Monday, March 9, 2015

Round the Midnight Hour, thoughts on Paul and Silas and the Power of Collaboration


Around the Midnight Hour
 
Real World Contextual Engagement
 
Today we remember Selma Alabama and “Bloody Sunday” when 600 marchers were attacked at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama State Troopers under orders from Governor George Wallace while attempting to March to Montgomery Alabama to demand fairness in voting registration for African Americans, increased actions regarding poverty, and the deaths of Deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson, and Rev. James Reeb, a Universalist Minister.   Because of their courage, and faith rooted and grounded in Jesus and the Cross, the world was forever changed.
Moment of Silence
Reflecting on the message Pastor Leon delivered here at Tapestry last Sunday on HIV/Aids, disability, and the overall discourse on the issues, challenges and joys of health and healthcare I was impressed, particularly as one who continues this work, with the notion that health and healthcare are a critical concern of community and an economic imperative within the arena of faith and social justice.   I was reminded of the oppressive narratives of politics, economics and rhetoric’s regarding something which should be without personal cost simply as a matter national pride, dignity and a compelling faith that maintains a nation daily in need of God’s grace and mercy.   Endless votes in congress, now 54 and counting at last report and arguments at the supreme court of the United States where the purveyors of powerful economic interests seek to destroy or at least cripple the Affordable Care Act once again putting the health and healthcare of millions into jeopardy.  In the face of oppressive narratives, which, at least for me, are just plain ludicrous at times, I experience an unyielding hope within a community of change agents who stand fast in an ever widening gap around the midnight hour.
An Unyielding Hope
This unyielding hope, reflective of the life and ministry of Jesus, the Cross and an empty tomb, characterize a community in collaboration around the midnight hour as a new day appears on the horizon.   The midnight hour symbolizes the end of one time and the emergence of another.   For  those made insensitive,  unaware, unconscious or asleep by the profit of norms and traditions the expectant joy of a new day the midnight hour is indeed a fearful time as the injustice perpetrated on so many people, for the sake of profit in allegiance to norms and traditions, have their day in the court of the heart.  Hearts and souls in collaboration for justice and fairness now speak loud and clear at the midnight hour striking fear in the flesh of the oppressor as a proclamation of the listening ear of God. 
The actions of Paul and Silas in Acts 16:16-31, the baptism of Lydia and her household, the release and freedom of a slave girl from the spirit of divination, who happened to be a medium and profitable for her owners, by Paul; a great consequence of her persistence and his lack of patience, reminiscent of Jesus and the woman from Canaan and her daughter vexed with the devil, resulted in a loss of capital for the owners of the slave girl  and the beating and incarceration of Paul and Silas.  While incarcerated at around the midnight hour Paul and Silas begin to pray and sing praises to God, and have fellowship with the other prisoners. 
Their actions become expressions of joy as their collaboration brings to bear the listening ears of God, in this case, according to the text; an earthquake shook the foundations of the jail, resulting in doors being opened and the eventual release of Paul and Silas from the jail and departure from the town.  In the midst of their release the jailer, who is about to commit suicide, is put at ease by Paul.  He then falls down trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas, seeking salvation, his life and household forever changed.
Many times, in the midst of the  drama’s  of this life we are reminded to praise God in community giving thanks to God for the many blessings poured into our  life and then presenting the problem or challenge, no matter how complex, to God and community.  I find this helpful as I engage entrenched oppressions; too many to mention here, which more and more seek to characterize life here in the United States, the great beacon of capitalism and liberty. 
In the face of entrenched oppressions, praise, proclamation and fellowship in God creates a sacred space for collaboration to address the various social justice concerns of faith and life in society, culture and community.   Mindful of the very real conditions of our lives today collaboration is critical for the birth of new tools and strategies to address the situation or circumstance which seems to be without hope.  For the one whose heart has been opened by Christ the Cross and the resurrection are profound mystical tools that express God’s longing, hope and desire.  These mystical tools are an invitation to all cultures to come, converge and collaborate at the foot of the Cross and at an empty tomb for relief, healing and liberation from their condition.  These tools enable us to hold fast believing in a God who sustains us at the Edmund Pettus Bridge or in the White House.
In contrast Audre Lorde, (1934-1992) author of Sister Outsider, published by Crossing Press, writes, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” This bold and  controversial comment spoken at “The Personal and the Political Panel,” of the Second Sex Conference in New York City on September 29, 1979, is as relevant today in the face of entrenched oppressions as it was then.   The Master’s tools tend to revolve around notions which enforce visions grounded in structures which support white supremacy and patriarchy.  More often than not these tools marginalize anyone or anything that exhibit a different vision of humanity.  Discourses on politics, gender, poverty, immigration, incarceration, racism and police brutality as evidenced in Ferguson, Missouri and now Silicon Valley, called out by many for its lack of diversity within the technology community bear witness to these tools.  Yet as one who has had some success within these structures and systems such as the military industrial complex and in higher education Audre Lorde’s comment might be difficult to receive yet to deny the injustice at play in these structures and systems would not be an honest engagement of very real issues which impact so many people. 
Seemingly Caesar has the only game in town.
In light of these structures, systems and the diversity of people who live on the margins of Church and Society, who do not fit the established norms and patterns of a sequestered vision of humanity, life is affirmed in the intimacy of a community in collaboration for survival.  They seek or develop strategies and tools inclusive of yet beyond the norms, which may or may not be comfortable or considered ethical for those in the mainstream yet enable them to overcome and transcend very real obstacles so that they might live and thrive in the midst of Caesar.  I believe this was the situation of those of the early Jesus Movement, later known as Christians. 
Communion, the essential and sacred space of collaboration
Partly because of my own experience of God on the margins I have come to believe that the most intimate moment we have with Jesus is in collaboration at his table.   Communion is sacred and holy, and should be considered a meditative space.  It is where the heart of Jesus and the heart of his disciple come into dialog, to collaborate regarding issues which may be spoken or unspoken yet are so very real in the life of the disciple.  Remembering the March at Selma 50 years ago I am mindful of a great and glorious communion, a meeting of the heart of Jesus and his disciples which changed a nation.  As we receive communion today let us be mindful of hearts in intimate dialog and collaboration so that life here in the United States might be defined as justice, fairness and unyielding hope.   

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Emerging Kingdom of God or Bringers of the Light



This post emerges from a message I delivered as a discussion at Tapestry Ministries in Berkeley, CA.  

I believe that each of us carries a light within which is meant to be cultivated.  It exists in an intimate and sacred space where the holy resides.  This post emerges from this point, that we, you and I are bringers of the light.  That said, we are the Emerging Kingdom of God.  We move from this life point.  We are meant to take the kingdom of God to people, to provide them with an alternative and different imagination to the life they live now.   That said, there is a dire need to break the silence, to erode the staid oppressions that hold up the pain and oppression which characterize so much of life in America.  As bringers of the light, similar to Martin Luther King, Jr., we are the Kingdom of God, we are breaking the silence.  I have included Dr. King's Breaking the Silence Speech given at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4th 1967.   Go now beloved and break the silence and receive your liberation.

And so..............


Living life in the Emerging Kingdom of God calls each of us to a sacred act of thanksgiving, to be thankful and hopeful as we walk arm in arm with our sister and brother in the all pervading presence of an everlasting sovereign God among people whose hope may not be in the everlasting God, but in the tangible, temporal, simplistic and the more immediate.  Unlike those whose hope is in the tangible, our hope is in the eternal God of Jesus of Nazareth, the beloved son.  We believe and know that God’s love never fails; it never runs out on us!    In the midst of the tangible we hold fast to God’s abundant love and mercy with the gospel which strengthens us in the midst of racism, sexism, gender injustice, the prison industrial complex, homophobia, transphobia, unemployment, discrimination, violence, and the many unspoken oppressions encountered each day.   Mindful of the Cross we cry out to God for hope and comfort saying, “Be mindful of your people and strengthen your people once again most gracious God.”  In the midst the spirit of God reminds us of a great love that has called us to this journey with its many complexities with God and community as our partners.
On this journey we are blessed to experience the embodiment of God in prayer, community, in communion and through sacred activism.  Attending the homegoing service of friend and colleague, Rev. Mariasen A. Barnes, this past week, I was reminded of the communal character of God, that sacred space where heaven, earth and the cosmos come together, even if for a moment, to unveil the love of God.   Similar to birth, which is considered a time of entering the earth realm from the holy, death is a returning to the holy, necessarily unveiling the love and passion of God in the midst of those gathered.   Times and spaces of birth and death are sacred, they are where God has our undivided attention.  They are where we can experience God, if we are conscious, in the real as we fall on our knees at the incomprehensible love and grace fully present.  Moments such as these cause me to realize that life is an abundant gift, it is God’s way of sharing an incomprehensible love.
Having received this incomprehensible love how then shall anyone not preach the gospel?  I believe that the Apostle Paul, with his strengths and weaknesses, received this message of grace although not in its fullness, and was comforted as he lived out his call among the people of his time.   It is this great love which compels and comforts us as we preach the gospel with our lives among the skeptic, the lukewarm and those who have lost their hope in God, Jesus, his Cross, and the Church.  Beloved Disciples of Christ be not discouraged but be ever so mindful (pause) that the present human condition is not new; it is as old as humanity itself.   Today, in the beginning years of the 21st century, many people have embraced ideas of a tangible practical god, a simplistic god, even a visible god of economy which responds to the ego, the flesh and the mind, which bestows a false rest, and a false hope, abusing the soul and enslaving the heart resulting, for some, in death by suicide.    

I am mindful of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech A Time to Break the Silence given at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4th 1967 where he takes the U.S. government to task for its allegiants to capitalism and its embrace of militarism in the name of empire.   He calls for a revolution of values, values which reflect the love of God.  I suspect that he had experienced, like Paul, the incomprehensible love God which overcame a world made insensitive to God’s love for the sake of flesh and profit.   It was this greater gift of love which moved him to express God’s passion and care for the oppressed.  For me his words ring noble, true and timely as today we are bombarded through various media by modes of deception, consumption, and a faith of works grounded in capitalism, globalization and militarism.

Similar to the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the enslaved African, inclusive of those who traversed the inhumanity of the middle passage, yet never lost hope that their descendants would know freedom, today we press on like Harriet Tubman, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, the immigrants of today, and people of an uncommon faith in the midst of empire and the oppressions which maintain and uphold its supremacy with our eyes lifted up to the everlasting and sovereign God.    

Our sure and confident hope and comfort in the everlasting God is nourishment for our souls as the Emergence of the Kingdom of God intrudes and begins to erode the staid sensibilities of empire and its systems of the practical, normal, privilege, and the supremacy of inequality which shape and contour life here in America.  This intrusion, similar to the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth is complex and fearful, and not always understood yet embodying the desire of God for a beloved humanity.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thoughts emerging out of mysticism on a Gradual Disintegration of Integrity, A Sign of Hope



Driving around on the last day of 2014 I found myself reflecting on moments in time when life beckoned me to its elusive quality.   I was reminded of my hopes and dreams, imaginings, desires and agenda’s which fade as the elusiveness of life calls what I now consider constructions into question.   Particularly as a Black Transgender Woman (another construct) I have come to experience these constructions, i.e. the social and cultural constructions of the binary gender system of heteronormativity, race, sexuality and economics for example as a means to take life captive, giving our experiences on earth some type of meaning.    These constructions, however well meaning in the beginning eventually become a preferred and I might add perverted tool of the oppressor for the survival of those constructions and the making of capital.  The consequences of maintaining these constructions in the pursuit of the elusive even mystical quality of life have been wars, empires of various exploitations and a rampant systemic dehumanization of humanity as a whole.  Now, encountering the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly publication for their freedom of expression regarding Islam and the Prophet Muhammad after massive protest against police brutality here in the U.S. becomes one more reason for me to question those constructions which seek to take life captive. 

After a recent discussion on race held at my church we interrogated the social and cultural construction of race and the issues of economics and power differentials embodied in race and its purpose within the U.S. context with particular regard to the lived lifes of Black people and people of color.   Upon leaving the discussion the one word that remained with me was “integrity.”   I believe integrity, i.e. the soundness; rightness or completeness of the construction cannot be divorced or separated from the vision which it pertains to.  That said, integrity is connected to ideas and notions of stability which necessarily support the vision as established by the founder or developer, in line with certain assumptions, in the case of the U.S. the founding fathers, i.e. privileged white men of landed gentry, slaveholders, and religious radicals of the time compelled to leave Europe.[1]   Cognizant of the vision and the people who developed the vision I experience the political, economic and racial structures to be a means by which to maintain particular integrity with that vision and its assumptions emerging out of 17th through 19th century Europe (1650-1800), i.e., the European Enlightenment period. 

Writing bluntly, the economic systems and structures which support the vision of the Democratic-Republic, now considered by some as an empire in its own right, are grounded in that which has become obsolete and therefore are to a large extent archaic and unable to adequately address the many concerns within the human evolutionary experience.  The experience then of race and I would add gender and sexuality are constructed for outmoded and archaic purposes of power, economy and racial superiority and are not “divine, natural or organic” at all but are for the maintenance of a particular vision and its assumptions and therefore indeed problematic for a Democratic-Republic, however dysfunctional at times, in the 21st century.   In this sense I believe that one of the most important discussions today is this matter of a gradual disintegration of integrity with an outmoded vision and its assumptions.    That said, I believe the various protest around the U.S. by people of diverse races and ethnicities in solidarity make this clear, bestowing flesh and blood on the need to (1) counter the vision and its assumptions and (2) to change and transform the vision, and its assumptions and its structures into a more just and free space where all people are experienced as human and therefore sacred, where difference denotes life giving, affirming and holy.   I believe that a framework which transcends an outmoded vision and its assumptions make real the many possibilities of liberation from archaic notions of identity and economy possible.

Transcendence designates a relation with a reality infinitely distant from my own reality, yet without this distance destroying this relation and without this relation destroying this distance.
 Emmanuel Levinas[2]  

In light of the words of Levinas I believe that the gathering of disparate groups of a teaming humanity through social media, considered by this writer a space of transcendence which makes present the infinite, becomes what might be considered here in mystical terms as a space of which avails itself toward liberation.  The implications of a movement grounded in mysticism are a people who no longer live in fear of each other, some type of retribution such as guns, bullets and bombs or even hunger or poverty but their reality is in the embrace of God and a divine mystery, and in this hope and the holy light of liberation.   The reality of the mystic and the underlying philosophy of a movement towards liberation is that the measure of life is their relationship with God, the divine cosmic mystery and not man and his vision and assumptions bathed in the darkness of consumption as first learned at the feet of the European Enlightenment.  A movement grounded in mysticism then encounters the practical and the measurable as a means of oppression inflicted by the Great Beast.[3]  I believe mysticism, as an unmediated union with God and mystery, to be a way towards change and transformation because it denies the hegemony of white supremacy and capitalism which have come to define desire and embraces the supremacy and power of the mystery in all things.  Mysticism must be the ground of any movement which seeks to change or transform the comfortable yet antiquated visions and their assumptions.  In this sense a movement toward liberation must engage with a painful yet listening ear and the tortured heart of God as it embraces the mystery of the transcendent, i.e., that which lies beyond ordinary perception or beyond an archaic vision and its assumptions. 
  
Throw your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the godly to be upended.     Psalm 55:22 (NET) 
                  
The transcendent presents a sacred invitation, a direct appeal, to engage in solidarity and the hope solidarity might bring as a response to the unfortunate situation.  Cyber Space, i.e. the internet, considered a 21st century space of the transcendent, becomes a necessary tool in the realization of a longed for hope.  To engage, in an enthusiastic and charismatic means, the oppressions inflicted by the powers that be, a necessary work of galvanizing people to work towards the eradication of the many injustices requires multiple interconnected levels of communication within a framework of solidarity.   Movements such as the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, the South American Liberation Movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Arab Spring 2010-2014 started by Mohamed Bouazizi's self immolation[4], all emerge out of an initial prophetic spark of mysticism.   I suggest here that this prophetic spark of mysticism occurs as the oppressed remember who they are and whose they are.  They are no longer defined or characterized by the systems and the systemics of the oppressor but by their God and this without waver.  It is at this point that they transcend the schemes of those principalities and their regimes which advocate for antiquated visions and assumptions at the expense of the oppressed.  In this sense they become reflections of the Christ, the Buddha, and the Prophet Muhammad, actualizing their particular incarnation of the divine.  No longer images, desires and tools of capital and globalization they are now liberated to engage and encounter new and different capacities of imagination. 





[1] How the Cradle of Freedom became a Slave Owning Nation by Susan DeFord www.washingtonpost.com accessed January 15, 2015.
[2] Mayra Rivera, The Touch of Transcendence, A Postcolonial Theology of God (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) 62.
[3] Simone Weil
[4]Arab Spring a Research and Study Guide at www.guides.library.cornell.edu/arab_spring accessed January 15, 2015