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.

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.