I am not, obviously, the first person to ever poke holes in the idea that is the American Dream, but no matter how many times you have heard it before, no matter how many times you have heard it critiqued, I believe it bears repeating: the American Dream is bullshit. And it’s not bullshit so much because of its relative unlikelihood, but because it rests on the very idea that inequality is natural and good. You can, in America, come from nothing and gain everything—a fantastic idea if you think it is at all just that there would be people who have nothing. The Dream is premised on the idea that someone, somewhere, will always have so little that they must do more, must sacrifice their time, their body, their values, their self in order to achieve, in order to have more. And more is not always more, sometimes more is simply the basic means of survival. Most of the time.
“It’s not simply: better jails, better police, better training. It’s no police, it’s no jails, no prisons. It’s creating a new means of justice that’s not based on criminalization but based on affirmation and reparation, and by reparation that is trying to repair relationships that have been damaged and destroyed as a result of five centuries of warfare against Indigenous peoples, Africans, poor white people, Asian-Pacific Americans, and Latinx populations.”—Robin D.G. Kelly
Lent starts next week. A season to take spiritual inventory. To assess crucifying realities. To grieve. To confess our complicity. To rise up into newness of life. This year, the Lenten journey begins on Wednesday, February 17—four weeks into a new Presidential administration committed to “going back to normal.” This year, more than ever, Lent resists “normal.” Lent lifts up what Dr. King called a radical revolution of values. Protecting people over profit motives and property rights. Black people. Brown people. Indigenous people. Immigrant people. Poor people. We want nothing to do with a “normal” world of racism, materialism and militarism. Following Jesus of Nazareth, we are inaugurating a world that brings good news to the poor and proclaims release to the captives. We are rolling away the stone guarded by those who protect and serve empire.
In homage to Black History Month, I’m reposting this essay about one of my heroes Dr. Vincent Harding (1932-2014). This is slightly edited from the original which was written for “The Movement Makes Us Human”, Rock! Paper! Scissors!, Vol 1, No 1, edited by Joanna Shenk, 2018. A bit out of the beaten path of these essays, but revealing the roots of my own journey through this time.
We knew how blessed we were by the gifts of Vincent Harding as a historian, educator, and “veteran of hope.” Less known is the contribution Harding made to the development of the first generation of black theology.
Theologian Dwight Hopkins writes that Harding “has had a profound effect on the development of contemporary black theology in the United States, particularly the young black theology of the 1960s and early 1970s.” Harding’s essays in the mid-1960s preceded James Cone’s writings and described a religious spirit rooted in the beauty, horror, and creativity of the black experience. But Harding disavowed any formal interest in black liberation theology. “I’m much more interested,” Harding told Hopkins, “in the liberation of spirituality.” It’s the contribution of Vincent Harding to liberation spirituality that interests me here. [See Dwight Hopkins, Black Theology USA and South Africa: Politics, Culture, and Liberation, “Vincent Harding,” Wipf & Stock, 2005, pages 81-84].
By Lindsay Airey (right, on the banks of Nandewine Sippy)
You say I have a heart so big it needs its own moon to orbit around.
I say this heart of mine feels weary from carrying around so much weight it often feels like it will drown me.
You say what clarity you bring! What love and joy and challenge… How is it possible? In one being.
I say I am so tired… from being one being: feeling fire-tending raging weeping feeling it seeing it saying it wiping your tears building you up holding you up digging you out of the pit with all these hard-fought tears, and knowing.
From Jesmyn Ward in The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race (2016)
Though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black: no hands in your pockets, no playing music, no sudden movements, no driving your car, no walking at night, no walking in the day, no turning onto this street, no entering this building, no standing your ground, no standing here, no standing there, no talking back, no playing with toy guns, no living while black.
Happy Birthday to Ched Myers! Today, we honor this cherished mentor and elder with an excerpt from Binding the Strong Man, Uncle Ched’s groundbreaking political reading of Mark’s Gospel. Written in the late 80s. More relevant than ever!
The radical discipleship movement today is beleaguered and weary. So many of our communities, which struggled so hard to integrate the pastoral and prophetic, the personal and the political, resistance and contemplation, work and recreation, love and justice, are disintegrating. The powerful centrifugal forces of personal and social alienation tear us apart; the “gravity” exerted by imperial culture’s seductions, deadly mediocrities, and deadly codes of conformity pull our aspirations plummeting down. Our economic and political efforts are similarly besieged. The ability of metropolis to either crush or co-opt movements of dissent seems inexhaustible.
By Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, Senior Minister, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and Director and Chief Visionary, Faith Strategies, LLC
In my ministry in the 1980s in Roxbury, Massachusetts with the recovering community from drug addiction, I encountered one of our struggling addicts and his spouse. He had been using though he was supposed to be in recovery. I shall never forget his explanation of his struggle to remain clean. He said when questioned by me, that I did not understand, his “relapses were getting shorter and his recoveries were getting longer!” His spouse agreed with that reasoned explanation, though I realized his con, but unfortunately his spouse enabled his addictive behavior until he died of an overdose. This was a poignant lesson for me. I see in this lesson how we may enable destructive behavior seeking and hoping that the reasoning and rationalization is true. The rationalization deters us from confronting the real issues where the so-called recovering addict was not recovering, but the avoidance of the issue and the realities would offer some comfort even while eventually leading to death.
As I see it, the United States is in the same boat as the recovering addict. The nation claims to be dealing with its problem of racism, white supremacy, and white idolatry, or claims at times that it has dealt with its problem, rationalizing the progress, when the progress is strained if at all existent. Our behavior as a nation has not changed, and we rationalize our race problems, and pretend that what exists does not exist, and that before long we will be cured. This is how racism and white supremacy remain a persistent disease in the country, and after more than 400 years have not been dealt with, and we continue to claim that our “recoveries are getting longer” and our “relapses are getting shorter,” but the problems of racism and white supremacy remain a fixed reality as most of America delude itself believing that we as a nation is getting better.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . . and learn war no more.
My arm aches.
It’s the second day at the forge, and the sound of hammers and the fumes of coal smoke surround me as my classmates work on their own projects. I pull out what I’ve prepared for today: the barrel of my 9mm handgun, inexpertly cut from the rest of the gun which now sits useless at home.