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.

Wake me up when this racial stuff blows over: five suggestions if you’d rather sit this one out

I had two posts on my Facebook timeline when I got going the other day. The first an article about the disease of being busy (and the practice of having heart to heart connections with others rather than allowing yourself to be too busy in the brain). The other was a post from a friend wondering whether I’d help start a Buy Nothing Group in our neighborhoods. I would but I’m too busy. Just kidding. 

Opening my heart to others even in small things like when asked how I’m doing might make my heart more available for the bigger things going on – like the redistribution group above, worshiping with my peeps on a Sunday, or when my middle schooler is wondering which Harry Potter character was snogging with Ginny Weasley. My own busyness could push me towards an exhaustion where I’d prefer to turn my brain off until things seem to settle down, or I become inactive enough that my friends “get it” – they should stop bothering me.

I feel for people – some of them my friends or relatives – who are feeling like during this cold rainy day on the eve of MLK Day that it would be more pleasant if we could hibernate until the racial stuff gets back to normal after this holiday and probably Black History Month. I have compassion for folks who aren’t feeling the #BlackLivesMatter stuff, the MLK D.A.R.E. march, or that we totally re-shaped our sunday meeting this week and next to make some serious space to connect with God and act for redemption. If you are feeling some ambivalence or avoidance and you’re a person of color it must be even worse. Many people in the US these past months are experience a profound confluence of efforts – and what I think is direction from the Holy Spirit around race & class justice & injustice.

Here are five suggestions if you might feel like you’d rather sit this one out.

Don’t hide away. You matter too much. Talk through your ambivalence with your cell or friends. At worst you’ll face your likely fear of being judged, but you might actually get understood or at best directed by God for your next steps.

Don’t wait to “feel it” before you try it. Sometimes our feelings need to catch up with our actions a la working out, reading non-fiction, praying, cleaning the bathroom, etc.

Let your sense of powerlessness face Real Power. Bringing up our sense of “this stuff is too big for me,” or “I’m not sure I really think MLK was that good,” or “what will marching actually do?” to God is a healthy spiritual activity. I suggest walking down closed off Broad St and Market st with possibly 10,000 others (many of whom are wondering the same things as you) will likely erode your sense of powerlessness.

Bring someone with you who understands your heart. Why come alone to the Circle of Hope meetings tonight or next week when they could be strange? I don’t think our normal is very normal, but you could risk something by talking about Jesus or even race with someone who might not be on your wavelength. Why not explain yourself and see if they want to try it out with you? You might find some comfort and strength for the challenges of the next week.

You might prefer to be like the sleeping bear right now, but God might awaken a fierce mother bear inside you. That would be so interesting, someone reading this is having a visceral reaction to the possibility. Why not put our attitudes on the line and let God deal with us? All we have to lose is the status quo. I guess the IWW, Marx, Assata Shakur, or a bunch of other fun people would also say all we’ve got to lose is our chains.

I have a feeling about this week. It’s not any other MLK Day I’ve experienced. Something profound is brewing. I want to be part of something great. Will you come and give it a try with me?

Muddy Waters – I have been listening to him a lot lately and love this pic. Cool, right??

Tonight: Sacred Jazz musician Warren Cooper will leading most of our meetings at 5PM & 7PM getting us to consider “The Status of the Dream…Visioning Justice Peace.” We still have 2 open slots for our 24hr prayer vigil starting at midnight. Tomorrow we march (end to stop & frisk, $15 minimum wage in Phila, and a fully funded democratically run school district) and Imagine (looking at our final 2015 Circle of Hope Map). Next Sunday Warren returns to bookend the week with “Selections, Reflections, and Ejections.” For now let’s turn to Jesus and let the blues, jazz, and gospel guide our souls to that old Dream of Shalom. 

Brake for Peace/Break for Peace

Sometimes the phrase “be careful what you wish for” rings eerily true. I have been praying, especially over the past two years to have a groundswell of acting for racial justice as well as taking our call to peace to the next level. I wasn’t hoping for disasters to occasion such an uprising, but I’m grateful we have an opportunity to contribute to a large movement. As security forces have been avoiding indictment over the needless deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the masses have been answering with words and deeds across the nation.

#BlackLivesMatter, #StayWokeAdvent, #JusticeForMikeBrown, and #ICantBreathe have been lighting up social media as a compliment to inspiring protests, actions, prayer, worship, marches, and other ways of standing up. I think this month more of us need to BRAKE for peace like all these die-ins are teaching us. The highway stops because Shalom is broken and we all need to turn to the Prince of Peace and work at restoring God’s Shalom. Braking for peace is about listening, learning, empathizing, and prayerfully receiving from Jesus. It is about being.

We also need the doing during Advent. We need to BREAK for peace by getting out from behind the screens and into real relationships and activity. We need to break free from the lies that teach us that people outside your family are not connected to you, that God’s image does not extend beyond your racial assignment, and that by standing up against unjust systems is demonizing people. Peace is not made by just being tolerant – it is made by changing our minds about our relatedness and our actions to demonstrate it.

In and around Circle of Hope over the next few weeks there are so many chances to get more info, hear stories, get touched by God, ask questions, and make decisions about how we will respond together led by the Holy Spirit. If you can add to this list in the comments, I’d be grateful. I’ll offer an italicized prayer after each event that I suggest.

Tonight – Conversations for Peace in Palestine & Israel. Daryl Byler (of MCCand EMU) will be offering personal accounts, wisdom, and hope. 7pm at 1125 S. Broad. Let Christ’s peace extend further than the global military industrial complex. 

Saturday – Peace on Earth and the Politics of Christmas. 9:30am at 1515 Fairmount with the Alternative Seminary’s Will O’Brien and a host of other inspiring theological activists (including musicians from three Circle of Hope congregations) from Philadelphia. Let the coming of God With Us renew our hearts, minds, as well as feet & hands.

Monday – Doing Theology – this time we consider what it means to stand with Ferguson, 7pm 1125 S. Broad. Give us the courage to come to you with our doubts & fears, open for your direction.

Tuesday – Come hear a Report Back from CPT delegates who recently returned from Iraqi Kurdistan (war on terror, ISIS) and NW Ontario (indigenous resistance to the extraction industry), 7pm 2007 Frankford. Help us to connect the dots of domination and hear the groans of our mother.

Saturday 12/28 (plan still forming) – Liturgy and demonstration at the site of the future Drone Command Center in Horsham, PA (very positive article on Fox about how many jobs it will create here). Make us more human in the face of mechanized, weaponized, inhumane methods of killing.