The Old Testament reading today was from Micah 6:
“‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
During the sermon, I wondered in what ways we may still be sacrificing our children in an effort to expiate for our sin and justify ourselves before God. I recalled seeing a headline for an article I recently skimmed: “Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshman.” Being from Duke, I immediately associate this article, and the text in Micah, to the notorious “work hard, play hard” lifestyle that defines the undergraduate campus life. Our children are being sacrificed, offered up, to the interrelated pursuits of success and entitlement–the more success one enjoys, the more entitled one is, that is, the more the world ought to bend to one’s will and acquiesce to one’s desire. In trying to craft “children of promise,” children filled with potential (for success/entitlement) who can bring forth a better, brighter future, we are overwhelming these kids and teaching them to despise the weakness and ordinariness in themselves and in those around them.
To simultaneously place this idolatrous desire for “successful re/production” (fear of “wayward reproductions“) in its racial context and to find a point from which to contest it, let us listen to A. Césaire’s “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land”:
“I say that this is right. / I live for the flattest part of my soul. / For the dullest part of my flesh!
Eia [a cry of triumph] for those who never invented anything / for those who never explored anything / for those who never conquered anything
Look, now I am only a man, no degredation, no spit perturbs him, / now I am only a man who accepts emptied of anger / (nothing left in his heart but immense love, which burns)
I accept…I accept…totally, without reservation…. / my race that no ablution of hyssop mixed with lilies could purify / my race pitted with blemishes / my race ripe grapes for drunken feet
No longer searching for mythically heroic ancestors, Césaire interrupts the sacrificial logic by attending carefully, lovingly, to the “dead of the / mud.” He sings a song to the flattest part of himself and to the least expansive, most limited, degraded, and unproductive parts of his race. This careful attention (loving kindness) to the wounds and humiliations endured opens up the possibility for revolution:
“And the nigger scum is on its feet.
the seated nigger scum / unexpectedly standing / standing in the hold / standing in the cabins / standing on the deck / standing in the wind / standing under the sun / standing in the blood
Césaire shows us that the desire to produce successful children and despise wayward reproductions is the desire to demonstrate one’s right (entitlement) to (successfully) master the slave ship. For Césaire, the revolution occurs–the slaves stand and exit the hull, transforming the ship into something other than a slave ship–when “I now honor / my repugnant ugliness.”