Juneteeth & Emotional Freedom

Juneteeth & Emotional Freedom

by Julian DeShazier

 

In 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, there were still slaves in Galveston, TX who had not heard about their freedom. A group of Union troops came to deliver the news, and the last slaves were finally freed. This under-noticed occasion should be celebrated as a holy day in American history – I’ve gone on record many times crusading for Juneteenth to be a national holiday – and there is much wisdom to be found in our recognizing it now.

First, it’s important to debunk any romanticized notion that after they got the news, the newly freed slaves all dropped their tools and started partying in the middle of the field. All of our records re: the response after June 19, 1865, indicate a decidedly mixed reaction from the newly freed Galvestonians. This is not hard to imagine – have you ever received overwhelming news before? – some were overjoyed, others frightened at what this freedom meant for their new life (sounds like the disciples post-Resurrection), and many, many, many people simply went back to work. Even though they weren’t in bondage, they continued to work and live like slaves. They chose captivity because, of course, they saw no other options. But they were free.

Freedom is a complicated reality.

Of course, America making Juneteenth a national holiday presents a tragic irony because slavery is in no way dead. Debt continues to bind poor people to powerful institutions, wealth still depends upon exploitation, and non-white bodies are still etched in the American iconography as “workers.” (Oprah: look how hard she had to work! Bill Gates: look how smart he is!) The fact that black wealth and success is still seen as exceptional is proof enough that, if slavery is indeed dead, it “died” as a caterpillar dies to become a butterfly.

By all means, we need to work on these institutions that reinforce slave realities – the criminal justice system, the divorce of “Body” from “Spirit” (so the body can be exploited without losing one’s righteousness), the rejection of black ownership (from property to the right to vote) – and recognize that these among many other realities keep us enslaved to racism: free, but still captive.

But there’s an internal freedom that is threatened on an almost daily basis as well. These are your emotions, and we (all of us) have people that fuse to us emotionally, whether they say mean things, or simply want us to feel what they are feeling. They want to share their hurt, maybe because they think you hurt them, or because they don’t trust they can hold those emotions on their own. They know what to say to get you. The cliché is “misery loves company” but there’s wisdom there: some people want to hold you captive (because they are sociopaths) or need to hold you captive (because they are insecure). It is a common trait/tactic found in abusive relationships and I’ve experienced it personally (in case you’re wondering, yes, it is quite common/expected for pastors to be held responsible for people’s own emotional systems). So I’ve been a hostage before, and I’ve also been a captor in my own personal relationships.

Truly, frustratingly, I’ve been a slave to emotions and responses that were in no way healthy for me, and it had NOTHING to do with another person: I held it and nurtured it myself. I’ve had conversations in the shower with people that weren’t there, multiple strands of the same conversation (“if they say this, I will say this”). I’m not talking about debate prep here, folks: I’m talking about being an emotional hostage, giving my peace over to another person or situation.

Don’t laugh at me: freedom is a complicated reality.

But the truth is as easy to comprehend and difficult to realize as Juneteenth itself: YOU. ARE. FREE. Some people and situations have a special kind of access to your emotional/spiritual system, but you are free to feel what you need, to protect yourself, and to not be scolded for your feelings. You are free to ask, “What is going on with ME to create this response and do I want to live this way?”

Your body is free and belongs to you. You are free to ignore the trap being set for you, without hating the person setting it, or perhaps even finding compassion for them. Remember what Christ said when you feel a hostage situation approaching: “They know not what they do.” You are free.

As a liberation theologian I can’t emphasize this next point enough: I’m not saying if you feel violated that’s your fault, or that you should never share with those you feel violated by. Nor am I abdicating the responsibility of the traumatic experience. I am simply inviting you to share responsibility, as the writer of Proverbs 4 does (“Guard your heart; everything you do flows from it”), or Philippians 4 (“The Peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”), or John 14 (“Do not let your hearts be troubled”), or Galatians 5 (the Fruits of the Spirit, which have no law against them and nothing to prevent them from existing deep within us)…

…or Howard Thurman, who described freedom as “the ability to deal with the realities of one’s own situation so as to not be overcome by them.” They are all sharing the same, difficult Gospel: in affliction, yet we remain FREE in spirit, held accountable by an all-loving God to protect our spiritual and emotional independence.

What may be triggered by outside is also nurtured within, and until we find the courage to seek help – therapy, abuse and violence resources, better boundaries – not to help THEM but to HELP OURSELVES AS FAITHFUL ACTION (!!!)…until then we will be freed slaves still going about the work of our masters. If you need help, or don’t feel safe, no more violence: reach out and let your church find you some resources to help. If you are reading this, you know we will do this.

Because you are free. God has made it so, and we are still finding out years later. I’m so grateful for today’s reminder. Happy Juneteenth.

PRAYER:
God, thank you for making me free. Thank you for making me, beautifully and wonderfully, and for your Spirit reminding me that nothing has happened, or will happen, that can remove me from the freedom found in you. I don’t want to be enslaved by the past or even by people I love dearly; I want to live free in you. Amen.

Lessons Taught, Lessons Bought

By Julian DeShazier

Growing up, my mother used to always advise me, “Son, better a lesson taught than a lesson bought.” The meaning is plain: mistakes are expensive, and it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes than to make your own. So growing up I learned the easy way from folks that learned the hard way – thru “run-ins”, addictions – I never judged, especially when I learned that some communities are designed by Evil to make these mistakes and pass them down for a guaranteed exploitable working class. No judgment: I just didn’t want to end up like that. Mistakes avoided: Lessons taught.

And then…I went to Morehouse.

You may not know what happens at Morehouse and I won’t tell you here, but the immediate confidence boost mixed with a deep and protracted insecurity in some strange ways. Almost immediately I started making mistakes of epic proportions: my first sermon I ever preached got me banned from preaching (and saved my life!); a relationship went sour, and got me blacklisted from Spelman for a year; plenty of moments where I grew leaps and bounds and paid for it dearly. Mistakes made: Lessons bought.

Pastoring is a little bit of both. There are many mistakes I don’t make because I learned from others that did (names that, if I told them to you, you’d know there are hundreds of years of wisdom and experience I’ve had poured into me). There are some mistakes that would be outright inexcusable for me to repeat; it would be an insult to my elders. So we’ve done well together, and that’s supposed to be the case when you’ve had lessons taught.

And as we’ve moved into new terrain as a faith community, I’ve sure bought some lessons as well…

Like the time one person dragged me behind the woodshed about all this “walking with God.”

Or the time another person warned that I used a phrase that wasn’t sensitive to folks wrestling with body dysmorphia.

Or recently, when in a celebration of women I too flatly turned it into a celebration of “mothers”, which brings its pain and, quite frankly, could be seen as me participating in patriarchy. Now the person bringing it to me knows damn well that’s not my intent, and was glad to hear the cultural reasons I use “mother” so broadly (almost every woman is a mother to me), but they were right: it’s something I have to be sensitive toward in a community that asks people to show up as their authentic selves.

Many, many other lessons bought that I won’t include here. Suffice it to say: 2018 grew me up a great deal, and I’m still healing from the heavy, heavy cost of mistakes made trying to love.

That hits home, doesn’t it? Mistakes made trying to love. Lessons learned trying to do the right thing…Learning that what we have learned – as a behavior – may not be appropriate within whatever particular context. If you use it right, community can be a place that grows you up with speed and grace.

I’m talking about “growing up” now in the Howard Thurman-via-Revelations sense, where “A crown is placed above our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear.”

Or it can be a place that turns you more defensive.
Or more bitter.
Or confirms your assumptions about men, or black people, or white people, or rich/poor people, or power, or religion, or whatever thing you-know-that-you-know…

Because we don’t know anything, and a good community can show us how little we know, how inadequate our cultural upbringing was at teaching us everything (was it supposed to do that?), and how ready God is to teach us what it means to be disciples, how to live faithfully, and how to ground our being in curiosity and love.

This week, as Lent begins, think about how you can make room for God in your life to have judgment replaced with curiosity, have bitterness replaced with love, have busyness replaced with care for the self, have anxiety replaced with faithfulness.

Jesus looked at his disciples, after they could not heal in Luke 9 and said, “You faithless and perverse generation.” To his DISCIPLES he said this!!!

Indeed, Jesus. Indeed. Hopefully soon we will all be able to say…

Lesson learned.

 

Wonder at the More that Is Unfolding

by Denise Hill

I always find myself returning every so often to a commencement address Alice Walker gave in 2002. It’s entitled “All Praises to the Pause; the Universal Moment of Reflection.” In it she describes the fullness and the gift of taking a moment after something major has completed; or as life shifts from stage to stage; or as we sense the unique shiftings and subtle transformations in our lives — of taking a moment to pause and reflect before launching with all haste into the flux that is constant movement without a moment to take in and notice one’s breath… one’s being. She writes:

“…’the pause’. The moment when something major is accomplished [or completed, or sensed as shifting into something different] and we are so relieved to finally be done with it that we are already rushing, at least mentally, into The Future. Wisdom, however, requests a pause…the universal place of stopping. The universal moment of reflection.”

The sacred pause, in capitalistic society that pushes hustle & grind culture; productivity over play, and work over reflection, is indeed sacred…set apart…holy…a chosen thing…intentional…other. And yet, the sacred pause is just as Kin-dom as the mustard seed plant; or a field someone sold all to have because they had the imagination to see it; or children and their energy & ways of being & knowing. It is in the sacred pause: the pause of play; the pause of looking to & being intentional about our sabbath; and the pause of sacred, reflective gazing where we can encounter God……

In the gospels before the Spirit came; before Jesus ascended; before the disciples went out into all the world; before the letters had been written; before the acts had been performed, there was, in a room, somewhere set apart from the temple, a sacred pause…a moment set aside for sacred, reflective gazing. Something happened. Something happened that turned the world of Jesus’ followers upside down & inside out. And here they were left with this moment. Left with this trauma. Left with joys, some of them. Left with fear & anxiety, others of them. All of them in this moment together. Jesus appears. And Jesus invites Thomas to look at his wounds…to look at what happened to him…to confront how the-something that happened in the world had impacted him — intimately…viscerally; and to encounter how that-happening had now transformed him — somehow the same, and somehow not; somehow still Jesus, and somehow the Risen Christ.

I am reminded by this scene, that Love invites us to look. Love invites us to reflect & ponder.Love invites us into intentional imaginative wonder & awe. Love invites us to encounter a transformed/revealed God, so that we ourselves might be transformed — might be revealed.

Beloveds, something happened in the world. We find ourselves in the room of this pandemic-moment together. Each of us with a different point of entry. All of us, with a story of our worlds shifted. Some of us carry joy. Some of us carry trauma & anxiety. Some of us have grown. Some of us find ourselves picking up & putting back together shattered pieces. All of us have been changed. And here is God, in the midst of our moment, inviting us to look — to lay wide our hands, to run our fingers along the contours of the lines of our palms — to encounter, to touch, to see what it is that has happened to us, and how we have been transformed. How the God in us, has been revealed, anew.

This summer, we prepare our hearts & minds, not to go back — there is no going back to before the pandemic — but to move forward into what God has imagined this moment to be for us, individually and collectively. We ask ourselves: who am I, after a year plus of encountering God wherever I am — who have I become when the sacred place has been the place all around me? Who and how shall we be when we come together to collectively express, share, and encounter the divine we each bring, together?

This summer, may we continue to pause long enough to make room for play, fun, and delighting in those things that bring us joy! This summer, may we continue to pause long enough to establish & sit in our sabbath. And this summer, may we pause long enough for sacred gazing & reflection as we continue to gather for virtual worship — here…there…in our rooms set apart with Jesus, preparing our hearts & minds for when we gather in-person.

“It is the pause that gives us this clarity, this certainty. It is our time of gathering the vision together…”
(Alice Walker)

Amen. Ashe.

Hip Hop, Job, and the Black Struggle for Being

Hip Hop, Job, and the Black Struggle for Being

by Julian DeShazier

The opening of De La Soul’s “Intro” (from the Stakes Is High album) is an expertly mixed chorus of four voices saying these six words…

When I first heard “Criminal Minded”

…which refer to Boogie Down Productions’ 1987 album of that name, one of the most acclaimed albums in hip-hop history. De La Soul’s sentiment is clear, and can easily be translated to “When I first heard that album that changed my life,” be it from BDP or Black Thought or Bob Dylan: the moment the listener hears an album that is both talking to and for them, bearing witness to a reality and helping to create a better reality. BDP and its lead rapper KRS-One became entertainers, journalists, and prophets to a South Bronx, NY, context full of poverty, drugs, and pop music—whether disco or rock—that was served to them but not made by them. As invisible as the politics of the day made them, hip-hop represented the soundtrack of resistance.

The notion of creating music as a way of creating or articulating reality has its roots in other genres. James Cone reminds us that blues music was created in the midst of the black struggle for being in another era, King David of Israel becomes a brilliant psalmist (that’s “songwriter”) in the midst of deep pain, and Samuel Livingston traces humankind’s first songs to the African concept of neferu (cultural manifestations of functional beauty). In other words, music has always had a purpose before it had an industry, and its economy was purely social, made up of those who would listen, identify, and be identified by those artists.

When I first heard “Criminal Minded”
When I first heard 2Pac’s “All Eyez on Me”
When I first heard Common’s “One Day It’ll All Make Sense”
…It changed my world
…Because I heard myself, for the first time.

Rap is scary to some because it is loud, which is entirely the point. It is a response with deep intention toward the systemic silencing by privileged whites, the wealthy, and the ignorant men who hold the center at this particular moment in time. It is the first bell that rings after the death around us young black Chicagoans has silenced us.

It is the cathartic response of Job after being stunned over and over, pathologically pummeled to the brink of nonbeing, and his first words—“Let the day perish on which I was born… let that day be darkness!”—which begin to reaffirm and reconstruct his being. His words are harsh and explicit and feel grossly emotional; in our context they would seem anti-intellectual when in fact they are super-rational, transcending intellect.

In 1988 and today, N.W.A’s “F the Police” is shocking and controversial—“uncalled for” by most tastes—until you hear the songwriters recall their inspiration, being pulled over in Los Angeles, handcuffed and forced to lie on the ground for being one thing: black. Was N.W.A having a Job moment, or was Job having one of the first hip-hop moments? Either way, both texts comprise wisdom, both utterances remain necessary.

If you want to understand the violence epidemic in Chicago, listen to the “drill” music of the shooters. You will hear the struggle for being that too often describes and destroys. If you want to understand the beautiful complexity of our youth, listen to Chance the Rapper’s “No Problem,” where he talks about “scoopin’ all the blessings out my lap” and by the end of the same verse brusquely reminds us that his “shooters come for free.” His message is clear: he’s keeping his, by any means necessary.

What he’s really saying—perhaps in every verse Chance has ever written—is that his being matters. His album Coloring Book, along with BDP’s Criminal Minded, expresses the “courage to be” without probably ever hearing (and certainly never caring about) the name Paul Tillich. These are theological projects as much as they are musical ones, and hip-hop has a way of reminding us that the separation of the head and heart is mostly an academic and superficial one. Job should have written an album; maybe Notorious B.I.G. was reading the famous text when he settled on a name for his first album, Ready to Die.

Growing up on the Southside of Chicago in rap’s “Golden Era,” I had no need for church; I had already found an adequate object of worship in the music that blared through my cassette player—music from Christians and Muslims and Five-Percenters and Black Hebrew Israelites—music that was loud and confident and confrontational, explicit in every sense of the word. For all I had seen and endured, it needed to be.

We—that is, most young, black boys—take our cues from rappers, perhaps to a fault, but at least they show better journalistic integrity in accurately describing reality than most news outlets. This trust in entertainer as journalist evolves rappers into a greater role: the poets who shape culture, the poetry whose purpose is to create a new reality. You hear rappers who don’t understand this and use their microphone to spread a dangerous gospel of misogynist and capitalist urges—no different from some pulpits. But you also hear the proclamation and affirmation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, its anger and its spirit engorged as a people fight to be made visible. In the rhythm and lineage you see Africa. It is neferu. It is the catharsis of Job. And for those hearing it for the first time…

When I first heard “Criminal Minded”
When I first read Job
When I saw myself
…it is like coming alive again. It is that Resurrection that many classically trained theologians spend too many words describing. It is a hip-hop moment.

Writing Spiritual Autobiographies

Writing Spiritual Autobiographies

—by Julian DeShazier

After talking about the power of stories, it is time to craft our own “spiritual autobiographies” – stories of the development of our faith. While we are doing this as a congregation during our 9am Bible Study time, you can follow this page for weekly updates and to do your own creating from afar!

January 12 session notes

-Note the difference between a “case” (something that happened) and a “story” (the wisdom that emerges from that happening). We are not writing a series of cases/trying to craft a complete history, but will articulate the major beliefs that we have/once had and mine our experiences to tell the “story” of how we got to that place.

-Howard Thurman notes the “time, effort, and imagination” required to arrive at a place of understanding. This work we are doing together will require all 3, and we are particularly interested in imagination – playing around with ideas swirling inside of us – without judgment or a need to “do” anything just yet. This means that you will perhaps feel uncomfortable spending time with an old understanding/belief that you now reject, but it is important to take ownership of what we once believed or still believe.

-Reading the two creation stories in Genesis, we discover that:

1. there are many sources that come together to write Genesis (J,E,D,P) and that we also have many “sources” inside of us to tap into in writing this. I think of my identity as a son (that’s one source), or a college student (another), or a pastor (yet another), and how each of those have shaped my faith in explicit ways. Feel free to call upon your many selves/sources in crafting your spiritual autobiography.

2. those sources may at times seem conflicting: let them. Don’t worry about making it all fit together nicely

ASSIGNMENT 1:

-Make a list of the many sources/identities you will call upon to tell your faith story. A list for now is fine, but if you want to write more, do it!

ASSIGNMENT 2:

-Answer these 3 questions:

  1. What beliefs/understandings do you have that you have had for most of your life?
  2. What beliefs do you have that are more recent/not a part of your tradition of origin?
  3. What beliefs did you once have but don’t have anymore?

January 19 session notes

-We talked about trips we’ve been on that have been important for our development.
-Reading Genesis 12:1-9, we discussed Abram’s journey from Haran to Canaan, places that shaped Abraham, with important contributions from Allen Reynolds, who recently returned from the Holy Land.

-Question: What places and people have shaped your spiritual journey?

ASSIGNMENT:

-Go think about the beliefs and values you have now that are tied to particular places and people. Record these for next week’s session, where we will begin WRITING our spiritual autobiographies.

January 26 session notes

-We read Daniel 6 – one of the most famous stories in the Bible – and made two observations:

1. When remembering this story on your own, before reading, notice how parts are smushed together, and some things are left out entirely. This will happen in recording your faith story as well. Try as much as possible to spend time in the details, and where gaps are present in your memory, try to ask others that were part of the story. The frailty of memory is such that our brains often try to fill in missing data on its own/at your request. If your story has a gap, let it remain there. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember.”

2. Notice the emotions contained within the story (found in the main characters) and the emotions we bring to the story when reading it. We find ourselves saying, “I wasn’t worried because I knew God would save Daniel,” and we tend to do that in our own stories: now that we are wiser/stronger, we project that strength onto a past version of ourselves. Allow yourself to tell the story of how you felt back then, without covering up emotions or reactions that you may now be ashamed of. If you were scared/angry/happy, use those emotions when telling the story and not your current state.

-To a list that already had (from last week!) “people” and “places” that have shaped our spiritual journey, we are now adding “emotions”, “texts” (can include works of art), and “moments” (significant turning points/events/eras) that have come to shape your spiritual journey.

ASSIGNMENT:

It is now time to consider one aspect of your faith journey and tell us a story about it. We aren’t writing the full spiritual autobiography yet, but taking one belief/person/event/place/text/emotion – one of these or any combination of them – and write a one (1) page story. These may be some helpful prompts:

-what happened?
-who was involved?
-what did you do or say?
-what emotions did you experience (from yourself and others)?
-how did this impact my faith?
-what am I doing with this now?
-is there an image in the story that is at the core for you?/What image does this remind you of?
-share a memory or story in your life that is similar to this one.

Again, keep this focused on your faith journey. So it may be an event that happened outside of church, but always be asking “How did/does this impact my faith?”

Beginning next week, we will invite-but-not-demand folks to share these one page stories as we are developing our fuller spiritual autobiographies. Whether you decide to share or not, prepare this short story as if someone else will read it.

Tending to Kairos

Tending to Kairos

—by Julian DeShazier

(pic copyright: Neighborhood Initiative)

Mary Stainton preached this past Sunday. (This previous sentence truly represents the poverty of the English language; she did far more than preach. Audio will be on the website soon). Her scripture, Psalm 23 reflected on the shadow of death…and what it means to be cast under this shadow as a person living with a physical disability…and God’s gentle but constant reminder to us all that death does not have the final word.

Let that speak to your situation. Death does not have the final word.

And yet, death is real. People do truly leave us. Friendships end. Opportunities fail. Even selves within us (!) stop being helpful to our growth. And there is life after these things, of course: people become ancestors, relationships give us lasting wisdom, and maybe that thing wasn’t supposed to work anyway. Resurrection is always present – thank God – but the losses are real, and knowing that a moment will probably end should not be addressed as a curse but an opportunity to experience the thing/person/situation more fully.

I’m talking about life now. I’m talking about time. That’s what we have along with these frail bodies and minds…time. This Lent, we as a church have decided to care for ourselves by paying more attention to how we spend our time, and to make time for God and the care of your spirit, knowing that this world and your busyness will not give you this time.

Christianity-via-Greece-via-Africa has two concepts of time…there’s chronos, which means chronological time – actual seconds/minutes/hours – and there’s kairos, which means opportune time – the right time – or to paraphrase Dr. Richard Swenson: kairos is significant or meaningful time. The challenge for each of us is that we spend most of our lives bound in chronos with rare brushes against kairos, where this breath in our life can be spent on meaningful questions lying deep within us instead of on our phones, or responding to something, or playing catch up…or reading emails (oops).

Swenson offers a good reason for this – the sundial and electricity (which cut our days into small pieces, and then ruined day and night completely, respectively) – and in many ways we’ve become slaves to chromos time: dodies always in motion, often doing things that serve others but not our sense of significance in the world.

Don’t be sad: this is literally the social engineering of our times…productivity over purpose.

But then something strange happens…for Kara Swisher (of the NY Times), it was a stroke that made her value her time more…for Tim Chen (of NerdWallet), it was losing his job during the recession that made him value his gifts more…for some of us it is losing abilities we once had, or someone we loved deeply. Something happens that does more than make us angry or sad – it puts our mortality before us, to remind us that time is not unlimited and that kairos is far more important than chronos. In fact, our sense of kairos should be determining how we spend our chronos.

This means we need to tend to our kairos better. To ask, “What is significant to me?” I mean, really: to take some time and maybe even write down what matters to you in this life, and then in the next column write how your current life reflects that (and if it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to write “Not yet” and get on it!); to look at our time spent and ask how much is spent in meaningful, significant, (some might even say “purpose-driven”) activity and reflection.

Freeing time/Saying NO doesn’t mean it’s not meaning-full: it just has less meaning than something else God needs you working on right now. If folks can’t respect that, as Jesus says in Matthew 10, “Shake the dust off your feet”, and keep it moving.

This also doesn’t mean no meetings, or no exploring things that you aren’t currently interested in. It means that we begin to build an internal scale to weigh when something clearly (and literally) meaning-less or life draining has more energy than it should.

And some of us have life situations where, “Hey, I don’t love this job but I need this job and it takes a ton of my time. What does all this mean for me?” Do what you need to do, and remember: to free any amount of time to commune with the Holy Spirit inside of you is a move toward liberation. Try to make more out of whatever you have, feel no shame, and discover your kairos this season. This is what Lent is about.

PRAYER:
God, help me discover kairos time in my life, and to recover the significance that is often lost in my busyness. Help me to use my minutes and days toward finding and fulfilling your purpose for me. I am listening, ready, and capable of this challenge. Amen.

QUOTE: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” —Nelson Mandela

Growing Up on Being Gay (a tale of evolution from a straight man)

Growing Up on Being Gay (a tale of evolution from a straight man)

by Julian DeShazier

February 2014, University of Missouri football player Michael Sam came out as gay, and he’s a good enough football player that we can say now that he’ll be the first openly gay player in the NFL. Besides being another good story line in the soap opera that has become ESPN, his coming out will inspire, well, a range of comments from religious folk. We should look at all of them, because there’s about to be a LOT of righteous talking in the days to come, and you should know where you stand.
I know where I once stood. I was a baptist teenager who was taught that sex belonged between male and female. Except I wasn’t taught that at all…it was mostly assumed. And there were gay people in the church and it was an open secret, including now openly gay friends of mine who I knew even back then were gay. I never really cared, but I also never really knew what I felt about an issue that people always want you to feel some kinda way about. And same gender love is one of those issues that has never been an issue until someone told me I had to make a decision about this.

So I am responding today because the current urging for gay rights in American culture has become so ubiquitous. I am responding to the people in my industry who blacklisted me at the height of my career over the song I wrote for Obama back in 2008, refusing to see metaphor or how I support a man who support ______. [He was a black man from Chicago poised to lead the country. Whatever proves of his legacy, don’t overthink it

] I am responding to people who’ve said I’m soft on sin, and most of all, I am responding to people who honestly don’t know WHERE THEY ARE on this issue.

Let me help you with a few options. You are probably either in the…
–“I won’t judge” camp…or, “he without sin cast the first stone,” or, “I think it’s wrong but everybody has their sin, so who am I?”, or, “God loveseverybody, so will I.”
or the…
–“Kinda judgy” camp…or, “God calls us to be righteous, so we must stand against wickedness,” or, “I’m wrong to let you live wrong,” or, “Correction is a form of love too.”
or the…
–“I have no clue” camp…or, “I really have no idea how to feel about this but I know a lot of gay people, and they seem OK,” or, “What’s the big deal?”, or, “True love for each other isn’t concerned with this.”
or the…
–The “It’s not wrong” camp…or, “you should actually read the Bible because that’s not what it says,” or, “I’m gay, so leave me alone,” or, “Loveme and leave me alone.”

I was in the 2nd, then the 1st, then the 4th, and now the 3rd.

There’s no coincidence that all parties, even in disagreement, are concerned about what it means to love. This is the quintessential question of Christianity, emphasized by Jesus boiling down ALL the commandments (even the ones in Leviticus, but we’ll get to that) to a singular three-pronged commandment that deals with love (God–neighbor–self).

Confession: I don’t know what camp I’m in. I realized this when I filmed a spot for a urban video Bible, and after we were done the director called me [after hearing that I pastored at an Open & Affirming church, or after reading my response to Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage, or whatever…he didn’t say]. He wanted to know “where I stood” on this, to see if we could continue working together. **ASIDE** Christian Hip Hop is an intense place, mostly holding values that many would call conservative — the irony of this being “hip hop” is an entirely different article, but is not lost on me.

I told my good friend that I “wasn’t sure,” because I had taken a look at the scriptures myself, and I did not take them as EVIDENCE AGAINST homosexuality. I also saw other scriptures that named man and woman (Genesis), but did not condemn the alternatives. [In other words: when I say “Toyotas are good,” you can’t say I said, “Acuras are bad.” That is a simple logical fallacy called the Argument from Silence — when we draw conclusions from the absence of statements. Can’t do that.] So even if EVERY example in the Bible is of a man/woman relationship, this is still insufficient as evidence against same sex love.

I then said I wanted to read the Bible with humility, meaning that I see a text and don’t pretend I know what it means, or that the ancient context suits my context, or that the authors (yes, multiple and people) didn’t have the literary tools we have today, which further obscures knowing what a text MEANS or even SAYS.

So the director shared with me scriptures that were “clear” to him, and I said, “I’m not sure I agree with you on how clear that is,” and he said, “I’m not sure we can work together.”

The video Bible is out, and I’m not on it.

What I call humility he called relativism, and I respect his desire to maintain the integrity of the Bible. I respect yours. I also think “I don’t know” is a perfectly fine answer to the question of homosexuality in the Bible.

READING THE GOOD BOOK FOR YOURSELF
So what does the Bible say? I won’t pretend to be thorough here. If you need that, stop now and read Peter Gomes’ The Good Book (1996), and especially his chapter on homosexuality. He moves through all the scriptures that are famously used in support of traditional values, and he raises great concern with each of them. (He was also openly gay, but focus for now on him being one of the best bible scholars in the world). I read that chapter and was forced from mostly ignorant biblical literacy to a place of deep understanding.

I realized that Sodom was about hospitality, not gayness…the men who try to have sex with the visitors at the gate condemn the entire city because of their lack of hospitality to the stranger. Jesus says as much in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. Sodomites are those who do not provide welcome, a tragic irony for Christians who bash gays and quote the Sin of Sodom. “Sodomy” incorrectly alludes to anal sex; it should allude to our immigration laws.

I realized that Paul is not writing about homosexuality, per se, but about self-worship and people who give up their “normal state” to be like the fold. In Paul’s world of Corinth, men who loved women were loving men because of the cultures values. He ABHORRED this, and so do I. Love who you are, even if it inconveniences others, but in all things: authenticity. IF Paul was condemning same gender love as we know it — IF — then he was still responding to a perverse version of it. Sex as he was witnessing it was corrupt (and most sex, not just the gay type, if you peep his views on marriage) What would Paul or Jesus say about two monogamous, loving, and faithful people of the same gender? We don’t know.

Here’s the rub: I love me some Hebrew Bible. And Judaism (in the HB/OT) is primarily concerned with cultural identity as tied to family, or “protecting Jewishness.” So, sex? Yes, for procreation and making more Jewish babies. Inter-racial marriage?  Hell no. Dilutes Jewish bloodlines, endangers the covenant. Same-sex marriage?  Hell no. Doesn’t make Jewish babies. [This needs a significant footnote, but the “hell no” is my emphasis, because they meant it THAT MUCH]. This is for GOOD REASON they feel this way; they want the protection and “chosen” status of YHWH. But Christianity decidedly expands the covenant beyond Israel – PAUL DOES THIS – and what happens to those commandments??? What happens to those abominations???

(SPOILER) ANYTHING that threatened Jewishness was an ABOMINATION, and you can speak today with a young Jewish girl about what would happen if she brought a black man into her orthodox Jewish parents’ home, or the taboo of infertile women.
*that above paragraph is waaay too short.

EVOLVING
So context does matter, and ethnic identity is a profound concern for me as a black man, and I like babies. Something feels right about fatherhood for me. But then there’s adoption, unimaginable in the Bible (well, the Book of Ruth???), and there are new ways to define family. And what is not present at all in the Bible has become, thanks to Michael Sam and many courageous others, a question before us.

Or is it a question at all? Who am I to judge??? is one thing, but Who am I to decide what’s RIGHT and WRONG???

I can’t read the Bible literally because it would ask me to hate myself. Any non-Jew understands me, and I can only read and appreciate Jewish privilege in context.

I love humanity and want to give each person their full dignity, as I imagine God does. This is a dignity that includes but is not exclusive to sexuality. I really don’t care that you like women, whether you are reading this as a man or woman. Put it this way: I care, but only as much as I care about the other spheres of your life that make you YOU. I hope that you discovered your truth with integrity, and I hope that whatever you are, you can bring that to your God with confidence and faithfulness. Proper sexuality is a HUMAN concern, not a gay one, and I believe THAT is what Paul was getting at.

If it sounds like relativity, you know better than to think I’m saying, “Whatever you want to do, go for it.” Your happiness means nothing to me. Your integrity in Christ means the world to me. And if that means you are gay, I’d love to have a conversation of how you came to know that. I ask “straight” teenagers the same question all the time.

Righteousness to me is not about right and wrong, and lording over that, but about humility in our approach to life and others. It’s about knowing that something greater than us exists above/around/within us, and knows more than we do, and is constantly flipping the script.

We need to learn to say “I don’t know” more, and see what new possibilities come in the conversation. Michael Sam gives other youth the courage to be themselves, and for that he deserves acclaim. Macklemore gives other youth the courage to be themselves, and for that he deserves acclaim. Righteous moves. And if we are wrong, may GOD find ways to correct us.

 

Presidential Centers, CBAs, and Community

—by Julian DeShazier

THE CONCERN

One of the most important developments in several decades is the Obama Presidential Center coming to the Southeast side of Chicago. The Obama Foundation’s ambitious plans to be “more than a library” should, for good reason, generate excitement among residents, business owners, and civic/city leaders. It should also, for good reason, generate caution these same people: “development” often means “displacement.” What is the line between developing a community so that its residents feel invested in/loved vs. developing so much that the economic impact pushes out residents (gentrification) vs. development that happens so slowly that residents are unchanged and neither is the community? This question, and the answers to it offered by different constituencies, deserve our fullest attention as a congregation.

People are worried that developments like this and the golf course designed by Tiger Woods will mean the demise of the essential character of neighborhoods like Woodlawn, Jackson Park, and South Shore. A group of respected community leaders have gathered together to form the “Obama CBA Coalition.”

A “CBA” is a Community Benefits Agreement – a binding document that would force the Obama Foundation to:

  • require that jobs be set aside for people in communities around the Obama presidential center
  • protect low-income housing and home owners
  • support and create Black businesses
  • strengthen neighborhood schools

That is directly from their site, which you can/should view here: http://www.obamacba.org/

The Obama Foundation doesn’t want to sign one of these documents. Barack Obama has himself said the reason is because a CBA wouldn’t be inclusive enough of all community interests and that CBAs aren’t suitable for nonprofits.

The community is becoming more frustrated by these types of responses and the general tone at which the Obama Foundation is using, as in doing things “for” the community and not “with” them. Despite this, it is clear that the CBA folks want the presidential center here and are quite excited at the potential.

The Obama Foundation has laid out its own assessment of potential economic development, which you can find several ways after clicking this link: https://www.obama.org/the-center/

A CHURCH’S ROLE IN THIS

On April 8, we will host a congregational meeting to discuss (and potentially vote on) becoming allies with the folks asking for a CBA. We’ve been asked to join by the CBA coalition because they see this as a moral issue. An “ally” is someone who isn’t a member of the coalition or organizer within their campaign but agrees that the Obama Foundation should sign their version of a CBA. We would be using our church’s (and pastor’s) power to empower this cause. Keep reading and you’ll understand why our church board is taking this request seriously and giving this decision to the entire congregation to make collectively.

It may be that you are completely against it and trust the Obama Foundation to do right by the people.

It may be that you are all for a CBA, because that’s the only way to ensure accountability.

It may be that you aren’t really sure about a CBA because you aren’t a lawyer BUT you do think the Obama Foundation should do a better job at working with the folks being most affected by the changes, and you think a system of checks and balances is a good thing.

The overwhelming majority of people – inside and out of the church – are in that 3rd category, and both the CBA folks and Obama Foundation are needing to do a better job of talking to each other, with other community stakeholders at the table. If an institution with great power, nonprofit or not, is not working WITH the community, this is not “community” but another form of colonialism…it is unethical and (depending on your definition) “immoral.” Violent. Our concern, as believers in the God Who Freed the Israelites from Slavery, is in Justice, equitable and mutual relations between people, and love. Jesus made clear many times that “legality” should not be the concern, but when love and mutual interest are enforceable legally, by all means we should consider this deeply. Passionately. Prayerfully.

And by doing due diligence. So below are some articles that may help you discern, when/if  we vote on April 8…before then hopefully several community stakeholders will come and speak to us as well.

RESOURCES

“Community Benefits Agreements in the Political Economy of Urban Development” — http://ssa.uchicago.edu/community-benefits-agreements-political-economy-urban-development

“Five CBAs that Worked” — http://www.chicagoreporter.com/how-neighborhoods-have-held-developers-accountable-to-their-needs/

“Obama Center’s Hope Has Rocky Start” — http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/tribune/article_popover.aspx?guid=26b3514d-f299-4ea5-aeb0-62e08245efd4

“Washington Post Op-Ed” — https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/19/one-way-for-obama-to-secure-his-legacy-make-sure-his-library-helps-the-south-side/?utm_term=.dda4ec725602

“Do Community Benefits Agreements Benefit Communities?” — https://brooklynworks.brooklaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1524&context=faculty

“No CBA but a Diversity Consultant Might Do” — https://chicagocrusader.com/no-community-benefits-agreement-but-a-diversity-consultant-might-do/

“Lynda Lopez and Natalie Moore Discuss Gentrification on “Chicago Tonight” https://chi.streetsblog.org/2018/01/13/lynda-lopez-and-natalie-moore-discusses-gentrification-on-chicago-tonight/

1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 — http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=387284213

Leviticus 25:35-38 — http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=387284398

Galatians 5:14 — For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Signs Endure

A scripture commentary featured on “On Scripture” (Odyssey Networks). Here’s a sample…

“The young, black activists that want to abolish the police are as misunderstood as the rural, white activists that want to abolish equal rights for all, and both have more in common than we’d like to admit. There are reasons for this, of course.

Here’s what they have in common: deprivation. Whether it’s what sociologist Robert Merton called “relative deprivation” (seeing what someone else has and feeling they should have it), or the very real sense of brokenness that sociologist Charles Glock split along economic, social, physical, ethical, and psychic lines, the vast majority of people that yell “Black Lives Matter!” or “Make America Great Again!” are burdened with the realities of deprivation.”

https://www.onscripture.com/signs-endure

—by Julian DeShazier

Being Mindful (C. Bayer)

The following is a post from Rev. Charles Bayer, who was once pastor of UChurch and now shares his writing with people who happen to end up on his mailing list. For an 86-yo man, the consistency of dynamic thought is worth sharing, especially after this Election Season, which I have capitalized for some reason. Enjoy “BEING MINDFUL (11/16/16)” -JD

There are several lessons that I have had to learn over and over. By the time the next Presidential election comes around I will have passed my 90th birthday. The little electric circuits in that amazing organ between my ears will have further hardened, and my memory will have become much more fragile. So here I am the day after the election, and I need to pay attention to lessons I have too readily ignored.

The first is a need to breathe deeply and take my time before registering any strong opinion about a current issue, particularly when I have an obvious emotional response. The cake must be given time to cool before it can be properly cut. When I have forgotten to put my mind in gear before I launch into a verbal or literary barrage, I have not only often been wrong, but also embarrassed. So I am drafting this column on the morning following the devastation wrought in the election. While my emotions are in overdrive, I have decided keep my foot off the gas pedal, at least for now.

Some things are clear. Nobody much will really care what those of my generation will have to say. There is only a modest place for the old liberals who still think we are the wave of the future. We are not. We may be the wise old men and women of the past, but unless a new much younger generation seizes the reins linked to the important issues before the nation, what we have dreamed about will just be that—fading fantasies.

In the next weeks I will still occasionally write about a few political issues, but I will probably change directions and do more introspection than I will issue proclamations.

Those who live near me realize that I am having a major problem in locomotion, and use either a cane or a walker to get around. In this less than robust state I have found that most people—particularly strangers—are ready to go out of the way to be helpful, even when I tell them I can get across the street by myself. I have had to learn to graciously accept what they so readily want to offer.

Something happened a few days ago that I will not forget. I had driven to my bank, and had parked in one of those blue-signed handicap spaces. These days I need to take my time getting in and out of the car, so as I was hauling my leg from the door to the street, there appeared an older gentleman who was probably of Asian extraction. He did not offer a hand but gave me a much more important three-word gift. He said, “Be very mindful.”

I had often heard that expression from friends of mine who may be Buddhists, or at least know about that religion. But here in the parking lot of a bank I finally began to understand what mindfulness might mean. At the latter reaches of a very active life I may be learning to pay attention to what is going on at the moment. Among other things, it means to be a better listener to what someone has to say. It means to look seriously at nature—not to find an image to paint, but for its own sake. It means to be fully committed to a conversation that is taking place, without letting my mind wander as I plan what I should say next or think about what I am going to do that afternoon. It means digesting what is immediately before me before pontificating about it.

So, many future columns will be more focused on what is more interior and personal. I’ll still deal with the political and social issues that will continue to consume me, but I will take my time before firing up my Mac. And my reaction to yesterday’s election will take time to incubate before I am ready to proclaim.

To the unknown gentleman who suggested that I be very mindful of getting out of the car, he will take his place in the pantheon of saints who have helped shape me.

—by Charles Bayer