Emerging Voices

Leroy Barber 02-17-2014
 Jesus bearing the cross, Jef Thompson / Shutterstock.com

Jesus bearing the cross, Jef Thompson / Shutterstock.com

There are so many people that have gone before me, people that have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of justice and equality. Because of this, I feel a deep sense of commitment to honor them by standing for some of the same things that they did. I am in complete awe of two things that connect deeply for me. The first is the cross and how Jesus gave his life for us all. The second is my ancestors who somehow understood Jesus’ sacrifice and passed it onto me through intense persecution.

I can’t say that I know persecution like my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents knew. I have been back to southern Alabama many times for family reunions and visited slave graveyards where relatives are buried. This compels me to be and do more with my life. I can’t say I understand why Jesus would choose to become human, walk this earth as a human being, and then die at the hands of his own creations to save those who were crucifying him. However, I do know it pushes me to be and do more with my life. I feel like I would let them down somehow if I didn’t take responsibility for addressing injustice with my life.

My life is not my own. I am the product of sacrifice. I am here because of those who saw beyond themselves and thought personal sacrifice was worth giving up to allow justice to take hold. I am here because Jesus modeled something completely illogical on the cross and then some of my ancestors took that example seriously and repeated it. I have no real right to the life I live. My only recourse is to continue the tradition handed to me in the same way.

Mark Charles 01-08-2014
Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock

Pope Francis Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock

The other day I observed a Twitter exchange between Pope Francis and Miroslav Volf.

Pope Francis (‏@Pontifex) Tweeted:
“God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.”

To which Miroslav Volf (‏@MiroslavVolf) replied:
“@Pontifex How true! And yet the babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory.”

Since moving to the Navajo reservation more than a decade ago, I have done much thinking, studying, praying, and reflecting on the dynamics between power and authority. And God has given me a few insights over the years. So when I read these tweets I had an instant desire to jump in and be a part of the discussion. 

Lisa Sharon Harper 01-07-2014
Lisa Sharon Harper/Sojourners

President Obama speaks after the Senate cleared a three-month extension of Unemployment benefits. Lisa Sharon Harper/Sojourners

I stood in line and waited until they called my number.

“Neeeext,” the woman behind the counter called!

The woman put out an energy that dared anyone to cross her, challenge her, even speak to her. She gave me a pile of papers to fill out “over there,” she waved her hands dismissively in the general direction of all the other losers sitting in rows of old school desks — the kind where the chair and the desk are attached. They were all fully engrossed in one task: filling out their unemployment insurance applications. I joined them.

Of course we weren’t losers, but it felt like we were. We were grown adults. We represented many races: white, black, Latino, and Asian. We represented a small fraction of the sea of people who were out of work at the height of the economic crisis. If you had come to us only weeks before we were school teachers and firemen, opera singers, Wall Street brokers, and justice advocates (like me). But now we were all numbers, experiencing the same humiliating moment together.

But, how much more humiliating it would have been to be thrown out of my apartment? How much more dehumanizing would it have been to become homeless or go without food?

Lisa Sharon Harper 12-16-2013
Courtesy of Fast for Families

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visit the #Fast4Families tent. Courtesy of Fast for Families

Do you believe in the spiritual realm? I mean really believe; not in your head — in your disciplines?

Do you believe that spiritual power can alter, transform, or even redeem social, institutional, structural and even legislative power?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’m not sure I really believed … until recently.

On Sunday mornings, in the midst of our safe sanctuaries, our five-song worship sets, our 15-minute sermonettes and our one-hour services that can be timed with an egg timer, how does our worship and our practice offer witness to the reality of the spiritual realm? How do our disciplines engage the inner world beyond the good feeling we get from songs that comfort us? Comforting songs are valuable in our worship. In fact, God uses those songs to remind us of the ways the Holy Spirit interacts directly with us, knows us, and knows our most intimate needs. But how does our worship — how do our congregations’ spiritual disciplines strengthen our understanding and engagement with the powers, the principalities, and the world beyond our own homes and sanctuaries?  

 “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Lisa Sharon Harper 11-29-2013
Katherine Burgess/RNS

Prayer vigil at the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform" Katherine Burgess/RNS

I moved into the fasting tent Wednesday morning, Day 16 of my Thanksgiving Fast4Families. I’m now able to drink only water. Committed to fast as long as my body holds out.

The rain Wednesday mixed with snow pelted the tent from all sides. Sometimes the whole tent even swayed in the wind. The fasters sat in their chairs, some having just arrived, a few having lived in the same chair for 16 days now.

We’ve had multiple visitors; a Spanish language television station, a former senator’s top aide who is also the father of one of the fasters, another television station, and a crew of photographers that took our picture for a Thanksgiving Tweet. All that before 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

But the best part has been the fellowship and the discipline of silence.

Lisa Sharon Harper 11-25-2013

Cross emblems handed out to those who are fasting. Photo: Brandon Hook/Sojourners

(Editors Note: This post continues updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," taking place on the National Mall.)

Entering Day 13 of my #Fast4Families. Day 12 was holy ground for me — a crossroads. I woke up that morning sensing God's call to move back into the tent during Thanksgiving week and through Thanksgiving weekend. I did that for the first two days and it was hard on my body. When I left the tent and went back to work, I continued the fast by drinking homemade clear vegetable broth twice a day and fruit juice in the morning. That made it possible for me to continue the fast and still work. 

But now, we're talking about Thanksgiving week. There's no need to worry about being able to work. Sojourners office will be pretty much closed from Wednesday through the weekend. I talked with one of the leading organizers of the #Fast4Families tent yesterday. I told her I'm considering moving into the tent for the week, but I'd need to be able to take V8 a couple of times a day. This was her response: "In order to maintain the integrity of the fast that we have run so far, we can only allow water only fasting while in the tent."

Leroy Barber 11-15-2013
As in football, go for the long ball in life. Bikeriderlondon/Shutterstoc

As in football, go for the long ball in life. Bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

In football, if the defensive players have no fear of your going long, they stack up against you and the shorter plays become incredibly hard and frustrating. It's as if the defense can predict what you're going to do and outnumber you. 
Many people live their lives, and some nonprofits run their organizations, this way —never going for the long ball. 

Lisa Sharon Harper 11-15-2013
Stephen Orsillo / Shutterstock

The gospel according to Luke chapter one. Stephen Orsillo / Shutterstock

There is an awesome moment in the opening chapter of the book of Luke where the writer frames his gospel as an epic celestial battle taking place in the heavenly realm: This is the story of the reign of men vs. the reign of God.

Luke makes it clear. What happened in these pages began in the days of King Herod of Judea (Luke 1:5). King Herod was a product and protector of empire. His father was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar. He subsequently appointed Herod military prefect of Galilee. After the death of Julius, Antony, and Octavian, Augustus Caesar favored Herod and gave him the name "king of the Jews," eventually becoming governor of Judea.

Herod was most concerned with maintaining his power — at all costs. He built the Roman Empire at his own people's expense. He built great monuments and structures, including the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple, enslaving his own people to do it. He used the Jews' labor to erect temples to pagan deities, and, paranoid of anyone who might usurp his power, Herod schemed against his own family, executing three of his own sons for insurrection — one only a few days before his death.

Enter a priest named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth.

Lisa Sharon Harper 11-13-2013
Jesus Cervantes / Shutterstock

A woman praying. Jesus Cervantes / Shutterstock

Jesus, please be with Marissa Alexander today.

You know Marissa, the 32-year-old mother who fired a warning shot in the air to ward off her then-husband who was threatening to abuse her. You know that she tried to claim stand your ground and was denied by State Attorney Angela Corey who said Alexander fired her shot out of anger, not fear. You know that Corey’s office prosecuted George Zimmerman and did not block Zimmerman’s lawyers from embedding the language of the stand your ground statute in his jury’s instructions. You know that Zimmerman was declared not guilty based on that language, while Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison because of 10- to-20-year mandatory minimum sentencing requirements in Florida. 

Lisa Sharon Harper 11-12-2013

Lisa Sharon Harper speaks at the opening of Fast for Families. Photo Brandon Hook/Sojourners

(Editors Note: Faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," Nov. 12, taking place on the National Mall. Leaders and immigrant members of the community are fasting every day and night, abstaining from all food — except water — to move the hearts of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. This post is composed of updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the fast.)

Eleven national leaders marked this as the first day of a 30-day rolling fast for families — a call for immigration reform and a path to citizenship. The fasters and other leaders of the civil rights movement, including Julian Bond (civil rights veteran), Rev. Jim Wallis (Sojourners) and Wade Henderson (Leadership Conference on Civil Rights), walked into that tent and behind the podium.

One after another, the fasters stood before the podium — Sister Simone Campbell, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon—and offered testimony. This is why we are fasting. We are fasting because we cannot wait any longer. We are fasting because we stand with the 11 million people and their families who cannot wait for congress to get itself together for the pain and suffering in their families to end. We are fasting because whether we are immigrants who came here voluntarily in the last century or our ancestors were brought here in chains 200 years ago, we are fasting America a better place for all.

Lisa Sharon Harper 11-01-2013
Mosaic of the Good Samaritan, Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Mosaic of the Good Samaritan, Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Gov. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) did a shocking thing recently. He broke with his political allies and decided to expand Medicaid to 275,000 poor people in his state through the Affordable Care Act. Then he called a spade a spade, saying: “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor.”

Kasich’s statement came just two days ago. And today, 47 million low-income Americans will see their food stamps benefits decrease as stimulus funding ends. In light of this newly named “war on the poor,” I’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, and the man’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” What an intriguing question.

Of course one of the most incredible things about this story is that Jesus never answers the lawyer’s question. Rather, he tells a story about a man beaten by robbers on a dangerous road. He was stripped naked left lying there, clinging to life. Both a priest and Levite pass him by, but a Samaritan went out of his way, broke his usual routine, used up his own gas (or at least his donkey’s energy) to bring the man to an inn. And he took care of him overnight at the inn, offering the innkeeper what would today be about $330.

And then Jesus flips the script! The lawyer asked who exactly is my neighbor? Who do I have to love? And conversely who can I cross off my need-to-love list?

Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Jesus returns his question with a question: “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

Nowadays we hardly have a concept of what it means to be a neighbor anymore.

Soong-Chan Rah 10-24-2013
Movie still from '12 Years a Slave' Fox Searchlight

Movie still from '12 Years a Slave' Fox Searchlight

When we consider the typical church worship service in the United States, we discover certain trends. Lament and stories of suffering are conspicuously absent. In Hurting with God, Glenn Pemberton notes that laments constitute 40 percent of the Psalms, but in the hymnal for the Churches of Christ, laments make up 13 percent, the Presbyterian hymnal 19 percent, and the Baptist hymnal 13 percent.

Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) licenses local churches for the use of contemporary worship songs. CCLI tracks the songs that are employed by local churches, and its list of the top 100 worship songs as of August 2012 reveals that only five of the songs would qualify as a lament. Most of the songs reflect themes of celebratory praise: “Here I Am to Worship,” “Happy Day,” “Indescribable,” “Friend of God,” “Glorious Day,” “Marvelous Light,” and “Victory in Jesus.”

How we worship reveals what we prioritize. The American church avoids lament. Consequently the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost in lieu of a triumphalistic, victorious narrative. We forget the necessity of lament over suffering and pain. Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget. The absence of lament in the liturgy of the American church results in the loss of memory.

Lisa Sharon Harper 10-17-2013
Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

LIsa Sharon Harper speaks on a panel with film star Alfre Woodard and faith leaders. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

I once spoke to a writing class at a respected evangelical university on the Good Samaritan, a basic message about God’s call to love everyone. In the course of my hour-long lecture, I mentioned the word “slavery” once. One time.

That one mention was met with this one question during the Q-and-A time: “What does slavery have to do with anything?”

The young evangelical proceeded to tell me, “slavery only lasted about 50 years and it wasn’t even that bad. I mean they were better off because of it, right? They got Christianity, didn’t they?”

I learned a survival lesson on that day: Don’t even mention the “s” word to white people. It’s not safe.

But last week, at Sojourners’ Special Faith Leaders’ Screening of 12 Years a Slave, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner said something profound during the post-screening panel discussion of the film:

“White people don’t want to talk about what happened,” Williams-Skinner said. “We need racial reconciliation in our nation and in the church, but reconciliation requires repentance and how can we get to repentance, if we can’t even have the conversation?”  

We do need racial healing. Our nation needs it desperately.

Kathy Khang 10-14-2013
Church with cross in the foreground, sunfun / Shutterstock.com

Church with cross in the foreground, sunfun / Shutterstock.com

There are few things as exhausting, draining, and disheartening as family drama. I’m not talking low-level sibling rivalry over who gets shotgun all the time. I’m talking deep-rooted family issues that go generations back. That kind of family drama shows up in the most inopportune times in the most inappropriate places — at someone’s wedding or funeral, at the family reunion, or while grocery shopping.

But when family drama shows up in the church, it grieves me. It riles me up like nothing else does because it is in my identity as a Christian and Jesus-follower where I am all of who God created me to be and has called me to be — Asian and American, Korean, female, friend, daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, writer, manager, advocate, activist. The church is the place where I and everyone else SHOULD be able to get real and raw and honest to work out the kinks and twists, to name the places of pain and hurt, and to find both healing and full restoration and  redemption.

So when the church uses bits and pieces of “my” culture — the way my parents speak English (or the way majority culture people interpret the way my parents speak English) or the way I look (or the way the majority culture would reproduce what they think I look like) – for laughs and giggles, it’s not simply a weak attempt at humor. It’s wrong. It’s hurtful. It’s not honoring. It can start out as “an honest mistake” with “good intentions,” but ignored, it can lead to sin.

Fortunately, there is room for mistakes, apologies, dialogue, learning, and forgiveness.

Kathy Khang 09-27-2013

So, here is the dilemma. Do I think so highly of myself to think that Warren’s apology and reference to an email is actually about me? That is ridiculous. I know there were others who emailed him. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Warren is talking about my email, which I re-read. I never say “I am offended.” I had a lot of questions because I wanted to understand. I wanted to hear and open up dialogue because I didn’t understand Warren’s logic, humor, or joke. I really didn’t understand why Warren’s supporters would then try to shut down those who were offended (and I include myself in the camp of those hurt, upset, offended AND distressed) by telling us/me to be more Christian like they themselves were being.

There is no “if.”  I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed, not just because “an” image was posted, but that Warren posted the image of a Red Guard soldier as a joke, because people pointed out the disconcerting nature of posting such an image — and then Warren told us to get over it, alluded to how the self-righteous didn’t get Jesus’ jokes but Jesus’ disciples did, and then erased any proof of his public missteps and his followers’ mean-spirited comments that appeared to go unmoderated.

I am hurt, upset, offended, and distressed when fellow Christians are quick to use Matthew 18 publicly to admonish me (and others) to take this issue up privately without recognizing the irony of their actions, when fellow Christians accuse me of playing the race card without trying to understand the race card they can pretend doesn’t exist but still benefit from, when fellow Christians accuse me of having nothing better to do than attack a man of God who has done great things for the Kingdom.

Kathy Khang 09-25-2013
Screen shot of image on Rick Warren's Facebook page

Screen shot of image on Rick Warren's Facebook page

Author's Note: As of sometime Tuesday afternoon, the original Facebook post and tweet of this image has been removed. That is wonderful news. He has also issued an apology on Dr. Sam Tsang’s blog (linked later in this post) but not on his Facebook page or Twitter because it has all been removed. However, I am leaving up my original post because deleting something doesn’t actually address the issue, and the subsequent comments by supporters were never addressed. Those supporters may think the post was removed because he got tired of the angry Asians who don’t get it. Right now, it feels like I’ve been silenced. Pastor Warren actually did read many of the comments voicing concern about the post and responded with a rather ungracious response. My kids constantly hear me talk about the consequences of posting something up on social media and the permanence of that. 

You know it’s going to be an interesting day when you wake up to Facebook tags and messages about “something you would blog about.”

My dear readers, you know me too well.

This photo appeared yesterday on Rick Warren’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. Apparently the image captures “the typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.” Hmmm. I didn’t realize Saddleback was akin to the Red Army. Warren’s defense (and that of his supporters) is one that  I AM SO SICK AND TIRED OF HEARING!

Lisa Sharon Harper 09-10-2013
Stained glass window depicting Adam & Eve, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

Stained glass window depicting Adam & Eve, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

Two things are clear in both creation stories: 1) both men and women are created to exercise equal dominion, and 2) according to Genesis 1:31, this relationship between men and women was “very good.” This is what right relationship between men and women looks like. It is only after the fall of humanity — when we decided not to trust God’s ways, when we decided to grab at our own way to peace and gratification — that women were subjected to men. And I see nothing in the text that says this is the way God wanted it. Rather, I see this is the natural result of choosing to exercise a human kind of dominion rather than one that reflects the image of God. Humanity grabs at its own peace at the expense of the peace of all.

Adam Taylor 08-23-2013
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

March on Washington, 1963, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I will march on Saturday because I refuse to allow my two sons to be treated as statistics or a stereotypes rather than as children of God. I will march because overly aggressive policing tactics that overly rely upon racial profiling make a mockery of Dr. King’s dream that every child will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.   

I will march because the recent repeal of section four of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court jeopardizes the voting rights of millions of Americans across the country, particularly in southern states where new barriers to this sacred right are already being erected. 

I will march because based on national statistics, my two black boys face a one in three chance of spending some time of their lives behind bars, a disturbing and destructive reality that has been made possible in part by mandatory drug sentencing laws that must be reevaluated and changed.  

Troy Jackson 07-22-2013
Locked church doors. Photo courtesy vesilvio/shutterstock.com

Locked church doors. Photo courtesy vesilvio/shutterstock.com

Over the past week, as the nation has wrestled with the implications of the “not guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, I have concluded that many in white America are desperately trying to remind African Americans that, when it comes to race in America, silence is golden. Their effort implies that any honest dialogue about race that includes the stories and experiences of African Americans disturbs the idea of the “American experience” for those of a lighter hue.

This message came through loud and clear last Friday following President Obama’s unexpected and personal reflection on the death of Trayvon Martin and the verdict on the trial of George Zimmerman.

Soong-Chan Rah 07-19-2013
Crosses gathered for mourning. Photo courtesy Konstantin Yolshin/shutterstock.co

Crosses gathered for mourning. Photo courtesy Konstantin Yolshin/shutterstock.com

This morning I began preparing for a trip to Canada. I pulled out my grey North Park University hoodie to pack for the colder nights. Last year, a few days after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, North Park sponsored a justice conference. I wore that hoodie during my talk.

In retrospect, it feels like an empty gesture — an attempt to empathize with an experience that I, as a Korean-American, could never fully understand. In light of the Zimmerman verdict, I’ve been stunned into silence. I’m reeling from a deep disappointment in the American justice system and maybe even more distraught by the response of many in the white evangelical community that wants to argue the minutia of the law rather than trying to understand our brothers and sisters who are expressing a deep sense of lament.

The tragedy of Trayvon Martin requires an ongoing lament, which may be why it has been so difficult for evangelicals to engage on this issue.