Love

From James Baldwin in The Fire Next Time.

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth

True Self-Fulfillment

By Maki Ashe Van Steenwyk, director of the Center for Prophetic Imagination (please consider making an end-of-the-year donation to this compelling organization doing the work of radical discipleship)

You’re under no obligation, whatsoever, to maintain relationships with people who treat you dismissively or disrespectfully.

This idea that you need to embrace self-diminishment in a way that shows love or compassion or empathy towards others is toxic.

Christian folks in particular seems to misunderstand Jesus’ admonition to “take up your cross.” The idea that your deepest fulfilment is at odds with love and liberation of others is false.

Self-fulfillment in a capitalist way is a lie. But true self-fulfillment is bound up in collective liberation.

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:

Continue reading “A Thorn in the Flesh”

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.  

Continue reading “John Brown Broke Rank”

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.

Continue reading “I Would Just Ask People to Challenge Those Paradigms”

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.

Continue reading “Saved by Deathless Love”

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. 

Continue reading “White Folks: We Love Racists. When We Accept This, We Can Fight White Supremacy.”

Bound

By Tommy Airey

“The possessive investment in whiteness can’t be rectified by learning ‘how to be more antiracist.’ It requires a radical divestment in the project of whiteness and a redistribution of wealth and resources. It requires abolition, the abolition of the carceral world, the abolition of capitalism. What is required is a remaking of the social order, and nothing short of that is going to make a difference.”—Saidiya Hartmann

Fifty years before George Floyd moved to Minneapolis, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got arrested in Birmingham. Dr. King, whose national holiday we now celebrate every January, was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. However, like love itself, Dr. King has been sanitized. White folks and middle-class people have molded him into a meek and mild Black man devoted to a watered-down dream of politeness and patriotism. The real MLK took his cues from a bold biblical brand of love that beckoned him to break rank from a cozy and counterfeit middle-class life built on injustice and oppression.

During his short life, Dr. King was arrested 19 times—the same number of trips that Harriet Tubman made back to the South after she escaped to freedom. While King was in that Birmingham jail cell, he wrote a long letter to white pastors on the margins of a newspaper and smuggled it out to get it published. It is one of the greatest documents ever produced in American history. In it, Dr. King articulated a profound spiritual conviction that serves as the basis for a biblical conspiracy—a life built on belovedness and belongingness.

Continue reading “Bound”

No Comfort For the Afflicted?

This excerpt is the conclusion of Bruce Rogers-Vaughn’s brilliant Bias Magazine essay “No Comfort for the Afflicted?,” a response to a piece published in The Christian Century written by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon

In effect, this dialogue between two white men sets a low bar for the pastoral care that is so badly needed today. Hauerwas concludes: “If in a hundred years Christians are identified as people who do not kill their children or the elderly, we will have done well in our pastoral care.” Really? I can only assume that such a statement is intended to shock rather than be taken seriously. And when he adds: “Words like care, love, and compassion can be self-deceptive when not disciplined and driven by our theological commitments,” I have to wonder if behind the theological commitments to which he alludes lurks the image of a muscular Jesus who kicks asses and takes names. As historian Kristin Du Mez has documented, we have had enough of that Jesus already.

Finally, I question the location and timeliness of this anti-empathy diatribe, appearing as it does in the middle of a global pandemic, in the context of political chaos, in the shadow of a rejuvenated white supremacy and emboldened patriarchy, record-breaking economic inequality, and a withering level of empathy in our society—especially toward those we perceive as different or foreign. What we need is more pastoral care, not less; more empathy, not less. To an overwhelming degree, pain in our world has little or nothing to do with narcissistic self-indulgence, or wallowing in victimhood. The outliers who appear masochistically attached to their pain are not typically catered to or coddled, as Hauerwas and Willimon insinuate. Rather, they are easy targets for discipline, punishment, blame, and shame. Pain is not primarily a plea for attention. It is a cry for connection in the midst of alienation, for justice where there is none, for love where apathy and hate prevail.

Continue reading “No Comfort For the Afflicted?”

The Gospel According to Rizpah

A sermon from Dr. Wil Gafney (right), October 17, 2021) on 2 Samuel 21:1-14; Psalm 58; Revelation 6:9-11; Luke 6:43-45

*Re-posted from Dr. Gafney’s website. Click here to watch or listen to the video.

Yesterday, we talked about the women’s stories in scripture that we do and do not hear taught and preached. Sometimes we don’t hear stories of women because their pieces are scattered like breadcrumbs throughout the scriptures and it takes a major archaeological excavation to gather all of those pieces together and far too many preachers say, “ain’t nobody got time for that.” Well, I got time today.

Let us pray: May the preached word draw you deeper into the written word and kindle in you the matchless love of the incarnate word. Amen.

Before the mothers of the Black Lives Matter movement, there was Rizpah. Before the mothers of women and men and children swinging in the southern breeze as strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees, there was Rizpah. Before the mothers of the Maafa, the African-Atlantic holocaust, there was Rizpah.

Continue reading “The Gospel According to Rizpah”