Stand Your Ground: Chapter 3 Discussion Guide


As we gather, on your own or with the person next to you, reflect on this block of text and the included questions from the beginning of chapter 3, found on page 9.

“Given the fact that America’s narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism has constructed the white body in extreme opposition to the black body, it is predicable that black bodies are disproportionately assaulted by this culture. What perhaps is not so predictable is the deadly force of this culture in relation to the black body. What has allowed this culture to become to acceptability deadly when it comes to the black body?  Why does this culture seemingly pursue black bodies with murderous intent?”

Small Group Part 1:

  1. Assign a moderator and a recorder for your group.
  2. Introduce yourself and share a 1-2 sentence summary of what you learned last week or learned earlier in our group introduction.

Small Group Part 2:  Discuss the following quotations from chapter 3: (Bold emphasis is Alice’s.)

I. On Manifest Destiny:

A.“Historian Reginald Horseman explains the underlying assumptions of American’s mission of Manifest Destiny this way, “By 1850 the emphasis was on the American Anglo-Saxons as a separate, innately superior people who were destined to bring good government, commercial prosperity, and Christianity to the American continents and to the world. This was a superior race and inferior races were doomed to subordinate status or extinction.  There was in face a relio-science to support the “extinction” presumption of Manifest Destiny.” (102)

B. “For while the phrase “melting pot” would become a metaphor for the expectation that all immigrants would be assimilated and thus transformed into “Americans,” until the early twentieth century, the usage of “melting away” suggested the expectation for the nonwhite bodies. If American was to become an Anglo-Saxon melting pot, then certain people would have to “melt away.” Nott and Glidon continue by saying that although missionaries claim to have bene successful in civilizing them, “it is in vain to talk about civilizing [the American Indian.] You might as well attempt to change the nature of the buffalo.” (103)

C. “As much as this exodus story is a story of moving out of bondage into freedom, it is also a story of invading an occupied land.  The exodus provides a theological paradigm for Manifest Destiny just as much it does for liberation….

The exodus story has traditionally provided the primary scriptural foundation for black people’s understanding of God’s movement in their own history.  This story is central to black faith.  It is the story that stirred the imagination of the enslaved and allowed them to affirmed, even as their enslavers said otherwise, that God did not choose them to chattel but to be free.  However, with the narrative of Manifest Destiny, the theological paradigm of black people as the Israelites is contested….

In the context of the Anglo-Saxon Manifest Destiny, the black body is not the chosen Israelite body.  Rather, it is more like the scorned Canaanite body. This is not the body that God frees.  It is instead a body that God allows to be destroyed.  Again, the God of the exodus becomes a God of Manifest Destiny. Such a God sanctions the “extinction” of a people.  At the least, this God subjects people to conquering violence.”( 105-106)

D. “The narrative of Manifest Destiny inevitably flows from America’s exceptionalist identity. As earlier mentioned, if a race of people believes itself to be chosen by God because it and its way of life is superior to others, then a sense of Manifest Destiny becomes inevitable. It is only right, in other words, to make the world “better” by investing it with a superior way of living, especially if that way is considered a reflection of eternal law. This is what is in the “best interest” of the world. Manifest destiny presumes to be a way to “serve the common good.” In many respects, then, the narrative of Manifest Destiny is the culmination of the numerous discourses and productions of knowledge generated by America’s grand narrative of exceptionalism. It reflects the Anglo-Saxon natural law theo-ideology that sanctions white supremacy. In fact, Manifest Destiny is an expression of that ideology as it assumes both the supremacy of whiteness, the shelter for Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, and the inferiority of non-whiteness, a threat to Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism. This narrative further exonerates white people from taking moral responsibility for certain immoral, dehumanizing, and even deadly actions they might perpetrate against nonwhite bodies, all in the name of Manifest Destiny. Extermination, for instance, is read as a natural process of extinction, rather than the result of a violent imposition upon a people’s life. True to the constructions of the narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, the nonwhite body becomes responsible for its own fate, even when it is a deadly fate. In effect, the narrative of Manifest Destiny is that which ultimately legitimates the deadly use of subjugating power. The narrative of Manifest Destiny is a declaration of war.” 107

  1. Speaking more broadly before digging into the quotation: From your time in school, what have been your impressions about Manifest Destiny?  Have you learned about this term/ movement in different ways? How do you interpret land, life and race woven into the narrative of Manifest Destiny?
  2. Reflect on the above quotations. What would you draw out?  What questions do you have?  What surprises you? What do you see anew?  What do you disagree with?
  3. How have you experienced the idea of “white supremacy?”
  4. Do you interpret Manifest Destiny as a declaration of war? Why or why not?

II.Stand Your Ground the Black Body

A. “It is no accident that stand-your-ground culture has been most aggressively if not fatally executed after every period in which certain “rights” are extended to black people, ostensibly bringing them closer to enjoying the “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This pattern of “white backlash” began with the emancipation. After emancipation, Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, and the heinous “punishment” of lynching was enforced. The “law and order” mandates of the post–civil rights era continued this pattern. White backlash surely is reflected in the virulent stand-your-ground reality that has followed the election of the first black president. In each instance, stand-your-ground culture has asserted itself in an effort to “seize” the rights of whiteness and to return the black body to its chattel space. Essentially, the more the black body is free, the more intense the war against its body. We will now look to see how this is the case.” 117

B. “The moon doesn’t run.

Neither does the sun.

In Chicago

They’ve got covenant

Restricting me—

Hemmed in

On the South Side,

Can’t breath free.” – Langston Hughes’s 1949 poem “Restrictive Convenants” (123)

  1. Reflect on the above quotation. What would you draw out?  What questions do you have?  What surprises you? What do you see anew?  What do you disagree with?
  2. How do you see Manifest Destiny affecting black codes, Jim Crow laws, Lynching, and the War on Drugs?
  3. How would you compare the death of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin? (121)
  4. “Essentially, the more the black body is free, the more intense the war against its body.” How would you apply this quotation to today’s context?

C. “Today, the Manifest Destiny stand-your-ground-culture war is fueled by the presence of a black man living in the White House. There is no greater challenge to America’s grand narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism than a black president. This represents a complete encroachment upon the space reserved for cherished white property. It is no surprise, therefore, that stand-your-ground culture has asserted itself in an aggressive and unrelenting manner. All of the weapons that have been used over time have been brought to bear in the current climate of stand-your-ground culture. The “Stop and Frisk laws,” which are disproportionately applied to black and brown bodies, harken back to the Black Code vagrancy laws. Once again, you can be stopped and arrested for living black. The dismantling of the 1965 Voter’s Rights Act, as well as racialized gerrymandering, is reminiscent of the white backlash that followed Reconstruction, the first time that black people ascended into white political space. And most troubling of all, the Stand Your Ground laws, in conjunction with the Conceal and Carry gun laws, have made legal a murderous act that was extralegal, that is, lynching. Our black children are falling victims to the twenty-first-century version of stand-your-ground-culture lynching.” (130-1)

  1. Reflect on the above quotation. What would you draw out?  What questions do you have?  What surprises you? What do you see anew? What do you disagree with?
  2. Kelly Brown’s Douglas asks us this question to end the chapter. How do you respond? “What is the meaning of God’s help in the context of stand-your-ground culture that would deprive the black body of a home?”
  3. What is the role of the church in this war against the black body? How does the role of the church change depend on who attends the church? Or, does the role of the church change?

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, Discussion Guide, Chapters 1 and 2

In February, as an intergenerational Sunday School Class, we are reading Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas.  Here is part 1 of our small group discussion guide for Chapter 1 (American’s Exceptionalism) and Chapter 2 (The Black Body: A Guilty Body.)

PART 1:  First off, to get discussion started in your groups, please discuss the following questions:

  • “If Trayvon was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” –President Barack Obama
  • How did you feel when you read this book or heard others talking about it?
  • If you consider yourself to be white, how often do you think about your own whiteness/ race/ construction of race? If you consider yourself to be a person of color, how often do you think about your skin color/ race/ construction of race? 
  • Where do you most commonly talk with others about the construct of race?
  • What role do you think the church has in the discussion of the construct of race? 

PART 2:  After that discussion, drawing on your faith, your personal experiences and your reading, please respond to these excerpted quotations.

How to you respond to the phrase and idea  America’s narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism?” How do you see the idea of American exceptionalism as part of the religious narrative? How to you respond to the phrase and idea of “whiteness as cherished property?” How would you respond to the phrase “white space?” (p.42-43)

How would you respond to this quotation?

It is important to recall once again that the narrative of Ango-Saxon exceptionalism is a religious narrative……Not only did the early America Anglo-Saxons believer their mission to be on of erecting God’s “city on a hill” but they also come to believe that they essentially have divinity running through their veins….Whiteness in this respect is not simply cherished property, but also sacred property.  It is virtually the gateway to divinity, the key to salvation.  As the evangelical Protestant hymns suggests, salvation requires one to be made “white as snow.” (p.42)

How do you respond this excerpt from the first quotation?

Cheryl Harris puts it this way: “Whiteness and property share a common premise—a conceptual nucleus—of a right to exclude.”  This right to exclude inexorably gives way to other fundamental rights—the right to claim land and the right to stake out space. (p.42-43)

Respond to this quotation from your sheet.  How would you respond as the parent of Dr. Douglas’s son or the best friend, James?

“I remember it like it was yesterday. My son was seven or eight years old. He and his best friend, who was white (I will call him James), were sitting in the backseat of the car as I was driving them home from school. It was during black history month, so they were learning about “famous” black people. That day, Arthur Ashe was the focus of their black history lesson. As my son and James were discussing Ashe, James said, “Good thing we [meaning white people] decided to share our stuff with you guys [meaning black people] or Arthur Ashe would have never been a champion.” Already implanted within James’s young consciousness was the awareness that with his white skin came certain rights that were not given to black people. The only way for black people to attain these things was for white people to decide to share them.”  (p.44)

Respond to these quotations:

“Why are black murder victims put on trial?” (p.48) “Why is it reasonable to believe, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that a black murder victim is culpable in his own or her own slaying?  Why is she/ he be viewed as threat even while asking for help?  Why is self-defense so easily granted as the justification for killing an unarmed black person, especially when the killer is white?” Respond to this quotation from L.Z. Grandson “there is a subconscious element of our culture that looks at a black corpse and quiet puts it, instead of the perpetrator, on trial.” (p.49)

Respond to this quotation:

“The sacred connection between the radicalized American nomos and the sacred cosmos is disrupted by the advent of the free black body.  In the end, a free black body poses an ontological danger to an Anglo-Saxon exceptionalist social order.  It also presents an existential danger.” (p.70)

How do you react to this quotation?  How do you respond to the term chattel? What role does the church have in dismantling this idea?

“The black body that was once marked as chattel is now marked as criminal. This construct serves the same purpose as the construct of chattel. It relegates the black body to an “unfree” space. It preserves the free space as a white space. This transformation began shortly after emancipation.” (p.77)

Respond to this experience ending with this quotation. If you were Dr. Douglas, how would you respond? If you were the parent of the little boy, how would you respond? If you were looking on to this scene not knowing either boy, how would you respond?  If this was an interaction between adults and not little children, how do you think things would have changed?

“This little boy was angry. My son had intruded into his space. My son was guilty of being black, in the park, and looking.” (p. 86)

PART 3:  How would you describe the first two chapters of this book and this discussion to someone that is not here today?

Youth Class: Quest for the Living God Study Guide Intro-Chapter 2

Confirmation + High School 2016

Quest for the Living God:  Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God study guide and reading helps


For Sunday February 14, 2016

Assignment:  Read the Introduction and Chapter 1.

INTRO:   In the introduction, focus on page 4 and 5.

Excerpt: “A word about the phrase “the living God” used in the title. This way of speaking runs through the Bible from beginning to end to identify the Source of life as dynamic, bounteous, and full of surprises. When they entered into covenant, the people of Israel “heard the voice of the living God” speaking out of the fire at Sinai (Deut 5: 26) and knew “the living God is among you” as they crossed into the promised land (Josh 3: 10).

When Daniel was saved from the lion’s den, a foreign king recognized that the God of Israel is “the living God enduring forever” (Dan 6: 26). Christians, too, now included in the ancient promise, understand that they are “children of the living God” (Rom 9: 26) thanks to the marginal Jew Jesus Christ, “the Son of the living God” (Matt 16: 16).

Living means the opposite of dead. A well that is living never dries up but has water that is always springing up and running; its living water is fresh, alive, flowing. “My soul thirsts for God, the living God” (Ps 42: 2), prays the psalm writer, making this connection…

In addition, the term “the living God” evokes the realization that there is always more to divine Mystery than human beings can nail down. It prepares those who use it for astonishment.”

Summary of the Introduction from Faith Matters:

“(1) Thinking about God:  Each chapter in this book reflects on images and ideas about God – aspects of the Divine Mystery that the Christian tradition may have forgotten or overlooked.

(2) Contextual theologies:  The theologies rise out of the life experience of various peoples – Europeans and Asians,  African-Americans, Latinos, and women.  These theologies also arise from new insights from modern science, social sciences and humanities, as well as from Christian scripture and tradition.

(3) The Living God – The book’s title, Quest for the Living God,  uses a Biblical phrase, the ‘Living God’ to describe the God who is “full of energy and spirit, alive with designs for liberation and healing, always approaching from the future to do something new.  In addition, the term ‘living God’ evokes the realization that there is always more to divine Mystery than human beings can nail down.”

Questions for discussion:

  • What do you picture when you hear the phrase “living God?”
  • How do you see God as the “living God” throughout the Bible?
  • How have you experienced God as the “living God” your own life?
  • What have your experiences taught you about the “living God?”

Chapter 1:

Focus on page 12-13 and ground rules in page 17-21


“(1) From the beginning:  History shows that human beings are naturally religious; that is, the record shows that humans have always sought (and are still seeking) the transcendent dimension of life.

(2) Peoples of the Book:  Jews, Christians and Muslims have shown, through their history and sacred texts, that their people have always sought to experience the Holy.  The scriptures of all three traditions also describe a God who continually seeks for them.

(3) Why the search?  The living God is beyond description, and thus can never be wholly captured in words, but the human search for God goes on because the human heart is insatiable – and constant change in human culture mean that our experiences of God are always mediated through new realities. Thus new attempts to articulate ideas about God are to be expected. Christianity is now living through a new chapter in this quest.

(4) Modern theism:  Western culture has inherited an inadequate idea of God; this makes it difficult for us to understand God’s transcendence (always beyond us) and God’s immanence (always with us).  New theologies are trying to expand our understanding of God, and of God’s relationship to the world.

(5) Ground rules for the journey:  There are three guidelines for this theological journey: first, God is always a mystery beyond telling; second, no expression for God can be taken literally; and third, God has many names.

(6) High stakes:  Ideas of God can become obsolete. As the future continuously arrives, only a living God, who spans all times and all cultures, can relate to new circumstances.”

Reflecting on the reading:

  1. What about chapter 1 was new to you?  What intrigued you?
  2. Why do you come to church?
  3. Why seek after the living God?
  4. How do you interpret the cross?

For February 21, 2016

Read, Chapter 2.

Excerpts are included below.


“This glimpse into the mystery of God ever greater, ever nearer, logically flows into a path of discipleship comprised of love of God and love of neighbor, or in Rahner’s terms, mysticism and responsibility, which are inseparable. The mysticism envisioned here is not an esoteric spirituality. Rather, it is a basic way to God in our time when faith is stripped down to its bare essentials. Because faith is no longer supported by the manifest religious customs and general commitment of society, Rahner is adamant that “the devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has ‘experienced’ something, or he [she] will cease to be anything at all.”

What is to be experienced? Nothing less than God, under the rubric of the specific Christian way of apprehending God, namely, as infinite holy mystery who draws near in self-bestowal through incarnation and grace. Christianity at heart proclaims a simple message: we are called into the immediacy of God’s own self. If we accept the silent immensity that surrounds us as something infinitely distant and yet ineffably near; if we receive it as a sheltering nearness and tender love that does not make any reservations; and if in this embrace we have the courage to accept our own life in all its concreteness and yearning, which is possible only by grace, then we have the mystical experience of faith. Accepting our life means letting ourselves fall into this unfathomable mystery at the heart of our existence in an act of loving self-surrender. Such an act does not make everything clear; God does not spare us bewilderment. And our turning toward God is always under threat from sin. But God is present where life is lived bravely, eagerly, responsibly, even without any explicit reference to religion.

The point is this: people who courageously accept themselves, who accept their own life with all its quirks and beauty and agony, in with all its quirks and beauty and agony, in point of fact accept holy mystery, who abides within them addressing them as self-offering love. This entails no loss of individuality but rather a growth in personhood that is liberated and fortified. For far from being a rival to human authenticity, holy mystery positively wills the world and ourselves in our finite worldliness. Rahner captures the noncompetitive nature of this relationship in his famous axiom, “nearness to God and genuine human autonomy increase in direct and not inverse proportion.”

Jesus Christ is at the center of this form of mysticism. In Jesus, crucified and risen, the self-promise of God to the world has won through to victory. As a definitive event with its roots in history, this victory can no longer disappear. It is eschatological, irrevocable, assuring us that the incomprehensible mystery will bring us, too, to a blessed end in God’s presence forever. Those who hear this word and bear witness to this truth in history form the community of believers. In this theology, the church is not primarily an piety and moral living. First and last the church is the sacramental presence of the promise of God to the world, a community that despite its sinfulness signals to the whole world that God’s self-gift is continuously offered to all.

The bounden duty to take responsibility for the world is integral to the practice of this mysticism. In truth, the basic relationship to the living God of our life can be expressed and given credible form only in an unconditional love of our neighbor. Self-centered as we are, love of others can become corrupted into an expression of hidden egotism. Surrendering to the incomprehensible mystery at the core of our life, however, allows the liberating grace of God to be at work. This is the case even if we do not explicitly acknowledge it, as the parable of the sheep and goats makes clear: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat… whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25: 35,40).

Rahner observes that the tendency today to talk not so much about God but about one’s neighbor, to preach more about love of one’s neighbor and to avoid the term God in favor of the world and responsibility for the world— this tendency has a solid foundation. Not that we should go to the extreme of banishing God-talk, which would be false to faith. But since both transcendental anthropology and Christian revelation show holy mystery to be profoundly present and committed to the world and every person in it, then loving God means loving the world. In this theology, an a-cosmic, unworldly relationship to God is not possible. Encompassed by incomprehensible holy mystery, we allow our hearts to be conformed to God’s own heart, which pours out loving-kindness on the world in unrepentant faithfulness.

In our day, an older Rahner noted, love of neighbor needs to take a form that goes beyond the realm of private, individual relationships. Given our knowledge of how systems affect the individual, love today must be expressed also in Christian responsibility for the social sphere. Acting in this way is more than a humanitarian undertaking, noble as that would be. In a time of growing solidarity on a global scale, work for justice is stimulated by the Spirit of Jesus, for whom the neighbors’ good has an incomprehensible value, commensurate with the love of God poured out upon them.

It may be winter when luxurious foliage no longer clothes the trees of piety. But the bare branches enable us to see deeper into the woods. There we glimpse the gracious mystery of God, whom we cannot manipulate either conceptually or practically, but who abides as the very Whither of our questing being. The question facing us, Rahner urges, is which do we love better: the little island of our own certitude or the ocean of incomprehensible mystery? The challenge facing us is whether we will suffocate in the tiny hut of our own shrewdness, or advance through the door of our knowing and acting into the uncharted, unending adventure of exploration into God, must be expressed also in Christian responsibility for the social sphere.

As the theology discussed in this chapter has shown, human understanding of God never exhausts the richness of the incomprehensible holy mystery. Consequently, Rahner reasons, this “actually postulates thereby a history of our own concept of God that can never be concluded.” Historically new attempts at envisioning and articulating this mystery should be expected and even welcomed.

The following chapters distill highlights of yet further attempts to speak about God resulting from the seeking-and-finding dynamism of the living Christian tradition in our day. The rules of engagement governing religious language are in play on every continent as new voices contribute to the whole church’s understanding of the holy mystery at the heart of faith.”

Things to consider:

  • What are your reactions to chapter 2?  What challenged you?  What made you think in new ways?
  • What do you think “faith stripped down to its bare essentials” looks like? How do you interpret this “winter season” in the church?
  • How to do experience God’s “infinite holy mystery” ?
  • How do you experience “loving the world” in the experience of loving God?
  • How do you hear God calling you?  Where do you hear God calling you?
  • How do you hear God calling NYAPC?  Where do you hear God calling NYAPC?