Being poor does not mean you are not intelligent and can’t contribute to human flourishing.
2. Being poor does not mean you can’t have big dreams and lofty goals, and that you have nothing constructive to contribute to society.
3. Being poor does not mean you can’t become somebody great in life and does not have a (political) voice.
4. Being poor does not mean you can’t beat the odds of life and overcome all the unfortunate circumstances in your life.
5. Being poor does not mean you are linguistically deficient and psychologically unfit for society and upward mobility.
6. Being poor does not mean you are not a person and does not have dignity.
7. Being poor does not mean you should allow people to mistreat and disrespect you just because you are poor.
8. Being poor does not mean you’re a hopeless individual and that your life has no meaning.
9. Being poor does not mean you are not beautifully and unwanted.
10. Being poor does not mean God is done with you.

“Reading Langston Hughes for a New America, and National Peace and Unity

“Reading Langston Hughes for a New America, and National Peace and Unity”

In my Literature course, we’re currently studying the (selected poems) poetry of Langston Hughes, who is rightly called “The Poet of the (American) People,” within the historical trajectories of the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Jim Crow racial segregation.

We already read “Let America Be America Again,” “Our Land,” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The message of the poem below is one of the reasons Langston Hughes is my favorite American poet:

“Our Land” by Langston Hughes

We should have a land of sun,
Of gorgeous sun,
And a land of fragrant water
Where the twilight
Is a soft bandanna handkerchief
Of rose and gold,
And not this land where life is cold.

We should have a land of trees,
Of tall thick trees
Bowed down with chattering parrots
Brilliant as the day,
And not this land where birds are grey.

Ah, we should have a land of joy,
Of love and joy and wine and song,
And not this land where joy is wrong.

Oh, sweet away!
Ah, my beloved one, away!

***I always tell my Lit. students that Langston Hughes is the greatest Black poet America has produced in the history of American letters. Folks, it is not Paul Lawrence Dunbar. It is Hughes, was always Hughes, has always been Hughes, and will always be Langston Hughes.
🙂

In his poetic corpus and social essays, Langston Hughes has always called America to holistic change and national lament, and summoned the American people to embody and actualize the American ideals embedded in Spirit of the country’s Constitution.

Hughes believed on the transformative power of generous and imclusive democracy for all people and particularly the future emancipative possibilities it bears for the commom people in America. Hughes reminds us that the American people talk about democracy and even enjoy the practice of democracy in the American experience, but a large segment of the American population don’t believe every American citizen should have democratic rights.

Generous democracy does not abandon justice, equity, fairness, and civil rights in the caravan; rather, it promotes these ideals and sustains national unity and progress.

Inclusive Democracy for all is never a threat to human flourishing and the common good in society; rather, it strengthens human virtues and (interpersonal) relations. Democracy is a mighty fortress for the poor and the disfranchised population in our society. These individuals understand the value of democracy when they taste it and will not let anyone or force take it away from them.

Have a great Thursday, friends!

“On Generous Democracy and The People of Democracy”

“On Generous Democracy and The People of Democracy”

The American people talk about democracy and even enjoy the practice of democracy in the American experience, but a large segment of the American population don’t believe every American citizen should have democratic rights.

Generous democracy does not abandon justice, equity, fairness, and civil rights in the caravan; rather, it promotes these ideals and sustains national unity and progress.

Inclusive Democracy for all is never a threat to human flourishing and the common good in society; rather, it strengthens human virtues and (interpersonal) relations. Democracy is a mighty fortress for the poor and the disfranchised population in our society. These individuals understand the value of democracy when they taste it and will not let anyone or force take it away from them.

“A Man Between Two Worlds: An Interesting Report about My Academic Pilgrimage (Part I)”

“A Man Between Two Worlds: An Interesting Report about My Academic Pilgrimage (Part I)”

I love books. I love the church and the people of God. I also love the academic life. I love good and challenging books, with an infinite passion and zeal. Good books and authors often take us places where we’ve never imagined we will go in our lifetime and sometimes leave mental scars with us which will mark permanently our intellectual life.

Tonight, as I was browsing through the Biblical Studies division in my home library, my eyes suddenly fell upon my former New Testament teacher’s magisterial work, “The Making of the New Testament Documents” (Brill, 2002). Immediately, my memory revisited the various ways Prof. Earle E. Ellis has influenced my intellectual life as a young scholar in the making and student majoring in New Testament (Th. M.) at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), in the academic years 2005-2007.

In 2005, I moved with my family to Fort Worth, Texas not to pursue another graduate degree at SWBTS, but to pursue a PhD in History of Ideas at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas). The Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities from the UT Dallas called me to inform me about my acceptance to the PhD program and that the Graduate Admissions Committee was very impressed about my academic performance. He asked me how I was able to work on two Masters degrees, concurrently pursuing an Advanced Master of Divinity with concentrations in Biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew) and Theological Studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and an M.A. in French Language and Literature at the University of Louisville. What he did not know about my intellectual ambition was what I had no intention to reveal to him… that I was also enrolled in another M.A. degree at the University of Louisville (UofL) in Kentucky during my last academic year at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). To be the first person in my family to get accepted to a PhD program was already an achievement and a mark of family proud; to become the first Haitian-American to graduate with a PhD in English Literary Studies at UT Dallas was another milestone accomplishment for my family and for many young people of Haitian descent, both in Haiti and abroad in the Haitian Diaspora.

After I spent my first year in the doctoral program, I quickly changed my major to English Literary Studies with specializations and doctoral comprehensive exams in African American Literature, African American Intellectual History, and Caribbean Culture and Literature. If I recall correctly, I switched majors because the School of Arts and Humanities at UT Dallas did not have any Professor who specialized in African History, Black History, or anyone who was working in African American History. I wanted to study the history and culture of the African Diaspora. There was no specialist in the area in the Department. Nonetheless, I was able to pursue a second focus in American Intellectual History which would have allowed me to give specific attention to African American Intellectual History; this academic area was close enough to what I wanted to do as a future scholar and researcher.

Progressively, I developed intellectual interests and academic passion for the field of Black Studies because of a particular African American professor, my very first “Black Professor” in Higher Learning education, at the University of Louisville who’ve had a tremendous and enduring impact on me. It was probably in Summer 2003 or 2004, I took a special course with him on the “Black Diaspora and Urban Education.” The course was designed for future teachers and especially for individuals who had an interest in urban education, teaching the economically-disadvantaged student population in our country. This particular class woke me up from my intellectual nap and cultural ignorance. It provided to me three major benefits: 1) the social consciousness about poor urban students and the predicament of disfranchised brown and black students, 2) critical tools of empowerment to serve and teach this group of American students—as a future writer, educator, and scholar, and finally, 3) the understanding of the Black Experience in the world, and to appreciate the significance of Black History (In class lectures, the professor used to boast about the success of the Haitian Revolution as only “successful slave revolution” in human history and the exemplary role of Toussaint Louverture, and he would often discuss about the importance of W.E.B. Du Bois and his 1903 seminal text, “The Souls of Black Folk,” in highlighting the Black experience and awakening Black consciousness in the United States, the radical movement of Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King and his Civil Rights Movement, John Hope Franklin’s excellent text “From Slavery to Freedom” [this was one of the assigned texts in the course], and the suffering of Black people during slavery and the great emancipation from slavery that radically transformed the Black experience in the Americas), as well as the complexity of the African Diaspora and the manifold achievement of Africa in global history and universal civilization.). This particular course has assisted me in countless ways to make sense of the richness and complexity of human nature and history, the geo-politics of the nations of the world, and the evolution and progress of modern societies and Western civilization, in particular.

The year 2005 was a good year for my family; we experienced many blessings (our second boy was born; I published my first academic paper on the “Medieval Perspective on Children—through the Eyes of the Christian Church.” Unfortunately, I do not have any existing copy of this work.) from the Lord. I just graduated in 2004 with an M.A. in French Literature and Language from the University of Louisville (UofL) (As a personal habit, I do not like to tell people that I have a graduate degree in French because they will start asking me to teach them French and give me translation assignments to do. Lol). As a student learning about the major writers of France (i.e. Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, Voltaire, Montesquieu, etc.) and those of the Francophone world (i.e. the Martinican poet and politician Aimé Fernand Césaire, Senegalese poet and politician Léopold Senghor, and Léon Damas, Jean-Price Mars, Jacques Roumain, Edouard Glissant, Jean Bernadé, Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphael Confiant, Mariama Bâ, and the Pre-Negritude sisters [Paulette and Jane Nardal]) and being exposed to major Black Intellectual Traditions including Negritude, Creolité, Antillanité, noirisme, Black Internationalism, Black integrationism, Black assimilationism, Black nationalism, and European schools of thought including German idealism, Hegelianism, Marxism, socialism, communism, capitalism, utopianism, Romanticism, I’ve had great intellectual difficulties reconciling what I was learning at the conservative and Evangelical Seminary SBTS and the radical knowledge I was exposing to at the University.

Moreover, Critical Theory would change me, and I was between two worlds: the seminary sphere and the university realm. As a seminary student, it appeared to me that the life of the soul and the life of the mind, which I was both nurturing simultaneously, was in constant conflict and tension. The university supplied to me the useful secular knowledge and a complex perspective about the world as well as the tools that were missing in my seminary education; likewise, the seminary formation was supplying to me a different kind and category of knowledge that was missing in my secular education. I did to know how to balance these two worlds and these two forms of knowledge, but I have become more aware of the utility of both spheres of knowledge and education that made me who I am today. I knew that I needed both to navigate through the world of the church and the world of the academia.

Further, I was evolving intellectually by becoming more aware of this vast sea of knowledge outside of the world of theology and seminary. I was changing intellectually and spiritually, and I could not stop the movement in and around me. My greatest teachers in those formative academic years were not the theologians I have encountered in seminary classrooms nor the biblical scholars and thinkers whom I have met in textbooks (however, in various ways, my seminary professors have had some sustaining influences on me); the major influences in my life were these individuals and history of ideas that have radically shaped my consciousness, thought-process, my Christian life, and my way of being in the world in relation to God and to other people. Beyond the seminary classroom and the university walls, the life, character, supremacy, and teachings of Jesus Christ have remained the greatest forces that have changed my life and continue to inspire me as a person. The understanding and knowledge of this Christ is supreme over the cultural knowledge and history of ideas (intellectual knowledge) I have gained as a student preparing for the ministry and as a student forming for the academic world, concurrently.

At the University of Louisville, I was pursuing a double-major: an M.A. in French and M.A. in the Humanities with a concentration in Religious Studies. I have always been fascinating by the complexity of what call “religion.” I believe that religion is one of the top ten monumental achievements and original inventions in human history. My intellectual curiosity to study and to understand different religious traditions (humanity has always been in the quest to understand and know God and understand his providence in history and ways in the world) that are different than my own Christian tradition is an on-going and endless process and a rewarding and experimental journey. “Reason,” for example, in many religious traditions—be it Abrahamic or non-Abrahamic faiths or even atheistic, humanistic, and rationalistic religious-philosophical traditions such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism—sometimes betray both intellectual reason and human logic. A particular religious ritual may not make any sense to the non-practitioner; however, those who practice it within their own sphere of religious reason and knowledge will come up (or invent new reasons) with countless reasons to support the practice and reason behind the ritual—even if it may seem “unreasonable,” and even “illogical” to most of us. (African-derived religions such as the Haitian Vodou, for example, has helped me to understand many complex things in the world such as the complexity of God and his nature, and the notion of divine providence in history and God’s revelation in human cultures. Yet, as a Christian theologian, I unapologetically believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate embodiment of God’s revelation and attributes, and that He is the ultimate ground of human existence. He is also the ultimate source of human salvation and sole hope for humanity to get right with God.) Space also is an important aspect in human life in the development of spiritual maturity and in the nurturing further religious or theological consciousness. Texas would supply to me both the intellectual space and spiritual domain to grow, establish, and develop new relationships.

Consequently, my family left Kentucky to be relocated in Texas for three main reasons: 1) UT Dallas has offered me admission to its doctoral program; 2) I was offered a teaching job right after my graduation with my first M.A. degree, and 3) I wanted to leave Louisville, Kentucky for new life adventures and to explore future possibilities. Although as a family, we have experienced tremendous growth and success, I personally did not like Louisville at all. We’ve had some tough collective experiences and difficult relationships in that city, and as a seminary student, the academic atmosphere at Southern encouraged intellectual growth and fostered rigorous biblical scholarship and solid theological habits and exercises. The social dynamics and human interactions in the seminary environment, from my perspective, were not personally rewarding and uplifting; yet, in Louisville, we made good friends and cultivated enduring relationships even to this day.

Eventually, we moved to the city of Fort Worth in June or July 2005, Texas to start in August my very first and real teaching job as a French teacher, at a private Christian High School in Fort Worth (Although I have previously taught intermittently in various schools in Kentucky, I did not consider these previous experiences as “real teaching” experiences.) In Texas, life will not be the same, as it were in Kentucky. New experiences produce new challenges that often accompany by both growth and defeat. These occurrences will also transform our family dynamics.

As I was getting prepared to begin the PhD program at UT Dallas in the following year (Although I was granted acceptance for the Fall semester 2005, my wife was pregnant with our second child Joshua, I had to postpone my doctoral admission for the following year, 2006), I was enrolled in the post-M.Div., the two-year Th.M. (Master of Theology) degree, a post graduate degree, with an emphasis in New Testament Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). At SWBTS, I had the greatest privilege to meet Prof. E. (Edward) Earle Ellis (March 18, 1926 – March 2, 2010), a major Biblical scholar and one of the most influential professors who has shaped my understanding of German Biblical Scholarship and Higher Criticism in New Testament Studies. I was always amazed by his kindness, clarity and precision in teaching, and his breath of knowledge of the subject matter and cognate areas (He studied law before moving to Biblical Studies as a career path). During my time at SWBTS, I took three important classes with Prof. Ellis: “The Theology of Paul,” “The Theology of Jesus,” and the “Theology of 1 Corinthians” that will revolutionize my entire academic journey as a seminary student. My classes with Prof. Ellis were never boring and usually started at night, possibly 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm or 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm.

P

rof. Ellis, who received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 1955, was well-versed in Rabbinical literature and Jewish Hermeneutics. When I was a student at SWBTS, he served as Research Professor of Theology Emeritus; he was 79 years old when I took my first course with him on “The Theology of Paul” in the Fall 2005. He possessed his own distinctive pedagogical way and method not only to articulate the complexity of the Text of Scripture, but also the intended meaning to the original audience of the Bible. As any young seminarian, I was thirsty for more intellectual knowledge about the biblical data and to be more acquainted with the world of the Bible and specifically the formation of the New Testament documents. Prof. Ellis’ teachings were profound, informative, and enlightening to me, exceeding the intellectual expectations of my M.Div. years at Southern. Because of his previous training in law, he would lecture as if he were in the courtroom; first, he would list the names of biblical scholars and theologians, especially the German ones, and their associated views on the Biblical Text or issue; with great rigor and passion, he would assess each (School of) interpretation individually by presenting the weakness and vindicating his own perspective on the text and relating matter, with lucidity and precision.

Every week in his classroom, I was discovering new data about Biblical Hermeneutics and the biblical text. Because he was student-centered, I developed the habit to talk to him after the class period was over on that day, so I could make further inquiry about Scripture, and to discuss specific matters and relating issues to the lecture of that day. I would also walk with him to his second-floor office and carry his suitcase. I remember the day when he brought to class a copy of his groundbreaking study, “The Making of the New Testament Documents,” and on a sticky note wrote the following words: “This book belongs to Celucien Joseph.” Nonetheless, this Celucien was battling with the internal conflict whether to go forward with the PhD in History of Ideas at UT Dallas or to apply to do a PhD in New Testament in the United Kingdom. I was found in two distinct worlds because I am a man of two spheres with a split-soul in the church and the academic world.