The ASC is more about “unbecoming” than becoming

We asked Calvin Taylor – fall 2013 ASC alumni, and graduate assistant and MDiv candidate at Emory University – how the ASC has influenced his activism and involvement in social justice since his graduation from Trinity International University in 2014. Here is his answer:

The Australia Studies Centre facilitated the connection of my faith to my work for justice and advocacy for the marginalized. Although the physical setting is Australia, it can be more accurately named the “World Studies Centre” because your perspective of the world changes, not just the Land Down Under. This is not meant to be a delineation of my experiences at ASC, that would be inappropriate and impossible to attempt, but a retrospective reflection describing how ASC formed and informed my identity and the struggle for justice I partake in today. Forgive me in advance if this seems like an exegetical or hermeneutical attempt, but I am a preacher at heart.

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In 2014 Calvin was involved in silent demonstrations at Emory University as part of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign responding to the events in Ferguson.

Arriving in Australia as an American was, not so bad. The culture shock was not as painful as I had imagined it would be, seeing as how both are countries of the Western world. However, walking the streets of Sydney seemed rather pleasant compared to the time spent in the classroom. Let’s just say- the classroom stretches you. ASC performed 3 significant tasks for me.

First, ASC created a space where my peers and I were challenged to examine our perspectives not just on our faith, but how our faith converses with our perspectives of people and the world we inhabit. As a born and raised American, it is easy to leave your opinions of America unchecked and without critique. Our patriotism (at best) and nationalism (at worst) inhibits us from examining the ways the actions of America has led to crises at home and around the globe. ASC created a safe space for us to assess Western policies of immigration, foreign relations, colonization, and economics (specifically Australia and America) in lieu of the gospel of Jesus and the demands of God for justice and righteousness.

Second, ASC facilitated the beginning of my exploration at the intersections of religion, law, and society. As a 1st semester senior, I had very little sense of where my life was going after graduation. I had no clear post-college path. I had options, but none were standing out. ASC reminded me of a path I had forsaken. It brought me back to my deep interest in the study of law and how it affects the way we live daily. Instead of taking the traditional route of law school, I am currently a Children, Youth, and Young Adults Pastor in pursuit of a Master of Divinity at Emory University, with plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Anthropology, researching how law and religion have both formed and informed our cultures, identities, and societal sensibilities toward race, gender, and sexuality.

Finally (but arguably most important), ASC compelled me to understand and appreciate the primacy of justice and righteousness, especially in this turbulent racial climate. Justice is a supreme value of God demonstrated through the words and actions of biblical and modern-day prophets. Justice is not just “catching the bad guys,” but making the wrongs right in life. Furthermore, ASC helped me see how justice and righteousness are inextricably linked. There is no righteousness without justice and no justice without righteousness. To see how all of humanity- even the most vile and abominable humans- bear the image of God and therefore their lives matter, no matter who they are and what they have done (not saying there are no consequences for what they done). Understanding that every Christian- no matter their race, age, and socioeconomic status- must speak out against injustices and human rights violations. Every Christian should acknowledge and address issues such as the prison industrial complex, economic injustice, police brutality against people of color, education inequality, etc. Why? Because God says so.

Here are 3 significant characteristics of God that ASC led me to see:

The God who demonstrates– the exodus of the Hebrew people as executed by YHWH is an illustration of how God is an activist. God executed a plan of action against the Pharaoh because of the enslavement and suffering of the Hebrews. He demonstrated the power of solidarity with the marginalized. The mistreatment of people moves God to action.

The God who riots– In Matthew 21 [1] Jesus took to the economic, social, and religious center of life in Jerusalem (the Temple) in a violent protest. Symbolically, he acted out in defiance to the system that upheld the status quo. He shocked the people by threatening the way the powerful made their money by overturning money tables, driving out the sellers and buyers, and disturbing the economic life of the Temple. It is, what N.T. Wright says, “a dramatic protest against economic exploitation of the Temple.”

The God who stands in solidarity- The side of Christ that often takes dominance in some settings is his divinity. As a result, his humanity is regrettably forsaken. Jesus was a man of color who at one time was a political refugee. We cannot forget that God who through Jesus Christ is at the margins with the poor, at the border with the migrants, and on the battlefield with the disinherited.

Jesus hung and ate with those who, by ancient Israel standards, are not the most respectable folk- sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He taught and dined with the poor and said theirs is the kingdom of God. Not the overly pious, not the rich, not the powerful, but the pure in heart shall see God. As followers of Jesus Christ, we all must demonstrate and be active in civil affairs, and most of all we must stand in solidarity, having empathy for and compassion on the oppressed. Why? Because Jesus did.

ASC challenges you to step out of your comfort zone, take the blinders off your eyes, and see through unfiltered lenses in light of life and work of Jesus. In doing so, you can envision a world in which your religious identity trumps your identity as an American. ASC helped me to realize even how I, as a person of color, perpetuate systems of white supremacy, homophobia, sexism, misogyny, and Islamophobia.

As I sat and thought about a conversation I had in Sydney’s airport with one of my best friends from ASC (hi Nolan), I wrote these words as a #TBT on Instagram:

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One year and one day ago, I hopped on a plane at LAX and embarked on a journey that would change my life, studying abroad in Australia. I was excited but the fear set in soon, I would have to make a foreign place my home and I would have to do quickly. I honestly cannot say how many times I wanted to come home in the first few weeks because I was so overwhelmed. But before I knew it, I had realized I needed this place to align me with the person I knew I needed to be for the world. I came home realizing everything I thought I knew, I didn’t. My entire worldview was shattered and put back together at the same time, right before my eyes. But, I would not change a thing if I could. I had incredible experiences and made divine connections. Australia didn’t change me per se (sic), but it only put me in a place and space where the person I already was could operate efficiently and effectively. There was no becoming anything, only unbecoming everything I was not.”

So I say to you, studying at ASC is more about unbecoming than becoming. It is about taking off all the other identities that stop you from wholeheartedly being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. It is about embracing people and principles that the Bible (Hebrew Bible and New Testament) is primarily concerned about- the widow, the poor, the marginalized, justice, and righteousness. It is about seeing how movements like #BlackLivesMatter are important for the growth and maturity of our world because of how they have been denounced in world history. ASC is about losing your (idea of) self only in order to gain your real, best self- for whoever saves hisSELF will lose it, and whoever loses hisSELF for Jesus’ sake will save it (Matthew 16:25).

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[1] Also Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 2

 

 

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