Posted in Sermons, Writing

Pretty Words for Messy Work: A Sermon on Matthew 9:35-10:8

Today is Graduate Recognition Sunday. Now, I know there are a lot of jokes that can go around about graduation speeches, lots of cliches and worn-out metaphors and cheesy illustrations…I have experienced several graduations in my life, the most recent of which was only two years ago, in advance of my moving to Seattle and serving in ministry with you. I can confirm that many graduation speeches have these hallmarks of cheesiness. And also, many don’t, and it’s a shame that many don’t remember the wisdom shared. But, it’s also understandable. Because graduations are a time of life transition, a liminal time where there is tension between leaving the sureness of the past and venturing into the unknown future. Whether you or a loved one are transitioning from kindergarten to grade school, from middle- to high-school, from high-school to college or into a degree program or finishing education, graduation times are liminal. Life transitions can be exciting, because it is often good news that situations change, that things don’t have to be as they always were, that something new is on the horizon. And it’s also natural to experience fear, anxiety, and trepidation when you are called forth, called to attend to something new beyond yourself and embrace a new way of living. 

Enter our Scripture for the day, which Delia read so well, the story of Jesus calling the disciples. I think it’s easy to gloss past this part of the gospel of Matthew, hurrying on to get to the good stuff of healings, preachings, parables and more. Why do we need to know the names of the disciples or where they’re from or what their professions were? That’s boring information, I’m here to learn about Jesus!

Though the disciples’ personal stories may go the way of common graduation speeches and fade soon from memory, let’s take a moment to get to know these folks. Because they, like today’s graduates, like all of us in this current societal moment, are being called to something beyond themselves. In this group of disciples, we have two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew; James and John. We have a tax collector, Matthew, who worked for the Empire and was probably not a popular person because of his profession. We have Simon from Canaan, who in Luke’s gospel and Acts is also referred to as a “zealot,” so he would have been a passionate revolutionary who probably didn’t get along so well with Matthew being in the pocket of the Empire. We have Thomas, who we know had a lot of doubts about the Jesus movement. And we have Judas, who eventually would trade insider information about Jesus resulting in his arrest and violent death at the hands of the state. 

And Jesus, gathered this motley crew, “gave them authority over unclean spirits to throw them out and to heal every disease and every sickness,” taught them to travel unencumbered across the land, relying on the hospitality of strangers, refusing payment for their services and living simply. 

One must ask, perhaps a la Thomas, if the disciples knew what they were getting into when they faced that moment of transition. We hear in other Scriptures about how Peter left his home and family, James and John left their father, the fisherman Zebedee. They lived with a common purse and shared all things, and sometimes were chased out of town, and were watched by imperial spies. So what made them become followers of the Way? 

I’d argue they knew what they were doing, at least in part. Jesus offered a vision of how life could be, a vision that was so tempting and world-bending that it was worth leaving behind the security of life the way they had always lived. 

And so today, I ask you, do you see the vision? Do you feel the world that is possible, and, to quote author Arundhati Roy, that is so close you “can hear her breathing”?

Let me be clear: I’m not only asking our graduates this question, because in my brief experience of these people in our community, they have vision. The graduates we celebrate today have a vision of a world characterized by peace, they make music, they think deeply, they demonstrate for justice in the streets, they take action in their schools, they work with children, they advocate for accessible teaching pedagogies. Nola, Sarah, Eva, Jessica, David, Anna have a vision of a better world. 

So I ask again, do you see the vision of the world that is possible? And I suggest that it is closer than we may think. 

Detroit-based activist, author and movement strategist adrienne maree brown suggests that USAmerican society is suffering from a crisis of imagination. This resonates deeply with me, as there are many places in my individual life and our collective life as a country that I have taken for granted, been apathetic and even cynical towards, thinking those intoxicating words “this is how it’ll always be.” On last week’s episode of the podcast “The Word is Resistance,” a project of the Faith division of the Showing Up for Racial Justice organization, Jean Jeffress, a minister from Oakland, CA, shared this characterization of our current situation in the United States: “The US empire has literally never been anything but a white supremacist holdout that literally fought a war against itself to try to keep black people enslaved and has for centuries written into its laws and customs the violent exclusion of every nonwhite person and, lets face it, every non-Christian tradition. And then there’s capitalism…and it just screws everyone over.” Indeed, a crisis of imagination deeply plagues this country for us to wind up in a place where justice has still not reached our Black, brown and indigenous siblings. 

Again, Jean Jeffress, “There is nothing creative about white supremacy. There is nothing creative about colonialism or the building up and crumbling of empires over the millennia. There is nothing creative about imperialism or the violence it takes to maintain imperial order and rule over imperial subjects. There is nothing creative about capitalism or patriarchy, all tools of empire. All of these things are based on extraction. Of labor, resources, human beings for forced labor, culture, language, history, stories, religion, music, extraction of the very breath from the bodies of God’s children.”

adrienne maree brown encourages me, encourages us, to combat this crisis of imagination and push in whatever ways we can for a renewed spirit of creativity towards liberation.  I highly recommend her book Emergent Strategy, a concept which she describes as “how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.”

Beloved church, these are pretty words for messy work. 

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had family and friends from across the country reach out to me because of the things they’re seeing on the news about Seattle. “Why are the police tear gassing protestors with umbrellas?” “Do you know anyone in the front lines?” “Why would there need to be street medics?” “What does it mean to ‘Defund the Police’?” And, of course, “What is this Autonomous Zone all about?”

I have to admit I’ve had trouble knowing what to say, at times. There’s a lot of misinformation going around about what has been and is happening a mere few blocks from our church home in Capitol Hill. The images we have been seeing conjure feelings from anger to un-surprise to shock to galvanizing for action. Police using rubber bullets at close range against protestors, spraying children with pepper spray, releasing tear gas on protestors. Journalists running away as flash bang grenades are thrown towards them. Friends writing each other’s phone numbers on their arms in case of arrest or medical emergency. A car surging through a group of protesters and the driver shooting someone trying to protect others…then being arrested calmly with little force. Legal observers staying vigilant through hours and hours of rising tension. Neighbors filming from above in hopes their view of the streets below will be enlightening. 

And, we have also seen regular people exercising their imaginations as they creatively show up for each other. Local businesses opening their doors to share food with protestors, to shield them from gas. Nurses who finish COVID-19 testing all day volunteering their time as street medics. Barricades in the street covered with graffiti, guerilla gardens popping up in street medians, black and brown activists telling their stories to white folks who actually put their lives on pause to listen and learn, poetry written on the pavement, the documentary 13th showing on a screen in Cal Anderson park, people making food for each other and giving it away freely, community health advocates helping people in need. “Black Lives Matter” painted in a rainbow of colors and patterns down Pine Street. (If you haven’t seen a photo of this mural, it is stunning.)

https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/h8er1i/black_lives_matter_mural_on_east_pine_street_in/

Here we have a vision of what could be. People showing up, with their own life experiences, multifaceted identities, and varying levels of access to resources, embracing the vision of the Autonomous Zone, a vision of a world beyond punitive policing. This is a vision from our Black, brown and indigenous siblings, and I want to follow this vision. A vision of what is possible when people treat each other with kindness, generosity, compassion, when people demand accountability from systems that have gone unchecked. I’m not saying that everything is perfect in the Autonomous Zone, but I must admit that the vision is beautiful. It is a vision of what a world characterized by imagination can do and what a creative community can be.

Hear this poem from adrienne maree brown:

There is an edge

Beyond which we cannot grasp the scale

Of our universe.

That border,

That outer boundary

Is imagination.

The only known edge of existence

The only one we can prove by universal experience –

We can imagine so much!

We can only imagine so much.

If perhaps it is a function of our collective minds

A dream of our endless nights

Then there will be abundance so long as we can imagine it –

Abundance on earth

If we can imagine it

Or abundance of earths

A sphere for every tribe

And every combination.

And to have it all

All we need is to remember

there is an edge

And grow our dreams beyond it.

Friends, we must expand our imagination. As we grow our dreams beyond the edges that surround us, hear this good news: though the systems of entrenched power and privilege thrive on extraction and apathy, to quote Jean Jeffress again, “God extracts nothing. The power of God is the power of life. Is the power of grass growing up through concrete, is the power of extinct species reappearing, which has happened recently. Is the power of black and brown people in the US surviving and being glorious even though nearly every ounce of political and institutional will has been used to crush and dehumanize. God is the power of creation, not extraction. God is creation and creation is alive.”

Beloveds, the gospel today is that another world is possible. The good news is that we are experiencing a sacred call to work for justice and to cultivate God’s vision. The good news is that things don’t always have to be this way, the good news is that after decades and decades of advocacy against police brutality, Black and brown activists are seeing traction. The good news is that WE have been called to be disciples of Jesus, to follow the Way of Jesus, to spread compassion, to heal, to decry the evils of systemic sin, to engage in the movement with each our own gifts and talents. The good news is that in a liminal time, Jesus gathered a motley crew of people from all walks of life, to think creatively and to live into a vision of another world. Indeed, that’s what God is doing with us TODAY. 

May we travel by the Way of Justice as we join in the building of a Beloved Community. Amen. 

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Originally preached for Seattle First Baptist Church, June 14, 2020.

Posted in Sermons

No Longer Strangers

(This sermon originally preached July 26, 2015 at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, TN)

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

Hear the good news: Christ is our peace. We are no longer strangers.

A couple of weeks ago, several Glendalers joined with folks from all over the world in a gathering of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The text for today was the basis for the theme, “No Longer Strangers: Crossing Borders for Peace.”

For those of you who have never been to Peace Camp, here’s a picture of what goes on in that mystical place with those hippie Baptists-for-peace; for those of you who have been to Peace Camp, here’s a reminder of why we gather there:

At Peace Camp, we met new friends from places like New York City; Richmond, Virginia; and Phoenix, Arizona…but we also met folks from Cuba; Puerto Rico; Chiapas, Mexico; Haiti; Sri Lanka and Sudan. In a seminarian’s discussion group I joined this year, I heard about the faith of mujerista theologians in Puerto Rico–women who are studying Scripture and theology with significant attention to their social location as Latina women. I heard about the struggles of a small seminary in Chiapas, Mexico, raising money to replace their old truck that struggles to get across the hills to sell bread to local churches in order to support their eco-theology farm. I learned what surprises our Sri Lankan brother Jude was facing as he studies at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, MA–not only was he learning about American food culture (I had the joy of witnessing him meet a grapefruit for the first time!) but he also shared with me some amazing interpretations of parables from a south-Asian context. At the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (better known as “AWAB,”) annual prom on that Thursday night, people dressed how they wanted, danced with whomever they pleased and shared in the celebration that is imperative to sustaining the work of justice and peacemaking. We were crossing borders for peace.

All week, we considered how we cross borders in our own spiritual lives; in our day-to-day encounters; within our families who may or may not understand us or have different political or religious views than ours; in our schools and workplaces and seminaries; in our home churches and around the world.

In this letter to the Ephesians, the author (whom I will call Paul despite the fact that this letter is not a verified Pauline letter, but more likely one written by a disciple of Paul’s), encourages budding Christian communities who are learning about unity in Christ, and how it is lived in a broken world.

In our passage today, Paul directly addresses those who have been “far off,” those who were “strangers” to the covenant and promise of God, those who had no hope and no god. In one sense, Paul is speaking about the Gentiles, the non-Jews. Because most of us modern day Christians do not share in the lineage of Israel genetically, the text speaks directly to us. In another, more metaphorical sense, Paul is speaking to all of us in this world who have felt God’s distance and experienced being cast out or written off by some group in power.

Karen Chakoian, writing on this lectionary passage in Feasting on the Word, says: “By using the loaded word atheos [in reference to “you who were once far off”, meaning those without God], the author evokes the strong emotional separation of Jews and Gentiles. This was not merely side-by-side coexistence, but active antagonism and hostility. To remove the dividing walls was no small feat…to make these hostile groups one is nothing short of miraculous. What had been separate for generations–indeed, for the whole of covenant history–was now being made into one body.”

This sounds familiar to those of us brought up in the United States of America, where slavery and genocide are the original sins of this nation, and where now much of society is absorbed in discussing race and the #blacklivesmatter movement is picking up momentum. Now, we are in the thick of the work of truly becoming one body and one household.

Speaking directly to us, those who have been far off, Paul informs us that we are no longer strangers. We have come near to the presence of God in each other, across time and geography and language barriers, and Jesus has come with us. We, who have before been excluded, are fellow citizens with folks who speak different languages, whose skin is a different shade of human than ours, who eat foods we’ve never heard of and whose communities of faith might look different from ours; we have been embraced into the community of Christ, into the household of God.

Simply put, we are family. You and you and you and me–we are no longer strangers, to God or to each other. Reconciliation is the new way–folks who had been separated are now together, and in communion with God. Tell me that’s not some real Good News!

But what do we do now, knowing we are no longer strangers? It can’t be all sunshine and daisies, being part of the household of God and experiencing the unity of Creation instead of the division and hatred. In the term “reconciliation,” there is also a call to action.

At the same time as we begin the hard work of reconciliation (the deep listening and analyzing our privilege and empathizing with folks on the margins), let us be wary of calling for reconciliation too soon. Oftentimes reconciliation is the “safe word” we use to talk about the time when people will stop disagreeing with us and will be assimilated into our modes and ideas, when there is no longer something uncomfortable to us. The call to reconciliation is a call to make ourselves uncomfortable. Because since we are no longer strangers, we don’t have any excuse to keep treating others as strangers.

Paul writes, “Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.”

Jesus, with his body, broke down barriers that divided us. Whether you think about his body washing his disciples’ feet, his body hanging on a tree used as an instrument of torture, his body eating and praying and crying and healing–Jesus, with his body, went up against the man-made Law in order to observe the higher Law of loving his neighbor to make peace between groups that not only disliked each other, but had oppressive power dynamics.

Jesus, with his body, made us no longer strangers. Jesus, with his body, brought us all into the family of God. And we are called to do likewise.

At Peace Camp, we were humbled to have among us Rev. Osagyefu Sekou, a prophetic preacher who is a part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and a native of St. Louis, speak about reconciliation and the immediacy of incarnational Christianity in today’s United States American society, where race has repeatedly (and necessarily) been at the forefront of public discourse.

In response to Paul’s words illustrating Jesus’ body breaking down barriers, Rev. Sekou implores us to always consider this question: “When they shoot a black baby in the street, where is your body?”

We need an incarnational Christianity, we need to think about our bodies because Jesus thought about our bodies. Why else would he have healed on the Sabbath, disobeying religious law? Why else would he have healed the woman with the flow of blood or the lepers or the blind, all of whom had been outcasts in their community?

We need to think about bodies because Jesus had a body–one that was labeled so “dangerous” and “disruptive” by the State that it caused him to be killed by capital punishment.

We need to think about bodies because each and every day, someone with a non-white body; or a non-heterosexual body; or a gender non-conforming body is being similarly labeled “dangerous” and “disruptive” and is murdered at the hands of the State.

Paul writes, “…you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Just as Jesus chose to cast his lot among strangers, God chooses to be present with us–we are a bunch of people with different experiences, with different ways of loving, choosing to be in community with each other. And God chooses to be among us, not in this physical building of Glendale Baptist Church, but in the ekklesia, the gathered congregation, dwelling among flawed people who aren’t always the best allies, who aren’t always the best lovers or teachers or parents or truth-tellers. God aligns God’s self with humanity…and that is our calling too. To align ourselves with our family in Christ– no matter if we have even met them or not–we align ourselves with all our cards out on the table, messy and dirty–and blessed.

We are all family. And when it is our family on the line, we stand up in a different way than if harm is being done to one who is not related, though hopefully we’d stand up for them too. So when we turn on the television or pick up the newspaper or log on to CNN.com in the morning and hear about yet another child of God struck down violently by any number of institutions, we need to treat these situations, the Charleston and Mike Brown and Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice situations, as if these people are members of our family, because they are.

            Because we are no longer strangers, because we have been outcasts and we have now been brought into the promise of God’s family and household–because we have crossed the border of the internalized white supremacy that most of us in this room carry without knowing–because we know in our hearts that there must be another way to be the family of God besides only showing up when there are funerals to attend–that’s why we need to think about where our bodies are.

Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” In turn, he welcomes us. Likewise, the presence of God-with-us already has empowered and equipped us to engage in reconciliation work in the world and manifest peace in what may seem to be hopeless situations. We must choose to dwell with The Stranger, so that they too will be brought into this household, the place where the Spirit of Love and Light dwells with us.

Incarnational Christianity is part of this–being the ‘household” or “family” of God or “body of Christ”, the unity of the body paints a picture of the members of the body protecting each other. We belong to each other. If one is without wholeness, all are incomplete; when one body is abused for generations upon generations, what do the rest of the members do? Knowing what it is to be an outcast, they reach out and embrace those in pain and pray for each other and work for each other’s full inclusion in the household of God.

That is what reconciliation can be. But how do we practice reconciliation?

The Baptist Peace Fellowship/Bautistas por la Paz is in the process of becoming a truly multilingual organization. At Peace Camp, I’d become fed up with my monolingual self, and decided that I would start gaining some more tools to be a peacemaker–I would learn Spanish! As I was talking with my new friend Josue, nervously pronouncing some new Spanish words I’d learned from my iPhone app, Josue looked me right in the eyes and said: “You must not be afraid of doing it wrong.”

And something clicked. In many situations, our hearts are in the right place and we plan and serve our world with grace–but really, much of the time we are actually self-deprecating and shut ourselves down because we are afraid that we won’t be the perfect ally, that we will embarrass ourselves or be too vulnerable or lose control. Well, guess what? Sometimes we will do it wrong. Sometimes we will talk too much and be arrogant and shut other people down and listen only for what we want to hear…but we can’t let our fear of failing stop us from stepping up and standing up for justice for our siblings in Creation. That’s the real work of reconciliation.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: “We are called to be allies of God in the work of justice and reconciliation.” This work is already in motion, the uniting of the people of God and of all creation is in motion–that’s the struggle, the revolution, the speaking out, the cause for disruption—God’s justice is rolling like water in the mountains, in Baltimore and in Charleston and Detroit and Cleveland and Texas…and in Nashville…can you hear it? It’s already on its way. Will you be caught up and become an ally with God? The only way any of us will flourish is if we all do.

Our joy in darkness, our striving towards justice, our hope for peace–all of these are bound up together.

In the words of James Taylor,

“Let us turn our thoughts today

To Martin Luther King

And recognize that there are ties between us,

All men and women living on the Earth.

Ties of hope and love,

Sister and brotherhood,

That we are bound together

In our desire to see the world

Become a place in which our children

Can grow free and strong.

We are bound together by the task

That stands before us

And the road that lies ahead.

We are bound and we are bound.”

Hear the good news: You are no longer strangers. They are no longer strangers. We are no longer strangers.

In the haunting words of author Arundhati Roy:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Where He Lay

1.

I have seen the place where he lay.

I have walked through his neighborhood

with broken lights, dark windows, delapidated liquor stores

I have seen the children playing basketball in the street

yards from where he lay.

I’ve talked with some of his neighbors

exchanging a “evening, how are ya?” and waving gently.

What is normal anymore?

2.

Can you see the riot gear left behind?

The armored tanks in the street by the McDonald’s

that used to pour fire?

Can you hear them crying?

The mothers who wonder if their sons and daughters will come home

–from the corner store, from the birthday party, from school–

only to find their children sleeping in their beds,

but there isn’t safe either.

Do you see the words scrawled in anxious angry spray paint?

“RIP Mike Brown

“Fuck the police”

“Save us”

3.

The holy quiet descended on the dark street

damp with rain and tears

we couldn’t even hear the marchers anymore.

The place where he lay is hallowed ground

let’s erect an Ebenezer

it’s already been done

fluffy teddy bears

handwritten notes laminated to keep from getting washed away

traffic cones perhaps cover

the bloodstains now sunk into the earth, into the depths of creation

the creation is groaning

waiting to be released from this horror of

separation destruction desecration

of sacred dust.

4.

Where do we go now?

Minutes at the memorial

a  young man on a low riding bike rides past twice.

My feet are cramping from marching

from praying.

My clothes are damp with sweat and rain

but not with (never with)

blood.

These experiences are distant from me,

pigment protection.

And yet—

how do we proceed, seeing what we’ve seen?

how do we move forward, carrying what has been loaded onto our backs?

how do we continue to believe that another world is possible?

Solidarity

of mind

heart

voice

place.

“Save us.”

Save yourselves by saving each other.

Posted in Uncategorized

“Fear Not: The Work of Justice as a Reproductive Rights Issue”

This blog post was originally written for the Scarritt Bennett Center blog.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in her home, he said, “Fear not.” These encouraging words have been uttered throughout the Biblical and Gospel texts to many people whom God has chosen to have a special role in the world (Hagar, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph and many more). When Mary heard Gabriel speak, what fear do you think these words were dispelling? The song “Mary Did You Know,” popularized by Clay Aiken, may shed light on this issue:

“Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?

This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?

Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?

When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?”

If Mary had any idea what she was getting into (which it seems she did, since she asked “How can this be?”…let’s be real, she had doubts, wouldn’t you?!) she would have been afraid. If her child was going to do all of the miraculous things listed in this song (giving sight, calming the storm, delivering the world, ruling the nations, etc.), she must have known it wouldn’t be easy. When told that her child would be the Messiah, it must have been downright terrifying. Many people venerate Mary’s courageousness, being an unwed pregnant teen and accepting God’s call in her life. For me, the amazing part is that despite the fear that must have been present in that room, Mary chose to accept the annunciation and become pregnant and bring Jesus her child into the world, knowing full well that the work that he would do in his life, the way he lived, would go against the state religion, would push people out of their comfort zones and would cause Jesus her child to die by capital punishment, by the state.

Some think Jesus was simply born to die, but I believe Mary chose to bring Jesus into the world to demonstrate living in a way that would make it possible for others to live. She carried the baby Jesus in her womb and brought Jesus into the world to bring about not only her redemption, but the world’s redemption. She brought Jesus her child into the world to bring about justice in a way that brings powerholders down and lifts up the lowly. Jesus was not born to die, but to live for justice and further the possibility of peace in the world, bring us all into a community of love and respect and justice. We can learn from this incredible Biblical woman that the things we birth into being bring us salvation. I am reminded of a powerful quote from “To Be Virgin” by Loretta Ross-Gotta in Watch for the Light: Meditations for Advent and Christmas: “Told all her life that she is ‘nothing,’ the girl discovers in herself another, deeper reality. A mystery; something holy, with a potential for salvation.”

Today, given the news of racial violence and strife, both domestic and international, the idea of having children and bringing children into this world is scary. There is so much violence and so much racism and so much danger everywhere in this world. I reiterate a previous question: are some families in this world bringing children in the world just to have violence perpetrated against them, just to die? Let that sink in.

In light of Ferguson and Staten Island and Cleveland and Detroit, many women of color are raising the issues of “reproductive justice” alongside “racial justice” and #blacklivesmatter, and rightly so. Jasmine Burnett, a Black feminist activist, was quoted in this article from ThinkProgress:

“We look at the right to have a child, to not have a child, and to parent your child in a safe and sustainable community free from violence…If you aren’t safe in your community because you’re racially profiled by the police, and you can’t walk from your home to a clinic or to a hospital to access the services you need, then that’s not really a full articulation of reproductive justice.”

Upon hearing the news of the nonidictment of Darren Wilson, Tamura Lomax at The Feminist Wire, wrote:

“I am a black mother and a black wife. I fear for my beloveds’ safety everyday. Ain’t I feminist too? Ain’t the potential murder of my loved ones and how that may impact me and others in my community a feminist concern too?”

An RH Reality Check article writes:

“[Hannah Giorgis] shares this waking nightmare with countless other Black mothers who live in fear of their children falling to the vengeful divinity of the state. “Any force that systematically and unapologetically turns unconsenting Black wombs into graveyards,” she says, “is a reproductive justice issue.””

The article also quotes Imani Gandy, a Senior Legal Analyst at RH Reality Check, who tweeted “I saw so many people on Twitter saying ‘I don’t want to have/raise black children in this country.’ That is a reproductive justice issue.” We must not shut our eyes and ears to these women of color writing about their deepest fears. We must listen and bear holy witness to them.

And yet, we are told to “fear not” because God is with us. But how can we disabuse ourselves of our fear in such a world? Today, we are bringing children into the world with the full knowledge that the way we will teach them to live, the way they will be educated to work for justice for all people and the planet, might get them killed. The work of justice is dangerous. The work of peace is dangerous. The work of peace and justice will attract the powers and principalities and they will try their darndest to stop us.

By thinking about the way that Jesus died, was killed, we can catch a glimpse of what the purpose of Jesus’ life and death was. If we look beyond the death, beyond the simple point of salvation, we can see that Jesus was killed for the way he lived, killed for talking back and acting out against the state. Jesus was not white, ergo Jesus did not have white privilege. Jesus was a low-class, backwater, rural boy born under questionable circumstances and out of wedlock to a carpenter and his wife. Jesus was a person of color, Semitic, a Jew. He probably had a beard, as many religious men still wear today. He was killed for being a peace activist, for healing the sick, for feeding the hungry, for letting women worship, for reaching across boundaries of race, ethnicity, and country–exactly the things that we are taught to work for in the Gospels. God has given us the power of community to help us overcome the dangerous and dark world in which we find ourselves. We are told to “fear not” as we work for justice, knowing there have been many who have gone before and many who will come after us.

One of the beautiful things about Christmas is way that God aligned God’s self with the human condition, with human suffering, and recognized the incredible need for justice in this life, in this world. Humans had, then as now, been hurting each other and the planet, and God brought God’s self into the world in the form of Jesus. The very creation, the very firmament of our society is “groaning” and “crying out” according to Romans 8, and it is our responsibility as Christians, as people who are dedicated to working for justice, to release creation (and each other) from bondage and bring about a new way of being in the world. Another world is possible, and through the vigils and marches and die-ins and conversations and co-suffering and compassion in the midst of racial strife and resistance to violence, we are able to glimpse that world. We are able to show it to each other, and through our lives, make it possible for all of us to live in that world, in the here and now.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Emmanuel, “God with us.” We welcome you to our world and into our hearts. We recognize that you have always been with us, and always shall be us. We thank you that we can join with you, and never rest from, the work of freedom, justice, and peace in this world.

Articles for further reading:

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/08/14/3471149/police-brutality-reproductive-justice/

http://www.thenation.com/blog/180957/murder-black-youth-reproductive-justice-issue

http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/08/26/price-blood-ferguson-reproductive-justice-issue/