Reading the Torah towards Liberation

Melad Jajou, “The Re-Creation of Adam,” July 2021, Gouache and Prismacolour on Mylar, 13.25 x 7.5 inches.

By Kendra Watkins. First published in Geez 62: Dismantling White Theology.

Twice a week, my chevruta (learning partner) and I, both of us Black, Trans Jews, spend a few hours working our way through a page of Talmud, word by word.

Between the dictionaries and notebooks stacked up beside us, we catch a glimpse of the future, a shared vision in which we, and our people, are free.

Talmud plays a central role in my life, and the chevruta relationship is vital to studying as a practice. We learn from each other, witness each other’s brilliance, hold each other accountable, and offer each other a soft place to land when the text (and the world it represents) hurts. Together we can reach backwards into our tradition to find tools and strategies, and practice the love and care it takes to move us towards a world liberated from anti-Blackness and transphobia. We know that when we bring ourselves to meet each other and the rabbis in any given text, we aren’t passively receiving a set of laws; far from it. We receive the offerings of our ancestors and offer parts of ourselves in turn, and we are both changed because of it.

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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

Anchoring the Gospel Story in the Real World

JordanBy Ched Myers, the co-director of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (if you’ve been inspired and challenged by Ched’s posts this year following the lectionary, consider making an end-of-the-year donation to BCM, day in and day out, doing the work of radical discipleship)

Note: This is reposted from Ched’s occasional comments on the Lukan gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during year C, 2015-16.  

The second and third Sundays of Advent focus on the ministry of John the Baptist, first locating him in the wilderness (2. Advent), then focusing in on his prophetic message (3. Advent). Following on his infancy (and young childhood) narrative about Jesus, Luke commences the gospel story proper. More than the other N.T. evangelist, Luke anchors his story in real political space, signaling that we ought not be afraid to do the same.
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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.

“An Act of Prayer:” Dorothy Day’s Influence on Daniel Berrigan (and Even Vice Versa)

For the anniversary of her passing, (November 29)

Bill Wylie-Kellermann

(Reprinted from A Common Reader, a Journal of the Essay, Washington University, November 7, 2021)

“She lived as if the gospel were true.” Daniel Berrigan[1]

Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness[2], was placed in my hands fifty years ago by Dan Berrigan, Jesuit poet and prophet of nonviolence. Fresh from federal prison for burning draft files as a protest against the U.S. war in Vietnam, he was my teacher at Union Seminary in New York, and then, in a way I’d not yet understood, my “spiritual director.” The book and conversation weekly over mint tea, were my first exposure, as a young Protestant, to Dorothy and her Catholic Worker movement of hospitality houses and nonviolent resistance.

In his own autobiography, Daniel has two extended reflections on Dorothy. The first is in childhood recollections, predicated simply on the regular presence of the Catholic Worker newspaper in their Minnesota home, but it reads from a view of that seed bursting full bloomed in his life. “She became my friend and the friend of my family; and the friendship was to spur our moral and spiritual development.”[3]

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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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