After the Rallies, the Real Work

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Philadelphia March. Photo from the News and Observer

By Will O’Brien

The Wednesday following the violence in Charlottesville, I joined with thousands of people in Philadelphia, mostly persons of faith, to march in the streets and rally.  The energy was high, the anger was rife, and the sense of energy to change palpable.  As distressing as the events were that precipitated this march, it felt good to be there.

But it also stirred some long-standing concerns and questions of mine.  This was partly the result of recently picking up off the shelf my old copy of Will D. Campbell’s memoir Brother to a Dragonfly, a book that had a powerful impact on me when I first read it over thirty years ago.  Campbell was a Southern Baptist preacher from rural Tennessee who became an important leader in the civil rights movement.  As a white southern man, he was part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  His radical understanding of the gospel and his own discernment of the racial crisis in his home region led him to the conviction that “Jesus died for the bigots as well,” and he took to a very controversial ministry among Ku Klux Klan members.  Ornery and wickedly funny, Campbell often cut through the pretensions and hypocrisies of many white liberal activists. Continue reading

Frighteningly Relevant

Will ODay 18 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only real party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of a new violence?
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By Will O’Brien, of Project H.O.M.E. and the Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia

The Scriptural tradition, particularly in the scrolls of the prophets, communicates the deep wisdom that human history is marked by the persistent instinct toward power, particularly in governmental systems rooted in oppression and militarism. The late Walter Wink gave powerful articulation to this Scriptural wisdom: he termed it “the Domination System,” which recurs in sundry forms at different epochs throughout history. Continue reading

The Moral Revival

william barberBy Will O’Brien

Several of us attended the “Repairers of the Breach” Moral Revival Tour with Rev. William Barber when it rolled into town on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention on July 25. Will O’Brien write the following short reflection (originally published on the Red Letter Christians blog.)

The Friends Central Meeting on Cherry Street in Center City Philadelphia has probably never reeled and rocked like it did on Monday night. Rev. William Barber from the Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina brought his Moral Revival Tour to our city, slyly scheduling it just as the Democratic National Convention was starting to convene a few miles south at the Wells Fargo Center. Lots of spirited singing, praying, and mighty preaching, all geared toward the prophetic vision of justice. Continue reading

Triumphant

jesus christ.jpgBy Will O’Brien, Alternative Seminary, Philadelphia, PA

At Easter services yesterday, our congregation celebrated the resurrection with the requisite Easter hymns.  Though a few lesser known ones were thrown in the mix, we indulged in many of the great soul-stirring choruses:  “Up from the grave he arose,…” “Christ Our Lord Is Risen Today,…”

On a personal aesthetic note, I don’t bear a lot of fondness for some of these old classics, and their theology occasionally rubs me the wrong way.  But on this particular Easter Sunday, I was struck by how these hymns are almost without exception imbued with a brash and bold tone of triumphalism.  We hailed the mighty and exalted king.  In illustrious melody, we sang of glorious victory over foes (namely sin, death, and despair) vanquished and conquered. Continue reading

Lent with Howard Thurman

thurman.jpgBy Will O’Brien, Alternative Seminary, Philadelphia, PA

This Lent, I have using as a meditation guide Howard Thurman’s classic Jesus and the Disinherited. This book and other writings of Thurman, an African American scholar, theologian, and activist whom Vincent Harding called our “Black prophet-mystic,” were a spiritual taproot of the civil rights movement and continue to animate many people of faith who hunger and thirst for justice. Just in the first pages, his writing has revealed itself to be an unsettlingly relevant text for this season of repentance and metanoia.

Early in the book, Thurman recounts a visit to India in 1935 – a delegation of American students on a “pilgrimage of friendship.” One day, the principle of a Law College in Ceylon personally asked Thurman to have coffee. He posed a pointed question, addressing Thurman as an African American Christian: “What are you doing here?” Continue reading