What We Have Seen and Heard, Part 2

In the previous post we looked at out faith informs our culture and values. Now for a look at Sacred Scripture

African-American spirituality is based on the Sacred Scriptures. In the dark days of slavery, reading was forbidden, but for our ancestors the Bible was never a closed book. The stories were told and retold in sermons, spirituals and shouts. Proverbs and turns of phrase borrowed freely from the Bible. The Bible was not for our ancestors a mere record of the wonderful works of God in a bygone age; it was a present record of what was soon to come. God will lead his people from the bondage of Egypt. God wil preserve his children in the midst of the fiery furnace. God’s power will make the dry bones scattered on the plain snap together, and he will breathe life into them. Above all, the birth and death, the suffering and the sorrow, the burial and the resurrection tell how the story will end for all who are faithful no matter what the present tragedy is.

For Black people the story is our story; the Bible promise is our hope. Thus when the Word of Scripture is proclaimed in the Black community, it is not a new message but a new challenge. Scripture is part of our roots; the Bible has sunk deep into our tradition; and the Good News of the Gospel has been enmeshed in our past of oppression and pain. Still the message was heard and we learned to celebrate in the midst of sorrow, to hope in the depths of despair and to fight for freedom in the face of all obstacles. The time has now come to take this precious heritage and to go and “tell it on the mountain.” [emphasis mine]

The Bible is everywhere in our culture and community. Even a Muslim preacher can get a church full of Christians to stand up and clap with a little John 10:11-12 and some 2 Chronicles 7:14. Turns of phrase are so ingrained we can repeat them almost automatically when called out. The inevitable response to, “To whom much is given…,” is of course, “Much is required.” (Lk 12:48) These phrases are like inside jokes, incredibly pregnant with meaning. MLK said, “I’ve been to the mountain top…I have seen the promised land.” Even Tavis Smiley’s and Cornel West’s Covenant with Black America has no meaning if you don’t have a deep sense of the Bible.

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What We Have Seen and Heard, Part 1

Very soon a Black Catholic Bishop named Steib will be coming to speak to my parish about a pastoral letter on evangelization he co-authored titled “What We Have Seen and Heard.” Because my parish is considered to be one of the 800 or so in the country that are predominantly African American, we are reading the letter in preparation for his talk, discussing it and it’s implications amongst ourselves. It has been very fruitful so far and I have been reflecting on it daily. The letter is pretty long so this will be a serial post. Let’s begin.
Part 1 of the letter is titled “The Gifts We Share” and talks about our call as black people to share our gifts. It enumerates them all. The first is our culture.

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