The Absentee Landlord

By Greg Jarrell, re-posted with permission from his website (July 29, 2021). A sermon on Psalm 118 and Mark 12:1-12.

In January of 1960, Martin Waters of Waters Insurance and Realty stood before the Charlotte City Council to make one last plea to stop Urban Renewal. The council was set to vote that night, after a decade of starts and stops, to formally adopt the recommendations of the Charlotte Redevelopment Commission and to submit their final plans to the federal Urban Renewal Administration. The council planned to seize and destroy the Brooklyn neighborhood, a historic Black neighborhood that had been, for decades, one site of Black thriving and creativity in Charlotte. It had also been subjected to the long siege of Jim Crow policies. The vote in council chambers seemed like just a formal step, a foregone conclusion, but several people stood to speak in protest anyway.

They weren’t the first to lodge a protest. The local NAACP chapter in 1950, under the leadership of Kelly Alexander, Sr., had pushed a 10-point plan to remake Black neighborhoods in Charlotte. That plan argued for basic infrastructure, and for the elimination of exploitative landlording relationships that caused untenable living conditions for many tenants. Accomplishing even half of the NAACP’s plan would have radically altered the shape of those neighborhoods, including the Brooklyn neighborhood that in 1960 was in the crosshairs of the Redevelopment Commission. The NAACP plan might have eliminated the possibility of Urban Renewal a decade later by making it far more difficult for local white leaders to declare the area a “slum” and schedule it for demolition. (Doubting the tenacity of Charlotte’s elite in following through on a land grab might be a mistake, though.) Charlotte’s public and civic leaders ignored Alexander and the NAACP. And, landowners in Brooklyn – 90% or more of whom were white – went on ignoring the eroding conditions of their rental properties, though never ignoring the rent.

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Your Integrity is not Flammable

By Nichola Torbett, a sermon re-posted from her blog The Longing is the Compass

I am grateful to Marvin K. White and the members of Glide Memorial Church for inviting me to bring this word on Sunday, July 25, 2021. The focus scripture is Daniel 3. If you prefer, you can watch the video here, following a short introduction from Marvin.

There is a part of you that can never be taken from you, cannot be sullied, cannot be co-opted, cannot be killed. This part of you is something I will call your integrity. It is made up of who you are created to be, the people you come from, the web of life that has sustained you all these years. Your integrity is your umbilical cord connecting you to the source of all the love in the universe. And that connection can never ever be severed. It CAN be ignored. It can be buried. You can try to walk away from it, but it will never actually leave you. Your integrity is not flammable.

Let me tell you a story.

Once, not so very long ago, there were three young people. History has assigned them he/him pronouns, but I don’t think history ever asked them about that, so we will call them by their names. Except that their real names have been lost. You see, these youngsters…their people had been overrun by a mighty and land-hungry empire, and the most promising young people, including our subjects here, were taken away as prisoners of war, seized from their families and communities and brought to the emperor’s court, where they were “educated,” “civilized” if you will. As part of this process, these young people were given new names, names from the imperial language, names that maybe were easier for their captors to pronounce, names that made more sense to the good citizens of the empire. How many know that naming is power? Our friends’ new names were Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego. 

And they were smart and talented kids, so the functionaries of the land groomed them for leadership—within the very empire that had ripped their lives apart. This is what empires do—they offer us secure roles n exchange for our loyalty to the regime. 

Anyway, around this time, the emperor fashioned for himself a god, a golden statue just outside the courtly walls. I don’t know the name of this god, but it might have been named The Economy, or Profit Margin, or Respectability,, or Social Status, or Whiteness, or Buy Now Before This Deal Gets Away—something like that. And then the emperor issued a decree to all those who kept the empire running—the judges and lawyers, the doctors and nurses, the teachers and nonprofit directors, the pastors and the Amazon warehouse workers. “Henceforth,” he said, because he liked to use fancy words like that, “whenever you hear the sound of the advertising jingle, the cash register, the Venmo app, the police siren, the national anthem, the text notification, or the ice cream truck, you will bow down and worship the god of the empire, and whoever does not bow down and worship will be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.

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The Logic of the Cross

By Tommy Airey, re-posted from Easy Yolk

On the cross, Jesus cried out in Aramaic, his native tongue, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabbachthani. Many who overheard it thought he was calling out for the prophet Elijah. He was actually quoting Psalm 22 from the Hebrew Bible: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? I learned in seminary that in the Jewish tradition, when folks quote the first verse of a Psalm, they are not sound-biting, but referencing the entire chapter. The next line of Psalm 22 goes like this: Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? Jesus’ higher Power was a Sabbath God who shows up in the text hearing and responding to the groans of those oppressed and impoverished by the policies of Solomon.

In Genesis, it was the blood of murdered Abel. In Exodus, it was the Israelites groaning under slavery to Pharoah. In the Psalms and Prophets, the sighs and cries consistently come before the One who hears. In James, it was the unpaid wages of the day laborers crying out. In Romans, all of creation is groaning with labor pains, longing to be released from bondage, and the text says that, in our weakness, we do not know what to say in our prayers—but the Breath of God intercedes for us with groans that go beyond our glossary.

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If It Ain’t Subversive

From the prophetic imagination of Mark Van Steenwyk, re-posted from social media (July 12, 2021).

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” – attributed to Meister Eckhart

“If your only action is a ‘fuck you’ to the oppressive system, it is enough.” – Meister Van Steenwyk

* * *

When I say things like this, folks think I’m being needlessly provocative. I am quite serious. And while I affirm the insights of the former, I find the neoliberal spirituality scene’s inability to affirm the latter deeply upsetting.

Usually, white contemplative folks try to disarm the most challenging liberationist stuff by foolishly calling it “dualistic” as though there is a unique property of white middle class consciousness that is able to see the unity of all things without challenging the political and economic foundations of dominating society.

If it ain’t subversive, it ain’t the Spirit.

We are Saved in Wonder

Today, we celebrate the 200th episode of “The Word is Resistance,” a SURJ-Faith podcast. This is an excerpt from the transcript, words from Nichola Torbett. Click here to listen to the full episode: Justice and Peace Shall Kiss.

Now, I am grateful to my Jewish cantor friend, Shira Stanford-Asiyo, who taught me that “fearing God” in Hebrew actually means something more like “standing in awe before God” (or sitting or lying down in awe, if that’s what your body can do). In other words, we are saved in awe. We are saved in wonder. We are saved as we orient ourselves in grateful relationship to God and to the redwood tree and the dung beetle and the Milky Way, and every single person alive, including people we can’t see because they are incarcerated, they are in immigrant detention, they are living under the freeway, or they are on the other side of some border wall; we come to know ourselves in relationship to all of these.  We are saved as we feel deep in our bones, simultaneously how tiny we are, relative to this swirling starscape, and how beloved we are, all of us, by the Creator of all of it. There is no way to hold onto supremacy thinking in the face of all this. We come to realize that we know only a little, only what we can see from this tiny spot where we sit. We are saved in humility, the earthy cousin of awe. “Salvation is at hand for those who are in awe.”

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Literally Being Unearthed

By Nick Estes, re-posted from his brilliant piece in The Guardian (June 30, 2021).

There is so much mourning Native people have yet to do. The full magnitude of Native suffering has yet to be entirely understood, especially when it comes to the nightmarish legacies of American Indian boarding schools. The purpose of the schools was “civilization”, but, as I have written elsewhere, boarding schools served to provide access to Native land, by breaking up Native families and holding children hostage so their nations would cede more territory. And one of the primary benefactors of the boarding school system is the Catholic church, which is today the world’s largest non-governmental landowner, with roughly 177 million acres of property throughout the globe. Part of the evidence of how exactly the church acquired its wealth in North America is literally being unearthed, and it exists in stories of the Native children whose lives it stole, which includes my own family. Click here to read the rest.

The Tale of Two Women: The Priority of the Marginalized

By Ched Myers, for the 5th Sunday of Pentecost (Mk 5:21-43) 

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. 

In Mark’s tale of the Gerasene Demoniac (Mk 5:1-20), Jesus brings dramatic liberation to a man “occupied” by the spirit of Legion (i.e. Roman imperialism) on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee. Frustratingly, this powerful story is again deftly avoided by the Revised Common Lectionary (but you can read my comments on it here in “Sea-Changes: Re-Imagining Exodus Liberation as an ‘Exorcism’ of Imperial Militarism” in Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness and Resistance, edited by Naim Ateek et al, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center)Jesus then returns across the sea to “Jewish” territory (5:21), where the next episode dramatizes how the poor were given priority in the ministry of Jesus. Mark 5:22-43 is yet another example of “sandwich-construction,” which wraps a story within a story in order to compel the reader to interrelate the two. The setting of the first half of this narrative sequence seems to be the “crowd” itself (5:21,24,27,31). Jesus is approached by a synagogue ruler who appeals on behalf of his daughter, who he believes to be “at the point of death” (5:23). Jesus departs with him on this mission, and we fully expect this transaction will be completed. On his way, however, Jesus is hemmed in by the crowds (5:24).

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