Tired: The Cries of a Weary People

Tired.jpegI can see it in your eyes
The fear which clouds every thought

I can hear it in your words
The anxiety laced in everything you say

Fear of life itself
And all of those who walk about it
Anxious over the notion that someone somewhere just might
Take you out.

It’s scary, I know.
I feel that way too.
Every time a cop car pulls up behind me, I feel my heart sink further into my chest.
When I walk by strangers on the street, I wonder where there is malicious thought behind that half-baked smile
Or if someone aims to destroy at a park
in the mall
at church
in a school

And the government,
It’s a whole different kind of beast
Claiming to be for the people
It destroys the people 
Through lies and deception
Greed and destruction
Each of us – Black, white, Muslim and Jew – tremble in fear and trepidation with every passing moment.

And It’s only been 7 days!

It’s not supposed to be this way
Living in a constant tension between fight or flight
War exists but we were not made to live in a constant state of it
Resiliency is for the birds
We are dying
We are killing ourselves
Fear and hatred both incapacitates and alienates us
Aren’t you tired?

Aren’t you tired of that gnawing, aching feeling in the bottom of your chest
Aren’t you tired of living in between, with one foot in the grave and the other trying to walk around and feign sanity in the midst of destruction
Aren’t you tired of waking to fight to breathe, to exist in polluted air

Or of walking amongst corpses.

We are wounded people. Each of us deeply scarred.
Will we ever find a way to walk back towards each other?
Can we undo what has been already done?
Can we repair the foundation and rebuild a society that is strong, beautiful, loving, and true?
Or is this our final resting place?

Choosing Life, One Generation at a Time

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Today, I sit before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants.
– Deuteronomy 30.14

The task that is laid before the people of every generation is whether or not they will follow after God. Will they build upon the good works and faith of the ancestors who have gone on before them? Or will they turn away from the path laid out before them and embrace chaos, destruction, and death instead, pushing the world further away from existence? Will they seek to redeem the despotic decision making of their fore fathers and mothers by fighting for justice and telling God’s good news about deliverance? Or will they, like their ancestors before them, persist in grinding the face of the poor for power and profit?

No matter the good done by those before, subsequent generations are expected to affirm their commitment to living a life modeled after God’s ideas rather than imperialistic obsessions with greed, evil, and death. While the idea of generational blessings has merit from a theological standpoint, this idea still clarifies the need for each generation to stand for justice and righteousness. No generation of people are exempt from having to make such a commitment, each is called to decide and declare its allegiance to God – most notably in times of transition including political and economic instability.

This is the challenge that the Israelites faced after being freed from Egypt. Three generations made distinctly different choices in their decision to follow after God. The first generation, or Moses’ generation, exhibited unfaith even though they witnessed with their own eyes God’s saving power. In spite of all that God had done for them – parting the Red Sea, dropping bread out of the sky, and so many other miracles – they complained, worshipped idols, and also simply refused to believe in God. As a result of their actions, they died out in the wilderness and failed to fully inherit all that God had for them. The second generation, Joshua’s generation, made different choices. Unlike their parents before them, or perhaps because of them, this generation inherited the Promised Land as a result of consistent, albeit imperfect obedience to God. The third generation, not knowing anything about Joshua or how God delivered the Israelites, pursued evil. The people of this generation, and even ones proceeding after it were consistently described as ones who did was what right in their own eyes and had little regard for God.

Similarly throughout the lineage of the Davidic Empire in Israel, each generation made different decisions in terms of how they would either follow God by pursuing justice, mercy, and humility or turn away from God. David, though an ardent worshipper, compromised his faith by pursuing prestige, power, and possessions – even those that belonged to other people. Although God gave his son Solomon the authority to build the Jewish Temple, Solomon greatly oppressed those within the kingdom to not only pull off the building of this great edifice but other visible institutions of the Empire. In addition, his pursuit of political power at the expense of his love for God cost him the intimacy that he once enjoyed with God. And Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, decided to further depart from God’s will instead of improving upon his ancestors weaknesses. Although he knew about how his father Solomon bought and sold people for the sake of expansion, and how David – his grandfather – was responsible for so much bloodshed, both within and without the kingdom, Rehoboam vowed to make things even worse for the people when presented with the opportunity to ease the burden of the oppressed: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (I Kings 12.11, NASB).

Yet, disobedience and departure from the ways of God came with a cost. In each instance when a generation chose to pursue injustice instead of embracing God’s shalom, there was catastrophe. Though this catastrophe was most often felt among those who were already oppressed – after all, vulnerable and marginalized communities often pay the most in times of civil and political unrest – there were consequences for every decision that squelched the opportunity for God’s love, peace, mercy, and justice to be felt among God’s people. Such was the case with Rehoboam – his persistence in following evil was a pivotal moment in Israel’s history that precipitated the downfall of the empire. Unfortunately, the kings that arose after him made similar decisions which only hastened the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and captivity of the people.

God always gives us a choice. Because He is patient and kind, not willing for anyone to perish, He consistently extends to each and every one of us the opportunity to chose Him. Not just to believe in Him or express faith in Him, but to back up what we believe about God by our commitment to pursue justice, love, and mercy instead of injustice, hatred and war.

Somehow we forget that this is what God is concerned about. We forget, or rather we do not know, that God’s heart aches for the broken and despised in this world. He grieves over the fatherless, the widow, the foreigner – people who have been made poor because of the systems of this world. Because He is concerned about them, He demands that we be concerned about them. Over and over and over again throughout the biblical text, He raises our consciousness on the plight of these and asks us to choose: Choose life so that you may live. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Liberate those in prison. Preach good news to those who are hopeless as a result of their condition.

God’s Clarion Call Today

Once again, we are at a point in history where God is asking us – and by us I want to specifically address Christian believers and also recognize that He extends the same invitation to the rest of the world – to make a decision. I call out the Church specifically because, unfortunately, we have a track record of ignoring social problems – if not condoning them – for the sake of comfort and security. In our time, right now, people across the globe are suffering tremendously because of the United States’ obsession with power. Because of power, we wage war against nations with impunity. Because of power, we consume the world’s goods – without care for who or what we are dispossessing even if the one that is being dispossessed is the earth itself. Because of power, we make allegiances with nations who are bent towards evil and ignore the plight of nations that are suffering because of our policies. 

And that is just what we are doing to people outside of our nation’s borders. The things that we are doing to our own kin are just as atrocious and despicable. Although this nation has always despised Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC), we are now seeing this hatred at a heightened level. The policies that were arguably covert since the Civil Rights era are now overt making it nearly impossible to deny that racism and white supremacy not only exist, but are still preferred weapons of war against non-whites. Will we stand to see stand to see Latinos deported, Muslims targeted, Blacks criminalized, American Indians lose even more land, LGBTQ persons increasingly discriminated against, and the poor of all races and cultures pitted against each other as the nation hoards more and more resources? Or will we stand and say no? Will we make a clear, unequivocal statement saying that we not only support these moves but will resist them through civic engagement, advocacy, civil disobedience, and prayer?

In recent history, the Church was called to make a similar decision. This time, the location was Germany and the people who were being persecuted were the Jews. As Nazism increased in the country, there arose a strange marriage between nationalism and Christianity, where the church produced anti-Semitic literature, banned Christians of Jewish ancestry from membership, and defaced the sacred scriptures – throwing out the Old Testament and amending the New Testament scriptures to erase Jesus’ connection to Judaism.

In his book, Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice, Dr. Curtiss DeYoung writes that in spite of the fact that church leaders were bothered by these moves, many refused to speak against Hitler. “They were encouraged at how the Nazis were reviving the nation’s morale and economy. And Nazi anti-Semitism was far from foreign to much of Christianity, which had a long anti-Semitic history, based on church teachings that Jews were guilty as a race for the death of Christ. (Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice p 30).”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few pastors – let alone Christians – who took a stand against Hitler noted how incapable the church was in standing up for justice, in spite of the teachings of the Jesus who advocated for such a witness against evil empires and oppression. For Bonhoeffer this “revealed the problematic character of its entire past: its veneration of and obedience to the state, its support for the traditional class system, its resistance to social change, its indifference to the plight of workers and the poor, and its opposition to socialism and working class politics” (ibid, 35). Unfortunately, Bonhoeffer was not just referring to the church in Germany but the entirety of Western Christian witness noting that delegates at the World Council of Churches held in Denmark of 1934 were resigned to the reality of war in Europe. At such a critical time in world history, Christians failed to speak and exercise the gift of the Holy Spirit working on the inside of them.

Listen, I’m not equating what’s going on in our nation and conspiring nations to what happened to the Jews – although there are strikingly similar comparisons that we must stay vigilant about. However, regardless of the scale of evil – whether it is concentrated in one region of the world or widespread across the globe – as Christians, we must speak out about it. We must speak if it affects us directly and we must speak if it does not. As a result of the church’s failure to speak, millions of people died in the Holocaust – Jews, blacks, people with disabilities, and anyone Hitler found a political threat, including Bonhoeffer himself. As a result of the church’s inability to extend compassion, love, and justice to others, millions more in our own life times are living lives under siege. Will we ignore their suffering and turn a deaf ear to their cries as did the church in WWII? Or will we choose life so that we, our descendants, our kin around the world, may live?

Oh, I pray that we choose life. Today, in this moment, let it be said that this generation chose life. Let it be said that we resisted. That we prayed. That we gathered around the dispossessed. That we extended God’s love to those who are near and far. That we refused to hide behind comfortable Christianity and took a chance on love, took a chance on God. That we welcomed the kingdom of God among us as we provided for the needs of those who are without. That’s my prayer for you, that’s my prayer for all of us as we embrace this New Year.

With love,
Happy 2017

Belonging and Survival

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The human condition is predicated on the premise that we belong and are needed by others. In order to survive and live life well, we are dependent on the presence and generosity of those who surround us – not only for provision but for meaning, relationship, and warmth as well. Just think about it: in creating humanity, God recognized the need for Adam to have a companion, a wife, a compadre in the struggle who he would be able to do life with. In His own words, God said that it was not good for humans to live alone. Such isolation not only gives us an inflated vision of ourselves but it denies us the opportunity to love and be fully loved by others.

Babies are born utterly dependent on their caregivers and as they mature into adults, they remain dependent on parents for years to come. Adults, in their old age, are dependent on younger family members, social programs, and so much more in order to provide for their needs. Every one of us is a part of a family, a community, places of worship and/or culture where we give our time, talent, and treasure. None of us are able to survive without these connections. We can neither go it alone or imagine that others can go it without us. Such demands that we relinquish selfish ideologies that place ourselves at the center, understanding that the center is much bigger than we ourselves, it consists of all of us. All of us are needed, important, valued and loved.

We cannot imagine for one minute that we could have it any other way. It may seem convenient at times to distance ourselves from others, minimizing our commonalities and mutual need for connection in order to survive. At least, that is what we are told – that life is a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers and that in order to survive, some of us just have to lose. In this alternate reality – alternate because it has no truth in it – people grow richer and more powerful by annihilating all of those who get in their way. Truth is, the act of casting others off comes with the cost of one’s own demise. Remember Cain? Many of us, I’m sure, recall the way in which Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy and greed. Many of us, I’m sure, have grown up mourning the loss of Abel. And while, Abel’s loss is tragic, the greatest tragedy of the story is that in Cain’s murderous act against his own brother, he likewise separated himself from community and love. He cut himself off from the very human fabric of which he denied his brother.

Likewise, every time we deny others the opportunity to live and be free, we cut our own selves off from the same opportunity. When we choose profit over life, we rob our own water supply, diminish our own land, and compromise our own ability to breathe fresh air. When we marginalize communities through acts of racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, we cause our own communities to be less safe and driven by acts of fear and aggression. When we trust in politicians instead of the testimony of our neighbors, we put our own lives at risk of being exploited by their despotic policies and practices.

Darwin – in so many ways – had it wrong: our survival is not predicated on the extinction of others. The opposite is true, our survival as a human people necessitates the wellbeing of others. If we want to exist, live, be free, and do well, we have to ensure that no one – on account of their race, religion, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, or income – is marginalized for the sake of the advancement of a few or even the security of many. Picking others off just so that some can get ahead only creates an incessant cycle of finding a new class of people to demonize and vilify – until there is no one left.

We are not each other’s enemies; we are each other’s best chance at making it! We are our best chance at putting to rest all of the ways in which we allow ourselves to be cut off from each other. We are our best chance at combating climate change and uprooting white supremacy. We are our best chance at dismantling patriarchy and homophobia. This is not to say that God doesn’t have a part to play, this is His world after-all, but we have to stop using the will of God as a crutch to justify our spirit of do-nothingness. The Spirit of God will do what the Spirit of God will do, and fortunately for us, God often chooses to work through the hearts and lives of human beings. Throughout the Word, the history of the world, and in this present moment, God calls us to recognize our interdependence and out of that recognition, pursue love, justice, and mercy with all people without distinction.

God does this because He knows the ways in which division and disconnection destroys all of us. After-all, He was there when Cain killed Abel. With His own eyes, God saw how Abel’s act made him a fugitive and wanderer on the face of the earth.

And He saw how sin destroyed the unity between Adam and Eve (Genesis 3).

And how fear caused Sarah to abuse and misuse Hagar (Genesis 16; 19).

And how desperation separated brothers Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25, 27).

And how out of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37 – 50).

In each of these instances, the very act of exclusion that people used in hopes of survival cost them greatly. Acts of exploitation and oppression always come at great cost – not just to the marginalized but to the oppressor as well. This is because God in His infinite wisdom, created us to survive on the connection of others so that when we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. As the South African concept of Ubuntu affirms, we only exist because of the existence of others.

Today, let’s commit to walk back toward one another. I know we’ve been through a rough year, a year marked by violence and chaos on a local, national, and global scale – all of which has been heightened by the lies the we’ve been told about each other. Some believed those lies for various reasons – be it fear, hatred, or bigotry – but at the root of them all was the need for survival.

Let’s reject the lie. Every day, starting from today for the rest of our lives, reject the lie that someone else’s life is costing us our survival. Every day, let us rehearse the truth that we know about each other – that each of us are loved, valued, and needed. And then, let us reach out and form unsuspecting alliances to bring each other in.

Because we’re worth it, I’m not willing to give up on us!

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3 Things I’m Thinking About in Light of Orlando

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It has been exactly a year since the horrific mass shooting took place in Charleston, North Carolina. As soon as I heard about this extreme act of terrorism against black bodies, I was quick to rush to the internet (Twitter) to denounce it. Tears flooded my face with every tweet I sent – I felt deeply hurt, targeted and wounded, understanding that it could have very well been me sitting in the same predicament of the victims and their families. Rather than be silent in a time of my greatest pain, I needed to speak up – no shout – so that the world around me could know that this was not okay.

This week, things have been a little different for me. Rather than speak in light of the Orlando mass shooting, I have been quick to listen, process, lament, and repent. You see, I am not a member of the LGBTQ community neither am I Latina. Since these are two communities that I do not belong to, I have tried to intentionally make space to hear and receive from people in our society who feel especially vulnerable and hurt at this particular time. In silence, here are a few things I am thinking about:

My Own Biases:
Since the shooter was a Afghani male who expressed allegiance to ISIS,* it would be so easy to denounce his hatred and distance myself from any sort of blame. In fact, I tried to do that when I first learned about the shooting Sunday morning. But over the course of the week, I have had a lot of time to reflect on how my own religious biases hold me just as culpable as the shooter. Though my sin does not have such a violent consequence, the reality is that the inner workings of my heart are just as dangerous especially when my verbiage is clocked in a veil of religiosity that laments the actions without naming the cause of those actions. They are dangerous because even in the absence of such vile actions, darkness is present in every word, deed, or thought that suggests that heterosexual people are better than LGBTQs. And it is these inner sentiments that often lead to actions that negatively impact people.

This is why Jesus cautioned us against harboring such negative thoughts toward each other: he intimately understood the ways in which our thoughts and words later dictate our actions:

21-22 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill (Matthew 5.21, 22; the Message).”

Understanding my own bias here is one thing; checking those biases and adopting a different worldview is another. It is a process, but again, one of the things that I have been doing is intentionally surrounding myself with other voices who hold different perspectives than mine. Through listening to the wisdom and convictions of others, I know that my own perspective will be changed. Why? So that I can be free of guilt and wrongdoing? No, but so that I will be free to fully love and extend hospitality to others.

My Own Privilege:
In addition to reflecting on my own biases, I have been equally reflecting on my own privilege. Even though I sit at the intersection of multiple oppressions as a black woman in America, I also sit at the intersections of multiple privileges. And in this instance, one of those privileges is that I am a cis-gendered heterosexual in a marriage that is held up as normative. As a result of those privileges, I never have to wonder whether someone is targeting me or my family because of our sexual identity or structure. Neither do I worry about being discriminated against because of who I choose to love.

However, I am targeted and discriminated against in other ways. But because my own identity is not being attacked at this time, it is not appropriate – at least in my opinion – to center that. At all. It is important to specifically name and address the fact that the 49 people whose lives were cut short were mainly LatinX LGBTQ community members. My paying attention to and centering their humanity in this moment does not take away from my own, neither does it minimize my own historical experience of trauma and terror. Instead, centering the experience of others humanizes them at a time when they are being de-humanized

I feel this needs to be said because one of the things that I believe oppression does is blind us to the oppression of others. Because we are so consumed with our own pain, we sometimes lack the ability to empathize with others. As a result, we end up competing with one another instead of standing in solidarity with each other. We can equally go hard for own issues while supporting the issues of others.

Black Lives Matter. My experience as a black woman matters. And today, I am thinking about LatinX LGBTQ lives. They matter to God, and they matter to me, too!

Our Culture of Violence and Hyper-Masculinity
Do you know what the common denominator is in the majority of the cases of police brutality, mass shootings, suicides, homicides, domestic violence cases, rapes and other forms of sexual harassment?

Men. Hyper-masculinized men.

And these men cut across various demographics. Black. White. Asian. Latino. Middle Eastern.

They are so-called Christians, Muslims, Jews and Atheists.

They are rich and poor, and every class distinction in between.

Educated and non.

And they are men.

And those who are not physically violent create the conditions so that others will be violent on their behalf i.e. politicians.

What this tells me is that we cannot blame terrorism or our nation’s crazy obsession with guns for what happened in Orlando. Instead, we should take a deeper look at the ways in which patriarchy governs the ways in which we do life, not only in our nation but across the globe.

In her astute essay on this issue, bell hooks says this:

Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation…It is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”

So you see, patriarchy is about exerting and maintaining control over others through force. This is what I see happening in Orlando and what I also see happening in our presidential election. It makes no difference whether the abuser is a gun-wielding cop who thinks they have rights over the black body, a group of teenage boys who feel they have the right to lynch the body of one of their female peers, or an affluent, privileged college student who thinks they have the right to rape another student. The results are all the same. Death. Dehumanization. Loss of community. Absence of love.

But of course, the consequences of each are determined by race, class, and power so that the repercussions of the Orlando shooter’s actions on the Muslim community will be more severe than the repercussions on white men over the Charleston shooter’s actions. White police officers are seldom held accountable for assaulting black bodies while the intraracial violence that occurs within our communities are pathologized. The actions of the poor are more highly scrutinized than those of the 1% – all of which suggests that white supremacy and capitalism only intensify the despotic reality of patriarchy. A statement released from the national chapter of Black Lives Matter connects these dots:

“The enemy is now and has always been the four threats of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and militarism. These forces and not Islam create terrorism. These forces, and not queerness, create homophobia. These forces unleash destruction primarily on those who are Trans, and queer, and brown and Black, and we are the first to experience its’ violence. These forces create the conditions for our dehumanization and our death, and we will hold them to account, no matter whose face they may wear.”

If patriarchy is the cause, actions directed at quelling terrorism, gun control, and even dare I say, white supremacy, fall short of producing change. If these things are only a symptom of our patriarchal society, solutions that center these maladies are only partially effective, though necessary. We will have to go way upstream to tackle this if we want to have a chance of reducing the destruction that is so commonplace among us.

———-

These are just a few of the things I am thinking about in the context of the Orlando shooting that took 49 precious LatinX LGBTQ souls. I am sure that in the days and weeks and years to come I will have many more. My hope and prayer is that we all, myself included, give ourselves the space to reflect more deeply on how we are complicit in the this tragedy as a result of our own bias, privilege, and the way we support patriarchal norms among us. That we would give ourselves the permission to be challenged and grow through events like this, so that it doesn’t take another tragedy to wake us up from our stupor.

Black Women: Elevating the Neglected Voices Among Us

black women matter_resizeIn our American society, we pay the most attention to those who have a lot of clout. We tend to flock after those who have reputable degrees, have some sort of coveted expertise, or are for other reasons highly influential. These are the people to whom we ascribe value and importance, and as such, these are the people that we most readily listen to in times of crisis and confusion. Other voices, in particular those at the margins of our society – poor, uneducated, people of color, women, etc – often go ignored or are “otherized” so that mainstream society does not feel compelled to listen to them. This is especially true when said voices are speaking out against societies’ crimes.

No one embodies the complexities of this reality more than black women. Black women – as a result of the intersecting marginal identities of racism, sexism, and often classism (and more) – are disproportionately silenced and ignored when we speak out against America’s sins. When we call out racism and police brutality, our voices are stifled by white liberals who supposedly “get it” but demand a colorblind approach to the problems that we face. When we condemn oppressive gender roles and rape culture, we are often hushed by black men who insist that we are only out to hurt the black man. And when we critique systems of white supremacy and patriarchy that are so deeply embedded in our churches, we are often labeled angry, rebellious, and too emotional. Every moment that we resist our prescribed role as societies’ mule, our words are either torn apart or dismissed altogether.

The reality is that societies around the world have a way of making sure that those at the bottom, stay at the bottom. One of the most efficient ways to do that is to ensure that no one hears the prophetic cries of change that are uttered from below. As long as those voices stay unheard, there is no urgency to change systems of oppression. Yet God, as He always does, has a way of elevating the neglected voices in our midst calling for truth and justice.

An Ancient Example

Such was the case with Amos, ascribed author of the book of Amos in the Old Testament. Written between 793 B.C and 753 B.C., God rose Amos up to address the ongoing oppression wrought at the hands of Uzziah the King of Judah and Jeroboam the King of Israel, and inflicted on the most vulnerable. People were economically exploited, women were sexually violated, others were deported only to be brutalized and killed, and the unborn were discarded. All of these egregious things were done for the benefit of the empire who grew more prosperous with every single act of atrocity.

God was beyond angry over all of this and planned to deliver swift, punitive judgment. But like many things, He didn’t do this in the dark and wanted the powers of the state to be in the know, just in case they might repent and turn from their evil ways. God needed to appoint someone to deliver His word, someone who would be willing to speak truth to power and whose stomach wouldn’t turn at the mere thought of standing against the status quo. God’s mouthpiece for the moment: Amos.

But the thing is, Amos was not a prophet.
He had not been trained among the best of Judaism’s finest religious scholars and teachers. He also was not royalty, or a person in some position of authority within the empire, or even someone really famous for doing nothing, like the Kardashians. In fact, Amos represented the lowest of the low: a sheepherder. He made his living by following around dumb animals all day. But taking care of sheep didn’t give him enough income to provide for his needs, needs which most likely included feeding his growing family. To make additional income, Amos also was a dresser of sycamore trees, a tree which produced small fig-like fruit that wasn’t especially sweet but accessible to those who were poor. Like him.

In addition, Amos was fatherless. Unlike many of the other prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, and Jonah, no father is ascribed to him. Amos’ father’s absence from the introduction of his story tells us that he was either missing – dead or in prison – unknown, or that his family’s social location was so low that his father could not give him more credibility than he already had.

Though not theologically trained, a person of little to no influence, and fatherless, God used Amos to bring much needed judgment to Judah and Israel. According to Amos 7, other religious leaders sold out and their once prophetic words disappeared in exchange for the comforts that cuddling up to empire brought. While some prophets may have genuinely recoiled at the deplorable state of affairs, they were too afraid to say anything that could definitely be the case with the prophet Isaiah. Note that Isaiah waited until King Uzziah of Judah died before he began his prophetic ministry. Amos represented a fresh voice that was not only attuned with the Spirit of God but whose position in life gave him the experiential authority to challenge the systems of oppression that were common place in his day. Because as a poor, fatherless, un-influential man, he was most likely on the receiving end of much of that oppression.

I wonder how many people paid attention to his words. As is the case with most prophets, I am sure not many. But again, his social location further inhibited people’s ability to listen to his words. Whatever allowances were granted to other prophets who were able to get in good with the same empires they critiqued, like Daniel and Nehemiah, were not extended to him. Instead, he prophesied alongside the roads and in the streets, declaring the word of the Lord to whomever would give him the time of day. I suspect that not many did.

A New Vanguard

Like Amos, there are many black women prophesying the word of the Lord in our nation today. In the present day, black women are lifting up our voices to prophetically speak out against racism and state sponsored violence. We are leading the charge against sexual violence and exploitation, demanding that our bodies stop becoming the object of perverted male fantasies. And we are speaking truth to power concerning queer/transgender violence, wage theft and unfair scheduling, health disparities, unjust housing practices, mass incarceration, gun crimes, and disparities in education – all the while looking absolutely fabulous, I must say. Like Amos, we bear the complexities of our intersecting marginal identities but we refuse to be silent just because society insists that those in our social location should stay in our place. Through our words and our work, we are creating our own place.

Like Amos, there are many black women who are boldly challenging the dictates of empire – an empire which claims to follow God but who clearly does not. Instead of accepting the status quo, as if it were indomitable, black women are forcefully making society face its awful, racist past. We are critiquing our nation’s sacred policies and practices, insisting that these documents were not prescribed by holy men committed to God but men committed to growing our nation’s wealth through colonization, genocide, rape, and slavery. We are calling out the American church for its role in marrying empire and who has used evangelism and mission initiatives to justify this ungodly allegiance – in the quest to save a few souls, the church has lost many! The journey of prophetic critique is uncomfortable and seemingly inconvenient. Like Amos, we are protesting in the streets, the courthouse, places of establishment, the church, and wherever there appears to be a demonic stronghold over our lives and the lives of our people. The journey is also long but black women are committed to walking the long road of truth and justice, even if necessitates walking alone.

Like Amos, our liberation is bound up in our ability to critique a society that thrives off our continued oppression while also stirring the imagination within that same society – so that our futures will be different. It is not enough to draw attention to America’s crimes without also proffering a compelling, godly vision of justice and peace. We imagine and call forth a time when people – across race, gender, and class – are able to live among each other as brothers and sisters, providing love, hospitality, and care for each other in the same way that they are loved and cared for. We imagine a future where our babies make it home at the end of the day with their pockets full of skittles and iced tea, where our sisters are not forced to surrender their sexuality nor are they treated like unruly criminals for doing seemingly asinine things, and where our brothers and fathers grow big and strong and provide strength and love to our families until God calls them home. Full of the spirit of God, we see a space where no one has to work four jobs just to make ends meet. Instead, the community meets the needs of everyone and no one is exploited for their lack or inability to provide for themselves. Laughter and joy fills our lives instead of terror and fear. Together, our beloved community – which includes men and women, black and white, rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated, able-bodied and disabled – reflects the love of God throughout the earth. This is shalom. This is what the fullness of God’s Kingdom looks like!

Courageous, spirit-filled black women are the new vanguard, lifting up God’s vision for justice in our midst. And we insist that this justice must be realized for all marginal identities and not just those most readily able to approximate white patriarchy. The question is: will empire listen? Will our government and places of power finally listen to the prophetic voice of truth and justice that has been crying out for nearly 400 years? Will our churches listen? Will our theology, at last, recognize and honor the voice of the suffering and move away from its bent toward triumphalism?

To date, our government and institutions, including our churches, have not listened well. But the reality is, you cannot listen to those who you cannot hear. This is why we must push for the continual elevation of the neglected voices of black women so that we may be fully and completely heard. The church can play a role in this by supporting more black women doing theology and leading our congregations. There have to be more on ramps for black women to be trained and supported in pursuit of our vocation which necessitates providing significant financial support, ongoing mentorship, and meaningful internship opportunities.

At the same time, there is already a multiplicity of trained, educated, experienced and capable black women voices out there calling forth God’s justice in every way that they can. And doing it well. Discover them. Research them. Follow them. Break out of the filter bubble that is so commonplace on social media and actively seek out perspectives that differ from your own. Plan conferences where black women are keynote speakers and not just an afterthought in order to diversify an otherwise white space. In so doing, the church will become an effective vehicle in normalizing the “otherized” while simultaneously rejecting the notion of whiteness as default.

Elevating the prophetic cries of black women is the urgent task before us. And as we elevate these voices, hear and listen, may we heed God’s Word so that we will not be destroyed: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; And thus may the Lord God of hosts be with you (Amos 5.14, NASB).”

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God Things

In a world of chaos and pain, it is all the more necessary to take stock of the ways that God has proven Himself faithful.

Things have been hella crazy over the last few weeks. From the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria and Mali, to the demonization of Syrian refugees which led to the U.S. House of Representatives passing H.R. 4038 – the so-called “American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act which would grind refugee resettlement to a halt – to the unjust execution of Jamar Clark by the police in North Minneapolis, to the shooting of peaceful protesters demanding #Justice4Jamar, to the ongoing terrorizing of communities of color across the globe by the the west, it has been difficult to see God and believe that there could be a future where war, genocide, and state-sanctioned terror was not the de facto way of being in the world.

Our ambivalence makes sense! When we are so burdened with violence on a daily basis, how can we trust God for a different reality? Those of us who profess faith in Christ have been waiting nearly 2,000 years for His return – believing that upon His arrival, crooked paths will be made straight, empires will fall, oppressors will be subdued, and all that is despicable in the world will either be destroyed or made beautiful again. Yet, the extreme chaos has a tendency to choke out hope, even among the most faithful of us, and lead us to believe that justice isn’t coming, and that we are just better off trying to make whatever little progress we can with our own hands.

Is there any hope for a world riddled with hate, fear and violence? Is there any hope for a people controlled by white supremacist terror and corporate greed?

Yes! I believe there is. In spite of what I see around me, the inner recesses of my soul knows that justice is coming. Salvation is on its way. Things, as they are now, won’t always continue like this. In fact, things haven’t always been like this so whatever has a beginning will have an end. One day, and one day soon (I hope) there will be an end to war, an end to state sanctioned violence, an end to capitalism and other economic systems which prey upon the vulnerable, the weak, and the dispossessed. One day, the world we inhabit will be characterized by peace, love, and an abiding spirit of mutuality.

As we wait for that day, we have a job to do!

First of all, we call the kingdom of God forth. We accept the invitation that Jesus extended to the disciples, but also to the whole body of believers, to pray for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

But we must not stop at prayer – this is only our starting pointing. After we have interceded and tarried for a while, we then go out in the world raising the consciousness of those around us that the Kingdom of God is on its way and that systems, hearts, and minds better get right. Essentially, this is what John the Baptist’s ministry comprised of, as recorded in the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He was a first century protester, who called people to repentance and challenged the corruptive, exploitative empire of his day, declaring “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the LORD (John 1.23).’” Similarly to John in the first century, we now in 2015 have a duty, a responsibility, to echo John’s refrain and call the Kingdom of God forth.

If God is King, that means that governments and corporations in this world who think they are running things are not. All which rules through corruption and oppression, and who profit off of the death of black, brown, and indigenous bodies all over the world, get dethroned – they lose all of their power. We set this process in motion every time we declare ‘Black Lives Matter,’ demand that our government welcomes Syrian refugees, elevate the voices of women and girls around the world, force corporations to take climate change seriously and advocate for just, equitable policies that will not have disparate impacts on vulnerable communities.

Secondly, we recognize and lift up the God things among us. No matter how dark it gets, God’s light still shines. No matter how evil and violent it gets, God’s presence still envelopes us all. Contrary to popular theological belief, Satan does not govern the affairs of this world, God does! While he may have enticed Adam and Eve into sin, he did not get dominion over the earth just because they lost an element of theirs.

God is still in control and we see glimpses of that with every sunrise and sunset. We see God in the faces of little children and newborn babies and the smiles of those most close to us as they age. Even in the spaces that have been lost to white supremacist control, God is still present with every court case that works out in the favor of families who have lost a loved one, with every successful refugee resettlement, with every home that shelters, protects, and provides, with every meal that nourishes, and with every table that extends an invitation to a friend, a neighbor, or a complete stranger. God is among us and He is working in and around us every second of every day to bring about that glorious future that we all so desperately long for.

As we wait for the fullness of God’s Kingdom and play an active role in bringing it forth, we must always remember to elevate the God things, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Every time we lift up God’s name and exalt Him above demonic principalities that manifest themselves in white supremacy and other imperialistic ideologies, our glorious future free of injustice and pain gets a little closer than it is right now.

I’ve Been Thinking: Thoughts on Racism, Oppression, and the Kingdom of God

silhouetteI’ve been thinking…
…about how racism compounds the already complex nature of original sin. Of how, because of sin, humans already have a tendency to exploit and abuse one another. On our worst days, and under the right circumstances, we can all be lured into sin and take that which belongs to another. But racism validates it. Racism legitimizes it. Racism makes stealing, genocide, rape, and murder okay. Racism systematizes that oppression, making it that much harder to pinpoint and break. Sin, thus, is not only committed by racist individuals but by anthropomorphic structures that do not think or feel, breathe or feel in order to serve the interests of rich and powerful white men.

I’ve been thinking…

about how racism dehumanizes people of color in so many ways. We struggle to find employment and when we find it, it does not pay a livable wage. Without family sustaining wages, we fight to put healthy food on the table. No matter because we lack decent stores that shelve those healthy foods in our communities. And yet, convenience stores and fast-food chains line our streets along with the check cashing place. And if by chance, we ‘make it’ and get an education, buy a home out of the hood, and do well by the standards of this world, there is no guarantee that we or our children will not end up back in the place we desperately tried to escape: oppression. Someone else, usually white and most often male, feels the need to make decisions that should be ours to make. We cannot live where we want to live, send our children to the schools we wish to send them to, or stand up for ourselves without someone corrupting our narrative or taking the microphone away from us while we speak. At every turn, we seem to be duped and plotted against. Where does freedom exist?

I’ve been thinking…

…about how they keep terrorizing and killing us. Whether at the hands of a power-hungry cop or a self appointed vigilante, our bodies are under constant siege. It does not matter what we are doing, it does not matter what we are wearing, it does not matter who we are worshipping, it does not matter how old we are and definitely not how educated we are – on an hourly basis we are targeted and on a daily basis, we are discarded like waste. It’s maddening and it’s simply exhausting. 400 years of this. When will the storm end?

I’ve been thinking…

…about how much violence exists within our own communities. So much blood has been spilled of our own sons and daughters by our own sisters and brothers simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, wearing coveted status symbols or for being connected to the wrong people. Internalized hatred and shame is trapped in our bones, and that hatred we can so easily project onto others, usually those who live, work, or play within proximity to us. We compete with each other, turn our backs on each other, shame each other, and even exclude each other from life and community even though, truthfully, we are all we have. How can we unite together, putting our differences and opinions aside, in order to go head to head with the demon that is racism? Together we stand, divided we fall. 

I’ve been thinking…

…about internalized racial superiority perpetuated by many white people. Many whites have adopted and hold on to an identity of ‘better than,’ one which they are willing to protect at all costs. In order to protect that identity, they label immigrants ‘illegal,’ Muslims ‘terrorists,’ black people ‘thugs,’ and anyone who dares to ask for help ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled.’ And then they pass policies to back up their rhetoric, all the while demanding their rights to free speech and gun ownership lest someone challenge their twisted ideology. Politicians race to say the craziest, outlandish thing in order to rile up their base ignoring the fact that if they did half of the things they promised, we would all be screwed. Truth of the matter is, none of us will be free, none of us will find justice, until whites themselves are free and healed from the lie of superiority that they have internalized for so long.

I’ve been thinking…

…about how in our pursuit for justice we are sometimes only really committed to our own personal liberation instead of the liberation of all of us. We want racial justice but are not willing to challenge capitalism and corporate greed because as much as these systems hurt us, they benefit us, too. We refuse to call the American Dream a nightmare because we still want a piece of it, believing that this is what justice means. However, even in a case where we had unrestricted access to that dream, who pays for it? Whose blood is spilled to secure it, whose family destroyed to maintain it, whose land devastated to sustain it? If not our own lives and our own families, surely those of our sisters and brothers overseas. Our foreign policy has devastated whole communities in lands far away, but what costs them much benefits us a lot. We cannot accept this, we must reject any notion that suggests we should.

I’ve been thinking…

…about what it will take to dismantle racism and white supremacy. We cannot move into a future free of oppression and pain, using the same tools and the same tactics that have gotten us here. We cannot keep building on a foundation that was designed for our failure; instead we need new governance, new theology, new economics, and new sociology. The time is now for new wineskins in which to pour the sweet wine of justice, peace, love and solidarity.

I’ve been thinking…

…about what is the spiritual moment in our nation. As much as racism is a political strategy it is also spiritual. What is going on outside of the realm of this world that we cannot see that is yielding the current results? What is the Kairos, or opportune, moment upon us? How will a deeper understanding into what the Spirit of God is doing in this season in our nation strengthen our ability to dismantle racism.

I’ve been thinking…

…about how we cannot dismantle racism without the intervention and power of the Holy Spirit. While we intend well, we simply cannot fight this intense battle without God. Because of our imperfections and our tendency to pervert justice, we need the Almighty God to go before us. We need God to empower us with the ability to prophesy against this evil system of injustice and call forward the fullness of His Kingdom, where death will at last be defeated and racism will finally be put to rest. That our hearts would rejoice and remain expectant for that day. Marantha! Come quickly, Lord!

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