Youth Group Worship Service Concerning Social Justice

I had a wonderful time leading a Vesper-like service for a youth group from Yorktown, NY. The theme of the service was faith and social justice. Tonight they also volunteered with food prep and will help out tomorrow at the soup kitchen. I thought I’d share the bulletin since I enjoyed creating it so much! 

Christ of the Breadlines.jpg


Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.

– Thomas Merton

Tonight’s service will grapple with God’s calling for justice
throughout Scripture and our response.

Creation as a whole is very good

Genesis 1:29-31 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that was made, and indeed, it was very good.

Reflection: What goodness have you seen this last week? Has there been a moment when everything in world seemed to be working together?

“King of My Heart” by John Mark and Sarah McMillan

Let the King of my heart
be the mountain where I run
The Fountain I drink from
You are my Song

Let the King of my heart
be the shadow where I hide
the ransom for my life
You are my Song

You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh
You are good, good, ohhh

Let the King of my heart
be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
You are my Song

Let the King of my heart
be the fire inside my veins
the echo of my days
You are my Song


When the night is holding onto me
God is holding on.

When the night is holding onto me
God is holding on

Yet the world is not as it should be

Habakkuk 1:2-4
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong doing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore, judgment comes forth perverted.

Reflection: God has called the world and us good. Where have you seen us screw it up this week?

Prayer: Let us write down on post-it notes those places and situations where the world could be better. Once you’ve written it down, please place it on the prayer wall.

“Lord, listen to Your Children Praying”

Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Lord, Send Your Spirit in this Place
Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Send us love, send us power, send us grace

Jesus’ call for justice

Luke 6:27-36 Jesus said, “But I say to you that listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Holy One; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, just as God is compassionate.”

Reflection: Have you seen or heard about someone who follows Christ and performs such acts?

“For Everyone Born”
Shirley Murray (vs. 1,2,4) and Chris Shelton (v. 3)

For everyone born.jpg

James on how we judge the poor

James 2:1-7 My sisters and brothers, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen up: Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that God has promised? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

Reflection: Are you surprised that these verses are in our Scriptures? Ponder on those moments when you’ve judged another person based on how they dressed, or what they drove, or how they spoke.

All of creation yearns for justice

Romans 8:18-25 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for creation was subjected to uselessness, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that all of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Prayer: Use the markers to color in the world based on what you think the world needs.

Love: Purple
Peace: Blue
Justice: Green
Compassion: Yellow
Kindness: Red
Healthy Relationships: Orange


We pursue justice together, not alone

“We have all known the long loneliness
and we have learned that the only solution is love
and that love comes with community.”
– Dorothy Day

“Guide My Feet”

Guide my feet while I run this race
Guide my feet while I run this race
Guide my feet while I run this race
For I don’t want to run alone

Hold my hand…

Search my heart…

The Prophet Isaiah of America Saith

Isaiah 2:2-4

In the days to come
God’s justice will extend beyond the heavens
encircling galaxies, borders, and flags
All peoples and creatures shall recognize such love
They will say, “Have you heard? The Not-Yet has become the Now-Is!
People who once lived on the streets, now have roofs over their heads.
Our bellies are full of food and joy. Prisons are empty!
Oil is no longer necessary to survive!”
God has given us all these beautiful resources
and imparted in us how to use them.
World peace agreements will be immediately signed
with God overseeing that they are enacted
Warheads, drones, tanks, and guns shall
be melted into communion tables,
tennis rackets, and new bridges.
The people of nations will learn gardening skills,
they’ll design new musical instruments,
and neighbor will care outrageously for neighbor.

Ramblings on about Anti-War, the Election, and Calvin

I’ve been thinking about how difficult voting with a clean conscience appears to be with this election, and perhaps all elections. I consider myself a single issues voter; my issue is justice. More specifically, I care deeply and have been part of peace movements for almost a decade. Unfortunately, the nominees for President are rather slim pickings when it comes to justice and peace issues. Neither wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay* or side strongly with the Black Lives Matter movement or even consider to decrease/eliminate our military budget.

Since I’m a new Presbyterian I thought John Calvin, a founder of Presbyterianism, might give me some insight into our predicimate, but unfortunately I was sidetracked by his affirmative writings on war:

In Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin declared war to be lawful and right. His reasoned “that in the Apostolic writings we are not to look for a distinct exposition of those matters [i.e. war], their object being not to form a civil polity, but to establish the spiritual kingdom of Christ” (4.20.12). Calvin depoliticizes the Gospels and the letters of Paul, Peter, John, and James. He completely ignores the Imperialist context they were resisting. For example, Paul rebukes Peter of not practicing reconciliation around a meal with non-Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-14). James tongue-lashed the rich for condemning and killing the non-violent righteous one (5:6). Or even John’s First Letter, which declares that loving other people and loving God go hand-in-hand (1 John 4:20-21).

For Calvin the Scriptures show “in passing that Christ by his coming has changed nothing [i.e. war and violence] in that respect” (4.20.12). In other words, Christ came to bring a spiritual kingdom, not to change the present one. This kind of logic has made it possible to kill hundreds of thousands of people since Calvin’s time. But then must we ask Calvin: “What does Jesus mean when he prays, ‘May God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven’ mean?” Does nationalism exist in God’s heaven? Will heaven’s borders have tanks, drones, or angelic national security guards? How does someone who’s faith demands of them a respect and love for all people, especially the poor and marginalized, would want to even wield a gun, or even be violent? What say ye, Calvin?   

I am reminded of “Garden” by The Collection

“So I shot a man in Afghanistan, he was bleeding on me 

then he said his name was Jesus and he never had an army 

as he took his dying breath, the last thing that he thought he’d tell me is 

“It’s better to die for nothing than to kill just for your country””

Sure, Calvin does not tickle my fancy when it comes to war, but will this effect my reading of him as I go further into the Presbyterian rabbit hole? I’m not sure. 

What I am sure of that is there are many other faithful Christian anti-war/pro-peace advocates whom I adore and look to for inspiration including these two incredible women, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa:

Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, New York, 1979

*Still disappointed that President Obama did not fulfill his promise to shut it down.

bft’s reading/listening/watching list (8/28)

Here’s what I’ve been listening to and reading this week. Enjoy! 


Two great subversively religiously albums released this last week. 

The Chairman Dances ‘Time Without Measure’

Time Without Measure

I can’t stop raving about this album! Just look at the track titles. When Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin are in the first song, you gotta know it’s going to be good. 

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin
Fannie Lou Hamer
Jimmy Carter
César Chávez
Kitty Ferguson
Catonsville 9 (Thomas and Marjorie)
Peter Gomes and Nancy Koehn
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Collection: Ars Moriendi B-Sides
The Collection has imaginative lyrics, a profound message of peace, and a joyful sound.


Hypercarceration: A Neoliberal Response to “Surplus Population”
by Jan Rehmann

This was written by my mentor and thesis advisor, Dr. Rehmann. 


The skyrocketing increase of U.S. incarceration rates from the late 1970s onward indicates a particular neoliberal response to what Marx analyzed as the deep-structural production of “surplus population” by capital. This essay reevaluates the classic contributions of Marx and of Rusche and Kirchheimer and relates them to approaches that emphasize racial continuity, from “convict leasing” to the “New Jim Crow” of the current incarceration system. What is needed is a multifaceted approach that accounts for the overdetermination of class and race relations. Today’s U.S. prison system is a particular way of “managing” the devastating social consequences of high-tech capitalism that has lost its hegemonic ability to mobilize its subjects on a “voluntary” basis. A part of the surplus population needs to be sacrificed in a theatrical spectacle in order to keep the working class, the poor, and the threatened middle class complacent and under control.

Sad News

Detroit’s Heidelberg Project will be dismantled over the next two years

I go to the Heidelberg Project every time I visit Detroit. This imaginative folk street art will surely be missed! 


Snapped this when I visited this past January.


What Garden of Earthly Delights Abomination Are You?

I got butt gardener.


Lament like hell for the living

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
-Habakkuk 1:2-3

Maybe it’s the heat, or perhaps it’s because theodicy has been on my mind for the last 10 years, or mayhaps I just enjoy good music. Any way, ‘Prayer In C’ by Lilly Wood & The Prick has been my song for the week.

Yah*, you never said a word
You didn’t send me no letter
Don’t think I could forgive you
See our world is slowly dying
I’m not wasting no more time
Don’t think I could believe you
Yah, our hands will get more wrinkled
And our hair will be grey
Don’t think I could forgive you
And see the children are starving
And their houses were destroyed
Don’t think they could forgive you
Hey, when seas will cover lands
And when men will be no more
Don’t think you can forgive you
Yeah when there’ll just be silence
And when life will be over
Don’t think you will forgive you

Its posture of prayer, questioning, and lament fills my heart with such joy. Partly because it’s good to know that there are songs like this out there, since this would never be sung in the context of a church service. As well, it harkens back to the tradition of the prophets, like Habakkuk (quoted at the top) and the psalms, especially Psalm 6 with the psalmist pleading with God saying, “For in death there is no remembrance of you;  in Sheol who can give you praise?” (6:5). In other words, don’t let my enemies kill me, for who will praise you then. 

As well, “Prayer in C” has these great statements and questions about forgiveness:
1. God does not respond to my pleas and prayers. How can I forgive God?
2. Our bodies are deteriorating. How can I forgive God?
3. The world is falling apart: children dying, housing destroyed. How can those effected forgive God?
4. Once the Earth is destroyed and no living creatures are around, will God forgive Godself?

This lament is not as much as the singer becoming an atheist; rather, it’s her expressing frustration and wanting God to respond with cosmic justice, quickly.

It’s hard not to have this plea daily.

Tonight, I’ve been reading all that I can about Imam Maulama Akonjee and his assistant, Thara Uddin, who were murdered in Queens. My prayers go out to their families. This was an act of evil.

I am reminded of the eternal words of Mother Jones: 

pray for the dead.png

May I live with such zeal for life and that I surround myself with like-minded lovers of life. 

Soon I will write something of more substance on my own thoughts about theodicy. 

*Yah, of course, is a shortened name for YHWH (or God).

Hope is not fantasy

This week I picked up Keywords of Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle and it has been a treat. Since each chapter is around four or five pages long, I’ve been using it as a radical daily devotional.

This is from the chapter on hope:

Hope is not fantasy, faith, optimism, or wish, but rather the strongest of all human emotions. “Hope, this expectant counter-emotion against anxiety and fear is therefore the moist human of all mental feelings and only accessible to [humans], and it also refers to the furthest and brightest horizons. It suits that appetite in the mind which the subject not only has, but if which, as unfulfilled subject, it still essentially consists”(Bloch 1995, 75). In this view, hope possesses a utopian function, which enable us to engage with the “not-yet” dimension of reality that inhabits the present and can be anticipated her and now. Hope in this sense is willful rather than wishful: it informs people’s concrete behaviors to forge a better life. 


bft’s reading,listening,&watching list (8.7.16)

It’s the beginning of another week and so it’s time for the reading/watching/listening list of black flag theology!



71 Years Ago Today, The US Govt Carried Out
One of the Worst Terrorist Acts in the History of the World

The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrendous. Hundreds of thousands dead in an instant and hundreds of thousands have suffered the long-term consequences of radiation. The article linked above is one of better ones I found explaining the bombings through a political lens I can appreciate.

I took this photo today at a peace vigil for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and for nuclear proliferation.


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Wokémon provides for leftists a way to enjoy Pokémon. The quote coming from Venusaur’s mouth is by Berta Cáceres, a Honduran human rights and environmental activist, who was murdered earlier this year. I like Wokémon because it is a good access point for Pokémon lovers, including myself, to be introduced to critical theorists, activists, and politicians.



5 Things ‘Arthur’ Neglected to Teach Us about Life

Before the craze of Arthur memes, Clickhole wrote the hilarious article linked above. My favorite section is: That You Can Live With Someone For 6 Years And They Can Turn Around And Forget You In A Second

When Buster moved away, he and Arthur kept in touch via postcard, demonstrating that the bonds of friendship are unbreakable. If only Arthur had mentioned that the same can’t be said for romantic relationships, when in the span of one argument, you can go from intertwined souls imprinted on each other’s cellular memories to strangers in the same bed with so much distance between you that it may as well be infinite, until finally there’s nothing left to talk about but the logistics of packing up the IKEA plates as you ring in your new life as a ghost in your own skin. Thanks for nothing, Marc Brown.

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emily nussbaum

When I finish reading Nussbaum’s television review in the New Yorker, I scroll through her tweets. She is on the pulse of pop culture and other than the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR, I more often than not trust her analysis.