Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Author: Circle of Hope (Page 1 of 515)

October 19, 2021 — The life of the Virgin: The Birth of the Virgin

Today’s Bible reading

Isaiah 7

“Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David!

Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will

You try the patience of my God also? Therefore

The Lord himself will give you a sign.”

More thoughts for meditation

Mary, and her role in being the mother of the Church, had been prophesied for many centuries and by many different voices speaking into this vision of a new world order. Though scholars contest that this passage refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, such signs and prophecies have continued to hold our imaginations in a faith that relies on feminine motherhood to provide safety from the invasions and violence of warring factions in the world. We assume the attention given to the Life of Mary in Giotto’s telling of the story to point to some inherent, human importance to this beloved woman to deliver hope and redemption.

In this scene, Mary’s birth, a miracle that her parents prayed for after much agony, is seen. In the foreground, midwives prepare the baby after birth to be handed to Anna in her birth bed above. Time in this encapsulated scene is not linear, but a matrix of sequences that show us the care, consideration, and love of the birth of this child, born with rays of sunshine around her crown.

Suggestions for action

Look at the image of this small architecturally framed scene of a mother in her bed, reaching for her babies, surrounded by other women caring for her, bringing her sustenance, and washing her cherished, beloved baby. Consider the humanity in this care. Meditate on ways that you receive care from others, on ways that you long for signs that new life is emerging in your own daily functioning, and how you may be surrounded by the love of open arms and sustaining hearts.

October 18, 2021 — The life of the Virgin: Joachim and Anna at The Golden Gate

I love thinking about the Middle Ages and the birth and proliferation of Christianity through this time of slow communication and clandestine meetings developing the Church and faith. Christians had to find ways to share their faith and the teachings of Christ in secret ways in order to maintain safety. A visual culture of iconography grew to support this and to serve a preliterate society. Art flourished.

In these ancient times, Christians believed in doing “good works” in their communities. Giotto’s painting of the Arena chapel in Padua was considered such “good work”. Painted in 1305-1308, the series of frames encircle and fill this small chapel of the Scrovegni family. Following the humanism of St. Francis, Giotto believed that his paintings needed to represent the gospel and other scenes of faith in a way that we could feel as if these were people that we knew and that we could enter into the scene ourselves. We needed to be able to relate to the stories in very real, human ways.

Let’s spend this week entering into the story of Mary, of Joseph, and of Jesus through the lens of this master painter and humanitarian disciple, Giotto. The narrative friezes that line the chapel in three registers or rows highlight first: the Life of Joachim and & Anne, Christ’s parents and the Life of Mary; then: the Life of Christ; and finally: The Passion of Christ and the gateway into the new covenant of Christianity.

The life of the Virgin: Joachim and Anna at The Golden Gate

 

Today’s Bible reading

Song of Songs 6

“ but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,

the only daughter of her mother

the favorite of the one who bore her.

The young women saw her and called her blessed;

the queens and concubines praised her.”

More thoughts for meditation

Working from an ancient religious text, The Golden Legend, Giotto pays a lot of attention to the life of Mary, the Virgin who will give birth to Jesus. Many have wondered why without coming to a conclusion. However, it is evident that Mary is the bridge between the Old Testament and the New bringing redemption into the world, fulfilling the prophesies.

The Song of Songs is a mysterious series of love poems that speak, in the voice of ‘The Beloved’-a woman, of love and desire. The title itself, may really refer to an elevation of ‘This’ song, or poem as being something of greatness. Mary, the blessed dove, is referenced in the 6th poem as the favored woman who bears the fruit of love into being. The passion that she brings is stronger than the grave and is a gift of God; love’s mystery transcends death.

In the image above, Joachim and Anna meet at the Golden Gate. After banishment for being childless, yet praying at the altar of God in Jerusalem, Joachim pleads for forgiveness. He and Anna had prayed for the gift of a child with a promise that the child would be dedicated to the work of the Lord. Pleading to the God, Joachim and Anna are provided with an angelic vision that their desires will be fulfilled. This parallel with the story of Mary’s own childbirth reflects older stories such as Sarah giving birth to Isaac, bringing the story of deep love, faith and prayer forward into the New Testament. Their greatest desire is fulfilled, paving the way for Love to enter in fullness into the world, bringing Forgiveness and Grace through a Miracle.

Suggestions for action

Observe the kiss between these two people who are longing for the fulfillment of their love in the form of ongoing human longing and desire. Imagine an embrace in your life that is so human, so passionate, and so loving. Consider your own desires and where love lies therein. Consider what the offspring of that love is or might be. Imagine letting that kind of love and desire into your life-what would it be like?

October 17, 2021 — We Confess to Colorblind Racism

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

1 Corinthians 12:12-27:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

More thoughts for meditation

One of the more insidious manifestations of white supremacy is colorblind racism. You may have some idea how this works. The most famous line from Dr. King’s most famous speech gets lifted out of context and misappropriated to make it mean something it almost certainly did not: 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

It’s unconscionable that a speech that references police brutality, voting rights, and the prophetic insight of Isaiah could be reduced to a single line and misappropriated to support racist ends. Even worse, those doing this believe the opposite. They believe they’re being anti-racist, though they may not use the term. Friend of Circle of Hope Dr. Jesse Curtis of Valparaiso University is very helpful in helping us understand colorblindness, which is the subject of his PhD research and his forthcoming book: The Myth of Colorblind Christians: Evangelicals and White Supremacy in the Civil Rights Era. Dr. Curtis wrote a kind of explainer post about colorblind racism here. Dr. Curtis says:

Colorblind racism is distinct from white supremacist racism, in part because the declared goals and self-understanding of the colorblind racist are anti-racist. Colorblind racists often sincerely want everyone to get along and are not conscious of acting against the interests of people of color. Colorblind racists tend to feel threatened by discussion of racial discrimination. They believe the best way to solve racial problems is to not talk about them. “It’s in the past.” “It was long ago.” Move forward, focus on what we have in common. They believe that though there are certainly bad people here and there who really are racists, there aren’t significant systemic barriers or discrimination holding people back. To the extent that there is a problem with racism in the United States, it involves a small number of bigoted people, and a larger number of people who play the victim, using the accusation of racism as an excuse or a cudgel against political opponents.

Dr. Curtis goes on:

Colorblind rhetoric often sounds appealing to people because it seems to promote brotherhood and goodwill toward all. “We’re all Americans.” “Let’s be united.” “Content of character.” “We’re all the same under the skin.” Colorblind racism operates by appropriating this rhetoric to protect white advantages. It might seem reasonable and well-intentioned on its face, but it only works when all context around the rhetoric is ignored. When people say “we’re all the same” to argue against a Jim Crow segregation law, they’re using colorblindness for anti-racist ends. When people say “we’re all the same” to silence black people speaking about the reality of racial discrimination they face, they’re using colorblind rhetoric for racist ends. This rhetorical posture is why you may see, for example, people vocally supporting Trump one day and posting a meme about unity the next day. While colorblind racists provide strong support for racist policy in a practical sense, their self-image is anti-racist. They’re not trying to fool you. They’ve already fooled themselves.

As our week of inviting white-bodied members of our community into confession and repentance for our participation in white supremacy draws to a close, let us remember that our anti-racism work has only just begun. One potentially hoped for outcome of this week is that we’ve been jolted out of our complacency and entrenchment and are able, Lord willing, to see things in a new way. To the extent that we’ve participated in white supremacy and colorblind racism, we’ve been fooling ourselves. Let us do so no longer.

Suggestions for action

God has ordained that as God’s church we should be one body with many parts. As Paul wrote from our passage above:

But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

We often talk about division and polarization these days, and colorblindness is espoused as a cure for those ills. As perhaps you can now see, a cure it is not. Colorblind racists suggest that division arises in the post Civil Rights era because of continued unequal treatment along racial lines, only now it is white-bodied people who are being mistreated because of antiracist efforts like affirmative action or conversation about reparations. In other words, colorblind racists use Dr. King’s words about not judging a person by the color of their skin to suggest that everyone be treated equally only after more than 4 centuries of preferential treatment of white people and all the accumulated advantages that it has brought.  Pay attention, then, to what Paul says is the source of division in the body. Paul says “God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there would be no division.” Paul is suggesting division arises not because of giving special treatment, but because of not giving special treatment to those parts of the body that had previously lacked honor. 

Pray that we can really see those parts of our body from whom honor has been withheld, and pray that we will use an antiracist lens to do so. BIPOC both inside and outside the church have been subject to systemic dishonor as a matter of course. God does not call us to stop seeing color or turn a blind eye to difference. God calls us to value and esteem the diversity of God’s creation, especially as we see it represented in a diverse humanity. So let us give greater honor to to BIPOC, the LGBTQIA2S+ community, those that are disabled, and other historically marginalized groups. Let us lift up those who have been unjustly cast down, and bring down those who have been unjustly propped up. It is only by doing so that we can put an end to the division among us and embody the new humanity God is creating. Amen.

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. 

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