Friday, December 6, 2013

RIP Mighty Warrior, Madiba Mandela

On yesterday, December 5, 2013, Rolihlahla (Madiba) [Nelson] Mandela (b, 1918) died in his native South Africa. I remember first learning, in any critical way, about Apartheid in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), and about Nelson and Winnie Mandela in the mid-80s in a course about Apartheid at OSU as a black studies master's student.  In 1963, Mandela was brought to trial  together with his fellow black activists for about the third time. This time, he and 10 other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment for political offenses, including sabotage. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years in prison. During this time, he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers. However, while incarcerated, Mandela was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program.

In 1982, Mandela and other ANC leaders were moved to Pollsmoor Prison. In 1985, South African President P. W. Botha  offered Mandela's release in exchange for renouncing armed struggle; the prisoner  rejected the offer. With increasing local and international pressure for his release, the government participated in several talks with Mandela over the ensuing years, but no deal was made. It wasn't until Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk that Mandela's release was finally announced—on February 11, 1990. And in 1994 Mandela became the first black President of South Africa!

By 1986 I had returned to Washington DC to work in law firms as a legal secretary in anti-trust litigation and corporate real estate. When Mandela visited the US for the first time I was working at a law firm in downtown DC.  I heard some commotion outside and discovered that Mandela was across the street from our offices visiting a museum.  I ran outside to a crowd that had already gathered and the police had roped off a path for Mandela. Somehow I made my way to the front of the crowd just as Mandela was coming out of the museum, and he shook my hand. I wanted to never wash my hand. I had locked hands, if but for a second or less, with a man who epitomized courage, dignity, integrity, justice, community, peace, love.. under some of the most trying circumstances. I was so proud and honored to have shaken his hand.

 I shall not forget Apartheid, the struggle, the solidarity with the struggle that many  of us in the diaspora demonstrated, his fallen comrades (known and unknown), and Mandela's long walk to freedom!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Great Elder has Left this World: RIP Professor François Bovon

Professor François Bovon
I am deeply saddened at the death of a great New Testament scholar Professor François Bovon, Frothingham Professor of the History of Religion Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School. He was an excellent scholar who encouraged and supported his students, demonstrated God's compassion, and continued to mentor former students, inviting us to have a meal with him every SBL/AAR! He was my teacher, academic and dissertation advisor, supporter, and friend. He was known to take time to pray with his students at appropriate times. I took my first class on the Christian Apocrypha from Professor Bovon, and his teaching style, his expert knowledge, and enthusiasm for the subject ignited in me a love for those texts.  In fact, it was out of that class that I published my first article as a Ph.D. student and it was published in an international journal. He wrote the French version of the abstract.  Professor Bovon, in these latter years, struggled with throat cancer.  One of the last times I saw him was on Harvard's campus where he invited me to lunch at the faculty club in the fall of 2009 (I was on study leave from my institution), and he shared his story with me. He never sought pity but courageously lived his life to the end continuing to do what he loved to do. He will be dearly missed in this world. Rest in peace, my friend!

François Bovon was a professor from 1967 to 1993 at the University of Geneva, in its Divinity School, which was founded by John Calvin in 1559. He was dean there from 1976 to 1979, and is still an honorary professor of the University of Geneva. He began teaching New Testament and early Christian literature at Harvard in 1993, and was chair of the New Testament Department from 1993 to 1998, and again in 2001-02. He was editor of Harvard Theological Review from 2000 to 2010. He was president of the international Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas in 2000. In recent years he has developed his teaching and research in two directions: the exegesis of New Testament texts, particularly the Gospel of Luke, and the publication and interpretation of non-canonical Acts of the Apostles, particularly the Acts of Philip, legends on Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and apocryphal fragments. His critical commentary on Luke, in four volumes, has been completed in German, French, and Spanish. English and Italian will soon follow. The first volume in English appeared in the "Hermeneia" series, published by Fortress Press, in 2002. The second and the third, published together, appeared in Italian in 2007. His critical edition of the Acts of Philip, done in collaboration with Bertrand Bouvier and Frédéric Amsler, was published as volume 11 in the Corpus Christianorum: Series Apocryphorum by Brepols in 1999. His book The Last Days of Jesus was published in 2006, and a Spanish translation appeared in 2007. Two volumes of essays have been published in recent years: Studies in Early Christianity (2003; in paperback, 2005) and New Testament and Christian Apocrypha (2009; in paperback, 2011).

Precious in God's sight is the death of his children!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Faux Feminism: Just Lean In

Feminism is not a dirty word. In a nutshell, it is a movement that believes that women are equally human and deserving of the same rights and privileges their humanity calls for. It is not about male bashing or hating. Feminism calls for the naming and dismantling of all systems of oppression. Some have dubbed COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg as the new face of feminism.  Sandberg’s book Lean In has captivated millions of women and she is taking her show on the road again.  But black feminist scholar bell hooks is exposing her faux feminism in a recent article for the Feminist Wire.  I must admit that I read Lean In a few months ago because a black female pastor asked me to help her unpack it (and fortunately or unfortunately that conversation never took place).  Many career-minded women would naturally want to hear what the female COO of Facebook had to say; what nuggets of wisdom she might share that would help them navigate the corporate world with success. Although Sandberg offers some somewhat good practical advice, good depending on one's context, it is elitist and naive to believe that an oppressive patriarchal system will just give way to one’s gifts and talents because women,of any and every hue, ethnicity and class just "lean in". While one cannot underestimate the power of perseverance (I believe in perseverance), one cannot equally underestimate the power of evil and/or oppressive systems in which the power to hire, promote, and fire rests with misogynist, racist, classist, primarily white males and at institutions that fail or neglect to put in place any kind of systemic mechanisms against those and other isms.
bell hooks writes: 
“Sandberg’s definition of feminism begins and ends with the notion that it’s all about gender equality within the existing social system. From this perspective, the structures of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy need not be challenged. And she makes it seem that privileged white men will eagerly choose to extend the benefits of corporate capitalism to white women who have the courage to ‘lean in.’ It almost seems as if Sandberg sees women’s lack of perseverance as more the problem than systemic inequality. Sandberg effectively uses her race and class power and privilege to promote a narrow definition of feminism that obscures and undermines visionary feminist concerns....

"Contrast her definition of feminism with the one I offered more than twenty years ago in Feminist Theory From Margin To Center and then again in Feminism Is For Everybody.  Offering a broader definition of feminism, one that does not conjure up a battle between the sexes (i.e. women against men), I state: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” No matter their standpoint, anyone who advocates feminist politics needs to understand the work does not end with the fight for equality of opportunity within the existing patriarchal structure. We must understand that challenging and dismantling patriarchy is at the core of contemporary feminist struggle – this is essential and necessary if women and men are to be truly liberated from outmoded sexist thinking and actions.”

Read the rest of hooks’s article at

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Womanist Reading of the Feeding Miracle

A womanist is "a black feminist only more commonly". A womanist, as a woman of color and/or a black woman values and privileges her own experiences as an individual black female and as a sharer and participator in the historical and cultural legacy and present reality of black women and black people's lives. The following is an excerpt from my article:

"There is no shame in begging especially when we have done all we can to survive. What difference would it make in people’s lives if we all lived in a sharing mode grounded in a compassionate consciousness of the existence and impact of unjust systems and situations, of human error, of hardships that can befall any of us, and an understanding of our human connectedness? In her 1983 book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, Alice Walker describes a womanist as committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female …. Traditionally universalist, …Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “it wouldn’t be the first time.”...."The first time” signifies Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and her work to free other slaves. A womanist ethic asserts that we cannot free ourselves without freeing other people too. We cannot liberate ourselves and our children and leave other people and their children to themselves without the proverbial boots or bootstraps, if we can help it. Human beings need other human beings to survive....

"Both the miracle of the feeding of the great crowd in our text and manna in the Wilderness of Sin connect the earthly miracle with heaven. In the desert, Jesus looked to heaven before (or as) he blessed and broke the bread. 24 In the Wilderness of Sin, Yahweh promised to rain down bread from heaven for the congregation of Israel. In Matthew, both John the Baptist and Jesus announce (and commission his disciples to proclaim) that the “kingdom of the heavens (ouranoi)25 has come near” (3:2; see also 10:7). The Kingdom of heaven has drawn near in the person and ministry of Jesus; he embodies the Kingdom and encourages his disciples to do the same. Matthew’s Jesus is God with us (1:23). The food that fed the multitude was multiplied in the human hands of the earthly Jesus in whom the kingdom of heaven is brought near. “The source of the feeding is God, but the resources are human.” (Boring, 324). As Cheryl Sanders states, “God feeds the poor in our kitchens”; we must make “God’s kingdom come alive on earth.”....

"When human beings fail to respond to hunger, to dismantle injustice, and use what we have for the sake of others, then even the righteous will be forsaken and its seed begging for bread....

read the entire article at Vol 3

Monday, March 25, 2013

Was Jesus Married? And Does it Matter?

Dr. Karen King of Harvard Divinity School discovered a fourth century CE Coptic papyrus in which a scribe writes “Jesus said to them my wife." When some Christians read or heard about this discovery, their first reaction was, “what difference does it make?”. The papyrus fragment discusses issues of discipleship and family in general. In fact, one of my Facebook connections and a friend asked more specifically what difference the possibility of Jesus being married makes for salvation.  Dr. King is careful to note that the papyrus does not explicitly say that Jesus was or was not married.  In fact, the papyrus is of a quite late date compared to some other New Testament manuscripts dated in the second century CE.  But the papyrus does raise questions as to when early Christians started raising questions or talking about Jesus’ marital status.  Below is a video of an interview with Dr. King of Harvard University:

I think Christians should be interested in the papyrus fragment, and other such archaeological finds as well, for the following reasons: (1) They are historical documents. And as historical documents they give us a glimpse into the history of Christianity.  We ought to know about our history, how it impacts the present, and how it may inform the future. Christians who belong to denominations that require their pastors to obtain a theological education are exposed to church history for the prior-mentioned reasons; it makes good sense to be able to understand things in their historical context.  Without context we have no meaning or meaning is distorted.  Members of Christian churches should want their pastors and teachers to be able to place things in their proper historical context, in as much as it is possible.  Nothing happens in a vacuum. (2) Some Christians base their understandings of marriage and singleness in general, as well as the impact of marital status on ministry, on whether or not they understood Jesus to be married.  In fact, some Christians place a higher value on being single over being married with regard to commitment to Christian ministry, relying heavily on Paul’s statements in First Corinthians chapter 7. Other Christians have believed and some still believe that all clergy should be married (as well as all men and women!). Such a discovery that Jesus was married might certainly impact how we understand ministry and the Christian life. (3) If Jesus had been married, we would certainly read differently some of the canonical and non-canonical witnesses that preserve the sayings of and about Jesus.  For example we might read differently the two somewhat contradictory testimonies at Matthew 5:31-32 (when Jesus says in Matthew that no man should divorce his wife except if she is unchaste.  If he does so for any other reason and remarries, he has committed adultery) and at Mark 10:10-12 where Jesus takes the position that there is no exception or excuse for divorce (anyone who divorces and remarries as committed adultery).  Or we would at least expect that Jesus definitely set the example in his own marriage and was, as the author Hebrews writes "touched with all the feelings of our infirmities." If he could maintain a good marriage, certainly we can. If we see it as a bad thing for Jesus to have been married, then it may be that we place a low value on the institution of marriage in general. Again, however, the fragment does not say he was single or married.  I personally think God would be fine with Jesus or anyone making the choice to be married or to remain single, as long as they lived a life pleasing to God.
We should not be so readily dismissive of new finds and evidence.  It was not until the middle 1940s (1947-1956) that the over 800 Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves thirteen  miles east of Jerusalem. That archaeological find yielded invaluable manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible (written in Hebrew and Aramaic), not including the book of Esther (as well as other nonbiblical texts). The Isaiah Scroll, found relatively intact, is 1000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah. It also contains never before seen psalms attributed to King David and Joshua. The scrolls are the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found! I don’t believe that our salvation is threatened by keeping an open mind and being humble about what we know and don’t know. God probably has quite a few more surprises for us.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Practicing Initiative. More Than the Minimum.

This Psalm Sunday I am reminded how Jesus exercised initiative in his early life, in his ministry, and during the final days of his life. Despite knowing that he would die in the Holy City because of the purposeful, inclusive, compassionate, and power-filled life of ministry he practiced, Jesus headed toward Jerusalem; he did not wait for his adversaries to come after him (Luke 9:51). As womanist biblical scholar Raquel St. Clair asserts in her book Call in Consequences, it was not Jesus’ purpose to die but to live; his suffering was a consequence of his ministry.  This historical Jesus was God with us (Matthew 1:23).  Jesus lived a life in which he continually exercised initiative; he took charge of his life.  Jesus chose to go to John the Baptist so that John could baptize him even though John thought himself unworthy to baptize Jesus; that Jesus should be the one baptizing him.  Jesus followed the Spirit’s leading and spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness fasting, praying and being tempted by the adversary in preparation for his ministry (Matthew 4:2).  Jesus, like his forerunner John the Baptist, did more than the minimum required to fulfill his purpose. Perhaps, because he believed that with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). Jesus understood that to exist in and exercise a God-like perfection or wholeness means exceeding what is required and allowing possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion to compel us (Matthew 4:43-48).
In order to pursue our lives and vocations in excellence, we will exercise initiative that is motivated by possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion. This means that we won’t wait for others to compel us or overlook us, but we will step up to the plate and do what needs to be done and more.  Too often people wait to see if someone else will do a task rather than doing it themselves.  This lack of initiative occurs in situations from helping people in distress to asking questions in a classroom. Many people won’t ask questions that can help them to understand a particular topic because they are waiting to see if someone else will ask the same question. Meanwhile, nobody asks the necessary questions. So like the majority, they just show up, which is the minimum required of them.  I don’t want to minimize the importance of showing up; showing up is half the battle, but only half the battle. Too many people set the example of only doing the minimum required for a task or project. Some students will only do the homework a teacher assigns, even when it would greatly benefit them and increase their knowledge to do more. But those motivated by possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion will exercise initiative. We can exercise initiative by thinking about and researching our options beyond the obvious ones, by asking questions, and by doing more than is required. For example, if an executive asks her assistant to reserve a room at her favorite hotel in a certain city and the hotel is booked, then the assistant should take the initiative to, (1) ask her employer at the time of the initial request if she has a second or third option if the hotel is booked; (2) search for comparable alternatives, and (3) ask the hotel to notify her in case of cancellations.
We value initiative in others; therefore, we should cultivate it in ourselves.  Most parents and adults value initiative in children. If we ask them to take out the trash, and they only empty the trash in the kitchen and not in the rest of the house, we become annoyed with them. To do only what is required of us will only assure that we are average or mediocre.