An online magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change, and global awareness.
A new platform for voices, Ideas, and images not commonly found in the mainstream media.
A new kind of theology: collaborative, creative, democratic, online, and open-ended.
by Jay McDaniel, Editor of JJB
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a public theologian, social activist, columnist for the Washington Post, graduate of Yale Divinity School, and founder of Urban Cusp (www.urbancusp.com)
'I had to first make peace with myself by accepting my own identity, cultural interests, and past. Eritrean. Black American. Woman. Working Class. Educated. Christian. Urban. Minister. Writer. Hopeless Romantic. Bestie to many. Foodie. Neo Soul, Gospel, Jazz, Oldie-but-Goodie, and Hip-Hop Head. This was the realization that culture is at the center of how I define myself, and my faith must somehow reconcile with that or constantly clash against it. Perhaps this thought was in large part due to me always having one foot in ivory tower intellectualism and the other in the realism of the ghetto (wherever it may be found). Everywhere yet nowhere all at once....more
J Prophet is an independent recording artist from Mt. Vernon, NY. He is currently working on a Master of Divinity at Yale Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter (@JProphetPAP), Facebook (J Prophet), and his website at JProphetPAP.com.
Brink, edge, threshold, verge: these are synonyms for cusp.
Urban Cusp is an online magazine which presents voices, ideas, and images at the cusp -- the leading edge -- of urban culture. It is very much in the spirit of JJB, except much more engaging in many respects. It's what process theology looks like when it discovers hip-hop.
Its founder is Rahiel Tesfamariam, pictured on the left. She is originally from East Africa, having grown up in wore-torn Eritrea. She moved to the United States and lived in Washington, DC, steeped in the culture of hip-hop, in her early years. She found her way to Stanford, where she majored in American Studies, and then to Yale Divinity School, having received (and continuing to receive) award after award.
She describes herself as Eritrean. Black American. Woman. Working Class. Educated. Christian. Urban. Minister. Writer. Hopeless Romantic. Bestie to many. Foodie. Neo Soul, Gospel, Jazz, Oldie-but-Goodie, and Hip-Hop Head. You will enjoy the interview with her in Impact, featured in the left column at the bottom. Click here for a full description.
How does she integrate these various identities? What is the coalescing spirit who helps her find unity in the diversity and diversity in the unity?
Well, the spirit is not exactly a What but rather a Who. Her heart is beckoned by Someone who died too early; who cast his lot with the poor and powerless, who spoke truth to power; who suffered a violent death, without fighting violence with violence, and who rose again a few days later, reappeared to some among his followers; and is now living close to the heart of his Abba but also within the hearts of his followers. He is as alive to Rahiel as he was when he walked the paths of Galilee, healing the sick and befriending the forgotten. She wants to share in his journey.
Seeking to walk in his footsteps, she had a dream. It was not unlike that of another partner in compassion, Martin Luther King, Jr., who once preached in Washington DC, and who talked a lot about beloved community. He had a dream that people could live in dignity and community, sharing lives amid sorrow and gladness, evaluating themselves according to the content of their character not the color of their skin.
Rahiel Tesfmariam's dream -- the outcome of much prayer and more than a little solitude -- has been to start a global ministry that might help people in cities all around the world grow into the most beloved of communities they could become. Toward this end she partners with many people, including the hip-hop artist J Prophet.
Urban Cusp Theology
The artists and intellectuals who contribute to Urban Cusp are pioneers in a special kind of Christian theology which is sorely needed today.
This kind of theology is collaborative, creative, populist, democratic, open-ended, and multi-dimensional. It is not interested in enunciating positions to be defended in academic war zones or even in insulated churches. Rather it is interested in offering lures for feeling and reflection for wider community of interest: people who are socially-engaged and spiritually-interested and who, in the case of Urban Cusp, are deeply shaped by urban (not necessarily suburban) experience.
Here are some characteristics of Urban Cusp Theology:
It recognizes that any wisdom worth living from -- the wisdom of justice, the wisdom of compassion, the wisdom of courage, the wisdom of trust -- can be communicated musically and visually, rhythmically and kinesthetically, and not just verbally.
Blue like jazz, it is not simply in the business of retrieving insights from the past, it is also in the business of being open to new possibilities that have never been embodied.
It is multi-authored and collaborative: an ever-evolving theological wiki that is not the product of a single source, but rather the evolving outcome of multiple artists.
It is profoundly pentecostal, in the sense that it takes delight in outcroppings of the spirit wherever they are found: in hip-hop, in dancing, in food, in life stories, in life itself.
It is unapologetically prophetic, in the sense that it does not hide from a prophetic "no" which denounces injustice and a prophetic "yes" which announces new and hopeful possibilities.
It finds online communication -- websites, tweets, etc. -- a natural way to spread good ideas.
This kind of theology -- Urban Cusp theology -- transcends the confines of self-absorbed academies and self-congratulatory churches. It does not replace three pound books written by scholars of theology which are read by members of an academic guild, but it does something they cannot necessarily do.
It helps bring about constructive changes in the hearts and minds, and maybe also the social circumstances, of real people in a real world. It helps bring about what we process thinkers call creative transformation.
I borrow the phrase creative transformation from Monica A.
Coleman. The founders of Urban Cusp are interested in progressive thinking that is simultaneously rooted in the best of inherited traditions, and it seems to me that the theology of Monica Coleman does just that. Her faith has roots and wings.
I have written an article on her in JJB called Making a Way Out of No Way, and I hope you'll take a look. As you see in the video on the left, she speaks of God's presence in the world as creative transformation: that is, as the activity by which the living spirit of God helps us bring about communities of love and justice, and inner peace as well, so that we add beauty to the world.
I am especially drawn to her idea of being centered in living ancestors, including the Someone who guides Rahiel Testfamariam and J Prophet. He lives in my heart, too.
But the truth is, the whole of Monica A. Coleman's perspective rings true to me: even as I am a white, middle class, suburban, married male, with two white children who like hip-hop and rap. I know that I am basically out of touch with so much that Rahiel Testfamariam understands.
For people like me, creative transformation involves lots of listening and absorbing, without pretending you are ever inside the experience of others. It's a balancing act between identity and difference. This is one thing I appreciate about process theology: it invites us to think of each human being as a hybrid of influences, such that everybody is different in their identities, each with gifts.
The Urbanization of Process Theology
There's a lot of Process Theology in Urban Cusp. I suspect that if we had a parliament of progressive Christian thinkers, some part of the Cusp movement and some part of the Process movement, they might all agree that:
Faith in God can be empowering; the spirit is in creative transformation; the world is fundamentally relational. We know things through music as well as words; every moment has its ultimacy; stories can be danced as well as sung. The world is broken in too many places; evil is violence and missed potential; justice is fidelity to the bonds of relationship. There's something wrong with corporate capitalism, with war-based economies, with drug-based consumerism. There's lots wrong with patriarchy and racism. Everybody deserves respect; it's good to love yourself but bad to be selfish; we need solitude and community, neither to the exclusion of the other. It's important to change the world, but it's important to have a changed heart, too. Inner transformation and outer transformation go together.
Are these Process Ideas or Urban Cusp ideas? They are both.
But the truth is: Urban Cusp presents these ideas much more colorfully and interestingly, more jaggedly and provocatively, more street-wisedly and free-spiritedly than much, maybe most, process theology.
Beloved Community With
Ecology and Interfaith Added
Is there a place for process theology in the Urban Cusp movement? Maybe so, maybe not. The world does not depend on process theology, Still, there's a need for vision wherever it can be found, lest the people perish, bringing the earth along with. There's a need for process cusp.
Process theology is oriented toward the building of communities, in urban and rural settings, that are creative, compassionate, respectful of diversity, socially just, multi-religious, and ecologically wise, with no one left behind. Process thinkers - I am among them -- believe that a healthy spirituality aims at these kinds of communities even as it also provides personal peace and a sense of self-worth.
Imagine, then, that Urban Cusp begins to include a Process column in its website, understood as one version of the progressive theology: What might be added? Two things:
Interfaith: Urban Cusp needs really good profiles and articles on people in religious traditions other than Christianity, since, after all, faith is not limited to Christian faith. Given that all the major cities in the world are multi-religious, it seems that a focus on interfaith work, characteristic of the Pluralism Project at Harvard, could become part of the ethos of Urban Cusp. The world needs interfaith leadership: Urban Cusp can help.
Ecology: One of the deepest needs in urban culture is for a spiritual connections with the more-than-human world (plants and animals, air and water) combined with an emphasis on building green cities. So far most of Urban Cusp has been human in its focus but not often emphasizing that we live and move and have our being in the larger web of life. Justice includes eco-justice.
But my sense is that these are precisely directions in which Urban Cusp is moving, given the heart and soul of its founder. Recall her self-description: Eritrean. Black American. Woman. Working Class. Educated. Christian. Urban. Minister. Writer. Hopeless Romantic. Bestie to many. Foodie. Neo Soul, Gospel, Jazz, Oldie-but-Goodie, and Hip-Hop Head.
Surely a new genre is emerging called Eco-Hop. And surely a new form of Jazz is emerging (it already has) called Earth Jazz. And surely some of the Oldies-but-Goodies include the ancient but ever so contemporary wisdom of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Surely ministers in the future need to be, in part, interfaith chaplains of the kind being born at Claremont Lincoln University, where Monica Coleman teaches. We need interfaith chaplains with multi-religious hearts, even as some among us are smitten by a man from Galilee.
Yes, surely the very cusp of urban life, insofar as it is beckoned by the Someone to whom Rahiel Tesfamariam gives her heart, is drawn in just these widened directions. Maybe process theology can help. Multi-faith, multi-cultural, socially just, ecological cusp: that has a ring to it, too.
If you like this article you might also appreciate:
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Process Theology
Mashups and Whitehead
Making a Way Out of No Way
Savoring, by Patricia Adams Farmer
Replanting Yourself in Beauty, by Patricia Adams Farmer
The Hip Hop Impulse, by Jon Gill
Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet, by John Cobb
Five Foundations for a New Civilization, by John Cobb
Constellation of Process Theology, by Rabbi Bradley Artson
What are We Doing When We Pray, by Rabbi Bradley Artson