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.

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.