Love. Hard. Period.

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A teacher of the law asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Rather than answer his question, Jesus countered and asked the teacher to define the law himself and the teacher replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Agreeing to the teacher’s answer, Jesus said, “If you do this you will have eternal life.”

But the teacher wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to test Jesus further. “Who exactly is my neighbor?”

Rising to the challenge, Jesus proceeded to point to the one who was most vilified in their society – the Samaritan. The one who was religiously and culturally different from this teacher – and who was consistently exploited for being so – was the very one whom God called him to love. To embrace. To treat neighborly. To display kindness, mercy and humility toward.

Jesus did not stop there. He not only professed love for the socially outcast but built an entire ministry around other marginalized identities including the poor, the widow, the orphan, the prostitute, sinners, women, children and more, showing that true disciples of Christ show mercy and love to all people without distinction. In his ministry to the outcast, Jesus demanded very little of these people, in fact, he continually claimed that the kingdom of God belonged to those at the margins of society saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, meek, merciful, pure in heart, and persecuted for righteousness sake – for yours in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.3 – 12, NRSV). And at the same time, he continually condemned those in power who were responsible for the marginalized’s misery.

In our day and time, we must consider Jesus’ words and ministry like never before. His injunction to love others unapologetically still applies and this application is not up for debate if we truly do believe that the Word of God is true! In this political moment, the personhood of many immigrant and refugee groups – including Muslims and Latinos – is being called into question as leaders in our nation attempt to pass laws that exclude them. Though some Evangelical leaders suggest that this is not a biblical issue, we do not get to decide what does and what does not apply. God alone calls the shots on God’s own Word, so that if He says that we need to love, we better love. Hard! If not, we have to perhaps consider that we are not only willing to disobey His Word but may be outside of the family of God.

Remember the teacher’s question to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jesus, love is not a matter of convenience or political expedience; it is a matter of eternal life. Period. In fact, all of the commandments and teachings of the law and the prophets hinge on this one single thing: love. To take it one step further, we cannot even say that we love God if we do not love others – we cannot despise those created in the image of God and still declare that we love God. For us, this means that we cannot say that we love God while simultaneously hating, despising, and oppressing Muslims and Latino immigrants and refugees. Also, remember God has a special heart for the foreigner in our land!

The biblical response to the Muslim Ban and the build the wall nonsense, is to love. And from the place of love, we speak up and speak out against everything that minimizes the personhood of others. We can do this in a myriad of ways including but not limited to writing letters to the editor of our local newspapers, speaking to our family and friends about the importance of resisting despotic policies, joining in protests that affirm the rights and dignity of the oppressed, or informing other Christians about what is going on. The form in which we engage and use our influence as believers is not as important – what is important is that we do something to extend God’s love in this moment.

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?

This Advent: Christ Is Here – May He Be Found In Us

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As we finish off leftovers from Thanksgiving, we usher in another season of advent. And if you are like me, you too have also been wondering what this season means in light of the current political moment. Getting wrapped up in the typical holiday festivities and cheer is tempting – I want my children to have good memories about baking cookies, decorating the Christmas Tree, and of course, opening presents early Christmas morning. And at the same time, this moment demands a level of reflection and responsiveness that is not found in glasses of thick Eggnog, fragrant Christmas wreaths, or even Candlelight Vigils capped by melodic choruses of Silent Night.

Whether we appreciate it or not, this season of advent has already taken on a different meaning. So many people in our nation alone, are hurting and genuinely afraid of what awaits them after this season comes to a close. Our friends throughout the world also wonder the same. Coincidentally, the end of advent coincides with the beginning of a new presidential administration which has already made great promises to hurt and harm the marginalized among us – all for personal economic power and self-aggrandizement it turns out. How will this new administration affect the lives of the already exploited among us? Will they be deported, forced to go back to lands that our nation’s foreign policies have decimated? Will they be forced to put their names of a government registry because of their faith, once again scapegoated for this country’s crimes against humanity? Will they be killed without cause and vindication, either by police or those robbed in hoods of the heart? Will they be sexually harassed without their perpetrators ever seeing their day in court, forced to carry to full term babies born through such evil acts of rape and incest? Will they lose the little bit of land that they have managed to hang onto for all of these years, called trespassers on property that rightfully belongs to them? These are the fears that govern the hearts and minds of the vulnerable among us. What does the advent of Christ mean in such a time as this?

If we are paying attention to how things are unfolding around us while simultaneously studying God’s Word, we would understand that in a time just like this Christ came down. It was during a similar moment marked by intense marginalization and colonial rule, that Jesus was born. And fortunately for us, this Jesus was not born into prestige, resources, or any semblance of power. He was born into a community that had little clout which was being held captive by an empire that thirsted on the perpetual exploitation of not only His people, but other vulnerable communities within its reach.

So when the Bible says that Jesus identifies with our weakness, it means this quite literally. Like many of us, Jesus was an undocumented refugee. Like many of us, Jesus was born out of wedlock to parents who didn’t have enough money for a decent room at a respectable hotel. Like many of us, Jesus was a social outcast because of his ethnicity. Like many of us, Jesus lived in a despotic police state. Like many of us, Jesus did not have rights to free speech. Like many of us, every move that Jesus made was watched. Like many of us, Jesus was considered threatening to the ruling powers of his day to the point that they felt compelled to silence Him.

Advent then, has never been about Jesus identifying with the powerful; it has always and will forever be about Jesus living in absolute solidarity with the vulnerable and weak. This is what the incarnation is all about: the Son of God taking on human flesh and the utter finiteness of that human flesh in a world built of destruction. He could have easily been born to a family of means or during a time when the Jews were in a better political situation. Instead, he chose a family who had access to little resources in a time when His people were prisoners in their own home.

Jesus is rightly called Immanuel, God with us. God with us in the struggle, God with us in the righteous work to affirm the humanity of those who are under threat of losing it every day. He sees the fight we are up against for survival, and instead of standing away from it, He enters into that fight at the deepest level. He’s more than an ally because the same chains that bind others, He has allowed to bind Himself. Working on behalf of our liberation, He also works on behalf of His own, declaring to Himself the same salvation that He pronounces on the world around.

Jesus is not only with us, He delivers us. He does not simply fight for fighting sakes, He actually breaks the chains that keep us all imprisoned to an imperial system hell bent on our demise. He does this subversively, allowing Himself to be imprisoned, beat, and ultimately executed by empire. Rising from the dead, He proves that He has ultimately defeated and conquered them all. Every hint of power that satiates on the oppression of the weak, He destroys. Every idea that insists that it is Lord over creation, He makes irrelevant. He heals the sick. He raises the dead. He brings utter and complete liberty to those who cry out for rescue, proving that He is not only LORD of all, but Savior of all too.

Reflecting on the life and ministry of Jesus in this context gives me hope. For advent has never been about the wreaths and Christmas Carols. Though nice, it has always been about remembering what Christ initially came to do so that His actions would be found in us. And today, we desperately need to have His actions magnified in us – for how else will we stand and protect the rights of our brothers and sisters, our very own selves even, unless we commit to modeling our thoughts and actions after His? This moment necessitates that all of those who are called by Christ, those who say that they are His, to stand for truth and righteousness, forsaking all evil that claims supremacy and that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ – even if that evil exists within our own selves. 

On this day, may the very image of Christ be reflected in us as we likewise enter into the struggle of the oppressed. May God be magnified in us as we fight for the rights of those are at risk of losing them for the sake of material gain. May the Kingdom of God draw a little closer to this earth as we pronounce salvation for those who suffer and grieve in this present moment. To them belong the Kingdom, to them belong the Kingdom.

Jesus, may you come ever so quickly!

Salvation

There is no power gained by oppressing others.
No glory.
No honor.
No peace.
No joy.
Only terror, the terror of living under the tyranny that your own hands have wrought. The agony of your own oppressive behavior released upon the earth, threatening breath, air, water, land.
Us.

Be delivered from the memory of your tyranny that haunts your bones and that keeps you awake. That chills your soul.
And step into the light with the rest of us.
Where goodness flows like milk and loves tastes as sweet as honey.

This is where salvation is.

White Church So Silent, White Church So Complicit

*A version of this post has been posted at RaceRhetoricandReligion.

14479586_1272218729477199_2797807119461754697_nOn Wednesday, I awoke to the news that Bethel University’s St. Paul, Minnesota campus – the school I attended for Seminary – experienced a racist incident. The Kresge rock that had been recently painted in solidarity with Black Lives Matter was now painted over in white paint with the message “BLM = Racist, Blue Lives Matter.” As I scrolled through my facebook feed, searching for clarity about the event, I became angry but I wasn’t necessarily surprised. Over the years, Bethel has experienced its share of attacks against Black people specifically and other populations of color as well.*

Back in 2003, there were a slew of incidents targeting people of color on campus which included one student’s car being vandalized with racial slurs. On the night that Obama was elected into office in November 2008, racist language was once against used against black students in reference to the president elect. Then in 2010, a white student dressed in blackface and impersonated Lil Wayne for a campus AIDS fundraiser. Disgusting, right? And sprinkled in between all of these incidents is your typical share of microaggressions and Minnesota Nice covert racism. So once again, I wasn’t surprised. But I was reminded that the school where I spent four years of my life, had a lot of work to do in terms of being an institution that would stand up for racial justice.

But isn’t Bethel University a Christian college?

Yes, it is. Since 1871, this school has been preparing future pastors, lay leaders, administrators, businessmen and women, nurses, and so many others, how to integrate their faith experience into their professions. And while it can be said that not everyone on that campus professes to be a believer, the vast majority of students subscribe to the Christian faith. And yet, these same Christians, who are studying theology and serving in their churches on Sunday, are guilty of racism. How do we reconcile these two realities?

I used to ask myself the same question when I first moved to Minnesota from Milwaukee, WI and attended another Christian college, North Central University, for undergrad. For the very first time in my life, I was surrounded by a sea of white people on a consistent basis – black people were few and far between. Also, for the very first time in my life, I felt as if I was being discriminated against because of my race – the fact that I felt more excluded at a Christian college than I did in one of America’s most segregated cities ought to say something!

In the North Central bubble, as students so affectionately called it, I felt isolated and alone. For nearly two years, I struggled to make and maintain friendships with roommates and classmates. Between the summer of my freshman and sophomore year, I watched my roommates help move each other’s stuff to another dormitory on campus and left me to carry my stuff alone. When I ended up in the emergency room due to a bad allergic reaction to God knows what, the only person who helped me in my moment of desperation was a Sri Lankan woman who happened to live down the hall (thank God for her). When I spent a holiday completely by myself, as all of my family lived in Wisconsin, and the church I attended was just as white as my school, I seriously contemplated hurting myself because the pain of isolation hurt so bad.

Time and time again, no matter how hard I tried, I felt excluded, talked about and ridiculed at NCU. These feelings went on and on, in a Christian school, until I found a diverse church outside of campus that loved me for me, a dark-skinned African American woman. Once I found that place of refuge, I distanced myself from the school as much as possible and was there only to get my degree and leave. Other black students who encountered the same level of hostility at NCU didn’t bother completing their degree, they just left. I am no more brave than they were scared – we all make decisions to the best of our capacity with the resources and knowledge we have in the given moment.

It wasn’t until I learned the history of my denomination, the Assemblies of God, that I started to put things together. The isolation and racism that I experienced on my college campus, which was affiliated with the AG had everything to do with history of exclusion and racism within this body of believers. With intention, the AG broke away from the teachings of William Seymour, an African American man, who was the key leader in the Azuza Street Revival between 1906-1909. With intention, they defamed his leadership and said that it was ungodly for them to submit to it. With intention, they excluded blacks and latinos from their membership. With intention, they upheld the same bigotry and racism that was commonplace in America for far too long.

But it isn’t only the AG who has this tattered and torn history of racism, so many other Christian denominations in America do too. In fact, many churches and Christians themselves, have been complicit if not explicit actors in the terrorism against black lives throughout our country’s history. Everything, from the leadership structure to theology to the way it engages in politics to the way that it conflates the constitution with the Bible, suggests that Western Christianity and more specifically, the white Church, has a strong disregard if not flat out hatred, towards African Americans in this country. Which is why incidents, like those that occurred at Bethel on Wednesday are awful but not shocking.

The white Church’s history of complicity also explains why it, as an institution, remains silent as black bodies are continuously hunted and killed. Through all of the police killings in recent years, the white Church has literally nothing to say. #MichaelBrown. Nothing. #TamirRice. Zilch. #SandraBland. Nope. #PhilandoCastile. Who? Well, that is not exactly true. The white Church has been crying #AllLivesMatter, which sounds great in theory because yes Jesus died for all lives. But in practice, this chant is nothing more than a clever ruse to detract energy and focus from one of the most important movements of our time. Because if all lives truly mattered to the white church, they would not only turn up for our crucified sons and daughters, they would also rally against the senseless police killings of their own sons and daughters.

All Lives Matter lulls a church that is already asleep to the oppression of black people into a further state of hypnosis. And if the white church feigns unconsciousness, they can neither speak or act which is really their point – a clever ruse, right? Here’s the thing though: no matter how silent the white church is or ignorant it pretends to be about #BlackLivesMatter and its importance in this hour, God still holds it accountable. In the same way, that God called after Cain asking the whereabouts of his brother Abel, God calls out to the white church asking the whereabouts of its black brothers, sisters, and sons. Can you hear God calling? Or will you ignore Him, too?

*Thursday afternoon I had the awesome opportunity to participate in a prayer service led by two black students at the site where the racist incident had previously taken place. I am horrible at estimating numbers but it *feels* like hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and alumni showed up in solidarity with the black students on campus. The rock in question has been painted again (by the president and campus pastor) and now reads ‘Us for Us’ a message that the students chose.  

 

 

Where Do We Go From Here? Maintaining Faith in the Midst of Suffering

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Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. For the help of his presence.” – Psalm 42.5

After another agonizing week of around the clock coverage of the war against black bodies, we find ourselves here again. Once again, we rise in protest because of another shooting of black men, women, and children. Once again, we offer analysis and critique of a system that continuously devalues our lives. Once again, we have conversations with colleagues, neighbors, friends, and even strangers about the urgency in dealing with this national sin. Once again, we petition God for cessation to this madness, praying that he would rescue us from imminent doom.

And with all of this, I still wonder if we are actually doing anything. It feels as if our prayers are falling on deaf ears, reverberating throughout the heavens yearning for someone to listen.

Does God hear? And if God hears, does he care? Can God actually do anything to save us?

As these crises continue, it proves that it doesn’t matter what we are doing – our melanin makes us an instant target. Whether we are armed or not, with our hands up or not, running or lying flat on the ground, able-bodied or disabled, cis-gendered or queer, young or old – the common denominator in them all is blackness. Blackness presumes that we are guilty regardless of what we do or what we don’t do. And that is disheartening as much as it is mind-boggling. If this was about behavior, we could act right even if it didn’t feel right if it meant that we would make it home. But it is not about behavior, how good or how bad, it is about this skin, this blackness which God created.

We can’t change this skin. We can’t peel it off or wake up one day shades lighter so that we can escape the white gaze. Yet the longer we stay in it, the longer our fate remains the same. All it takes is one traffic stop, one sidewalk encounter, one word misinterpreted, one glance mistaken for anger – as if we didn’t have a right to be. Can God get us out of this mess? Didn’t he know what they would do to us, that they would despise and kill what he deemed beautiful?

Deep in my heart I know that things will change. And yet my confession of faith sounds trite and feigned even to my own ears. I sympathize with Baldwin and Coates’ lack of faith in a divine deliverer as the past 400 years suggests that deliverance isn’t coming and at the same time, my blackness denies me the opportunity to surrender to the notion that this is all there is. Hope against hope is the only thing that sustains as black corpses fill my facebook feed night after night after night. With every new hashtag, I feel my heart leap out of my chest. I have stopped looking. I have stopped counting.

Too oppressed to give up the fight of faith. In a sense, agnosticism is a luxury of the privileged, those who don’t have to spend entire generations praying for relief to come. And yet, faith cannot simply be deduced to a product of poverty and oppression. I disagree with the notion that suffering helps us to center our faith, because then racism sounds like the intent of the divine and not the workings of evil men who have purposed in their hearts to ransack the earth of all of its goods. I choose to believe the latter and still, it brings me little comfort as then we have to question whether God has the capacity to make the suffering stop.

If I keep fixated on the news feeds, I begin to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering. Every single day, it seems, there is a new Emmett Till. Before we can even grieve the loss of one of soul, we learn of another. The sheer rate at which our black brothers and sisters are falling – with no plausible end in sight – can leave one to deduce that God is not as powerful as we once imagined him to be. We’ve been praying. We’ve been fasting. Not just in this moment but for centuries. Though methods have changed, the fact that we are brutalized remains the same. If deferred hope makes the heart grow weak, the absence of hope surely kills it.

It is one thing to have our bodies thrown about because our blackness too closely resembles God’s image; it is quite another to allow our spirits to die because we have grown disillusioned by the suffering. If our spirits die, we will never survive this sadistic society.

We must press on. We must fight to maintain this ancient faith, not the white man’s faith but this faith that flows from where the Nile meets the Euphrates. It is this faith that enabled our ancestors to survive slavery, and it is this same faith that empowered them to fight for their freedom. This faith empowered our people to escape the Jim Crow south, to protest against lynching, stand up for voting rights, and march for freedom. We cannot abandon it, even in desperate times like these. We cannot walk out on God, even if we can’t see where God is moving in this moment.

Just as he led the children of Israel through the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army and led our very own people out of slavery, he will lead us away from this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I choose to believe change is coming.


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