Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When they yell: "F@#$ the police" What would Jesus have me do then?

This morning, I read an excellent piece from a baptist pastor, the Rev. Jeff Hood, called "The Violence of Demanding Peaceful Protest: The Missteps of Clergy in Ferguson." I commend it to you. He says in part:

"The work that I do is to ensure that acts of civil disobedience remain nonviolent, not that they remain nonexistent. We must not forget that civil disobedience is an unpeaceful act. Civil disobedience is not intended to create situations of calm. Civil disobedience escalates situations to a point where people have to pay attention to injustice..."

"I don't think you can have an honest conversation about race in our nation when you are always telling people to calm down. If peaceful protest is about controlling people's emotions, then I believe it to be violently taking away the agency of people who have every right to be angry and engaged in resistance. I am for nonviolence. I believe it is by far the most effective and moral way to confront injustice. I am not for the violence of clergy-controlled protests in a space where people have every right to exercise their anger."

This is an excellent article and it resonates with me. I also realize the learning curve I have been and continue to be on over the past three months to get to this point. The first times I was out with demonstrators, I was so much like the clergy the writer talks about - wanting people to calm down. I talked about it being my belief in neighbor love, but I realize now that, for me, at big part of it was my own uncomfortability with the anger and my own fear at its power. But the anger is the natural result of injustice and it must be expressed. White people like me must not only allow it, we must, as I preached on Sunday, allow it to cut us to the core and shake our foundations. We must feel the anger and let it change us.

My job as clergy on the street is to make sure the civil disobedience is nonviolent, not nonexistent. I am always opposed to any physical violence. I believe it is counter to Christ and sets back any movement for change for justice. I will always oppose violence. But I need to guard the space for the anger to be expressed.

The tricky part for me and where I continue to struggle the most is violent words. Specifically, "F#$% the police."

Jesus tells me to love my neighbor and when I stand with people who yell "F^&* the police" it makes me cringe and breaks my heart. It's not so much my uncomfortability with anger (I'm making my peace with that) but with the fact that I know for many officers those words are experienced as violence directed toward them. They are experienced by the officer's family and friends that way, too. I have seen the words create the same hardness of heart and desire to respond in kind that physical violence does -- even as the words themselves are often a response from the young people to the times they have been told "Get the #$&* out of the street" by police. I cringe and my heart breaks because I want the cycle of verbal violence to end, too.

But that is not most of my struggle. Most of my struggle is I have friends and people I care about deeply who are police officers, families of police officers and friends of police officers.  I struggle because not only do I see them as human beings and beloved images of God but because they have let me get to know them, I have seen what good people they are and I have been privileged to call them friends -- some for a long time -- and I truly love them. And when I stand with someone yelling "F#$& the police" it is like standing with someone yelling "F#$& you" at my friend. And I know that they at least sometimes experience it as me standing there yelling "F#$& you" to them, too.  And they are confused and angry with me. And I don't blame them.

I am grateful for my struggle and hope it doesn't go away. The struggle is rooted in my ability to see the police as individual human beings and children of God, to know and to love them the same way I have been so blessed and transformed by getting to know and love some of the young women and men who are the leaders of the demonstrations as individual human beings and children of God. I pray I never slip into seeing either "side" merely as "police" or "demonstrator" but strive always to see the humanity of each individual because that is Jesus' call.

I want the demonstrators to see the police that I know. And I want the police and their family and friends to see the demonstrators I know. I want them to see each other's humanity and beauty. I want them to see each other as I see them. And I want it to happen right now because it hurts so much that they can't. I want it to happen right now because it hurts so bad. And I hate the pain. I want it to happen right now because I want the pain to stop.

And that's where I need to take a deep breath and trust. Trust that some day this will happen. But it will not be right now. It will not be tomorrow. It will not be for a long time. This is healing from deep trauma and my spiritual guides, the women of Magdalene, have taught me that healing from trauma takes a long, long time and that getting the anger out is an indispensable part of the healing.

I need to remember that I can have the love and friendship I have with police officers and their friends and family because I have the privilege of a different relationship with them. I have never felt the police as my oppressor, yet for these women and men growing up black in urban America that has been their relationship with the police their whole lives.

For these demonstrators, the police are not the only sign of how our society has discarded and criminalized these young women and men, but as a body they are the most visible sign and have become the symbol of that oppression. To them, the police are not individuals worthy of being treated as God's image and they are not yet ready to see them as that. They will be someday, but mostly they are not now. They are not now, because they have not experienced that treatment as beloved from the police ... or anyone else in power. And after the stories I have heard of how people have been treated, I have to say screaming "F#$% you" seems not only honest and healthy but downright reasonable.

Is it fair that individual police officers who may have wonderful hearts and are putting themselves in harms way daily and are just trying to make a living have to bear the brunt of the abuse and anger directed toward those officers who are brutally racist police and, indeed toward a "whole damn system that is guilty as hell?" No. But fair went out the window a long time ago.

The truth is the anger coming off the streets directed at the police must be expressed or we will never get to the place where healing is possible. Yes, I understand the police have their own anger, but the truth is as wonderful as they might be individually, as a group they are the symbol of the oppressive power. It's not fair, but it also means they have a transformational opportunity before them - and that is to hear the terrible words directed at them and let those words touch their hearts not as blows directed at them personally but as pain being expressed and let those wonderful compassionate hearts that I have seen in my friends who are police hear that pain and maybe even love the feelers of it.

And what is my role? What would Jesus have me do when the young people begin to yell, "F#$% the police." As I am still struggling with that, all I can say is here's where I am now.

My role is to stand with the nonviolent young women and men who are leading this movement, even when they are shouting "F#$& the police" knowing that their anger is righteous and if we are ever going to get to a place of reconciliation and healing, it must be expressed. Knowing that Christ bids us to stand with those who are oppressed, with those who are "the least of these" knowing that in the Kingdom of God, the last will be first.

My role is trying to do the slow, work of translation -- even as I am growing in my own understanding -- to try to help police and indeed all white people ask the powerful question of "Why?" when we hear these young people yell "F$#% the police" and not be satisfied with simple answers that just reinforce our prejudices and stereotypes.

My role is receiving the confusion, anger and hurt from the wonderful people I have built friendships with over the years who are now seeing me as "anti-cop" and bearing that as part of my own penance and praying our friendships ultimately are strong enough to bear it, but recognizing they may not be.

My role is recognizing that, as a part of that system that privileges white people like me, I have to share in the guilt, and every time I hear ""F#$^ the police" I have to hear "F#$& you, Mike Kinman" because I am part of that system, too. I literally have to make that translation in my head and in my heart and try to have compassion on the voices saying it ... because I am a part of that system, too. I know that is not the same as having it yelled at me, but I need to do it regardless.

My role, as is ours, is to continue to set my eyes on Jesus and try with the rest of you to walk in his steps. To try not to shy away from pain but feel it fully knowing it can be redemptive. To listen deeply to and stand with those who are oppressed and be their shield. To love without counting the cost knowing that the cost of love is often high. And, because I am not Jesus, to do this incredibly imperfectly and rely on the grace and forgiveness of God and others.

Tonight, I have been invited to stand in my Elmer-Fuddish orange vest in front of the Ferguson police department and do these things. Unless I am called elsewhere, I will be there with my dear sister Rebecca Ragland and others. I do not go there lightly. I go there trembling -- in awe mostly over the movement we are all called to be a part of. I go there to try imperfectly to do this work. I bid your prayers ... and I bid you find your role in this work as well. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Let us pray: A prayer for the members of the grand jury.

This morning, let us pray for the members of the grand jury that reconvenes today.

Let us not pray for any specific outcome. Let us not pray for any specific timetable. Let us pray for the men and women who make up that body.
Holy and loving God, giver of all good gifts, we lift before you this day the members of the grand jury deliberating in the case of Darren Wilson.

They are wives and husbands, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, lovers and friends.

Like so many, they did not choose their role in this struggle, it chose them.

Like so many, they did not leave behind the other challenges of their lives when this work was thrust upon them, and in fact this work has probably made those challenges even more acute.

Like so many, in the midst of all this, they still have to raise their children, make their marriages and other relationships work, do their jobs and live their lives.

Like so many, they find themselves suddenly at the center of a global seismic event and are having to wrestle with not just their place in one decision but their place in history.

Like so many, they are probably wrestling with fear and anxiety, afraid not only for themselves and their future but for their families.

Like so many, they see themselves being dehumanized in the media and online and in conversation, treated as an entity or a class rather than as individual human beings, precious in your sight.

And yet unlike anyone else, they have a specific burden of being asked to render a decision based on our current system of standards and laws, whether they believe those standards and laws to be just or not.

Unlike anyone else, they have to wrestle with the fact that they will be part of a decision that will not only have deep consequences locally but nationally and historically.

Unlike anyone else, they sleep and rise knowing that our city and the world is waiting for them to render their opinion.

We pray for each and all of them today.

We pray that you will surround them with light and hope that will keep them from despair.

We pray that you will give each of them that peace that passes understanding that will let them see clearly and judge rightly -- not assuming that our judgment should be theirs.

We pray for their spouses and children, for comfort for them. We pray that their partnerships and marriages might be strengthened in this crucible.

We pray that each of them lean more on you and find in this time an opportunity to depend on you more and more for wisdom and even for their very survival.

We pray that you give each of them the courage to trust that they have been called to this purpose for a reason and to reach for their best selves and continually have the strength to approach this incredible task with the utmost integrity.

We pray that each of them will feel the prayers and support of this community, and that no matter what decision they render that they will know the love you showed when you became flesh in Jesus Christ, the love you showed when you promised "I will be with you, even to the end of the age," will never leave them.

In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh, who gave himself out of love for the life of the world, we pray.  Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

An open letter to my clergy colleagues: What You Can Do.

As we get close to the grand jury decision, I am getting wonderful notes and emails from clergy colleagues all over the country expressing their love and support. I first want to say thank you. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your prayers.

Some of these notes say: "Let me know if there's anything I can do." I know you mean that. And so I'm going to tell you what you can do. It will take courage. And know that as you do this I will have your back every bit as much as you have had mine.

When the grand jury decision is announced and the national media eye turns to whatever will happen in St. Louis, here is what I need you to do:

Preach about it. I need you not to let your congregation pretend this has nothing to do with you. I need you, in your own words and with your own integrity from your own heart, to preach about race and privilege and the deep brokenness we have not just in Ferguson, not just in St. Louis, but all over our nation. To preach in a way that will make your congregation uncomfortable in the same way we at Christ Church Cathedral are uncomfortable right now. To preach in a way that doesn't jump too quickly to peace and reconciliation but holds a mirror up to your own congregation and your own city. I need you to see what is happening in St. Louis and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ for your own congregation and your own community. And don't just preach it once like it's earning a merit badge but keep preaching it over and over again.

Find your young leaders. A gift of what is happening here is a group of young leaders that has come together on the streets of Ferguson. They are women and men who are strong, courageous and committed to militant, nonviolent love for the sake of justice. Their words and language is often harsh because the lives they are living have been harsh. I need you to find those young people in your community ... and you will have to go out of your churches to do it. And when you find them, I need you not to preach to them but to listen to them and look for ways you can stand with them, ways you can amplify their voices. I need you to confess where the church has abandoned them and to be the church in ways that gets their trust back. I need you to stand in the breach with them and guard them from harm. I need you to let them lead you.

Move some money. I need you to have the conversations that matter in your own family, in your congregation and in your diocese. Where do you spend your money? Where do you invest your money? Do you support, encourage and invest in minority-owned businesses? Does your money go all over the country and the world looking for the highest rate of return or do you invest in community development in neighborhoods of poverty right where you are? This is work we are just at the very, very beginnings of starting in my own family, congregation and diocese. I need you to be in this with us. Talk is cheap. People of color have been left off the financial escalators our society has privileged white people with since the Emancipation Proclamation. I need you to work with us in helping everyone be able to have the capacity to thrive.

Pray. This is definitely "last but not least." Pray for us and know that we are praying for you. Pray not for an easy peace but pray for transformation. Pray for courage. Pray for us not to fear and shrink from conflict but to let conflict drive us to transformation. Pray for God's Holy Spirit to move us in ways that we scarcely believe possible. Pray that all of us -- we here in St. Louis and you wherever you are -- may use this moment in time as a great opportunity to show how deeply we trust in Jesus and the amazing things that Christ can do.

As you do these things, know that I am at your service. I will do all in my power to help you. It is up to you if Ferguson and St. Louis will just be the identified patient for American racism or whether this will spark a national movement for transformation, a movement that will not end until all people are treated as beloved images of God.

My inspiration is the young women and men who are literally putting their lives on the line for this movement of transformation. I know that the little I risk is truly the least I can do to stand with these who are willing to risk so much. What can you do for me? Stand with me and do the same. Thank you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

There's something different this time ... and it's the women.

“If you want to kill a village, rape the women. If you want to heal the village, you heal the women.” -- Becca Stevens

The women of Millennial Activists United.
There's something different this time.
There's something different this time.

We have been here before as a nation. We've been here in 1965 in Watts. We've been here in 1967 in Newark. We've been here in 1992 in South Central LA and 2001 in Cincinnati. 

Young black men being abused and shot by police? That's not new.

Pain and rage? That's not new.

Clergy and activists organizing? Masses of people on the streets? Apocalyptic language? Terror of a slave uprising sweeping through the white community? 

None of this is anything new.

In many ways what is happening in Ferguson, Shaw and all over St. Louis is following a familiar script. Certainly the media, government leaders and the police know the script and are preparing for it to play out the same way. 

The same script is not good news for anyone. The same script has brought needed changes, but small ones. The same script has mostly set the stage for the script to be played out again and again and again.

But there's something different this time.

And it's the women.

I found out Mike Brown had been killed when the Rev. Traci Blackmon shared the news on her Facebook page and said, "Sometimes events happen that compel you to tear up your sermon and start over." At 6:30 the next morning, she was asking me to be at the Ferguson Police Department that afternoon to help her lead a prayer vigil.

When Traci asks me to do something, I try to never say no. So I tore up my sermon that morning and preached about what had just happened. And that afternoon, I stood with her in prayer on West Florissant Avenue.

Since that day, nearly 100 days ago, I have tried to follow Jesus' counsel to be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. I have tried to balance my desire for both me and Christ Church Cathedral to be a reconciler of all people with the need for us boldly to stand with those who are in need and oppressed.

Since that day, nearly 100 days ago, there have been no shortage of people and groups to align with. I decided early on that I would try to stand with people who

*share my theological foundation that all people are made in God's image, are beloved and must be treated with honor, dignity and high regard
*share my absolute commitment to nonviolent social change and the transformative power of militant love.
*are of the highest integrity and the lowest ego.

And what that means has become abundantly clear.

I stand with the women.

What is different this time is the women. The most powerful voices in this movement do not have names like Martin and Malcolm and Stokely. They have names like Traci and Brittany and Alexis. Yes, there are men, wonderful and strong and courageous, who are leading as well ... but the core of this movement, the heart and soul of this movement, the spiritual power behind this movement are the women.

There's something different this time. And what is different is the women are no longer content to let us men relegate them to the back of the bus. The women are no longer content to let us men repeat the same script over and over again. The stakes are too high. Their babies are dying. Their sisters and brothers are dying. Rachel has been weeping for her children for far too long.

The women are in charge now ... and thanks be to God. They are telling us that they will not stop praying with their feet until there is no more blood on our streets. Everywhere I turn, I am confronted by powerful, courageous and grace-filled women who humble me and call me to my best self. The list is too long -- Traci Blackmon, Rebecca Ragland, Ashley Yates, Brittany Ferrell, Alexis Templeton,  Elle Dowd, Susan Talve, Leah Gunning Francis, Heather Arcovitch, Deb Krause, Mary Gene Boteler, Amy Hunter, Robbyn Wahby, Dietra Baker, Tricia Roland-Hamilton, Brittany Packnett, Hedy Epstein, Cassandra Gould ... I'm leaving so many out because the list goes on and on and on and on.

Over the past weeks, I have watched a parade of men step before cameras and talk about the police response that is coming, the government response that is being prepared. I have seen them talk tough and flex their muscles and over and over again use the language of fear. I have not seen them deviate once from the script that has got us to the same place over and over again.

At the same time, I have watched the women pray and anoint. I have watched the women collect scarves, caps and gloves. I have watched the women organize and prophesy. I have heard them use the language of hope and resurrection. I have watch them mine the deep power of tears and bring those tears pouring out of me.

In a day or a week or more, the grand jury will announce their decision. And it seems that everyone is preparing for the worst. It seems that everyone is preparing for the same script to play over and over again.

I do not believe it will. In fact, I believe that we in St. Louis are going to go down in history as the place where the cycle is broken.

Because there's something different this time. And it's the women.

 Becca Stevens reminds us, “If you want to kill a village, rape the women. If you want to heal the village, you heal the women.”

 I would add one more line.

If you want to transform the village, follow the women.

And that is what I am doing.