The Call For White Clergy to Preach “Black Lives Matter.”

Of course we are all saddened. Of course we will all pray. The sanctity of a sanctuary has been broken. Fellow workers in the kingdom have been killed. The events in Charleston grieve our hearts.

But beyond grief and prayers, I believe this is a moment to help our congregation connect the dots. If you’ve never uttered “Black Lives Matter” from the pulpit, this is your Sunday. If you’ve wanted to but have been afraid that those words will put up more barriers than bridges, this is your Sunday. If you’ve felt uncomfortable with that phrase because it feels exclusive to white people, this is your Sunday.

In the blood of martyrs are the seeds of faith.

Charleston has martyrs. We don’t have information on the shooting or the shooter right now. But good faithful people and a righteous pastor were killed because they were at church. That church is a historic black church. A congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal tradition. Martyrs killed because their faith told them it was good to study the word together. And for that they lost their lives.

If it never did before in your congregation – or in your heart – be transformed by this with the renewing of your mind:

Black Lives Matter.

These martyrs, their black lives matter.

And if you can claim the power to speak that in the midst of this tragedy, then perhaps our congregations can begin to see events that are twisted by the media not as isolated incidents but as patterns of violence. The names and the hashtags – Trayvon, Mike, Eric, Rekia, Aiyanna, Darius, Dontre – they are a great cloud. To what do they bear witness?

If you are afraid, remember the Lord did not give you spirit of fear but power. Say Black Lives Matter.

If you are unsure of the good news and gospel that would bring to your context, pray on it that God would give you a spirit of revelation and wisdom.

I write this not as a “should.” I see this not as “Law.” Rather in the spirit of exhortation and encouragement I am sharing what God has put on my heart. 

In Peace and Power.

Esther 4:14

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Shekinah Glory

Shekinah is the English interpretation of a Hebrew word for God and God’s dwelling. It is also the prophetic name of an ELCA community in Riverdale, south of Chicago.

When the presence of The Lord settled in the temple in Jerusalem, Shekinah is the word to express that relationship between God, God’s People and the place where they connect.

Worship at Shekinah Chapel was the fullness of that expression. Pastor Yehiel Curry is a force that is part spiritual mentor, part community organizer, part head coach, and part shepherd. Yes, he is a leader, but he has cultivated a network of leaders and structures that gives space for many voices to emerge. Shekinah is not brokered by the seminary trained leader; the presence, the indwelling is accessible to all.

I knew that Shekinah offered an invitation to discipleship – an altar call – at every service. Within the Lutheran tradition this is rare, our theology rooted in the idea the movement between God and God’s people always begins with God. Culturally, to ignore the altar call moment for some notion of theology purity is to dismiss the authentic connection many evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Baptists expect from a church. Like Shekinah, All Peoples’ community comes out of these experiences and I when I wanted to make the addition, I called Pastor Curry.

This is the strongest example of the fullness of a ministry that cannot be captured in a simple blog post: congregation and community rooted in culture and context.

Have a dynamic church is not rocket science. There is no magic spell that will make churches like Shekinah or All Peoples or any other not just relevant but signficant in the lives of folks inside and outside the church. It is about being rooted in culture and context.

When churches struggle to do this it is because, I believe, the culture and context is different from the leadership or the legacy or the history or most likely all of those. Rather than embrace fully the culture, mainline churches expect folks to check part of themselves at the door. We want you, but not all of you.

In the book of Acts, the apostle Phillip is sent to encounter the Ethiopian Eunuch. Racially, culturally, sexually this person is other. Given his position in the Egyptian government, he was probably of a higher economic class as well. Everything about this story is about redefining who is in and who is out.

This is often referred to as the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

Theologically, which is really to say spiritually, this is accurate. The word is opened and he utters, “Look, here is water. What is to stop me from being baptized?” The answer of course is nothing. The Spirit of God comes to dwell with him in the waters of his baptism. He is encompassed with Shekinah.

He does not, however, stop being all the things that make him other. Racially, culturally, economically, sexually nothing changed. He doesn’t have to check his race or his job or his sexual reality at the door. Shekinah dwells among him in the fullness of who he is.

I’ve heard folks talk about Shekinah Chapel (and other ministries of color within white/mainline denominations) in terms of their otherness. Altar calls aren’t Lutheran. Black folks don’t understand our history. Latinos can’t have their Lady of Guadalupe.

What I love about Shekinah, and Pastor Curry, and what I experienced in the community was the boldness of the Ethiopian saying, “What is to stop us?” And God answers: nothing.

It is an imperfect metaphor, I realize, because it still assumes the otherness of people of color. (I have heard black leaders talk about the ways dominate white culture within the ELCA keeps people of color within the categories of otherness, as “specialized ministries,” which often means separate and unequal. There is a reality of otherness when people of color make such a small percentage of the national church, but too often it is this that defines our communities rather than, say, a belovedness as children of God). Better metaphors are the great commissioning, the sending out of the disciples, Joshua’s army at Jericho working to claim what God has already promised.

If Shekinah has any defining otherness it is their embracing of the priesthood of all believers. The congregation has a structure of empowering leadership, of shared responsibility, of accountability, of apprenticeship and mentorship. Of course this isn’t perfect, but when looking across the landscape of mainline churches this is what stands out. It isn’t the hue of their skin but the power of their effectiveness. They are Paul and Silas, continually locked up by the prisons of racist and buerocratic systems with the power of God busting down doors. They are the preachers on Pentecost where the Holy Ghost translates the Gospel so that all may hear. They are the yeast messing up the unleavened bread, the light shining in the darkness, the salt that has not lost its saltiness.

Because of the rootedness of context and culture, the dwelling of God was visible, was palpable, is powerful. May the whole church be enveloped by Shekinah Glory.

Psalm 85 for Trayvon

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Tonight, like so many, I saw the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case. Soon, my Facebook page and twitter feed were being filled with emotions and reactions. My jaw clenched as I saw post after post, tweet after tweet. My gut churned as I saw the reality of this verdict come to light through my newsfeed.

And then I noticed something, clear as day. Every person of color posting was reacting to this verdict. And many of the posts from white friends were seemingly oblivious. Vacations and ballgames and tv shows.

Maybe it hits me different these days. Before 2012 I’d never known stood at a graveside for a victim of gun violence, I’d never tossed dirt with the words “ashes to ashes.” Before 2012 these tragedies were just that — tragic. But not personal. And last year, and over the past year, and last week and yesterday whenever I stand in the pulpit and dare speak the word “justice” or proclaim “peace” the pain ricochets through my emotions and the room.  For some I know 2012 was the same; the first time a shooting became personal. Friends in Oak Creek and Brookfield. But for many, for so many, for too many, 2012 was like 2011 and 2010. Another victim. Another shooting. The same reality.

So I watched as my friends grieved. I read as anger was posted. Numbness. Discontent. Lack of faith — not in God but in the systems God’s chosen creation — a little less than angels — put in place to mimic divine justice. I felt it — not the same, but not entirely different.

And then vacations. And ballgames. And TV shows.

I do not begrudge my friends who posted these things. Any one of them may have a perfectly good reason why that post appeared in the same moments as the verdict was delivered. But as the pattern emerged — white friend after white friend – I realized this case did not mean the same thing to them.

And there it is: this case does not mean the same thing to all of us.

Yes, many of my white friends shared similar posts and reactions of outrage and pain. And there are cries from all walks of life for “justice” and “peace.” A page for clergy asked how this impacts worship tomorrow. There was honest struggle, many preachers feeling ill prepared to handle this. And some, too many, unwilling to wrestle with the pain, sticking to “preaching the Word, leading the liturgy.” This case does not mean the same thing to all of us.

It should surprise very few of us that the first communication throughout the synod came from Venice Williams. She is a tireless warrior for peace. Yes, warrior. Battle hardened, for sure, but never with a heart hardened. And I thought, of course Venice and the Holy Ground of Alice’s Garden, would already have an event planned that would be able to speak those prophetic words of “justice” and “peace.”

I paused for a minute before writing this to say should I write anything? Have I wrestled with this enough to engage my sisters and brothers in Christ with the pain I feel, the struggle I see? Does the white pastor at the insert descriptive phrase here church have anything to say, anything worth reading?

Of all the things to say, let me be clear about this:

This case does not mean the same thing to all of us.

In someways, this is to be expected. With issues of race and violence, it will never affect me the same way it does for many at All Peoples – no matter where I serve, by whom I stand, which neighborhood I call home. I am a white man and the violence of racism will not hit me as it does people of color.

And in other ways, in significant ways, the case does not mean the same to all of us because it doesn’t have to. Clothed in privilege, this is just another media circus. It can cause us to shake our heads, but if we are white this case is not a reinforcement of how dangerous our country is. It does not challenge our understanding of what words like stand and your and ground mean. It does not force us to question if we should be more afraid of neighborhood watchmen, cops or juries. This case does not mean the same thing to all of us.

חֶֽסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלֹום נָשָֽׁקוּ׃

Psalm 85 tells us, “Mercy and Truth shall meet, Justice and Peace shall kiss.” There is a time both promised and coming where our hopes and desires unite in a perfection beyond ourselves. In that moment the truth of pain and violence and even death — for victims and aggressors — shall be met with mercy. In that moment the union of justice and peace shall be consummated.

But what is justice tonight? What shall we say about justice when we gather in our places of worship, our Bible studies, our fellowship hours? How can there be justice so long as some of us are shielded from injustice? How can we know peace while our sisters and brothers are terrorized?

That moment the psalmist cries out for is not yet here. It is my hope that in places where this struggle need not be named — because it does not mean the same thing — that it be spoken anyway. Because there are places across this country where that hope for justice and peace seems distant. Because there are places within this fellowship of the ELCA where the struggle cannot and will not go unnamed.

Because all of us have sisters and brothers hurting, angry, numb, discontent, losing faith. And tonight, in part because of where I serve and by whom I stand, I am one of those brothers. Hurting and angry, and numb. But tonight I am these things moreover not because of where I serve or by whom I stand but because in Christ we bear one another burdens. And in this, the pain becomes genuinely mine. And by stepping into the crucified places of pain, we can begin to emerge in the resurrected glory of mercy and truth meeting.

Let us not be silent. Let us proclaim a time when justice and peace shall kiss.

“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” – Ella Baker