One of the most theological imaginative ideas in the last 50 years: Capitalism isn’t working. Another World is Possible!
A week before Christmas, Pastor Tim Keller tweeted:
This comes as no surprise. For Keller, evangelicals, and other Christian conservatives, Jesus’ main objective was to forgive sins. For this reason, accordingly, Jesus was put on a cross to suffer and die. Jesus’ teachings, which concerned bringing God’s Realm to Earth, are often ignored, so that these evangelicals may put words into Jesus’ last dying breaths.
Honestly, this tweet was easy for me to ignore. It neither brings a new perspective to evangelical theology, nor does it deny their anti-world, spiritualized theology. It also confirms, once again, that for evangelicals, God is not on the side of the poor and oppressed.
What I can’t ignore though is what Keller tweeted this week:
This is an “It’s okay to be white” tweet. A tweet that commends historical and current oppression, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy. Keller, in this tweet, believes that God has chosen those to be blessed by surveying the genocide of Native peoples, the lynchings and slavery of black people, and second class citizenship of Latinx people, etc. For him, everything happens for a reason whether good or bad and it’s all ordained by God.
a “gift of God” for one is
the stolen land of another
enslavement of another
the death of thousands for another
and extreme poverty and despair of another
This same kind of unholy logic Keller purports could be used in the case of Erica and Eric Garner. Eric Garner, in the summer of 2014, was unjustly put in a chokehold and killed by a police officer on Staten Island for selling untaxed cigarettes. His daughter, Erica Garner, spoke out for her father’s life, against police brutality, and for a freer world. Unfortunately, her body could no longer handle the weight of the systematic racism, the sorrow of her father’s death, and the despair that things will only get worse in the US under this administration. Neither of these Garners should be dead. Neither should the other countless individuals killed by police officers or the military, for that matter. These deaths are not happening because God desires them to happen, but because humanity continues to perpetuate unjust systems.
One of the problems I find with Christian theology is a lack of imagination. For Keller and ilk, things are the way they are because God wouldn’t want them any other way. Really? This is the best God could do? If this is true, I think we should expect an apology. The idea that everything happens for a reason is dangerous and unimaginative,
With a lack of theological imagination:
systems of oppression go unchecked
pastors can continue with spiritual abuse (women should be subservient to men; God blesses the USA; abusers strengthen your faith; the end is coming soon, so donate your monies to the church, etc. )
the Earth is only temporary, God can make a new one
God is a caring Father, who cares about *His* children
Maybe the question is not “How wide is your theological imagination?” but “What does your theological imagination smell like?” Mine somedays smells like the stinky compost I put on the rooftop garden at the church, or the smell my hand absorbs after shaking the hand of the volunteer who enjoys taking out the trash from the soup kitchen, or the smell of sajjige that my friend gives me after it being in her purse all day. These smells represent growth, kindness, and friendship. Things that seem to be lacking in some of our theological imaginations.
The world is not as it should be. With the help of bolder theological imaginations, we might create, with God, a more just-filled world.
I preached this sermon at Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC on Sunday, August 20th.
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, The lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, (by chance), a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Then the next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him (and to us), “Go and do likewise.”
It can be difficult trying to hear with fresh senses this well tread passage. Hearing the phrase “The Good Samaritan” brings up childhood Sunday school lessons for some of us or our favorite television episodes where the main character acts with Good Samaritan compassion. And these starting points color how we hear this parable.
For me, it was when I was called a Good Samaritan after I picked up three hitchhikers at a gas station in my hometown, provided them with a meal, and a shower. Then drove them to their friend’s house two hours away. And really I was only called a “Good Samaritan” the next day after a night of being remed out by my parents. But honestly, I did it, because I was bored and wanted a disruption in my own life. In the parable there’s no sense of boredom, only honest to God compassion.
This is what I love about the parable of the Good Samaritan, it’s straightforward.
Clearly there are those who are morally corrupt: the robbers. The morally ambiguous: the Levite and the priest. And the moral hero: the Samaritan. Unlike other parables too, it’s not about God’s Realm, but about the flesh and blood of this life.
When I was rereading our passage this week, I was struck by all the times the Samaritan touched this bloodied man.
And a quick but important side note: the robbers were not just stealing this man’s wallet, but attempting to take his life.
Now back to the compassionate Samaritan: First, upon seeing the half dead man, he bends down, wraps up his bloodied body, pouring oil and wine on the wounds. Next he puts the now bandaged man onto his animal or donkey and ride to the Inn. At the inn, they stay the night, probably in the same room. I can’t imagine that the Samaritan slept much that night, since he was probably checking in constantly on the man. Like a parent spending the first few nights with their newborn. The next morning, the Samaritan gives the inn keeper money to take care of the man and that he would repay him any extra expenses.
In a way, this doesn’t sound like the parable I grew up with. I was taught a bloodless parable on felt board with characters who wore oversized Middle Eastern like clothing. And maybe this parable isn’t meant for kids. Because after spending the last two weeks with 8-11 year olds at Vacation Bible School, I can tell you that they don’t need this lesson. They’re just fine caring for those around them. It’s really for us adults.
So who is my neighbor according to Jesus? It’s those who are within reach, who are within arm’s length.
Before I get too ahead of myself. Make no mistake about this: Jesus is calling us to be neighbors to those who are along our paths in life. It’s who you are sitting beside now. It’s who you will run into on the sidewalk after church. THEY ARE THE ONES WE ARE CALLED TO BE NEIGHBORS TO!
I stress this because often I get caught up in my own social media world. A world, that’s still real, but is not within arms reach. I can show compassion by texting emojis, but there are still men who sleep on the front steps of our church. I can send direct messages on Twitter to those in difficult life situations, but I often keep in my earbuds when I see an acquaintance who I don’t want to speak to on the sidewalk. I’m Timothy, I have other big important things to do, not just getting to know the name of the person ringing me up at Westside Market for my meatball parm sub. Because I am more often than not the priest and the Levite in this parable.
Is it because I consider myself a New Yorker now, fast walking, head down, and becoming more egocentric. I’m not sure, but Jesus is clear on this point: Know and love your neighbor.
But there’s more to this story that I’ll only touch on. You see the Levite and the priest, in a way, do nothing wrong. They’re bad neighbors, yes. Apathetic, very. But were they actively harming the man? No, of course.
The stark problem though that confronts me every time I read this passage is with our dismissal of the robbers. Why doesn’t anyone talk about why the man was in the ditch, half-dead in the first place?!
It’s complicated because you have to go back to the system. There are robbers because they have a need. They have a need because there’s inequality. There’s inequality because the system was created like this.
Martin Luther King Jr. was onto this holy logic in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech when he said: “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Amen, but woah. Timothy are you trying to tell us that it’s not just about acting kind to those we pass by each day or that it’s not good enough to care only for my family, but that I need to challenge the system? In short, yes. But in long form: no, but also.
No, keep in touch with those around you, but also make sure if they are feeling hopeless that you comfort them.
No, don’t stop reposting articles about Heather Heyer, who was killed by a white supremacist but also live in such a way that celebrates our diverse world and keep naming white supremacy as a sin and enemy of humanity.
No, continue giving money to good organizations that fight for human rights, dignity, and a more just world, but also show deep, deep love to those struggling financially, emotionally, and physically.
This tension of living like the Good Samaritan and changing the Jericho Road is not easy. Nor is following Jesus supposed to be easy. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t be the same person as you were, but transformed by a God who loves and comforts us and expects the same from us.
I’ll end my sermon just as Jesus did: Go and do likewise. Go, as in leave your place of comfort and enter places where people have lost all hope. Do it, not to be called good, since the phrase “Good Samaritan” is not found in the text itself, but do it to further bring God’s Realm on Earth. So Go and do likewise, Amen.
My church’s Pub Theology crew wanted to discuss the doctrine of Revelation. As is my custom, I created a worksheet to help start our conversation:
Working Definition: Revelation unveils the Unknown.
What is it: An experience, an event, an inspiration that moves one beyond the vision of the ordinary. Transcendant Transformative
What is it not: Revelation does not provide us with all that there is to know about God. It does not speak against Biblical theology, i.e. it will never tell you to hate your neighbor. It is not new information.
Sources and Sites of Revelation: Scripture Jesus Christ Preaching People Music Animals Campfires Creation Protests Soup Kitchens
The Intersection of Revelation and Charlottesville
“Flannery O’Connor depicts an event of “revelation” in a way that points to the deeper theological meaning of the term. She tells of the story of Mrs. Turpin, a hard-working, upright, church-going farmer’s wife, who is unexpectedly accosted by a mentally disturbed teenage girl in a doctor’s office. After bearing Mrs. Turpin’s superior attitude and demanding remarks about white trash and black people as long as she can, the girl suddenly throws a heavy book at Mrs. Turpin, begins to strangle her, and calls her a “wart hog from hell.” When Mrs. Turpin returns to her farm, she cannot get the girl’s words out of her mind. Standing beside her pigpen, she is outraged by being called a wart hog. She knows she is a good person, certainly far superior to white trash and black people. She reminds God of that, as well as of all the work she does for the church, “What did you send me a message like that for?” She angrily asks God. But as she stared into the pigpen, she has a glimpse of “the very heart of mystery,” and begins to absorb some “abysmal life-giving knowledge.” She has a vision of a parade of souls marching to heaven, with white trash, black people, lunatics, and other social outcasts up front, and respectable people like herself at the rear of the procession, the shocked expressions on their faces showing that all their virtues are being burned away. Mrs. Turpin returns to her house with shouts of hallelujah from the heaven-bound saints in her ears.”
“Revelation is an event that shakes us to the core.”
“Revelation compels momentous decisions about who God is and how we are to understand the world and ourselves.”
The previous quotes are from the tremendous book Faith Seeking Understanding byDaniel Migliore (p. 22)
Our conversation was complicated by the group constantly arguing for what I deemed as little “r” revelation. They described events that shaped new ways of visioning the world, but not necessarily with the consequences of material change. For example, someone mentioned walking in the park, feeling awestruck, and not being able to see a leaf again without thinking of God’s handiwork. This is lovely, for sure, but is not capital “R” Revelation.
When Biblical Revelations occur, which seem to only happen to men, the recipient’s lives are transformed. After Moses encounters God in a burning bush, he changes his path, goes back to Egypt, and joins in the liberation of the Hebrew People. Paul’s revelation of God knocks his life out of control, no longer does he kill Christians, but now he preaches a Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles. According to these Biblical Revelations, they happen when they’re least expected and one is persuaded towards a way of life-giving love.
And oh how I pray for Revelations for politicians, CEOs, & white supremacists that they may change their ways. Often I think that people could help foster acts of Revelation. Like the teenage girl in the Flannery O’Connor tale and help others to see that their vision of the world is destructive.
I ended the conversation at Pub Theology saying that if a Revelation does not create a material change, not just a spiritual one, then you should’ve been paying closer attention.
At the turn of the millennium, Crimethinc produced a great and still relevant piece, “Your Politics Are Boring As F*ck.” They describe how practitioners of radical political ideologies are going about things the wrong way. One delightful example posited spending the afternoon collecting food from businesses, who were going to throw it away anyway, to share it with the hungry comparing that with writing an editorial to a leftist paper about their improper use of “anarcho-syndicalism.” The article ends with a delightful list of how not to make politics boring:
Make politics relevant to our everyday experience of life again. The farther away the object of our political concern, the less it will mean to us, the less real and pressing it will seem to us, and the more wearisome politics will be.
All political activity must be joyous and exciting in itself. You cannot escape from dreariness with more dreariness.
To accomplish those first two steps, entirely new political approaches and methods must be created. The old ones are outdated, outmoded. Perhaps they were NEVER any good, and that’s why our world is the way it is now.
Enjoy yourselves! There is never any excuse for being bored… or boring!
Yet, while I thoroughly enjoy and agree with the article I think it needs to emphasize even more so: EVERY ACT WE COMMIT IS POLITICAL, whether or not we see it as such. Who one hangs out with, the city one lives in, what you buy or not buy for groceries, what you’re watching on TV, etc. etc. IT’S ALL POLITICAL! And so it seems to think that political action happens every four years is an utter and complete farce.
For me though, political discourse can be oh so boring because US politics is extremely circular. The US must always have an enemy, who appears evil and hurts their citizens. The US must threaten and at least appear to defeat such enemy for the sake of democracy. The problem though is that the US oligarchy controls our political discourse. Even in my circles, questions do not arise as to whether or not the enemy of the US government is actually the enemy of the US people. I, for sure, do not have qualms with Afghanis, Yemenis, Iraqis, North Korean citizens, and so on. Rather, those whom I disagree with and challenge are already in my community: police and local politicians.
We must move away from imperial discourse and move towards local discourse!
Of course, this is not going to end the Tr*mp drama, but it will grant us the energy to move towards what is important: the marginalized, poor, and sick among us. In a few weeks, I’m preaching on the “Good Samaritan.”* I gather from this ancient story that your neighbor is the person spatially closest to you. In other words, it can be good to have an interest in the Middle East or Latin America, but what are you doing for your neighbors within reach. I find Jesus’ parable compelling in the fact that the Samaritan touched and bandaged the beat up, bloodied man. I often do not have the courage to act in such a way.
Our politics are boring because we’d rather spend our time and energy with those who share similar ideologies. I too am guilty of this. And it’s difficult to share with my moderate/liberal friends an anarcho-communist vision of the world. Don’t get me started on reactions to Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism! Because honestly, who cares? Who cares if I can quote Marx, EZLN, and obscure theologians in the same sentence? I do, certainly! But how am I going to show compassion to those who sleep on the church steps or foster relationships with people I encounter every day because if I am not doing that then my politics should be boring.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him,
“You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself,
he asked Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
and fell into the hands of robbers,
who stripped him, beat him, and went away,
leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road;
and when he saw him,
he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite,
when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him;
and when he saw him,
he was moved with pity.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds,
having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal,
brought him to an inn,
and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denarii,
gave them to the innkeeper, and said,
‘Take care of him; and when I come back,
I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Which of these three,
do you think,
was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.””
I was asked to write a statement of faith and because of my trust in a loving and creative Triune God, I re-wrote the ancient faith text, the Nicene Creed, to represent my ever-Reforming faith.
I believe in one God, Creator, Intruder, and Agitator Almighty, maker of heaven and Earth, creating and imagining still, of all things, visible and invisible, diverse and expanding. And in my Savior Jesus Christ, the Beloved Child of God, eternally begotten by God before the planets whirled, Divinity from Divinity, Love from Love, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as God. Through Christ all things were made. For humanity, the universe, and our salvation Christ broke into the chaos of creation becoming incarnate by God’s Spirit and the young, poor Mary, and was made flesh. Christ taught and lived a life of peace and justice, dined with prostitutes, outcasts, and fools; denounced religiosity as the way to God’s heart, instead of loving one’s neighbor; and gave up all power for the sake of loving the world. Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, and was buried. On the third day God raised Christ from the dead, according to the Scriptures, he ascended into heaven and is extoled to God’s right hand. Christ comes again and again and one day will come in glory to judge the living and the dead. God’s Realm has already begun and will never end. I believe in God’s Spirit, active and moving, the giver of life and breath. God’s Spirit dances with Christ and God in eternity, and with God and Christ should be worshiped and glorified. God’s Spirit has spoken through the prophets, past and present; convicts the unjust, heals the wounded, and moves among the unloved. I believe God’s Spirit hovers over the one holy catholic and apostolic church. I affirm baptism and communion as sacred moments in the Beloved Community. I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.
“I’ve met many peace activists before and
I know that you are not the US government.”
– a Salvadoran community leader
Whether it was in Iraqi-Kurdistan, the Borderlands of Mexico and Arizona, or Palestine, I constantly heard this sentiment in some form. This was said in spite of the US providing chemical weapons to bomb Halabja, Iraq; in spite of the US aiding in the killing of thousands of Salvadorans; in spite of the US sending a million dollars a day to Israel for weapons to be used against Palestinians. Now that this current administration has been upping the ante by aggressively bombing Syria and Afghanistan, using drone warfare more frequently, and causing trouble where trouble was not there before, I’ve become sorrowful. As someone who believes in repentance, of changing one’s actions and thoughts, I plead with this administration to think about the consequences and effects of habitual violence the US military commits around the world and also how it affects US citizens. But it’s difficult to imagine Tr*mp or anyone from his administration be humble in any way, unless it’s at a tee-off. In light of this, I feel compelled to apologize for the recent US’ heinous acts.
To the Syrian people: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we have ignored Assad as a threat to you for years, when he did not represent a threat to us. I’m sorry the US does not have a commitment to nonviolent acts as diplomacy and divestment strategies, but bomb without questions. I too am ashamed that we can call bombing an airfield and military airbase a human rights campaign when we cannot provide any rights to refugees and immigrants in the US.
You’re in my prayers and marches, Syria. May violence cease and peace with justice reign.
To the Afghani people: I’m sorry. It’s been too long that our weapons and military have invaded your country. I’m sorry for our continued presence, our constant violence, and that we do not have a plan to leave your country. And still the Mother of All Bombs which landed in the eastern part of Afghanistan, not only disrupted Daesh’s tunnels, but killed children, women, and men. My heart weeps.
You’re in my prayers and marches, Afghanistan. May violence cease and peace with justice reign.
To those in North Korea: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the infringement of our government and its threats on your country. I know that you are not your government. I pray that you do not assume the same about the US. I will continue to pray for your safety, please pray for ours as well.
You’re in my prayers and marches, North Korea. May violence cease and peace with justice reign
For the peoples of Yemen, Russia, and Turkey: You are not forgotten. I’m sorry for our perpetual use of drone strikes in Yemen; for putting the Putin circus before the people of Russia; and for the US President praising Turkey’s President, soon to be dictator, instead listening to the cries of the Turkish people. So much violence, too little peace.
You’re in my prayers and marches, Yemen, Russia, and Turkey. May violence cease and peace with justice reign
Mark Twain’s old adage, “Loyalty to the country always, loyalty to the government when it deserves it” continues to be true today. Anywhere I go in the US or around the world, I encounter compassion and love, which is absent in the US administration.
May we forgive ourselves, commit to peace with justice in our daily lives, and be faithful to the struggle with the guidance of the marginalized.
I was invited to be one of the preachers for the Last Seven Words Service at Church on the Hill AME Zion Church, NYC. I took the fifth phrase: “I am thirsty.”
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. (John 19:28-29)
I can remember a time when it was popular for pastors to preach a sermon series on the “I am” statements found in John’s Gospel. To name a few of the “I am” statements in John: I am the bread of life I am the light of the world I am the good shepherd I am the resurrection and the life I am the way, the truth, and the life
These statements point to the divinity to Christ, since in the book of Exodus when Moses asked for God’s name, the response from the burning bush was “I am that I am.” And so every time Jesus says. “I am,” we are to recall the God of Exodus. The God who liberated a people out of slavery. A God who guides through the wilderness.
And yet, the same one who said “I am the bread of life” also said “I am thirsty.” Though “I am thirsty” as an “I am” statement has been overlooked. Perhaps because of how concrete it is.
Jesus is dying, bleeding, gasping for breath, and has the most essential human need: thirst.
This is such a potent moment in John’s Gospel. This is the first-time Jesus eats or drinks anything in John. While in the other Gospels, Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors, the unclean, and sex workers, John’s Gospel saves this moment while Christ is on the cross. In a way, John’s Gospel is making these words have so much more depth.
It takes nearly the entire book of John for Jesus to show his humanity. But better late than never.
And in this moment of suffering and thirst, I think it’s important to incorporate what is called Dangerous Memory.
This idea was created around the time of the Holocaust by Jewish cultural critic and theologian Walter Benjamin, who wrote “To articulate what is past does not mean to recognize “how it really was.” It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” In other words, history is the story we tell ourselves, but then we must be intentional to ask “Who’s story is being told?” Walter Benjamin focused on the underclasses of society and told it from their perspective.
On this Good Friday, how can we not, but stand back and ask who else in our world thirsts? And I do not mean this in an abstract way, but actually who is parched, looking for water.
It has been 1085 days since there’s been clean water in Flint, MI. 1085 days of children not being able to drink out of school water fountains. 1085 days of pregnant women using bottled water to clean themselves. 1085 days in a city of almost 100,000 people trying to survive. And still. And still. And still. The people of Flint thirst just as Christ did on the cross.
Christ thirsts, Justice thirsts.
Last year, I went on a peace delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan. We met with villages where oil companies had come in and started extracting oil. The extraction had destroyed their land and water source. At each of these villages, they showed us where they had wells and how they’re now full of extraction chemicals unworthy to consume the water. Some of these villages had kind neighbors let them use their water source, but many of them have to go into the cities and buy bottled water. My group visited a merely 3 villages out of 800 who are the affected. The villagers of Iraqi Kurdistan thirst just as Christ did on the cross.
Christ thirsts, Justice thirsts.
In the desert that connects Arizona and Mexico many migrants die in hopes of a better life. They die of starvation and thirst. In the 90’s, an organization was created called No More Deaths, which sets out gallons of water for these travelers. Yet, they cannot get to every desert hopeful. The migrants from Latin and South America thirst just as Christ did on the cross.
Christ thirsts, Justice thirsts.
After listening to moments of current thirsts, here’s what I propose: “I am thirsty” should be included in canon of “I am” statements. We must not disconnect Christ’s reality on the cross to those who thirst in our world. But this also means that we cannot sit idly by while others thirst.
I too find it peculiar that it in our reading it says “they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth..” It doesn’t say that it was the soldiers or the women who quenched Jesus’ thirst. Its ambiguity almost seems to say that it could be anyone close enough to Christ who could have aided Jesus in his despair. And maybe just maybe we are called to be the “they.” Was it not Jesus who said in Matthew’s Gospel:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)
So let us continue to thirst after justice. For justice in all those places who have been forgotten and oppressed: Flint, Iraq, Mexico, and Arizona. Christ thirsts, Justice thirsts. Amen.
On this Palm Sunday morning, I have a few non-related thoughts:
I listened to an insightful interview with Mark Bray on WYNC titled, “For Antifa, Not All Speech Should Be Free.” Basically the anti-fascist approach is to shut down, hinder, and disrupt racist, sexist, Islamophobic, transphobic, and other oppressive and hate-filled speech before it leads to more holocausts and genocides. What I find attractive about the antifa movement is the large net it casts in leftist ideologies, from marxists to anarchists to Democratic Socialists. Educating the ignorant, interrupting hate speech, and unsettling the status quo is not easy work, but necessary.
Today in the Christian liturgical calendar, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a never-ridden-before ass, that practically the disciples steal for the Lord’s sake. Plenty of other commentators have added their voices noting the subversiveness of this political parade. That simultaneously as Jesus was riding into one area of Jerusalem, Pilate would’ve have been riding in on a war horse in another section of the city. In The Last Week, John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg (RIP) do a fine job explaining this idea. What’s struck at me this year is the crowd yelling “Hosanna,” which literally means “Save now!” The peasants of Jerusalem were calling for a political revolution, to be rescued from their constant mode of being in crisis. In my experience, all protests have a similar mode: the current political structure needs to be rearranged, burnt to the ground, etc. for a fuller political imagination, one where everyone is fed, housed, can work (if desired), and loved. And perhaps Jesus started the new order since the first thing he did was to turn over the tables of capitalists in the Temple (Matt. 21:12). Let’s continue in the way of Jesus, towards revolution and hope.
A prayer for the three Coptic Churches bombed during their Palm Sunday Service.
Oh God of this world
We pray for the Coptic families
of those killed and injured today
We pray that those who commit
such acts to repent of their ways
We pray too for the Syrian people
for all the bombings they have suffered
We pray that the US may repent of its
continued use of violence here and around the world
May we live in peace
Hosanna, Oh God!
Save now, Oh Christ!
Liberate us, Oh Spirt!
I attended the Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Board Meeting as the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship representative, not expecting anything life-altering, but transformation waits for no one.
CPT planned their Board Meeting in Hebron, Palestine during the week of March 13th. They sandwiched it between a Sabeel Conference and a delegation, in case people could take off work longer than a week. It just so happened to coincide with my Spring Break and I decided to travel halfway around the world, instead of resting from my other part-time jobs.
My adventure began at 11:30pm on Saturday, March 11th when I boarded Turkish Airlines at JFK. I had a layover in Istanbul and arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday, March 12th at 11:30pm. I prepared for the flights and layover by downloading enough content in terms of TV shows and e-books. I would’ve had the biggest case of ennui if I didn’t.
When we landed in Tel Aviv, I prepared to be questioned. My first encounter was with an Israeli soldier who picked me out of the arrivees. He asked me the standard questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why of my time in Israel. I passed the test and finally made it to Passport Control. There, I was asked the same basic questions, but was asked more directly about my time in Iraqi-Kurdistan, which was actually my first delegation with CPT last May.
Unimpressed with my answer, they sent me to a separate room with a few others who apparently had red flags about their passports as well. Let me add, too, that most of the CPT Board had already arrived in Jerusalem without any kind of trouble.
About 10 minutes in, I was called out by an Israeli Security Force agent for questioning. She first handed me a sheet that looked like this:
I filled it out and was asked about where I worked, organizations I financially support, if I have ever protested, if I give to organizations who support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and other pointed questions about where I was staying on my visit. Finally, she asked to see my phone, searched through my emails, contacts, Facebook, and text messages, and asked if I knew Arabic. Feeling exposed, vulnerable, and panicky, I asked if she needed anything else and requested to be excused. After all, I had just spent an hour and a half with her.
When I got back to the holding room, I texted a CPTer to let them know that I was okay, but that I was detained and would keep them up to date. After another hour of waiting, the same security patrol person sent me to another room, Border Control. For several more hours I waited. With my anxiety heightened, I paced around the room. When the room emptied around 7:45 AM, I was called in. I was asked if I was going to Palestine and if I supported BDS, both of which I denied, hoping that they wouldn’t go through my Facebook again to see all my “likes” of BDS related pages. Eventually they handed me back my passport and I left at 8am.
I travelled by shared taxi to the Old City in Jerusalem, zombie shuffled to the hostel, and slept for 10 hours. Thankfully, I was still able to fall asleep at midnight and left the next day with a few other Board members to Hebron.
The rest of the days were split in two. We spent every morning with the CPT Palestine Team patrolling several checkpoints in Hebron. We high-fived kindergarteners going to school in an attempt to bring some kind of hope, in spite of the apartheid state. These children are among the Palestinian people who are designated as “other” by a green passport, as opposed to the blue passports held by Israeli citizens. Those with blue passports are allowed to breeze past these checkpoints while the others are held and interrogated; there’s a similar system for license plates, though obviously none of our new kid friends were driving. I noticed that despite this repression, kids will always go to corner stores to pick up chips and candies, and the latest sneakers and fashions will always be a priority for high school students. Our afternoons were spent at the Hebron Hotel listening to reports from the director, committees, and having lively discussions about what it means to be a Christian organization even when many of our team members practice different faiths.
We adjourned on Friday afternoon and leaving Israel was much easier than arriving. Sure, I went through extra security, but wasn’t harassed, nor was my phone taken away.
I come away from the whole experience with a few fractured thoughts.
I am more convinced than ever that Israel is an apartheid state. The segregation found with different color passports and license plates to identify who should be targeted is a disgrace. As well as after hearing the history of these checkpoints, from once being a table and some guards to concrete and metal, it shows the certainty of how severe and long lasting Israel wants this oppression to be.=
CPT’s work on the ground in Palestine, Canada, Colombia, Iraqi-Kurdistan, and Lesbos is crucial in our global political climate with more right-wing fascists spewing their hate-filled rhetoric and creating racist and discriminatory laws without caution or pause. I am thankful for their endurance and courage, and honored to be a part of it.
Peacemakers and truth tellers are politically dangerous. To call out oppression and imperial nonsense startles the mighty.
I could not do any of this work without the love and support of this community of peacemakers, creative folk, and rabble rousers.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that what I experienced was not even a fraction of what thousands experience every day. From Iraqi-Kurds denied entry into Turkey, to Black Americans unsafe in their own neighborhoods, or to migrants who attempt to find safe passage through dangerous desert terrain. This week altered my perspective: it’s not that I think that I’ve walked in the shoes of a Palestinian, but that I have seen with my own eyes a sliver of the harsh reality imposed by a seemingly outdated system of oppression. It only then makes sense, to me, to find hope in a God who calls us to act peacefully and justly.
“You can tell me about the politics of Latin America,
but you don’t know what’s happening at your own border.”
– Activist from Colombia
The School of the Americas Protest has become my activist family reunion. For the last five years, I’ve marched with many of the same people from organizations I trust and love. This year we converged on the Mexico/US border in Nogales. This choice, in my opinion, was politically necessary. With the fascist rhetoric of anti-immigration, mostly about those from the global South, it seems only appropriate at this time to show our solidarity. And it’s true, overall, I don’t know much about the border, so when the Colombian activist spoke the words above, it struck me. One weekend in Arizona is not going to give me the full story about the militarization at the Border or the use of drones or the great work of solidarity by churches to those crossing the desert. I have much more to read, experience, and stories to listen to.
Throughout the weekend, as usual, much creativity was on display: from the puppetistas to the Peace Poets to the noise demostration outside the ICE Dentention Center. I decided then I didn’t want to only write a reflection, but a song.
“Meeting the Border for the first time”
I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect No, me and the Southwest, we’ve never met
I heard stories of torture in Detention Centers Where people are caged and the law is dismembered
Make some noise, Eloy* Make some noise, Eloy
I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect No, me and the Southwest, we’ve never met
I heard a boy was shot after throwing some rocks He was killed through the fence, 16 years old
Presente, Jose Antonio** Presente, Jose Presente, desert hopefuls Presente, refugee
I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect No, me and the Southwest, we’ve never met
I witnessed a wall in Nogales It was tall, strong, and rusted Why do we separate people? Was this part of God’s plan?
Tear the wall down, Oh God End the babel, Holy One Open our homes, Holy Refugee Give us courage to love
I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect No, me and the Southwest, we’ve never met But I’ll be back.
*Eloy was the town where we went to the Dentention Center.