Signing The Declaration as a team during 911 and UNDRIP anniversaries

I love being part of the Circle of Hope pastors and staff team. We’ve grown and changed over the years and continue to hold to what holds us together, love. Since its release last Tuesday, our team of pastors and staff have signed the Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy out of love for Jesus, one another, for the church, the victims of unjust systems, and for those caught up in these deceitful ideologies.

I hope that you have caught wind of The Declaration by now. One of my mentors, Randy Woodley, became an instrumental figure in drafting this theological and practical response for Christians in the midst of overt white supremacy and white nationalism in our communities. He personally invited me to partake in this move, inspired by the Barmen Declaration of 1934 by Christians in Germany who opposed the harmful influence of Christians adopting Nazi ideals and infecting and misshaping the Church.

When Unite the Right gathered in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, a long, sick story added a new iconic chapter. Since 11/9 (the last US federal election), white supremacy has been emboldened and become more overt. Many Christians in the US have fallen prey to norms and ideals that contradict the Good News of Christ. #theDeclaration isn’t just about pointing out the speck in our proverbial brother’s eye, it is a tool “to acknowledge and repent of the church’s complicity in perpetuating white male supremacy in all of its forms and to hear and to heed the call to return to the truth of scripture, fully revealed in the person of Jesus.”

As a continuing expression of the Anabaptist movement, we don’t all think that making statements to the Powers That Be or to those not part of the covenanted community is essential to what the church is given to do. We form alternative community to the domination system, participating in the cultivation of God’s harmonious reign slowly and together. One of our main partners, MCC, released a potent Statement on White Supremacy and Racism last month.

911 and UNDRIP anniversaries give us tangible reminders of work to be done

September 11, 2001 (remember to never forget, btw) often gets memorialized with loss, grief, and a promise that unity under the US American government will make everyone safer from violence, through violence. We would like to forget (or not learn) that the death toll for the War on Terror has grown into the millions. On that anniversary, I still resonate with what Terry Rockefeller of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows shared at Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream, “There can be no war on terror. War is terror.

After 25 years of organizing, we can celebrate today the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The US, of course, was with the main settler colonial states of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to oppose the landmark victory. Former President Obama officially lent US support to the declaration in 2010. Along with over 560 federally recognized Indian tribes, over 60 state recognized tribes, and countless other native relatives in the US—we’re still waiting for action.

Signing the Declaration isn’t just word, it comes with action.In response to these truths and in rejection of these false doctrines, we implore people of Christian faith to match confession with repentance. Let us find new ways to be together in the world. We offer four actions we might take toward the healing of our nation:” to listen, lament, repent, and re-imagine. I’m grateful that Circle of Hope has been a space where these practices are part of our rhythms of life and path of discipleship. I hope that more of our siblings in Christ can be present to our moment in time, and the Holy Spirit’s power and direction to healthy and authentic expressions of life in Christ. I hope more Christians will sign and implement the Declaration. I hope more people will be freed up to join in Jesus’ world redemption project.

Lessons from the streets during the DNC

I don’t usually get blog requests from Circle of Hope leaders, so when one of them came to me, asking me to break down my reasons for so passionately railing against the system all the time, I decided to spend a few hours in the forest, getting back in touch with God and creation; I wanted enough solitude to figure out what it was I has to say, and I’m realizing it may take a couple post to break it down fully.

I’m want to make space for us to develop our ways of thinking. I spend a lot of time listening to radical people and live in a radical community of Jesus lovers, so my perspective is my own, but I’m eager to dialogue and grow together.

Spoiler alert/main point

I am part of a local expression of the trans-national, even trans-historical Body of Christ. I think our most important work– politically, spiritually, etc., is to embody alternatives, with Jesus, to a series of bad “choices” we’re spoon fed by the media and dominant culture. We are not doomed to remain stuck in between a series of bad options. God can fill us up and empower us to create pockets of resistance– where the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus refers to in the Bible can become very tangible and very accessible here on earth right now.

There are a lot of ways to participate in politics – I hope to sprinkle some hope, peace, and possibility into your day. You’ll notice that I talk about a lot of radical stuff including listening to, learning from, and organizing with different kinds of people than those who are most popular. You may need to do some side reading understand a few things but I’ll do lots of links and pics because you might not have read up on Black spiritual leaders or know why we are interested in what Mumia Abu Jamal has to say. I’m primarily speaking to people who are a part of Circle of Hope so I’m making some basic assumptions, but you don’t have to be into Jesus or Circle of Hope to get this.

Praising the Lord

I got to spend about 5 days outside around the time of the DNC – in the streets with several marches and demonstrations as well as attending panel discussions, pop up art exhibitions and worship sessions. I didn’t catch any of it on tv and saw only a few video clips but there seem to be a lot of people with some strong feelings about this election. So if you are feeling a wound up here is some examples of ways I turned my frustration with the powers that be into a generative force of community:

I spent most of my effort organizing drummers and Christians to Praise the Lord with drum and dance (Psalm 150) for two primary marches – the March for Our Lives with the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign and the Black DNC Resistance March with the Phila Coalition for REAL Justice. I also was with the Moral Monday crew enjoying the Repairers of the Breach event (also at AFSC, some leaders pictured right), and enjoyed sitting under the trees with the peace and anti-war activists put together by the Brandywine Peace Community. Before I gave my hopeful 10min speech I met Emily Yates, an Iraq War Veteran for peace who sang a brilliant banjo singalong ditty about the failed promises of war administrations after Medea Benjamin and CODE PINK shared. Connecting with God in community this was so inspiring that our cell meeting this week included three people not normally part of it (we meet on Thurs 9am at Franny Lou’s Porch).

Reflection, Art, Field Trips, and “Taking the day off”

One angle – notice the US is made of guns

Taking a day of creative rest can help get you centered. The “Truth to Power” Revolutionary Art Exhibition by Rock the Vote included some of the most beautiful and disturbing images that reflected back a rather grim state that our nation is in. I loved the creativity and profound opportunity for networking. Nate took our Circle of Hope staff as a field trip and Jeremy gave his green architects the afternoon off to go drink it in.

I got into this DNC business with an “on-ramp”

Another angle – notice the US is a gun (made of guns)

of a profound Love Feast and baptisms in the Delaware River, a Kensington Royals sweep where I threw a complete game shutout, and an inspiring Sunday meeting. Afterwards, I spent time listening to the crickets and frogs like I mentioned earlier. Reflection is an important part of the action.

¡Escucha! ¡Escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!”

Some of my time was spent with dear friends from the Kentucky Workers League and their comrades at the Socialist Convergence (at AFSC) where we rocked out with the Global Grassroots Justice Alliance – a diverse group with indigenous people from the US and Honduras (at least) and my favorite new chant that means “Listen! Listen! We are in the struggle!”

I’m not a socialist myself, but appreciate the solidarity that can come from their class-conflict analysis, and heard several lucid insights: One of which was a more comprehensive definition of the economic concept neoliberalism. The ruling class continues to exploit everyone else and the earth. Neoliberalism sees competitive behavior as a foundational impulse between people. It turns souls with creativity and critical thinking skills into nothing more than consumers and puts an enormous emphasis on the power of the market to save us while simultaneously convincing people that their wealth was earned by merit and not as a result of privilege heaped upon privilege.

Also, If you don’t know your federal, state, and city reps – you may want to begin with learning about them rather than getting freaked out too bad by one president. IMO US Presidents have all been really bad in their own ways, with a few moments of exception since those old plantation owners and John Adams convinced poor immigrants to break off of their English father back in the 18th Century. There are useful ways to participate at many levels of government. I think there are a lot of good ways to participate in elections, including not participating in them. Don’t reduce your political participation down to one ballot or one election. Representative democracy, with its superdelegates and electoral college certainly will not produce justice for all or liberty for the disinherited.

I’ve listened to many of my indigenous, Latino, Queer, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends rail against Donald J’s bigotry, questionable morality, or the generally pathetic Republican notion that this man should be president. “Build a wall” or “register muslims” or the real enemy of the [white] US is Radical Islam are not policies. New SCOTUS judges could overturn Roe v Wade or make America ____ Again. The RNC held up a mirror up to the United States to see how ugly our fear and wealth hoarding can be. Lots to not like, eh? Does that mean we jump to supporting anyone who can defeat him?

Dr Anthony Monteiro, my favorite professor from Temple’s African American studies program leading a panel discussion at the Socialist Convergence about xenophobia

Dr. Anthony Montero and Mumia Abul Jamal had some opinions about the ruling class/warmongering party (Democrats) who have successfully and profitably connected mass incarceration and poverty at home with regime change and drone warfare abroad for 16 of the last 24 years. The transnational corporations are loving it! I had to consider a thought that I don’t think I could have come up with on my own because I’ve been so inundated with anti-Trump rhetoric. Mumia said in an interview from prison “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian Neoliberalism — so be it.” I’ll just leave that there for a minute…

 

 

You can see that there are any number of reasons to support/not support either/both of the major candidates. Vote/not vote in a way that makes you feel like you had some integrity with your values and your behavior. If your civic duty is to cast a mere ballot every couple of years, you have already given away the leadership of our communities to corrupt Powers. We need to be organizing, demonstrating, praising God, and embodying the very things we hope and pray for. You can vote for the candidate/party that you want to lead the country. You can actually feel good about it, not just manipulated.

Jesus knits us together

I saw groups of people this week that I wish would come together but seemed separate. They were in

Art Bucher’s shot of four of our pastors and lots of friends praising the Lord during Monday’s March for Our Lives

Philadelphia at the same time. Jesus got to all of the good actions – especially those organized by poor people or those thirsty for the world that doesn’t quite exist yet. Circle of Hope was at a lot of the actions, too. Why can’t the anti-war groups (mostly gray haired white peaceniks who have worked since the 60s) hang with Black Lives Matter? Why were there six distinct socialist movements not knowing about each other? Why did the Wall of Love in the face of Westboro Baptist not connect to the Poor People’s march? They did connect – through the Spirit and through the people who made intentional or accidental overlap. We are all connected, especially those blessed ones who hunger & thirst for righteousness/justice. Let’s receive the courage to be OK with Jesus and do the good work we’ve been given to do, regardless of who wins certain elections.

 

Conflict can generate beauty

Photo by Jack Fusco

I got to take a quick trip up through Ontario last week. My family and I got to experience the beauty of the Niagara River, Niagara Falls (including the Hornblower!), and maybe best of all – we laid on the shores of Lovesick Lake and observed the Perseid Meteor Shower. We didn’t even know it was going to happen, I think my kids just thought it was Canadian magic or being 2hrs from a city and light pollution. The reason we can see such glory is not because junk is falling from space onto us – it’s because the earth swings through a bunch of rock/debris in our orbit each year around this time. It’s conflict. The earth is coming through, and the bits (like a tiny asteroid belt) pass into the planetary orbit and turn into fireballs and “wakes of light.” Spectacular.

We experience conflict every day. Most of the time we don’t get too emotionally involved and we find solutions easier when our defense mechanisms don’t take over. I find that when our emotions get to firing, we generally respond to threat in one of three ways: avoidance, assertion, or combustion. These categories aren’t scientific or anything but can generally describe most reactions.

Jesus lived in the middle of conflict. Besides the overlay of Greek/Roman empire influence, his tribal life existed during a spiritual reform as well as survival movements in the face of warrant kings and economic disparity. As he gathered folks from many walks of life, he also created conflict. Whether he called disciples out of their collusion with the states, out of their family business, or from under a fig tree, Jesus moved people to make changes. That meant leaving job, family, etc – not easy stuff to walk away from.

I have been enjoying a lot of conflict lately that Circle of Hope lives in. I think we have the vitality and centeredness to discern the Holy Spirit and move with God – that’s what this whole Second Act thing is about. We are trying to move beyond what has worked so far and change. I think our leaders have shown a lot of courage thus far. Each of us has to do our own processing about this particular threat. I hope we don’t just avoid it, I think that would be the worst. Combusting or asserting both keep us moving.

Our Compassion Core got about 120 of us to meet up at 9pm the other week at the future

Photo by Amanda Capasso

headquarters for the Phila Police to remember Mike Brown and other victims of racialized police brutality and to pray in a new era of justice in our city. We prayed for police (especially those who don’t wan to kill anybody, don’t want to stop & frisk, etc), for leaders, for those involved in the numerous stories we read, and for God to wake us up with justice. I think getting somewhere at 9 pm created conflict, so did the racial focus of the event, as well as not blindly siding with the authorities. About half the people who went didn’t RSVP on Facebook – maybe they are not on FB or maybe they didn’t want it on their feed because it was about Jesus or Black Lives Matter. I had a few combusting conversations about it, especially if I enumerated that last sentence. I felt the assertion more than anything – over 100 people feeling moved to do a notable act of compassion that brought us together and made a statement in the world! That was spectacular – like the meteor shower. Conflict was beautiful.

Last Sunday my good friend Drew Hart spoke at our Sunday meetings (listen to it here). They went long, especially because he was helping people process how we are “Taking on the form of Christ in this racialized world.” I appreciate both his prophetic, truth-telling brilliance paired with a pastoral instinct to help people move along the journey from right where they are at. I could sense lights turning on as he pointed out how we can jump on individuals for saying racist things (like the Hulkster lately) because it absolves us – but it doesn’t see how we are being formed by a racist system that produces the attitudes. By getting at the system, with the hope and power in Jesus, we can make personal changes and move together to form something new every day (not just on Sundays or protest days).

 

I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of couples – married and about to be – in counseling sessions. We do a lot of work about communication and conflict. I get to co-captain an amazing baseball team that is full of conflict – every pitch. After a session with some business partners the other day, I felt grateful to be living with so many people who want to get at solutions – even if it’s in the middle of combustion. It’s quite a beautiful thing to want to solve a conflict with another person. After all, we live in a world where we send unmanned drones to blow up houses, people stab each other over a few bucks around the corner, and Black men are being locked at astonishing rates. Getting beyond just intention and into transformative relationship with Jesus, the earth, and one another is still the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.

Learning to climb while churches are burning

I got to have breakfast with people from two different states who each had a personal connection to Bree Newsome during last week’s US Social Forum. One was a mentor in organizing/activism and the other a friend of the person who taught her how to climb a pole for her action a few days ago. After reading her statement two days ago, I’m even more grateful for the Spirit and precision of what she did, what she said, and how she did it. I think we need to learn how to climb like Bree right now in some literal and many metaphorical ways.

As she was about to get arrested, Bree said You come against me with hatred, oppression, and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today! Then she gets into Psalm 27 and eventually 23 on the video. Not a lightweight. Not a single act of one person (read her statement above) but a reflection of a group strategizing for how to empower communities to understand and resist white supremacy.

Recently eight black churches were burned in eight days. Maybe they weren’t all arson. Maybe they weren’t all acts to terrorize black people. Maybe they weren’t all burned down by white people. It might be a good time to rebuild – see theRebuild the Churches Fund. It might be a good time to remember that 2,000 black churches got burnt from 1995-2005. I think just rebuilding doesn’t get to the root of the problem or the root of the solution. 

Back in Philadelphia, Septa police admitted overreaching when a dad with his preschooler didn’t pay the fare and got manhandled, while still holding his daughter. We now know the rookies who killed Brandon Tate Brown and future officer involved shootings will have more info. Will that stop the attacks on young black men? 

I remember the first time I took a roadtrip through the South. I saw state buildings bearing a surprising

GA State flag from 1956-2001

symbol – the Stars and Bars. It was explained to me as both a “part of our history” from white people from various backgrounds and black people. Not everybody thought that history was worth celebrating – many felt like it was a twisted reminder of the Good Ole Days when humans were property rather than a “remember this so it never happens again.” As people around the country have been rallying for it to be removed and even put in a museum, I’ve been wondering about the outcome of that could be.

If South Carolina actually does have the two thirds legislative votes to remove the symbol from government buildings, what would that do? If I were a devious leader of that State, I’d take it down immediately so people would be appeased then business can go on as normal with a different symbol up. I’d do whatever it took to not change the systemic withholding of societal rewards and dis-advantage. That would be pretty devious.

For 28 more Clever Drawings Will Make You Question Everything Wrong With The World go to https://www.distractify.com/satirical-paintings-1197696130.html

I’m afraid that what may actually happen is even more devious. Pulling down the Confederate Flag turns us back to the flag we all should love…the American Flag. This flag hasn’t had such good PR since WWII. Leave that symbol of oppression and embrace the true freedom that comes from the US! This flag, for many, unconsciously serves as a remedy to the current ailment and gets forgiven for its own past and current atrocities. I think turning to another flag perpetuates the empire cycle – rather than breaking it with Jesus whose Kingdom doesn’t even have a flag.

Learning to climb like Bree takes some spiritual listening – to God, one another, and to people experiencing systematic violent oppression as well as doing something creative and Spirit-inspired about it. I’m grateful to be surrounded in Philadelphia and specifically at Circle of Hope by so many people that want to learn to climb, too. Wherever you are, it’s going to be hard work – so get the spiritual stuff from God because the journey is long.

Junteenth 2015: freedom has its delays yet hope prevails

A bunch of my friends are so-called white people. In the past few days on Facebook, several even warned people against talking racial politics on their feed or place of work. I generously assume they are trying to shut down the white people they know who want to deny that the Charleston Shooting continues a long thread of violence against Black people in the US. I want to think that because their white friends celebrated when George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson walked. By the way, the “I Support Darren Wilson” FB group has almost 90,000 members. I also wish stories of outrageous violence against black people would stop, and I think Jesus does, too. Until we get there, I can’t imagine Jesus not getting shot, abused, left out, and executed. I also cannot imagine Jesus not rising and forming an alternative.

Jon Stewart’s joke-free monologue last night is still blowing up, being liked and shared by all sorts of folks. I appreciated his connection that state violence abroad to “protect American lives” – including drone warfare, invasions and torture – with violence against American lives at home. He presumed “we” when speaking for the country. That was a bold move, and people like me don’t often want to think that we are part of the “we” that continues to commit atrocities against people part of a racial group because they are part of that racial group. Jesus forms an alternative while caring and acting with those who suffer, being present in the suffering and offering hope for something different.

Today we are able to celebrate Juneteenth – the oldest celebration of the end of racialized chattel enslavement in the US. You see, there was a few delays to freedom in Texas in the days before communication was so fast and accessible here. Most understand that the Confederacy didn’t officially recognize the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863) until the end of the war (4/9/1865). It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that Texas came along. Imagine being part of the group who did not know about Lincoln’s decree or the news from the battle front only to find out that the law had made you free years/months before. I think there’s a complex array of anger & frustration to distain but gratitude, elation and celebration must have prevailed. During a week when #askRachel was taking over the emotional airwaves in the wake of the McKinney debacle, Juneteenth can be a day when Charleston has its full context with the emotions, memories, realities, and hopes that media outlets cannot give us and cannot take away.

Some powerful memes are also floating around today to clarify that the recent white supremacist murder rampage in an AME church’s prayer meeting was more than a random act of violence or one sick person’s twisted response to their delusion. We are still in conflict with a system that protects white supremacy and white skin privilege. The battles are still (Ephesians 6) against rulers, powers, and authorities both in spirit and in this world that are systemic, not just against individuals or people.

African Electro artist Young Paris’ post as of now has over 200k likes and 250k+ shares.

There are always exceptions to the general flow and other people are mistreated or rewarded. Symbols remain in prominent places particularly and powerfully serve as seen things to point to unseen ideas. Whether it’s on your t-shirt, a tattoo, the name of a street, or the flag above government buildings – we choose what we display/advertise/evangelize for a purpose. Take Jesus dying on the cross and using the symbol of the cross to identify his followers. What does the symbol mean to you and what does it mean to your neighbor?

From the Southern Poverty Law Center

Attacking a symbol can be as powerful as the symbol itself. Burning a flag is potent, open defiance. When doing anything symbolically, the act itself is open to interpretation. Sometimes the point is unclear or perceived as inappropriate or offense. Sometimes disrespect or questioning legitimacy is a step towards forming something new. Jesus’ defiance sometimes looks pretty assertive like standing up to turn your other cheek to get punched like a human instead of backhand slapped like a subordinate. Other times it looks like defeating the powers of sin and death and walking out of a tomb.

We are working with some real spirit, flesh & blood problems and I’m really grateful to be working out some spirit, flesh & blood solutions with so many people. We have opportunities to be formed by the Holy Spirit into a people that don’t need to just identify injustice, we can be part of the Beloved Community that demonstrates justice.

I have found that my hope in the Kingdom of God outshines my quest for freedom and justice while also being the solar power that runs it. The source of my hope is what fuels my activism or gives me the juice to want to stay in the game with such overwhelming opposition. I do not think the Church is a place to hide from the injustice of the world in hopes for a future just world. I have found that especially in Circle of Hope the church is a healthy soil polyculture for the Holy Spirit to cultivate resistance and restoration. Jesus didn’t shy away from hard conversations or avoid the people who disagreed with him. His hope was an opportunity for transformation that forms us into transformation agents for God.

Baltimore in the Age of Ultron

I wonder how many of us will watch Avengers: Age of Ultron as it comes out this week. It’s probably going to break records. For many of Americans, the rising of an inhuman an evil trying to destroy the community is not only fictitious but entertaining to watch the fanciful nationalists defend us against it. Others see the Powers more clearly, like the apostle Paul offered in his letter to the Ephesians “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

In Baltimore, it shouldn’t be hard to see something dark allowing a 25yr old to get killed for running after making eye contact with law enforcement. Six cops are suspended with pay and the department admits they should have buckled him in while in custody as well as attended to his medical needs sooner, multiple times. Although I think seeing that white supremacy inherent in the system actually requires some work for many Americans. We see burning cop cars, angry black people, and the headlines filled with “riots,” “looters,” or worse. We don’t see the inhuman circumstances that lead up to the outbursts or even the “peaceful” protests after Freddie Gray’s funeral. As a society, we see the destruction of property before the destruction of human life or community.

As much as we can point out thugs overzealous fans rioting celebrating a little too hard getting reported differently reflects a majority public opinion, we know that crowds burning stuff because Joe Pa got fired for not protecting kids from his sexual predator friend is different than Baltimore. Baltimore’s unrest, riots, or uprising stands as a challenge to white supremacy. It might be easier for you to see people damaging stuff than it is to see dead people. It might be easier to make suggestions for how desperate people should act than to stay focused on what makes them desperate.

I’ve noticed more “unfriend threats” on Facebook in the past day than in the last half a decade combined. Many by white people who are trying to be clear that they will no longer tolerate sympathy for the state/property without empathy for another loss of a black human by unreasonable policing methods. I wish it didn’t shut down dialogue or cut of relationships-even virtual ones but I get it. We all have our limits.

I actually saw this picture in my FB feed yesterday. You can read most of the original post [that not only got taken down but the profile deleted] with some commentary in this article.

While I haven’t talked to or seen the poster in almost 20 years, you might think “how can you still have a connection with him?” While admittedly, the connection is thin but I hope he reads this post. I want to influence him. If he was in the Philadelphia region, I would want him to get compelled by Jesus to see a bigger world than he’s been exposed to and get in touch with a healing agent that actually forms something more powerful than even the atrocity-spawning Powers.

I think forming the Church with Jesus actually heals the brokenness of the world. I also march (why not come out on Thursday?), organize, make deep relations with different kinds of folks, live in an urban whatnot, practice peacemaking, village parent, etc etc etc. I see Jesus still out there getting pushed around and told to be calm while thousands of national guardsmen and riot cops move to restore “order.” We are still angry because it’s actually this order that perpetuates ultraviolence here and abroad and doesn’t bring justice. We still don’t know who killed Brandon Tate-Brown. The War of Terror isn’t slowing down.

My sense of the Age of Ultron is more than a film about techo supermilitary turned back on its perpetrator/creator (like so many of my favorite robot stories). In real life there are no Avengers, only those moved by the Holy Spirit to resist & restore. We have an opportunity to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit,  looking for something real in fiction while Jesus unmasks the fictions in reality. Let’s be considerate in our conversations and see. Maybe we can compel more people to come together and create something beautiful with our Creator even while we fight against the evil of our times.

Christians Should Definitely Submit…but when and to whom?

When my brothers and I used to wrestle with various characters and backstories, my favorite was to not only be a heel but a submission specialist. Getting one of the little dudes to give up was rewarding and often hysterical. Before your mind goes to armbars or chokeouts, I’m talking more like using The Claw.

Last month Billy Graham’s son Franklin dropped a “listen up” on Facebook that motivated some of my friends to write an open letter asking Graham to smell the systemic racism coffee that is now burning. The gist of his message wasn’t new stuff. Obey cops. God put leaders above you so you need to…wait. He was quoting Hebrews 13:17 in which the writer refers to discipleship in the church not to Roman soldiers. Uh oh.

He might have better used Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 that actually reference submission to the state. Unfortunately for many Bible quoters, these passages most often get used to increase state sympathy and engender trust for a system that happens benefits the person doing the quoting. In the past nearly 20 years as a radicalized follower of Jesus, I have never had one of these passages thrown in my face by a person of color. When I spent a month in Iraq, none of the Iraqi Christians (there were a million at the time) brought it up to me. For Paul and Peter, who were on their trajectory [in and out of jail] on the way to martyrdom clearly had a sense that Rome was not Christ’s Shalom or the Kingdom of Heaven.

For those interested in the Bibletalk, you can’t really get Romans 13 apart from 12 and 14 (why do we make chapters of a letter seem separate anyway?) and get what Paul is driving at – transformed people with a radical sense of Jesus as the one we are actually bowing to. Peter, speaking to living in a pagan society in Asia Minor, brings home the point that Jesus will shepherd us through suffering – increasing social status and political freedom is not big enough. The state, including the one that is persecuting the people to whom he writes is not so good and is not our mission to simply fix. Peter perhaps even wrote under either the rule of Domitian or Pliny the Younger who either claimed divinity or made being a Christian punishable. Peter hardly expected them to follow all the laws or obey these masters like they demanded – having a presence of The Way meant playing a different game. The caesars were also called the Son of God and Savior of the World. Peter & Paul, along with their friends regularly made the seditiously political act of appropriately appropriating terms like these to describe Jesus Christ and the entirety of His Kingdom. This is not exactly submission, obedience, or honor of the emperor in the way that Franklin Graham’s ilk of police state collaborators would seem to mean.

As angry and discouraged as I was to hear about Officer Slager killing Walter Scott this week, I received a sense of hope because the Feidin Santana‘s video surfaced. I was even more hopeful when I read that the cops had a different story cooking before they knew about the video as it sheds light on dark places. Maybe there is a similar reason why police won’t release surveillance footage of Brandon Tate Brown’s killing (or say who killed him), even though the police already found themselves to have acted appropriately. The Lawncrest neighbors just up the road disagreed. As we marched last Saturday to mark the martyrdom of MLK, we still insist that BLACK LIVES MATTER to God and to us but historically and currently not to this state. We want justice for the family of Brandon. We want a $15 minimum wage.

Submitting to police when you are unlikely to get shot for less than a good reason might seem normal. Let me reframe in another time and place. You probably wouldn’t tell Christian Iraqis to submit to the Saddam Hussein era which could mean carrying out inhuman orders or allowing family members to randomly be disappeared, abused, or killed – right? That era is usually on the “bad guys” list for Christians – and basically Christians understand that you shouldn’t listen to bad guy states like Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge, etc – only good guy states like the US. I’m calling into question the goodness of the US – illustrated by just this moment of state violence against our Black brothers and sisters.

I’m also trying to swim into the deep end of what submission means. First Christ’s followers submit to God and one another, and then figure out what it means to submit to the state. I think we should show respect and care for those caught up in the system and stand up against the injustice it perpetrates. Submitting isn’t just giving up like in WWF wrestling. The New Testament is littered with disciples submitting all over the place and somehow changing the world.

The dress that out trended Trayvon and other things we can’t handle

Last Thursday bunches of my friends were talking/posting about the dress that broke the internet. I think that whole thing was fascinating. It was trending hard and even famous people weighed in on which color combination they saw. The same day, other friends of mine were talking about another “color issue” that wasn’t getting as much buzz in our national consciousness – the third anniversary of Trayvon’s death. The week after he NAILED IT with the Keystone XL veto, Obama was hanging out with Trayvon’s parents to commemorate the anniversary. That’s a nice gesture, but many of us are feeling the Spirit move us to more than sympathy – after all we still don’t know who killed Brandon Tate Brown on Frankford Ave!

Monday the execution of Kelly Gissendaner was postponed for a second time – the first one because of snow and this time because of an issue with the lethal injection pharmacist – supposedly. My friend shared this open letter to Georgia Christians yesterday that has some insight into her story as well as an appeal of putting a limit to the violence. Her case is really wild – and with so many under-represented people of color in the same system, I hope putting off this form of state sanctioned violence is a trend.

Today I read about Brett, the “Soldier of Christ” going back to Iraq with some other Americans vets to join the Assyrian Christian militia to fight ISIS. Not only is he Polish/Irish (yay!) but quotes Matthew 25 in needing to take care of the vulnerable in a day when the US left things worse than how they found them. I admire his courage and commitment, even though I have a different interpretation of how to live out Christ’s directive. Maybe you can feel the tension that I do – at least he’s doing something. It sometimes feels like I’m surrounded by a generation of people who hear about horror stories or know about injustice or oppression (more about it than any generation before) and the only response we can muster is to complain or do internet things.

When we are facing more injustice than we can handle, what do we do? When we are suffering does God care enough to move? At one of Circle of Hope’s meetings last Sunday night someone from my cell brought into our discussion this tension and asked if “God will never give us more than we can handle” is actually in the Bible. A friend who worked as a chaplain was quick with the clarification (1 Corinthians 10:13 – God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also provide a way out so you can endure it) as something about keeping our hearts from being set on evil rather than dealing with pain. Tye Tribbett even wrote a song about it.

I’ve heard people tell me that God gave them cancer to teach them something. I heard Ricky Gervais joke on his HBO special that God also gives AIDS to babies in Africa as part of bit about problematic Godviews. I think the advice “God will never give you more than you can handle” might be a useful self-help mantra at times but is probably more of a capitalist “buck up, cowboy” that got attached to the faith. I think that it’s nice to think there are limits to suffering and that Jesus cares about it. Rather than getting tougher, however, I wonder if we can get softer and let God in to care about us. Can we be tender enough to allow Christ’s compassion to move us to heartbreak with others? Can we be open enough to let the Holy Spirit deploy us to work for justice in some rather complex times?

Lent is a good opportunity to explore what we can’t handle. There’s a lot. I think Jesus was finding his limits in the desert, but with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be honest about those limits, those spaces where we feel the tension with courage and see if God doesn’t move a bunch of us to become a healing agent there.

Soft-hearted dialogue during Ferguson & KXL

Ferguson-Protesters-SignsThe Michael Brown story and grand jury convening on whether to charge Officer Darren Wilson could come to a head tomorrow. For many people, this is just another day and another story that will dominate headlines for a few days. For others – especially African Americans – this case means much more. Is Ferguson is a microcosm of race relations in the US? Could it be white supremacy that’s actually on trial? Could this case mean that it is OK to shoot black men as long as you have some sort of reason?

This case gets at some important questions for those with faith in Jesus. Where is Christ in the situation? How do those who hunger and thirst for righteousness & justice speak and stand? Are we in danger of getting swept up by a media machine that causes unhelpful distrust for authorities and takes us into an ignorant and emotional mob mentality?

kkk leaderI wonder why both riot cops and the National Guard were deployed to Ferguson during protests. I wonder why the KKK threatens protesters (they call them terrorists in their “warning”). I wonder why Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency. There is something bigger than just this case going on right now. The trend of questionable police killings of young people of color continues – here are some snippets about 13 in the month after Michael Brown.

As a Christian I don’t expect the criminal justice system, courts, or laws to bring justice. True justice comes through the Kingdom of God. In this moment of such great outcry by our black sisters and brothers, how can we not listen? I think God hears them and cares. I think the more of us that care and speak up and act out, the more incremental steps we can make toward the protection of the next generation.

While this grand jury decision is a watershed moment – don’t sleep on Obama’s immigration speech KXL nativestonight (could grant legal status to 5 million undocumented folks) or the significant defeat/postponement of the Keystone XL pipeline. The majority of people affected by these decisions are poor as well as Latino or Native, so many white Americans see the economic ramifications and possibilities before family or land issues. Let’s change our hearts.

After a surprisingly spirited discussion on my Facebook wall this week that included Christian Anarchists, Black Women, a Catholic Policeman, atheists, conservative Anabaptists, and others, I’m inspired but a little discouraged. I’m inspired because I think there is work to be done and I have relationships with people beyond the “choir” that I might prefer to “preach” to over social media. I’m discouraged because I think for every friend I argue with, there are at least ten who agree with them but don’t engage directly.

Having dialogue when the fabric of society comes under question (is the US founded on Christian values or on white supremacy?) is important to have, especially with people who don’t agree with you. When we get stuck not listening or merely defending our fixed position on an issue, I think we all lose. Sometimes I’m not sure I have enough out-of-the-box stuff to get people listening to those suffering and marginalized. Some white folks listen because it’s en vogue or duty. If Jesus doesn’t touch us and change our hearts, will enough people will make the intellectual leap in time enough to stop atrocities that are being waged? When I’m praying for these situations, I’m praying for Jesus to touch hearts – including my own – to make us soft enough to feel the pain and move with the Spirit to keep restoring what’s broken.

Three signs of soft solidarity at the dawn of the last Columbus Day

Just in time for Monday’s federal holiday, Seattle decided to celebrate something else, joining Minneapolis at big US cities to get this right by re-naming the holiday “Coast Salish Day” and Indigenous People’s Day, respectively. Are we more surprised by cities making this move or that more haven’t yet? How is this still a thing?

After all, aside from the catastrophic results of contact for 10’s of millions of natives, didn’t Colon basically start a trend of “discovering” things for white people? If you need another funny video to keep you engaged – check out College Humor’s take on “Columbusing.”

If you are moved to make steps towards healing our land and people, you might be moving toward solidarity. Particularly for white liberals – especially Evangelical Christians – solidarity is becoming more normative, at least in theory. It takes a lot of work to move solidarity from your heart or head and allow God to use it for transformation. It’s cheaper and easier to have a “soft solidarity,” one that makes you feel good/aware/informed but doesn’t transform yet. I offer three warning signs of soft solidarity, and some suggestions for how to allow the Spirit to beef it up to a solidarity that both parties experience.

When solidarity doesn’t lead to connection, it’s probably soft. When we pray at the Circle of Hope sunday Meetings, we are trying to help people make connections and follow up. Prayer is a powerful tool to connect with God, one another, and people far away as well as change hearts. Praying for Pakistani victims of drone warfare is good. Telling the story about the prayer, learning, and even trying to find Pakistani people in your neighborhood or online to make a relationship with is even better.

When solidarity doesn’t lead you to uncomfortable situations among people who don’t get it yet, it’s probably too soft. As a non-native of this land as well as not having African ancestors within the past few 1,000 years, learning from my native and black friends, teachers, musicians, and authors has been healing for me. It’s a privilege for me to be able to talk about race, land rights, colonialism, or restitution with my friends of color. It’s a responsibility to continue these conversations with white people who haven’t listened to non-white voices yet. For those of us who “cross over,” we have to do more than represent the exotic or be a proxy for oppressed voices. We don’t need to build bridges, we need to help put people in direct contact and show them how the bridge doesn’t even exist – we are way closer to a connection than they might think.

When solidarity is an accessory to your narcissism, it’s definitely too soft. For progressives, particularly millennials, you have been conditioned to do this already, so un-learning is going to take some work. Buying a keffiyeh doesn’t make you down with the Palestinian cause. Waxing intellectual, playing authentic delta blues on guitar, blasting Immortal Technique, or borrowing cultural elements from other peoples does not do anything for anyone else – unless it’s part of something bigger.

If you are still wondering about whether changing the name makes a difference – of the holiday or the football team, consider these thoughtful anecdotes from native activists. You may feel more sympathy for the Italian Americans who may feel slighted that Columbus is getting bumped, for Columbus himself as a hero and great Christian, or for the system itself for not being able to be just or accommodating to everyone.

In the video you see Migizi Pensoneau of The 1491s wearing the infamous Caucasians t-shirt, mocking the Cleveland Indians logo -designed by Brian Kirby but made famous by DJ NDN of A Tribe Called Red. Migizi wrote a heartfelt piece going behind the scenes of the Daily Show shoot for the Missoula Independent here. I think this should be the last Columbus Day anyone celebrates because the holiday reinforces & celebrates lies and myths that support a system of genocidal thievery against my friends & relatives. Changing the name is a step towards making connections that need to be made. I sense Jesus moving us into SOLIDarity, where mutual connection, care, and support transforms everyone involved and faces off with the Powers That Be. The more connections you make, the more sense it will make that your friends & relatives rub off some cultural elements/values/hopes on you.