Archive for December, 2014

Reverse-Magnificat-ism: Reading the Magnificat from a Position of Privilege

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

How many of us privileged white folks picture ourselves as Mary?

More than one pastor has invited me to “put myself in her shoes” and admire her willingness to take on the precarious position as an unwed mother in Roman-occupied, ancient Palestine. Most often their focus emphasizes Mary’s obedience: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ We are told that we too can be obedient like Mary… we too can choose to accept the Lord’s calling in our own lives no matter how “disruptive” or “uncomfortable” it might be.

So here’s the thing, my privileged white sisters and brothers, we cannot be like Mary. She is not our model for discipleship, she is not our sister in the struggle of discerning God’s call, and, just to be perfectly clear, Mary does not want us anywhere near her shoes.

Yet Mary does one thing that might help save us.

Mary names us.

We are the proud.

We are the powerful.

We are the rich.

Mary not only names us, she warns us.

"[The Lord] has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:51-53).

My privileged white brothers and sisters, through her words Mary invites us to know ourselves. Mary is not a meek obedient servant of the Lord, for us, Mary is a harbinger of convicting grace.

I know that Mary will not reach most of us. On the day the decision came back not to indict the policeman who choked Eric Garner to death, Scott Woods wrote the following reflection:

Every conversation about this is going to seem so plastic tonight, so pointless. Numbing. If you aren’t numb you haven’t been keeping score. I want to go back onto the Facebook thread where I was debating with an actual police officer about body cams and just say, ‘You know what? I give up. No more essays, no more updates, no more poems. You win.’ But then, he doesn’t need to hear that. He already knows.

He–we–already know. We can keep our power. We can keep our distance. We can keep our silence. We can keep benefiting from our privilege by hiding behind it, by continuing to live our lives as non-white bodies are sacrificed on our idolatrous altars of supremacy.

Yet we do so at our own peril, and I believe we are teetering on the brink of hell.

As Rod Thomas states:

…the events happening in Ferguson are not about the individual Mike Brown versus one isolated bigoted individual. See, White Supremacy exists as a system, a set of rules and myths, roles to be played, a counter-narrative as you will to the Good News. As I have written about White Supremacy as a Religion in the past, it is the Demon that will not be named.  Refusing to confess sin (naming it) is a refusal towards taking the first steps of repentance.

As this Advent season draws to a close, let’s dwell, my privileged white sisters and brothers on the reality of our privilege. Let’s sink into the hellish pit of convicting grace and wake up to the realization that our sin runs deep. Let’s take a close look in the mirror that the world is holding up for us right now through the numerous protests in the streets and on social media — what would it mean for us to live in a world where #blacklivesmatter? …and where #CrimingWhileWhite does not? We won’t get there without acknowledging the sin first, that is the first step. Repentance without it is meaningless and leads to faith in someone or something other than the God whom we know through the person of Jesus Christ. If you are just starting on this intensely painful yet ultimately salvific journey towards repentance, I recommend you read this, this, this, and this.

Through such examination and conviction we hopefully can avoid the false, cheap, empty repentance that characterizes the lip service that passes as faith in the Lord we are anticipating in less than a week. We can do this work as our mother Mary invites us to do through her indictment of our sin… or we can choose to face the consequences of our denial—either in this world or the next. We are the ones in a precarious position, not Mary, and she knows it.

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Kelly West Figueroa-Ray, M.Div. is a United Methodist layperson, a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary,  and a current graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

This Advent: The Long Waiting for the Torture Report is Over

Monday, December 15th, 2014

It’s Advent, and while Christians around the world are still waiting on the reign of God – this week waiting on one thing is now over: the Torture Report

On December 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee made public its report investigating the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. A 525-page redacted version of the executive summary, findings and conclusions was made public. The Committee’s full report is over 6,000 pages, and I can only imagine members of a future generation reading it. I am sure that they will shake their head at their ancestors, just as we do when we read about WWII Japanese internment camps in the United States.

Admitting the truth about what happened is the first step toward repentance and ensuring that such torture never happens again. The CIA, however, wasn’t necessarily pleased to have such information made public. In a back and forth with the Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman, CIA Director John Brennan quipped, “I think there’s more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple days. I think it’s over the top.”

No one likes admitting mistakes, but coming up with a euphemism like “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” to justify avoidance of not only international law but your own morality is abhorrent. Torture apologists like former Vice President Dick Cheney are getting airtime, but don’t be fooled by their snake oil.

The report documents some brutal practices that were authorized to be committed against fellow human beings. Note that this isn’t about “a few bad apples,” but rather systematic, state-sponsored torture. Euphemisms aside, nearly drowning someone is torture. Chaining a man upright in a standing position for up to 180 hours at a time in order to deprive him of sleep is torture.

One detainee was chained, partly unclothed, to a concrete floor and left to die of hypothermia – that is not only torture but murder.

These are hard truths – and the report details much more – but we must know them, so they will not be repeated.

In Advent, we not only prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas, but more importantly, we anticipate that God’s kin-dom is still coming. In our country, we profess high ideals of democracy and human rights. In case we needed any reminder that we don’t fully live out these ideals, these last few months we’ve been confronted with police brutality from Ferguson to New York City. 

As I think about where we go as a country from here, especially with polls continuing to show a majority of people thinking that torture is at least sometimes justified, I share the following prayer. We need to repent, we need to hold people to account, and we need to put in place better laws. Maybe more than anything, we need to raise our children to never, ever “other” a fellow human being. 

A Prayer of Repentance

God of Justice and Compassion

who creates each and every person with dignity and worth

Help us to be mindful of our interconnectedness and sacredness in your eyes.

Be with us when we forget and fall short.

We come today asking for your forgiveness.

Forgive us of our sins.

Forgive us for our complicity in brutal acts of torture done in our name and in the name of our security.

Forgive us of all that keeps us apart from you, O God.

Forgive us of all that builds walls instead of opening dialogue with our sisters and brothers in our own backyards and around the world.

Receive our prayer, O God, and open our hearts

            as we pray for all who have suffered torture and abuse

            as we pray for all who participated in torture and abuse

            as we pray for all your people around the earth.

Receive our prayer, O God.

Amen.

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T.C. Morrow is Director of Finance & Operations for the  National Religious Campaign Against Torture .  A life-long United Methodist, she is a member of  Foundry UMC  in Washington, DC.  She holds a B.A. in Physics from Vassar College and an M.Div. from Wesley Theological Seminary.

Not Waiting This Advent

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Anger. Frustration. Fear. Discomfort. Apprehension.

All of these emotions have coursed through my veins this past week and a half. From Ferguson to Staten Island to the streets of DC and beyond, never in my short 37 years have I witnessed blatant racism and rampant white privilege.

My understanding of white privilege started when I was 15 years old. I was getting off the bus from summer camp – the same summer camp where I recognized my sexuality – and was given a big hug by Tangela, an African-American camper with whom I became friends that week. The look on my father's face said it all – I'd be better off bringing a white man home to meet my parents than a black woman. That moment taught me a lot, and still I wrestle with how it shaped my understandings of race, racism, and sexuality.

This week I've seen gay, white men take to social media with incendiary statements like "Why should we care? Black pastors are all anti-gay," and subtle privilege: "Section 8 family moving next door. Time to move?" It's as if members of the LGBTQ community have forgotten our history of oppression and resistance.

Last Thursday, as I marched through downtown Washington, DC, I couldn't help but be reminded of the concepts of ubuntu and unhu. Simply put, "a person is only a person through other people." Or to put it in Pauline words, "if one part of the body suffers, all parts suffer with it (1 Cor 12:26)." As we meandered through the streets of DC, there were passionate activists and inquiring allies; there were Black, White, Filipino/a, Latino/a people of many hues; folks of varying sexual orientations and physical abilities were present  – all of us were clear: "If you can't breathe, I can't breathe."

I hope – no, I expect – that you'll be part of this movement for justice. Because black lives matter. Because mass incarceration matters. Because militarized policing matters. Because recognizing privilege matters. Because following the Gospel matters.

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Chett Pritchett is Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.

 

**This essay was originally published in the MFSA e-News on Friday, December 5 and can be found here.

Race: I’m Tired of Talking About It, Too.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

To all the people who are tired of talking about race:

I want you to know that I am tired too.

I am tired of white people touching my hair like I am a sheep in a petting zoo.

I am tired of being followed around stores by employees.

I am tired of never being able to find foundation or pantyhose.

I am tired of the looks I get from people when I walk down the street with my husband.

I am tired of the spikes of fear that go through my body when a cop looks at me too long.

I am tired of being talked down to and having to guess if it is because I'm Black, I'm a woman, I'm young or all three.

I am tired of the anxiety caused by people wearing confederate flags and not knowing if they want to lynch me or if they “Just support the heritage, not the hate.”

I am tired of having to explain the word 'privilege.'

I am tired of being asked if I like basketball, rap music, watermelons, fried chicken, kool aid, Tyler Perry and Oprah.

I am tired of being told that I only got my job, my admission letter, my scholarship, and my grades because I am black.

I am tired of being pushed aside by people who just think I'm an “angry black woman.”

I am tired of being stereotyped, and then being called an Oreo, or being told by incredulous people that I am so articulate, or being asked why I don't act Black because I do not fit the stereotype.

I am tired of never seeing women like me being called beautiful.

I am tired of never seeing women like me being called powerful.

I am tired of never seeing women like me at all.

I am tired of people saying this isn't about race.

If you think you are tired, try living my life. You don't know what tired is yet. So sit down, close your mouth, and listen for once because we have a lot of work to do if you want to stop talking about race.

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AhhnaLise Stevens-Jennings grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A graduate of Emory & Henry College, she and her husband, Garth, are students at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.

Advent and Ferguson, Outrage and Hope

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Outraged. Frustrated. Crestfallen. Fatalistic. These were just some of the emotions I experienced when I learned of the grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

I was outraged for so many reasons: yet another young, unarmed, black man gunned down, the pervasive issues in my own African American community that contribute to our individual and communal pain and suffering, and the ironic injustice of our criminal justice system that seeks to criminalize those on the margins. 

I was frustrated for so many reasons: the anger and sadness I experience each time I see a brown or black body lifeless (I was reminded of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and countless others), the way in which my people destroy the communities where we live, work, and play when we experience injustice on a grand scale, and the fact that I cannot even locate sufficient words in the English language to communicate my frustration with race relations in this country.

I was crestfallen for so many reasons:  the myopic reactions of those around the country to think that Ferguson, Officer Wilson, and the death of Michael Brown is not a larger commentary on our idolization of race, power and privilege as a nation, the references to those rioting in Ferguson as “animals” by some on my Facebook newsfeed (at times, I abhor social media), my sister-in-law’s reminder that, in the international community, the United States – human rights police to the world – cannot even police their own country justly. 

I was fatalistic for one reason only: the church remained silent in the wake of the Ferguson tragedy and remains silent on other endemic social justice issues that need to be addressed.  At the center of this silence, power and privilege reside.  When we are in control of everything and everyone, we have the luxury of not needing to find ways to survive.  When we have everything we want and need, we have the luxury of not caring about someone else’s struggle.  Power and privilege are the sanitizers of the church’s prophetic voice and bold witness.

Hopeful. Thankful. Peaceful. Civilly Disobedient.  In the wake of Ferguson, it took me a few days to remember what Christian season were approaching and are now in – Advent.  When I practiced singing with our Praise and Worship team at church, we sang “O Holy Night.”  The third verse hit me like a bolt of lightning: “Truly He taught us to love one another.  His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name.” 

Then, I remembered that the social construct of racism, the troubles in Ferguson and our world are nothing new.  A little more than 2000 years ago, God broke into human history – broke into the oppressive regime of Roman Palestine, broke into poor race relations between Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, broke into class divisions – and left Divine power and privilege to be Emmanuel – God with us, and to become one of us. 

I am hopeful that Christ’s disciples and the universal church will continue to strive to love one another and to daily claim Christ’s law of love and gospel of peace. 

I am thankful that Jesus broke into sin-filled humanity to break the chains of the oppressed and make the slave our brother. 

I am peaceful that in the name of Jesus – both now and at Christ’s return – all oppression has to and must cease.

I stand civilly disobedient in the wake of the Church’s piercing silence.  We will only hear sweet hymns of joy and truly praise Christ’s holy name when we, as Christ’s church do as Christ did.  We will only hear sweet hymns of joy and truly praise Christ’s holy name when we put down our power and privilege, risk being identified with all who are oppressed, and truly live out Jesus’ law of love and gospel of peace.  With Michael Brown and his family.  With Officer Darren Wilson and his family.  With all who are still hurt, confused, and tired in Ferguson and everywhere. 

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Enger Muteteke serves as Assistant Pastor at Glen Burnie United Methodist Church in Glen Burnie, MD and a candidate for Deacon in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and Wesley Theological Seminary. A participant in Imagining America, Enger hopes to teach other faith leaders and communities about social justice issues, and inspire them to mentor others to be agents for social change in whatever setting.

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