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Picture from Radical Tenderness Project by Kristen Trudo: https://www.radicallytender.com/karen/

On August 6, 2017, I was invited by Rev. Rebecca Turner, my former supervisor at Faith Aloud, to preach and preside at Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood Missouri. I chose the Matthew 14:31-21 story about Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, and initially titled it “God’s Banquet.” It’s still an accurate title, but as the sermon wove itself into the threads of my heart, I would give it an equally true name: “Love Letter to Sad Revolutionaries.”

Because we know people who engage in movement / liberation / social change work, the kind of change your entire life kind of work, whose hearts are always a little broken, who can’t leave but who are so traumatized that it feels impossible to stay, who don’t want to hear the word “movement” ever again.

This is for the people who were never in it for ego. The people who held suffering in their hands and refused to let it go, until it might transform into something new. And maybe they are still waiting.

Here we go.

Matthew 14:13-21 NRSV

Feeding the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

God’s Banquet / Love Letter to Sad Revolutionaries

Five loaves and two fish fed over five thousand people. All ate and were filled, and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. THAT was the miracle.

So many people fed with so little. THAT was the miracle, or was it?

Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus wasn’t really planning on dinner that day. He didn’t want to be around people AT ALL. Here’s this rabble-rousing rabbi, prophetic preacher, street medic, organizer of a poor people’s movement, who suddenly can’t stand to be around his beloved community? He can’t get on a plane or go for a drive, so he does the next best thing and hops in a boat to get away, take a breather, go FAR FAR FAR away from anyone he knows, at least for a little while. Maybe some of you know what that’s like.

Some of you know that’s not someone who wants to have a dinner party. That’s someone who has a serious case of sadness. Jesus. Is grieving.

Let’s rewind for some context.

Earlier in chapter 14, before the feeding of the five thousand, Matthew tells the story of how Herod the Ruler killed John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a co-organizer of the resistance to Roman rule, who agitated religious leaders for conspiring with the state, and wore itchy camel’s hair so that he could never be comfortable. John the Baptist refused to stay asleep to the suffering of his people, he preferred to stay WOKE.

And Herod the Ruler hated him for it. John the Baptist was always gathering people in the wilderness and getting them all riled up about changing their ways and talking about how oppressive the empire of Rome was. I mean, don’t these people have JOBS to do instead of whining in the wilderness, and didn’t John understand that the empire of Rome is the greatest empire there ever was, and if he hated the modern trade routes and clean water systems SO MUCH, why doesn’t he JUST LEAVE and GO BACK TO WHERE HE CAME FROM?

Then John the Baptist had the nerve to say that Herod the Ruler couldn’t have Herodias, because of some Jewish purity laws about avoiding incest or marrying someone else’s wife. Herod would have let it go if it weren’t for the fact that John the Baptist had SO MANY FOLLOWERS. John the Baptist was consistently doing protests at the Jordan River because “Water is Life,” and people were turning up and turning out in droves.

Herod the Ruler knew that if he did anything to John the Baptist, there would be huge public backlash. He might even have a rebellion on his hands.

But then Herodias’ daughter who was also Herod’s stepdaughter danced before Herod and his guests, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised her anything she wanted. And like any beautiful daughter of a powerful woman, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”

Herod the Ruler made a promise, in front of his distinguished guests, and he couldn’t have them or the public think he was a weak man. So, ignoring his fears of rebellion, he gave the command to execute John the Baptist, a popular political prisoner. Matthew chapter 14 verses 11-13 said, “The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother.

His students came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself…” and you know the rest.

Matthew wrote miracle stories about Jesus as lessons to the early Jesus movement. So many people fed with so little. THAT was the miracle, or was it?

Those who have experienced the deep grief of mourning a life taken far too soon know that grief has the ability to make time stop, the world stand still, your eyes into oceans, and your food into sand. Everyone mourns differently, but Matthew’s Jesus does what many of us might do: retreat, isolate, push people away.

And yet, the people hear the news of John the Baptist’s death, and they follow Jesus, this sad revolutionary in a boat, on foot from the towns. It’s a giant funeral procession, but it’s also a wake for those who are woke, a resistance march for a popular political prisoner. Jesus goes ashore, and he sees a great crowd, and that’s when it clicks: “I’m not alone.”

Maybe the miracle is not so much that many were fed, but that the meal happened at all.

That this poor people’s movement came through for this sad revolutionary in a boat, and reminded Jesus that he wasn’t alone.

That the people followed him with more faith than his students, because they had created a movement family who were more willing to stay out late in the wilderness, than go home and wait for oppression to break in during a no-knock raid.

That the people reminded Jesus that he wasn’t just an ocean of pain but he was also a healer and street medic who brought people into community.

That when the people learned that John the Baptist was executed by the state, they didn’t hide in fear, but left their homes, and held a public repast for John the Baptist, a meal to honor John’s life and to encourage the living to go on and continue his witness.

That this meal had twelve baskets left over, symbolizing abundance for the twelve tribes of ancient Israel that lived under Roman occupation in modern-day Palestine.

The good news is that even in a world full of grief where good people are taken far too soon, we don’t need to wait for miracles to happen. God is in and among us, the sad, the lonely, the grieving, and the willingness to come alongside those in pain is miracle enough to sustain us for the long journey to liberation.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Photo Credit: Bryce Krug

Reading the Signs of the Times

Regina Purnell-Gray, Kevin Kriesel, Deborah Krause

Excerpts from “Forward through Ferguson,”
the report of the Ferguson Commission

In 2013, as we prepared to celebrate St. Louis’ 250th birthday,  leaders debated whether or not to engage in community-wide planning, in a wide assessment of the region. Increasingly, civic leaders said no, and it didn’t happen. But on August 9th, young people said yes. We have a Commission because our region’s youth, through their actions, demanded that we rethink things. Youth voice brought us to this moment.”

Mothers and fathers, extended families, faith communities, neighbors and leaders need to be there to support their hopes and dreams. We want to see our children and every citizen living peaceably, protected and safe without harassment. This requires intentional action to build positive relations between community members and police.”

To be faithful to this moment, we must respond and work together with young people to bring about change for their generation, and the next. Leaders are dealers in hope. The commission’s challenge to the leaders of this region – no matter how, where, or who you lead – is to engage in the hard work of creating real hope.”

*Scripture Readings

Toni Crigler

           Psalm 118:19-24 CEB

 Left:            Open the gates of righteousness for me

so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord!

Right:                    This is the Lord’s gate; those who are righteous enter through it.

Left:            I thank you because you answered me,

because you were my saving help.

Right:                    The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!

                   The Lord has done this and it’s amazing to witness!

Left:            This is the day the Lord acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it!

        Mark 12:1-12

12 Jesus spoke to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. But they grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again the landowner sent another servant to them, but they struck him on the head and treated him disgracefully. He sent another one; that one they killed. The landlord sent many other servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

“So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10  Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”[a]

12 They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

One:            Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

Many:          Thanks be to God.

———————

Sermon: Living in the Plot Twist

Pastoral caregivers know that sarcasm is the language of anger, and if we are to believe Mark, Jesus is pissed. After all, Jesus is steeped in han, described by minjung theologians as what you feel when your people have been exploited, brutalized, and killed by colonizers for years. That bitter-hot feeling of rage and resentment that makes your blood boil, twisting your insides into knots, overwhelming you with the need to fight for justice or risk being eaten alive from the inside by han, this inherited sickness that you get when you have been sinned against throughout time and space, across generations and across the diaspora.

Han runs through Jesus’ veins as he tries to organize a liberation movement with the Roman Empire’s COINTELPRO tracking his every move. He’s fighting for the people, but the people get on his nerves. They ask, “Isn’t this the bastard son of a working class man? Where did he go to high school? Nothing good comes from that neighborhood.” Just as Jesus’ temper is really getting out of control—he cursed a fig tree for failing to bear fruit when it was out of season and he flipped a bunch of tables in church—the religious establishment cranks up the heat, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”

Jesus claps back: “Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing to witness?”

The story of oppression says that our world is defined by the builders, those with greater privilege and power, who create and guard our systems and institutions, who decide which stones can remain in the vineyard and which stones are to be rejected. The story of oppression says that God planted our world and went on vacation. You’re born into your position and your story of oppression: whether you are servant/slave, tenant farmer, or landowner’s child. Servants and slaves might be in the best position to be prophets, but are dehumanized and exploited, at risk for being brutalized or killed. They ask, “Why are things this way?” Tenant farmers might be able make a living off the land, but are fearful of being exploited or becoming the lowest rung on the social ladder. They ask, “How can I make sure I am never the slave?” The children of landowners might be able to inherit wealth and status, but are vulnerable to being killed by those who have little to lose and much to gain. They ask, “What can I do to put distance between myself and those people?”

The world is filled with exploitation and violence, greed and fear, death and destruction—Isaiah 5 says that when there is injustice, everyone is trapped in suffering. Privilege doesn’t save the landowner’s child and violence doesn’t save the tenant farmer. So often we think that the solution to all of this is to build apartheid walls, or border walls, or freeways and highways and municipalities and electoral districts and charter schools and suburbs and gated communities and “up-and-coming” neighborhoods that all essentially do the same thing… because gentrification is the new colonialism. We believe that threats always lie outside the fence and outside our borders, when in fact, Mark tells us that threats are on the inside.

With a clapback from Psalm 118, Mark writes a plot twist into the story of oppression: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing to witness. In Isaiah 5, the vineyard has been cleared of stones, but in Psalm 118, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Psalm 118 is a song for survivors who are chanting at the gates of righteousness, impatiently waiting for the Temple doors to open so they can praise God.

They’ve been distressed, so they praise God. They know that God is on their side, so they praise God. They know that haters gon’ hate, so they praise God. They know it’s better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals, so they praise God. They know it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in any politician, so they praise God. The military might of entire nations surround them on every side, so they praise God. They push hard and are falling, so they praise God. It feels like God is punishing them, but STILL they survive, so they praise God.

Find a neighbor and say, “Neighbor… praise is political.”

Find another neighbor and say, “So neighbor… praise God.”

The story of oppression says that the world is being cut apart by walls and fences, we are surrounded by death and destruction, and God is on vacation. But the story of resurrection is the plot twist that says, our world is being rebuilt by the survivors, the strong, stubborn stones that stayed in the vineyard, even after the builders of white supremacy, racism, and colonialism tried to cast them out.

The stones that the builders rejected have become the cornerstones. We will not be cut apart by walls and fences, but will be built up into a new kindom of God. We may be buried and left for dead, but in the spring, we rise. God is not on vacation, but God IS ordaining new management. In the stones the builders rejected, God is still speaking, and teaching, and learning, and listening, and building, and resisting, and dreaming, and fighting, and rising, and always arriving. Therefore we are not moving forward in spite of Ferguson, but through it. The Lord is doing this, and it’s amazing to witness! …so can I get a witness?

Amen. ————————————————————————————————-

Benediction:

May you go forward through Ferguson, out into the streets to let the survivors make disciples out of you, remembering that praise is political. The stones the builders rejected have become the cornerstones! The Lord has done this and it is amazing to witness! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Other reflections & acknowledgements forthcoming.

arrest

I finally told my mom that I was risking arrest by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, because I stand with clergy, professors, and people of conscience against white supremacy which murders and harms black folks in US-America. I told her that I didn’t immediately tell her that I got arrested for Moral Monday because I didn’t want to worry her or cause her to lose sleep. I said that I was planning to go to the Clayton inJustice Center (jail) to protest because Brittany and Alexis were snatched off the street for no reason and were being held for over 24 hours, and I was worried that they would experience even more harm. Moreover, being there implied that God does not condone the kidnapping and lying and brutalizing actions of the police. I asked her to pray for them.

I expected her to yell at me, or scold me, or tell me not to go, or ask me why I was worrying her.

Instead, she prayed this prayer in Chinese:

Dear God,

I beg you to send celestial troops and generals (angels) to St. Louis.
It is not sending clergy to jail that needs to happen.
Clergy do not need to be in jail.
Your hand is strong and mighty and long,
And it will reach in and pluck these black women out.
Let these police fear you.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

Later, I told Dean Deborah Krause about this prayer. She said, “She sounds like someone who frequently talks to God.” “Yes, she has a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ,” I answered, half joking and totally serious. “She did a pray preach,” said Dean Krause. “Like she was trying to say, ‘Dear God, Please help Karen know she doesn’t have to go to jail.'” “Sounds more like a pray lecture. A precture?” I replied. “A precture,” Dean Krause affirmed.

Alexis and Brittany have been released. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to the warring angels. Thanks be to woke mamas.

Preaching SJTG 4.12.15

I preached two sermons for the 2nd Sunday of Easter at St. John’s, Tower Grove ([LINK] http://www.towergrovechurch.org/).

Scriptures referenced: Psalm 133, Acts 4:32-37, Acts 5:1-11, John 20:19-31 ([LINK] http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=87).

Check out Fight for $15: [LINK] http://fightfor15.org/

10:30am Service Video – more performative, more jokes:

5pm Service Podcast – more interactive, more contemplative:

[LINK] http://towergrovechurch.podbean.com/e/sermon-april-12-2015-at-500-pm/

Manuscript (not transcript, closer to the 10:30am sermon than the 5pm):

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”

What a wonderful Psalm for the 2nd Sunday of Easter! And since we’re finally allowed to say it after a long and serious season of Lent, “Alleluia! Praise be to God!”

If I were the Psalmist, I would have written something like this:

How very good and pleasant it is that on Easter, we who are family share in the grand tradition that is The Church Potluck!

Unity is like the

            Strings of melty goodness falling from Keith’s famous cheesy grits,

            Like the mosaic of recipes that weigh down our paper plates,

            Like the discordant screams of little children as they forget to use their indoor voices. Bless their hearts.

For there the Lord ordained God’s blessing, life forevermore.

The Psalmist said that unity is like a precious, expensive oil often used to anoint the heads of priests and important guests. Instead of being lightly dabbed, the oil is lavishly poured out on a priest, drenching the priest’s face and robes. Unity drenches us all as honored guests who are close to God.

The Psalmist also said that unity is like a dew that normally falls on a high mountain, making it rich and fertile. Instead of falling only on the high mountain, the dew also falls on a lower mountain, a mountain where religious people imagine that they might one day gather to eat, drink, and celebrate, even though the lower mountain is usually dry and dusty. Unity drenches our religious spaces, giving life to places where people gather to eat, drink, and celebrate.

Our Easter potluck fed us all as honored guests who are close to God, filling our religious space, giving life to a place where people gather to eat, drink, and celebrate.

If only unity was as simple as sharing an Easter potluck! Today, we heard a passage from Acts, where those who shared their beliefs “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” Later, the passage says that those who owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold, giving it to the leaders of their community, who distributed it to those in need. I’m not sure that I would do that. Right now, I am a student, but one day, if I saved enough money to buy a house, I would want to keep it. If I lived on the land, I wouldn’t want to sell it. If Rev. Teresa asked me sell my house or land and give the proceeds to the vestry, I would probably ask if I could maybe invest the proceeds and give the interest to the vestry instead.

In short, my question would be, “How much can I keep for myself and still be okay with the Church?”

To answer that question, it might help if we turn to a passage that’s not often in the lectionary: Acts 5:1-11.

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.

Okay… I think we just found out why this passage is not often in the lectionary. Ananias and Sapphira just died on the spot for doing something perfectly understandable. Wasn’t Peter a little too harsh? What kind of God kills people for making a mistake? Acts 4:33 says, “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” Where is that great grace?

Psalm 133 opens with “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred LIVE together in unity!” and closes by saying that God’s blessing is “LIFE forevermore.” In short, the great and gracious gift of unity is LIFE for people who live together as family. In contrast, Luke’s story about Ananias and Sapphira suggests that the greatest curse of division is DEATH for people who are disconnected from communal life. Ananias and Sapphira disconnected themselves from communal life when they broke the norm of selling their property and giving the proceeds to the leaders of the church to be distributed to those in need. We are shocked by the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, especially because we know their names. Ananias and Sapphira’s church was seized by great fear because they knew Ananias and Sapphira by name, and probably recognized them as some of the more frequent and generous pledgers to the church.

At the same time, we must remind ourselves that the greatest curse of division is death not just for those like Ananias and Sapphira who are named and recognized by their church, but also for those in greater need, who remain nameless and unrecognized by churches. Unity is a matter of life and death for those who do not know where their next meal comes from and depend upon the Peace Meal. Unity is a matter of life and death for black and brown communities most impacted by Sacred Conversations on Race and Action. Unity is a matter of life and death for those served by Winter Outreach, an effort to reach out to those experiencing homelessness during cold nights. Unity is a matter of life and death for low wage workers who are uniting for a $15 wage to support themselves and their families.

The Psalmist’s image of a priest drenched in precious, expensive oil shows that unity is less about its financial cost and more about who it touches, and how. Unity doesn’t just touch the heads of society or those who stand at highest heights of society. It flows down to the beard, down the collar, and drenching the robes. It covers the lower mountain, a sacred space where all people can eat, drink, and celebrate. Unity transforms us into honored guests who share a common table that is close to God.

Luke, the storyteller of the early Church, writes that after what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.” This is the first time that the word “church” appears in the books of Luke and Acts. It is scary when we learn that being Church means knowing that unity is a matter of life and death. On one hand, we hold the great and gracious power of life when we live in unity. On the other hand, we hold the terrible and killing power of death when we live with division.

Teresa reminded us last week that fear and death are not the final answer. She said that “Love and life are stronger than fear and death. We can expect to see those we’ve loved and lost again. God has a future in store for each and all of us. Anything is possible with God.” We are an Easter people invited to share a resurrecting, reconciling love. Not a ledger love that is about keeping track of who owes how much to whom. But a love that brings people close to each other and to God as honored guests at a shared table. A love that brings those who have been killed by division back to life in kinship community. Alleluia! Praise be to God!

IMG_4046

5pm sermon podcast [link]

For a recording of the 10:30am sermon, comment below with your email address.

RESOURCES

Valerie Nicolet-Anderson [link] 1 Cor 6:12-20 – Paul’s instructions on sexual ethics for the purpose of strengthening and forming community identity. What does it mean to take on a communal identity that is non-normative? How might taking Paul’s instructions literally outside of his historical-cultural context be problematic?

The King Center [link] Martin Luther King’s Philosophy, including the centrality of agape love & the beloved community, a concept named by Josiah Royce, founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, reportedly the oldest & largest interfaith organization working toward peace and justice in the United States

DIGGING DEEPER | books + articles

The Great World House: Martin Luther King, Jr. & Global Ethics by Hak Joon Lee – King observed that increasing globalization, modernization and technological advances meant we need global ethics to ensure communal survival, peace, and well-being. Kingian global ethics can be summarized as “glocal” (local communities within global context) and communal-political (our struggles and liberation are connected in the community of the great world house; political power is important insofar as we need it to resist injustice; the communal and political must be and should be intertwined)

kingian global ethics

We Will Get to the Promised Land: Martin Luther King Jr’s Communal-Political Spirituality by Hak Joon Lee – The spiritual side/background of King related to the above concepts

Extremist for Love: Martin Luther King Jr., Man of Ideas & Nonviolent Social Action by Rufus Burrow Jr. – Family, theological mentors, friends, black women, Ghandian nonviolence and how they influenced Martin Luther King Jr. I recommend reading the last two chapters about how King kept hope alive, paying special attention to his last “mountaintop” sermon, which came after two attempted bombings of his house and bombings of his friend’s houses, as well as the other struggles of the civil rights movement. I also highly recommend reading chapter 6, about Vernon Napoleon Johns: “God’s Bad Boy,” about a badass prophetic preacher who planted his own produce and sold it after church services (to the embarrassment of his congregants) and called out R.T. Adair, a prominent man of the community during church for shooting and killing Adair’s wife on suspicion of adultery, from the pulpit (after Adair only received a slap on the wrist and no jail time for his crime). “‘There is a murderer in the house,’ he announced to a stunned congregation. ‘God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Dr. Adair, you have committed a sin, and may God have mercy on your soul.’ Johns stared down at Adair in solemn judgment, with one eye in a menacing twitch caused by a childhood kick from a mule. Then he sat down.”

The most pastoral response? Maybe not. Badass? I think yes.

Toward the Beloved Community: Martin Luther King Jr. & South Africa by Lewis V. Baldwin – Recommended for those wanting to explore what it looks like to believe that “injustice anywhere is a threat everywhere” and to understand how King collaborated with interfaith/global partners to be in solidarity fighting for liberation not just in the U.S. but also in South Africa, against apartheid.

p. 27 – “I think we have to honestly admit that the problems in the world today, as they relate to the question of race, must be blamed on the whole doctrine of white supremacy, the whole doctrine of racism, and these doctrines came into being through the white race and the exploitation of the colored peoples of the world.” c.f. “Doubts and Certainties Link: A Transcript of an Interview with Martin Luther King Jr.,” London, England (winter 1968): 1, King Center Archives.

p. 31 Differences of South African & United States situation due to idea of suffering community (less resonant with oppressed South Africans than African Americans) and racial composition (higher ratio of people of color in S. African than in US, leading to greater fear of blacks). These differences led King to believe that justice would be hindered so long as tribal loyalties took precedent over larger communal identity.

p. 73 King’s influence on Desmond Tutu & Allan Boesak

Outline (not transcript):

  1. Introduction – Hi, I’m Karen. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a graduate student who came to St. Louis to study social work at WashU and divinity at Eden Seminary. When people hear that I’m from California, sometimes they exclaim, “And you went from California to Misery?” And I chuckle, because when I talk to people in St. Louis about where they’re from and how they got here, a lot of people say that St. Louis grows on you.
    1. It does. There are lots of reasons I like St. Louis. But one important reason is that I found family here. Though the last few months have been hard for many of us, I’ve felt a spirit of family as I’ve worked with others to make St. Louis a better place to live.
    2. I grew up a child of Taiwanese immigrants, so I don’t have any close biological relatives in America. They are all in Taiwan. So from an early age, I learned what it was like to have family of choice. I had Grandma and Grandpa next door, and we celebrated birthdays together. I had Grandma and Grandpa in Florida, and we were pen pals, and on holidays, I got giant care packages from them, filled with goodies. I had my church family who bought me a laptop after college because my laptop was dying and all of its keys had rubbed off. Every Chinese and Taiwanese woman that my mom knew was Auntie.
    3. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in a similar culture. The African American community is great at creating a sense of family. When I was living in the West End neighborhood, I visited a church and all of its congregants were African American. Everyone made sure to hug me, ask me to come back, and one woman even kissed me on the cheek the next week I visited. As Christians, we share this vision that Martin Luther King Jr. calls the beloved community, where agape love, the love that seeks to create community is the norm. We may not be great at it, but it is a Christian idea and a Christian mandate to create radically inclusive communities where we care for each other like family. People like to say a lot of things about solidarity and what it means to be a good ally. I think it boils down to this idea of radically inclusive family. During Ferguson October, Rev. Renita Lamkin said at SLU when police officers threatened to hurt peaceful protesters, her attitude was, “THIS ONE IS MINE AND YOU BETTA NOT.”
  2. For Martin Luther King, Jr., the beloved community would heal the world. Because if everyone is like family, you might have conflict, but conflict can be resolved peacefully. Poverty, hunger, and homelessness would not be tolerated. Racism and discrimination would be replaced by radical inclusion. I know that for some of you, this metaphor is painful. Family has hurt you badly and it is self-care for you to stay away from them. I get that. I’ve seen it. If that’s the case, I think you can still find hope in the idea of the beloved community. The spirit of family and agape love seek to preserve and create community, but doesn’t force anyone to do so. It’s an ideal, but it’s one that Martin Luther King, Jr. thought was realistic and achievable.
    1. In his last sermon, Martin Luther King, Jr. said “there is something happening in Memphis. There is something happening around the world.” I think we can say today, “there is something happening in St. Louis. There is something happening around the world.” In St. Louis, fast food workers are organizing together to protest against racial injustice because economic justice works hand in hand with racial justice. Ferguson protesters visited organizers in Palestine to be in solidarity over their struggles for liberation. When I was in Taiwan, I shared my experiences in St. Louis and my cousin shared her experiences in the Sunflower Movement, which is fighting for accountability and transparency in its legislature. Beloved communities are springing up in rocky soil, even as they thirst for freedom.
    2. The apostle Paul was also dedicated to preserving and creating beloved communities. A professor once said I was like Paul because I wrote a letter to my church. I was a little offended. Paul likes to tell people what to do and how to live. No one wants to be told how they should conduct themselves in the bedroom. I did not want to be like Paul. After some reflection and complaining to other seminarians, I realized that Paul is actually pretty cool. He doesn’t tell people what to do because he’s trying to be bossy and horrible, but because he is trying his best to preserve and create beloved communities. Today, we read a passage from the letter of Paul to the Corinthian church where Paul critiques libertinism, a dominant Greco-Roman philosophy that hinged on the idea that one is free to do anything. He quotes from libertine philosophy, “all things are lawful for me,” then adds “but not all things are beneficial.” He sought to define the church against Greco-Roman libertine culture as a way of resisting colonial oppression. Do I think resisting Greco-Roman libertine sexual ethics is as much of a concern today? Probably not. Instead, I think we are challenged to ask, How are we to be holy? How do we define ourselves against the oppressive dominant culture?  Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) is hosting sacred conversations about race and the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) presents workshops that explore our intersecting identities and how they relate to power, privilege, and oppression. The oppressive dominant culture says that we don’t need these conversations and these workshops are irrelevant. It says that #BlackLivesMatter is offensive because #AllLives(already)Matter. It says that we don’t see race or we are beyond race. It says that we have a black president, so everything is okay.
    3. In 1 Cor 3, Paul addresses a church that is split over their loyalties to different apostles, leaders, of the church. He complains, “For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,”” and adds, “are you not merely human?” As King would, Paul argues that divisive group loyalties are less important than commitment to community. Today, we are challenged to ask, In our busy lives, can we be this catholic? Can we live into this vision of shared church leadership? Martin Luther King Jr. said that we are part of a great world house in which injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. If this is true, will we allow people outside of the St. John’s community, outside of the Episcopalian community, outside of the Christian community, outside of the faith community, can we allow them to lead us? Can we be that serious about being an apostolic church?
  3. King’s vision of agape love in the beloved community and the great world house challenges us to be thoughtful about who we are as a community. Who are we as St. John’s? St. Louisans? Episcopalians? Christians? Humans? When we recite that we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, what does that mean? Do we believe it? And do we believe that we can work together to heal the world?

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One day, I will teach my children Taiwanese theologies.

They will know Shoki Coe and C. S. Song and all the Taiwanese women feminist theologians who do not have enough pages in the reference books and all the saints who I never met until I turned 24, and they will be invited to become one of them. We will lift Christianity from the dust of debates over sin, salvation, and justification, and breathe into it stories about Creation, about aborigine experiences, about a postcolonial world, where no one tells us what our names should be or what languages we ought to speak. Because God was not piggybacked to Korea by Western missionaries (Hyun Younghak), and neither was God piggybacked to Taiwan. Incarnate divinity and sacredness was, is, and always will be everywhere. I will invite my children to imagine how these theologies might create hope in this sometimes difficult world, and to meld these theologies with other theologies, and not be afraid of those who insist on having their views of the divine be upheld everywhere. They will learn that holiness can be whispered, and the loudest voices do not have the last word. One day, I will teach my children to know themselves, more than I have known myself.