Justice

rest in power, dr. cone

Today, Dr. James Hal Cone died. 

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I started reading him in undergrad. Through his books, I came to the realization that I can be political in my own theology. I even wrote a blog post attempting to use Dr. Cone’s theology to critique Flannery O’Connor: the compassion of the christ: taking christian theology serious for the sake of society. I continue to think of him when I write anything theological. 

I first met Dr. Cone at the Free Library of Philadelphia in December, 2012, when he was on The Cross and the Lynching Tree book tour. I found my notes from his talk. I wrote down:

“You cannot let despair have the last word.”

“Do not give up any form of resistance. It’s all an expression of hope.”

These statements have not left me. 

I will always remember Dr. Cone as a humble and gentle man. In his classes, he was personal and cared for us. What I appreciate about him most is the way his theology changed over the years. In his earlier books, he didn’t seem to take into account Black women’s experiences or Queer experiences. In later Prefaces of God of the Oppressed, he repents and started to incorporate it into his own theology. 

I am deeply thankful to have known Dr. Cone. You will be missed. 

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Justice, Liturgy

the nicene creed: radically revised

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.

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Chicago Climate March (April 29, 2017)  God’s Spirit moved among us.

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Justice, Peace

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.

 

Throughout the weekend, as usual, much creativity was on display: from the puppetistas to the Peace Poets to the noise demonstration outside the ICE Detention 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 Detention Center. 
**Remembering Jose Antonio
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Justice, Theodicy

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. Anyway, ‘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. 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. 

“Prayer in C” also 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 affected 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: 

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

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

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Justice

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. 

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Bible, Justice, Sermon

i can’t do this without you: a sermon on james 5:13-20

I preached this sermon on Sunday, September 27th at Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC.

Prayer: O God who continually loves us, I am grateful. I am grateful that no matter how we’re feeling, you stay the same. I am grateful at your faithfulness even when we’re not faithful. May your spirit linger in this place and may our hearts hunger after your Word. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Over the years I’ve been part of several denominations, but the one service I attended faithfully until I moved to Philadelphia was a Wednesday Evening Prayer Service. It was a combination of testimonials, hymns, prayers, and something like craigslist. Once I needed a stove, mine was beyond repair, and I didn’t have the money to buy a new one. After I raised my concern, an older couple said they had an extra one in their garage that worked just fine. Other times folks who needed to go to doctor’s appointments would ask those in the service for a ride and rides were offered. That service embodies today’s passage from James.

In the final verses of James’ letter, he spells out what community looks like. He writes, “Are any among you suffering?” “Are any cheerful?” “Are any among you sick?” He implicitly assumes that the answer to these questions is yes. James knows members of communities do not act, feel, or even think in unison.

Because James knows this, after each question he offers a way one can act during the service. For those who are suffering hardships, pray. For those cheerful, sing a song. For those sick, and here James doesn’t give a short response, James writes that they should be anointed with oil and prayed over by the elders of the church. My interaction with these verses was present from birth until my preteens. I attended a church that had an anointing oil odor. And I, at least once a month, was anointed with oil, whether I was sick or not. Now I’m pretty sure this is not what James meant by anointing with oil.

So let’s segue into a quick history lesson into the world of ancient Israel and Judah. Anointing with oil was mainly meant for authority figures. Some prophets were anointed and most kings were. It set them apart. Even the word Messiah and the Greek translation of the word Christ means Anointed One. One of my favorite anointing stories in the Hebrew Bible is when Elisha in 2 Kings 9 gave instructions to a younger prophet to anoint Jehu, who was a macho warrior. Elisha told him to find Jehu in this group of military people, separate him from the group, tell him that he’s going to be king over Israel, anoint him, and then run like hell.

Translating the Hebrew Bible idea of anointing as mainly for kings and prophets, this becomes very peculiar in James’ community. In essence, he’s saying it’s those who are ill in the community that should be treated with the dignity of dignitaries . It’s the ones who are losing their eyesight who should be queens and kings. It’s those who pray for their scabs, their diseases, and their depressions who are royalty among us. Except that’s not how sick people are treated. We hear more stories about people like Martin Shkriel who raised an AIDS and cancer drug from $13 a pill to $750, a 5000% increase.

Yet, in James’ community, healthcare was not based on who could afford it. It was based on who was present. It didn’t matter if you were wealthy, penniless, or somewhere in between. Those who were sick were treated with dignity, respect, and honor.

Through the rest of these verses, we hear a parallel notion about those who wander from the truth. The community is called to bring them back. To bring them back to where they can be themselves: happy, suffering, or sick.

Related, there is this strange little story in Galatians 2 where Paul calls out Peter. The story goes, Paul and Peter are eating together in Antioch with Gentiles believers. When some Messianic Jews from Jerusalem arrive instead of Peter continuing to eat with Gentiles, he eats exclusively with the Messianic Jews. Using the words of James, Peter wandered from the truth of the gospel and Paul called him out and brought him back.

What I’m trying to get at is this: Everyone belongs. Everyone belongs. No matter what. Yet, it’s not that simple.

Belonging to a community requires that we are honest with one another. We are upfront with how we’re feeling. Are any among us joyful? Are any among us indifferent? Are any among us struggling to find your voice?

And in this honesty, we become vulnerable. Sharing with the community our mistakes, our struggles, and our dreams. Are any among us regretting your past? Are any among us afraid of our future? Are any among us not ready to move on?

On the front of the bulletin, there’s a quote by Lilla Watson “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

This, my friends, is community.
This, my siblings, is what James and Jesus are calling us to.
This, my friends, is the gospel.

May we open ourselves in being honest, truthful, and treat one another, especially those society deems the outcast, with love and dignity. Amen.

Later in the service, the congregation participated in prayer stations.

Prayer Stations

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#BlackLivesMatter, Beliefs, Ecology, Justice

salvation: theology and theopoetry

Someone gave me some insight once in how to read theology: theologians only answer the questions asked. Augustine answered certain questions that we’re not asking today. The same is true for Death of God theologians and many contemporary theologians do not incorporate #BlackLivesMatter or push against transphobia in their theologies.

So why do we hold onto an outdated salvation narrative, when clearly we are not asking these same questions?

Jesus would have not understood this way of thinking about salvation.

Jesus would have not understood this way of thinking about salvation.

As Americans, we have been trained to hear a particular salvation story. God created the universe, placed people in a Garden, and had a close relationship with them. They sin by not obeying God and are cast out of the Garden and into the world, away from God. Because of them, the cosmos became tainted with sin and humanity totally deprived. Consequently, we cannot do anything good, unless God does it through us. To rescue us from this plight, God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ and dies on a cross for our sins. And with this action, God’s anger is appeased and God loves us once again. If we recognize that Christ died for us, then we are forgiven, and will live with God forever after we die.

This is a nice logical framework, if one can call it that.

When church folk start to question this narrative, they either give up Christianity or are kicked out of the church. This happened to many of my friends in undergrad.

There are theopoets, like Catherine Keller, who present us with a possible alternative formulation: Jesus as a Parable and Deconstructor. Jesus does not allow our logic to be the final and last word, but disrupts theo-logic with parables and stories that reset our way of thinking, again and again. The common salvation narrative that I described above is not found on the lips of Jesus. Jesus preached that the basileia (commonwealth or kin-dom) of God was crashing to Earth and we should be ready. Not that Adam and Eve were the first sinners or that he would die on a cross to appease the FATHER’s anger.

Dr. Keller also writes elsewhere in On the Mystery, that salvation is rooted in the word ‘salve’ meaning ‘an ointment to promote healing’ or to ‘soothe.’ If understood like this, salvation is not found away from the world, but in it. Salvation happens when relationships are mended, when prisoners are released, and racism eradicated.

Christ’s life was full of salvation moments, not just his death and resurrection.

Ethiopian Jesus healing

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