FOR THOSE PAYING attention, this has been a fairly terrifying winter and spring. And I don’t just mean the presidential election. I mean that the signals we’re getting from the natural world indicate we’re crossing thresholds much more quickly than expected.
February, for instance, was the most anomalously hot month ever recorded on the planet, crushing all records. The world had pledged in Paris in December to try to hold global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius—well, February was just about at that level already.
The elevated temperatures were especially noticeable in the Arctic—for long stretches of the winter the region as a whole was as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit above average. (Christmas Eve was almost 50 degrees warmer than normal at the North Pole). Not surprisingly, this meant the lowest levels of Arctic sea ice ever recorded by late March.
Meanwhile in the Antarctic, new data showed that sea level may be set to rise far faster than expected, as the great ice sheets start to slide into the ocean—the water could go up by meters in the course of this century, which would make the defense of most of the world’s great cities a nightmare.
In today’s political climate we’re witnessing plenty of protesting — there is indeed much to protest. But some Christians, particularly in evangelical circles, believe protesting is sinful, that it’s only something that young, uneducated, unemployed, liberal fools do just for the sake of causing trouble.
“Why did you, American Mother of the Year, commit civil disobedience in front of the Trident nuclear submarine?” a reporter asked the white haired, 78-year-old woman as she left the courthouse.
The woman, accused of being in a little boat blocking a nuclear submarine, answered without a moment’s hesitation.
“I did it for the children of the world,” she said.
Migrants are stitching their own lips shut to protest the French government’s clearing of the refugee camp in Calais, known as the "the Jungle." Authorities are clearing the southern half of the camp and relocating the refugees, they say in response to unsanitary conditions. They bulldozed a church and a mosque in the camp on Feb. 1.
If Facebook feeds are any measure of anxiety levels, then we’re reaching a new high. Friends’ posts share news of overt hatred and violence, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades:
- A seemingly unending onslaught of police killings of unarmed black people.
- White supremacists shooting people as they pray, setting fire to churches, and shooting into crowds of multiethnic protesters.
- More than 1,000 mass shootings in the U.S. since the 2012 massacre of children at Sandy Hook.
- Millions of Syrian and African refugees flowing into Europe—the greatest movement of people across Europe since the Holocaust.
- The so-called Islamic State ushering in what looks to be a new world war.
- Oh, and the climate is changing at an alarming rate.
It feels like the world is unraveling.
But what if it is? What if we are, in fact, witnessing the end of the world as we know it? Would that be so bad?
Think about it. The world order, as we know it, rests on deep foundations built by worldwide colonization, imperialism, slavery, patriarchy, exploitation, and ecological consumption. Most of the violence listed above traces back to economic and social systems of dominance—one group over another or humanity’s domination of the rest of creation. White supremacists feel threatened because people of color are finally rising up and saying “No more!”
While 16 mass shootings occurred between 1995 and 2005, there were 38 from 2005 to 2015, according to a recent report by Mother Jones. In recent years, people have pushed against the gun lobby with all their might, but the NRA seemed invincible.
Speakers at the rally included representatives of the Islamic and Christian communities, the National Organization for Women, Code Pink, and Ghada Mukhdad, a Syrian refugee and member of the Syrian Civil Coalition which, according to their website, is a “lobby of Syrian civil society organizations, activists, and initiatives” that seeks to address “the increasing gap between the needs and priorities of the Syrian society on one hand and those making decisions concerning Syria.”
The French government has banned mass gatherings during COP21 in Paris. So protesters have gotten creative.
The organization Brandalism has posted 600 pieces of artwork and fake advertisements all over the city that mimic real advertisements but actually denounce politicians and corporations for their apathy toward climate change.
On their first day in office, newly elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives take an oath on the House floor — to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
But before his election as Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan took another oath — this time to the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” a group of several dozen overwhelmingly white, conservative Congressmen from overwhelmingly white, conservative congressional districts.
Specifically, reports the National Review, the oath “extracts Ryan’s word that he will not bring up comprehensive immigration reform ‘so long as Barack Obama is president’ and, as speaker, even in the future, Ryan will not allow any immigration bill to reach the floor for a vote unless a ‘majority’ of GOP members support it.”
In short, in order to become the new speaker of the House, Ryan has vowed to block immigration reform from coming to a vote until January 2017 — at the earliest.
This is the second time Ryan has made a pledge on immigration reform. I remember the first: in 2014, Ryan called me at the Sojourners office, offering to help Christians pass comprehensive immigration reform. That led to meetings in Ryan’s office with key evangelical leaders about how to do that strategically, with Ryan telling us that the “evangelical factor” on immigration reform was something he had never seen before.
He promised us on several occasions that he would help bring immigration reform bills to the floor of the House. Many other Republicans promised the same thing to evangelical pastors who came to visit them from their districts.
As he poured the gallon jug of kerosene over his head, onlookers reacted with disbelief. Before anyone knew what to do, he lit a match. In one terrible instant, 31-year-old Quaker Norman Morrison set himself ablaze in front of the Pentagon, just 40 feet below the 3rd floor window of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Moments before ignition, Morrison passed his 11-month-old daughter, Emily, to a bystander. His wife and two other children were in Baltimore that day, unaware of what this young husband and father had planned.
Though his terrifying act of self-destruction, Morrison brought the Vietnam War home to a country that was still largely unaware of the widespread atrocities taking place in Southeast Asia. It was hard for most Americans to comprehend the true human cost of U.S. carpet bombing, and the incineration of whole families in the name of peace and security. Even the U.S. military officials leading the war effort did not understand on a visceral level what it meant to burn human beings alive in Vietnam.
Norman Morrison provided a live demonstration.
Young people ignited by injustice, refusing to back down. A nation waking up to the reality of racial disparities. And a church that can no longer remain silent. This, says Eden Theological Seminary professor Leah Francis Gunning, is the real “Ferguson Effect.” As she protested in Ferguson over the past year, Gunning collected interviews from clergy and young organizers. The result is Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community (Chalice Press, 2015), a behind-the-scenes look at the role of the church in the Black Lives Matter movement. Sojourners interviewed Francis to learn more about the religious community’s role in supporting and sustaining a racial justice movement started by young activists.
Someone has said that Pope Francis is really a Protestant. He is, if Protestant is defined as someone who protests. His recent encyclical Laudato si' is a protest against the often irresponsible industries as they pollute the environment.
Pope Francis especially protests the ways in which coal is burned in the production of electricity. He is right to protest. What comes out of the smoke stacks of coal-fed electric power plants is linked to 50,000 deaths a year, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. Because children and the elderly among the poor are the most vulnerable, the pope, following his namesake, St. Francis, has a special concern for those that Jesus calls "the least of these."
“BLACK WOMEN AND GIRLS are killed by the police, too.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a blank stare when I made this statement, even in activist spaces. Occasionally I’ll see a few affirmative nods, but overwhelmingly there is apathy. I leave with a sick feeling, wondering, “Where is the rage and protest for my sisters?” and “Who will fight for my life?”
In May, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, and Ferguson Action came together for a national day of action for black women and girls. We wanted to shed light on the fact that black women and girls, in all our complexities, have been erased from the broader narrative of police terrorism and modern-day lynching in this country. Cities such as Oakland, Calif., New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Miami all participated in powerful acts of public resistance that involved reading the names of women who have been killed by police and using the hashtag #SayHerName as an awareness tool on social media.
Speaking our sisters’, daughters’, and mothers’ names at a vigil on a day set aside to acknowledge our humanity is powerful, because it says: When the world has forgotten Mya, Aiyana, Tanisha, Rekia (and so many others), we will not forget.
AUG. 9, 2014, is a day I’ll never forget. It was the day that Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson.
For many young people in the United States, especially those of us involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, this was our Sept. 11. We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the news broke of another police-involved killing of an unarmed black citizen.
I was in the final days of a yearlong internship with Sojourners. My fellow interns and I were on our closing retreat in West Virginia. I was on my phone checking my Twitter timeline when I began to see retweets of images: Michael Brown laid out on Canfield Drive with blood still leaking from his bullet wounds. I remember the anger that instantly came over me. “Not another one!” was all I could think.
As the day wore on, I felt frustrated that I was stuck in a retreat house, forced to sit idly by while the grieving community in Ferguson was antagonized by officers in riot gear with police dogs. I knew then that I had to do whatever it would take to join the people in this fight for justice. I never imagined how this movement would change the way I—and many others—actually do theology.
Six people were arrested at Lakewood Church June 28 after heckling Pastor Joel Osteen while he was preaching, according to Houston Police.
The individuals are from Wells, Texas, and are associated with The Church of Wells.
Casey Eaglin was at Sunday’s 11 a.m. service and just a few seats away from one of the protesters.
“He jumped up with his Bible and started screaming ‘Shame on you Joel, shame on you Joel’ and Joel kind of just repeated Scripture and they just escorted them out,” said Eaglin.
How does a social movement begin? How does frustration meet courage and conviction to bring a people together to engage in transformative work? What seeds do we plant to change a nation?
Social movements do not form out of thin air. They arise out of people’s suffering. Social movements are rooted in moments when people decide to change the conversation. The growing momentum around this new conversation creates a movement — a swell of influence in society that has the potential to change minds and transform society.
Ultimately, Jesus shows us that our wounds do more than mark us — they connect us. Jesus knows that through the touching of his wounds, Thomas will be forever connected to him, doubts and all. Jesus knows that we must let our scars speak. In this beautiful, intimate encounter with Thomas, Jesus teaches us to let our wounds show and be touched so we too can know peace. Peace cannot come to us until we have the courage to proudly bare our scars and connect with one another through our wounds. Until then, we, like Thomas, will be left standing in our doubts and anxieties.
I will not pretend to fully understand the complex circumstances surrounding the death of Freddie Gray and the riots in Baltimore. But I have to wonder what would happen if we followed Jesus’ instructions to Thomas. What if instead of ignoring bystanders’ cries for Freddie Gray to receive medical treatment, the police had reached out their hands and held an inhaler for Freddie Gray? What if all the people of Baltimore had put their hands on Freddie Gray’s injured spine? What if the police force in Baltimore had reached out for the wounds of grief deeply gnawing within the rioting crowds? What if the crowds had placed their hands into the wounds of the injured police officers?
Perhaps we are here again because we do not really listen. We gaze at each other’s pain and lament, but we don’t really see in a way that will shift our vision, clarify our perspective. We hear each other’s stories but don’t really listen in a way that will change us in a profound way, lead us to question our deepest held assumptions. We post a hashtag but don’t embody these digital signatures in our everyday lives?
I walked through ash and glass as neighbors and community members swept up the remnants of our neighborhood. The night before, flames touched sky in all corners of our city as news and police helicopters hovered overhead. The city was Los Angeles. The year was 1992, and it was the third day after the police who beat Rodney King were acquitted by an overwhelmingly white jury in Simi Valley.
That was the day I was introduced to the words of Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its peace you will find your peace.”
On Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called in the National Guard and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared a citywide curfew to quell violence that erupted in Monument City following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Gray died a week after sustaining a nearly severed spinal cord after being detained by police on April 12. The reason for the stop? Gray ran after making eye contact with police. An investigation is ongoing — while the people of Baltimore and beyond demand justice.
The images of fires rising over the Baltimore landscape were eerie, as it was only a few months ago that the nation sat glued to television sets watching the small town of Ferguson, Mo., erupt. And I fear we are becoming numb to it. We turn the TV on to watch our favorite reality show. We see chanting, running black people, and we think: again? Then we turn back to The Voice.
"We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This Talmudic quote from Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani notes that seeing is not always vision. What we see in life is more than what the eye beholds. A person or circumstances right in front of us can be merely the surface of someone or something more profound.
The United States must forever recall the struggles, moves, and marching of the women and men across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Fifty years ago, ordinary people walked for the right to stand up and be counted. To the naked eye, those sojourners lacked political clout as much as they did fiscal wherewithal. Those citizens were not persons of means, but their intentions were good. They meant well. They meant to do whatever — to get the right to vote.
No whips, dogs, horses, or hoses would stifle their efforts. The Americans who marched from Selma to Montgomery may not have looked like much, but their actions changed this country’s political horizon and racial landscape. Yes, a yearning in their loins propelled them to create social change. They were going to vote at any cost, at any price.
In this week’s lectionary passage, a man crippled from birth wanted “change.” Actually, he wanted coins or any alms that Peter and John could offer (Acts 3:1-11). To this man, the two disciples were in better shape than he was. From his view, he could surely benefit from whatever they had to offer. Yet, Peter exposes their impecunious state: “Look on us. We don’t have a nickel to our names.”
There was nothing spectacular or dazzling about Peter or John.