Sacred Space: A Black Friday Reflection

Stephanie Kimec joins Walmart workers and supporters at a Black Friday protest calling for fair wages.

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.

Of Saints and Presidents

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

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.”

Bishops Blast Coptic Christians Behind Anti-Muslim Film

Hand holding Coptic cross.

Hand holding Coptic cross.

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."  

Shane Claiborne: Of Slingshots, Plowshares, and Kitchen Hammers

The Y-12 Three: Michael R. Walli, Sister Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed.

The Y-12 Three: Michael R. Walli, Sister Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed.

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.

Why the Church is the Best Place for a Pussy Riot

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.

Punk Protesters Sentenced to Two Years in Russian Jail

Elena Rostunova /

Photo: Fan protests the sentencing of the band Pussy Riot: Elena Rostunova /

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.

Russian Band’s Punk Protest Prayer: Prophecy or Blasphemy?


Members of the all-girl punk band sit in a glass-walled cage after being sentenced in Moscow. AFP/GettyImages

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.

The Weight

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.