Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Author: Circle of Hope (Page 1 of 615)

February 5, 2023 — Unity and Polarization

Andre Henry is a musician, an author, and an activist. This week we’ll be journeying through his book “All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep.” It has been circling through our community for the last few months. Here, you can listen to two members of our Leadership Team relate its content to our church’s struggle against racism. Let’s prayerfully read through his prophetic work this week.

Today’s Bible reading

The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other.  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.  (1 Corinthians 12:24-27)

More thoughts for meditation

“In their book This Is an Uprising, movement historians Mark and Paul Engler argue that polarization is essential to effective nonviolent movements for social progress: “By taking an issue that is hidden from common view and putting it at the center of public debate, disruptive protest forces observers to decide which side they are on.” When the Freedom Riders performed their own illegal integrated bus rides and the national press published news of the violent mobs who attacked them for it, white Americans had to face the question: are you on the side of your neighbors trying to peacefully ride the bus or on the side of the vicious mob attacking them? Once people have chosen a side they’re more likely to take action that’s consistent with their position. Polarization can be crucial to a winning strategy.

This doesn’t mean we should just throw unity out the window altogether. A certain kind of unity is important. We do need to be united for the purpose of jamming the gears of the white power structure through nonviolent struggle. We need unity in our vision of tomorrow, unity in what strategies we’ll use to realize that vision, and unity in what values will guide our work as we fight. But we don’t need the fetish for the idea of racial harmony that’s so popular in white America. We seek unity not for its own sake but for a purpose.

When Dr. King talked about people coming together in his “I Have a Dream” speech, it was for the purpose of engaging in disruptive nonviolent campaigns. He says, “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” White people are out here quoting the “together” part and leaving out the part about “struggling” and “going to jail.”

To see what “unity for struggle” looks like in practice, let’s stick with one the most famous protests Dr. King was involved in: the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Unity played a central role in the success of that campaign. Ninety percent of Montgomery’s Black citizens stopped riding the bus. They also organized a carpool to get protesters to and from work. And their unified actions dealt a major blow to systemic racism, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial discrimination in public transportation unconstitutional. That’s unity for struggle in action. It’s important to note that the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott didn’t depend on convincing white people to “come to the table” and sing “Kumbaya The Black community needed unity among themselves, so they could act collectively.
The same is true in all struggles for social progress. We primarily need unity with those who are working toward the same goal.” (Andre Henry, All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, Convergent, 2022, p. 187-189

Suggestions for action

Can you appreciate the difference between unity that Andrew Henry is describing? When we have the same goals, unity is essential and division is deadly. But if we have much different goals, unity is counter to our mission and goals. We are working to get people to unite against racism. Let us consider Paul’s words above, that we can achieve unity when we elevate and honor those we have dishonored. Elevating their voices is essential to our goals, our unity, and for them not to leave our church too.

February 4, 2023, 2022 — White Saviors

Andre Henry is a musician, an author, and an activist. This week we’ll be journeying through his book “All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep.” It has been circling through our community for the last few months. Here, you can listen to two members of our Leadership Team relate its content to our church’s struggle against racism. Let’s prayerfully read through his prophetic work this week.

Today’s Bible reading

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
        he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
        and gave him a name above all names,
    so that at the name of Jesus everyone
        in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
        and every tongue confess
            that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:5-11)

More thoughts for meditation

“If white people are serious about fighting white supremacy and anti-Blackness, they need to start within themselves. This kind Of work is essential because without it, white people will enter movement spaces and cause the same kinds of harm Black people are trying to get away from. They need to confront the ways they’ve been shaped by anti-Black ideas and been complicit in defending the racial hierarchy. They need to dedicate themselves to the work of fighting against racism in their own communities, instead of rushing straight into spaces where Black people are trying to heal and organize for our own freedom.

White people should consider how they can organize for racial justice in ways that give Black people space: space where we’re free from the pressure to educate them, perform for them, or coddle them. One option is for white people to join non-Black ally movement groups that work in parallel with Black-led organizations and are accountable to trusted Black leaders: White People for Black Lives (WP4BL) or Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), for instance. White people who really get it understand that such space is necessary.

Finally, white people should stop self-designating themselves as allies in the struggle for Black freedom. It’s Black people’s prerogative to name our allies when we recognize them, and not a moment sooner. We determine what’s helpful to us. People who are serious about working alongside us will consider our feedback about how their presence is being received and adjust their approach where appropriate. Folks who act as though any feedback is a sign of ingratitude can stay home. We don’t need saviors. We need people who understand the subtle ways white supremacy and anti-Blackness control white people’s behavior and who want to be free of their influence. As artist and activist Lilla Watson once said, “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” (Andre Henry, All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, Convergent, 2022, p. 163-165

Suggestions for action

For those of us who aren’t Black, we must seek alliance with Black folks, but at their own designation and in humble submission toward them. Too often, white folks think they can use their privilege to advance antiracism in ways their Black counterparts can’t. They condescend when they reflect on Black rage as understandable, but not useful. When they think they can be more gracious than Black folks, they actual advance racism. So let us try to change our posture to humble listening, even when it is uncomfortable for us.

February 3, 2023 — Holding On To Our Faith

Andre Henry is a musician, an author, and an activist. This week we’ll be journeying through his book “All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep.” It has been circling through our community for the last few months. Here, you can listen to two members of our Leadership Team relate its content to our church’s struggle against racism. Let’s prayerfully read through his prophetic work this week.

Today’s Bible reading

Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.” (Luke 17:1-4)

More thoughts for meditation

“There isn’t room in this book to detail how I got from weeping over God’s death to having some sort of faith again. But I came to respect spirituality, even religion, again by reading the works of revolutionaries from around the world and by studying the history and practice of nonviolent struggle. I’ll talk more about my self-directed study of revolutions later. For now, suffice to say that as I embarked on the journey to understand how ordinary people can work together to change the world, I kept running into spirituality, religion, and sometimes even Jesus.

I learned about the crucial role Muslim religious leaders and holidays played in the Iranian Revolution that deposed dictator Reza Pahlavi, the Shah;* about how the principle of ahimsa (do no harm) influenced Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy; and about how the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien were a source of inspiration for the leader of the nonviolent revolution that ousted Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. I read about Ouakers who trekked miles on foot to campaign against slavery in the Americas and Christian pastors who walked the Trail of Tears with indigenous people. On a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., I was moved from as I stood in front of Nat Turner’s Bible and Harriet Tubman’s hymnal.

And if all that wasn’t enough, my materialist position took another big hit when legal scholar and acclaimed author Michelle Alexander, who changed the way an entire generation understands the U.S. prison system with her book The New Jim Crow, joined the faculty at Union Theological Seminary as a visiting professor in 2016. She explained her decision by saying, “Without a moral or spiritual awakening, we will forever remain trapped in political games fueled by fear, greed and the hunger for power.”

Seeing all these ways spirituality fueled revolutionaries was a large part of what made me reconsider throwing spirituality away. I’m still recovering from the trauma of learning that the religion of my youth was founded upon anti-Blackness-that the people I used to worship alongside were basically singing to an imaginary white nationalist in the sky. I don’t suspect I’ll ever see the devout young Andre I used to be again. But I no longer subscribe to the popular notion that spirituality has no place in the revolution.

In his book The End of Protest, Occupy Wall Street co-founder Micah White puts it frankly: “In our global struggle to liberate humanity, the most significant battles will be fought on the spiritual level–inside our heads, within our imagination and deep in our collective unconscious.”2 So, if spirituality is important to you, you don’t have to throw it away.” (Andre Henry, All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, Convergent, 2022, p. 124-125.

Suggestions for action

Andre Henry kept his faith despite facing racism that threatened to take it away. Praise God for his perseverance. So many people don’t take his path, and we should seek to understand them and their plight, too. But let us also consider how we can form a church and a body that helps the oppressed hold on to faith in Christ when Christians have been so oppressive to them.

February 1, 2023 — The Personal and The Political

Andre Henry is a musician, an author, and an activist. This week we’ll be journeying through his book “All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep.” It has been circling through our community for the last few months. Here, you can listen to two members of our Leadership Team relate its content to our church’s struggle against racism. Let’s prayerfully read through his prophetic work this week.

Today’s Bible reading

Now I don’t praise you as I give the following instruction because when you meet together, it does more harm than good. First of all, when you meet together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and I partly believe it. It’s necessary that there are groups among you, to make it clear who is genuine. So when you get together in one place, it isn’t to eat the Lord’s meal. Each of you goes ahead and eats a private meal. One person goes hungry while another is drunk. Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on God’s churches and humiliate those who have nothing? What can I say to you? Will I praise you? No, I don’t praise you in this. (1 Corinthians 11:1-22)

More thoughts for meditation

“The peace of the privileged isn’t just about ignorance or creating space for leisure. It’s also a way of reinforcing their identity as privileged people. This is a more insidious aspect of privileged peace, because in many scenarios it’s their knowledge of marginalized people’s suffering that makes their privilege legible, meaningful, possibly even sweeter.

Though friction exists among white people across lines of gender, class, ability, and religion, white people have often found solidarity in their efforts to bar Black people from fully enjoying what white society has to offer. Their shared contempt for Black people is one way the contours of white identity become visible. That contempt is most obvious in the breaking of Black bodies, but the breaking of bread over our bones appears to be just as important.

I say that because they seem to savor what they know of our suffering. They know that Black people, as a group, don’t share the same access to wealth, healthcare, protection under the law, or political power. Yet they often recite whatever they know of those realities with smug indifference. Sometimes, white people even delight in our misery-consider the white kids who posted a “George Floyd Challenge” to TikTok, taking turns to kneel on their friends while one giggled, “I can’t breathe.” Anyone who is tempted to say they were just being kids should know that a grown-up New Jersey police officer was also fired in the summer of 2020 after organizing a kneeling protest to mock George Floyd. “Comply with the cops and this wouldn’t happen,” one of the demonstrators shouted at cars passing by. So yes, white people of all ages get together and revel in the fact that, because they’re white, they’ll never know the horrors Black people protest.

As they congregate in anti-Black fellowship, white people reassure themselves of their existence. When they sit down for Thanksgiving dinner and opine about sagging pants and unwed mothers, high school dropouts and welfare checks, they’re saying to one another, “I am white. Can you see me?” Every chuckle at the racist comments flying across the table says, “Yes, dear. I see you.” And when they scoff about the number of Black people who are poor, incarcerated, and unhoused, they’re saying, “We are the haves, and the reason ‘those people’ are have-nots is because they’re not worthy like us, isn’t that right?”

They need to rehearse these myths about their superiority to justify the imbalances of power and resources, rights and privileges they enjoy. They tell themselves they have more because they worked hard for it and for no other reason. They love to talk about meritocracies, about people pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, about self-made men. And while it’s often true that many white people do work hard for what little they have, it’s irrefutable that hard work alone isn’t the only factor that determines a person’s quality of life in this world. Yet white identity might very well unravel without these daily signals from their media outlets, businesses, governments, and even their regular-deregular friends that tell them they are–too quote a famous white supremacist president–“very special” people.

This might explain why white people are so defensive about heir space. They’ll insist that their dinner tables are not political. And while it may be true that they do no intentional political consciousness-raising at Sunday lunch, they nevertheless uphold and protect the dominant and pervasive anti-Black common sense of the wider society while they eat. Then they reinterpret our Black experiences–which undermine the myths they crave–as “politics,” a euphemism for impolite conversation. They gaslight us and call it keeping the peace.

To the privileged, peace means keeping a safe distance from the cries of the oppressed. They can’t seem to differentiate social peace from their own personal comfort. They don’t seem to understand that there is no peace where there is no justice. And if we want to advance racial progress, we must disturb their peace with that very fact–that injustice and peace are mutually
exclusive.” (Andre Henry, All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, Convergent, 2022, p. 65-67).

Suggestions for action

Andre Henry writes about the false peace of political quietude. In Circle of Hope, we have been guilty of the same thing. We have named political discourse as divisive, dialogue about antiracism as unloving, and have centered white comfort over the liberation of the oppressed. We are repenting and learning a new way now. Pray that we can endure our discomfort as we move forward in this work.

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