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“I thirst.” A Good Friday message for today

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

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I don’t know what it is to be thirsty. I don’t know what it is like to only have muddy contaminated water to drink. I don’t know what it is like to be willing to drink anything because I am so parched.

But not far from here I have seen lakes’ edges hundreds of yards from lifeguard chairs. Our land is thirsty. As thirsty as Jesus.

And if you will forgive me being political, our governor made mock of the life of those lakes, letting nestle bottle that scarce water and ship it to other states.

This world made mock of Jesus’ life as well as his death. On the cross perhaps
Jesus was referencing Psalm 69: Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

I imagine none of us hears this fifth word from the cross without thinking of the people of Flint. Elected officials make mock of their suffering and for the people of Flint’s thirst, the government gave them poison to drink.

And they are not alone; dozens of cities around them drinks water even more polluted.

Thousands of abandoned uranium mines on tribal land with no governmental requirements to clean up the mines means water poisoning has been a reality for indigenous people for decades.

Last Tuesday, dozens of low income people, homeless and formerly homeless people went to the city council to plead that money for low income housing not be reallocated to middle income housing. After hours of testimony they were scolded by council for not caring enough about How badly the housing crisis was affecting middle income people.

The people I work with are thirsty for dignity, for shelter, for basic human rights. The government makes mock of their suffering and for their thirst gives them vinegar.

Our people, the people we are accountable to as Christians, and our savior have all felt the Beginning of psalm 69:  Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?

Jesus had few words left as he died on the cross. He used his words sparingly and chose them carefully in the midst of his suffering. Those words conveyed his plight and the plight of the poor and Black and brown and indigenous people.

Jesus lived in a world where the government did not care for the thirst of those in need.

And he lived in a world where his own family feared to respond to his thirst.

We live in the same world where the government does not care for the thirst of those in need and where our own family fears to respond to our thirst.

In this moment, Jesus reminds us in the midst of his own thirst about the end of psalm 69: I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

May we be comforted in our thirst that God hears our need and invites us to liberate one another. And may Jesus on the cross remind us to respond to our family’s thirst.

Milk for my tea – what does economic privilege look like?

My intern and I both like milk in our tea.

Neither of us has a ton of extra cash, but every couple of weeks one of us goes to the discount grocery and buys a pint of milk so we get the little special treat of tea with milk as we work together. We pack our own lunches and take the free shuttle to and from work whenever we can, but we have tea…and sometimes even cookies to go with them.

I’m in the midst of doing my taxes. My income puts me at about 2/3 of the average median income for the city I live in, or 65% of AMI. That means I struggle most months to pay all my bills, even with all the side hustles I have going on. Even so, I owe about the same amount in taxes that a person earning SSI earns in a year. Obviously in one way this troubles me because my side work is mostly contract work, which means my taxes don’t get deducted each month and then I owe more money than I realized I had earned each April…somewhere around $9,000. But what’s more shocking, obviously, is that some of the people I work with are trying to find a way to live in the most expensive corner of the country on $9,000 a year.

I bring up milk in my tea because I interned for a summer at an HIV/STD clinic in Kolkata run by an organization then called Calcutta Samaritans (now called Emmanuel Ministries). Throughout most (although not all) of India, the tea you get on the side of the road is milk, water, tea and sugar all boiled together. It’s thick and sweet and almost condensed. My mother had to tell herself it was some exotic drink in no way related to tea in order to get it down on most visits.

But at Calcutta Samaritans, we always got “lal cha,” or red tea. It was sweet and often had lime squeezed into it. I thought of it as a signature drink of sorts, that set them apart.

Then I found out that the staff, some of whom were there out of commitment to the mission and some of whom had been brought up in the organization through the pavement children’s programs and mentored into staff positions from their childhoods on the streets, sometimes went without pay for a couple of months at a time. All the money was going into the addiction program, the red light district program, the health clinic and street children’s outreach, and staff salaries would sometimes suffer rather than cut programming.

And they saved money by not buying milk for tea.

Times are hard for all of us. The reason people are gravitating towards terrifying, xenophobic leaders is that they see no hope of their lives getting better.

But I have milk for my tea. I remember that and am grateful. And it reminds me of my obligations to those trying to live on what I owe in taxes and to those who can’t afford milk for tea, or tea at all.

 

 

Sureshbhai Patel, police brutality and us

An Alabama judge just declared a mistrial in the police assault case filed by Indian citizen Sureshbhai Patel. There are a few reasons this case matters to me.

  • The court system has twice been unable to decide whether Mr. Patel’s constitutional rights were violated when he was paralyzed after a leg sweep by a police officer.
  • I’ve been saying for a while now that we make a mistake when we focus completely on police in police brutality cases: Mr. Patel’s encounter with the police was the result of a neighbor who felt threatened by a “skinny Black guy” looking at garages. An older man visiting his son, going for a walk in his son’s neighborhood, was considered enough of a threat to call the police. Others have died for being brown in a neighborhood they actually belonged in, such as Alex Nieto in San Francisco, because someone thought the existence of a Brown person in their neighborhood warranted calling the police. In each individual encounter it is the police who act, but it is the community that creates the culture for the officer to act. White privilege shapes how law enforcement (and so much else) functions in this country.
  • This story is obviously on my radar because it is being discussed in the South Asian community, but Mr. Patel’s paralysis has everything to do with the culture of anti-Blackness that is baked into our culture. Mr. Patel was a threat when he was perceived to be Black, in the same way that the teenager at the Texas pool party was a threat because she was Black, or the teenage girl at Spring Valley High, or Tamir Rice in Cleveland…all people who clearly are not threats except for the cultural understanding that Blackness is threatening enough to need control and suppression by armed police.

The first jury deadlocked on September 11, appropriate since that is the day that South Asians learned in a big way that while we had generally (although not ubiquitously) been considered “American enough” as long as we were not disruptive, that status could be removed at will by a government that violated basic constitutional rights and imprisoned innocent people because of their names and heritage, as our government has done in the past. As the second jury deadlocked two days ago, I am saddened but not surprised. And I pray it helps my own community recognize the need to be in solidarity with those on the margins rather than desperately seeking to be accepted by the dominant culture.

In response to anti-Muslim rallies this weekend: an excerpt from Pre-Post-Racial America

This Friday and Saturday, anti-Muslim rallies were organized all across the country, including rallies that encouraged people to show up armed. The campaign is, in a word, sickening, and in a hyphenated word, un-American. OK. Two last words, one of which is hyphenated: unequivocally un-Christian.

It is so important for us to learn about one another to recognize why we need to stand with each other in acts of intentional solidarity. Now is such a moment.

I am so grateful for the inter-faithful acts of solidarity with Muslim Americans, and in order to invite Christians in particular to continue to vocally support Muslim Americans, here is an excerpt from chapter 7 of my book Pre-Post-Racial America, “Race and Religion Post-9/11.” (more…)

A litany on resurrection and Demouria Hogg

At the Wild Goose Festival in Charlotte, NC two weeks ago, I presented a workshop called “Who Killed Demouria Hogg: On race, faith and not seeking the ‘perfect victim.'” I talked about the respectability politics of the church that stops the church from publicly mourning losses that are complicated.

I only know Demouria Hogg through what family shared during the press conference and through news coverage. Colleagues involved in the protests of his death noted that in articles about his death, the fact that he was a good father to his three children came as an afterthought, almost as if it were surprising, since they led with his having violated parole and being found in possession of a firearm, an additional violation of his parole. What strikes me is how during the press conference when Demouria jr’s mother was speaking about him being a good father, Demouria, Jr jumped in and said, “He loved to play basketball.”

photo borrowed from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

photo borrowed from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

During the discussion part of the workshop, a man said, “I go to a progressive UCC church. We know how to talk about this. Our consciousness is raised. What do we DO as a church?” And a litany poured out of me.

I shared some of that litany at the Disciples of Christ General Assembly on Sunday afternoon during a workshop on my book and the issue of intersectionality, and someone said, “I want to use that litany in church. Can you share it with us?” And I said that it poured out of me due to the spirit, not from a script. He kept looking at me until I said, “but clearly I’ll be writing a blog post recreating it.” So here it is. Please add other suggestions to this litany. I have not addressed them all, but all of them are things almost any church can do.

Demouria Hogg, African American father of 3, age 30, was killed by Oakland police on Saturday morning, June 6, because he could not be woken up while asleep in his car. The church sometimes feels overwhelmed by how to end police brutality. But the church has a role, and the church has a responsibility, and the church has the opportunity to participate in resurrection.

When the church helps its school board provide support for young Black and Brown children instead of expelling them at rates much higher than White children for the same behaviors, when the church disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church works with its police department to address implicit bias on the police force,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church supports mental health services and homeless services instead of outsourcing those issues to the police,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church works with new White community members to build relationships with longtime community members of color rather than calling the police out of fear of their neighbors,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church creates job opportunities and housing for returned citizens / previously incarcerated people whose opportunities are almost nonexistent,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church brings restorative and transformative justice practices into the community so there are alternatives to the culture of retribution that is bound up invisibly but inextricably in racism,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg. 

When the church unapologetically claims that all lives will matter WHEN Black lives matter,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg.

When the church, in all of these ways, plays a role in honoring the dignity of Black lives before they are faced with Black deaths,

the church resurrects Demouria Hogg, and in so doing, resurrects the body of Christ.

Amen.

Nonviolence, privilege and grief. Thoughts on South Carolina and a child I love.

Art by Demar Douglas, found on pinterest

Art by Demar Douglas, found on pinterest

This morning I sat down to write a letter to a beloved recent teen in my life, a newly minted thirteen-year-old. We go to protests a lot, and museums where we learn about farm workers and the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

This beloved recent teen has been to hell and back, and the amount of resilience that is demanded of her is, to my mind, stupid. By which I really mean unjust. By which I mean I wish I could protect her and it makes me furious that I can’t. And by furious, I mean helpless.

I debated whether to mention the shooting in South Carolina. I debated it because she may not be watching the news these days and I don’t know that it is helpful for her to know about more suffering in the world. Mostly because I don’t want her to have more to be sad about or to be scared of or to hate the world for.

I’ve been reminded recently that it is hard to talk about any issue in a way that speaks to everyone’s lived experience, and when talking about anything related to race, it is that much harder, because we do have the same amount of skin in the game, but the way the game goes does not affect us the same way. (That is, even White people who HATE racism benefit from it, and Black people don’t, and the rest of us have a very complex terrain to navigate.) A great illustration of how privilege and oppression shape our responses to racial issues is that popular Facebook meme about police brutality and Black Lives Matter that reads “Black people are saying ‘STOP KILLING US!’ and White people’s response is ‘But…'”
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More recently, though, (more…)

A call to action for the church(es) after #AMEshooting

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

I sat with a lump in my throat as the people around me stood and waved their hands, singing “How Great Is Our God,” because while I believed it to be true, I was not ready to sing it and was both inspired and puzzled by the dozens around me who could not just sing it but feel it. It wasn’t the only internally conflicted moment I had during the local vigil honoring the nine victims killed in an act of terrorism against Black people. And a few of them got me thinking and discussing enough to step out on a limb and speak to White, Black, and immigrant churches about what might be next for us in the wake of this tragedy.

If you read my writing regularly, you’ll know that I try not to instruct communities more on the margins than I, and I try to be compassionate in my suggestions to the White community. You’ll also know my focus is on bringing communities together rather than separating them. But our roles in the coming days of this work to dismantle racism as a whole and specifically the culture and codification of anti-Blackness will mean different things for different communities. So I ask for both grace and accountability as you respond to these reflections and the closest I might ever get to a manifesto:

To White Churches:

When the Black church says, “It could have been any of us,” that doesn’t include you. And it’s important for you to talk about that. At the vigil last night, the AME pastor hosting the vigil said, “so many of us host those prayer groups and bible studies; it could have been any of us.” So often, White people are ashamed to acknowledge explicitly what White privilege looks like. Here’s an easy one: Talk about the fact that you do not have to live in fear of racially motivated hate crimes by random strangers participating in anti-White organizations or fear that you or your children could be assaulted by those who have sworn to serve and protect you, all for the crime of going swimming, whether you live in Texas or Ohio or anywhere between or beyond. White supremacy protects you. You need to break the silence that keeps white supremacy in place. (And don’t even get me started on the argument that this was an attack on Christianity. Manipulative and dangerous irrationale like that is exactly why the Southern Poverty Law Center recently designated Fox News a hate group.)

Remember that your brothers and sisters died in that church this past Wednesday, and ask your congregation how they will honor the deaths of the six sisters and three brothers going forward. These were your brothers and sisters who were part of a church doing work that your church needs to partner in. They were doing God’s work in your behalf: the work of liberating the captive and freeing the prisoner, not just metaphorically but literally. What is your church’s role in partnering in that work so that they do not have to be alone in good doing? In Christ they are as close to you as blood kin; that is what our faith teaches. How will you respond to the race-based killing of your blood kin, and how will you respond to the culture that shaped the murderer to hate and called his hate part of his culture and knew he plotted violence but did not seek to change his heart? Because as Martin Luther King, Jr said of Jimmie Lee Jackson’s murder 50 years ago, the culture of White supremacy killed our nine siblings just as much as the bullets did.

Do not fall prey to the manipulative rhetoric that the church should not be political at a moment like this. The White church is political when it ignores racially motivated hate crimes, when it ignores disparate sentencing for drug offenses, when it ignores mass incarceration, when it turns its head from police brutality in America. The church participates in the politics of White supremacy. It undergirds the politics of anti-Blackness. The political sin of omission is as destructive to lives and souls as the political sin of commission.

To Black Churches:

Editorial addition: A beloved Black clergy friend asked me to make explicit for non-Black people this caveat in case we are not clear that this was my intent: Black people in America walk around everywhere with a target on their back. This was true during slavery, during Jim Crow, and it is true today. Therefore, these are points for reflection with an awareness that the mere act of survival and coming together once or twice a week to love and support each other may be exactly and only what a Black church needs to do to contribute to the movement. With that caveat…

When you say, “It could have been any of us,” pay attention to how that is both true and untrue. Mother Emmanuel AME Church holds a special place of honor in the Black church because of its revolutionary heritage, its commitment to honoring the dignity of Black lives as part of how it lived the gospel. From among many Black churches, on the anniversary of Denmark Vessey’s revolt, a young White supremacist targeted that particular church for attack. None of us should have to live in fear of such an assualt, and there is unquestionably an assault on Black lives in America. But the people at the greatest risk are the people putting their lives on the line for the movement. Last night at the vigil, I did not see the same Black leaders (for the most part) that I have seen in the streets risking arrest and battery and abuse as they fight against police brutality and the stripping away of their civil rights (in Oakland, there is a curfew on gatherings after sundown, but while it was enforced fiercely against nonviolent Black protests, it was not enforced during the impromptu celebration of the Warriors NBA championship win). When the people in the streets and in the strategy meetings are not the same people in the pews, God may have found some new folks to work through, and that is worth paying attention to.

When people say “The Black Church is the only thing that can save America,” no matter how validating it feels, wrestle with how true it is. A Black clergy colleague shared with me as we talked about respectability politics in the church that in Bible study the other day, some of his members started getting high and mighty about gays and lesbians going to hell, and he just sat back, thinking of our mutual shero Alicia Garza and her faithful, powerful, unapologetically queer Black leadership, and he said, “As long as y’all are comfortable being the Pharisees in the scripture, because Jesus was hanging out with exactly the kind of folk you’re always complaining about.” (With profound apologies to any Jewish readers — the church has turned the pharisaical movement into something different than its actual historic role.) Respectability politics has a huge cost to the prophetic legacy of the Black church. And it has a huge cost to the role the Black church will play in saving America. The irony is that the people fighting for change look like the people Jesus hung out with, but they don’t always look like the people the church wants leading at or on behalf of the church.

Honor the legacy of Emmanuel AME in your actions, not just in your words and prayers. That historic church played a role in ending slavery. Rev. Pinckney played a role in standing up against modern day segregation and slavery by serving in political office. That church rose from the ashes when White supremacy burned it to the ground, but it did something that truly threatened White supremacy in order to go through that cycle in the first place. LGBTQ and allied Christians joke, “Live your life so that Westboro Baptist Church will picket your funeral.” In extreme language, at a time when Black lives are threatened daily, would you rather be remembered as martyrs for God’s justice or as victim’s of this nation’s injustice? At the very least, though, how can your church, honoring the legacy of Emmanuel AME, be a threat to White Supremacy?

To Immigrant Churches:

DO NOT OPT OUT. This conversation on its face is so not about us. No one is talking about our role in the shootings or in the conversation about gun control or race. And that is so often the case: we avoid the controversial issues in public, because church is a safe place for us in a world that can be threatening. But church was a safe place for the nine people who were killed on Wednesday, until it wasn’t. Even if we are not being invited into the conversation, even if we would rather not navigate our way through the complicated issues of race where our own role is not always clear, we have an obligation. We have an obligation to understand and share with the rest of our church how Black people in America are treated. It may actually help our churches understand why we get treated the way we do. We have an obligation to honor our Black brothers and sisters in worship on Sunday and to call them brothers and sisters, even though we have also been shaped by the anti-Black culture of America even as we are marginalized also. In fact, honoring them is an important step in shifting our churches’ silence on violence towards Black people, so that we can move towards Christ’s vision of how all of us are equally wonderfully made in the image of God. And it might help us remember that we are wonderfully made in the image of God, also, even though America undermines that teaching. We have an obligation to tell the story of Emmanuel AME, so that we might find strength from their history of courage and faithful resistance to evil and injustice; perhaps we can learn from them how to stand up ourselves against injustice in our adopted land. And we have an obligation to reach out to the Black churches we are connected to, to let them know that we are praying for them and grieving with them, and that as Christians, we are also angry at the sin of racism that took our siblings’ lives. You have no idea how infrequently Black churches hear that message from Asian and Latino churches.

To multicultural churches:

Do not buy into the myth that worshipping together is your contribution to the movement for racial justice. Many multicultural churches are still shaped by dominant culture systems and structures, and multicultural worship often comes at a cost to the people of color who worship there — the cost of getting to be in a space where they can just be themselves without translating themselves into another culture (code switching), or the cost of worshipping in their own language or colloquialisms or their own family foods after worship. They do so willingly. But a multicultural church that is not both brokenhearted and determined to stand up against the culture of racism in America after this shooting, it’s a multicultural church that is not really in touch with God’s vision of the Beloved Community; it is only interested in creating something that makes people feel good…well, makes some people feel good at the expense of others.

To all churches:

Find ways to become “co-conspirators” (as the Dean of American Baptist Seminary of the West said to us last night at the vigil) in ending White supremacy and birminghamthe assault on and commodification of Black lives and Black bodies.

If St. Teresa of Avila is right and Christ has no hands on earth but ours, Christ needs our hands right now, all of our hands, to tear down the White supremacy that really has made us many churches instead of functionally one church. And Christ needs our hands to build up a Beloved Community where all of our gifts are honored, all of our needs are met, none of our bodies are exploited, violated or commodified, and none of us need live in terror or fear because of how God made us.