We are not our government: an apology 

“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.

syrian

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.

organize

Thirsting for Dangerous Memory, a Good Friday Sermon

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.” 

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Crucifixion by an unknown Ethiopian Artist

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.

US-POLITICS-OBAMA
Placards posted above water fountains warn against against drinking the water at Flint Northwestern High School in Flint, Michigan, in May, 2016. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

Antifa, an Ass, and a Prayer

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.

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Artiist He Qi

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 WeekJohn 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!
Amen

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Hebron

(This was originally published on Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s blog)

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.

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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:

security sheet.jpg

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.

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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.

Meeting the Mexico/US Border for the first time

A repost of a piece I wrote for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship blog.

“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.

The Mexico/US Border

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. 
**Remembering Jose Antonio

psalms for the election

enjoy two of my favorite anti-empire psalms from the hebrew bible!

whoever-they-vote-for

psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
therefore we will not fear, though the Earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the most high.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
the nations are in an uproar, the empires totter;
the Holy One utters, the Earth melts.
God is with us;
the God of our Ancestors is our refuge.

come, behold the works of God;
see what desolations God has brought on the Earth.
God makes wars cease to the end of the Earth;
God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
God burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the Earth.”
God is with us;
the God of our Ancestors is our refuge.


psalm 146

hallelujah!
praise God, o my soul!
i will praise God as long as i live;
i will sing praises to my God all my life long!

do not put your trust in politicians
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
when their breath departs, they return to the Earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
blessed are those whose help is in God,
whose hope is in the most high their God,
who made heaven and Earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry;
who sets prisoners free;

God gives vision to the visionless,
lifts up those who are bowed down,
and loves the righteous.
God watches over the refugee
and upholds the orphan and the widow,
but brings the way of the wicked to ruin.

God will reign forever,
your God, o people, for all generations.
hallelujah!

like any good ghost, the holy ghost haunts the world towards justice #halloweentheology

I wrote this paper a few years back and think it’s good to revisit it, especially on Halloween!

“for in the one spook we were all haunted into one house
jews or greeks, slaves or free
and we were all made to be spooked by the phantasm.”
1 Corinthians 12:13 (New Revised Specter Version)

white ghost outline shapes

In the Pentecostal church of my youth, we read the King James Version Bible, which has sprinkled throughout the New Testament a most halloween-ey phrase, a holy ghost. I witnessed this ghost spook congregations with healings, tongues-talkin’, and spontaneous revivals. Yet, this holy ghost has not stopped frightening me, even outside my Pentecostal tradition! This specter whispers visions of God’s Realm, but it is not able to transform the world on its own; rather, it seeks agency from humans and creatures alike. John Caputo, a self-identified weak theologian, spells out divinity not as a strong force siding with the wealthy and powerful, but as a call, a promise found with the no-bodies and the marginalized. In this way, God intervenes not through economics, politics, or any system where the powerful reign, but as the Scriptures assumes: through sex workers, stutterers, the imprisoned, and a poor Palestinian Jew killed by an Empire. I will focus on two aspects of the holy specter: 1) the equalizing measure of the holy ghost to fall on anyone, non-discriminate of race, class, or social location. 2) the anti-oppressive spooking found in early Pentecostalism, which still haunts white supremacy today. Like any good ghost, the holy specter haunts and beckons: it calls for justice and equality, expecting humans and creatures to help transform the world for God’s Realm.

Caputo declares that all are subject to the haunting specter. But before we step into the realm or the whisper of the unknown, it would be best to write some about weak or radical theology. This line of thought started with the Death of God theologians, most notably Thomas J.J. Altizer, who claimed God’s death in the 1960’s. Altizer and his ilk exclaimed that the supernatural God found in the holy scriptures no longer existed, if this God ever existed. They insisted that divinity is not above the Earth floating around in the heavens, but is immanent and became immanent because of Jesus. As well, for them, since on Christ’s cross God died, no split exists between the secular and the divine; rather, divinity permeates the universe. Weak theology picks up where Death of God theology left and adds to the conversation of immanence  with Jacques Derrida. For weak theology, God does not exist and instead of taking the Tillichian route of God as existence, takes the less worn road and declares, “God insists. God is neither presence nor absence, but insistence. God does not subsist; God insists.” [1] 

If Caputo is correct, and I believe he is, that the holy specter is haunting all, what might this look like? First off, the negative cultural residue must be wiped away from “haunting.” In Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, she writes, “Being haunted draws us affectively, something against our will and always a bit magically, into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition.”[2] Haunting opens new faculties of knowledge, away from cerebral only understandings of life. Many Pentecostal and Charismatic worship services are haunted in this way. They become spaces in which one’s theological knowledge becomes obsolete because new experiences of the wholly ghastly are overwhelming. For instance, every Sunday morning in my youth, my great-grandmother would speak in tongues during worship. The holy ghost landed on this woman, who was born and raised in a country trailer park. She had no formal education above middle school and this hallowed haunter swept into her during the service without any qualms. She was haunted, and I can still see its shadow.

Second, the holy ghost can be found haunting the pages of our sacred script declaring an egalitarian religious participation. Paul, influenced by the specter, included the well-known ancient metaphor of the body in 1st Corinthians 12:12-31. In this passage, Paul wrote that ghastly gifts are all necessary and equal. If one is an ear they should do their best to listen well and if one is a foot they should respect their position and walk or run the best they are able. Then, adding a twist to this seemingly hierarchical metaphor, Paul declares, “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (12:24-25). As a result, the specter’s gifts are for the common good, whether it is wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, or interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8-10). And these gifts, which we receive from the holy ghost are an extension of God’s grace. Thus, what we receive is for the building up of our communities and not for personal gain.

Thirdly, since the holy ghost rests beyond our idea of presence or absence, no one or group is able to have a definitive word on this mysterious character. Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, German theologian, understanding this conundrum writes, “It seems easier to talk about God or about Jesus as the Christ than to try to describe in doctrinal form a reality that encompasses us when we encounter it and evaporates as soon as we try to pin it down.”[3] Like the negative theologians of the past, we are at a loss for words when it comes to this holy specter. We stand on equal footing, knowing that at any time the haunter of hopes can cast its shadow anywhere or at anytime transforming the world all together.

Notably, the Early Pentecostal Revivalist and Reverend William Seymour wrote of the strange workings of the hauntingly specter. In his magazine, Apostolic Faith, he wrote a section in 1908, titled “Questions Answered.” One of the questions asked was, “Is it necessary for a person to leave their home duties in order to wait at some place for the Holy Ghost?” He responded profoundly, “No; you can wait right in the kitchen or in the parlor or in the barn. Some have received the baptism of the Spirit in their barns, some in the kitchen, some at family worship, some on their porch, some about their business.”[4] The holy ghost can spook anyone at anytime, no where is safe.  For the holy ghost is not a kindly Casper the Friendly Ghost, who got along with everyone without any problems. No, this holy specter haunts the world for the common good, often disrupting the lives of the comfortable and well-off.

For a short time my grandparents lived in North Carolina. They lived on a farm and were faithful members of the Catholic Church. My grandmother will frequently share with me a story about her interaction with the Klu Klux Klan when she lived there. My father was only a few months old, around 1962, and one night she heard some chaos pursuing outside at the farm across the hill. She looked out the kitchen window and sees the KKK dressed in their white robes burning crosses at her African American neighbor’s farm. She calls the police. The police do not show up and the African American family move days later. That story haunts my grandmother because she knows that this was a violent act. Agreeing with our ghostly theorist Avery Gordon, “haunting, unlike trauma by contrast, is distinctive for producing a something-to-be-done.”[5] For my grandmother, she retells this story to haunt her hearers to not be like them.

The haunting that the KKK performs cannot compare to the haunting of the holy haunter. While the KKK burns crosses, kills black and brown persons, and seemingly dress like ghosts. The holy specter calls for justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality, and love.[6] The specter of specters is heard, but not seen. It spooks. When the holy specter enters a KKK meeting, members repent of their violent ghosting, they burn their sheets, and humble themselves to listen and ask for forgiveness from black and brown families and communities they have harmed.

In the early American Pentecostal Movement, racism was at the forefront. Two preachers founded American Pentecostalism. First, the founder of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, KS and one of the first preachers to teach on speaking in tongues, a white man named Charles Parham. He was the pastor of the service in January 1901, where speaking in tongues first occurred. A few years later, a young black man, a son of two slaves, and blind in one eye came to hear Parham speak about this phenomenon, his name was William J. Seymour. Because of the racist laws, Seymour was not able to sit in the same room to hear Parham speak, but sat outside the door and listened. After spending a few days there, Seymour took up the cause of Pentecostalism and started to preach about it. He eventually led the Azusa Street Revival from 1906-1909.

Seymour as a Pentecostal had the holy spirit as the most important Person of his theology. He believed that the geist of eternity did not commend social or racial divisions. Gastón Espinosa, a Pentecostal Latino theologian wrote that the Azusa Revival “grew precisely because it was a transgressive social space wherein racial-ethnic minorities, women, the working class, and others could cross some of the deeply inscribed unbiblical racial-ethnic, class, gender, and national borders and boundaries of the day.”[7] This revival transcended time and place. Being is spooked by time.[8] When spaces are smoked with holy fire, time vanishes.

Racism, sexism, and classism are so prevalent in the US then and now. The haunter causes discomfort in the powers-that-be. When Parham visited the Azusa Revival, he condemned it in an editorial piece writing, “frequently a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big buck nigger and held tightly as she shook in freak imitation of Pentecost.”[9] Parham’s vision of Pentecostalism was segregated; blacks and whites should attend different services. The Azusa Street Revival spooked him and after this Seymour never publicly wrote of Parham again.

Ghosts, and specifically the holy specter, haunt us not that we become fearful of it, but so it may waver our present state of comfort. For Parham, the state of his racism, his sympathy for the KKK, and his pro-Jim Crow attitude shook when he encountered the revival. When the holy ghost enters churches today, it often shakes them of their apathy of the poor, their neglect of the systems of injustice including racism, sexism, transphobia, the prison-industrial complex, and the disregard of single parents sitting in the pews. The holy specter does not side with the powerful, but haunts them until they share with those without. The haunter of hearts does not accept the apathy of the middle class manager, yet spooks them until they have relationships with their neighbors. The holy ghost haunts that we may love better, share fuller, and listen more deeply to the needs of others.

The Christian tradition does not play enough with pneumatology. For example, Augustine wrote that the Holy Spirit is the love between God the Father and God the Son. In this case, God’s Spirit has little to no human contact. Or process theologian, Blair Reynolds, who wrote, “Life in the Spirit means more than merely acting in harmony with or in obedience to the will of God. Because God is not beyond or exclusive of the world but is its receptacle, we are in direct contact with God, hence capable of entering into a mutual relationship with God.”[11] Therefore, it is impossible to leave God’s presence, which may seem logical for panentheists, but without the haunting that I’ve described why would there be a need to be transformed? What I attempted to do in this post is combine popular culture, God-talk, and social justice to sort out a spooktacular pneumatology.

The holy specter cannot be controlled. It can visit us at any moment and it will. It spooks. Or in the words of Caputo, “Specters are highly egalitarian; they disturb everyone.”[12]  It haunts us, calling us to live as if we’re already in God’s Realm.

ghost-clip-art-aieo4bxi4


[1] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 31-33

[2] Avery F. Gordon and Janice Radway, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, 2nd edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008). p. 8

[3] Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis (New York : Geneva: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1996). p. 5

[4] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 194

[5] Avery F. Gordon, “Who”s there?’: some answers to questions about Ghostly Matters., website, October 26, 2007, http://www.averygordon.net/writing-haunting/whos-there/.

[6] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 31

[7] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 101

[8] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 34

[9] Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014). p. 99

[11] Blair Reynolds, Toward a Process Pneumatology (Selinsgrove Pa. : London ; Cranbury, NJ: Susquehanna Univ Pr, 1990). pg. 158

[12] John D. Caputo et al., It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call (Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015). p. 19


Bibliography

Caputo, John D., Katharine Sarah Moody, Tad DeLay, Ross Pennock, Micah Purnell, John Hardt, Joshua Harris, et al. It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call. Shelter50 Publishing Collective LLC, 2015.

Espinosa, Gastón. William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History. Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014.

Gordon, Avery F., and Janice Radway. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. 2nd edition. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Jensen, David H., ed. The Lord and Giver of Life: Perspectives on Constructive Pneumatology. Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Moltmann, Jurgen. The Spirit of Life. 3rd Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Muller-Fahrenholz, Geiko. God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis. New York : Geneva: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1996.

Reynolds, Blair. Toward a Process Pneumatology. Selinsgrove Pa. : London ; Cranbury, NJ: Susquehanna Univ Pr, 1990.

 

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

Refrain:
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

Refrain

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

Globe.jpg


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.