“The World is Black: Harlem on my Mind and in Their Soul”

“The World is Black: Harlem on my Mind and in Their Soul”

It is very encouraging to read the students’ abstracts for my Harlem Renaissance course.

1. Some students are researching on the significance of black films in the era of the Harlem Renaissance–in negating racial stereotypes, on one hand, and on the other hand, showing how black producers (film-makers) were using their films to depict a positive black image and express black agency and subjectivity in the American society.

2. Some students are exploring black sculpture and painting to find out how it was used to tell an alternative historical narrative of the black experience in America; they view black sculpture and painting as chronicling a counter narrative to the white gaze and the demands of white publishers.

3. I have two students who are creating a play based on the social life of Black people living in Harlem: the Harlemites.

4. A student is creating a portfolio that analyzes the artistic work and (visual aesthetic) achievements of Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence.

5. Another student is investigating how the works of W. E. B. Du Bois contributed to American democracy and the black quest for equality and justice in America.

Folks: this group of students in my Harlem Renaissance class is quite dynamic, bold, passionate, talented, and inquisitive.


“On Xenophobia and Hope, and the Meaning of the Incarnation”

“On Xenophobia and Hope, and the Meaning of the Incarnation”

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann remarks that “Christian hope cannot cling rigidly to the past and the given and ally itself with the utopia of the status quo. Creative action springing from faith is impossible without new thinking and planning that springs from hope” (“Theology of Hope”). Henri Nouwen connects Christian hope with value and meaning and interpersonal relationship. He informs us that “Without hope, we will never be able to see value and meaning the encounter with a decaying human being and become personally concerned” (“The Wounded Healer”).

For Him, Christian hope is not abstract or theoretical, but practical, existential, and incarnational. Accordingly, “This hope stretches far beyond the limitations of one’s own psychological strength, for it is anchored not just in the soul of an individual, but in God’s self-disclosure in history” in the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Christian hope “is grounded in the historic Christ-event, which is understood as a definitive breach in the deterministic chain of human trial and error, and as a dramatic affirmation that there is light on the other side of darkness.” The drama of the incarnation fosters practical hope for our every day’s troubles and challenges. It compels us toward kindness and generosity for the greatest act of kindness in human history was the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, hope is something that Christians know and hope is also a person Christians experience. God is kind and hope.

To be generous and kind to everyone is to act like God in Christ. Generosity and hospitality are human virtues to be praised and coveted. By contrast, xenophobia or the fear of the “other” or even the immigrant is the antithesis of human kindness, generosity, and hospitality. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (James 6:10). Xenophobia is the antithesis of the incarnation; it refuses the presence of God in the world and in our community. The presence of God is manifested through our interaction with the stranger, the immigrant, and the poor. Xenophobia not only kills kindness; it murders God in the flesh and it is certainly the greatest enemy of divine hospitality, presence, and compassion. May we become the Gospel we proclaim!

“The Moral Significance of Black Folk in America”

“The Moral Significance of Black Folk in America”

Black people are the ones who always remind and warn America about the importance and practice of justice, truth, and righteousness.

They are also the ones to diagnose America’s bankrupt institutions, ungodly systems, and unjust structures.

They are also the first to complain about the bankruptcy of America’s legal system and political organizations.

They are the same people to remind America that racism and white supremacy are two great social and spiritual demons and evils in the American society.

They are also the first to tell America chattel slavery, (Jim Crow laws) racial segregation, and lynching are/were antidemocratic, unchristian, and anti-human flourishing.

They are the same group to urge America that injustice and oppression have consequences and may lead to national decline and ultimately the destruction of a civilization and of a nation.

They are also the same people to remind America about the humanity and dignity of black and brown people and the precariousness of life and the sanctity of black and brown lives.

They are also the same people to remind America that God’s children actually live in the ghetto and their life matters, and not to undermine their collective suffering and poor living conditions.

They are the ones to compel America to change its character; to remove the stain of antiblack racism from its laws and public policies; to call America to repentance and justice; and to create an atmosphere for the possibility of racial healing and unity, shalom and reconciliation.

Black people are America’s redeemer and soul. Without Black people, America will not have a soul and a conscience. Black people are the ethical light and moral conscience of this nation.

***Have you ever wondered about the reasons (the economic and historical trajectories and the cultural and political conditions as well as the moral issues and ethical matters) that have led Black people to play these various roles and functions in American history and in the American society?

“Rethinking Life and Grace: Forgiveness and Repentance, Justice and Peace in the Amber Guyger-Botham Jean Case”

“Rethinking Life and Grace: Forgiveness and Repentance, Justice and Peace in the Amber Guyger-Botham Jean Case”

It is important that we also pay close attention to the aching heart and fragmented soul of this brave mother (Botham Jean’s) who is grieving and mourning the death of her precious son. She does not sing “cheap grace” and pronounce “quick forgiveness” without demanding true repentance and sincere change of the heart; rather, to those in the seat of power and position of influence in the city of Dallas, she is demanding justice and asking them to address the systemic corruption in the judicial process/system in the Amber Guyger-Botham Jean case. Forgiveness is a gift and should never be abused or taken for granted. To repent of a wrongdoing simply means that I will not do it again and will change my way of life no matter what the circumstance is, could, would, or will be. Some Christians in this country have a low view of forgiveness, grace, and repentance. Their passion for justice and righteousness is too weak and not revolutionary. It is a distraction to the biblical call to practice robust justice and reconciliation in society. In fact, their understanding of justice and grace is a nuisance to the biblical notion of forgiveness and repentance, and correspondingly a direct departure from the biblical vision of radical justice and reconciliation.

As a society, if we want to maintain a judicial system in this country that is reasonably fair and just to every American citizen regardless of his or her race, gender, class, or economic status, the members of the jury that reviewed the Amber Guyger-Botham Jean case should have never pronounced their final verdict based on what they thought the person (the victim who is now dead), as some of them have claimed publicly, would have liked to happen (this is carelessness judgment and it is not within the boundary of the rule of law!). The judicial system or the rule of law should be and always be the catalyst to assist the jury to decide responsibly and ethically the outcome of the trial and thus pronounce the verdict accordingly.

Let me repeat that again: The final judgement of this trial should never be based on the emotional sensibility or some preconceived notions or ideas of certain members of the jury of what they believed the victim would have wished. Yet it is always good for the jurors to also consider the spirit of the law and the claim of justice and the prospect of restorative justice to bring holistic (national) healing and communal reconciliation and peace.

Judge Tammy Kemp made a terrible mistake by not leading this trial justly and righteously. The city of Dallas took too long to process this urgent case and call Officer Guyger to trial. The 10 yr. verdict giving to Officer Guyger is not enough. She is eligible for parole after five years? This verdict minimizes the life of the victim who is now gone and undermines the importance of true justice as well as the legal implication of innocent people who could intentionally be murdered by reckless cops.

Further, the “ public officials” in the courthouse, including the Judge who hugged the murderer and handed her her personal Bible and the female Police officer who was fixing Officer Guyger’s hair, clearly sent a comforting message to Guyger that the system was against her and that she was wrongly put on trial. On the other hand, correspondingly, their calculated gesture also sent a negative message to Jean’s family that the life of their son does not have equal value and weight as compared to that of Officer Amber Guyger. When a person commits a crime such as removing someone’s life from the world, it is the role of the judge and juror to ascertain that the criminal or murder is cognizant that crimes have severe (and existential) consequences or that he or she has committed a crime against another individual, against the loved ones, the community, and God.

In Christian theology, the atonement of Christ for the sins of the world reminds us that grace is never cheap. The sacrificial death of Christ, which produces forgiveness upon true repentance, is a demonstration of God’s justice against sin. Justice & grace walk hand in hand. Forgiveness is the result, not the starting point.

Judge Kemp has failed the Jean family, the vulnerable people of Dallas, and to an extent all of us and the nation—including the vulnerable and marginalized population in this country. She had an opportunity to re-review the case more carefully and do a critical re-assessment of the jury’s conclusion and presupposition. She failed. She failed. She failed. She certainly failed to lead accordingly to truth and justice and to uphold the rule of law. Judge Kemp had the opportunity to recommend a higher sentence to Officer Guyger for her reckless and intentional crime toward Botham Jean. Judge Kemp’s decisive role in this trial will not bring greater peace and reconciliation to the existing hostility between Police Officers and the Brown and Black community in the city of Dallas and by extension in this country. Her act is consciously political and strategic, but not mediatory and reconciliatory. Based on her public and legal actions, she and her allies have taken a side, and it is certainly not the side of the victim and those who are grieving after the dance!

Finally, one thing that is obvious in the American society is that certain individuals (and a class of people, to say the least) who have the power to safeguard human life often fail to do so simply because they do not value the sanctity of life and do not consider the future possibilities and promises of life itself. Some of them believe that not all lives are equal and worth preserving equally; others hold that some lives have more dignity and value than others. This nation must come to this fundamental truth that human life (i.e. black life, the life of the poor, the life of the economically-disadvantaged) is a gift from God and is precious and should never be taken for granted nor should it ever be undermined in the judicial process or system.


“The Problem of ‘Cheap Grace’ in American Christianity and America’s Legal System”

“The Problem of ‘Cheap Grace’ in American Christianity and America’s Legal System”

The action of Judge Kemp and the statement of Brother Botham Jean that he does not even want the killer cop Amber Guyger to go to prison falls under the category of “cheap grace.” Cheap grace is the most destructive force to biblical Christianity; yet it is a fundamental characteristic of American cultural Christianity, the “civil religion.”

Cheap grace is a false gospel that is silent on the structural injustice embedded in this country’s legal system and the hidden unethical motives of public policies. It is silent on pressing issues such as xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, (antiblack) racism, white supremacy, racial violence, systemic injustice and oppression against the weak and the disadvantaged population–in this society. It defers human flourishing and the common good in the world.

Cheap grace is not a liberative faith; it undermines the importance of God’s justice in society and the value of redemptive justice in interpersonal and legal matters. Cheap grace in the manner of Judge Kemp’s gesture toward the murderer and Jean’s brother’s powerful and careless statement (“I don’t even want you to go to prison”) word undermines the sanctity of (Black) life and the dignity of the (Black) victim.

This kind of grace prolongs human (black) suffering and delays (interpersonal) redemption and (racial) reconciliation. Cheap grace does not liberate; it condemns, shortens, and cheapens life. We must reject cheap grace to save Christianity in this culture and repair the legal system in this nation.

***In Christian theology, the atonement of Christ for the sins of the world reminds us that grace is never cheap. The sacrificial death of Christ, which produces forgiveness upon true repentance, is a demonstration of God’s justice against sin. Justice & grace walk hand in hand. Forgiveness is the result, not the starting point.