Jamelle Bouie has a piece on Slate in which he reflects on the year since Michael Brown’s death and how it has changed America.
As I read it, I began thinking about how I had been changed by Ferguson. I think it was this photo (shot by Whitney Curtis of the New York Times) that did it:
That photo captures a key dynamic in contemporary America: a militarized police force that apparently regards African-Americans as the enemy to be subjugated by means of any force necessary. It’s a photo of White Supremacy and racism exposed for what it is. It’s a photo of our America, an image I can’t get out of my mind because it reveals all of our hypocrisy as well as the evil at the heart of American culture and history.
I went back through my blog to look at how I’ve addressed racism over the years. It’s quite telling. Before the release of the Race to Equity report that detailed the horrific racial disparities in Madison and Dane County, there’s a smattering of references to racism on my blog. Since Ferguson, it’s probably the dominant topic. I’ve preached about it, written about, participated in demonstrations. I’ve read more about racism in the last year than I had in the decades since taking a course on African-American history in college. Racism and America’s culture of violence will be a major focus of our programming at Grace in the coming year.
Boo goes through the litany of deaths and protests and at the end of his recitation, he points out how politicians, mainstream media, and corporations have been forced to address issues of racism. At the end of it all, he writes:
If Ferguson was an earthquake—a tectonic shift in our arguments over race and racism—then a year later, we’re not just feeling the aftershocks. We’re preparing for the next blow.
Bouie did not mention how Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter have changed American Christianity and I’m looking forward to reading similar retrospectives from theologians and religious commentators.
The real scandal of the gospel is this: humanity’s salvation is revealed in the cross of the condemned criminal Jesus, and humanity’s salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst. Faith that emerged out of the scandal of the cross is not a faith of intellectuals or elites of any sort. This is the faith of abused and scandalized people—the losers and the down and out. It was this faith that gave blacks the strength and courage to hope, “to keep on keeping on,” …. The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree.
—James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Read Theology of Ferguson on Medium
Almost a year ago, The Rev. Alex Gee, jr. wrote an op-ed piece in the Madison State Journal in which he described his experience as an African American male in Madison, and called on our community to address head-on the issues of racism, inequality, and injustice in our midst. Since then, there have been a series of meetings, a great deal of press coverage, and new energy in the African American community to speak out on the issues that divide us. Continue reading
My reflections on Advent have been profoundly affected this past week by the events in Ferguson and the way the mask of a post-racial America has been ripped off to expose the bitter and deep realities of racism and injustice. I’m not alone. #StayWokeAdvent is a thing.
Micky Jones explains it:
Have you ever been stuck in a dark place with only a sliver of light or no light at all? You know those times waiting for news that could bring just as much struggle as it brings resolution? Remember the times of waiting and waiting, not knowing when the answers will come? Times of anticipation, of unknowing, of darkness before more light, are not always joyful, peaceful, or even largely hopeful. These are times of struggle, times of wrestling, doubting, mourning, crying, yearning, times of staying alert to the signs that light may be coming, that things are changing.
This is the time, the time of Advent, to stay alert…to “stay woke”…to your senses, your mind, your body, your feelings, your spirit to where to Spirit is stirring and leaning. Stay woke….to the impact your life has on others…Stay woke…to the injustice that we either contribute to or diminish…Stay woke….to the groanings of the world…Stay woke…to the humble, radical, empire-upsetting ways of Jesus…Stay woke…to the darkness…Stay woke…to the light…and to the sacred and profane in both.
Christina Cleveland reminds us that Advent is a season of darkness:
But we do the Light a disservice when we underestimate the darkness. Jesus entered a world plagued not only by the darkness of individual pain and sin, but also by the darkness of systemic oppression. Jesus’ people, the Hebrews, were a subjugated people living as exiles in their own land; among other things, they were silenced, targets of police brutality, and exploitatively taxed. They were a people so beaten down by society that only a remnant – most notably Anna and Simeon – continued to believe that the Messianic prophecies would one day come to pass. For many, the darkness of long-standing oppression had extinguished any hope for liberation.
The Very Rev. Mike Kinman of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis has called on Episcopal Cathedrals (and other churches) to take some time in Advent to address the “he issues Ferguson has raised and where those issues of race, class and the oppression of God’s children are present in your community.” More information on that is here. Grace Church, Madison will be participating.
Also on Ferguson and Advent from David Bailey at the Missio Alliance:
The Washington Post has the story of the church apparently destroyed by arson this week in Ferguson and its pastor’s struggle to understand (Michael Brown, Sr. is a member of the congregation).
As we gather at tables, grieving the state of our nation, may we gain spiritual strength for the journey ahead, drawing on the deepest wells of wisdom from those on whose shoulders we stand and the various faith traditions that have fueled their freedom march and continue to energizee ours.
In the spirit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. King, may the pioneers of the civil rights movement collaborate with the young leaders in Ferguson, New York City and other cities, and may they impart their knowledge and understanding of nonviolent resistance that is not passive, but is spiritually active with an abiding faith that the universe is on the side of justice, and that, in the end, love will triumph over evil.
May this spiritual strength, fueled by prophetic fire and love, reveal to us our neighbors’ humanity, our own complicity in their suffering and liberate us once and for all from the history that continues to enslave us.
From Cornel West and Peter Goodwin Heltzel
What clearly cannot be said is that American society’s affection for nonviolence is notional. What cannot be said is that American society’s admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. increases with distance, that the movement he led was bugged, smeared, harassed, and attacked by the same country that now celebrates him. King had the courage to condemn not merely the violence of blacks, nor the violence of the Klan, but the violence of the American state itself.
What clearly cannot be said is that violence and nonviolence are tools, and that violence—like nonviolence—sometimes works. “Property damage and looting impede social progress,” Jonathan Chait wrote Tuesday. He delivered this sentence with unearned authority. Taken together, Property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. It describes everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining.
Read it all. Read it all here.
Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, 260)
A Prayer for the Whole Human Family.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 815)
A Prayer for Social Justice.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 823)
Jesus told the Parable of the Unjust Judge, the writer of Luke tells us, to teach us about prayer, but I think it can tell us something about justice as well. The unjust judge of the parable could be petitioned into rendering justice in a particular case if it were made inconvenient enough for him not to. This realization, of course, we have heard echoed by Malcolmand Martin alike. We should notice, though, what does not happen in the parable – the judge does not repent or reform. He does not become a righteous man. He renders justice to the widow out of pure self-interest, but this does not make him anymore inclined to be just in the next case the widow might bring, or indeed the next case that anyone else brings. There is no amount of pleading, petitioning, or protesting that will transform the judge into a just man. We live in under a state that is at best, indifferent to our problems, and at worst, actively seeking to destroy us. It is good and right that we hound the state into giving us justice, but blacks cannot delude themselves into thinking that the state will ever become justice. There are no laws that can be passed or reforms that can be pursued that will allow us to stop being vigilant. There are no victories that will bring us peace. We will never be able to pound our swords into plowshares, because we will always have to be prepared to fight. Dr. King, our beautiful prophet, was wrong. The arc of the moral universe does not lead anywhere in particular, not in this life. If it bends towards justice, it is only because it is pulled that way by our constant effort, by our unceasing straining and sweating and shouting.
The whole piece by Ezekiel Kweku, is a must read.
From the Rev’d Steven Lawler, Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson:
Tonight there is more sorrow, tear gas, and destruction. Tomorrow will be a day devoted to distributing food, funding a program that engages youth in entrepreneurialism, and sitting quietly in prayer. Like most people I know in Ferguson, I will be trying to discover what it’s like to be on solid ground.
From Christena Cleveland: The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail
Yesterday, my neighbor broke down while we talked about the realities of police brutality toward young black men. Her hands trembled and tears showered her face. Experiencing the unique mixture of rage and sorrow that black moms know well, she described the numerous ways in which the local police have already treated her 8 year old son like an animal.
The cross and the Molotov cocktail: hTonight there is more sorrow, tear gas, and destruction. Tomorrow will be a day devoted to distributing food, funding a program that engages youth in entrepreneurialism, and sitting quietly in prayer. Like most people I know in Ferguson, I will be trying to discover what it’s like to be on solid ground.