A Lectionary Meditation on #BlackLivesMatter

The following readings and liturgies offer a #BlackLivesMatter reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary texts for this coming Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B). 

CALL TO WORSHIP (Psalm 34:1-8, adapted)

One: I will bless the LORD at all times; God’s praise will be ever in my mouth.
Many: My soul will find its confidence in the LORD; I will be humble and glad.
One: I will look to God and shine! This is the One who hears and answers my cries.
Many: This is the One whose angels encamp around those in need of refuge.
One: I will seek the LORD in times of trouble;
Many: I will taste and know the LORD’s goodness. I will trust my life to God.

CONTINUING TESTAMENT (2 Samuel 18:5-9,15,31-33, adapted)

This is the story of 2 Samuel 18, as it is told in the ancient scriptures and is still unfolding today: Now King David ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying to them, “Deal gently for my sake with young Absalom, my son who has ousted me from the throne and named himself king.” All the people heard David as he gave these orders to his commanders concerning the safety of Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel, for all of Jerusalem had been persuaded to follow Absalom as its king. The battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim, and the men of Israel were defeated soundly by the servants of David. The slaughter of the battle was great on that day — twenty thousand men — and as the battle was fought all across the countryside, the forest claimed more victims than the sword.

Absalom, the son of David, happened to cross paths in battle with the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth while the mule that was under him went on without him. Ten young men who were Joab’s armor-bearers saw it happen, and they surrounded Absalom as he hung in the tree and they struck him. Joab himself took three spears and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak.

And still today, David’s beloved son is mocked and beaten, hung and killed:

In Mississippi, they pulled him from a buggy while he was giving his horse its evening exercise, and when he was on the ground, they choked him. For thirty minutes he lay face down, hands behind his back, unable to breathe.

In Michigan and again in Los Angeles, she was shot to death on the porch of a home where she was seeking help.

Without mercy they put a knee in her back — on a sidewalk in Cleveland and alongside a road in Waller County. She died in a prison in New York and Alabama, in Charleston and in Cleveland Heights.

From trees and from horses, on streets and on playgrounds, they worked together to kill them. And Absalom was left dead in the oak.

After this happened, the Cushite came to King David and said, “Good news for the king! The LORD has vindicated you on this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.”

But David asked, “What of the young man Absalom? How did he fair in battle?”

The Cushite answered, “May all the enemies of the king, and all who would do you harm, meet a fate like that young man.”

David was deeply grieved and went to the chamber over the gate, and there he wept: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son! O my daughters, my daughters Kindra and Sandra, Ralkina and Renisha! O my sons Jonathan and Tamir, Eric and Freddie! O my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you — my son, my daughter, my son!”

CONTINUING TESTAMENT (1 Kings 19:4-8, adapted)

This is the story of 1 Kings 19, as it is told in the ancient scriptures and is still unfolding today: Many years after King David, when King Ahab ruled Israel and worshiped Baal, Elijah was the prophet of the LORD. When Elijah defeated the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel threatened his life. So Elijah fled — first to Beersheba and then an extra day’s journey into the wilderness.

Weary in body and soul, he sat down under a single broom tree and asked God to let him die. “It is enough,” Elijah prayed. “Now, O LORD, please take away my life, for I am no more than the dust of my ancestors.

“I have fought long enough, O God. Give me my rest. I cannot bear the heartache anymore of those who do not love your people. Let me sleep. My tongue is heavy from retelling the story; my feet are sore from marching in protest; my eyes are red from crying; my ears are bleeding with each new name, each new hashtag; even my grief is weary of grieving.

“And still they come: those priests of power who worship fear and who cloak the work of death.

“And still they come: the spectators and allies who want a piece of God’s fire for themselves but who do not work to replenish the land from its long drought.

“And still they come: with threats and violence, with appeals for peace and a wasteland of silence.

“It is enough, O God. Give me my rest. Let me set down this work at last.”

Then Elijah lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” Elijah looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on the hot stones of the wilderness, and there was a jar of clear water. He ate, he drank, he slept again, and again the angel of the LORD came, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you. Rest will be given when the work is done, but until then I will feed you: with bread and water, with Spirit and strength. I will feed you with the courage of youth who have been unbowed by teargas and arrest. I will feed you with the songs of ancestors, with the support of community, and with the indignation of God Herself. Get up and eat.”

Elijah got up. He ate and drank. Then with the strength of that food, he carried on for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, which is the mountain of God.

SENDING (Ephesians 4:25-5:2, adapted)

One: So then, because we are part of one another and all members of Christ’s body, let us tell the truth about one another and about these times in which we are living.
Many: Do not be angry toward one another, but throw your energy into building up the community that is hurting.
One: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit, as if She is lost or held captive; seek Her out in the grace you extend to one another.
Many: Be kind and generous to one another;
One: And be imitators of God, who knows you and loves you.
Many: Live in love as Christ lived in love: with your feet, with your voice, with your hands together for the sake of God’s realm.

Names of Black persons killed, listed in order of their stories above in 2 Samuel 18: Jonathan Sanders (Mississippi), Renisha McBride (Michigan), Deshawnda Sanchez (Los Angeles), Tanesha Anderson (Cleveland), Sandra Bland (Waller County, TX), Raynetta Turner (New York), Kindra Chapman (Alabama), Joyce Curnell (Charleston), Ralkina Jones (Cleveland Heights, OH), Tamir Rice (Cleveland), Eric Garner (New York), Freddie Gray (Baltimore)

Exorcising Racism

Would that demons
could be sweet-talked
into release,
that the
perfect petition
correct niceties
best biblical treatise
purest sacrifice
would send them
fleeing over the cliffs.
Then the President would sing,
then Bree would climb freely,
then the sweet by-and-by
would be now.
But no.
Wishfulness
has no place
in exorcism.
The demons rage
and threaten;
they set fire and
cast a haze of doubt
as to the smoldering;
they twist words,
contort understanding,
hide behind good intentions;
they distract from their own exorcism
by perpetuating the need for triage
requiring that the anointing oil
the balm of gilead
be passed frantically
precious drop after drop
blood and oil both too costly.
Who can heal in order to fight
if the wounds are
unceasing?
Yet by the grace of God
the wounded stand and
command exorcism.
Yet by the grace of God
the oil multiplies to heal
another life, another day.
Now let the sweet-talkers
find their legs instead of their tongues.
Let the peacemakers and pacifiers
resign their anointing and strain their backs
in the picking and pressing of olives
for a new oil of healing.
Let the doubters abandon the hubris of proof
and with humility attend to the wounds
prioritize that sacred balm
where it is most needed
not where it is most sanitized.
Let our words blush and our actions falter
that do any less than drive out demons
and carry God’s fullest healing.

The Collapse of Eden

I will not cry out to God today
who is otherwise occupied
in the corner
nursing his shame.
God knows he has failed
and I will not assuage his guilt
with prayers, although we might
eavesdrop on the Holy One
muttering to his triune self:
“We didn’t anticipate this,
we didn’t know,
we weren’t prepared
for the violence of Adam
upon discovering his nakedness
upon being told the truth that
Eden is not his own.”
Coax God with your lament
if it eases your soul, but
of what use are prayers to a God
who didn’t forecast
Adam’s fabrication of a
self-image…and then his rage
at the revelation that his invention of
whiteness is only and ultimately
nakedness, is only and ultimately
an ensemble of the emperor’s new clothes
not armor or godliness or prerogative?
Of what use
are prayers to a God
who didn’t see that coming,
who isn’t able to protect his people
from the violence of Adam’s vulnerability?
Tell God to keep his head
hidden in his hands
but for once
let us not do the same;
finally let us take Adam to task
as God has neglected to do
…but let us be clear:
we are Adam, Adam is us,
o my white brothers & sisters,
no matter our intentions, no matter
our liberal do-good-ness, our down-ness,
our degrees of self-righteous separation from
organized white supremacy,
because this garden
in which we live
*is*
white supremacy;
Eden’s very atmosphere
is inherently organized to sustain us.
So before we point fingers
at Adam as if
he is someone else,
we should be absolutely clear
that at stake in naming our white nakedness
is our necessary eviction from this lie called paradise,
a garden that we must desert and then burn
to prevent ourselves from returning;
at stake is our willingness to live
humbly as refugees with only
the hospitality of others
to cloak us;
at stake
is God’s abandonment
of the corner where he is brooding
where we have sent him
so he might not see
our desperate attempts
to prevent
the collapse
of Eden.

Pray Hard, White America

White God,
Right God,
How are you holding up?
So many people are giving you a hard time these days,
saying that you don’t embody enough diversity
that you’re too removed from the streets.
They don’t know how hard you work
to keep your name palatable
among white churches.
Stay strong — don’t
cave to pressure.

White God,
Might God,
Can your masculinity survive
all of these heretical associations and insinuations with
non-cis non-white non-male non-hetero folk?
Take care! They’ll drag your reputation,
compromise the ineffable credibility
of your most holy testosterone
by their proximity, and then
who will conquer
the world?

White God,
Bright God,
They are spreading rumors
that the nighttime is holy too, but you and I both know:
darkness teems with uncertainty and suspicion
while righteousness rivals the noonday sun.
So let us believe that absolute truth
is only for those who can shine
in reflection of your pale
countenance against
the shadows.

White God,
Spite God,
Don’t let them coax you
from your judgment seat or persuade you to lessen the power
of damnation with all of this “inclusive grace” nonsense.
That’s the devil’s doing, the whispers of a serpent
telling people that they know better than you.
Cast out those smooth-talking demons,
strike down the liars with wrath,
stand fast with your sword
lest all hell break loose.

White God,
Right God,
how are you holding up these days?

.
A satirical prayer (just to be clear), wrestling with the racialized subtext of current events and religious culture in the U.S., in an effort to illuminate the sins of our systems and doctrines.

The Luxury of Talking about Race

Two weeks ago, I led a conversation on race and faith, inviting participants to reflect on their experiences of race & ethnicity as well as on the ways that their church upbringings had (or hadn’t) equipped them to respond to racism. “Jesus loves the little children,” I said quoting the Sunday School song, “all the children of the world — red, brown, yellow, black, and white. We believe this, but do we live as though it’s true?”

Two weeks ago, we talked around church tables about Jesus and about loving everyone.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago Jesus had his neck broken in the back of a police van, and he later died. And over the last two weeks (not to mention the last three centuries), Jesus has been getting the shi* kicked out of him in the street for daring to cry out in protest, getting a face full of pepper spray for not toeing the lines of gentrification and curfew, getting publicly scolded for caring about people’s lives more than people’s businesses.

Two weeks ago, I led a conversation on race and faith while Jesus lay dying in Baltimore, and today I’m questioning the usefulness of talking about Jesus & talking about race in the church — specifically when the goal of those conversations is to help white folks talk about their experiences of & raise their questions about race without trespassing their threshold of defensiveness. Today I’m questioning the usefulness of talking about race & faith when those conversations don’t de-center and de-glorify whiteness.

Too much is at stake for all of us — but especially for our brothers & sisters of color — to tolerate or facilitate easy conversations on race any longer.

Too much is at stake for the Body of Christ as it is threatened, arrested, barricaded by police & by school-to-prison pipelines & by systems of poverty, killed outright or killed slowly across a lifetime, while so many of us whites are still seeing whether we can make time for and whether we can find courage for talking about race.

Too much is at stake for us whites to hide behind our best Christian words, our best liberal words without also listening to non-white words & stories. Too much is at stake for us to pray for consolation without also preaching for confession. Too much is at stake for us to avoid the conversations altogether. But most of all, too much is at stake for us to continue to treat talking about race as a luxury to be engaged or not.

To Jesus who is standing unarmed in the street, staring down hell in its full force, words and time have no such luxury.

To Jesus who is tossing tables, to Jesus who is cursing the fruitless fig tree, to Jesus who says “Get up and go,” to Jesus who says “I did not come to bring peace,” conversations about race that do not result in conversions about race miss the urgency of the Gospel.

To Jesus who is sitting in the pews of our predominantly white churches, sitting there for worship but missing an arm & a leg & a heart & an ear because “local context” means that the Body of Christ has been separated from itself across lines of race — to that torn-apart Jesus in our pews, the choice to engage the conversation on race is truly a choice between life and death.

Two weeks ago, Jesus had his neck broken and died.

Today, we dare not take the luxury of not talking about it.