Tag Archives: Jesus

When Politics Trumped Faith

As a child, I was taught that the most important characteristic about a political candidate was their faith: as a Christian nation, we needed Christian leaders, preferably born again and evangelical. Learning to swim in waters so thick with political convictions and action, it felt at times as though the world around me inhaled religion and exhaled politics, and somewhere inside us one became the other.

The political world changed over time, and so did my faith. Once I learned that I could fail and God would still love me, I started to understand grace and fell in love with being a part of the Methodist movement that places grace at the center. Once I released the list of “Don’ts” that I clung to as a life-preserver in a terrifying sea of sin, I found solid footing on all the “Do’s” of a loving God. I began to walk forward. I found passages in John and 1 Corinthians and Isaiah that became old companions on the journey; my oldest and my dearest friends, always faithful, always present.

The years passed and I journeyed far and wide seeking to be a good Methodist, to “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

I messed up plenty – as often as everyday and as recently as this morning – but I put my heart and soul into it. I tried so hard. Every day. I tried to live with faithful discipline, love with liberal generosity, and learn with determined optimism. With time, I learned that faith was not about what I did or did not do, it was about the fact that God loved me and that love required a response.

One of the biggest changes I had to make was the choice to accept my calling to preach after being raised in a church that taught that women were not to be clergy. I wrestled so hard with it; the struggle most intense between the age of 20 and 25, when one of my deepest points of identity fought for it’s very survival against the erroneous teachings of my youth that tried to tell my calling that it deserved to die; that it was heresy; that I was heretic.

My calling won, and I proceeded forward as United Methodist clergy, fully ordained, fully credentialed, fully amazed by what God had done with a little girl who had never imagined she’d live in a world that wanted to hear her voice.

As my faith grew, it brought me to acquire a set of my own deep convictions: some the same I had been raised with, some different, and some quite the opposite. I came to understand how Christianity had been co-opted and used to justify the expansion of Empire after Empire; how the same Empire that had issued Jesus’s death warrant, would be the first one to recognize the power of misusing his name.

I decided that my faith could inform my politics, but that for the sake of my faith, it was too dangerous to mix them together in the same bowl and end up losing track of which was which.

My faith changed, and so did the political world around me. When I crossed paths again with the Republican Party of my youth, I saw a stranger before me and I felt betrayed. I may not have found myself in sync with the Republican Party, but I expected that when we came across one another he would at least look familiar and we could be civil with one another. He had, after all, sat at my dinner table every evening growing up. I may have taken a different path in life, but I felt unreasonably aggravated that the old path did not feel familiar.

When I bumped into the Republican Party, he told me that Barack Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, was a Muslim; and that Mitt Romney, a member of the Mormon religion, was closer to the evangelical Christian ideal. I was so confused; I felt like the whole world had been turned upside down. I had been okay with all the changes that had taken place within me, but I felt betrayed by the changes that had taken place within the world I left behind. I no longer recognized the Republican Party when he told me that Donald Trump was a Christian man; although there was a flicker of familiarity when he claimed that Hillary Clinton was not a Christian, that was an old song he had sung all throughout my youth.

Yet, when Hillary spoke, I could not deny I heard the echoes of her Methodist upbringing in her words; I heard that earnest determination, that Wesleyan intensity, that I shared with other Methodist women like Jarena Lee, Harper Lee, and Sandra Bland.

On Trump’s tongue, I heard poison. A poison that threatened to destroy everything I am and everything I love. Fear. Hate. Mockery. Sexism. Racism. Xenophobia. Power. Greed.

I wondered how could the political realm I had grown up in have changed so much? Then again, maybe it never changed; perhaps we are only just becoming aware of the repercussions. While we were inhaling religion and exhaling politics, did we never realize that the direction of the wind might change? Did we never realize that we might choke on our own exhaust?

Maybe it was politics that trumped faith all along. We just failed to see it clearly until now.

 

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Jesus the Criminal

Sitting here at the Waller County Jail in hour 44 of the 64 that Sandra Bland spent here before news of her death broke on July 13; making sure her voice is heard here throughout the duration. Sitting here a week after the indefensible killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile; as well as a week after the targeted shooting of five Dallas police officers (Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, Officer Michael Krol, Sgt. Michael Smith, DART Officer Brent Thompson, and Officer Patrick Zamarripa). Sitting here after Breitbart published a piece yesterday falsely claiming that the Dallas shooter was a part of protests here at the Waller County Jail. Sitting here thinking about Jesus. 

Thoughts on Jesus:

• He was born as minority ethnicity within an oppressive Empire.

• He was arrested when religious leaders and the government conspired together to meet their common goals of order and control.

• The government and religious leaders engaged in character assassination, and the majority of people turned on him leaving him with only a handful of supporters.

• He was falsely convicted, and chose to remain silent and plead the 5th.

• He was unable to appeal his conviction because of his ethnicity and the fact that he was not a citizen of the Empire; whereas Paul was later able to appeal the decision all the way to Rome because of his citizenship. 

• After his conviction, the enforcers of the law took him to their headquarters and stripped him and beat him up, making his head and body bleed.

• In the moment of his death, they tried to break his pride and show him his place by putting a mocking sign over his head. 

• He was executed by the Empire/State and died slowly while the world watched; people have replayed it repeatedly over and over ever since. Since they did not have cameras at the time, people have used their own bodies to act it out in Passion plays.

Maybe the question we should be asking is not so much “What Would Jesus Do?” but rather “What Would We Be Doing When Jesus Died?” Currently, in a time removed by 2,000 years, you may believe that Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God; but back then, he would have been just another oppressed man of non-European decent who the State called a criminal and the Religious leaders called a sinner. 

The one we call perfect was rejected as a criminal in his day.

If there were televisions in that day, they would have told you: 

• Jesus frequented prostitutes.

• Jesus was homeless.

• Jesus had verbally attacked church leadership.

• The followers of Jesus claimed he could perform magical feats.

• Jesus was prone to psychotic breaks and had actually waved around a weapon in a public place and destroyed property.

• Jesus mom got pregnant with him when she was not married.

• Jesus family was shiftless and moved around a lot when he was young.

• Jesus was delusional and claimed he was a god.

• Jesus associated with known criminals.

• Jesus had criminal connections in his family, as his cousin John had previously been executed by the State.

• Jesus posed a threat to the stability of the nation.

Now, answer honestly: What would you do? Where would you stand? Is that where you are standing now?

If you still find yourself wanting to hold onto this Jesus, can you not make room for the grief and outrage of those who died in similar ways?

Our theology teaches there was a purpose in the death of Jesus; it does not teach it was right and just to kill him. 

This is why it is an act of faith when I say: #BlackLivesMatter

Duke: Cutting Down Nets and Nooses

“Maybe now they’ll stop hanging nooses off trees on campus…” I read the words just moments after I had added my own throwback photo to the avalanche flooding newsfeeds with Duke alumni’s exuberance over their NCAA win.

In the midst of celebrating Coach K cutting down the net as a symbol of Duke basketball’s dominance, the irony was not lost on many that  those were not the only ropes Duke cut down this week.

My breath caught in my throat. I recognized the emotion that has occurred pretty persistently since I began my masters studies at Duke a decade ago. Conviction. It was the awareness that we do not all experience these things the same way. It was the awareness that for many people Duke is symbolic of privilege. It was the awareness that in some neighborhoods of Durham, including the neighborhood where I lived, they still call Duke “the plantation.” It was the awareness that victories are experienced differently by those who feel empowered by an institution than they are by those who feel oppressed by it.

Duke won. Those same words can mean different things to different people.

I went to Duke. That fact has provided me with many opportunities: the opportunity to have a challenging and fulfilling vocation; the opportunity to celebrate wins during March Madness; and the consistent opportunity to reflect on the deep impact of privilege and racism.

Last week, when examples of racism at Duke once again made headlines in the hanging of a noose, the church universal was celebrating Holy Week. In the Christian calendar that is the week in which we remember that our Lord was captured by a lynching mob; condemned to death although innocent; hung with nails and rope on a tree; choked to death by his inability to get a breath; and left hanging on the tree not only to assert the power of those that had killed him, but also to terrorize those that had loved him and to discourage them from following his revolutionary lead.

Chillingly, that is exactly what so called Christians were doing to African Americans in this country up until a few decades ago. In fact, they were even lighting crosses on fire as a symbol of the fervor of their faith before going to perform a reenactment, seemingly ignorant of the fact that they were not playing the role of Jesus or his disciples, but of those that murdered him. The intense psychological terrorism of leaving a body hanging, daring the family to risk taking it down, did not end with the death of Jesus and the era of crucifixions. Neither, some would argue, did it end with the era of nooses and lynch mobs; it just looks different now.

In September, when friends and I met with law professor Justin Hansford in Ferguson, Missouri, he explained to us that leaving Michael Brown’s body lying in the street for hours, in full view of children and family, achieved the same psychological impact that lynching had in the past. In other words, achieved the same psychological impact that crucifixion had centuries before. In other words, regardless of the intentions or factors, was an act of psychological terrorism on the quiet neighborhood.

Remember that: whenever you hear news of a body left lying in the street; every time you hear that no life saving measures were attempted or offered. The impact of those choices falls not only upon the victim, but rather upon the whole community.

Both crucifixion and lynching serve as a method of reminding people who holds the power and privilege. This is a tactic of maintaining power and privilege through fear. Through reminding the oppressed of the power of their oppressor, psychologically traumatizing onlookers, and squelching any attempts at liberation.

Hanging a noose is a tactic by a fearful oppressor intent on maintaining a sense of superiority and power. It is the act of a coward, striving to stave off the inevitability of recognizing their own weakness; striving to protect their illusion of superiority when faced with an equal.

The fact that a noose was hung last week on Duke’s campus is not the fault of every Duke staff, student and alumni; but it is our responsibility to vocally confront and combat racism in all its forms, and to take the time to listen and understand.

It is our responsibility to be just as willing to say, “I went to Duke” when incidents of racism are reported in the news as we are when victories and causes for celebration and school pride are reported.  It is our responsibility to be just as willing to seize upon the opportunity to discuss the importance of anti-racism speech and actions and the struggles of our institution, as we are willing to seize upon the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our school.

I am encouraged by the swift and clear words of the administration and the student government. On the part of the administration, condemning the act and calling for solidarity. On the part of the student government, making the even more bold statement that Duke as an institution struggles with racism.

The fact that those words need to be stated may seem discouraging to some; yet, the fact that they are being stated so publicly is a sign that perhaps we are making progress, bit by bit.

To my colleagues, this is my prayer for us: May the education that we received in theology help us to grapple with the ancillary education that we received in the dynamics of privilege and oppression. May our calls for justice be just as public, vocal and passionate as our cheers for basketball. May our courage to speak and our humility to listen grow with the passing of the years. And may we be vigilant in our callings so that nets will be the only ropes that need to be cut down on ours or any other campus.

Uncomfortable at Christmas

“Take it easy today,” Pauline said, as I dropped off a box of raisins. Then reaching into my pockets I emptied them of the ten eggs I had stuffed in there on my way over from the chicken coop. “We’ve got to do something with all these eggs,” I told Pauline, “I can’t keep up with them.” Thankfully, Pauline had a lot of cakes she was cooking for her daughter in Nassau so I knew some of them would get put to good use. “She’s got her spoiled,” Maxine had teased her sister a couple days before. That was the night that my post-Haiti illness had gotten really bad; the night before I had gone to Nassau to get tests. After that sleepless night, a day in Nassau, and another restful night back here on Eleuthera, I finally had a minute to ponder what I had seen on the televisions in the Nassau airport.

It had been my first television in almost two months, and what I saw made me feel worse than my physical discomfort. The only thing worse than being sick in bed today on Eleuthera was being reminded that back in the States there was sickness in people’s hearts and heads. Ignorance, racism, privilege, sin, pride – that was all I could think of as I watched Megyn Kelly and her predominantly, if not entirely, white panel of commentators insist upon the whiteness of both Santa Claus and Jesus Christ.

Oh Megyn Kelly, I mourned, you picked the wrong week for this. For this is the third week in Advent. This is Mary’s week. This is the week that we are reminded, if we have ears to hear, of what the real purpose of all of this season is. And this defense of the whiteness of Santa Claus and Jesus could not possible be more out of place.

People have been celebrating Jon Stewart’s “take-down” of the debate, as he pointed out that Megyn’s statement “just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it needs to change” was a pretty good definition for oppression.

While Jon Stewart and Jessica William’s commentary, including the video of what Vatican researchers have proposed Saint Nicolas actually looked like, did help me to cope through humor and fact with the confusing and harmful fiction I had seen on my screen – I think there is someone else who can give us a better explanation.

There is another historical figure, a young woman, part of an oppressed minority group within a large empire. She lived in a part of the country that people mocked, saying “what good can come from Galilee.” She was at risk of execution by stoning when she became pregnant without being married, until her boyfriend stepped up and volunteered to be the baby daddy.

So, go ahead, Mary, have at it. What is the whole point of this Christmas thing?
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”

For anyone who thinks that Christmas is something that the powerful, the rich, the dominant, the privileged, or dare I say, the white, should struggle to maintain control of – then you can have that celebration of power and consumerism – and you can keep it. You can purchase and consume all the gifts you want while God “fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty.” You can continue to think you have a right to be offended if someone says Happy Holidays to you instead of Merry Christmas, rather than celebrating that they were kind enough to wish you well. You can focus your celebration on your own ability to control – to control what others say, what others think, how others celebrate.

You can continue to fight to maintain your own power and dominance in a nation where the rapid decline in the Caucasian majority population in comparison to persons of color is making you uncomfortable and even a tad bit frightened. Perhaps you will even decide to try to protect the majority status of “white” by extending the definition graciously to include people of middle eastern descent, like Jesus and Saint Nickolaus (you know the way you eventually did with the poor Irish immigrants that I descended from in order to maintain “white” as the majority population by including our hordes of people). Because no matter what you say, the reality that “just because it makes you uncomfortable, does not mean it needs to change” – is a myth that people of privilege are trying to opt out of while imposing on others. So when not only the numbers of persons of color rise, but when their voices also rise to speak a truth that makes the dominant, the privileged, the ones in control uncomfortable – we people of privilege try to flip the script, and by raising our voices louder than theirs think that we can drown out the truth that we do not want to hear.

Whatever you decide to do, and however you decide to celebrate, that is your freedom and your choice and I leave it up to you. All I ask is that you give the rest of the world the freedom to celebrate as they want rather than trying to bully people in the time when we celebrate the birth of the anti-bully God. Some may choose not to celebrate at all. Some may choose to make up their own holidays to celebrate. Some may have other religious celebrations that you have no reasons to disrespect.

Perhaps, most of all, I would ask that you allow those who want to celebrate the birth of their savior as their liberation from slavery to sin and death to do so, rather than imposing upon millions of Christians your own dominant view of Christmas. Step back, please, from making this time of the year a time of oppression by insisting that “just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it needs to change.”

Well, I will tell you what makes me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable when people pretend that Jesus looked like me. I want my Jesus to be Jewish, because I can only understand who Jesus is through the story of the people of Israel – both the suffering that came before him and the suffering that came after. I like that my Jesus is from Galilee, because it gives Archbishop Elias Chacour – the Palestinian, Christian, citizen of the nation of Israel and the leader of the church in Galilee – it gives Elias Chacour the right to joke about Jesus as a kid from this Palestinian leader’s hometown who was always making trouble.

And I like that my Jesus was born to an unwed teenager girl who was an ethnic minority in an underestimated town; because my savior chose to enter the world in one of the riskiest ways possible, when his mother could easily have been stoned for being pregnant out of wedlock; when the king of the region could have slain him as he did hundreds of other young boys at that time. I love that my Jesus chose that because it showed exactly Mary’s point – that Jesus came to lift up the humble, the oppressed, and the underestimated.

Jesus chose to enter the world as an “at-risk” child so that he could bring love and deliverance and hope to all the world calls “at-risk” and puts “at-risk.” As the boot of the world’s powerful came down on the downtrodden, my savior was born to put himself in the way. To join those whose lives hang in the balance below the boot, and to say “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Oh the risk, the suffering and the death that my Jesus endured to bring that message of hope. He went through so much. He gave up so much. And now you want to distort his message and turn it into something else? Another attempt to promote oppression, to remind the downtrodden that you have the power, and to once again say “white is right” even in the very face of the one who came to tear down that kind of oppression.

O Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Manex plays the part of Saint Nick for James Cistern
Manex plays the part of Saint Nick for James Cistern
Ladies night out this week with Maxine, Pauline, Vonnia, and Brenda
Ladies night out this week with Maxine, Pauline, Vonnia, and Brenda
A newspaper cover from before I was "white" illustrating that African Americans in the South and Irish in the North were both an equivalent threat to the nation.
A newspaper cover from before I was “white” illustrating that African Americans in the South and Irish in the North were both an equivalent threat to the nation.
How my foremothers were portrayed before I was "white"
How my foremothers were portrayed before I was “white”
How my foremothers were portrayed before I was "white"
How my foremothers were portrayed before I was “white”