Theology

Christ and Whose Culture?

Christopher Penler / Shutterstock
Christopher Penler / Shutterstock

SEVERAL HUNDRED PEOPLE stand on the grass waiting to enter the auditorium for the opening service of a Christian conference. People are holding bold, pre-printed signs (Teach for America, Evangelicals for Social Action, New York Theological Seminary) for the processional.

Meanwhile Richard Twiss has found a piece of scrap paper, because he doesn’t have a sign. He writes something with a ballpoint pen, then shows it to the four friends he’s standing with who are, like him, Native American evangelical theologians involved in ministry.

The others smile. The sign says: “Fighting Terrorism since 1492.”

It’s a cry for justice. It’s a serious reaction to the pain their communities continue to feel. It’s a reaction to all the other streams of “justice work” around them. It’s subversively funny. And it’s ballpoint pen on scrap paper, so it seems characteristic in another way: As they process in behind the sign over Twiss’ head, nobody in the auditorium can read what it says.

“It’s a problem of being heard,” says Randy Woodley, one of the theologians. “I feel like 500 years ago, maybe God did bring the white [people] over. But it was supposed to be something mutual, where we learned from each other. Instead the white [people] conquered, helped out by their understanding of Christianity. Five hundred years later, we ask ourselves, now are people ready to listen?”

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Sojourners Magazine June 2009
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Theology in a Minor Key

The blues make an ideal soundtrack for these days of economic angst and turmoil. Who couldn’t find solace in a song like “Rollin’ and Tumblin,’” “I Be’s Troubled,” or “Hellhound on My Trail”? The blues can also articulate our deepest suffering as broken humans in need of redemption, says Stephen J. Nichols, professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Bible College and author of Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation. He talked with Sojourners associate editor Molly Marsh about the theological story contained in the blues.

Molly Marsh: How do you define the blues?

Steve Nichols: I was down in the Mississippi Delta staying at an amazing place called the Hopson Plantation, and I met blues man Johnnie Billington. I’d been all over the Delta, talked to a number of blues musicians, and I put the same question to all of them—what is the blues?—and his answer was wonderful: “Blues is truth.” That’s a great insight. I think what he’s saying is that it speaks truthfully to human experience. He also said the blues is community—you could be feeling bad, you just lost your job, problems at home—and you go to the blues bar and here’s a guy up there singing, and he’s got it just as bad as you do. You realize that you’re in this thing together.

You write that “blues is a theology that lingers over Good Friday,” and that many American Christ­ians—evangelicals particularly—may be missing out on a fuller view of humanity, that we’re anxious to slide toward Easter but not dwell in Good Friday.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2009
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