An opportunity for wonder

What is more wonder-full than wonder in the eyes of children? I think that’s one thing that makes Christmas time so special for a lot of people. Wonder has become a serious spiritual discipline for me, as weird as that might sound. During Advent I get even more serious about wonder – the decorations, songs, smells, and other traditions hopefully help stoke my imagination about deeper meaning. I need to try to wrap my heart and my mind around this Story again every year or else I’ll think it’s normal.

Creator becoming part of creation honestly blows my mind, and I want it to. It doesn’t really get my imaginative fires burning – beckoning me to spend time every day considering what it means, motivating my heart, my behavior, and my relationships – unless I keep the disciplines that keep me mindful of how Jesus is being born anew. What in me could get renewed?

I’ve heard from friends that the best part of giving a present is watching the child open it and freak out. That’s fun, but a lot of pressure to keep up (my kids are 15 and 12 now, that’s a lot of Xmas’s). For me, the best part of giving a gift is being part of a larger generosity movement and expressing God’s generosity by making his dwelling among us. It opens up universes of possibilities. There are daily practices that help me – Circle of Daily Prayer [water] has been offering a song every day. That might be a good enough start for you.

We face a lot of dangers. It looks like Donald J. is going to become our president. People are having a lot of difficulty staying together. It rained this week and I had more people tell me they wanted to hurt themselves than the rest of the year combined. I’ve heard of families splitting up or about to. Perpetual, preemptive war continues abroad and the battle of capitalism vs creation continues at home and Obama still won’t stand up for the Standing Rock Sioux against the banks, extraction giants, and their militarized police/mercenaries. Another unarmed black kid got killed over nothing – James Means was 15.

People are financially strained and somehow the internet was permitted to boss around everyone’s money for a week by making a consumer spectacle out of Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday/Giving Tuesday. Don’t fall for it. It’s the reverse order of your values, anyway – right? Don’t let it break your sense of wonder. Don’t let this stuff get you away from a deeper reality…that Jesus is calling us back into harmony with God, with one another, and with creation. We form alternatives to the destructive symptoms and act in ways that oppose the pathologies that cause such alienation.

We have so many opportunities to get our goodness fueled and help heal some wounds this month. Get some good stuff from God and spread it around. There’s enough comfort & joy to go around. You may want to get your calendar out…

Nov 27 First Sunday of Advent

We explored the prophets pointing to another way and listened to stories from the water protectors at Standing Rock to connect to our own dissonance, resilience, and rejoicing. You might even want to join in tomorrow on a #NoDAPL Day of Action.

Dec 2-3 Art Shop This is our 12th expression of 50+ local artist/crafter/makers.

Dec 4 – Second Sunday of Advent

We’re looking to John the Baptizer who signals the time has arrived and listening to Black Lives Matter to connect to our own dissonance, resilience, and rejoicing. 5 & 7pm at 2007 Frankford

Dec 10 – House show: music/poetry/wonder/potluck/NoDAPL Me and Martha are trying to throw an inclusive party. Some of my favorite performers will be performing. We’re gonna raise some funds for Standing Rock. Potluck starts at 6:30

Dec 11 – Third Sunday of Advent

This time Mary and Joseph prepare for the miracle. We’re getting into the Magnificat a whole bunch. These migrants get us to looking at the absurdity of talk of “building a wall” and undocumented people in our own communities that help us connect to our own dissonance, resilience, and rejoicing. Some of us have been part of the #right2work dinner series, highlighting undocumented restaraunt workers in Philly.

Dec 17 – Free Baby & Kids Goods Exchange (10am-1pm at 2007 Frankford). This is usually our largest monthly session where parents and those expecting practice redistribution of kid stuff and saving ecological and environmental impact. We still need volunteers to set up, hang out, drive people home, and clean up.

Dec 18 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

We will light the fourth Advent candle for the Shepherds, who respond to the news of Jesus being born with songs of joy. We turn our ears to Syria and other people displaced through the war of terror to help us connect to our own dissonance, resilience, and rejoicing. 5 & 7 pm at 2007 Frankford.

Dec 20 – Caroling through Kensington/Fishtown  – meet at 6:30 at 2007 Frankford, we’ll start walking at 7 and return for warm drinks and snacks. I don’t really like Christmas carols, I’ll confess, but I do love how moved my neighbors get when 100+ of us sing to them. It can be life changing. 

Dec 21 – Homeless Memorial Day, 5-6pm at 15th & JFK. We will assert the dignity of all persons and remember those who died this year. Many won’t have another formal rembrance.

Dec 24 – Christmas Eve, 10:45pm vigil at 1125 S. Broad (also there’s a 4pm family-oriented observance). Sometimes we watch the big flakes of snow fall out the window while we hold candles singing Silent Night at midnight. That or something else magical might happen.

Dec 25 – Silent Night, Holy Night – 60min of candlelight reflection at 5 and 7 at 2007 Frankford. Loads of snacks in between. Lots of people need somewhere warm, indoors, and kind to be on Christmas. I love it when it’s on a Sunday because it’s easy to make it about Jesus.

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.

 

protest, alton sterling, philandro castile

Let’s not allow violence to speak for us

map of africa

Matabeleland, the 2 western provinces, where the Brethren In Christ and Mennonite Central Committee have been active for over 100yrs

Lessons from Zimbabwe

When I spent some time in Zimbabwe recently, I got a lesson in what state violence can do to the psyche of a people. Between 1980-85, the Prime Minister’s Fifth Brigade killed between 30-40,000 people—specifically Ndebele people—in their own country. Since then half the population of the country fled for various reasons including economic. After hyperinflation, one industry that continued to grow was security. CMU blocks for walls, barbed wire, cameras or fake cameras were common and seemed to be more accessible than cars, couches, TVs, or other items more common right now in the US.

It took me a bit to understand why. No one I talked to was worried about theft, even though so many gates in africa, protest, alton sterlingpeople were poor. According to an MCC worker, over 80% of people in Matabeleland were unemployed. They found ways to share money like most countries without a middle class—if you get paid for work, you pay someone else for work. It’s common for someone who has a full-time job to have a gardener and housekeeper, who each in turn have people who they pay for small jobs. It’s a demonstration of resiliency. So why does almost every house have a protective wall? Why do the few affluent areas have barbed wires and security gates? The most simple answer—because the threat of state violence against the people has been proven, and those responsible are still in power.

State Violence and the Alternative

Jesus addressed the state violence against his own people while he walked around Roman-occupied Palestine. His nonviolent creativity has inspired Christians and others since. He generated alternatives to taking up arms (like Simon the Zealot wanted) and sliding into unconscious State sympathy (like Matthew the tax collector had done). His tactic was to embody the Kingdom of Heaven, calling people to follow him and his way.

robot used to bomb man in DallasLast week the Dallas police used a robot dropping a bomb to kill an Afghanistan war vet who tragically used his training to target police and rapid transit authorities after a peaceful protest. This morning I watched this video of the State using sound cannons mounted on an armored vehicle flanked by cops in riot gear —to break up protestors in Baton Rouge.

I’ve talked to a lot of people over the past week who feel overwhelmed by emotions. They are genuinely upset by the death of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the 5 cops in Dallas. Probably like you, at least 6 of my friends posted Facebook status like “I’m off of Facebook for a while, it’s too sad.” I feel you. Some of those folks are going to find ways to cope with their feelings so they can go back to their business. Others are creating pockets of space to do something positive despite those feelings. Facebook isn’t the best vessel for transformation, anyway.

Don’t get it twisted. If you maintain silence about the racialized violence in the US and state violence from the US, you will allow the dominant voice of the state to settle the matter on your behalf. They are already at work and have more guns, tanks, boots on the ground, media outlets, money, and computer magic powers than the Peacemakers ever will. We need to BE the alternative with Jesus, and speak from the place of ultimate security—not a security that can be paid for with killing, but the one that defeated and unmasked the Powers by dying and rising.

Speak the Truth

We don’t have to be afraid to speak truth to them or tell the story of injustice, or proclaim God’s peace and harmony. Those who follow Jesus are already saved from the need to quietly accept what the masters prescribe for us. Let’s enjoy our freedom, let’s fill the resistance to violence with bold love, and use our deep spiritual-centeredness to make room for healing, restoration, and sustained resistance.

On Sunday we prayed about mass shootings in Orlando and Istanbul and the suicide bombing turned into fires in Baghdad. Last week we questioned the Death Penalty and the week before we bore witness against Drone Warfare.

I’m still blown away by the story of Leisha Evans this week (the woman in the featured image of this post). She went to her first protest, motivated by wanting a better world for her son, and after being arrested in one of the most beautiful scenes I can remember, she offered theses words:

I just need you people to know. I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God. I am a vessel! Glory to the most high! I’m glad I’m alive and safe. And that there were no casualties that I have witnessed first hand.

I don’t want to stand by and let the militarizing nation state speak for me. I want to use the tools I have and the good work Christ has given me to speak from a community rooted in love, and to spread the courage not to hide in scared silence. Being able to say Black Lives Matter or post #blacklivesmatter is a good start for a lot of people. Let’s keep including people who want to form Beloved Community, to embody an alternative with Jesus through Circle of Hope. Let’s pray more. Let’s tell more stories about the Holy Spirit at work. Since we’ve received the redemption Jesus offers, let’s own it in a way that makes for more hope, more songs, more love, more justice, more peace, and more goodness that helps our communities thrive.

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.

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.