Being the Good Samaritan Isn't Enough
By Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div.
A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This Sunday at my church, the Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, preached for our Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. His words were prophetic and courageous, I quickly took notes and there is one part of his sermon that struck a nerve with me. He talked about the Good Samaritan, that it was a good first action, but not the last step in seeking justice. Powery brought up that we needed to know why the road was so violent, what was the systemic reasons behind this. How come the others didn’t stop, why did the Samaritan have to pay so much out of pocket to heal the man? He opened up the parable for me and as I sat down to write about the ACA and how it affects women’s reproductive health, I can’t get it out of my head.
Last week we learned that 91% of the 115th Congress identifies as Christian thanks to the Pew Research Center. The religion of the prolific healer, Jesus Christ who healed those who needed him. Yet, in the same week in the dead of the night last week, the U.S. Senate begun its work dismantling the Affordable Healthcare Act and taking us backwards from the Gospel. In a space of Christian majority, the Gospel did not flourish.
We also know now, there are ten senators who identify as United Methodists and eight of them voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Johnny Isakson, David Perdue, Pat Roberts, John Kennedy, Richard Burr, and Rob Portman. (It is worth noting, two United Methodist senators voted against: Elizabeth Warren and Debbie Stabenow.)
Some of our United Methodist siblings voted against our neighbor. Those we are in communion with, who verbally join in our baptismal covenant, yet do the opposite. What are we to do? Our neighbors who are about to lose their healthcare are hurting at the hands of our siblings.
The stories have flooded our news feeds of people who will be directly affected by the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act. They grow by the day. You may even have your personal story. As I listen, it’s hard not to lose hope. The ACA was not perfect, it was a first step like the Good Samaritan caring for the man on the side of the road to Jericho. Repealing the ACA is walking by one of God’s beloved children in pain and not doing a damn thing.
Instead of repealing it, we should be addressing it and the systemic issues regarding health care. Why profit comes before people. Why a group of overwhelmingly Christians are ignoring Jesus’ words and actions. A group who knows that the most vulnerable is disproportionately affected by these changes.
I think another part of the parable’s lesson for me is that we also need to call to task the priest and the Levite who walked past the injured man on the road to Jericho. We need to hold those in our communion, who join our baptismal covenant to our Wesleyan heritage of radical love, grace, and justice.
As we move forward into the fight to maintain the ACA, instead of strengthening it, I will leave you with The Social Principles section on Right to Health Care:
Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.
Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost.” As a result all suffer. Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. Countries facing a public health crisis such as HIV/AIDS must have access to generic medicines and to patented medicines. We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.
We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.
We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary health care to all people regardless of their health-care coverage or ability to pay for treatment.
Being the Good Samaritan isn’t enough, moving backwards from the Gospel is also not acceptable. As people of faith, we must protect our siblings who are on the precipice of losing their healthcare. All hands are needed on the road to Jericho. It’s time to stand up and act.
Call the United Methodist Senators who are actively trying to repeal the ACA today!
Senator Jeff Sessions: (202) 224-4124
Senator Tom Cotton: (202) 224-2353
Senator Johnny Isakson: (202) 224-3643
Senator David Perdue: (202) 224-3521
Senator Pat Roberts: (202) 224-4774
Senator John Kennedy: (202) 224-4623
Senator Richard Burr: (202) 224-3154
Senator Rob Portman: (202) 224-3353
Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div. is a feminist, lifelong member of The United Methodist Church, and former MFSA intern who advocates for women’s health through a faith-based lens.
A sermon delivered to the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady, NY
December 11, 2016
Rev. Sara E. Baron
It has been said about Mary, “No woman in scripture is more honored, blessed as she was ‘above all women’ (Luke 1:42), and she holds an iconic status shared by no other woman in Christianity. Through the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, Mary is one of the first biblical characters many children encounter. Along with Eve, Mary is integral to shaping how Christians understand the nature of womanhood and motherhood.”1 What is said is true. Mary, along with Eve, has both shaped how women are understood in Christianity AND the inverse: perceptions of Mary (and Eve) are indicators of how Christianity is understanding women. How Mary is seen is a bell-weather for how women are seen. Cary Gibson, the author of the opening quote, also says, “Mary is a container into which we pour ideas of what it means to be a woman. In turn we then draw from her image ideas about our own womanhood.”2
Most commonly, Mary is said to be meek and mild. Usually, it is her subservience that sets her up as the ideal woman. The pedestal of womanhood that Mary most frequently occupies as the ideal woman is the pedestal of the selfless mother, the one who exists simply so her son can exist. She’s faithful, sweet, and biddable. There is, however, one issue with this common perception Mary: it completely ignores the words of Mary found in the Gospel of Luke.
Now, I’m not saying that I really think some literate scribe was following Mary around during her pregnancy to record her insights for posterity. However, I am saying we have a rather long monologue attributed to Mary that defies the way she is most commonly defined. The meek and mild ideal does not match the actual Gospel. The myths around her are more about what Christian women have been told to be than they are about the actual stories about and words of Mary.
Therefore, it seems worth exploring the words attributed to Mary. Whether the words are what Mary said, or something Mary could have said, or simply what it made sense to someone that the Mother of Jesus WOULD have said, they are attributed to her. Since the general perception of Mary is based on 20 centenaries of trying to put women in their place, and I’d prefer to get to know Mary as presented in the Gospel. It may be that we can take a look at Mary-the-ideal-woman and get a different answer about what it means to be an ideal woman.
For starters, these words are not meek, nor mild. In fact, Cary Gibson says Mary, “voiced a defiant and righteous hope in the face of violence and injustice.”3 It is true. These words express a HARDCORE faith and a great ideal for women to seek to live up to. Men too. This is the sort of faith we can all aspire to!
First of all, Mary’s song is deeply rooted in her faith tradition. It echoes Hannah’s song of celebration after Hannah fulfilled her promise and brought her son Samuel to Eli to serve him as a priest. It also echoes with phrases from the Psalms. The version of this song that we have is a work of theological and scriptural brilliance and sophistication. Hannah’s song is powerful, but reflects a less mature faith. Hannah yearns for God to smash the powerful, deride her enemies, and break the mighty. In her mind the powerless are lifted up BY making the powerful small. There is violence in her imagery, even as there is celebration of the goodness of God and of her sense of becoming more significant in the world.
Mary’s song, though, is not vengeful. She also speaks of lifting up the poor and lonely. Like Hannah she speaks about God’s power, but she also adds God’s mercy. Mary speaks of lowering the mighty, but the lowering isn’t violent or dangerous for them: the proud are “scattered in the thoughts of their hearts” which sounds like a way to be more humble; the powerful step down from their thrones (but she doesn’t suggest they’re harmed afterward); the rich are sent away empty – as if they don’t need any more. Hannah had the the formerly “full” “hire themselves out for bread.” Mary is interested in lifting up the lowly and removing their oppression, not in oppressing the oppressors. She is a actually meeker and milder than Hannah, Hannah’s is pretty rough. Mary is simply less violent!
Hannah speaks of her victory, Mary speaks of being treated with God’s favor. While both are grateful for the child they are able to nurture, and while both express incredible gratitude to God and deep theological reflections, they have different energies. The insertion of material from the Psalms into Hannah’s original poem changes it into a more gracious piece. One scholar found that in addition to the source material of Hannah’s poem, the song of Mary includes 7 pieces of different Psalms, as well as a quote each from Deuteronomy, Job, Micah, and Isaiah. By that scholar’s reckoning all of the words of Mary’s song are attributable to Hebrew Bible quotations.4
Mary’s song starts in the specific. She is grateful to be useful to God, humbly aware of her status as a poor woman in her society, and attentive to the change of her status because of God’s favor. She attributes her life change to God’s greatness, and she praises God. She expresses who God is: merciful, consistent, strong, and powerful. She talks about a God who cares about the lowly, and feeds the hungry with GOOD food. Her song makes another journey outward, celebrating God’s care for all of the Jews and then attributing God’s care to God’s merciful nature and God’s promises. She moves from celebrating God’s work for her, to celebrating God’s work for the vulnerable, to celebrating God’s work for all her people. It is as if she is expanding her gratitude in increasingly wide circles.
While it is unlikely to be factual, this text suggests that Mary knew her scriptures well enough to combine them creatively into a truly beautiful and majestic song celebrating God WITHOUT demeaning anyone else. It suggests that her humility was real, but it wasn’t a form of self-deprecation. It says she was genuinely honored to be able to serve God and be useful in forming the world in God’s kindom of shalom. She was delighted and amazed to be chosen. She recognized the depth of the blessing she received, seemingly without thinking that it made her more important than others. She said she was blessed, and was amazed that people would remember her as blessed. That indicates she didn’t think she’d done anything right or worthy, it was God’s choice not her worthiness that mattered. Her gratitude was expansive and celebratory and still focused on lifting up the lowly and attentive to the hungry. She kept her head!
The Mary of this song is wise, strong, compassionate, creative, humble, and grateful. She knows and celebrates a God who is a fierce advocate of justice. John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, in their book “The First Christmas” point out that each of the Gospels start with a “Gospel in miniature” (with the possible exception of Mark which starts at a gallop and just keeps going!). Luke 1 and 2, which likely do NOT represent authentic memories of things that really happened, DO represent themes of the Gospel, understanding of Jesus, foreshadowing of things to come, and ways to see how God is known in the Gospel. Luke pays particular attention to women – as we can see here where Mary gets a prolonged monologue – as well as to the poor and vulnerable. We can also see that here in the words Mary speaks. The writer of Luke, and/or the Christian tradition, and/or the editors who came later attribute these words to Mary largely to help those of us who came later to understand her son.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m disparaging Hannah’s song. Her song is FIERCE and profound, and reflects an era one whole millennia before Mary’s. Hannah, as well, sought justice. She sought it for herself and she sought it for all of God’s people. She understood God to be one who cares about the poor, the hungry, the feeble, the barren, the low, and the needy. That is a reflection of the unique tradition of Judaism, from a pretty early time. Other ancient peoples believed in god and goddesses. The Israelites were unique, however, in believing in a God who cared about how they treated each other, and in a God who cared about the people who had the least power and influence. There is a constant tension in the Bible between this belief – in a God who cares for the poor and lowly – and the human tendency to prefer the rich and powerful. Hannah reflects the God who cares for the poor and lowly without being pulled toward the rich and powerful at all. Then Mary manages to take it a step further and acknowledge a God who cares for everyone. They sought justice, and believed in a God who wanted justice. This is our radical tradition. This is the wonder of worshiping a God of compassion.
Those sons of those women took their justice-seeking natures and their understandings of the God of Compassion, and changed the world. We mostly know about the mothers because of the sons. Samuel anointed kings. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, ate with sinners, and told parables that still confound us today. Both sons changed the world. Both mothers are presented as sources of wisdom for their sons. Their stories are preludes to their sons stories, and yet I am so grateful that the Bible gives them voices and songs and stories! They are not ONLY vessels through which their sons come to be, they are interesting in their own right.
I do wish for all of us to be able to be a bit like these justice seeking mothers. And if we are going to hold up Mary as the ideal, then I hope it takes the form of being moved to sing our gratitude to God and celebrating the wonder of God’s good work in the world. I hope we can become so steeped in our faith tradition that we can use it in creative ways that bring more caring, compassion, and justice to our tradition. I hope that we can see and name the goodness of our lives without taking ourselves too seriously. And I do hope that when push comes to shove we are more like Mary than like Hannah, and that we can hope for the transformation of oppressors – not the oppression of them. I hope we too can always remember the people of God who are struggling the most, and find ways to help lift them up. I hope we can be part of our tradition that remembers God as a God of compassion for the least, the last, the lost and the lonely.
If Mary is the ideal, and she seems to be well set up to be the ideal, then let’s seek to be like her: fierce, grateful, and brilliant. Amen.
Dear Justice Seekers,
For 109 years, MFSA has been a prophetic voice for justice-seeking people of faith in The United Methodist Church, in our nation and the world. We will continue to be that voice. We are a voice for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. We are a voice working against racism and white privilege. We are a voice for reproductive health and justice. We are a voice for a healthy planet. We are a voice against colonialism, militarism, and misuse of power. We are a voice of inclusion for all God’s children, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are a voice that welcomes our migrant neighbor. But most importantly, we are a voice at the crossroads where these concerns for justice intersect.
We believe the recent decisions made by President-elect Trump with respect to leadership in his administration speak against the very foundation of our justice seeking faith. We are alarmed. We believe these individuals have not shown the necessary skills for leadership and whose past words and actions have not represented the values of civilized society. As justice-seeking people of faith, we stand opposed to not only one individual, but the emerging pattern that President-elect Trump is building a cabinet founded on white supremacy, fear, and bigotry.
MFSA calls our church to expand its understanding of the radical call of the Gospel to be an inclusive, justice-seeking, risk-taking Body of Christ. We live out our belief that to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be involved in the transformation of the social order. Therefore, we call The United Methodist Church, the Council of Bishops, congregations, and its members to join us in taking active steps to publicly “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
Experiences of injustice do not happen in a vacuum, and therefore it is imperative to: develop the most effective strategies to create space for understanding privilege; organize in an intersectional framework led by marginalized communities; and build effective systems of resistance and cooperation to take action for justice. We invite you to join us in this work.
We invite United Methodist leadership including our bishops, clergy, and lay leaders to join us in signing the “Faith Leaders Call on Republican officials to reject Mr. Trump’s Cabinet of Bigotry” letter distributed by Faith in Public Life. You can find the link here: https://goo.gl/J9zXSx
We call on all Justice-Seeking People of Faith to join us by:
- Contacting your legislators to express as a justice seeking person of faith your concern that the leadership of our nation must reflect justice for all people.
- Speaking and working against the narrative that privileged communities are being oppressed when they are asked to acknowledge the ways their privilege perpetuates bias and injustice.
- Committing to create opportunities for education and advocacy to publicly and actively resist white supremacy, white privilege, and implicit bias in your communities.
Seeking Justice Together,
The Staff and Board of Directors, Methodist Federation for Social Action
What’s at stake in this election?
Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck
Interim Executive Director
Families. Families are at stake in this election. Families that look like my quirky, non-traditional, Jewish-Christian interfaith family and families that look quite a bit different than we do.
Families with a member living with a serious medical diagnosis that depend on the elimination of the pre-existing diagnosis clause in the Affordable Care Act to ensure the continuation of life sustaining health care coverage.
Muslim and interfaith families who fear for their safety with a rise in Islamphobia in this nation.
Working class families who fear for the loss of jobs that pay a fair and living wage with benefits that protect their futures. Families struggling to make ends meet even when working full time.
Families that fear the loss of income when a child is born without access to paid family leave.
Families with Dreamers that fear the loss of the only home they have ever known without access to just immigration reform.
Families that fear for the lives of their black and brown children each and every time they leave the house in the face of police related violence. Families who fear going to church on Sunday morning and bible study on a weeknight for fear gun wielding hate fueled racism will walk through the door.
Families that fear a rise in gun violence and question their children’s safety at school, in movie theaters and at the local shopping mall.
Families that fear the poisoning of their water from lead, oil and fracking.
Families that depend on the legal right to marry the person they love. This legal right protects them, their children and their spouses and extends health care coverage, health proxy and adoption. Families who serve this country with honor and distinction in the armed forces and were extended the same protections of law following the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Transfamilies who fear their safety as there is an increased attack on the lived equality of LGBTQ people by state governments throughout the U.S. These laws create a culture that has contributed to the death of more than 20 transgender people of color this year alone.
Have you asked your local, state and federal candidates what they believe on economic justice, racial justice, climate justice, gender justice, reproductive justice, peace in Israel/Palestine, immigration reform, LGBTQIA justice? If not, you still have time. #mfsavoices #votesmatter #christiansvote
Common Good, Collective Liberation
A sermon delivered at Arch Street UMC
October 9, 2016
By: Rachel Ternes, Global Mission Fellow US2
Jeremiah 29 1, 4-7 (NRSV)
“29 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
We’ve been hearing for many of the past weeks, scriptures from the book of Jeremiah, a prophet who lived in the time leading up to and during the exile of God’s people from Jerusalem into the unfamiliar wilderness of Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that the people would be exiled as a punishment from God for their disobedience. Other supposed prophets had been assuring the people and the king of Judah that God would not let them be overcome by the Babylonians, just as God had protected God’s people so far in the story. Unfortunately for them, Jeremiah was right. This scripture starts the first letter that Jeremiah sends to the people in exile, sharing with them God’s instructions on how they should live purposeful lives, even after having been kicked out of their homes and sent to a strange land.
The instructions are strange. Jeremiah tells the exiles to invest in their new city. To build houses and live in them. To plant gardens and eat what they produce. Basically to settle in, and love the city as if it was their own. God, through Jeremiah, goes as far as to say that the exiles should seek the welfare of the alien city and pray for it to flourish, because the exiles’ welfare will be determined by the welfare of the city.
How strange it must have been to the exiles to be told to pray for and invest in a city that they did not consider home. It wasn’t their home– it represented the people who had uprooted and overturned their lives. The welfare of this new city must have been a very low priority to the exiles. They had no emotional connection to the city, no history there. They did not identify with it in the way they identified with their true home of Jerusalem. And yet, here God is, telling the exiles that their own destiny was bound up in the destiny of this strange, alien city. On one hand, it’s not something that I would be really excited to hear, as one of the exiles. On the other hand, it makes sense because it sounds like something our God would say. Our God is a God of relationships. Our God wove all of creation together in such a way that our decisions and the way we live our lives have impacts that reach far out into the rest of creation. Our existence was formed in such a way that the flourishing of a seemingly separate part of creation contributes to my flourishing. Isn’t that beautiful? Seek the welfare of this city, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.
This concept that God is sharing with the exiles in Babylon, the idea that their welfare is bound together with the welfare of a city that they don’t identify with, is similar to the concept of collective liberation, a philosophy and way of working followed by many activist movements today. To describe collective liberation, I have to first talk about intersectionality, a term coined by the legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. Intersectionality describes the way that all our individual identities and our systemic oppressions are interconnected and complex. That racism and ableism work together. That sexism and homophobia feed off one another. That classism and environmental degradation are intimately connected. Once you know that, and you want to do something about it, collective liberation is the response. When we fight for good jobs and fair wages, we think about how how race and gender impact that fight. We don’t put on blinders and say, this is about labor, not racism! We coordinate with groups that work for racial justice and gender justice. Because we know that our liberation from all the intersecting forms of oppression is going to be a collective liberation, and the work to get there is going to be collective work. As the civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” The liberation of every part of God's creation hinges on the simultaneous liberation of every other part.
In the scripture, God instructs the people in exile to “build houses and live in them.” I can think of a building project that lives into the idea of collective liberation. I live at Serenity House, our church's ministry in North Philadelphia. The story of this building project started a few years ago, when a group of environmental studies students began working with Serenity House to do environmental projects, like reviving the back yard garden, and installing a solar panel. What was special about their approach was that they recognized that environmental justice work is intersectional, and they made that intersectionality a focus in their work. Because God created everything to be in relationship, when you work for the welfare of the earth and the green things on it, the humans automatically benefit. These students and the community members they worked with made that concept a part of their model. When a solar panel was donated to the group, it became an opportunity for new learning and empowerment for the Serenity House men’s group, through a series of lessons about solar energy and how solar panels work. That grew into a project that you may have heard about: Serenity Soular, spelled SOULAR, has gone through the process of raising money, connecting with a local North Philadelphia solar installation company, recruiting and training two young people from the neighborhood, and involving them in the solarization of Serenity House. God calls us to invest in our communities by building houses and living in them. This house that’s being solarized is already built, but we’re adding onto it, building the infrastructure, making it more liveable. The Serenity Soular project seeks the liberation of God’s natural creation by reducing energy consumption and emissions, but it doesn’t stop there. It seeks the liberation of the people of North Philadelphia from racism-impacted poverty and disinvestment, by believing in and investing in its young people and helping them develop the skills and tools to flourish in their own lives. The first two young people who were recruited have since been hired by the local solar company, and Serenity Soular is preparing to engage two more apprentices to be involved in solarizing a church down the street. This project seeks not just the environmental welfare of the earth, not just the economic welfare of the people, but the collective liberation of humanity and all the rest of creation. As Jeremiah would say, it seeks the welfare of the entire city.
In the scripture, God instructs the people in exile to “plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Guess what? The Serenity House neighborhood is following this instruction too! The collective liberation seed that those students planted branched off into another project that I’ve been very involved in. There is a vacant lot around the corner from Serenity House that for years had been good for nothing but dumping trash and being a dangerous eyesore. Before I started serving here a year ago, some neighbors and community members decided that something needed to be done about that lot. They started dreaming of a space where North Philly neighbors could grow and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables, where children could play and learn and feel safe, where elders could sit and relax, and where everyone could cultivate community and a sense of neighborhood pride and self-sufficiency. A year later, we now have The People’s Garden, a beautiful space around which a diverse, intergenerational community has formed. As people came together to plant the seeds of sunflowers, tomatoes, collard greens, carrots, they were also planting the seeds of new friendships. The children, who are some of the most dedicated gardeners in the neighborhood, helped the fruits of the earth grow, and in return they had the experience, very unique and special for urban kids growing up in a food desert, of knowing where some of their food came from, and feeling the empowerment of helping to create a plate full of carrots and tomatoes from some tiny seeds. “Plant gardens and eat what they produce.” I think the prophet knew that when a community comes together to plant a garden, they can’t help but begin to think intersectionally. My neighbors know that by investing in the flourishing and welfare of the People’s Garden, they are investing in their own flourishing.
The world we live in today can sometimes feel like hopeless Babylonian wilderness. The terrible incidents of racist violence seem like they will never stop, and the white supremacist cultures and structures seem determined to make People of Color live like exiles in their own lands. Women are treated like objects and subject to violence and discrimination, and our culture defends and celebrates the men responsible. Native people with a deep understanding of the connectedness of the welfare of the Earth and the welfare of humanity, are seeing their sacred land ripped out from under them to be turned into a pathway for the dangerous products of dangerous oil extraction processes. Queer and trans people are experiencing physical violence, spiritual violence, psychological and emotional violence, often at the hands of our own Christian church. The greed and shortsightedness of corporations, governments, and organizations (including the United Methodist Church), are prioritizing profits over people, and contributing to global climate change, and the results include increasingly severe natural disasters that have the most impact on the the world’s poor people, and People of Color. Almost 900 people have been killed in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew in the past few days. [Edit: as of 10/11/16, the death toll is 1000 and counting.] The same greed and shortsightedness are fueling war and destruction all over the world. Is this what wilderness looks like? Is this what exile feels like?
Some other prophets around at the same time as Jeremiah were prophesying a victory for Judah, saying that Babylon would be defeated. They were wrong, and Jeremiah called them out as false prophets. We would like to believe that some prophet, or politician, or church leader will appear and solve all these problems, end all this oppression, but that’s not going to happen. God says that it’s up to us to work together like neighbors facing a hostile world, to think not only of ourselves and the issues that affect us clearly and directly, but to seek the welfare of the entire city. The collective liberation.
Serenity Soular and the People’s Garden make it look easy. But it’s not always easy. Just like the exiles probably didn’t like being told to invest in a city they didn’t identify with, to be honest sometimes I don’t like being told to invest in an issue that doesn’t seem to impact me. We fail sometimes. An example: I recently read an article on how the new policy platform of the Movement For Black lives, (a movement that for the most part can teach all of us a lot about collective liberation, with their understanding of the way racism is in cahoots with capitalism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia), how their platform is lacking in disability solidarity. This is a huge oversight, as the majority of people who have been murdered by police in the US were disabled or deaf. The struggle for liberation from white supremacy must happen hand-in-hand with the struggle for the welfare of people with disabilities. Even the Movement for Black Lives will have to stretch in that regard.
There is another example of a failure to seek the welfare of the entire city, going on here in Philadelphia. Later today, many of us will be walking over to the Gayborhood for Outfest, a block party in celebration of National Coming Out Day. While we are dancing and celebrating, we cannot ignore the stain of racism that exists in the Gayborhood, and that had been getting more attention in recent days and months. Last week, a video surfaced of the owner of a popular Gayborhood bar addressing customers of color with racial slurs. It has sparked a lot of anger, for good reason, but many queer people of color have said that they are not surprised. That racism is the standard in many parts of the Gayborhood, and that for decades certain clubs and bars have enforced dress codes that are meant to subtly exclude Black people. This stain is made so much uglier by the fact that it’s white LGBTQ people, who know what discrimination feels like, who are guilty. Maybe they somehow don’t know that queer justice is bound up together with racial justice. But now we know. We know that, if we are to seek the welfare of the entire city, we cannot accept racism anywhere.
It can be a difficult mental shift, to live into collective liberation. Our culture teaches us to be obsessed with getting ahead, with being a winner instead of a loser. It teaches us to care only about the issues that we think directly impact each of us, and even to compete with other causes, other movements. But God teaches us that we are all one body, and if we don’t work together, across lines of identity, for God’s justice, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
There is a lot of violence and injustice out there. The wilderness can seem overwhelming. But we do not need to lose hope. God is with us. God has provided a way for us to overcome the oppression, and God has even given instructions. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Working in solidarity with groups we don’t identify with can be difficult, but what’s even more difficult is trying to change the world alone. We can’t do it alone. But victory over racism and sexism and homophobia and environmental degradation seem so much more possible when I know that it’s really all one struggle, and we are all working together. In your welfare, I will find my welfare, and our liberation will be collective.
Rachel is a young adult missionary serving through the United Methodist Church's Global Mission Fellow US2 program. She serves at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia, PA, and at Serenity House, where she also lives. She is halfway through a two-year term in the program. Rachel served as one of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition scholarship recipients monitoring legislation during General Conference 2016. Check out her blog.
What is a Jurisdictional Conference?
Every four years The United Methodist Church in the United States meets to elect new bishops and select members of general boards and agencies. Our bishops and general boards and agencies are tasked with shaping the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church. We are divided into five areas known as jurisdictions: Northeastern, Southeastern, North Central, South Central and Western. This July 11-16, jurisdictional delegations elected by each Annual Conference will gather at their quadrennial meetings to engage in this important work.
Bishops play an important leadership role in ordering the life of the church and helping set the direction to fulfill its mission in the world. All bishops share in teaching, equipping, and encouraging mission and service. All bishops are members of the Council of Bishops, which collectively is charged with the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church. (The bishops elected this year may take part in convening a special session of General Conference that will deal with queer discrimination and, possibly, restructuring the church.) Bishops are specifically assigned to preside over the work of an Annual Conference.
General boards and agencies are created by the General Conference and administer or carry out the programs and directives adopted by General Conference.
What can we do as MFSA?
As justice-seeking people of faith we believe the ministry of the church must be intersectional in nature fulfilling our baptismal covenant to accept the freedom God gives us to resist evil, oppression and injustice in whatever form they present themselves. To do so we need leaders at every level of our denomination from our local churches to our episcopal offices who seek to fulfil that covenant. Below are some critical guidelines from MFSA for justice-seeking leadership (You can find a formatted printable version here.). Here are three ways you can use these guidelines to help make your own jurisdictional conference more just:
- Find out who are members of your annual conference’s delegation for jurisdictional conference, and email (even better, hand deliver) to them a copy of MFSA’s Guidelines for UMC Leadership.
- Find out which of your delegates are on the “Nominations Committee” of your Jurisdiction. These are the people who actually make the nominations for boards and agencies. Email (even better, hand deliver) to them a copy of MFSA’s Guidelines for UMC Leadership.
- Find out who is running for bishop in your jurisdiction. Consider using these guidelines within your own local MFSA group to make endorsements of these individuals. Then make sure voting delegates know about your endorsements!
May we be agents of sacred change, God being our guide!
Methodist Federation for Social Action
Guidelines for UMC Leadership
We need bold prophetic leaders that are Christ-centered.
We need leaders who will prayerfully follow our radically loving, fully inclusive, justice seeking, and boundary crossing God even in the midst of fear and uncertainty.
We need leaders who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of great struggle, challenged the oppressive powers and principalities of his day, overturned the tables in the temple to call out exploitation and corruption, and called children to his side to share sacred stories of faith and hope, justice and courage, love and community.
We need leaders that are led by the movement of the Spirit. Leaders who will answer the gospel call to love our neighbors even when it’s in opposition to the Book of Discipline.
We need bold prophetic leaders who will serve with us as co-creators of justice, and co-sharers in a sacred story of hope and change. We need culturally competent leaders who seek racial, gender, and economic justice. We need leaders who seek a fully inclusive church, one that includes our LGBTQIA siblings, welcomes our immigrant neighbors, and seeks to eliminate the colonialismwoven into the very fabric of our institutional structures. We need leaders who care gently for creation and seek peaceful non-violent resolution to the world’s conflicts.
We need effective leaders, administrators and communicators.
We need leaders with the capacity for adaptive change, the ability to listen with openness and compassion, and who approach leadership with humility and grace.
We need leaders who are effective communicators, who serve with openness and transparency embracing new technologies and ways of connecting in mission and ministry.
We need creative, visionary leadership who see the church for who we are called to be not who we are in this day.We need leadership who mediate conflict assertively and are disciplined not disciplinarian.
As the incoming Interim Executive Director, I was asked to share a little about myself and the excitement I have for the journey before us. It has been a tremendous honor to serve on the Board of Directors these last three years and I look forward to serving in this new way beginning on June 10th.
During my first week of classes at Union Theological Seminary a professor of mine asked us to share with the gathered community our answers to four questions:
1. Who are you?
2. Where do you come from?
3. Why are you here?
4. What are you most passionate about?
She believed life was more about who we learn with than what we learn. She was reminding us that community should always be our starting place. Learning, organizing, movement building, and justice seeking must always be first and foremost about loving people. As a facilitator I always begin by asking the gathered community those same four questions. I believe when we have the courage to share our own story and open ourselves to hearing the story of another we both are changed. I believe that storytelling is the root of justice making.
I found my way to the Methodist Federation for Social Action through story. I was welcomed by friends and colleagues in the movement who dared to share their sacred stories of faith and hope, struggle and community, justice and courage. We became partners, co-creators of justice, and co-sharers in a sacred story. I am here today because those stories forever changed me. I am most passionate about intersectional, faith-based, justice-seeking, community-based movements that are rooted in story.
I am the child of a radically loving, fully inclusive, justice seeking, and boundary crossing God. I find my faith in Jesus of Nazareth, born of great struggle, who challenged the oppressive powers and principalities of his day, overturning the tables in the temple to call out economic exploitation and corruption, and calling the children to his side to share sacred stories of faith and hope, struggle and community, justice and courage. I am baptized United Methodist and our baptismal vow to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves is at the very center of my call. I am a child of a community of the poor and my lived experience calls me to seek economic and labor justice for all people. I share my life with an interfaith family and my call to a ministry of engaging in dialogue is born of great love.
I was born in Seneca Falls, NY in the midst of so great a Cloud of Witnesses who called me at my birth to struggle for gender justice and voting rights. I find my home in the Deaconess/Home Missioner movement alleviating suffering, eradicating the causes of injustice that robs all life of dignity and worth, facilitating the development of full human potential and building global community through the church universal. I serve in ministry with Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We are a reconciling community of faith-keeping and faith-seeking people who embrace diversity and affirm the dignity and worth of every person as created in the image of God.
I am honored to be asked to step into the role of Interim Executive Director as we share the stories of who we are, where we come from, why we are here and what we are most passionate about. I hope as we journey together you will reach out and share your sacred stories of faith and hope, struggle and community, justice and courage. May we together be avenues of sacred change calling the church and world to make justice a reality for all of God’s people.
Darlene DiDomineck is the incoming Interim Executive Director for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Her term will begin on June 10, 2016.
April 4, 1968: a day that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It was the day that put Memphis on the map, and not for a good reason. Martin Luther King Jr. had come to Memphis, TN for a sanitation strike. As he stood on the balcony of his hotel, the day after delivering his famous mountain top speech, a shot rang out in the night that put an end to his young life. He was only 39 years old.
Growing up in Memphis, I heard this story so many times that I got bored by it. Every year my class would visit the National Civil Rights Museum and spend at least 2 weeks, talking about Dr. King, his civil disobedience movement, and his assassination. I honestly began to dread going to school on these days. I never wanted to tell my teachers or classmates my disinterest with this topic for fear of what they might think of me.
Since being in seminary, I have come to see Dr. King in a very different light. My background is that of a middle-class, white girl who has been provided for comfortably her entire life. Yet, as I get older and my eyes are opened more fully to the struggles of the world around me, I have begun processes for challenging my own experiences and putting myself in King’s shoes. I can now fathom the lengths to which someone would go to in order to see dreams for their children fulfilled. I have begun to feel how wanting, hoping, and wishing for change can move even the shyest person to action. I am starting to realize that, in many ways, we are not far beyond the world in which King lived. We have not come that far and for that I am ashamed It makes me weep that all of God’s children are not loved, protected, and treated as the glorious creations we all are.
Everyday we are bombarded with stories and images of the injustice and inequality. I wonder what Dr. King would say today? His quote from his mountaintop speech still rings true today. “The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”
What would Dr. King do today? He would stand up and speak out. He would seek to effect change in systems and in the hearts of people. I often wonder what I can do to be more like Dr. King. Am I standing up for inequality? Am I speaking out about injustice? Would I have the courage, like him, to face those who perpetrate injustice? Martin Luther King Jr’s last speech was titled “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” and it is one of my favorite speeches given by King because it sums up my call story. He says, “We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tells it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.’”
Jesus has anointed all of us to be preachers, teachers, and healers of this world. We are all called to speak up and speak out about the desperation and desolation we see around us every day. So on this day of remembrance I choose to honor Dr. King’s death by carrying of his legacy. I will speak out about injustice and do my best to walk with those who need it the most. Won’t you join me?
Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.
Putting on ashes is a practice that goes back dates to the very earliest writings of the Hebrew Bible: Job sat amongst the ashes and covered himself in them to show his sorrow before God; Abraham expressed that he was like dust and ash before God’s majesty; Mordecai put on ashes and sackcloth when he heard the plan by Haman to exterminate the Jewish population in Persia; and the people of Nineveh put on ashes to show their repentance to God. The use of ashes throughout the scriptures is complex. It shows our mortality before an immortal God. It shows that we were created from the dust of the Earth and, in the end, we will return to our origins. The putting on of ashes also serves the purpose of showing repentance.
Today on Ash Wednesday we participate in this ancient practice. We put ashes on our heads, but what does this symbolic act mean for us today? We have often associated Ash Wednesday with the acknowledgement of our own mortality, but repentance, one of the key meanings of this practice, is becoming has become lost to us. “To repent” means “to turn” or “to take a different path.” As Christians today, it is easy for us to see the sin in our lives or in our world, and to keep right on stubbornly trudge along the path that we are on. It is very easy for us to ignore people freezing out on our streets. It is easy to ignore the inherent sin in the systems that make us comfortable, that keep us warm, fed, and safe. There is a big difference between recognizing that there is sin in this world and that we are participants in it, and turning our backs on these sinful systems in order to take a new path.
On Ash Wednesday, we must remember that God is calling us to a new path. This path, however, will not be easy nor will it be comfortable. Love of God and love of neighbor never put us in easy or comfortable situations. The practice of putting on sackcloth and ashes was not meant to be a comfortable activity. It draws attention to us and the sackcloth and ashes were itchy dirty and discomforting. It draws the attention of the crowd to our dirtied bodies as we itch under rough cloth. Putting on ashes is not a fad, but a communication event that sends a message to us and to God. When we put on the ashes and make the uncomfortable decision to call out to God in repentance, God turns us in the direction of a new path. When we repent God does not send us back to our old path of security and prosperity, but instead sends us into the wilderness.
The connection between repentance and the pathway into the wilderness is the very reason why Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Repentance is always the gateway to new opportunity. The Israelites had to first submit themselves to God by heeding Moses’ directions for Passover, before they could be led from Egypt into the wilderness. The wilderness is not a bleak, desolate place of hopelessness. It is a place where our relationship with God can be both strengthened and put to the test. Repentance brings us reconciliation with God, but the work is not yet finished. Venturing into the wilderness is hard for us to comprehend in a culture of plenty because we are taught by the culture to find the path that makes us comfortable. But this culture is not God’s culture. God calls us to a path that makes us uncomfortable.
Our culture calls us to all-you-can-eat buffets and Black Friday sales. God calls us to ask the question of why some people have so little to eat and so few resources compared to us.
Our culture calls us to celebrity obsession and quick judgment of an oddly-dressed stranger on the bus. God calls us to humility, in which the dignity of every human being is respected.
God calls us to change while our culture calls us to stay the same.
Change is never comfortable. Marking ourselves with ashes not only symbolizes that we are creatures standing before a divine God, but also that we are willing and able to change, to no longer participate in the sinful systems and powers that have made us so comfortable.
The wilderness transforms us into a people who seek God’s justice and God’s Kingdom in this world. The wilderness is a place from which we leave no longer the same people that we were before we entered it. We become a community that asks the hard and troubling questions like, why are so many young black men being killed in our streets? Why are 500,000 women raped every year in our country? Why is HIV/AIDS a scary yet treatable disease for most Westerners and a death sentence for an African mother? We become a church who puts action behind these questions and responds to these questions with action to change the very systems that brought us comfort, plenty, and security through sin.
To put on ashes is to step out into the unknown, to go on to the new path that God has set before us.
Matt Knonenborg is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary and an intern with the Methodist Federation for Social Action. A graduate of Shenandoah University, Matt served congregations in rural Virginia prior to coming to MFSA. He's a passionate researcher and hopes to continue this studies to one day become a professor. (Photos provided by Creative Commons and Matt Knoneborg)