White Noise

Update 8/15: I wrote this last month, but it seemed too angry. Now it seems too tame. 
This song is meant to be sung in the sweetly sarcastic folksy style of Pete Seeger. 

A businessman was happy ‘bout his real estate downtown
And he couldn’t understand the fact it made some people frown
And he said with some frustration that if people who were brown
didn’t stop with the complaining it would bring his value down.

 

He said, “there was racism back in 1963;
But racism is over and it doesn’t bother me.
And gentrifizzication occurs naturallifically,
It’s simply market forces just as far as I can see.”

 

It’ll just —  go away, It’ll just — go away
Ignore it and racism will just go away
Like shingles, or cancer, let’s just wait and pray
If we don’t talk about it, it’ll just go away.

 

Well Black Lives Matter blocked a street and made her late for work,
And she got up in her feelings and said that all of them were jerks.
“If they wouldn’t be divisive they would sure have my support.
Just work within the system and wait for justice from the court.”

 

It’ll just —  go away, It’ll just — go away
Like rain clouds give way to a bright sunny day
Like diabetes, or cancer, let’s just wait and pray
If we don’t talk about it, it’ll just go away.

 

“Well slightly less than half of us elected 45;
And Beauregard Jeff Sessions wants the drug war to survive.
Some say incarceration is just legal slavery
But we’re number one in prisons here in this land of the free.

 

“We’ve worked hard to create a culture that is colorblind;
And we’ve made so much progress that no child is left behind.
The fact that some contest it is truly a disgrace
The problem that we live with surely isn’t about race.”

 

It’ll just —  go away, It’ll just — go away
Ignoring white priv’lege will make it go away.
Like appendicitis, or cancer, let’s just wait and pray
If we don’t talk about it, it’ll just go away.

 

The preacher was offended that I said his God was white.
He said I was unloving and so very impolite.
But the Jesus that I know of wasn’t killed for being tame.
And a gospel without justice is a dirty rotten shame.

 

‘Cause it won’t go away, no it won’t go away.
Just wishing and praying won’t make it go away.
And when folks fight against it, don’t stare in dumb dismay.
You’d best decide which side you’re on before the Judgment Day.

Voting Is Not Consumption

If your vote isn’t important, why are they trying so hard to take it away?

We’ve come to think about democracy as a form of consumption, like everything else, where voting is just a indication of preference. This is what the dominant narrative wants you to think: politics is just like buying a pair of socks. That way, when they place restrictions on that right or take it away from your neighbors, you won’t mind so much.

But democracy is really about what happens on either side of election day. It’s about telling stories, building relationships, and leveraging power. It’s holding officials accountable and showing up at their offices. Your officials don’t represent you if they don’t have a relationship with you.

The forces of domination and empire would really rather you stay home, stay quiet, and let lobbyists and money have all the influence. Even our Supreme Court has declared that democracy is consumption, because money is speech.

That is a lie.

Alabama,* we’ve got elections coming up. Your state has tried to make it as difficult as possible for you to vote — spreading out multiple elections in the same month (senate primaries on the 15th, municipal elections on the 22nd), shutting down registration locations, and most recently, refusing to tell some ex-prisoners that they may actually be able to vote after all.

Your state legislators have gerrymandered you so officials could choose their voters instead of voters choosing their officials. They have sold you the most cynical and hopeless of political narratives, that “this is Alabama, and it’s just the way things are,” because they want you to stay home. They DO NOT WANT you to turn out. They have made that abundantly clear.

If this is your home, fight for it.

1. Make sure you are registered (They may have silently unregistered you if you haven’t voted recently. They do that.)

2. Make sure you know your polling place (They may have moved it, or moved your district. They do that, too.)

3. Join the discussion. Go to the forums and debates. Talk to your neighbors. There are multiple opportunities to hear from candidates before the election, so you don’t have to walk in to the voting booth uninformed. Check out Stand As One and I Believe in Birmingham.

4. If you have a strong preference, join a campaign, or if you’re just serious about your community, join one of many Get Out The Vote campaigns (I’m with Faith in Action Alabama). They have a way for you to help. Work with your congregation or other community organization to get people to the polls.

5. On election day(s), VOTE.

6. After election day, hold your representatives accountable. Stand As One, who represents over 20 justice, advocacy, and service organizations is asking for follow-up meetings with candidates 100 days after their election. Faith in Action Alabama, a multi-faith, multi-racial federation of over 60 congregations all across Alabama, has a multi-year strategy to engage our state legislators and our governor. Write, call, and email your officials about your vision for your community.

Yes, I recognize that having the time to be engaged is a privilege. Making you too tired and overwhelmed to participate, keeping people in a state of perpetual poverty and debt; that is part of the disenfranchisement strategy. That’s why we have to love and support each other. Help your neighbors. Babysit their kids. Make food for each other. That’s also democracy.

Do not buy into the lie that your vote is just an indication of preference. You are not buying a pair of socks; you are shaping our future.

“Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7)

 

*I’m focused on where I live. If you’re reading this in another state, a lot of this same stuff applies! Look up “get out the vote” campaigns in your state.

Prayer for the Resistance

This is a version of the prayer I prayed last Friday, which marked the end of a five-day sit-in for health care.

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8).

Intro

I am grateful for your witness. Like Joshua marching outside the walls of Jericho, y’all have been laying spiritual siege to this fortress.

The resistance has two parts. The first part is political, and it consists of issues: health care, mass incarceration, a failed war on drugs, tax cuts for the rich, sanctuary and mass deportations, the exploitation of the environment, and the list goes on and on.

But the second part is spiritual. It’s a dominant narrative that we must resist, a narrative that says racism is over, but some people’s lives don’t matter; that corporations are people, but real people’s votes don’t matter; that money is speech, so if you’re poor and sick your voice doesn’t matter.

Some people tell me they don’t much care for the Bible because of passages about violence and the wrath of God. But those passages were written by people who were oppressed. The reason people wrote about the wrath of God is because of BS like this health care bill.

I’m not a hellfire and brimstone preacher, but imprecatory prayers are in the Psalms. So today I offer an imprecatory prayer about the authors of this terrible health care bill.

Prayer

Good shepherd,
you tell us that the job of our leaders is to care for your flock:
to bind up the injured,
to tend the sick,
feed the hungry,
and to seek out the lost.

But our bad shepherds
have enriched themselves
at our expense.
The fat sheep
have butted and shoved,
not only drinking the best water
but fouling the rest;
not only eating the best pasture,
but trampling it down for others,
destroying your creation
and polluting our world.

Therefore, God, we ask you
to frustrate the plans of these bad shepherds.
Jam their copiers;
make their printers run out of toner;
make them miss appointments and misfile documents;
confound them with communication problems;
and let their immaturity
create conflict among their teams.
Make their work on this bill
like the Tower of Babel.
Confuse them and shame them.

But, God,
let their fax machines
and phones
and mail work perfectly
so they can hear
from each and every one of us
who text
and fax
and email
and write letters
and show up at their offices
to unsettle their comfortable corruption.

Let there be a spirit of love and unity among the resistance.
Let us dismantle racism
and white supremacy,
sexism,
ableism,
homophobia,
and transphobia,
not just in our world,
but in ourselves.

Give us grace to be gentle with ourselves and each other,
persuasive in speech,
wise in discernment,
and courageous in action.
Give us encouraging voices,
fearless resolve,
and love that is real love,
and not just paternalism.

We ask this, Good Shepherd,
in your name,
on behalf of your flock,
and your people.

Amen.

The Return

When messiah returned
she was a sassy bitch.
Worked retail and cleaned homes, like her mother before her.
She knew the value of a dollar,
and whose face was on each denomination
and the non-denominations.
She had heard the unbeliever’s Bible verses:
A penny saved is a penny earned.
The Lord helps those who help themselves.
Submit to authority.
Know your place.
But she had memorized the older texts.
And no one could match her wits,
When messiah returned.
When messiah returned,
they called her a glutton and a drunkard,
a whore and a slut,
because that’s how bullies and hypocrites talk.
And when they began to fear her they called her
a bully and a hypocrite.
Herod was nicer.
Said she had spunk.
“Actually,” he mansplained, “I agree with much of what she says,
but her tone is counterproductive.”
“You tell that weasel Herod,” she replied,
“To shove it.”
That’s just how she talked,
When messiah returned.
When messiah returned,
the megachurch preachers
and the political men
tried to sell her out for thirty pieces of silver.
But she did not let them get close enough
to betray her with a kiss.
And when they came for her
with clubs and torches, guns and chains,
She said one little word,
And they all fell to the ground,
Because those who had prayed for her return
Were simply not ready
for all of her,
When messiah returned.

Discipleship Series

I’ve created a Vimeo album so you can see all the messages from our Discipleship series in one place. There are six videos which address our five areas of discipleship:

  1. Introduction
  2. Worship
  3. Devotion
  4. Compassion
  5. Justice
  6. Witness

If you use these videos in a Sunday school class or small group, please let me know! I’d also like to know what you find helpful or what could be improved. And if you’d like to help me make more of these videos, you can always support our church here. Thanks!

Discipleship 1: Invitation from Dave Barnhart on Vimeo.

A Prayer for Pride Week

Buisson_ardent-coupole1

Image by Robert Valette, via Wikimedia Commons

 

God of ceaseless revelation,
You came out to Create;
Said, “You are made in my image, male, female, or otherwise, for I am all genders.”
You made humans to be in relationship with each other,
naked and unashamed.

But we shut you up.
We said “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,”
and we stitched fig leaves together to cover everything
of which we were ashamed.
And we said, “This is not you, God.”

God of ceaseless revelation,
You came out to Liberate;
In the flaming bush,
you declared to a people enslaved
that you were not like the gods of Egypt
made in the image of the ibis, hound, or cow;
or made in the image of rich and powerful Pharaoh
who said that the poor were “lazy, lazy.”
You came out and said,
“I Am Who I Am.
I Am The One Who Is With You,
and I will liberate you from slavery and oppression.”

But we shut you up.
We said, “This far you shall come, and no farther.”
We declared there were places you could not go
And people you could not touch
And we remade you in the image of our kings and strong men.
With our actions and words,
we declared that some lives don’t matter as much as others
in our Infernal Great Chain of Being,
And we said, “This is not you, God.”

God of ceaseless revelation,
You came out to Save and Salve,
in the person of Jesus Christ.
You revealed yourself in a baby,
a rabbi, one unjustly executed, and one who refused to stay dead.
You revealed you are in solidarity with all those persecuted
All those beaten and left to die on the side of a road
or tied to a fence,
All those Samaritans of the wrong religion or ethnic group who stop to lend aid,
All those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison,
All those who are doxxed or lynched, assaulted or shamed,
All those who are betrayed by their allies with a kiss.

And you declared woe and misery to the religious leaders
trapped in the hell of their own righteousness,
self-exiled from the people they exile,
self-excluded from your own banquet,
refusing to attend your wedding feast,
cut off by their own hand from those who could give them life.
“If only,” you pleaded with them, “you would learn the things that make for peace!”

And again we shut you up.
We nailed you to the sky and inverted your good news.
We wrote our own scriptures:
“God helps those who help themselves,”
“God will never give you more than you can handle,”
“Love the sinner and hate the sin.”
We turned people away from your table.
We performed amazing feats of theological and intellectual acrobatics
And even as we read the story of Jesus Christ
We still managed to say,
“This is not you, God.”

God of ceaseless revelation,
You came out at Pentecost;
As wind and fire, giving voice to your followers
in all their diversity,
Allowing them to speak and understand,
Crossing barriers of language, ethnicity, and culture,
Calling people to a new way of living together.
Our sons and daughters prophesied of all the great things you had done, are doing, and will do.

And we shut you up.
Told women to be silent in church,
executed evangelists for translating the Bible,
told preachers where they could and could not speak a word of grace,
and, like Balak to Balaam, commanded your priests to curse rather than pray a blessing.
We tried to contain the wind of your spirit within the stone walls of our buildings
and we blamed the world when we could no longer
feel your breath moving against our skin.

And still you come out.
You come out in our friends and our enemies.
You come out in every conversation where we see the image of God
in someone in whom we couldn’t see it before.
You reveal yourself when our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends,
our pastors and colleagues,
Share who they are with us.
Again and again you give us the opportunity to see you for who you really are,
and who we really are,
made in your image.

In places where churches must hide for fear of discovery
Or people must hide for fear of being known,
Where the threat of violence, rejection, and poverty
force people to choose
survival
over thriving,
Let there be light.
Let those who can
be a light to the world,
Not so they can be seen, but so they may give their light to all in the house.
Let those who cannot be a light
Be salt—subtle and savory,
Saving and preserving those who,
in our ignorance or negligence,
we fail to see as worth saving.

God of ceaseless revelation,
Come out to us
in humankind and relationships
in burning bushes and nature
in scripture and writings
in worship and poetry
in music and song

And never allow us
to shut you up.

Amen.

(Want more?

Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology, Pamela R. Lightsey

God Comes Out: A Queer Homiletic, Olive Elaine Hinnent

Jesus Christ, Woody Guthrie)

A Ten-Minute Walk to Freedom

Israel-Kidron_Valley

Jesus didn’t have to die.

Until I stood there in the Garden of Gethsemane and looked across the narrow valley to the Temple Mount, I didn’t understand the strategic location of Jesus’ choice. Our guide pointed up the Mount of Olives.

“That’s a ten-minute walk to freedom, right there,” he said. “Where you are standing is like the county line. Jesus could have gone over the mountain and been out of the jurisdiction of the Temple Police.”

The rest of that week 2000 years ago, Jesus had been overnighting in Bethany, just outside the grasp of the Jerusalem elite. They dared not arrest him during the day, because they feared a riot, and with a riot, a Roman crackdown.

So when Jesus chose to wait in the garden after dark, it was deliberate. He was far enough outside the city that there wouldn’t be trouble, but not so far that he couldn’t be arrested.

I can hear the edge in his voice when he addresses the lynch mob indignantly. He sees the clubs and swords in their hands. “Really? Now you bring night sticks with you, as though I were a bandit? Day after day I’ve been teaching in public and you haven’t had the guts to arrest me “(Matthew 14:48-49). He resists calling them cowards. He picked this spot to avoid violence. He’s incensed that they came to instigate it.

Some people speculate that maybe he and Judas had arranged it together. I don’t buy that completely, but it’s clear Jesus chose his prayer spot deliberately. He stood at the edge of town where nobody would get hurt and said, “Come and get me.” When they showed up in riot gear, hoping that his disciples would start something—some things never change—he pointed out their bad faith. He knew the stakes. He wanted to protect innocent lives. He did not want a single one of his followers to be lost, or even his enemies to be hurt. In spite of his careful preparations, in that moment when one of his followers pulled out a weapon, everything could have been lost. It all depended on his commitment to nonviolence being absolutely clear. He choose the time and place for the maximum effect and the minimum harm.

I don’t know what you believe about Jesus. I don’t know if you believe he had supernatural powers, or that he was the Son of God, or that he rose from the dead on Sunday. But this is what I want you to know today, on this Maundy Thursday:

He gave himself up.

He could have chosen escape. He could have chosen violence. But he chose to confront religious and political violence with nothing but his voice and his body.

Whether you believe in God or not, I want you to understand what I understood, standing there in that place. If there is a God worth worshiping, this is what God looks like.

UKRAINE

 

Seeing God

transfiguration_of_jesus_christ_2815th_c-2c_novgorod_museum29

Some folks think I should believe that Jesus is the Son of God because they believe the Bible says I should believe it. And I should believe because it’s the Bible and the Bible says I should.

I know, right?

Some folks think I should believe in him because he did magic tricks, because the Bible says he did.

Some folks think I should believe in him because they can argue convincingly that he got up after he died, and someone said that lots of people saw it, and it’s reported in the Bible.

Some folks think I should believe in him because if I don’t, bad things will happen to me.

As a kid, I tried believing. I tried with the same effort that kids try during Peter Pan, when Peter tells the audience if they just clap their hands and grit their teeth and put some effort into their belief, they can keep Tinker Bell alive. Even the adults get a little weepy when the fading spotlight suddenly grows brighter and we all cheer that fairies are real, and Tinker Bell is alive.

None of that stuff ever convinced me to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. I couldn’t do it. My belief engine simply couldn’t sustain itself with such weak fuel. The occasional mystical experiences I had with God could only take me to about 80% certainty. My faith could only aspire to mustard-seed size.

There was a moment that finally convinced me that Jesus was real, and that he was the Son of God. It was when I realized that Jesus was a smart-ass.

I was in grad school, taking a class on the parables with David Buttrick. I learned a lot in that class. I learned that Jesus occasionally used strong language (like in the parable of the fig tree). I learned that he was deliberately provocative (like when he healed chronic sickness on the sabbath).

One day he told the story of the Good Samaritan. He described how all the audience chuckled along with the skewering of the religious leaders as first a priest, then a scribe, walk on by an injured man in need of help.

And then Jesus introduces the third person and we all know, because we are familiar with jokes and parabolic stories, that the third person is the one who breaks the pattern: the third little pig, the third daughter to answer the riddle, the third sports fan to walk into a bar. The third person to show up is the one, in click-baity fashion, who will blow your mind, who will leave you speechless.

The third person is the foreigner you hate.

I’ve often said it would be like going into a fundamentalist church in the south and telling the story this way: The first person to pass by is a Catholic. The second is a Baptist. The third… the third is one of us good Methodists, right?

The third is a Muslim.

In order to answer a question about which religious commandments we should follow, Jesus answers, “Why don’t you try to be more like a good Muslim?”

And if you can imagine the audience’s reaction, then you probably understand why some folks wanted him dead. People wanted to throw him off a cliff. To shut his mouth, to silence him, to call him a glutton and a drunkard, to crucify him. What do you expect from someone who hangs out with tax collectors and prostitutes?

That’s when I knew for sure, in my heart, that God was speaking through Jesus’ mouth. That guy right there, the one punched and shoved out of the political rally, the one who hears the doors of the church slam behind him—that guy is God in the flesh. No doubt. It was a revelation. I saw God.

Sometimes I imagine the second coming. When she returns, with what flesh will the logos wrap herself? All the boys looking at the sky straining for a view of a white bearded Jesus are going to get their feelings hurt if the Jesus of the gospels is in charge. This Jesus who talked about God as a woman looking for a coin or mixing yeast into bread—you think that Word is going to come wearing the flesh and garments of political and religious power?

But what if it’s already happening? After all, every week we take communion and claim that by feasting on the body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ, redeemed by his blood with the Spirit of Christ in us and among us. We ask to be made one with Christ, with each other, and in ministry to all the world. We proclaim a smart-ass gospel to a literalist world, a gospel that requires a different kind of seeing and hearing than conventional wisdom. I see my church doing that. They take that Word into themselves, and they speak that Word of hope and healing to a hurting world. They do so at the risk of their own flesh, sometimes. They make sacrifices to get the message out.

This Jesus presents a picture of God’s character that is so opposite what we normally think of as “religious” that I would leave everything I know to follow. This “yes!” in my heart echoes God’s “yes!” to me.

That’s why I believe in Jesus.

Always Learning: House Churches

Our church has morphed into a network of house churches. It’s been a fascinating transformation to experience.

My biggest learning so far has been that I find it much more energizing to start new groups of people, new communities, than to try to get people to come and participate in an existing community. As long as we were focused on an attractional model of doing church, I felt tremendous pressure to make worship into a show.

Now, I like the showy aspect of worship. I love bringing our collective creativity as an offering and presenting it to God. I love Marva Dawn’s description of worship as a “royal waste of time.” Pageantry and excitement, drama, music and storytelling help make our time “royal,” and it’s time which has no value (a “waste”) to those who only measure its utility, including Christians who think that any time spent in God-directed worship is time stolen from feeding the hungry or solving the world’s problems. I still eagerly look forward to our monthly large-group gatherings, when the band rocks and we make worship into a party.

But there’s little more exciting than getting new groups off the ground. I love experiencing the relief they have when they can ask the pastor a direct question during worship, when they feel safe enough to share what they really want to pray about for themselves, when they develop the kind of community in which they want to take care of each other (instead of waiting for the pastor to do it). I like it when the best sermon illustration isn’t mine, but something that someone shares happened to them that very week. Discipleship is amazing to watch.

There’s also something about approaching church this way that really puts flesh on the parable of the sower. Planting new communities by flinging seeds into the wind, letting them fall where they may, is inefficient; but I’m seeing God grow the church this way.

 

Grace Will Conquer

These lyrics seem even more appropriate after the last couple of weeks.

We sin in what we do
and what we leave undone.
We worship praise and holidays,
the dollar and the gun

And in the name of Jesus
we’ll tell you who we hate.
We’ll use our faith and politics,
Lord, to discriminate

But grace is greater than all our sin.
Grace will conquer all our sin.
But grace is greater than all our sin.
Grace will conquer all our sin.

I hear there is a kingdom
It’s coming any day
Where wounded folks find healing
and their sins are washed away.

Lord, in the arc of history
bring justice to our land.
And give us all the courage
to love they way you can.

‘Cause grace is greater than all our sin.
Grace will conquer all our sin.
Grace is greater than all our sin.
Grace will conquer all our sin.