Attending chapel at Campbell University Divinity School (CUDS) offers the weekly opportunity to worship together with colleagues and friends, to enjoy the worship team’s leadership in planning, and to appreciate music offered by the student ensemble.
It’s an opportunity to hear thought-provoking sermons or lectures, and on occasions when the oration is less than stellar, to admire the impressive “water of life” stained glass window behind the pulpit area.
We gave attention to Black History Month in worship in February, singing “Lift Up Your Voice and Sing,” known as the Black National Anthem, in every service. On February 21, our guest speaker was Lynn Brinkley, a CUDS alum and former Student Services director who is now associate director of Baptist Women in Ministry.
Knowing that we typically follow one of the lectionary readings, Brinkley chose the text from Genesis 2 and 3 that relates the infamous story of “the Fall,” as it’s commonly known. It wasn’t too far a stretch to connect the legendary first sin with ways in which sin and bad choices continue to pervade the world, especially with regard to the many crimes that have been perpetrated against Black people.
Many white folk – and not just the headline-grabbing politicians – want to hide the uncomfortable truths of ethnic privilege by censoring what can be taught in school lest any white children feel guilty for the sins of former generations.
Facing reality, though, is crucial if we’re ever to experience a measure of healing and the hope of a better future for everyone. If someone had planted a few seeds of conscience and social responsibility into the hearts of my generation when we were young, our country would be in a better place today.
Maybe more of us would be “woke” to the reality of how Black people have been systematically oppressed through the years.
Right-wing pundits like to poke fun at the notion of being “woke,” but Brinkley noted that it’s biblical: Jesus urged his disciples to “keep awake” and remain faithful (Matt. 26:40).
Paul, I might add, warned believers in Thessalonica to “keep awake and be sober” as people who live in daylight and are characterized by faith, love, and the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:6-8).
Being awake and aware allows us to look beyond ourselves and see the larger picture.
That truth came on strong during another service in Butler Chapel, when guest lecturer Grace Ji-Sun Kim was bringing the annual Staley lectures.
Kim, a prolific author and professor of theology at the Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana, spoke on the subject of “Healing Our Broken Humanity.” That brokenness includes the ill treatment of Asians and other ethnic minorities who have also experienced discrimination and oppression.
To illustrate the idea that healing cannot occur when we remain self-focused, Kim related a story from her seminary days at the University of Toronto. In one memorable class, professor Ovey Nohammed asked the question: “When we say the Lord’s Prayer, what does it mean to pray ‘Let thy kingdom come?’”
Several students raised their hands and offered their understanding of the prayer, she said. To each response, the professor answered “No, that’s not it.”
After all had failed to provide the answer he was looking for, Nohammed told the class: “This is the answer: praying ‘Let thy kingdom come’ really means ‘Let my kingdom go.’”
“Let my kingdom go.”
It struck me that polarizing conflicts in our country – indeed, in our world – exist because so many of us want to preserve our own kingdoms, whether small or large, with little concern for others.
This is sharply evident in the actions of voters and politicians who are more concerned with power in their hands and money in their pockets than with justice for those who have been historically denied opportunities for both.
It’s tragic that many kingdom-clingers cloak their actions behind a façade of Christianity.
If our world is to change for the better, more of us must realize that invoking God’s kingdom while building our own kingdom is self-contradictory.
We can’t be fully “woke” to the call of justice unless we’re also willing to loosen our lust for power, and let our kingdoms go.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.