God’s Been Framed

By Nichola Torbett

This sermon was preached Sunday, June 6, 2021–the first Sunday of Queer Liberation Month–at First Congregational Church of Oakland. The focus scripture is Genesis 3: 8-15. You can also watch a video of the sermon here.

The scripture you just heard about Adam, Eve, and the snake is an origin story, and like all stories we tell about ourselves, it has been crafted to make us look a certain way. But before we get into that, I’m hoping that, no matter how you have thought about this dusty old story in the past, you can hear it afresh this morning.

And this time, I hope you can feel the cool of the evening breeze and hear the way it stirs the leaves on the trees and wafts the seeds to the ground to foment more life. I hope you can smell the flowers that have grown from the processed food of the worms and hear the buzz of the drowsy bees as they fertilize their last fruit of the night. This time I hope you notice the way the trees sigh out oxygen that the lions and lambs and hiding humans breath in, and the way the Egyptian plover cleans the teeth of the dozing crocodile, the way all of it works together. I hope you can feel the way the garden grows pregnant with presence as God moves in and that you can sense the yearning in God’s voice as God calls out “Where are you? Where are you?”

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Now Let Us Sing!

By Johari Jabir, Juneteenth 2021, originally posted on University of Chicago Divinity School’s Sightings website (June 17, 2021)

Now let us sing
Sing til the power of the Lord come down
Lift up your heads, don’t be afraid
Now let us sing til the power of the Lord come down.
(Gospel Song)

June 19, 2021 marks the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, the celebration enacted by formerly enslaved Africans who received official word of Emancipation on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas.  Juneteenth combines June 19th, the empirical date of the announcement of emancipation with the “Day of Jubilee” from the Jewish Calendar. This significant reference to Jewish calendar has its roots in the ingenuity of enslaved Africans. Letting the soul journey into that sacred temporality where past, present, and future come together to form a Divine Diasporic sense of time, I connect this early history of how enslaved Africans drew inspiration from the children of Israel to the troubled but valuable Black/Jewish struggles of solidarity in the twentieth century.

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A Storm Blowing From Paradise…

By Ched Myers (4 Pentecost: MK 4:35-41)

Note: This is an ongoing series, re-posting Ched’s brief comments from 2015 on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B.

This Sunday’s gospel text is the poignant story of Jesus and his disciples caught in a storm at sea, which threatens to drown them. It is a profound, archetypal scenario that Mark narrates twice (again in 6:45-52). Because today is the day that Pope Francis’ historic encyclical on climate crisis is being published, I will focus on how this appeal addresses the storm that is Climate Catastrophe. A month from now I will return to Mark’s sea stories for Pentecost 8 (on which day the Lectionary inexplicably hops over the second boat journey in its piecemeal gospel selection, which we’ll rectify!).

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She Wove Us Together

Linda Marie Thurston, August 7 1958 to May 23, 2021. Re-posted from her obituary site.

Linda Marie Thurston, who spent a lifetime forging connections between and among people, organizations, and ideas in peace and justice movements, passed away in her Brooklyn, NY home due to natural causes. She was 62 years young.

Linda was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on August 7, 1958, the oldest child of James Thurston Sr. and Barbara Thurston (née Oliver). She attended Classical High School and excelled academically, where, as she liked to tell it, a bet between guidance counselors led to Linda applying and being accepted to Harvard University. Linda graduated from Harvard in 1980 with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology where she was a student organizer against South African apartheid and was the president of the Black Community and Student Theater. After working for some years at the American Friends Service Committee, Linda took time out to attend grad school at Temple University where she obtained an M.A. in Sociology in 1994. 

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This is Not News

A re-post from Shelagh Rogers (Facebook, June 6, 2021), who helped facilitate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada in 2015.

When we learned about the 215 Indigenous children buried on the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School while in the care of Catholic clergy who ran the school, the Prime Minister shared this tweet:

“The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you.”

I want to parse the tweet out a little.

May I start with “The news”? I don’t understand how could this be news when a whole volume of the TRC report (V.4, 266 pages) is dedicated to children who did not come home? That volume is titled “Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials”. Have you read it, Prime Minister? It’s been out for 5 and 1/2 years. Is it required reading for all your ministers? I was there in December of 2015 when the full 6 volume TRC report was presented to you, Prime Minister. I was in the company of fellow TRC honorary witnesses from Coast Salish territory, Andrea Walsh and Chief Bobby Joseph.

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Sowing Hope

By Ched Myers, for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Mark 4:26-34)

Note: This is an ongoing series of re-posts of Ched’s brief comments from 2015 on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B.

This week the lectionary gives us the last third of Jesus’ parables sermon (hopping over the famous parable of the Sower and its allegorical interpretation, Mk 4:2-23). This section begins with a sober warning:

And he said to them, “Take heed what you hear: ‘The measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away’.” (Mk 4:24-25)

Mark’s Jesus cautions his audience to “beware” of the anti-Jubilary ideologies they hear from elites, which counsel resignation in the face of injustice (4:23). The assertion that the gulf between haves and have-nots will inevitably grow was the “realism” advanced by wealthy landowners to justify their privilege (4:24). These two verses are omitted by the lectionary portion, but in fact are the point to which the next two parables serve as radical counterpoint, as Jesus repudiates such rationalizations of economic stratification (in the spirit of another parable-spinner, Ezekiel, see Ez 18:1-9).

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The Dance with our DNA

Image credit: Angelica Frausto, “My Ancestors Hold Me”, 2020, digital, 13 in x 13 in.

By Naomi Ortiz, published in Geez magazine’s Signs of Dawn

As a mixed person with Indigenous, Latinx, and white heritage, I’ve become practised at acknowledging the historical complexities that live within my own body.

I came to doing ancestral work not because I had access to information through websites or even family stories, but because I felt responsibility to legacies that live on in my body. I am aware that violence got me here as much as love. Ancestral work is an invitation to the in-between.

Sitting on the side of the road at the edge of the desert, I look up into a mountain ridge full of Palo Verdes, Ocotillos, Jojoba bushes, and Saguaros. Intuitively, I know if I could see my ancestors and their numbers, they would stretch like this desert plant life as far as I could see.

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White Evangelical Racism

An excerpt from an interview with Anthea Butler, the author of the new release White Evangelical Racism. The full interview with Eric Miller at Religion and Politics can be read here.

I chose this title because I wanted to set certain parameters for the book. I specified white evangelicals to show that I’m using the term in the way that it is used colloquially by the media and the political pundits, rather than in some academic sense. That popular understanding of evangelical can be traced to self-identification, to the demographic of white, Christian conservatives who consider themselves evangelical. And I included racism because it is a very particular type of racism that I am discussing. That is, the racism that hides behind “moral” issues.

I address these questions at some length in the book, exploring how the meaning of evangelicalism has changed over time, and recognizing that there are a lot of people out there who don’t realize they’re in this thing because their self-concept leans heavily on theological considerations, allowing them to pretend that they’re not political. But nobody cares about your commitment to the Bebbington Quadrilateral when you’re arguing about the Supreme Court or judges or abortion. They care about how your belief informs your politics, which candidates you vote for, and what they stand for. So I wanted to pull evangelicals out of this safe little realm in which they’ve placed themselves and press them to confront how other people see them.

Binding the Strong Man: Jesus’ Master Metaphor

By Ched Myers, for the 2nd Sunday of Pentecost (Mk 3:20-35)

Note: This is re-posted from a series of Ched’s brief comments in 2015 on the Markan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year B.

The first major narrative cycle in Mark’s gospel (1:16-3:6) ends with Jesus’ rejection by the authorities in a Capernaum synagogue. The following episodes serve to regenerate the story by a withdrawal and summary scene (3:7-12) and then by a reconsolidation moment (3:13-19a). The latter mountaintop scene boldly re-contextualizes two of the most revered traditions of Israel: God’s covenant with Moses on Sinai, and Moses’ founding of the free tribal confederacy in the wilderness. Jesus, who has taken the torch from the prophets, prepares to pass it on to twelve disciples he has called, named, and commissioned to proclaim, heal and exorcize (3:14f). Shortly they will be sent out to practice this charge – a second regenerative episode that follows upon another synagogue rejection (6:1-13).

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