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.

Does Jesus see a big difference between ISIS and the US, really?

I’ve had a few stimulating conversations about death, fear, and anxiety this week. The willingness of the Islamic State (CNN’s ISIS fact list here) to use photos and video of their violent exploits has a lot of Americans worried and stressed out. It’s not difficult to hear the calling for the rise of more violent heroes to alleviate the situation – and their stress.

Perhaps because I have two daughters, I find the stories of the Yazidi women’s stories of their ISIS captivity and escape particularly disturbing. Without a doubt, God grieves, too. I think injustice is an affront to God’s Shalom, brought about in a good creation and restored through the work of Jesus. I do not think the rise of the state has been good. I wonder what Jesus thinks.What must it be like for Jesus to look at ISIS and then look at the United States. Some of my friends think the first thing Jesus would notice would be religious & spiritual differences. I’m not so sure.

Especially when we are threatened or anxious, we as North Americans are given the same archetypical choice of the crowds all those years ago. Like my friend Kirby recently mused about, do we want to release the violent insurrectionary or release Jesus? I think even most of the Christians in the United States forget who they are and at least tacitly accept the release of Notjesus. Others are pretty open about their chant “Give us Barabbas.”

Clint Eastwood & Bradley Cooper tried, among other things, to humanize the American fighter. I like increasing the humanity of the situation. To make a similar film humanizing an IS warrior probably wouldn’t go over so well here- but why not? Are we really so diluted to think the cause of the so-called War on Terror (or the Cold War, Monroe Doctrine, the Transatlantic Slave, or Manifest Destiny) was ever less brutal? More tolerant? More just for people outside the dominant group? If drone pilots put footage of their surgical precision bombings on Youtube would my friends have nightmares about them also?

I think the question for Christians needs to go beyond “What should we do about ISIS?” If one thinks that Christians are synonymous with the United States in our the US is a blessed nation that can devastate & dominate the world and God is pleased because of a high % of Christians – yikes. Ask a Native, a descendent of the enslaved Africans who routinely get harassed by the state, or someone who locked up in Guantanamo Bay without due process – this American project hasn’t been about freedom,  The U.S. is directly and/or indirectly responsible for not only the conditions of ISIS forming (Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan with the mujahideen, Bin Landen, Zarqawi,Taliban) but for the current unstable state of the region.

Today a few of my Facebook friends posted this article about how “plank in the eye” it is for U.S. Americans to have strong reactions to the burning ofMoaz al-Kasasbeh (Jordanian fighter pilot) but continue to tell Black folks to “get over it” with lynchings and other horrific unimaginables that continue at home. While it would seem safe to condemn all violence and feel like we did the right thing, we have systemic and spiritual work to do that requires more.

What is the Spirit leading us to do as we live seemingly subjects in a individualized, violence loving, hypocritical society? I hope it doesn’t make our apathy stronger. I hope these words don’t just fuel your Notjesus. I find hope in MLK’s famous speech Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence. Rather than thinking about how to be Good Samaritans on the side of the road we have to address systemic issues to make the Jericho Road safer for travel so they are not at risk of being robbed and beaten. Comparing violent regimes seems like comparing blenders. Different. But basically they blend stuff.

For one thing, you are invited to come tomorrow night to process some of these issues with the Circle of Peacemakers. We’re bringing together four people from the community (Gwen White, Shane Claiborne, Scotty Krueger, and myself) who spent time in Iraq. Let’s humanize it all, not just war heroes. Let’s let the Spirit spiritualize it all, with inspiration and power to embody solutions.

 

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.

 

Three ways to turn up the Love during a violent week

On November 17, 1957 MLK was preaching in Montgomery [full text and lots of audio here] when he said “Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.” It’s actually pretty simple. I have a lot of feelings – some of which might be approaching hate and I need to check my heart.

I’m heavy today for Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, ISIS, and the United States. I am also feeling heavy about the situation around the violent conflict that put a gay couple in the hospital in Center City a two weeks ago. As I’ve been praying through (always wise) all the violence, I am trying to listen for God to direct me for how to respond rather than shoot from the hip all the time. Here are three things that I feel will turn up the love during a particularly violent week.

Turn up the good news, especially those that fly in the face of conventional hate.

One of my best friends leaves today on a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan. You may want to read more about what Peggy Gish (working there now with CPT) had to say about it last week in her blog about a step to coming up with new strategies is halting the old, dysfunctional ones. I tend to think most things in the media [whether intentional or not] pull Americans away from the super military waging war for the windfall of profits for transnational corporations. Like so many other empires, if we have enough food to survive and something to keep us entertained we’ll tacitly go along with the bigger plan.

When ISIS cuts off heads on camera or gets headlines from Austrailia to Indonesia to Algeria, the US ramps up fear which increases our tacit approval of this horrible war. When we turn up the good news, God can use us to assuage fear that keeps the violence cycle going. Come out on October 7 to make some good news in the face of Drone Warfare if you want to be with a bunch of Philadelphians trying to do the same thing.

Before you put someone on blast, consider whether you are actually as confident as you are about to sound. It’s easy and often cheap to make blanket statements, stereotypes, and colorful remarks to get people to “like” your passionate status before we understand what we’re really talking about. As someone whose attempts to make space for more dialogue and often is dips into the rhetorical, I need to watch my mouth – and it’s hard.

I feel fortunate that it wasn’t too long after I read the “Meet the Three Worst People in Philadelphia” blog that I saw a beautiful statement by the victims. For some it’s tempting to dehumanize the victims by not listening to them as people by not taking their ask seriously.

Thank you to the  community for their help and support, as well as the Detectives who did a great job gathering details,” they wrote. “We are thankful the DA is working so hard to make sure this doesn’t happen again in Philadelphia. Finally, we ask you to keep your comments regarding the suspects respectful and non-hateful. Please show your support for legislation change protecting the LGBT community this Thursday in LOVE Park at 2 p.m.

For others it’s tempting to dehumanize the perps in all sorts of ways, by doing so alleviating our responsibility to make a more whole community. You may want to join the throngs of posts commenting on their parents, Twitter feed, zip codes, or work history – as if we know them, don’t think they can get better, and don’t think we are anything like them. I really appreciate people for zooming out even through the pain. Besides having an occasion to update PA’s lack of “hate crime” distinction for future violence prevention, some people are even taking a societal sense of responsibility in their anger. On a Raging Chicken Press post, Debra Leigh Scott pleads that the “reality is that Kathryn Knott [one of the suspects] is OUR child. She is the poster child of the kind of people born and raised in America. Fired in the kiln of inequality, elitism, prejudice, consumerism and fear, she is just what America’s schools, media and values create.”

We need to make more love. MLK was working with some Jesus in Matthew 26 when he was preaching above. Like him, I don’t want to go out as a person to die by the sword – whether it a physical or metaphorical weapon. Living by the sword is confusingLike when my cell was talking about how confusing violence in the Middle East is for us, Scott shared this little gem.

We need more lovers and we need them to outlove the haters and transform the bystanders. We need lovers who will demonstrate to others what it means to be a lover. We need love to dismantle systemic injustice. We need love to make our communities whole. What do you think we can do to turn up the Love this week?

As I finish the 2nd steeping of pu-erh (that was love-ly at least), I’m about to go hug my family and take them to celebrate the compassionate work in our community. Come on by if you want to be with some lovers tonight.