Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Christian Minister reflects on Civil Society and Terrorism, An Essay

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” ― Simone Weil

Image result for images of the cross of calvary
Each day is a new and vivid day of prayer as I rise thankful to God for a most bountiful blessing.  I embrace the joy which inhabits this day as each day is a universe of longings and desires unto itself.  Indeed, I receive God’s attention. The aforementioned must be considered an in-breaking of sorts as I encounter one more report of horrific violence, a symptom of the unanswered circumstances and concerns of people long ago frustrated, and now seemingly hopeless, by regimes which deny or outright reject their voice of pain and suffering.  These are the unsettling dynamics which undergird religious, economic and political realities of our day from which the terrorist arises.  Confronted by these complicated realities I am comforted by a profound grace and mercy which abound to me through Jesus Christ.  Thankful for the salvation provided me through his sacrifice, I find this question, “What should be the Christian’s response to the acts of the terrorist which seemingly characterize life today in a civil society for many people in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America?”  Frankly, I have no answers or prescriptions which might sooth my soul yet I believe that engaging these complex and evolving situations expresses some active hope that one-day life would not so much be an exhibition of tribalism and the politics of limitation at the feet of a materialism and its new found expression of technology characterized by some in our day as progress but a profoundly inclusive, sacred and holy imagination, the embodiment of love.  It is to that end that this essay is written.  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”       Mk 12:30-31 (NRSV)

The words of Mark 12:30-31 remind us that a love which is rooted and grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is called to console the one crying in the silence, the one consumed by agony and pain, fearful of a wilderness, and the othering of their soul. It is to comfort those who are unemployed, hungry, those who have lost loved ones through personal as well as structural violence of body, mind and spirit, their hopes seemingly dashed.  Beloved, love of neighbor, inclusive of enemy, is not about agreement or allegiance of philosophy and rhetoric but about a common humanity grounded in the love of God.  The logical act is to love and thus overcome, with a lasting power, those interlocking oppressions which would alienate and demean that common humanity.

In this light, those who would love, and this a matter of justice, are called to embrace a politics of care and concern, a narrative of compassion, the embodiment of Micah 6:8.  Their politics, as a means to express a civil society is to love a holy and sacred humanity. Their politics thus seeks to sooth the greatest desire of the soul, that is to experience justice.  Whatever power or policy justice must be its call.  That said, new times, new narratives call for new articulations of justice.  Articulations of justice are strategies employed to express certain desires of the soul.  To provide space for the fulfillment of imaginations formally sequestered.  They are strategies of survival to celebrate an authentic reality of being in the face of difficult concerns.  Articulations of justice are foundational to a social contract which is foundational to a civil society.  That said, justice, a critical element of a social contract, should be received as a means of living out those ties that bind disparate and distinctive cultures together.   Social Contract is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. Theories of a social contract became popular in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries among theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as a means of explaining the origin of government and the obligations of subjects.[1]  That said, a rethinking of the social contract, within the U.S. context, particularly in light of a shifting demographics, within a discourse on articulation’s of justice demands an analysis of foundational elements which are the ground of a social contract.  In light of the processes and functions which seek to promote a civil society such as communities of faith, educational institutions, family, and law enforcement which historically has employed programs such as stop and frisk, a broken windows policy, including the tragic incidents that resulted in the death of innocent people of color dying at the hands of police departments throughout the nation, the social contract should be renegotiated to a more inclusive, holistic reality.

The other was never included or envisioned by those who initiated the contract.  The contrast was exclusive to one and not to the other.  Fundamentally the social contract first envisioned by Rousseau and other philosophers must be renegotiated and re-imagined towards an inclusive orientation. 

A renegotiation of the current social contract, this includes concerns of theological, ecological and economic import,  does not necessarily mean a wholesale rejection or denial of the status quo but it does mean that the current social contract which initially emerged out of a 17th century European context and adopted in the United States as a means to the viability of a master slave context which gradually evolved into realities of white supremacy and privilege and a denial of the humanity of the ‘other’ must be, in some sense, reconfigured to align with new and revolutionary articulations of justice.  A shifting demographics and a recasting of the grand narrative of love towards an inclusive institution is a tremendous opportunity to re-imagine a civil society that works for all people as a matter of sustainability and not a matter of “king of the hill” as is for some under the current social contract oriented towards the accumulation of wealth and material which have historically sustained a narrative of white supremacy and privilege.

The present state of political, economic and socio-cultural affairs is such that the concern at the root of the social contract, this from an ethical perspective, is the sustainability of as well as within a civil society.  Black Lives Matter (BLM), The Tea Party, and the rise of Donald Trump, including stirrings of racism, sexism, transphobia, bigotry and various forms of hatred, is each a result of a need to address the aforementioned concerns of sustainability as an emerging component of the social contract.  Of course, we don’t address the social contract, and its implications, separate from or absent of a discussion on globalization. 

Globalization has changed the rules, terms and conditions of the social contract necessarily causing significant consternation among those who traditionally and historically have benefited from a social contract which was primarily focused on maintaining their place of support.  The situation, now global, has given rise to extremist who play on the fears and anxieties of many people who seem to have lost hope.  Globalization, a multi-dimensional term defined as a process interconnectedness of the economies driven by investment and capital flows, change in technology and trade and liberation, should be a construct within a discourse on justice.  The question of concern at this point is, “Is Globalization compatible with social justice?”  This is a question posed by Sam Gindin, the Packer Chair in Social Science, Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto.  His question, in light of significant global tension as evidenced by the many people who have fallen for the complicated narrative of terrorism brings into stark view concerns of justice and the need to re-evaluate the social contract.

While this writer does not advocate or condone the actions of the terrorist, it is nevertheless considered that the terrorist should be, no, they must be received as a response to or product of empirical actions dictated by social, political and economic concerns of power inculcated or instilled within the narrow confines of a social contract reflective of wealth and material concerns of those privileged and complicit. The horrific violence which characterizes the actions of the terrorist must be considered a means to communicate, to cause those who hold some allegiance to this social contract to feel the pain and hopelessness that has engulfed their soul, seemingly eclipsing the hopes and dreams which formerly defined the life of the one who is now a terrorist.  How should globalization engage the discourse of terrorism, of the lost and oppressed, the disinherited?  What does this discourse look like particularly within the idea or concept of a civil society?

Reflecting on an interview conducted by Sara Reardon of Scott Atran, a noted anthropologist entitled “Looking for the roots of terrorism” http://www.nature.com/news/looking-for-the-roots-of-terrorism[2]  in the online journal Nature, An International Weekly Journal of Science, the words which resonate throughout the interview are justice, care for the soul, and the criticality of Simon Weil’s words – “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”[3]  Weil’s words, though written in a letter to a friend in April 13, 1942, are no less powerful and no less necessary in our day.  Terrorism, within a discourse on attention and generosity, is a narrative determined by an extreme loss of identity, rejection and the inability to be seen and heard by those whose vision and hearing are framed and contoured by a social contract which doesn’t consider them or their humanity.  The question asked by the terrorist more and more is “Have you seen me? Do you comprehend my pain, my suffering?” Sadly, it would seem that those who benefit from the social contract seldom see or hear the plight of those in pain and suffering except through the actions of terror.

The terrorist exists because of a lack of vision framed and contoured in generosity and expressed by society except as determined by a narrowly determined social contract.  This has been the case particularly as evidenced by the racism, sexism and discrimination practiced here in the United States.  So in some sense terrorism is a product of a society who, for decades, fails to give the attention necessary for the soul and this same society lacks certain generosity towards those who are not beneficiaries of the social contract. That said, this writer does not deny certain responsibility and accountability regarding the actions of the terrorist yet to ignore, neglect or just cast aside the injustice which perpetrated the action would be to deny a particular dialogue that might take shape in pursuit of care of the soul.

The question posed at this moment in time to this writer is, “if a society practices exclusivity and neglect as a means toward economy and privilege is that society civil? This question elicits thoughts of a society brutal towards those who are the other, who are not a part of the social contract as determined. 

Based on the interviews of Scott Atran the terrorist would seem to be a most lonely person, dismissed by a culture and society who have no time for the care and concern of those who are not participants regarded by the social contract.  There is then a responsibility, even an accountability to alleviate this pain, to be free of continual suffering just as there is a responsibility to live out the social contract regardless of the pain inflicted upon those external to that social contract, to be safe and secure in the midst of a world of terror and uncertainty.  Indeed, this would seem to be an impasse.

Matthew 5:43-45

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father in heaven.

How should the Christian respond to the terrorist?  Jesus Christ has given the answer for the Christian.  “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons (and daughters of your Father in heaven.” How do we love, yes, really love as Jesus Christ has called us to love?  Is this love beyond human thought and phenomenon?  Is it practical? It is a truth that when one speaks they do not take their words or the hearing of their words without careful thought and intent.  The words of Jesus Christ are a gift to humanity because we, that is humanity, are capable of the love Jesus Christ espoused. We can love, this with abandon. Yet if humanity is capable of the love Jesus Christ espoused then why the impasse, why the violence which daily strikes at the soul?

There are times when answers deny the depth of the question, the hope intended for a soothing of one’s soul.  This is the case of a love which beckons the soul to a nourishment formerly without.   Love is not just about answers, which tends, because of hubris, to assuage the ego, but more so it is about oneness and healing, it’s about solidarity with the commonality of all humanity. It is more than justice yet inclusive of the same.  The complexities of this life with its many layered dynamics and dialogues demands that love be the primary locution of human interaction for it is love that will make away through the impasse.  Without love what then is a civil society but a mere menagerie of conflicting ideologies and sorted politics.  The horrific violence of the early 21st century make an understanding of love and social justice urgent matters of concern.  

Engaging the issues which so easily beset humanity and her institutions I am reminded of the power that assumes desires and concerns within global constructs.  Power, which should be utilized for the betterment and justice of humanity, to release those better angels is conceived as a destabilizing force necessary for the maintenance of controlling structures.  Power seeks to maintain power.  Institutions are not for the sustainability of a humanity which developed the institution but more so these institutions are a means to express the power of the state and corporate desires. Love, justice and even compassion are necessary fabrications toward a maintenance of those structures.  So, while on the one hand the institutions provide some sustenance to the citizen and the hopefully the refugee the institutions inclusive of the military industrial complex and civilian corporations would seek to be the master of their destiny which is a concern of the terrorist. 

Terrorism is not primarily about the act of terrorizing for the sake of terrorizing but should be received as a denial, rejection or throwing off of totalitarian institutional corporate power.  Terrorism is particularly antithetical to this power as defined by the social contract.  That said, it should be considered a critique for those who would receive such a critique.  As I, a Christian minister, engages terrorism as a critique of this power, a reality of the state regime, I find that terrorism is, for some, a means to hope, even to liberation and a means to heaven.  In this sense the cross of the crucifixion becomes the succinct offer, the embodiment of terrorism, as it is, at least for me, the ultimate critique of the state.  Indeed, to equate the Crucifixion of Jesus with terrorism, for some, might be unsettling.

According to an article written by Steve Mansfield entitled Torture and the Killing of Jesus in the Huffington Post of December 12, 2014, the crucifixion of Jesus was a state terror.  The crucifixion was capital punishment for those considered insurgent, an enemy of the state.  From the perspective of the Roman state, i.e. Pontius Pilate, Jesus, his disciples and by implication the movement were a profound danger, a threat to the regime of the emperor.  That said, there was fear at the highest levels of the Roman power structure that to kill Jesus would make him a martyr thus creating a spectacle that would give rise to a revolt, necessarily destabilizing the power structure in Judea and surrounding areas.  The power of the martyrdom of Jesus, as a socio-political as well as a religious event, cannot be overstated for it was his martyrdom which eventually transitioned the Roman empire by 400 A.D.[4] from paganism to Christianity with Emperor Constantine converting to Christianity in 312-313 C.E.[5]

I find myself somewhat conflicted on the matter.  According to Gerald Seymour in his 1975 book Harry's Game, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” I ask then, “Should the crucifixion be received in that light.” Should I re-evaluate my theological position on terrorism and the terrorist?  I suppose in some sense this re-evaluation might be a study in perspectives on power and the critique of power as means towards narratives of control, sustainability, and those hopes which nourish the soul and/or to a lesser extent the ego.   How, then should I look at the terrorist attacks in Europe, Israel-Palestine, Turkey, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Libya; the Middle East, and places formerly of the Ottoman Empire? Difficult indeed as these particular situations emerge from a complex discourse on colonization, remanences of the “white man’s burden” an ode to American Imperialism and its sub-discourse on the strategic, associated economics and displacement of people from homelands inhabited for 100’s or even thousands of years and unsettled grievances. 

In the Wednesday, August 10, 2016 issue of the New York Time Magazine there was an in-depth analysis of issues, concerns, and challenges of the Middle East written by Scott Anderson entitled Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart.  The article delves into the historical reasons for fractured lands and its people and current political-military policy which continue to maintain control over the Middle East begun in earnest by the European powers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Today as I remember my time in the military in support of long standing agreements among the western powers to control the Middle East I am mindful of the ideology and the rhetoric of politicians, and the men and woman of the Military Industrial Complex, the surrogates for concerns of military and economic domination.

Christ calls me to love.  To that end I believe the Christian is called to be a critical thinker, to study and analyze the situation, the context. To express that love, to be intentional, for Christ, himself was one of intention. (Ephesians 1:9)   In that light, I ask, “Can that which was a burden, and in some cases a murderer of a fractured and its people and once again be the hope in the midst of the fracturing initiated by the Western powers?” Mindful of the journey of the Apostle Paul formerly Saul[6], a former murderer of Christians, I am compelled based on the life of the Apostle Paul to say yes, it is possible and very necessary.   

Beginning to think in a different way requires us to take different positions on the subject of knowing: to open up spaces for new ways of thinking and to consider our own thinking in terms of how our goals affect our perceptions.

                                                                                                                                                Ivone Gebara[7]   

I have become convinced through my journey of gender, sexuality and race that a way, a method, if you will, which accomplishes a critical analysis of theological interpretations, the constructs which are the foundation of social, cultural and political policy positions. The goal of this method must be on the one hand a deconstruction of interpretations which deny the full and unmitigated participation of all people in a social contract. To delink modes, notions, and methods of material and production as means towards a fulfillment of the social contract from the supremacy of one group or community. There must be a rethinking of imagination, forms, processes, structures, actions founded and grounded in colonization and the desires of white supremacy.  I suggest that the goal to change the mind and thus make space for a different imagination is one of generational discourse.

As a Christian minister and a transgender woman grounded in Christ, whose theology is life giving, life affirming, seeking to love all of creation, this from a postcolonial perspective, my response is not so much an answer or prescription but a means for you, the reader, to engage your own response, if you choose, to the terrorist.  That said, the terrorist present the well meaning, those who desire to love with serious challenges and difficulties indeed and maybe there is no way, no method to undo the wrong done.  The sobering of this profoundly sad circumstance calls me to prayer and this without ceasing.  

[1] www.dictionary.com accessed August 1, 2016
[3] From an April 13, 1942 letter to poet Joë Bousquet, published in their collected correspondence (Correspondence [Lausanne: Editions l'Age d'Homme, 1982], p. 18).
[7] Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 21.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Response to the discriminatory law of North Carolina supported by Governor Pat McCrory - House Bill 2, The Bathroom Bill

June 13, 2016

Dear Governor McCrory:

I write this letter to you as a veteran, a tax paying citizen, and an ordained minister in the Christian Church Disciples of Christ who is transgender.  I write this letter as a response to HB2, known as the Bathroom Bill, out of great concern that you are using the transgender community as a means to put forward an agenda reminiscent of the racist strategies of the Jim Crow Era, the Southern Strategy of the 1960’s and the rhetoric of George Wallace.  To achieve your agenda, you are even willing to risk the economic well-being of your state, necessarily impacting the economic viability and vitality of all people in the state of North Carolina and thus also risking the credit rating of your state.

According to reports by The Center for American Progress of 4/13/2016 your state has the potential of losing $568 million in private-sector economic activity through 2018. You have already lost out on $86 million and stand to lose upwards of an additional $481 million due to cancelled events, businesses leaving the area, and tourism declines if HB2 is not repealed.  You are also in jeopardy of losing federal dollars, this according to the Washington Post.  I find your position untenable, unjust, inferior, and unbecoming of a man who would seem to be educated, a person of faith, a critical thinker. 

I find that your arguments regarding a transgender person using the bathroom of their identity under the guise of “safety” using girls and woman as the bait for those uninformed and/or ignorant on the issue or your means to argue for states’ rights to be problematic at best.  As a transgender woman who has done the difficult and challenging work of acceptance, of loving myself and living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in real time in the face of those similar to yourself who long to continue the oppression heaped upon humanity by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, I find your argument to be one of a politics of hatred and manifest bigotry.    Sir, I ask you now, “Are you a bigot?” “Do you embrace the politics of hatred and ignorance?” 

Sir, I ask, “Is what you advocate for just?  Is it right and life affirming?  Surely each of us has an interpretation of life, a life as we imagine but the question that should resonate beyond interpretation is,” Is it life affirming, life giving and hopeful for all?  “Is it just in the presence of a God whose love and grace knows no bounds?”  “Would you stand in the presence of God spouting policies that deny and defy a humanity created by this very God?”  That said, I ask, “Have you taken time to speak or confer with a person who is transgender or have you taken the time to speak with a physician with expertise in gender identity and sexuality?”  If you have not, I would suggest that you speak with a transgender person or a physician who cares for transgender people to ascertain the reality of the transgender person and what your policies will do to a group of people already marginalized and ostracized by society at large.  I would suggest that you read the following books, both on Amazon:

Transgender Journeys, Vanessa Sheridan and Virginia Mollenkott

Understanding Gender Dysphoria - Mark A. Yarhouse

These two books might give you an understanding of what it’s like to be a transgender person. My impression is that you have very little knowledge on the subject because if you had good credible knowledge, you would have made a different and informed policy decision.  Your arguments equating transgender people with sexual predators is a study in gross intellectual negligence.  Fact is there is a huge difference between a transgender woman or transgender man and a sexual predator.  The transgender person just wants to be left alone to live and prosper life like any other American citizen.  This is different from the sexual predator who obtains or tries to obtain sexual contact with another person in a predatory or abusive manner. 

I am not surprised by how you would treat or think of the transgender person because historically transgender people have been killed or murdered by human beings who were not like them.  You, like others, seem to be in fear of anyone or anything that is different than you.  It is as if to be different, which we all are, is a sin and a reason to be discriminated against, murdered or killed because of that difference.  You illicit profound sadness as I perceive that I have written this letter to someone such as yourself who cares very little about transgender people or what they go through on a daily basis.

 If you are a person of faith I would encourage you to reflect on the grace and mercy given you by your creator.  But for the grace of God you to would be a despised and hated human being.  I encourage you to rethink your position on this matter and receive new light and love from your creator. 

Rev. Monica Joy Cross, M.Div, MASC, BCS
Associate Minister, Tapestry Ministries
Christian Church Disciples of Christ

Rev. Dr.  Leon Bacchues, Ph.D., M.J.
Senior Minister, Tapestry Ministries
Christian Church Disciples of Christ

P.S. Once you have read this letter I would like a response to let me know you read it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Holding Space: The Journey Ahead, Conversations of the Heart

The following blog post is a sermon delivered May 29, 2016 at Tapestry Ministries, Disciples of Christ.

“Holding Space: The Journey Ahead, Conversations of the Heart”
It is the heart that speaks of the journey ahead.  It is the mind that will make the way.
And this in the light of a Holy God.
Thoughts on the present state of socio-cultural affairs
I recently attended a graduation party for one of the members of First Christian Church of Oakland.  It was attended by at least 90 plus people (I know because the member had each of us count off).  It was a good experience with a welcoming attitude.   Good food, good people, a great time!!   In the midst of the food and the people someone asked the member what were their next steps. What does the future look like? Remembering my many graduations and retirement from the Navy I found that to be a question full of queries with somewhat of an uneasiness to say the least.  Yet for all of the unease of the question, the question still remains.  What does the future hold more so “What does the journey Ahead hold?”  I find that the journey ahead emerges out of a reflection on the present.  That is, as I critically reflect on the present state of affairs my heart eventually reveals to me the path up ahead, where I am called to go.
Now as a person of faith I am thankful that I don’t take this journey alone.  I am thankful that God is on the mountain top, in the plains, and in the valley with me, and with us, as each of us troubles the waters in preparation for the Kingdom of God.  That said, the times we are living through with their social, cultural and economic upheavals have caused hatred and bigotry, the defects of our beloved nation, to strike fear in the hearts of many people here at home and in the world at large.   The rise of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Google to name a few have become more and more a means to encapsulate, expose and engender these defects now manifested in the rhetoric of political candidates for President of the United States.  
It is important to understand the response of the spirit of enslavement and oppression to the spirit of hope and liberation.  To see this present circumstance as somewhat of a crescendo or culmination of two important conversations of the heart reminiscent of Matthew 4:1-11, the temptation of Jesus.  The temptation of Jesus is the comprehensive and in-depth discourse regarding human reality in its relationship with God, others and the cosmos.  The engagement between the devil and Jesus is the preeminent example of what many people encounter in daily life.  It is true that those who blame the other, who focus their frustrations on those on the margins, are bound to a narrative of enslavement and oppression, a narrative rooted in the devil's argument, as a means to power whether real or imagined.  Their hearts hardened by this narrative they have been blinded to the glory, mercy and grace of God while those who embrace hope and liberation are no longer bound to such a narrative but live in the glory and mercy of a soon coming King.
I suppose the message today is a call to conscience, a call to live out our liberation in Christ Jesus.  It is a call to be real in the face of manifest hatred, bigotry, even ignorance paraded as the Gospel knowing that the Spirit of the living God is with us.  Beloved we move as our hearts are called by God to move.  It is not our bodies that move us but our hearts in concert with the desires of God and in this there is truth.  No lie will stand; no idolatry will last except the resurrection of the Christ.  In the midst of manifest injustice perpetrated upon those of us on the margins because of race, gender, sex, creed, relationship or political persuasion through systemic oppression and brutality the reality is that life and all of creation emerges from the liberative imagination of God.  And hence the Cross, even the resurrection is seen in that light, this even by the oppressors as they more and more seek to deny or mute the Gospel of liberation and inclusion, the expressed desire of God through HB2, popularly known as the bathroom bill.
History has shown that unjust, oppressive regimes eventually fall in the face of God’s desire for a liberated people.  This has been the narrative throughout recorded history.  Whether through marching in the streets, gaining political influence, or living an authentic life in Jesus Christ eventually liberation wins out for all.  As Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the United States said in her speech regarding the North Carolina Bathroom Bill (HB2) reminiscent of the speeches of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, you are on the right side of history.  Yes, we are on the right side of history as we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.

A Prophetic Movement
But if I say, “I will not make mention of Him nor speak any more in His name,” then His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I was weary of forbearing it, and I could not endure it.  For I heard the defaming of many, “Terror on every side!  Denounce him. Yes, denounce him!” All my familiar friends who watch for my fall, say, “Perhaps he will be enticed so that we can prevail against him, and we will take our revenge on him.” But the Lord is with me as a dread mighty One. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail. They will be greatly ashamed, for they will not prosper. Their everlasting shame will never be forgotten. 
Jeremiah 20:9-11 (MEV)
There is a fire shut in my bones that will not let me rest.  No matter which way I turn it won’t let me rest.  This fire, this blaze will only be quenched by the joy of God’s liberation.  The spirit says there is work to be done, people to liberate, to set the captives free. 
A prophetic movement is a move which emerges from the heart.  It is an all-consuming fire and nothing and no person can or will quench its longing, its desire except that it proves its call from a Holy and Sacred God.  This is found in the Old and New Testament texts.  It is found in the life and the martyrdom of the freedom riders of the Civil Rights Movement, it is found in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  The prophetic movement is courageous, a movement of heart and soul that will burn away the unclean things, the things unworthy of the message embodied.
I suspect that the road will not be easy.  The road will be full of vipers, vultures, small things that creep in the night.  Yet that joy which burns in our hearts will keep us, will hold us in the midst of these things as we move as God has called, as God has ordained.  We move because God has called us to move, to change, to transform our world and its situation. Like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel we move for God occupies our heart. We are consumed by the passion of God within.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Urgent Need for Compassion - Building a Collective Voice to Address the devastating Concerns of American Society

Mindful of the week of Compassion February 21- 28 and that we are now in the season of Lent, a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter, and a time of self-examination and reflection are a means to awaken to the joy of God within.  These have been and still are significant responses, a means to exhale, if you will, as I and others engage distinctions such as racism. Today’s message, based on the lectionary text for this week, Proverbs 91:1-2, 9-16 and Romans 8b-13 seeks to provide sustenance as we daily seek to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth in the midst of the complexities of the human condition, while holding firm, through our confession of Jesus Christ, to the intimacy of God’s care and concern and the urgent need for Compassion.

Society has taught me to embrace separation, to define myself as an individual, responsible to self and family, and extended family of faith.  This is good and right yet the call of Jesus Christ as lived out by the Apostle Paul calls you and me to so much more.

The life and dynamic ministry of the Apostle Paul reminds me that a calling of the one who would profess Jesus Christ is to break down distinctions, those barriers, racially, culturally, religiously, the constructs of gender and sexuality which beset, hinder or deny the fullness of humanity and the manifestation of the beloved community of Jesus Christ.  A proud Roman citizen, Paul knew the power, privilege and allure of distinctions as a tool to give the illusion of superiority, divide, define, characterize and shape life in imperial Rome.  By his conduct Paul makes it clear that distinctions have the potential to create disparities and disparities multiple levels of oppression and inequality and an imagination sequestered and bound to the narrow confines of tribal and/or imperial ideology and desire, and as such they are a denial of, and even irrelevant to the gospel message of Jesus Christ as received by the Apostle Paul. One Lord for All, racial, cultural and religious distinctions irrelevant. Further, distinctions have the potential to inhibit empathy and understanding necessarily hardening the heart towards the suffering of those less fortunate.

This thought on distinctions occurs once again in Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  The implications of the Paul’s words are the transformation of social, cultural and religious institutions, systems and structures from modes of distinction as determined by the desires of the  culture, and those in power towards a means of grace and mercy grounded in Christ Jesus. More so the Apostle Paul, through words and conduct sought to build a Church not in bondage or beholden to the worldly desires of the age.

Recently while at anti-racism training there was a question posed by the facilitator.  The question was, “how do you introduce something new into an organization?  My response was that you have to be slow and gradual, listening to the people and the culture of the organization and in the process establishing relationships. As someone who has introduced a different narrative in various contexts I am aware that the process of introducing new ideas, concepts and narratives takes patience, consistency and listening. It becomes a means to cultivate compassion. 

Orchot Tzaddikim, a teacher of compassion within the Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, a 19th century ethical, educational and cultural movement, compassion is an extremely noble trait. It is one of the thirteen traits attributed to the Holy One, Blessed be the Holy One, as it is written: "Compassionate and gracious,." All that one can do to cultivate this trait, they should exert themselves to do. Just as one would want compassion on others who are in need.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” 1967
 “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

In light of the words Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, cultivating compassion, (and I'm thinking on the many Civil Rights Activist who made a way for others and future marginalized communities here) is a means to awaken to life, community and destiny. It is urgent and unless this urgent need to cultivate compassion is addressed there will continue to be racism, poverty, inequality, police brutality and many other oppressions both personal and systemic with the very real potential to lead down a path of terror. We should be mindful of this as we listen to the various candidates share their agenda's about making America great again!

Compassion both for ourselves and others is a means to awaken and to build a collective voice to address the devastating issues which plague American society today in the 21st century.  Only through a collective voice will we be able to throw off those would divide and oppress.

According to the Greater Good Science Center located at UC Berkeley compassion is deeply rooted in human nature; it has a biological basis in the brain and body. Humans can communicate compassion through facial gesture and touch, and these displays of compassion can serve vital social functions, strongly suggesting an evolutionary basis of compassion. And when experienced, compassion overwhelms selfish concerns and motivates altruistic behavior.

A healthy life is a compassionate life, so cultivate compassion 

While the weapons of war, politics and capitalist economics inflict pain and terror as means to change or transform or conquer people and societies, lasting change, even transformation occurs as we cultivate compassion within and without necessarily building a movement of profound care, concern, peace and justice and in this the gospel of Jesus Christ would be made real.

Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.
Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves.
Let us be aware of the source of being,
common to us all and to all living things.
Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion,
let us fill our hearts with our own compassion—
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be
the cause of suffering to each other.
With humility, with awareness of the existence of life,
and of the suffering that are going on around us,
let us practice the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.
— Thich Nhat Hanh – in Singing The Living Tradition – #505

Monday, February 1, 2016

To Tell the Truth, The Rejection of Jesus by His Hometown People

The lectionary text this week, Luke 4:21-30, provides some grim humor as we read of the rejection of Jesus by the congregation of his hometown of Nazareth.  There is Jesus, having proclaimed his call out of Isaiah 61:1, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then we have the townspeople, many who had known Jesus as he was growing up.  They knew him and his family, as they said, is not this Joseph’s son, in effect saying that Jesus was not the Messiah, or a prophet, or anyone great.  Now Jesus being Jesus and knowing his congregation, a people of Nazareth, a city of ill repute, he read the skepticism, contempt and blatant dishonor running rampant among the congregation and become irrate, even insulted regarding the whole matter.  The Gospel of Mark 6:1-6, the earlier text, the situation is described as suspicious, hostile, even resentful because he had worked miracles at Capernaum and other places before.   According to the interpreter’s bible “The people were astonished but it was a grudging and sour astonishment.”  Having known Jesus for many years before he answered the call of God, the people asked, among themselves, what I would consider logical questions such as, “How did Jesus get all of this wisdom?”, “How did he learn to preach and teach so well?”  Yet the logic of their questions only made the scandal of their hearts more pronounced. At this point Jesus, being amazed at their lack of faith, begins to “tell the truth” meaning he was frank, bold and truthful in his encounter with the congregation of his townspeople. 

 I remember when I was growing up I would hear people in Church, school and/or on the street say, “To tell the truth” typically it was an introduction to some pretty heavy stuff, somewhat derogatory about an individual, group or organization, they might even pick a fight.     

This was the case when Jesus compared the people in the congregation with the people who lived in Elijah’s and Eliseus’ times who were unworthy of the miracles of God, due to their idolatry and disbelief, that God ministered to the non-Jew.  This did not go over well at all as they rose up, and thrust him out of the city and led him to the edge of the hill where they were going to throw him over but he passed through the midst of them, went his way.

There are three points which arise out the text.  The Call of Jesus, A Prophet is not without honor except in his or her hometown, queering love, expectation and rejection, and the Courage to Love, Doing God’s work in the Midst.

I.                 The Call of Jesus  

Mindful of the Call of God upon Jesus his beloved son, the call of God upon a person’s
life is one of the most intimate moments a person will experience.  It can be fearful, terrifying, joyful, even stunning, leaving one speechless, to say the least, even in the presence of witnesses.  The call of God is that one moment when the mystical confronts the staid practical sensibilities of human existence.  According to the interpreter’s bible, “They are possessed by the purifying and inspiring purpose of God, then for the first time the soul finds for itself an immense and joyous freedom.  The one called is God’s expressed desire beyond office, position or pedigree, and so was the call of Jesus. Yet the calling of God is not without significant concerns and challenges as the one called moves in the midst of the people, even a hometown crowd whose desires have been shaped by systems, structures and processes of Oppression and Privilege as established by ruler and authority written in Ephesians 6:12,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the
powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of 
wickedness  in the heavenly places.    

II.        A Prophet is not without honor except in his or her hometown, queering love, expectation and rejection

Queering love, expectation and rejection is a means to look at the foundations of these three conversations which frame the encounter of Jesus and the congregation.  Where do they come from, what gives love and expectation and even rejection “credibility and pivotal importance in the situation?” 

 In a summary – Now Jesus had been victorious over Satan in the wilderness and had "gone back to his hometown in the power of the Spirit" to give his initial sermon in Nazareth his hometown. He had accomplished this by beginning with the prophet Isaiah and a passage about true change and transformation. However, in this passage he takes the congregation to task in his old home town and almost suffers a premature demise because of it.

First, “Why did Jesus return to his hometown to give his inaugural address?”  Surely he knew what might happen, what their response or reaction might be.  Nazareth was in the working class region of Roman-controlled Galilee. It was home to farmers and tradesmen – and a bit of the rabble or mob, crowd or gang as defined by Webster’s, it was a rough town. Nazareth was not a town of privilege and wealth, in fact it was a town of ill repute, as Philip says to Nathanael in John 1:46, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I suspect it was love that caused Jesus to return to his hometown, even though he had a pretty good idea what might happen.  The depth of Love Jesus displays by returning to his hometown emerges from his oneness with God and nowhere else.  I can’t help but reflect on the Protestors of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s whose love proved courageous in the face of the manifest hatred of Bull Conner and his dogs.  The protestors knew the situation they were facing but love as a matter of justice compelled them to brave the storm.  This is Jesus in action!!!

Second, Jesus had encountered a congregation of people whose imagination inclusive of expectations was sequestered at the feet of both Jewish religious authority and Roman authority.  The rejection of Jesus reveals in supreme degree that God’s truth may come in ways we do not choose to recognize. To a lesser degree this is the case today as God daily deposits gifts for the life of the Church in people formally rejected. The Church is being transformed by God in our midst and we are a part of that transformation.  

Third, Rejection.   In the midst of this struggle described in Ephesians 6:12, there are times, more often than not, when the one called of God will experience rejection yet this rejection can reveal particular passion, even joy, as the ministry of ones calling is defined.  It is ironic that the rejection of Jesus by his hometown people became significant in shaping and defining his ministry.  It became a means toward profound hope for those who might receive salvation.  Rejection, problematic as it is on many levels, can lead us to a hopeful experience as we move on to greener pastures knowing that God is our refuge as written in Psalm 71:1-6,  

In You, O Lord, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.
Be my strong refuge,
To which I may resort continually;
You have given the commandment to save me,
For You
are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,
Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
For You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from birth;
You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb.
My praise
shall be continually of You.

III.              The Courage to Love, Doing God’s work in the midst.  

Today’s lectionary text Luke 4:21-30, the rejection of Jesus, is a reminder that the call of God may lead us into harm’s way, a place of danger.  It is also a reminder that following Jesus can lead us to difficult and challenging conversations with family, friends and the larger society with the possibility of rejection.  Yet we are infused with the power of the Holy Spirit and in this we are fearless in the face of great danger.   

Rabindranath Tagore writes, “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in the face of them.”  –  

A study of the great movements for social justice as defined by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ finds a people infused with the spirit of the living God. They go into harm’s way aware of the issues, challenges and the danger manifest.  In this they become the Inbreaking of God and in the sense they are the prophetic movement of God in the order of the Christ.   

I remember being on a tour at the Washington National Cathedral and seeing the many statuettes around the massive sanctuary.  Statuettes such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  My impression as I looked at the statuettes was that each person was determined and courageous to love.  They were firm in their purpose and resolute in their cause.  Their Love, even in the face of manifest hatred and death would not be deterred. This is our calling as Disciples of Christ, “To be determined and courageous in our love.” 

Cornel West writes, “To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely - to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.”  -  

This is the way of the Christ, that whatever manifest hatred be present, a determination and courage to love overcomes and in this our hope, and our salvation is indeed real.   

Life changes and is transformed as love becomes the center and determining factor of our actions. 

Let us now walk, infused with the Holy Spirit, determined and courageous in a love grounded in Jesus Christ.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Reflections on Rhetorics and the American Political Regime, “Who has Heard My Cry?” The Call for a Rhetorics of Compassion

Listening to the words of the politician and the pundit I am evermore mindful that the political regime and supporting rhetorics, i.e., the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques, are antithetical to truth, ethics, morality and believe systems.  Politics is about power and money as means to support narrowly defined ideological positions affirmed or repudiated, and particular indulgence of intolerance, this the purview of the ego.  Power is the preeminent discourse of the ego and this the foundation of politics and rhetorical theatrics as displayed by Donald J. Trump. Sadly, this is a brand of American politics which has gained footing as sectarian, parochial and naiveté sensibilities have risen to the surface of the body politic.  American politics, as it has seemingly become, has very little to do with the care and concern of we the people, the broad and diverse people which define the United States, more so it is about those few people, in comparison, who are able to contribute their voice, i.e., their money, as a matter of cooptation. In this sense they are the constituents, the voices that are heard in the halls of the White House, Congress and Wall street.

The call goes out from city, town and village, urban and rural, “who has heard our voice,
who has heard our cry”

The current political environment emerges as the voice of the people has been muffled by and for particular privileged interests.  We should not wonder why the movements of Black Lives Matter, the Tea Party, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Donald J. Trump just to name a few of the prominent movements have gained social and political traction.  These movements should be considered a poignant statement regarding the care and concern of the body politic and the desires denied in favor of the privileged corporate class.  There is a longing of the people to be heard, to be seen to be respected and received as viable agents of political and economic import.  This seems, more than at any other time in political American life to be the point, “Have you heard my cry, do you reflect my perspective or at least my point of view, do you hear my voice?” I write as a liberal and a progressive on this matter.   As I write this post I am mindful of the words of the U.S. Constitution, one of the most liberal pieces of political rhetorics of the 18th century.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Rhetorics is a central part of political acumen which becomes the tool by which to speak to the issues of the body politic.  Rhetorics must be sustaining, empowering and sensitive to the profound needs and concerns of all people.  American rhetorics as embodied in the U.S. Constitution must embody a hopeful pragmatic attitude of divine import for a diverse and teaming population of people. 
We the People must once again believe that our voice is heard and that it has intrinsic value within the life of the American political scheme.
I believe it important to grasp the gravity of the intrinsic value of the voice of the people.  This intrinsic value must be seen as one of divine import.  Note:  While I do believe in separation of Church and State due to the many complications and complexities that would ensue if there were no separation I do acknowledge that each person is the incarnation of the divine, in this there is no waiver.  In this sense the voice that is heard is a voice of the divine.  That said, the voice of the person is the voice of the divine and a such the voice of the people must be considered an amalgamation of divine import.
Historically and I would say presently the rhetorics of American politics is tied to the narrative of white supremacy, privilege and empire, and I might add somewhat of a care taker attitude.  This is still the ground of the Euro-American political rhetorical project.  If we can move this rhetorics beyond the means and attitude of white supremacy, empire, their cousin capitalism then the systemic, systematic and programmatic issues that plague places like Flint Michigan, Ferguson, Mo., the Appalachia region and the U.S. at large might be adequately addressed.  Of course this is a difficult and challenging proposition.  Yet this is what is necessary to address the problems endemic to America in the 21st century.  American political rhetoric must mature so as to enable the U.S. to attain an even greater imagination grounded in justice and equality for all people.  American politics must make as its ground and purpose the empowerment of the powerless, to attain a broader more justice oriented imagination of what could be.
What I am seeking here is a new consciousness, one based on equality and empowerment for all framed in profound compassion.   This should, no, it must be the foundational ethic which undergirds the American rhetorical project.  The implications of this statement are nothing less than the emergence of a new discourse that enables and empowers those of critical difference formally a voice denied towards a voice heard and received by all.  This is the clarion call for a democracy empowered of divine intent for the transforming hope of humanity, this is the call for the Citizen Activist.
The Citizen Activist, A Sacred Calling
Through the rhetorics of compassion the Citizen Activist presents a poignant message of hope as they address “Who Has Heard My Cry” through the building of communities of solidarity, coalitions, and alliances.
The Citizen Activist is a person who, after significant reflection, meditation and conversation is able to look up from their personal suffering so that they might receive and embrace the suffering experienced by themselves and those around them, this as a matter of seeking justice.  This must be the mission of those in poverty, the disenfranchised and those who suffer because of race, sexism and bigotries.  Their suffering, as a matter of faith, must be received as a denial of self-deception and a poignant call for solidarity, this solidarity a means to alleviate the suffering for all.  To deny the reality of our suffering is to deny certain hope in favor of profound ignorance.  That said, there is a need for the Citizen Activist to gain some understanding of suffering, firsts as a term of definition and then as a reality of nonviolent protest.
Suffering, the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship, compels a response, this response received as hope is a mystical release of passion in the life and purpose of the Citizen Activist.  We see this in the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he writes of his “Suffering and Faith” on 27 April 1960 in Chicago, Ill.
Some of my personal sufferings over the last few years have also served to shape my thinking. I always hesitate to mention these experiences for fear of conveying the wrong impression. A person who constantly calls attention to his trials and sufferings is in danger of developing a martyr complex and of making others feel that he is consciously seeking sympathy. It is possible for one to be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. So I am always reluctant to refer to my personal sacrifices. But I feel somewhat justified in mentioning them in this article because of the influence they have had in shaping my thinking.
Due to my involvement in the struggle for the freedom of my people, I have known very few quiet days in the last few years. I have been arrested five times and 1960 put in Alabama jails. My home has been bombed twice. A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of threats of death. I have been the victim of a near fatal stabbing. So in a real sense I have been battered by the storms of persecution. I must admit that at times I have felt that I could no longer bear such a heavy burden, and have been tempted to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. But every time such a temptation appeared, something came to strengthen and sustain my determination. I have learned now that the Master’s burden is light precisely when we take his yoke upon us.   
My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.
There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, and others consider it foolishness, but I am more convinced than ever before that it is the power of God unto social and individual salvation. So like the Apostle Paul I can now humbly yet proudly say, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”4 The suffering and agonizing moments through which I have passed over the last few years have also drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God.[1]
It is also an authentic conversation, and I believe Dr. King understood this, that the earth and her humanity are composed of suffering and hope, this an evolving discourse on compassion.   Indeed, the Citizen Activist longs to balance these realities of human existence.   In this light the Citizen Activist seeks to build alliances, coalitions and partnerships, as a means of community rooted in a divine call for care and concern with compassion as their core understanding of life.  Understanding this, the rhetorics of the Citizen Activist must be based on compassion, mercy and grace simply as a shared narrative of the human condition.  This is important since in the new emerging world, particularly with the rise of social media, a shared narrative must be more explicit within the body politic. 
The Citizen Activist, encountering the narrow sectarian, parochial sensibilities aligned with structures of power, domination and avarice must be steadfast and nonviolent in the face of these forces that seek to maintain certain disparity between peoples, and classes of the body politic.
In the manner of Jesus Christ, the Buddha and Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi the Citizen Activist receives and embraces what is at stake.  In light of what is at stake they go the distance.  Yes, beloved they do go the distance in these affairs of Calling yet they do so among and with many others of divine calling.  And, in the manner of the Buddha they seek to balance, to do the least harm knowing that power, while a causality of passion, is not the goal of the Citizen Activist but love for all.