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29 May 2009

The Power of Prayer

This is a follow-up to my Gratitude Journal and Blame It on the Blacks (and Browns) posts.

I am particularly grateful for:
the power of prayer
the practice of prayer
the efficacy of prayer
communities of praying people

a God who hear and answers prayer.

Blame It on the Blacks (Or Browns)

In 1989, Tanya Dacri, a mother in Philadelphia, drowned her baby and then cut him into pieces and blamed three black men for the crime.

In Boston in 1989, a white man named Charles Stuart claimed a black man killed his pregnant wife. He had killed her himself. Yet for weeks afterwards, black men were rounded up, simply for being black, some forced to surrender DNA.

In 1994 a white woman named Susan Smith drowned her children, three year-old Michael Daniel Smith and four-month-old Alexander Tyler Smith by strapping them into their car-seats, setting her car to "drive" and sending it down a ramp into a lake.
She claimed a black man carjacked her at gunpoint and kidnapped her children. Every day, for nine days she lied. A black man victimized a white woman and her children. In South Carolina. In the American Southland. In Dixie. In the heart of the former slavocracy.

In May 2005, a white woman named Jennifer Milbanks ran away from her impending marriage. She claimed she was abducted by a Latino man (and a white woman).

In January of 2009, a white man named Clint Horvatt murdered his fiancée, shooting her to death in Putnam County FL. He claimed that an unidentified black man was the real killer.

There was also a election related episode in October, when a John McCain white female volunteer claimed a 6-foot-4 black man carved a "B" (for Barack) into her cheek. She had done it herself.

And this week (May 2009) a white woman in Philadelphia named Bonnie Sweeten called 911 claiming black men forced her into the trunk of their car after a fender-bender and stole her car with her daughter in it. She was caught on surveillance video withdrawing $12,000 (which she is now alleged to have stolen from a number of employers) and taking a plane with her daughter to Florida. She was at Disneyland.

The unspoken truth is that black (and brown) men are still "credible" threats.
And white people, particularly white women, are still credible victims.

In the Philadelphia case, the police had doubts early on. But they were concerned that one way or another, the little girl was in the hands of a criminal. But they didn't tell the public. The news media kept broadcasting the "black-men-did-it" news.
When the truth came out, very few news agencies held Ms. Sweeten accountable for the racialized accusation. Just the generic lie.

All of this in the week that America's first President of African descent nominated the first Latina candidate for the Supreme court.

Some of us still can't catch a cab.
Some of us are still pulled over for driving while black and brown.
Some of us are still followed around stores.
And our menfolk are still at risk, from the lies (some) white women tell.

Now, what the hell am I supposed to write in that gratitude journal?

27 May 2009

Gratitude Journal

Giving thanks should never be a fad.
But I find the marketing of gratitude journals to be a useful reminder.
Today, I am grateful for...
other people
warm weather
employment
housing
health insurance
clarity of thought
a healthy body
leisure time
sufficiency
abundance

22 May 2009

Cannibals

I don't mean people who eat other people, although they're included.
I mean people who ravage and destroy other people.
And yes, there are other species on the planet who harm their own, but they don't seem to enjoy it. Animal cannibals seem to consume their own kind (or even their own young) to survive.
Humans are positively depraved, and not just in comparison.
(I didn't know I was a Calvinist!)

We are capable of so much more, and many do so much more.
Sometimes I wish that the innocence and joy of childhood could last forever.

Are we a bipolar species?

And I do believe that that the numbers of those who consume and destroy other people represent a small section of the human species. The world is full of good and well intentioned people. Sometimes their gifts and accomplishments seem to be overshadowed by the darkness in the world.

Yet we Christians are celebrating Life-from-Death followed by (Re)New(ed) Community. I am looking for signs of life and new beginnings. They are out there. And in here. They are real. The light will overcome the darkness.

Is the Biblical Gehenna Hell?

Gehenna is so closely identified with the idea of hell in the scriptures that is is sometimes simply translated as "hell."

For example:
Matthew 10:28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

But Gehenna is the Aramaic rendering of the Hebrew "Geh Hinnom" or Valley of Hinnom.

It doesn't look so bad. No lakes of any sort, certainly no lakes of fire.

According to Joshua 15:1-12, the valley marks the boundary between the land given to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (18:1-20) and was already named for the son of Hinnom at the time the Israelites entered Canaan. It was simply another piece of the promised land.

There were a few notorious events involving fire and the valley:
2 Chronicles 28:3 King Ahaz made offerings in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and made his sons pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the God-of-Sinai drove out before the people of Israel.
2Chronicles 33:6 King Manasseh made his son pass through fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom, practiced soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards.
Jeremiah 19:6 Therefore the days are surely coming, says the Living-God, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter.

Perhaps we're reading the wrong (or at least incomplete) Jewish scriptures.
The Greek speaking Jews of North Africa whose complete scripture collection became the bible of the early church included both the books of Enoch.
Enoch 10:13 In those days they shall be led off to the abyss of fire: and to the torment and the prison in which they shall be confined forever.
Enoch 100:9 Woe to you, sinners, on account of the words of your mouth,
And on account of the deeds of your hands which your godlessness as wrought,
In blazing flames burning worse than fire shall you burn.

And, in the Greek Jewish scriptures is an expansion of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Esdras. This is the first place that the lovely Valley of Hinnom is set on fire and filled with sinners:
2 Esdras 7:36 The pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of hell (gehennae) shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight.

How strange that this shifting notion has become a bedrock fundamental of some people's (and some church's) theology.

So where is hell? The beautiful and over populated Valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem? The center of the sun?

And what does it mean that the idea of hell grew legs and wings in the scriptures (including those that most neglect) and has taken flight to the outermost realms of the theological imagination?

The idea and location of heaven is much simpler: wherever God is, above and beyond this world. This strikes me as somewhat bipolar.

18 May 2009

Fundamentalisms

What is it that makes fundamentalisms of all sorts so dangerous?
Simple and sincere beliefs ought not lead to physical, emotional or spiritual violence.
I find myself thinking of old and new adages:
Can't we disagree without being disagreeable?

And can't we all get along?


There is something imperial about dangerous fundamentalisms:

the desire to reshape the world in one particular image without consent or cooperation;

the assumption that one individual or community knows what is Right, True and Good;

a classist superiority complex that obligates Those-Who-Believe to convert those who do not believe as/what the True Believers believe; the conviction that God in on one side and not the other;
the presumption that God needs the help of the True Believers;

the view that God/good is narrowly defined.


These beliefs are not simple, however sincere they may be.

Fundamentalisms are comforting in a dangerous, inconsistent world.

Complicated, nuanced faith and belief are not simply comforting.

Is false certainty better than no certainty at all?

For millions, perhaps billions, the answer is clearly, yes.


I like to think that education and amelioration of desperate circumstances will reduce the appeal of and perceived need for fudamentalisms.
But is there something to be learned from fundamentalisms?
People clearly need certainty.

How can we who teach, preach, pastor and profess offer the satisfaction and comfort that certainty brings while maintaining our simple and sincere faith in the complex and complicated?

14 May 2009

Out In Scripture

I teach queer studies and preach queer perspectives.
And I thought I knew a thing or two.
But it dawned on me after listening to the Sunday lessons again,
that eunuchs are queer ~ I know this; I've taught it for years.
But what I didn't see that that the eunuch in Acts 8 is black and queer.
And, given his trip to Jerusalem to worship (perhaps among other purposes), is also a Jew.
If that story is in part about the advent of Christianity in Africa,
then that branch of Zion began with a black, queer, Jew.
Who knew?

10 May 2009

When Mother is the Hardest Word

My ancestors passed down this lament:

Sometimes I feel like a motherless chile,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless chile,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless chile,
A long way from home.

Sometimes mother is the hardest word.
Sometimes mother is a curse word ~ 
not the object of a profane expression, but the subject.

For some the pain of Mother's Day is unbearable:
Those who have lost children
Those who have lost beloved mothers
Those who have been left unexpectedly to become single mothers
Those who have been forced into motherhood
Those who have been raped into motherhood
Those who long for motherhood denied by an uncooperative or betraying body or by lack of a partner and possibility.

Many will weep on Mother's Day.
Few of those tears will be joyful.

Some of us are long past tears.

08 May 2009

Swine Flu, Strangers and Neighbors

Ah-choo!
God bless me! Don't let me get what you got!
Please God, save me from the Swine Flu!
We should close the borders!
Pigs are filthy. People who consort with pigs are worse.
God bless us!
God bless the US.

I have heard some of the most scandalous xenophobic claims in the wake of our mild pandemic. And I don't even watch Dobbs, Hannity or Limbaugh.

We are our sisters' keepers.
We are our brothers' keepers.
We are called to love our neighbors and yes, even complete strangers, as much as we love ourselves. Whatever we do (or fail to do) to and for those whom we deem completely undesirable and unwelcome we do to God-In-Human-Flesh.

Mexicans and other Latin Americans are indigenous to this continent.
The overwhelming majority of so-called Americans are immigrants and in some cases, abductees. The founding of the United States of America is an exercise in illegal immigration and attempted genocide.

The small Mexican town in which the 2009 H1N1 virus is believed to have originated is also home to a US pork production farm. There may be a connection, there may not. But the peoples of the US and Mexico are intertwined on both sides of the border.
Our economies - legal and illegal - are conjoined.
Our crime victims are linked by American guns and ammunition.

We should pray for all of the peoples on the American double continent, including and especially Mexico:
I pray for the Mexican people who are dependent on tourism and have barely recovered from the previous years' hurricanes. I pray for the people in Mexico who are being decimated by violence funded by American drug users and their Mexican suppliers. I pray for Mexican and other Latin@ immigrants who are subject to abuse, violence and even death in the US for working to support themselves and their families. And I pray for Americans of all ethnicities who scapegoat other people.

May we remember that we are all, collectively the image of God who became the womb-fruit of a human woman, to be more like us that we might be more like God.

05 May 2009

Mars

I don't believe in little green men.
But I want to go to Mars.
I can barely express my longing.
Words seem inadequate.

If I were younger, or perhaps born in the next generation, I would train for the Mars mission. When human beings reach Mars, it will bring us that much closer to the worlds I dream about when I read science fiction - the dreams of like-minded dreamers.

There are serious issues:
Is it fiscally responsible?
Should we invest so much money, time and scientific expertise when so many are cold, hungry and lack medical care here on earth.

What will we do when we get to Mars? Claim it in the name of warring nations? Pollute it? Fill its orbit with space junk? The amount of junk in our own orbit is disgusting, heart-breaking.
We don't have the right to do this to another planet.

Reaching the moon was once such a dream. Some still dream of making its surface livable, planting grass of the floors of a permanent space station. The international space station we have seems so clunky and unromantic.

I want to go to Mars.

04 May 2009

I Am A Wo/man

I am a woman.
I am a man.
I am a person.
I am human.
I am somebody.

These ancestral affirmations refuted the twisted logic of the American slavocracy, Jane and Jim Crow and polite northern racism.
Their time has not yet passed.

The accomplishments of Barack Obama directly benefit him, his family, his children, his friends and his inner circle.
For the rest of us it has opened up a new and unimaginable experience:
We are told that our experiences of discrimination no longer matter, or are no longer even real because of his success.

The Black Church has been the bulwark of black peoples since the Candace's servant was baptized on the road to Damascus.
The Black Church is also, ironically and unfortunately, a bulwark of sexism and heterosexism.

I recently participated in a conversation with scores of black women, most of whom are pastors or preachers, who uncovered the widespread practice of male clergy regularly inviting them to preach and forgetting to pay them, sometimes for months, if ever.
The irony is apparent.
Many of these male preachers are lions of the Civil Rights movement who marched around in signs saying, "I AM A MAN."
For some of them, male identity was more important than human identity.

The silent Civil Rights protestors who marched in signs proclaiming, "I AM A MAN" were denying the dehumanizing agenda of white supremacist society with every breath.
They were demanding simple human (humane) recognition, which turns out not to be so simple after all.
Recognizing the full humanity of other persons requires full recognition of all of their rights, abilities, gifts and possibilities.

The male hegemony of the Black Church is not alone in seeking the power and privilege of white, male, hetero-patriarchal society for themselves. They are not alone in seeking a few more chairs to be added to the table of exclusion for their benefit, or even seeking to replace a few chair-holders.

There are white feminists who seek a place at the table for white women, no others need apply.
There are white gay men who believe that theirs is the only expression of Queer identity that exists or matters and the movement must be guided by them to achieve their goals, and theirs alone.

I am a woman.
I am because we/you are.
I AM.
I...

02 May 2009

Preaching Hard

I've been preaching for some sixteen years now, and teaching preaching and biblical studies for seven. This week some of my students questioned whether one should - and some how one should - address painful topics in sermons. The specific issue was when a child comes out to her or his parents that he or she is gay or lesbian. Some thought that the issue was so painful for parents that even hearing the key words would set off painful memories fear and grief, and they would shut down and never hear a word the preacher says. Others thought that it is imperative that the authority of the Church, pulpit and Word of God are brought to bear on the most difficult of topics. Others thought that some sermons are better off preached by the congregational pastor and others suggested a visiting preacher who could say what needs to be said and then leave. Many of my white students are not comfortable with the preacher staking out and proclaiming a moral position on issues in the long-standing of the Black Church.

To paraphrase our past president and take his words totally out of context. Preaching is hard. And hard preaching is even harder. Yet as Paul reportedly said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" The Gospel is hard. And by that I do not mean the scandal of a crucified Jewish Messiah and women's idle tales of Resurrection.

The hard Gospel which must be preached hard when preaching is hard is the kind of thing that will get you disavowed, abandoned or even killed. (Read Peter Storey's account of preaching against apartheid, "With God in the Crucible.") It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable - that is particularly dangerous, because the comfortable pay the bills.

You may not become famous. You may not be promoted or even invited back. But one of my elders taught me that "God called me to be faithful, not successful." Sometimes the latter follows the former, but don't count on it.

Preach hard. Preach like you're preaching for your life. Imagine God saying to you:

Child of woman, I have made you a sentinel for my people; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life.