"Then the LORD said, 'I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry…Indeed, I know their sufferings…’ - Exodus 3:7
For the last few weeks, the eyes of America have been riveted on the town of Ferguson, Missouri, a formerly little-known suburb of St. Louis. It was there on Aug. 9 that an unarmed African-American teenager named Mike Brown was shot six times by police, sparking ongoing protests and demonstrations by grief-stricken and outraged citizens. Clashes between demonstrators and heavily armed local police, highway patrol, and the Missouri National Guard have been the subject of extensive coverage and all manner of commentary across broadcast and social media.
These demonstrations in Ferguson represent something more than just lament for the tragic death of Mike Brown. They are an outcry at the demonization of black men, racial profiling, institutional racism, intergenerational poverty, the militarization of law enforcement, and a culture of incarceration in America. Over the last three weeks, Ferguson has become a flash point for urgent issues facing minority communities, issues which have been largely unnoticed or ignored by the majority white culture. The #Ferguson hashtag no longer just refers to the events happening in Ferguson but has come to represent a national conversation about the toll that institutional racism and its many diabolical expressions have taken on our fellow Americans.
In the days following Mike Brown’s death, columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. described the protests as “an act of outcry, a scream of inchoate rage. That’s what happened this week in Ferguson, Mo. The people screamed.” These screams echo of the cries that God heard from the Hebrews enslaved in ancient Egypt.
Last night, Washington, D.C., residents young and old gathered in the Columbia Heights neighborhood to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, stand in solidarity with those on the front lines of continued protests in Ferguson, Mo., and let our governmant and law enforcement officials know that #BlackLivesMatter. The protest was organized by a Howard University student who hails from St. Louis and "needed to do something" given the reports she received from friends and family on the ground in Ferguson.
About a dozen Sojourners employees were in attendance. Check out the video below with testimony from two protestors who spent some time over the last week in Ferguson.
Water was created by none of us—just like air and earth and fire. It was not made to be enslaved in a market price or bottled into a "good," yielding ownership and power. Water is a commons, a precious gift given by the creator. But today, water is becoming the subject of war.
Jeju Island, South Korea — For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the Republic of Korea (ROK), as a guest of peace activists living in Gangjeong Village on ROK’s Jeju Island. Gangjeong is one of the ROK’s smallest villages, yet activists here, in their struggle against the construction of a massive naval base, have inspired people around the world.
Since 2007, activists have risked arrests, imprisonment, heavy fines, and wildly excessive use of police force to resist the desecration caused as mega-corporations like Samsung and Daelim build a base to accommodate U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines for their missions throughout Asia. The base fits the regional needs of the U.S. for a maritime military outpost that would enable it to continue developing its Asia Pivot strategy, gradually building towards and in the process provoking superpower conflict with China.
“We don’t need this base,” says Bishop Kang, a Catholic prelate who vigorously supports the opposition.
Have you ever noticed that society allows fans to do things that, short of fandom, we would deem absolutely crazy? When do grown adults have permission to paint their faces with logos except on the day of the big game? When is hugging perfect strangers acceptable? After a 3-point shot of your favorite team beats the buzzer, it’s expected. Screaming at the top of our lungs is perfectly acceptable when we’re in a crowd of thousands doing the same.
March Madness wraps up this week and a tournament champion will be crowned. Whatever the outcome of Monday’s championship game, we can guarantee that there will be screaming crowds at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (The final may break the record of largest crowd ever to attend a NCAA basketball game with 75,421 attendees.)
Crowds change social norms. Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.
Next Sunday, April 13, 2014, is known as Palm Sunday. Around the world Christians will gather to wave palm branches.
God is not like me or Fred Phelps. And I am thankful for that.
Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died last week. Phelps and his church are infamously known for picketing the funerals of lesbian and gay people and the funerals of American soldiers with signs saying “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.”
There is no doubt that Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church have spread a lot of hate and caused a lot of pain over the last few decades. From funerals to Lady Gaga concerts, the church’s website boasts that Westboro members have picketed more than 50,000 events since Phelps founded it in 1955.
Why was Phelps filled with so much hatred? He explained his animosity in 2006 when he analyzed the tragedy of 9/11:
We told you, right after it happened five years ago that the deadly events of 9/11 were direct outpourings of divine retribution, the immediate visitation of God’s wrath and vengeance and punishment for America’s horrendous sodomite sins, that worse and more of it were on the way … God is no longer with America, but is now America’s enemy. God himself is now American’s terrorist.
If you didn’t know it before, you know it now: theology matters. What we say about God matters because, like all of us, Phelps was a reflection of the god he worshiped.
NEW DELHI — Police in India’s capital used water cannons and canes on peaceful Christian and Muslim leaders Wednesday while they were demanding equal constitutional protections.
Organized jointly by confederations of churches and Muslim groups in India, the demonstrators demanded affirmative action for Dalits (formerly “untouchables”) who have converted to Christianity or Islam.
Only Dalits who have converted to Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism are entitled to affirmative action slots in jobs and educational institutions, among other protections.
Across the country, Walmart’s own workers are rising up to challenge the behemoth corporation for its poor working conditions and abysmal wages. As Danny Duncan Collum indicates in “Standing Up to Goliath” (January 2013),” the Walmart workforce is making history by organizing strikes against one of the largest employers in the world.
Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi.
You likely have heard of him. Il Poverello. He's the 13th-century aescetic who founded a religious order.
It was, on one hand, a protest order...protesting how the Church had lost its way in relationship to money and helping the poor. It was on the other hand an opportunity for people to come together and do someting rather remarkable in caring for the poor by joining in solidarity with the poor.
The Friars Minor were formed in 1226. St. Clare of Assisi was co-founder. She has her own feast day, of course, but don't lose this opportunity to get to know her as well.
(There was also an incredibly trippy movie made about his life titled Brother Son, Sister Moon. Some day, when no one is watching, you should rent that film. Outrageously strange.)
Francis' prayer is well known, but today I want to offer up this quotation which is similar, but presents a different focus. Less a prayer and more a philosophical edict, these words moved me this morning:
“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.”
Coptic Christian leaders in the United States distanced themselves from an anti-Muslim film that has sparked protests in more than 24 countries, and denounced the Copts who reportedly produced and promoted the film.
"We reject any allegation that the Coptic Orthodox community has contributed to the production of this film," the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in statement on Friday.
"Indeed, the producers of this film have taken these unwise and offensive actions independently and should be held responsible for their own actions."
I just arrived in Tennessee for a little sabbatical in the hills where I grew up. As I settled into my old childhood room again for a week or so of rest, I noticed a pile of newspaper articles my mom placed by the toilet. She's gotten into the habit of putting clippings of articles there that she thinks I'll enjoy reading while having my special time in the bathroom.
One of the articles was an extraordinary front-page story in the Knoxville News Sentinel about three peace activists who shut down the Y-12 nuclear plant last month in Oak Ridge for more than weeks.
In the predawn hours of July 28, three unarmed peace activists entered the Y-12 nuclear plant and, over a matter of hours, made their unprecedented way through the layers of security to the very heart of the facility, where they performed a prayerful service, hung "crime-scene" tape and poured human blood as a symbol of the violence of nuclear weapons. One of the intruders was an 82-year-old nun who is now an international celebrity. It's a contemporary story of David and Goliath, the shepherd boy who took on a giant with nothing but a slingshot.
The article makes a spectacle of how these three folks, whose average age was 67, managed to mosey into one of the most highly secure and potentially deadly facilities in the world. But they chose the spot for a reason.
The Oak Ridge Y-12 plant was responsible for the explosives of the Hiroshima bomb. It has been called "the Fort Knox of Uranium." The Y-12 plant is the nation's primary supplier of bomb-grade uranium, and has played a role in the manufacture of every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, which now flaunts the capacity of more than 50,000 Hiroshima-size bombs.
On Aug. 17, three members of the Russian feminist punk band/performance art group Pussy Riot received the verdict in the criminal case against them: Guilty of "hooliganism" motivated by "religious hatred." Each was sentenced to two years in prison.
As a faith-based community organizer, I spend a great majority of my time trying to get political issues into the church so that the gospel can be relevant to the reality of those on and off the pews.
Therefore, I believe the best place for a “pussy riot” is the church. Although this may seem sacrilegious, here's why:
1. When the church ignores social and political issues it silently blesses injustice. (See slavery, the Holocaust, lynching, and child sexual abuse.) Testimony Time is a set time in many Black Churches when congregants can speak of their pains and triumphs and how God brought them through.
Testimony time is democratic and a time of raw honesty. I call what Pussy Riot did protestifying because they protested by testifying about the political conditions of their country.
Perhaps I’ve missed something about Russian law, but it seems to me that it’s a conveniently trumped up charge to keep the women sequestered until (hopefully for the Putin Administration, at least) the attention blows over and the perpetually-distracted news cycle moves on. In short, I can’t imagine, at least from my cultural context, that such a sentence could be justified as anything less than government bullying.
As for the location of their “Punk Prayer” at the altar of a Russian Orthodox church, this state church has been in the pocket of the government for quite a long time, it turns out. In reading up a little more, the choice of such a church for their protest seems less shocking and more concertedly poignant, given the church’s complicity in promoting the agenda of the Powers that Be. Rather than standing up in the face of authority as an advocate for the poor and oppressed (arguably one of the principal responsibilities of a church), they have joined in the subjugation of human rights in Russia.
The all-female Russian punk band whose name shall not be mentioned (kind of like Voldemort in Harry Potter) was arrested following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his iron-fisted grip on the forthcoming election. Their boisterous prayer-performance was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of a Russian Orthodox church. They’ve been serving five months in jail since the event, and on Friday were sentenced to two years — time served credited against the sentence.
On the surface, I appreciate the demonstration. One could argue that even Jesus engaged in rather shocking prophetic displays inside temple walls to make a powerful point. And I appreciate that the band members were willing to go to jail (not a surprise they got arrested, really) for what they believe. On one level, it’s exactly the kind of thing that the punk ethos is all about: shocking people into awareness about the injustices around them, stirring people to action.
Does anybody else feel this weight?
I woke up this morning in tears. I don’t know why today is different, but I do know the weight is for my brothers and sisters who are in pain.
I imagined what the night was like for folks in my neighborhood who had to fend off threats last night.
I imagine the young girl in a car — against her will or against her first choice — with the guy named John, and I lament for her soul.
I imagine the young guy standing out all night selling death so he can have a little life — whether it’s in the form of food, dignity or just to feel like he is meeting some need, somehow.
I imagine the mom lying in the bed next to someone she would rather not touch, but because he pays the bills for her kids to eat and sleep, she puts up with his abuse and doesn’t say anything about the other woman he also lies with around the corner.
A Westboro Baptist Church protest was overshadowed last Friday when demonstrators dressed as zombies gathered at a DuPont, Wash. military base to counter the radical group's efforts.
After members of the controversial Kansas-based church announced plans to picket Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a military base south of Seattle, 27-year-old Melissa Neace decided to organize a counter-protest, launching a Facebook group titled "Zombie'ing Westboro Baptist Church AWAY from Fort Lewis!"
"We wanted to turn something negative around, into something people could laugh at and poke fun at," Neace told the News Tribune. "It was the easiest way to divert attention from something so hateful."
About 300 counter-protesters showed up in varying degrees of zombie garb, far outnumbering the picketers from Westboro. According to KIRO in Seattle, just eight protesters from the controversial group showed up.
"I think that their message is very hateful, and Jesus was not a hateful person. He loved everybody," one of the counter-protesters told KIRO.
Watch video of Zombies vs Haters inside the blog ...