Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

October 16, 2021 — We Confess to Exploiting BIPOC Labor

This week we’re continuing to lean into the work of antiracism that as a church we committed to in our most recent Map. Our proverb says that “We will do what it takes to be an anti-racist, diverse community that represents the new humanity,” but this remains aspirational for us. Especially as a majority white church, we cannot move from racism to antiracism without a lot of work in between. Professor Ibram X. Kendi says that “…the heartbeat of racism is denial, and really the heartbeat of antiracism is confession.” This week’s prayers are rooted in confession of the ways we remain entrenched in white supremacy culture. Our God is loving and ready not only to forgive, but to equip us to do better. Lord, hear our prayer.

Today’s Bible reading

2 Corinthians 8:9-15:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

More thoughts for meditation

Our prayer this week has been focused on acknowledging our complicity in white supremacy, and as a majority-white church, doing the work of confession and repentance. A popular tweet recently expressed the shift we’re trying to make:

“One of the problems is that slavery is taught as the history of Black people and not the history of white people.”

We both want to acknowledge the history of European-Americans as racist oppressors, and see the throughline that connects us to that history in the present day. To name white-skinned people as racist oppressors feels painful, and it should. It is an onerous legacy. To see how that onerous legacy continues to shape the present day and produce benefits for European-Americans is even more painful, and that is as it should be too. It’s natural to want to avoid that pain, but we must not. There’s too much at stake, for even as we talk about the emotional pain white people experience in confronting our racist past and present, BIPOC continue to be oppressed by white supremacy, suffering tangible harm. That harm, let us remember, is seen in the racial wealth gap, in vast disparities in educational outcomes, housing access, healthcare, life expectancy, and so much more. So we must not center white pain, but we do need to experience it enough to prod us to action.

It perhaps goes without saying that one of the biggest legacies of slavery is the exploitation of BIPOC labor. We see this obviously in the “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery, but if we’re learning anything about white supremacy it’s that when confronted with enough resistance to a particular expression of it, that expression may not endure in the same way, but the oppression at the heart of it does. So chattel slavery became sharecropping, Jim Crow, and the prison-industrial complex, to name a few. Racism adapted to create the educational gap and force disproportionate amounts of BIPOC into low-wage jobs that lacked healthcare. These systems work to perpetuate these inequities down through the generations so that generational poverty is one of the many injustices we’re now confronted with.   

The “rot” of this inequality goes all the way to the core of the American “tree.” Enslaved persons literally built not only the White House, but the wall for which Wall Street is named. According to Living Cities:

Policies, laws and practices have conferred advantages and disadvantages along racial lines—including in education, jobs, housing, public infrastructure and health. As a result, racial disparities exist across all indicators of success. Median Black household income in 2017 was $38,183 while the median white household income was $61,363—a gap of $23,180. Data from the Urban Institute showed that, in 2016, median white household wealth was $171,000 compared to median Black household wealth of $17,409.

For a thorough and devastating interactive timeline of 5 centuries of the racial wealth gap from Living Cities, go here. As Jesus-followers, it is incumbent upon us to resist this particular facet of white supremacy. We’re called to resist all of it, of course, but one of the hardest truths about the exploitation of BIPOC labor and the racial wealth gap is that white Christians have it within their (ill-gotten) power to do much to change this. If every white Christian kept a budget that included reparations, for example, we could provide definitive relief and take tangible steps toward reducing some of the harm caused by white supremacy. 

It goes deeper than that, though. One of the ways in which BIPOC labor continues to be exploited among us is seen in how hard we make our BIPOC siblings work to stay in covenant with us. By meeting the heartfelt expression of BIPOC pain with defensiveness and retrenchment; by countering the accounts of harm caused within our church by white supremacy with debates about definitions and deflection of responsibility; by refusing to acknowledge or be aware of power dynamics in relational difficulties; the list could go on and on, but in all these ways we force BIPOC to work extra hard just to be with us. And the truth is that the ongoing presence of BIPOC among us is nothing short of a herculean labor of love on their part. There is a whole movement of Black folks leaving predominantly white or multiethnic churches in which they are not appreciated, loved, and valued for who they are. As The Witness puts it:

To #LeaveLOUD is to tell our stories, to name things for what they are, to take back the dignity we’ve lost while being in institutions that don’t value the fullness of the image of God within us, and to go where we are celebrated and not just tolerated.

If we want to be a community in which BIPOC are celebrated and not just tolerated and in which their dignity is affirmed and esteemed, we must act- quickly.

Suggestions for action

Explore some of the stories that The Witness (link just above) chronicles. Look for commonalities you may find in them with our own community. What can we learn from these stories? Pray that God will give us the courage to bear witness to BIPOC pain, and the will to act in response to it. In Circle of Hope we have a compassion team dedicated to just such action, Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter. They also produce a podcast, Color Correction. Take time to listen to the stories they tell. Pray about how you might support them, and then reach out to offer that support. Read this recent piece written by our pastor Jonny about his personal experience of racism, including racism in the church. We’re always becoming the next Circle of Hope as we learn, grow, and change. Ask God for the wisdom and strength necessary to create the next version of our church and let it be one in which we reduce the harm BIPOC experience among us. Let us hear their pain without defensiveness. Let us stop debating whether we should be antiracist or not and get to work doing it. Let us be aware of racist power dynamics in our relationships and work to subvert them. God is with us in all this. Let us pray that we can continue to become a community in which BIPOC can be fully with us as equal partners too. 

October 15, 2021 — We Confess to Crying “Peace, Peace” When There is no Peace

This week we’re continuing to lean into the work of antiracism that as a church we committed to in our most recent Map. Our proverb says that “We will do what it takes to be an anti-racist, diverse community that represents the new humanity,” but this remains aspirational for us. Especially as a majority white church, we cannot move from racism to antiracism without a lot of work in between. Professor Ibram X. Kendi says that “…the heartbeat of racism is denial, and really the heartbeat of antiracism is confession.” This week’s prayers are rooted in confession of the ways we remain entrenched in white supremacy culture. Our God is loving and ready not only to forgive, but to equip us to do better. Lord, hear our prayer.

Today’s Bible reading

Jeremiah 6:13-15:

“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord.

More thoughts for meditation

As a peace loving church for whom Jesus is the lens through which we read the Bible, passages like this one from Jeremiah can sometimes challenge our sensibilities. We may want to talk back to the text and pose questions to it, and this can sometimes be helpful for our dialogue and development. Likewise, though, sometimes it’s better to lay aside for the moment our interpretation of the text and let the text interpret us. As you think about the picture painted by the verses above, does it look familiar at all? Our friend Melissa Florer-Bixler wrote this on Twitter, which may be helpful:

We need to talk about church unity. We want church to be a place that can absorb our difference, can make space for the fullness of our lives. Jesus prays for our unity, for our lives to be gathered across difference. But down on the ground life is more complicated. I’ve watched wealthy church members threaten to withhold their tithe if their congregation even discussed the inclusion of LBTQ people in church. Powerful people in our churches find their way on to committees and trustees boards that decide how (money) is spent and who has access to our buildings. We ask people at the margins of power to wait – for our anti-racism committee to meet, for people to come around, for acceptance. And the people who are asked to wait, to listen, to be patient are those on the margins of racial, gendered, and class power. For some unity is a burden to be borne, and they bear it with their lives.

Yet again we’re confronted with the way power is interwoven into our dialogue about racism and white supremacy. It can be tempting to call for patience, to urge restraint, to cling to “unity” when the work of antiracism confronts white-bodied folks with the need for confession and repentance. But unity is not neutral. One of our pastors recently spoke about whether or not the church “should be a safe place for everyone,” and the answer is not as straightforward as it may initially seem. Our pastor argued that the church should not be a safe place for both the oppressor and the oppressed. It should not be a safe place for victim and victimizer. Following the example and teaching of Jesus, it seems clear that the church should be safe for the oppressed. But the only way that safety can extend to the oppressor is through transformation. Confession and repentance are a must. Every effort should be made by the former oppressor to restore the victims of their oppression and make reparations. Only then can there be true safety for all.

So “unity” is not neutral. A false unity that does not demand that the oppressors among us repent and make amends is no unity at all. To call for unity among the oppressed and unrepentant oppressors is traumatizing and sinful. And yet far too often that is exactly what we do. We want to hold space in the church for white folks who “aren’t quite there yet” when it comes to antiracism. Afraid of losing them (and perhaps their funds), we try to have it both ways. We cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace. We dress the wounds related to racism that the BIPOC among us have suffered as if they are not serious. We entertain debates about whether we even should be antiracist as a church instead of fully embracing the work antiracism calls for. As Melissa Florer-Bixler said, “We ask people at the margins of power to wait – for our anti-racism committee to meet, for people to come around, for acceptance,” with the inevitable result that “For some unity is a burden to be borne, and they bear it with their lives.”

Suggestions for action

Are you still on the fence about antiracism? Are you still thinking about whether or not you can commit to it? Pray about what would move you out of your head and into your heart. Pray that you will not only meet Jesus there, but your BIPOC siblings too. Take time to listen to their stories. Hear their pain. Pray for courage to face the truth of your own complicity in white supremacy. You’re not alone. We all are swept up in its power, but for white-bodied people, we get to keep a little power for ourselves so long as we go along. Ask God to show you how to divest of your power. Some of us read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail every January. It’s a potent way to hold space for remembering his legacy. Whether you’ve already read it this year or not, maybe make some time to read or listen to it again. In it Dr. King speaks passionately to a group of white clergy who are urging him to slow down and show restraint in his activism. Dr. King replies:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Pray that God will move you to insist that justice be denied and delayed no longer. Pray that God will help you give up any insistence on false unity. Ask God to give our church the courage to no longer provide safe harbor to unrepentant oppressors. Let us work to not only cry peace, but to bring it about.

Today is Teresa of Avila Day! One of the great “Doctors of the Church” direct from her interior castle. Let her lead you at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

October 14, 2021 — We Confess to Racialized Aggression

This week we’re continuing to lean into the work of antiracism that as a church we committed to in our most recent Map. Our proverb says that “We will do what it takes to be an anti-racist, diverse community that represents the new humanity,” but this remains aspirational for us. Especially as a majority white church, we cannot move from racism to antiracism without a lot of work in between. Professor Ibram X. Kendi says that “…the heartbeat of racism is denial, and really the heartbeat of antiracism is confession.” This week’s prayers are rooted in confession of the ways we remain entrenched in white supremacy culture. Our God is loving and ready not only to forgive, but to equip us to do better. Lord, hear our prayer.

Today’s Bible reading

James 1:19-27:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

More thoughts for meditation

Passages like this one from James have been used by Christians to do much good in the world, and also to perpetuate harm. Phrases like “moral filth” and being “polluted by the world” are unfortunately rife for abuse by those who are precious about outward appearances or who have an axe to grind. Be that as it may, there is of course much we can learn from this passage, especially when we apply it to our antiracism work. It bears repeating that white supremacy predates the United States and is baked into the foundation of our country’s institutions. It’s in our founding documents and in the lives of the founders themselves. It shows up in public policy and government bureaucracy and in the economy. 

Some say that the election of Donald Trump, who openly espouses racist views and aligns himself with white supremacists, was a turning point in our nation’s history resulting in the failure of public discourse and goodwill and the entrenchment of polarization to a degree never before seen. This argument falls flat when we look more deeply into our nation’s past. In other words, Trump is more effect than cause, his presidency the result of longstanding racial strife and tension that was exacerbated by the presidency of Barack Obama. The Tea Party arose in the wake of Obama’s election and was fueled by not very subtle racial animus. Obama’s singular popularity saw him re-elected, but seething white rage exploded in the 2016 election, propelling Trump to victory.  

That seething white rage is with us still, and truth be told, it’s always been there. Recent political events in the United States brought it to the surface in new ways for some of us, but for BIPOC, white rage is a constant and relentless companion. From the slave catcher’s whip to the callous inhumanity of ICE agents to the enraged anti-vaxxer confronting low-wage store employees valiantly trying to enforce mask mandates, white anger and aggression is easy to find. Unfortunately it’s easy to find in our church too. Sometimes the aggression is obvious and the harm clear. Sometimes white folks who believe the lie of exceptionalism work to suppress their anger and aggression, and when this inevitably fails it comes out sideways as microaggression

As white-bodied folks then, we must work to raise our awareness of our own internalized white supremacy. We must daily confess our participation in white supremacy and repent. As we do this work, it is vital to as much as possible become aware of the impact of our behavior. Intentions aside, if we act, even unwittingly, in ways that cause harm to BIPOC, we must humbly receive any reproach that comes our way and work to do better. According to James, the religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is to care for the marginalized. Monitoring our speech and anger seems like a good way to start.

Suggestions for action

Unfortunately we all have blind spots. Blatant aggression is easy to spot. But what about microaggressions? How can we be more conscious of implicit bias and suppressed anger and aggression that comes out sideways? Like so many things, there may be no “right” answer to this, but undoubtedly it would be helpful to cultivate a contrite spirit. One of our pastors has said that when BIPOC talk about the pain they’ve experienced because of racist actions on the part of white folks, it should be received as a gift. It’s an attempt to relate still. And it’s extremely Christian, for it gives the wrongdoer an opportunity to confess and repent and do their best to make it right. So ideally this would go without saying by now, but we should listen to BIPOC. Especially when what they say is hard to hear, we do well to remember the words from James above, that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Remembering who we are, we should keep our tongue in check out of love for our siblings. When we show that we are ready to be taught, ready to confess our sin and repent and make amends, we hold space for our life together to be transformed into the belovedness we’re called to.

October 13, 2021 — We Confess to Disingenuous Dialogue

This week we’re continuing to lean into the work of antiracism that as a church we committed to in our most recent Map. Our proverb says that “We will do what it takes to be an anti-racist, diverse community that represents the new humanity,” but this remains aspirational for us. Especially as a majority white church, we cannot move from racism to antiracism without a lot of work in between. Professor Ibram X. Kendi says that “…the heartbeat of racism is denial, and really the heartbeat of antiracism is confession.” This week’s prayers are rooted in confession of the ways we remain entrenched in white supremacy culture. Our God is loving and ready not only to forgive, but to equip us to do better. Lord, hear our prayer.

Today’s Bible reading

Luke 14:12-14:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

More thoughts for meditation

In Circle of Hope we prize dialogue. We say that it “is what keeps us together and protects our gravity.” We have a number of proverbs that speak to this aspiration, but one stands out: “Everybody gets listened to, but people who make and nurture disciples and who make love happen get listened to more.” As always, I’m sure that our intentions in saying this were good and rooted in the lived experience of our community. But thinking with an antiracist lens, not to mention a Jesus lens, requires ongoing monitoring for any disparities in outcomes related to our intentions and actions. Our actions cannot be judged in light of our intentions. Rather, our intentions must be judged on the basis of their impact. 

Our intention in this proverb is to hold space to hear from everyone, but to especially lift up and prioritize the voices of those who “make and nurture disciples and who make love happen.” So really this proverb is about who gets listened to the most, and once again the impact or effect has been to center the voices of white people. I didn’t want to say white people just now. My instinct was to write “…center the voices of the materially affluent and powerful.” But the Venn diagram of those who are materially affluent and powerful and white people is nearly a perfect circle. That’s not to say that every white person is individually rich or that every person of color is individually poor. But it does mean that, according to this Harvard Gazette article:

The typical white American family has roughly 10 times as much wealth as the typical African American family and the typical Latino family. In other words, while the median white household has about $100,000-$200,000 net worth, Blacks and Latinos have $10,000-$20,000 net worth.

The racial wealth gap is an important factor to consider in our dialogue because we need to build a robust picture of who we’re listening to the most and why. However good our intentions may have been, BIPOC in our community have expressed not feeling heard. Their stories are given short shrift. When some of them have been brave enough to be vulnerable about the pain they’ve endured in society at large and within our church, they’ve often been met with defensiveness and retrenchment. So again the impact of our efforts at dialogue has been to center white voices at the expense of the voices of the BIPOC community. And the racial wealth gap is just one example of the power differential between BIPOC and white people, even and especially within Circle of Hope. So by saying that we listen to some people more than others and adopting criteria for doing so that does not include an analysis of power and impact, we remain complicit in white supremacy, and the evidence for this is clear.   

Suggestions for action

Jesus’ admonition in the passage above invites us to think about power in our table fellowship. On its face, there is nothing radical about this. A power analysis is implicit in the usual custom of inviting family, friends, and your rich neighbors to your feast. In doing so, you’re making a statement about your social status or the status you aspire to. What is radical about Jesus’ teaching is that he inverts this analysis, telling his followers to invite the poor and sick, those without standing in society in first century Palestine, not to mention in 21st century America. 

This has profound implications for our dialogue. By supping with the dispossessed, we center their voices and experience. It is in effect to say that everybody gets listened to, but people whose voices have often been silenced and excluded in the church get listened to more. We may want to think that “everyone is equal at the foot of the cross,” but the reality is that we don’t live at the foot of the cross. We live in a world that elevates and centers some of us at the expense of others. Our dialogue must take this into account by listening more to those who usually get listened to less, if at all. Pray then, for our dialogue. Pray that we will work not only to understand the power disparities within our community, but that we will actively work to undo them. Pray that white-bodied folks within our church will meet the pain of our BIPOC siblings not with defensiveness and retrenchment, but with courage and vulnerability, with empathy and compassion….and with confession and repentance. Only then can real dialogue that will truly keep us connected and protect our gravity occur.

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