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.