A Thorn in the Flesh

By Bayo Akomolafe, originally posted to Facebook (November 13, 2021)

I learned this morning about what some news outlets – referring to the stubborn persistence of the coronavirus despite the exertions of the global nation-state order, the pharmaceutical complex, and our increasingly medicalized lives – are haltingly calling “the fifth wave.” Time Magazine asks, “Is the Fifth Wave Coming?” (https://time.com/6117006/covid-19-fifth-wave/). USA Today, through its interviewed experts, writes – as if in response: Yes, and “we may simply come to call it winter.” From France to Pakistan, numbers are creeping up, new mutations are on the horizon, and worried officials with wrinkled foreheads are declaring that the virus is here to stay – no matter what we do.

Reading these reports, I was reminded of those biblical passages I was hunched over as an obsessed teenager – the letters of Paul, undulating prose cross-textured with a messianic lilt and soft humble whispers of self-deprecating awareness. I once delighted in reading the nomadic evangelist’s notes – often under warm candlelight, and was struck by the similar undertones of pathos and lamentation that entangles his letters to the Corinthians with this morning’s pandemic news. In particular, Paul’s passage about the “thorn in the flesh” came to mind:

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Bodies Rest on This

Alanah Jewell & Luke Swinson, Detail of “Revival,” 2021, Digital Illustration, 11 x 14 inches.

By Fran Westwood. First published in Geez 62: Dismantling White Theology.

Outside in the street someone’s grandfather stoops,
sweat beads home to road dust. A bent hanger
rusted. Only a handful of bread. These mornings
not yet countries of belonging & from our apartment balcony

a survey of fraught provinces & city lines. The waters surrounding,
a borderlands. My people, we traffic in hunger: we know

& know & feast on knowing
& do not walk with, toward healing. I am still crossing

this street. Which is to say I weep for the living
as for the dead. Which is to say I have a thousand grandfathers

& they elder the streets, scattering bread for the bird – O ears,
bow. Seek what cannot be conjured. Only birthed

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John Brown Broke Rank

By Tommy Airey, re-posted from social media and his blog Easy Yolk

For centuries, white people from lower economic classes have been hired as police patrol by the white ruling class. White folks have been given guns and badges to exercise unlimited force on enslaved people, poor people of color and dark-skinned immigrant labor. This power is so intoxicating that white people consistently choose to police vulnerable people instead of finding solidarity with them in a common struggle against wealthy white exploiters. Sure, Kyle Rittenhouse shot white protestors. But his mother drove him to Kenosha to police people of color—and protect wealthier white people and their property. Policing people of color remains common practice in classrooms, curriculums, churches, stores and neighborhoods, where white people do not necessarily need guns and badges to demand “others” know their place.  

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I Would Just Ask People to Challenge Those Paradigms

By Cristina Yurena Zerr, an interview with Jessica Reznicek

“I need to believe that I will continue to contribute making this world a better place, no matter where I am.”

The U.S. climate activist Jessica Reznicek was sentenced to 8 years of prison for her protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. On August 13th she reported to prison in Wascea, Minnesota. In this interview, Jessica Reznicek shares how her Christian faith relates to her commitment to fighting injustice and violence.

What is your relationship to nature?

I grew up in close contact to nature: the river, the trees, the woods. I feel like that really helped to define what became a priority later in life.

My relationship with water in particular was very pronounced. We could swim in the water. There was no concern about health consequences at that time. But it is my understanding that we have mistreated my mother, our mother, in such severe ways that I grieve that deeply.

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Saved by Deathless Love

By Johari Jabir

Your ticket you must buy
No place for your soul to hide
You’ll be lost if you wait outside
You must be born again

“You Must Be Born Again,” As sung by Mahalia Jackson

But if one is to truly be born again
You would have to gouge out your eyes,
Cut out your tongue,
And grieve like a baby
That’s been snatched away

“Akel Dama” (Field of Blood), Me’Shell Ndegeocello

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

The cornerstone of the Christian Church is founded on the premise that the suffering, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the door to the abundant life. Yet, the institutional Church in the United States has done everything in its power to avoid dying to new life. Some of the most important turning points in American democracy have taken place in response to Black social movements. Born out of Black labor organizing, these social movements have, at times, aligned with strains of the Black church to move the country to a critical crossroads. At such moments of social transformation, a conservative political block within the White Christian Church has succeeded in mobilizing fear against faith.

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The End of the World

Arch of TitusBy Ched Myers, for the 25th Sunday in Pentecost (Mark 13:1-8)

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

The final two Sundays in Ordinary Time and the first two Sundays in Advent comprise what I call the “apocalyptic season of turning” in our church calendar. Traditionally the gospel readings speak of the end of the “old order” and the coming of a new world anticipated in Christ. This is appropriate not only as a transition into a new liturgical year and lectionary cycle, but also as a reminder that “in Christ there is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” (II Cor 5:17).
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A Liturgy for Removing the Flag from your Sanctuary

Konrad Summers CC, “Countries of the Cross,” Santa Clarita, California, 2008.

By Kerr Mesner, Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, and Kateri Boucher. First published in Geez 62: Dismantling White Theology.

May this symbolic action catalyze us into ever-deeper action to remove the nationalism and white supremacy still living in our communities and our world.

We hope that this liturgy can be used in both Canada and the United States (and indeed anywhere else), but we know that the histories and symbols are unique. Let this be an offering that can be edited, amended, altered, and made stronger in your own beloved community.

OPENING PRAYER
We gather in this sacred place,
declaring that symbols matter.
They reflect our dreams, our joy,
our courage, and our work.

We have come here today to remove
the flag from our worship space.
It is time. It is past time
to say that nationalism has
no place in our church.
Our allegiance belongs to God.

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White Folks: We Love Racists. When We Accept This, We Can Fight White Supremacy.

By Rev. Margaret Ernst

Waking up on the day after Election Day, 2021 I searched for news from Buffalo, Virginia, New Jersey, Minneapolis and other places where municipal and gubernatorial elections became litmus tests for the realities of our present political landscape. I braced myself when a Buffalo-based friend who has been organizing for India Walton, told me that it looked as if Byron Brown was winning his write-in campaign for mayor after losing the primary. Ms. Walton is a Black woman progressive fighting for the working class, and Brown was a former mayor for 16 years, and his campaign this time around was financed by white supremacists alongside business and developers. This strategy by the Right, to play on local white anxieties while playing a complex game of identity politics by fielding their own Black candidate, worked: Brown won.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Democrats across the country reeled as Republican Glenn Youngkin beat incumbent Terry McAulliffe, and New Jersey voters kept Democrat Phil Murphy in office by just a hair over Republican Jack Ciattarelli. 

Unsurprisingly, I am seeing glum posts from progressive friends and people invested in the Democratic party across the country, and valid concerns about what yesterday’s results mean for the 2022 primaries, especially while the fossil fuel industry and other monied interests keep stalling desperately needed action for climate and care in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

I am writing this from my office as a pastor of a small-town church in mostly-rural Berks County, Pennsylvania, a county which is always a swing in Presidential elections highly sought after by both parties, and where the fall leaves are turning ever more golden every time I make my commute in from where I presently live in Philadelphia. 

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The Widow’s Mite: Commendation or Condemnation?

WidowBy Ched Myers, for the 23rd Sunday of Pentecost (Mark 12:28-13:2)

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

Special Note From Ched: I apologize for conflating my comments posted last week, in which I treated BOTH Mk 12:28-34 (this last Sunday’s gospel) AND 12:38-44 (this coming Sunday’s gospel), with a heavy emphasis on the latter. Hopefully most of you focused on All Saints themes last Sunday and weren’t disoriented or disappointed. I was traveling and dispatched the blog with too much haste! RD.net is reposting last week’s blog to be of use to those preaching or teaching on this coming Sunday’s reading, which is indeed the story of the “Widow’s Mite.” Sorry for any confusion, and for giving short shrift to last Sunday’s gospel. Thanks for following this series, which now heads into its last few weeks.
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The lectionary leaps ahead this Sunday (which is also All Saints Day), moving to the concluding episode of Mark’s Jerusalem conflict narrative (chapters 11 and 12), in which Jesus clashes with every authority group in the capital city. In this week’s reading it is the scribes, the arch opponents of Jesus. The sequence begins with their challenge to interpret the great commandment, which was a central debating point among the rabbis (12:28). Jesus knows that the “orthodox” answer is the Shema (12:29f; see Dt 6:4), but pointedly attaches to it a citation from the Levitical code of justice, implying that to love God is to refuse to exploit one’s neighbor (12:31; see Lev 19:9-17).
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