Refiner's Fire

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What does religion have to do with fomenting or transcending violence? In this fascinating work, Kirk-Duggan documents and analyzes religion's involvement in violence, for good and ill, in the Bible, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the youth scene of today.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780800632533
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/1/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 228
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Read an Excerpt

From the Preface (pre-publication version):
Handel's setting of Malachi 3:2 in his Oratorio, "The Messiah," has a pedantic, rhythmic pulse for the bass voice. The aria opens with the questions: "Who shall abide in the day when the Lord comes?" and "Who shall stand when the Lord appears?" The Bass answers, in a dynamic, virtuoso aria: "Why do the Nations so furiously rage together?" In response, the tempo and rhythmic scene painting changes to a vigorous pulse with great agitation in the orchestral and vocal parts, for the subject of inquiry is "like a Refiner's Fire."

The dynamics of "a Refiner's Fire" was poignantly, passionately revealed to me during a Wabash Teaching and Learning Workshop in January, 1998. When asked to present a symbol or artifact that best described each of us, my dear friend Dr. Marsha Boyd, now with the American Theological Association, said that her metaphor is a welder. Welders artistically use Fire to refine metals. On our last day of this Workshop, I perused the reference materials on the book shelf in my room, and discovered The Welder's Bible. I remembered my years of Biblical History and could quickly recall a Geneva Bible, the Bishop's Bible, the Wycliffe Bible, The Woman's Bible, et cetera, et cetera, but no Welder's Bible. My excitement and curiosity got the better of me. I brought the Welder's Bible to Marsha for her to see and then I began to flip through its pages. This was not a Bible that contained Hebrew and New Testament texts. This was a complete encyclopaedia of everything one needed to know about welding, from terminology and temperatures at which different metals can be refined, to the different types of jointsone welds and the various safety precautions one ought to take when welding. Welding is serious, dangerous business.

Using language and exploring religious concepts is also serious, dangerous business, but it is a business which I am called to do: welding and refining a fire, a molding of thoughts across time, emerging out of various temperatures, various contexts to explore the intersection of violence, power, and religion. This volume, itself a process of refining the fire of passion amid theological discourse in exposing violence, viewed through the lens of a Womanist approach that welds and explores the fires created at the juxtaposition of creative theory and praxis.

Throughout literature and history, personal, communal, and institutional violence has existed intimately with religious practice. The creation of the world out of chaos into order was an evolutionary, violent act. The thrust of a child out from the protective birth canal into a hostile, outside world is violent. The mandate of law enforcement to maintain order often requires violent acts by authority. The three strikes law and the death penalty are violent acts allegedly designed to quell violence. Statistics show that neither the three strikes law nor the death penalty has worked as a successful deterrent. Many of those trapped by the three strikes are couriers of dope for dealers and suppliers. Many of those who are employees of the illegal drug industry are there because they are addicts, and some are there because of the equal opportunity employment benefits. The death penalty is a sophisticated, high-priced lynching, given the cost of appeals, housing, and the elaborate system designed to make this state ordered, state administrated act of violence a humane "mercy killing." Using Refiner's Fire as a metaphor of social change and abusive control, this book explores the intersection of violence and religion, creative/destructive systemic forces, in biblical and contemporary society. Refiner's Fire analyzes the effects of religion as catalysts which help humanity to foment and/or transcend violence.

Using historical and contemporary situations and narratives, Refiner's Fire analyzes religions' involvement in violence. Building on a Womanist theology and ethic, Refiner's Fire addresses issues concerning women, religion, and violence in: language, the Bible, slave spirituality, the 1960s Civil Rights movement, the protest ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr., and female social groups-sororities and gangs. After the section which presents a prolegomena for a constructive theology and ethics of violence toward transformation, the book concludes with a liturgical treatment of death which transcends ultimate violence.

Chapter One, Eyes On the Prize: Womanist Theology and Ethics, introduces a hermeneutics, a methodology that involves an experience of implements, processes, and ways of seeing and exorcising that facilitate consciousness raising, analyzes complex realities, and ultimately, that helps transform injustice. Chapter Two, Take No Prisoners: Women who Engage in Violence in the Bible, began as a presentation, "What's Violence Got to Do With It?: Inflamers, and the Lizzie Bordens of Ancient Israel: Women Who Slay and/or Cause Wrongful Deaths" for the 1996 Colloquium on Violence & Religion [COV&R] Symposium. This chapter analyzes pairs of women who work together for divine or human purposes, and who refine the fires of leadership, seduction, and rage to do violence-they instigate and/or commit murder within a framework of mimetic desire, from ethical, womanist, psycho-social, theological, and legal perspectives-to achieve their goals, a stunning reality, when nowhere in the entire Hebrew Bible or New Testament does a positive story of a mother/daughter relationship exists. Chapter Three, Lay My Burden Down: Spirituality Transcends Antebellum Violence, is a discourse on the inherent spirituality that emerges from those powerful psalms of slaves, selected African American Spirituals, from the African Diaspora in the United States, during the ante-bellum period when the enslavement of African Americans was a legal and accepted practice and during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement to refine the fires of protest, assurance, dignity, justice, and equality. This essay on spirituality signified was prompted by conversations with my friend and associate, Professor Dwight Hopkins, University of Chicago.
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Table of Contents

1 Eyes on the Prize: Womanist Reflections 1
2 Take No Prisoners: Biblical Women Engaged in Violence 17
3 Lay My Burden Down: Spirituality Transcends Antebellum Violence 37
4 Sojourner's Sisters: 1960s Women Freedom Fighters Right Civil Wrongs 55
5 Ballads, Not Bullets: The Nonviolent Protest Ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr. 71
6 Soul Sisters: Girls in Gangs and Sororities 93
7 Build Up, Break Down: Language as Empowerment and Annihilation 113
8 Daughters of Zelophehad: A Constructive Analysis of Violence 131
9 Death as Worship: Celebrating Dying as Part of Life 161
Notes 177
Index 203
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First Chapter

From Chapter One (pre-publication version):
Eyes On the Prize: Womanist Reflections
She looked in the mirror:
No immediate image did she see;
The vastness of the horizon;
Seemed to mock her: she could not see her reflection.
Through the skewed lens of dominant culture:
She saw nothing
A sister came along,
With dignity and joy,
And a different way of seeing.
She was mesmerized.
A thing she could not fathom
Was about to cross her path,
And that incomprehensible other
Opened her mouth;
And spoke;
And lovingly said: "You are somebody."
She looked in her mirror, again.
And this time she saw
Gazing back at her
With a nobility and a peace.
The empty objectiveness that was but a shadow
Had been replaced
By her mighty image.
And she heard God say:
"That's good!"

To know who and what you are and who you belong to, is to embody the Divine good, is being clear about what is at stake, and is the cost and benefit of the prize of total, salvific grace and freedom. From the wounds of oppression sown in slavery, pampered by Jim Crow, and titillated by internalizing the hurt; and venting the injury on others oozes the poisons of pain, self-hatred, self-defeatism, insatiable desire, and rage. The want-a-be like white folks syndrome and the failed project of integration have exacted a tremendous cost. Although the "For Colored Only" and "For White Only" signs have been painted over or dismantled, the poisons and prisons of racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and heterosexism now wear different masks. "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On!" affirms and avows theattitude of Womanist scholars as they study, teach, preach, and write about the tri-dimensional race/sex/class oppressive experience of Black women, tempered with the life-giving power that ruminates in the beingness and doingness of women of the African Diaspora. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize is an invitation to confront systemic and personal evil.

This chapter introduces a hermeneutic, a way to see and hear and exorcise the evil and violence that exists in various pockets of society in these United States and the world. This methodology and embodied way of living facilitates consciousness raising, analyzes complex realities, and ultimately, helps transform injustice: Womanist Theory. the language of Womanist thought, is itself the anvil and the kiln for Refining the Fires of analysis towards the reformation and transformation of individual, communal, and systemic violence. After indicating the origins of the term and the theoretical basis of exploration, I express my own rubric of doing Womanist analysis.

What is "Womanist"?
Alice Walker coined the term "Womanist" and claims that a Womanist is courageous, in charge, loves, and commits to the wholeness and survival of all people. Many strong Black women have not heard the term "Womanist" and have not identified themselves as such. Womanist is a confessional term, thus some strong Black women do not make this claim nor support all the components of the Womanist definition. Nevertheless, many strong Black women are Womanist by virtue of the experience of oppression and the desire for liberation, which serves as a catalyst for empowerment, exhaling, and excelling. A Womanist, sometimes denigrated as "domineering castrating matriarch," is a strong Black woman who has developed survival strategies in spite of the oppression of herself in order to save her family and her people. She takes charge; she acts; she is, she Refines the Fire of justice as she keeps her eyes on her prize.
"Keep Your Eyes on the Prize"
Paul and Silas, bound in jail,
Had no money for to go their bail.
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on, hold on.
Hold on, hold on,
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on, hold on.
Freedom's name is mighty sweet,
One day soon we're gonna meet. . . .
God, my hand, on the gospel plow,
I wouldn't take nothing for my journey now. . . .
The only chain that a man can stand,
Is that chain of hand in hand. . . .
The only thing we did wrong,
Stayed in the wilderness a day too long. . . .
But the one thing we did right,
Was the day we started to fight. . . .
We're gonna board that big Greyhound,
Carrying' love from town to town. . . .
We're gonna ride for civil rights,
We're gonna ride both Black and White. . . .
We've met jail and violence too,
But God's love has seen us through. . . .
Haven't been to heaven but I've been told,
Streets up there are paved wit gold. . . .

The term Womanist arises from the use of the term "womanish" in African-American communities, and refers to a Black feminist who takes seriously the experience and oppression due to gender, race, and class. Walker's definition of Womanist is complex and fertile as a foundational rubric for doing critical analysis. In addition to the components of survival, of loving, of taking charge, the term also conveys a vitality of life, a quest for knowledge, and the paradox of being young and living wise or grown. Womanist sensibilities provide of freedom of being able to love all people, sexually and nonsexually, and gives credence to the manifestation of woman's culture and life. To be Womanist invites holistic health and loving the spectrum of colors of Blackness, like the flora and fauna in beautiful gardens. Womanist theory is aesthetic, physical, spiritual, emotional, and creative. Womanist evokes a palette of kaleidoscopic reality, daily Refining the Fires of passion, love, hope, and change.
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