We hope that the suffering we’ve seen on our social media feeds will provide consensus. We convince ourselves that this moment, this tragedy, this picture of suffering will provide the common denominator that will spark people’s compassion. How can anyone look at the picture of a child running from tear gas and not feel compassion? By calling to mind these images in our sermons, we hope to open people up to hearing about different political solutions to the problem at hand. If anything, we’ll all agree that we must do something.
Like Chau, I wanted to be a missionary from the time I was a teenager. I too gorged myself on the stories of Bruce Olsen and David Livingstone. Inspired by their attempts to spread the Gospel around the world, I graduated from high school a year early and enrolled in a two-year missionary school in Florida. Jesus, I believed, would not return until every people group on earth had received the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus. Someone would have to go. If not me, then who? This is one of the exact questions Chau left behind in a letter to his friends and family.
Roaring lions that tear their prey, open their mouths wide against us. They beat us, arrest us, incarcerate us, shoot us, then blame us. We are poured out like water, and all our bones are out of joint. Our hearts have turned to wax; they have melted within us.
When I was in the police academy, each of us recruits were sprayed point-blank in the face with oleoresin capsicum (OC), a cayenne pepper-based spray. This was done for two reasons: first, this experience would help us to know what it feels like when we use it on someone so that we would use it only when truly necessary; second, in case we ever were sprayed unintentionally, we had to still find our radio or a way to safety. Indeed, I’ll never forget the excruciating burning sensation and excessive mucus that put me out of commission for much of the rest of the day.
This bill is very aptly named. The First Step Act is just that and no better — a first, extremely modest step on what will need to be a much longer path of extensive reforms to a deeply broken system. That system can best be understood, as Bryan Stevenson and others have so clearly pointed out, as the direct evolution of slavery into the system of mass incarceration.
As I’m reading this scripture with my friend on death row, he asks me to repeat the scripture again and takes my Bible to look at it himself. When you are on the row, it is almost a requirement to build up walls all around you so that you ensure that you are not inflicted with even more pain and suffering — death row is enough. He talks about all of the walls that he has built up over the years. He has become a fortified city. He wants to break free. He wants the walls to come tumbling down. But he worries what will happen if he is that vulnerable. So he looks at me and says, “I am glad God writes my name on his palm even though I have all of these walls around me.” “Me too,” I say.
Last week, the world was introduced to John Allen Chau, the U.S. American “adventurer” and missionary who was killed by an indigenous group on North Sentinel Island. According to a statement from missionary organization All Nations, Chau was a “seasoned traveler who was well-versed in cross-cultural issues” and had “previously taken part in missions projects in Iraq, Kurdistan and South Africa.” Now, Indian police have begun the dangerous mission of trying to recover the body even though a tribal rights group has urged officials to call off the search, claiming it puts them and the indigenous group in danger.
On Sunday, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents launched tear gas at parents and children seeking asylum. Far from an isolated incident, this is just the latest outrage in ongoing military escalation.
As a religion consisting of millions of voters, venerable institutions, and large organizations, Christianity is often viewed by governments and politicians as a tool to influence and manipulate. Spiritual jargon is used to lobby segments of Christians to support various agendas, often under the pretense of being “Biblical” and “Godly.” This is how faith becomes co-opted to transform into something it was never meant to be: a way to obtain votes, a method for fueling populist rage, or grounds for implementing oppressive social structures.
On November 12, news broke that Christian songwriter Kurt Kaiser had died at 82. His work, which included memorable songs such as “Pass It On” and “Oh How He Loves You And Me,” spanned nearly 50 years. Kaiser’s name appeared on more than 25 albums and he received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers for his contribution to Christian music. One of his songs remains one of the most important in my life, some 30 years after first hearing it.
When children scream from tear gas where they’ve been told to wait,
when signs tell families, “Don’t pass!” outside our nation’s gate—
O Lord who welcomed children and loves each little one,
we cry, “Where is compassion?” We pray, “What have we done?”
Christians can overemphasize the importance of the Bible and underemphasize the life of Jesus. Thus, when people advocate for Christ-like things like helping immigrants, providing safety for refugees, empowering the oppressed, and loving others as we wish to be loved, Christians passionately refute such things — using the Bible. They spout verses and use pseudo theology to discredit the actions that are the most Christ-like —all under the guise of “Biblical Christianity.”
This Thanksgiving presents some of the most striking contradictions I can remember: The story of the first Thanksgiving, particularly as taught and internalized among many white Americans, is an optimistic story of radical welcome and hospitality. But what that simplistic story painfully leaves out is how quickly Native welcome turned to European conquest, colonization and, yes, the near genocide of America’s Indigenous people.
The first cast in the ochre light of the dawning sun is a morning prayer, filled with hope and faith that ceremonies sought in earnest will feed the soul. I reel dutifully, waiting for a faint tap on the end of my line. My father stands at the front of the boat, scanning for ripples on the water in the low light. “Wachale!” he exclaims in joking Spanglish as he reels in the first largemouth of the day. Two Mexican-Americans bass fishing in Texas. This is the face of the Reconquista.
One of the biggest changes in policy is a new provision that allows for the accused to cross-examine their accuser at a live hearing. It does stipulate that the cross-examination will be carried out by a third party, a lawyer, or advisor.
Lamps and debt. A friend in the night, and a sower of seeds. Wine, nets, pearls, weeds, and treasure. What is the kingdom of God like? It is like leaven and it is like two sons, like bridesmaids and sheep, like workers and judges.
In the 37 times that Jesus describes the reign of God in the Gospels, not once is the kingdom of God like a kingdom of earth. Thirty-seven times Jesus reshapes the imaginations of his followers. Thirty-seven times Jesus tells them a story to help them remake the only world they know.
As a poet, I used to compartmentalize my poetry. Christian poetry, poetry of the body, and Spanglish poetry all had their unique boxes until I came across the term theopoetics in academic scholarship. We all know how language and scholarship work. While white men are busy naming theopoetics to utilize in scholarship, women, women of color, black women, and indigenous peoples have been theopoeticizing since before Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to the time of Macuilxochitzin.
In my research and experience as a teacher educator, I have found social studies curricular materials (textbooks and state standards) routinely place indigenous peoples in a troubling narrative that promotes “Manifest Destiny” – the belief that the creation of the United States and the dominance of white American culture were destined and that the costs to others, especially to indigenous peoples, were justified.
A dystopian scene is unfolding across California. Charred car skeletons sit idle on the side of roads in the working-class town of Paradise, Calif. In one video, a camera pans to reveal what looks like an apocalyptic movie set — passing the remains of an abandoned school bus, begging us to ask what happened to those who were inside.
Politics has always involved disagreements, but it’s not the same as it ever was in today’s United States. Something has changed. In a national survey we at More in Common conducted last month, fully 87 percent of Americans said that they feel the country is more divided than at any point in their lifetimes.