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.