Let’s un-domesticate the MLK holiday

It wasn’t until the year 2000 that all 50 states officially observed MLK Day. Ronny Reagan went down as the President signing the idea into a law in 1983 (first observed in 1986) after half a million people marched on Washington – even though the first draft of the bill was submitted to Congress four days after his assassination in 1968. I think in some ways it’s still a bit ironic for the US (of all countries) to celebrate such a radical who might be best remembered for galvanizing and leading a movement fighting systemic injustice waged by the same, largely unmoved government. The cunning empire, of course, loves to embrace a sentimental and sanitized version – and why not throw an American flag in there, too? 

For many of you reading this, the years I already mentioned may seem like ancient history – or at least during a different world. It wasn’t for another dozen years after his speech at Riverside Church in NYC 365 days before his murder that King delivered the famous “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech (text and audio here). Among other profundities, he declared “Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

I didn’t know Martin and know very few people who ever even met him. For such a public figure, for a martyr, for a legacy – I think we need to keep learning and trying to finish the work King began. This year we should be celebrating his 86th birthday. Instead we are fighting to supply meaning to a holiday that the state would like us to believe is a marker of progress. I am psyched that a bunch of Circle of Hope leaders – particularly Sara and the rest of the Compassion Core –  are trying to make something special of it this year. Here are three ways to get into it.

Prayer

Don’t pretend for a second that the man and the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s were not soaking in prayer or centered on Jesus. We already have ten people signed up to keep it going for 24hrs on the holiday. Want to add to the growing list? Sign up here.

Solidarity

It’s easier to remember quotes from speeches than it is to march. There are already almost 1,000 FB users RSVP’d to get out to the MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment March (press release for non FB users here). I think ending “stop & frisk,” a $15 minimum wage, and fully funded and democratically run school systems are all good enough reasons to shut down Broad St then Market streets for a few hours. Don’t you?

Imagining

We schedule 60min per month for the Leadership Team and others interested to stoke our collective fire at the Imaginarium. This time we’re finalizing Circle of Hope’s 2015 Map. Action, Resistance, and Empowerment must extend beyond one day. I think being part of the church is a great way to keep it going.

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.

 

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.

a yard with weeds is a yard, indeed

I never feel like cleaning my back yard.  It’s not usually that fun.  Especially on days like today, when I came home last night with quite a bit of anxiety.  When I get jammed up, I usually start believing that there are these big, scary things that are what is causing the anxiety…kind of like the overgrown monster-like clouds of bushes and weeds.

I feel overgrown.  I feel overtaken.  I feel out of control.  I feel the anxiety.

When I actually make the time to let God in there-he leads me to slowly pull away the little junk that is connecting all these great plants (which makes them seem junky to me).  He leads me to get a trim.  He leads me to kill the poison ivy, he leads me to whack weeds and fight back the weird weed-trees that grow berries.

You may not be able to tell the difference below, but it feels a lot different to me.  Even the prayerful act of clearing out this junk helped a lot.  The dying poison ivy in life isn’t all gone just yet, and there are still weed-trees trying to overtake the yard…but it’s enough for today.