Friday, September 9, 2016

THE FAITHFUL WITNESS


I would like to share with you some thoughts on the topic “The Proclamation of a faithful witness.”

We are living through days of change and transformation of Church and Society, of humanity and systems.  Times of shifting demographics and narratives.  There is a longing for yesterday and its imperfections.  In this light I am compelled to ask, “What does it mean to be a faithful witness, yes, to proclaim the good news. I have pondered this question first as a person in the pew and then as a Christian minister who is transgender and African American whose passion is to share the good news and whose theological stance is progressive and transformative. 

I am mindful that there will come a time, as it has for many who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when the call will be, “What will you do? Not, “What would Jesus do?”  This will be the time to proclaim the faithful witness.  The faithful witness is ones whose heart, having encountered the amazing grace and courageous love of Jesus Christ the son of the living God, has been made new.  They no longer live by the standards and desires of the world but live into their communion with God, thus embracing the desires, longings and hopes of God.  The faithful witness recognizes and advocates for the Good News for there is an urgency as the drumbeats of extremist rhetoric and ideology, racism, bigotry and hatred become louder and more pronounced.

Yet as I reflect on the reality on the life of Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rev, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Apostle Paul in their time I am reminded that the one who truly encounters God’s amazing grace and courageous love cannot help but be that faithful witness proclaiming the good news in the midst of difficult, challenging times where death may a destination, if not but momentary.  Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was just such a faithful witness as he proclaimed the good news during the time of Nazi Germany.  He chose to live the Cost of Discipleship as he became the definition and character of the faithful witness, proclaiming the good news. One gathers, through his actions and writings in defiance of the Nazi Regime that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had tasted and seen that the lord was good. (Psalm 34:8)

Inspired by Psalm 119: 1-8

Happy are those who walk in God’s ways.
Blessed are those who observe God’s commandments.
Faithful are those whose eyes are fixed on righteousness. 
Joyful are those whose hearts are filled with praise.
Come, let us love the Lord our God.
We come to worship the One
who leads us in the ways of life.

~ posted on the Ministry Matters website. http://www.ministrymatters.com/

The faithful witness is faithful, that is, they are steadfast and immovable in righteousness grounded in their communion with Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.

To live a righteous life is a matter of a good heart and a healthy soul.  Indeed, the aforementioned requires time, cultivation, meditation and prayer for the goal of the faithful witness is to reflect their communion with Christ.  Surely, perfection is not the point of the faithful witness for perfection will soon seek to appease the ego, the philosophical, the flesh but it must be love for it is the prime directive of a righteous life. Justice as means to an inclusive love, not tribal or exclusionary, must be experienced as a reflection of righteousness, this righteousness a consequence of their communion with Christ.  The faithful witness has profound religious and spiritual grace for the calling requires such.  The faithful witness will not be deterred from sharing the good news even death for death hath no sting. (1 Cor. 15:55)    In a conversation with my mother I was blessed as she said, “Laws to change society, to make society more just don’t matter if the heart hasn’t been changed. This is similar to the words President Obama said in his speech at the memorial for police officer gunned down in Dallas, TX. The words of my mother and the President are reminiscent Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s words as he fought even until death to break the back of manifest injustice in the South and to create space for a brighter day for all Americans.  He sought to bring the good news to a people living in the midst of discrimination, segregation, lynching and Jim Crow.  In the midst of looming death, he stayed the course.  He was a righteous man sharing the good news of freedom for all and the world was changed.

The Law has its place yet without a heart that’s been changed the law becomes a means to oppress thus it does violence to the soul.

The proclamation of a faithful witness is a reality of a changed heart. An example of this is the Apostle Paul.  He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, the preeminent keeper of the law, persecuting the Church, in the name of the law. (Philippians 3:5-6) But when he, that is Saul, since he was called this at the time before, had an encounter with the living Christ on the Road to Damascus his heart was changed, his soul was fixed, he was no longer Saul but Paul, he was no longer blind, he had received amazing grace and a courageous love, he had a new vision. (Acts 9:1-19) He was a new man, a new creation in Christ Jesus.  Paul had become the proclamation, he had become the faithful witness of Christ, the good news. 

And this is the Kingdom of God, that the heart shall be changed, a vision transformed and love made real.

The one whose heart has been touched by God then becomes the light, living in a profound communion.  They live and move by the spirit of God in matters of heart and soul, in concerns of the practical and this grounded in a great grace.

The Transformed Nonconformist[1]

Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
(Romans 12:2) 

A study of Romans 12:2 is an engagement of who or what we are living in relationship to or with.  It is a critical discourse which requires thoughtful, careful and intentional contemplation since sooner or later we reflect that relationship.  Hence the importance of who we marry or become intimate with regardless of gender, race or ethnic identity.  Taken further, living rightly within a relationship reflects a depth of love ordained of God. 

So the question at hand, “Do we seek to live in right standing with society and its many characterizations of race, sexuality, gender, economy, politics and religion, each with its particular colonial narrative of cost benefit analysis.  Do we seek to be in right relationship as established by those in power who determine life as benefits their narrative regardless of the harm and injustice perpetrated?  Is this the primary meaning of righteousness?

Clearly there is a type of righteousness, as written in Philippians 3:5-6, reflected of obedience to the law. That is, a set of rules, regulations and policies which exemplify an implicit and explicit social contract which represents an agreement between community and society as a whole and enforced by the state as desired by particular interests, whether left wing, right wing or centrist, of socio-cultural, political, economic or religious import. The law, in practice, though it is called to further a just and civil society for all, significantly reflects the interests of corporations, i.e., the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) and civic economic partnerships seeking to appease economic desires of and for globalization through gentrification as reported throughout the media landscape. In this light it is key to address this state of affairs within the theological context of the proclamation of a faithful witness because of the issues of justice and concerns of power and authority dictated through those relationships. The aforementioned has been very much a concern of Black Lives Matter (BLM) as they address the militarization of law enforcement, police brutality, unjust incarceration, the displacement of people of color as well as those in poverty, as a consequence of gentrification.  See the BLM platform https://policy.m4bl.org/platform/.

“The world needs saints who have genius, just as a plaque-stricken town needs doctors. Where there is need there is obligation.”                 

Waiting for God[2] 

 There is a danger for those who would defy, even courageously, a type of righteousness espoused by totalitarian regimes of desire. Yet, those who would seemingly reject this righteousness, seeking to express a different and more diverse consideration grounded in dialogues of the authentic have a mandate to be nonconformist, to be people of conviction, and not conformity, of moral nobility, not social respectability. They live differently, according to a higher loyalty.”[3] Similar to a doctor who seeks to heal the body and the mind the one who would defy totalitarian regimes of desire actively seeks the healing of culture and society, the body politic if you will, to bring new vision to the art of healing. In this light they continue the work of many spiritual/religious healers down through the ages. 
With a clear mind and a heart towards a divine prophetic calling they are mindful that healing, i.e., transformation, while at times violent and unsettling, is the beginning social and cultural change, ushering in an awakening which calls forth God’s grace, that is, unmerited favor.  It is prudent, particularly in regard to the work of the faithful witness to address a discourse on oneness between the faithful witness and their God.  While this relationship should not be considered an interpretation of sectarian it should be acknowledge that they do their work rooted in their communion with the holy. It is from this communion that they are able to stand against the many injustices embodied with the totalitarian regimes of desire. 

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

 Micah 6:8

"I do not at all understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us."


What moves the faithful witness is their communion with God through Jesus Christ, and it is their communion which enlivens the faithful witness towards God’s grace.

Grace the medium to achieve their hope.  The faithful witness having been awakened toward a great and profound grace finds an internal obligation to share the grace received with those they encounter along the journey of life.  They recognize that the human condition, with its many afflictions, needs grace, for it is grace, that is unmerited favor, which guides upon thy joyous and treacherous path, leading them and their community to spiritual maturity in the fullness of time.

In light of God’s grace and the afflictions which seemingly persist, the faithful witness asks, “Where is God’s grace in society?  What would curtail God’s grace.”  Shall affliction of disparity or injustice inhibit God’s grace, one thinks it impossible as grace is a most persistent and present witness of the love of God. Grace is God’s longing for intimacy with created beings.

And it is thy grace which mediates one’s intimacy with God, this beyond human comprehension. Whatever strength dwell therein to encounter the ills of society must first be addressed as matters of the sacred and the holy, indeed it by grace. While strategies whether material, political or scientific can and do encounter the concerns of injustice and inequality, hatred and bigotry it has always been grace that has overcome. The faithful witness is daily reminded of the civil rights song written by Pete Seeger, “We Shall Overcome 

We shall overcome, we shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome some day

The Lord will see us through, the Lord will see us through
The lord will see us through some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The Lord will see us some day

We’re on to victory, we’re on to victory
We’re on to victory some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We’re on to victory some day

We’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We’ll walk hand in hand some day

We are not afraid, we are not afraid
We are not afraid today
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We are not afraid today

The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free
The truth shall make us free some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The truth shall make us free some day

We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace
We shall live in peace some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall live in peace some day




For the faithful witness the song “We Shall Overcome” is an appeal to God for grace to manifest in the fullness of time for all people, breaking down the barriers and injustices which seek daily to deny the love of God for all. And it is to this end that the Proclamation of the faithful witness seeks the fullest expression of grace.








[1] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2010), 11.
[2] Simone Weil, Waiting for God (First Perennial Classics, 2001), 99.
[3] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2010), 12.