Luke 15 – Black Lives Matter and Systemic Racism

4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

An Introduction

The parable of the lost sheep from Luke 15 has been floating around Twitter in context of the Black Lives Matter movement. All three parables from this chapter are about recovering a precious thing that has been endangered, whether it’s a sheep, coin, or prodigal son. These parables are a perfect framework for understanding our role in combating systemic racism. (Not entirely sure what systemic racism is? Check out this short video for a crash course.) It should go without saying everyone is precious to God, but if one person (or in this case, the whole community of our black siblings) is in danger, we are obligated, as Christians, to go to extra lengths to assure their safety. We are being called upon by the black community to end the systemic injustices of this country, and it is morally reprehensible to keep sidestepping our responsibility with weak “all lives matter” statements. If all lives truly did matter, George Floyd’s death would have never happened, and wouldn’t be living through (yet another) nationwide scream of black existential anguish. For those who are curious about the protests – this post is for you. For those wondering what can be done to enact real change, this post is also for you. Please read on.

A first-hand account of the DC Protests, June 1

Let’s start with a brief account of what I saw in DC last Monday. I want to stress the peaceful and productive nature of these protests. Emphasizing relatability to the protesters is something I feel shouldn’t be necessary, but with the amount of fear-mongering going on, it seems to have become so.

I arrived at Lafayette Square, the epicenter of the protests in front of the White House, around noon. A group of maybe fifty had gathered by one, went on our first march, and by the time we returned to Lafayette Square right before two o’clock we were probably 200 strong. Several people spoke to the assembled, mostly seated crowd. I was on the outskirts trying to observe social distancing so I didn’t hear much of what they had to say, but the thrust of the message seemed to be that love radiates outward.

Fifteen or so minutes later I noticed riot cops marching towards us. I was there with two of our farm’s employees, and I got their attention as others were noticing the riot cops as well. Social distancing went out the window as I followed my employees to the front of the barrier. I was there as a white woman to provide whatever protection I could, so I felt it was important for me to be up front and highly visible to the riot cops. I am disheartened that the riot cops were ordered to form a line at that particular moment, because again, everything was being conducted in an incredibly peaceful manner. I want to make this perfectly clear: It was the cops who escalated the situation by deciding to mobilize at that time.

After a stand-off with the cops (who were asked repeatedly to take a knee with us, and invited to join us but refused to engage), the group marched from Lafayette Square to the Capitol Building, where we were met with more cops. There were several hundred people by this point. Around five pm the crowd started moving back in the direction of the White House. A seven PM curfew had been announced, and by six there were already a maze of police vehicles in the downtown area. I have two kids and a farm to take care of, so with great reluctance I bowed to my employees’ wishes to be left behind, and took myself home. My employees stayed and marched through the night. I’m happy to report they made it back here safe the next morning.

One last time I want to reiterate: It was the cops who inflamed the situation in almost every instance I saw. The crowd did an excellent job moderating their own: when agitators targeted teenage boys, knowing they were more likely to lose their cool, older men intervened to separate them. Groups further back from the Lafayette barriers called for those in front to “leave the cops behind and take the streets.” Water, snacks, and hand sanitizer were passed around generously. There was a current of (righteous) anger to be sure – but the people I saw in DC on Monday by and large weren’t there to wreak havoc, but there to see action taken to right wrongs.

Here’s how we can help end systemic racism

And what, beyond justice for George Floyd, are the wrongs that need correcting? This is another place white people are trying so desperately hard to sidestep their responsibilities: Police brutality is not just the actions of a few bad cops, or even a few bad departments. Police brutality is a symptom of systemic racism, and claiming anything else denies societal culpability. What can we do to change the fact that we live in a society that reinforces inequality? I’ve heard several people express confusion on next steps. There are probably as many answers as there are protesters, but below are some broad strokes all of us can help implement. I also encourage you to listen to the June 1 episode of Democracy Now with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Cornel West, Bakari Sellers, and Tamika Mallory, because this episode helped invaluably in my ability to define the following calls to action.

1. Call the police of this country to justice

George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just the latest of the hundreds of people of color killed by the police. This doesn’t even account for the individuals who have managed to live through being brutalized or terrorized by police. It also doesn’t account for victims like Ahmaud Arbery, killed by regular citizens who enacted vigilantism knowing, implicitly or explicitly, that the law was on their side because they were white. Individual officers need to be held fully accountable in the court of law. Additionally, police departments nationwide that allowed anything resembling these crimes happen need to be sued as well. I commend the actions of Rebecca Lucero, the Commissoner of Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights, who filed discrimination charges against the Minneapolis Police Department. You can encourage this kind of litigation by calling your own Attorney General and saying you want to see similar action taken. Also, while not a perfect corollary to bringing police to justice, contributing to the National Bail Out Fund helps get black people out of police custody, removing them from the possibility of further violence as quickly as possible.

2. Redistribute funds

A 2017 report by the The Center for Popular Democracy and others found that the US spends a combined $180 billion a year on policing and incarceration. Many metropolitan police departments make up about a third of said cities’ budgets. To compare: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP aka Food Stamps) costs the federal government around $70 billion. Section 8 housing assistance costs the federal government $34 billion.

A lot of the crimes police respond to wouldn’t happen if we had better social safety nets in place. If people didn’t face desperation and poverty every day, we could prevent many of the domestic disturbances, substance abuse, and theft-related crimes caused by that stress. If people had more access to better education and job training we’d see less unemployment and the crimes that often follow. If children had safe places to go before and after school, juvenile delinquency would drop. If we invest in our community up front, there will be far less need to police it down the line. Redistributing large portions of police budgets would help provide the seed money needed for these community betterment projects. Call your local officials – your city councils, your county governments, your sheriffs and boards of supervisors and tell them you want to see this redistribution happen, and that you’ll be voting for representatives that will follow through.

3. Foster a nation-wide effort of reconciliation

To make this as effective as possible, we are going to need legislation that encodes reconciliation efforts, a là existing civil rights laws. With these laws on the books, reconcilation efforts will be enforceable (and hopefully funded). Call your representatives to tell them you want to see this happen.

In the meantime start educating yourself – reading books like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo or How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi are great places to start. Also, this pamphlet from the William Winters Institute for Racial Reconciliation as well as this list of resources from the Oakland Institute are great references to start local reconciliation efforts. Reach out to your city council, your church, even your parent teacher organizations and say you would like to see reconciliation efforts started. If you are willing to start coalition building (the first step towards reconciliation), even better.

I want to leave you with a Victor Hugo quote that I saw on Monday: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” Black Lives Matter is a movement that impacts all of us, down to our very souls. Do you really want to answer to our all-loving God that you disagreed with protester tactics, or didn’t know what was going on, or that you just couldn’t be bothered? Where is the Christian love in those answers? Your humanity is at stake here. Do not be the one who causes more darkness, for it will darken your own soul, as well.

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1 Corinthians 15 – The Coming Resurrection

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

The Bard Card

Happy Easter, everyone. I’ve stumbled across yet another beautiful passage in the Bible that makes me think of Shakespeare.  1 Corinthians is another letter from the apostle Paul (whom we discussed at length earlier this year, starting with this post.) This chapter is the climax of the letter, and Paul is at his best: he manages an epic humble-brag that even Polonius would envy at the beginning. He then lays out an almost courtroom argument to refute anyone who doubts the resurrection. Finally he goes on to describe in lyrical detail the wondrous miracle of our coming resurrection.  His euphemism for death of people being asleep in Christ is gentle and beautiful, and sounds Shakespearian in and of itself.  I also love the imagery of the seed being planted as and analogy for the transformation that will take place at the resurrection. But the part that really got me thinking about The Bard was vv. 51-52, which reads (per the Geneva Bible, the translation Shakespeare probably used): “Behold, I show you a secret thing,  we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall blow, and the dead shall be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”  Perhaps “our bones of coral made” and “pearls that were our eyes” won’t be part of our new, resurrected bodies, as is the supposed fate of Ferdinand’s father in The Tempest, but the following lines “Nothing of him doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change” sounds like it could be inspired by this very chapter.

What will resurrection look like?

Easter is the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  As Paul says in v. 20, Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” and the rest of “those that belong to him” will follow after Jesus destroys “the last enemy,” aka Death.  This is what Christianity is all about: our hope and faith in Jesus Christ (and the power of his own faith) that allows us to beat death and enter into a glorious future as the children of God.  This chapter, particularly the passages about resurrection, are so beautiful that I want to take today to really meditate on them.

So, will the resurrection look exactly like Paul describes it?  There’s no way to answer that question.  But, looking at the Bible passages that describe resurrection, it seems that our resurrected selves will indeed be physical (not just spiritual), that we will retain those things that make us individuals, we’ll have metaphysical powers (like being able to walk through walls), and that we’ll glow.  More than anything else there is talk about the “luminosity” of the resurrected in the books of Matthew, Luke, Corinthians, Revelations, even way back in Exodus and Daniel.  I love how Paul describes it, likening our differing and individual degrees of luminous resurrection glowing to the heavenly bodies: “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.”  I personally like the idea of glowing like a star.

Physical and Spiritual Resurrection

I do want to point out the one part of this chapter I take a slight issue with, and to do so we need to start with a little context.  In its formative days, newborn Christianity was developing alongside Greco-roman philosophies that often emphasized a division between body and spirit, or emphasized the spirit as being “truer” than flesh.  Some of that made it’s way into the teachings of this new Christianity, and has been coloring the religion ever since.  If you look critically at the Old Testament you can see how this division is just not there.  The Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) may be an elaborate metaphor for God and his Church, but it is a salaciously sexy metaphor.  I’ve talked at length about Hosea giving Gomer an orgasm in the desert.  The body (and saving the body from physical ailment) is a major theme in the Psalms.  Paul was “afflicted” in some way we don’t know.  Some suggest lingering vision issues, others lameness, but in some way he was weak, physically, in a broader society that (while emphasizing the separation of body and soul) was also one obsessed with golden ratios and perfect physical specimens.  Perhaps in part because of this perceived shortcoming, as well as being well-versed in predominant philosophy, Paul was a major proponent of this division between body and soul.

Now I’m not disagreeing with Paul that our new, resurrected bodies will be different, and perhaps even that there will be a larger spiritual aspect to them. But I do flat out disagree with Paul when he says in v. 50 “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”  It goes directly against his point that our physical bodies will be resurrected.  Again, yes, they will be different – we’ll go through a metamorphosis like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, but that flesh will still be physical flesh of this world.  I firmly believe so, because Jesus came back in the flesh to appear to his followers, not just as some holy apparition.  He showed his fleshly wounds to Thomas to prove that he was indeed Jesus. Don’t you think that evidence of harm inflicted on the body would be the first thing to disappear if these bodies of flesh were also to disappear? I do. But they were there for Thomas to see and even feel.

Kintsugi is a Japanese method of repairing fine pottery with gold, and I’ve seen it used as an analogy for the healing of major trauma: The scars are still there, visible, but made beautiful.  I think it may also be an excellent analogy for the physical nature of these resurrected bodies to come.  We will be the same, but different, put together by God in a new way that makes us whole but acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of our past life.  This analogy probably wasn’t available to Paul, but as someone who suffered from some sort of physical impairment himself, perhaps it would have made him receptive to the idea of a more earthy resurrection.

In Closing

All of this is conjecture.  Perhaps I’m totally wrong, and perhaps Paul is too.  We do not know what the resurrection will look like, though it is fun to hypothesize.  Today we celebrate Jesus’ defeat of death and resurrection to life so that we may live as well, in whatever glorious form that will take.  I’ll close once again with Paul’s words: “thanks be to God! He gave us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen, Paul, and Happy Easter.  Christ is risen. Hallelujah.

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Job 21 – God Loves You Even When You’re Angry

“Is my complaint directed to a human being?
    Why should I not be impatient?
Look at me and be appalled;
    clap your hand over your mouth.
When I think about this, I am terrified;
    trembling seizes my body.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

I saw a post in the Progressive Christians group I’m a part of on Facebook a few days ago that just broke my heart.  The writer said they had left Christianity in their youth, and spent a lot of time very angry at God, openly mocking the religion, Jesus, and God Xyrself.  The writer was worried that, even though they had returned to Christianity, they may have said things that were irredeemable, and that God would not welcome them back into the fold.

This is the damage that overbearing, fire-and-brimstone, purity-culture churches do to people.  These churches manage to obscure and pervert the most consistent messages of the Bible: God’s unending forgiveness, God’s bottomless love.  God so wanted us to be with Xyr that Xe sent Xyr only son to earth to make that happen.  (Perhaps the two most important blog posts I’ve ever written, you can read why this happened, and why I now believe in universal reconciliation, here and here.)  This love does not come with a bunch of conditions, or is offered to only a few, it is freely offered to anyone, even those who have committed the most heinous of sins.  So yes, God will still love the writer mentioned above even after their words of anger, because God loves us when we’re angry.

I mention this story because Job is clearly angry in today’s reading.  And not just vaguely angry – angry at God.  Everybody makes such a big deal about Job never cursing God through all his trials, but he comes pretty damn close in this passage when he says: “It is said, ‘God stores up a man’s punishment for his sons.’ Let him repay the man himself, so that he will know it!”  In other words, “What the fuck, God?”  Basically all of verses 17-21 are a rhetorical challenge to God on his dealings with wicked men (and their innocent children).  Job is clearly wrestling with the idea that God is a just judge when so many wicked men prosper at the same time an innocent man, such as himself, is so heavily burdened.

Job speaks truth when he says “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?”  It is dissatisfying to say the least, but we don’t know the whole picture, as God does.  Perhaps sometime in the afterlife it will “all make sense,” but I must admit that’s pretty weak comfort right now.  I did, however, come across an analogy that may help it be a little easier to bear (I’m sorry I can’t remember where! Contact me and I’ll happily credit it!):  Imagine two men are sentenced to breaking rocks (a là prison yard work) for a year. It’s hard, hot, dusty, monotonous work.  Yet one man knows he’s getting a million dollars at the end of his year, the other man just thinks the drudgery will finally be over.  The work isn’t any different for the two men, but their attitudes are going to be markedly different.  Having faith in God doesn’t make the bad things go away, or mean we don’t have to do the hard things, but it helps us put them in perspective, and hopefully make them a little easier to bear.

That being said, we’re still going to get angry, it’s in our nature.  We may even get angry at God.  But if we view God as our parent, as we are taught to do over and over by Jesus and other passages in the Bible, then we know that God will continue to love us even when we are angry.  My youngest is almost three, and she gets angry at me all the time.  Sometimes I get angry back (especially if she’s trying to hit me or bite me), but most of the time I’m understanding because I know she’s just tired, or frustrated, or has more feels than her little toddler self can handle.  And in those times that I do get angry back at her, I don’t stop loving her, and I’m always ready to forgive her and give her a snuggle when she cools down.  Imagine all of that, but raised to the magnitude of God.

I hope you’re not angry with God, but  I certainly understand if you are.  And I apologize, on behalf of the broadest definition of Christianity, if the faith traditions you were raised in have anything to do with you being angry with God.  At the risk of annoying you further, please know that God loves you, as you are.  God wants you to heal and turn back to Xyr (however you may now comprehend the idea of “God”), but do it at your own pace.  If there’s a third truth we can learn from the Bible today, God is never one to rush things, even if we wish Xe did.  God will not rush you, but will always be there, waiting for you, because God loves you, exactly as you are right now.

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