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Poetry: Picture of a Family after Cavafy

Micael Nussbaumer/Shutterstock

There’s a photo he carries for long journeys
like this one, for trips on loaded market lorries
where the passengers take their seat, perching
on top of cargo, or sitting on crude benches
inside the buses coming from Sudan with names
like “Best of Luck” or “Mr. Good Looking.”

As the road rumbles from Chad through Cameroon
to Nigeria, toward another year of medical school,
he always reaches into his inside coat pocket
and brings out the folded 4x6. Sees his brother,
with the latest jeans from the capital and a maroon
hoodie zipped half-way up, one leg placed forward
and his head tilted back—an “attitude” he’s learned
from movies and music pipelined from America.

Sees his mother, bright pink polyester swirling
around her figure, and remembers how she woke
before dawn to make him fangaso for his trip.
He sees the lines he and his brother have caused,
drawn into her face after years of worry,
fatherless years of selling produce in the market
and begging relatives for support. He sees the slight
twist of her mouth, the triumph of a mother
shining through the sorrow of leave-taking,
the promise for her child to have a better life.

Aaron Brown, author of Winnower, is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Maryland. He lives with his wife in Lanham, Md.

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July 2015
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From the Archives: March 1977

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock

Where do most radical thinkers stand on belief in human progress? In fact, they have not rejected it; they want to speed it up. The commitment to creating the Kingdom of Humanity, in a radicalized form, still undergirds the condemnation of capitalism. Almost all social readings are permeated with the unstated premise that our age is an improvement over all others. ... So what? What is wrong with the conviction that we are actively working with history to build the best of all possible worlds? If nothing else, I think it leads to a distorted reading of the past and a misleading analysis of the present. ...The danger comes in where there is a confusion of God’s ways with our ways—a confusion that is always suicidal for theology.

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From the Archives: February 1988

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock

[JAMES BALDWIN] spoke the truth to us all and frightened many of us with such declarations as, “There is simply no possibility of a real change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching changes in the American political and social structure.” But he would not allow us to take the easy route of mesmerizing guilt or undemanding fear. For he was a child of the black church who had fought his own demon-possessed interior battles of the wilderness. So in his essay [“Down at the Cross”], Jimmy demanded that we hear him when he added to his socio-political challenge these words: “Whoever wishes to become a truly moral being...must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”

And, of course, many of us knew that with Jimmy it was never simply a matter of hurling such words into the darkness and retiring to his typewriter. We knew of his wrestling with the Divine. We had seen him too often on the edges of the Southern battlegrounds, moving in, taking his place in the marches, speaking words of inspiration to us, raising money for the cause—in other words, experiencing in a variety of ways what it meant to be “down at the cross.”

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From the Archives: January 1983

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock

          

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From the Archives: November 1985

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock 

AS A member of Sojourners Community, I make my home in Southern Columbia Heights—a place in which it’s all too easy to miss seeing the beauty and courage that lie alongside the suffering of low-income families. I see people crowded, pushed one against the other. Children are often afraid, preoccupied with fears of violence. I feel a wave of despair each time another ambulance screams past my bedroom window on its way to the hospital.

Our neighbors struggle to make ends meet, and we are trying to stand with them. But gradually my faith has worn thinner and thinner. All the old expressions of praise and faith no longer seem to hold much meaning.

Yet into the midst of this hopelessness has come a weekly hour when an entirely different side of the neighborhood comes before me. On Monday evenings a few of us from Sojourners gather with some of our neighbors at our neighborhood ministry center. We sing and pray a little, but most of all we study scripture together. ... Sometimes we sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm. Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms. The words describe our total dependence on a God who wants to hold and carry us as a mother. In this world, and in this neighborhood, I need to trust that God. Thanks to my friends, I’m drawn more and more to do just that.

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Living the Word: What We Carry With Us

IN THE LECTIONARY PASSAGES for these weeks following Pentecost, we find God working in and through the ordinary: a shepherd boy, bread, dancing. In each passage God breaks through with incredible revelation; some promise, some challenge, some person unexpected. Not everyone in the passages notices. Paying attention is crucial. We’ll have to be open to being caught off guard, being surprised. The Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see. As we engage in leadership and ministry these weeks, what we are sure to find is Jesus showing up in all the places we might not expect, when we’re washing dishes, driving in the car, eating a meal. And we certainly don’t expect him in the faces of the white poor, in the lives of racially profiled black youth, or in the stories of the undocumented.

We bring into worship our vestments, our commentaries, our manuscripts. God speaks through these—no surprise there. But God grips us in these unexpected places. These are what we should carry with us into worship every Sunday. But we will need more than eyes to make them preach; we’ll need power. The Holy Spirit gives that too. It makes the heart come alive. The gospel artist Fred Hammond said it best: “When the Spirit of the Lord comes upon my heart, I will dance like David danced!” Dancing and singing shape the heart of God’s new community, for joy, for freedom, for hope. May we be open to the Spirit’s vision and boldness!

Brandon Wrencher is pastor of Blackburns’ Chapel United Methodist Church and director of The Blackburn House in Todd, N.C.

[ July 5 ]
Shepherd or King?

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

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July 2015
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Letters: Accessible Christianity

I wish to thank Susan Windley-Daoust for her article “Beyond the Wheelchair Ramp” (May 2015). As someone born with right-side paralysis in the 1940s, I know the frustration of being thought of as less by the general population. My parents were told that I would never walk and never be able to care for myself, and that I would likely be “retarded.” But my parents did not listen to those warnings and gave me the opportunity for as normal of a life as anyone else. While I have struggled in some ways physically, also becoming a Type 1 diabetic in my teens, I was an athlete long before the Special Olympics came along.

I have been active in ministry since the mid-’80s, after finishing a career as a rehab counselor. I mainly worked in parish ministry, where I encouraged the congregants to welcome all. I decry the fact that churches are exempt from being “accessible,” under ADA regulations, and I have appreciated congregations that go out of their way to make their churches available and welcoming.

I appreciate the author’s insistence that the abled “listen” to those with disabilities, for everyone experiences disability differently. Too often people are much like the “Western Christians,” treating those with disabilities as less, at best. It is unconscionable that 90 percent of people living with disabilities are unchurched. We should always seek to hear the stories of others—all others—and learn from them.

Stephen Nelms
Hartwell, Georgia

 

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July 2015
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Letters: Divesting From Mining

Many thanks to Emilie Teresa Smith (May 2015) for witnessing to the costly impacts of Canadian mining companies borne by Indigenous and impoverished people around the world. As Christians, we must not ignore that churches in Canada and the U.S. are complicit through their investments in mining companies. Many of us in the United Church of Canada are responding to the call of our partners in Guatemala and are asking the United Church Pension Board to divest from Goldcorp. Learn more at www.marconf.ca/resources/treasure.

Kathryn Anderson
Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, Canada

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July 2015
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Preparing For The Storm

The Greeks know how tightly coiled
are circumstances with many windings
before tragedy’s spring snaps.
The horse bolts flame-like from the gate;
we do not see its years of training.

So too, the thunderhead today slow bloating
and thickening with muffled rumblings.
The steeds were restless, but the reins
held tight, until a crack of the whip
unleashed the pummeling flood.

 

Remember how Gandhi’s salt marchers
lay themselves before the horses
of the Raj that trotted to the very edge
of that sea of prostrate bodies
before rearing back in alarm?

Those marchers knew a storm
was brewing, were neither cowed,
nor crushed. The heart is another kind
of stallion, stamping and kicking,
trampling the mind’s sour dust.

Lie down, lie down, there is still time.
And watch the horses prance.

Richard Schiffman is an environmental journalist and poet. His collection What the Dust Doesn’t Know is forthcoming from Salmon Press. Above, an Indian police officer attacks salt marchers in 1930.

Image: Ninh Hoa, Vietnam,  / Shutterstock 

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Short Takes: Erika Totten

Rick Reinhard

Bio: Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Washington, D.C., and the black liberation movement at large. She is a former high school English literature teacher, a wife, a stay-at-home mom, and an advocate for the radical healing and self-care of black people through “emotional emancipation circles.”

1) How did you get started with “emotional emancipation” work?
Emotional emancipation circles were created in partnership with The Association of Black Psychologists and the Community Healing Network. I was blessed to be one of the first people trained in D.C. I had been doing this work before I knew what it was called. My organization is called “Unchained.” It is liberation work—psychologically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

I want to tell people to be intentional about self-care. Recently, we had a black trans teen, who was an activist, commit suicide. A lot of times you need to see a counselor or therapist, which is often shunned in the black community. Because of racism, we are taught that we need to be “strong.” But it’s costing us our lives. As much as we are dismantling systems, we have to dismantle anything within ourselves that is keeping us from experiencing liberation right now.

2) What does liberation look like to you?
It’s a multitude of things, and it changes every day. But mainly it is having the space to be. To just exist. To not have to perform. It is the ability to exist and live life unapologetically. You don’t have to accept me, but my life shouldn’t be in danger because of my skin. And for my children, liberation means walking down the street and not being harassed. Liberation means living.

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