BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Welcoming the Stranger: #AllPeoplePractices

Image result for welcome the strangerThe following was adapted from a short address given at this weekend's All People Conference in Columbus, OH. 

The Hebrew word “ger” or “stranger” appears 92 times in the Old Testament.  We see that God “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18). The bible also tells us not to “oppress the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, or the poor and let none devise evil against another in his heart." (Zechariah 7:10)

Indeed Malachi pretty strongly warns us that God "will be swift... against those who thrust aside the stranger." And in Deuteronomy 10:19 it says “So you, too, must show love to stranger, for you yourselves were once the new kid in the pew.” I may have mistranslated that last one...

But I do know that in Leviticus 19 it says “when a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself.” I’ve always thought it was funny how some folks jump right over that verse when they’re in such a hurry to quote the chapters on either side of it...

Image result for flight to egypt
Throughout scripture we see that our faith has been founded on the shoulders of strangers seeking welcome in new places. As a teenager, Joseph narrowly evaded death, and was forced to leave his parents to live in a foreign country. We remember Noah, who stuffed his family onto a crowded ship, and endured the tossing waves to escape their eminent doom. We honor Moses, who also floated on a life raft in troubled waters to reach safety as a baby boy. And Jesus himself, who as a child was forced to escape state violence and oppression by crossing a border, and became a refugee in a foreign land. People of God, let us remember who we are!

What if Pharaoh’s daughter hadn't taken in a child in need? What if Joseph the Dreamer hadn't been able to find employment in a new country? What if the Egyptian immigration agents had stopped Mary and Joseph at the border? Where would the Church be today, but for those that were willing to welcome the stranger?

Indeed, the idea of welcoming the stranger is at the very heart of God’s love for God’s people. It can be seen as the distilled essence of the Gospel message itself. For it is in our sinfulness, our estrangement, our stranger-ness, that Christ welcomed us into God’s own family. How can we but do anything else for each other?

Image result for citizen of heavenWe worship a God that does not heartlessly tell us to "go away," but says instead "welcome home." We benefit from a Savior who helped us cross the border into God's land of prosperity, where we are welcomed with the full rights of Heaven’s citizenship.And while we were not natural born members of God’s heavenly Kingdom, we know that Christ has sworn us in as naturalized citizens, having been born again on God’s sovereign soil.

But if at times we are apprehensive before the throne of God, perhaps it is because we know we have barred shut the gates of our own kingdoms at home. And I don’t just mean the gates at our nation’s entrances, but the gates around our own hearts and minds as well.

If we operate out of fear and we end up creating our own famines. If we cling to the way it’s always been, and wonder why things never change. We create artificial codes of entry and then look around in wonder when yet another local church is laid to rest.

Sometimes our welcome sign is sending mixed messages:
We say “bring your kids, but they’d better not cry”
We say “serve the church, but only if you’re able bodied”
We say “bring your charity, but not those that need it”
We say “bring your diversity, but only if you’ll assimilate”
We neglect our neighbors in the narthex, and vet our visitors in the vestibule
We say “come as you are”…when we really mean “come as we are”
And sometimes we leave the folks outside our walls to wonder why any church would be worth the all that trouble.

We don’t seem to realize is that by building walls--around our hearts, around our churches, and around our country--we are locking ourselves in, more than keeping others out. But Church, I tell you we cannot have open hearts, open minds, open door, while we have closed borders.

Image result for welcomeIt was of course Jesus that said to those who offered love and kindness “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

So what does it mean to welcome the stranger?
It means wrapping our arms around those that the world has discarded
It means setting aside our own comfort and preferences for the sake those around us
It means caring for the injustice in others' lives, and working daily to right the wrongs against them
It means affirming that undocumented doesn’t not mean unloved or unworthy
And it means offering forward the same radical welcome that Christ offered to us through His life and death on the cross.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Rest of the Ballot

Voting deadlines are looming across the country.
Are you registered? Do you know your polling place?

In an elections season like this one, much of our attention is focused on the presidential race. But so much that affects our daily lives is actually further down on the ticket.

I've always made it a point to vote in all elections,local and national, that were available to me, just on basic stubborn principle. But recent years have emphasized to me how truly important local elections are, even as a matter of life and death.

In Ferguson, Police Chief Thomas Jackson was appointed by the elected  mayor (via city manager). The St. Louis County Chief of Police, Jon Belmar, was also appointed by elected officials (county executive and city council).  In Beavercreek, the city where John Crawford was shot, the elected city council members, city manager, and city mayor were the ones to appoint the Chief of Police Dennis Evers and the ones who determine police budgeting allocations. These are the folks overseeing the police force chains-of-command that establish protocols, that train their officers, that give the orders, that the lead internal investigations, and that buy military equipment for their departments.

And state-level elections matter too. The special prosecutor for the Crawford shooting, Mark Piepmeier, was appointed by State Attorney General Mike DeWine. Florida State Attorney Angela Corey was elected to office in 2008 before famously failing to convict George Zimmerman of murder, even while prosecuting Marissa Alexander to the fullest extent of the law. And it was Florida Governor Rick Scott who first assigned Corey to the Zimmerman case.

County executive? Attorney General? City Council? County Sheriff? State Attorney? When is the last time you paid close attention to who was elected to these offices? But these are the elected positions that had direct influence on the most prominent racial cases of recent history.

Though the narrative is sometimes convoluted, it's the local ballot elections that are at the center of most racial justice issues today. They determine who will be prosecuted under New Jim Crow laws, which legislatures might propose a new Kill-At-Will bill or a mandatory sentencing law. It's the county commissioners, governors, and state officials that determine how your local taxes are spent, whether on police militarization or on public transportation. It's the school board members that decide whether to feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline or to actively reverse systemic educational disparity. It's also these local elections that regulate housing affordabilityenvironmental justice, and discrimination laws--all decisions made at the local level, and with immediate consequences for racial justice.

But as important as local elections are, they're not always made easy. Municipal elections are often held during odd-numbered years (as is the case in Ferguson and Beavercreek), those without major national elections, and thus with lower expected voter turnout. States may enact restrictive laws that reduce voter participation (see post: The Trouble with Voter ID Laws). While Ohio, like most states, allows for early voting, the law is getting more prohibitive, the Supreme Court having recently eliminated all evening voting hours and reduced weekend voting from 24 to 16 hours.

Clearly, laws such as these disproportionately affect working-class folk who hold one or more jobs to make ends meet. Of note, it is also elected local officials, like Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who regulate the elections themselves.

Shouldn't we laud an increase in voter turnout rather than trying to suppress it? Shouldn't we want more citizens to become engaged in electoral proceedings, not fewer? How does decreased participation enhance the democratic process?

Perhaps there is a fear of allowing more people to vote in a democratic society. But if a political party makes gains from voter suppression, what does it say about that party’s platform? Clearly not that it is formed with the benefit all citizens in mind.

Years of disenfranchisement leads to a foundation of legal precedent and accumulated power that perpetuate disparity and injustice. It’s no coincidence that that the Senate is still 94 percent white. As Christians, we know God says to “choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13), but some groups are still embarrassingly absent from our leadership.

Christians have a legacy of electing leaders, and we have a responsibility to protect this right for all of our sisters and brothers. The early church decided that it would be good for them to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn responsibility over to them” (Acts 6:3). Indeed, we are to “select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21). When we exercise the right to vote, we participate in a history passed down to us from both our political and spiritual forebears.

This year, make plans to ensure that you cast your ballot for local elections. Most states allow no-excuse absentee ballot voting, which means you can vote in your pajamas from the comfort of your couch (allowing you to research each of the names and issues that appear on your ballot as you go). As mentioned above, most states also allow for early in-person voting, which means you can find a time to vote that is convenient for your schedule. No excuses this year.

So, check yourself: are you registered? Is your registered address current? Do you know the ID requirements in your state? If you're all set personally, help ensure that your friends and neighbors also understand their voting rights and the importance of local elections. Organize a trip with your church to go vote together, or volunteer to help shuttle voters to the polls on election day.

As Christian voters we have an obligation to “discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good” (Job 34:4). We tend to pay attention to the Office of the President more than any other elected official. But our voices have the most influence on our own lives, and the lives of our neighbors, when we make sure to vote locally.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Friday Fruit (10/14/16)

Colorlines screenshot of Unicorn Riot Facebook video, taken on September 29, 2016.On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Creation Myths: Christopher Columbus

What we now accept as the true history of the United States in reality is comprised of decades of creation myths. After the American revolution, having separated ourselves from the rich history of Europe (and having sneered at this continent's indigenous histories to the point of annihilation), the newly formed United States found itself without a heritage with which to construct its new civilization. We were left without a history, without heroes or cultural icons. And the void needed to be filled.

As a result, we now have a cultural reliance on several sacred stories of our foundation. We revere the country's holy texts, and ritualistically repeat the essential creeds to our children. The stories of Jamestown, the pilgrims, and Plymouth Rock can be piously recalled. Yet none of the modern tales match the actual reality of our past. James Baldwin notes, "what passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors."

And we have made heroes out of our cruelest ancestors, not the least of which was Christopher Columbus. After first encountering the Arawaks, Columbus realized "with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." Thus was born America's true founding legacy.

To take advantage of Columbus's 'discovery', Spain declared that "with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us."

The crimes that followed Columbus's landing set the stage for centuries abuse and atrocity, the legacy of which continues today. Much of these works were carried out in the name of Christ. Consider that the first English ship to carry enslaved West Africans to the New World was named JesusFor hundreds of people this was the first encounter with God's Son, He that had come to 'set the captives free,'

Many of us already know that the stories we heard in grade school are myths. But white America perpetuates and clings to them anyway. Why? Perhaps we are too afraid to look straight into the face of our generational sin. White Americans continue to benefit from our ancestors' actions, and it's time we owned up to the implications.

That Columbus is lauded as a hero is shameful and embarrassing. We need to rethink what stories we tell. Begin by watching this video, and consider who and what we celebrate on Columbus Day:

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Learning from the Students: Activism Past and Present

Black students sitting at the counter at Woolworths in Greensboro
We are once again seeing an increase in student-led activism across the country, a tradition with a strong history, even in the face of equally strong opposition. 

There is a great legacy of student- and youth-led activism in the United States. But we are often tempted to romanticize bygone eras, thinking today's efforts are lackluster in comparison. But there are striking parallels between today's student racial justice movements and those of our history--including in how they are perceived by the dominant culture of their day.

On February 1, 1960, having stayed up late in their dorms discussing recent personal racial indignities they had faced, four college freshmen decided to stage a lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, NC. That evening, they returned to campus and recruited even more students to join them at the Woolworth's five-and-dime the next day. The movement grew daily with students from the many surrounding universities taking part. By the 4th day, more than 300 people had joined in, and the tactic had caught on across the country.

Comparing images from the 1960s and today
Click to enlarge
Shortly thereafter, inspired by the efforts in Greensboro, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded (though to that point many independent actions had been staged without the need for a formal organization). The student movement was careful to maintain its independence from the established leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), They partnered on many events, but they were their own organization. SNCC, and other student groups like it across the country, placed a high value on consensus building and participatory democracy, avoiding centralized leadership and 'top down' control.

When the Freedom Rides began, they were initially sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, but when the buses were violently attacked in Alabama, the action was put on hold . It was the students that resolved to finish the ride, at great risk to themselves, allowing the movement to grow.

Time and again over the years of their work, the youth were told that their methods were foolish, that they were being too radical, that they should be more patient and work within the system. They were often told to tone down their language and to speak and act calmly. Instead, they continued to disrupt daily life for every-day citizens across the country. They tormented local businesses, costing them significant revenue. They broke laws, they disrespected authority.

Students gathering at a planning meeting in the 1960sTo show the outrageous use of force that the established power was willing to inflict, these youth risked prison, police violence, and death. They leveraged new media technology so that the nation could see these actions play out in living color on their own television sets.

Of note, even though SNCC eventually came to see him as the 'old establishment' of the movement, Dr. King himself was only 26 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott, having only just finished graduate school earlier that same year. What if the Church had decided he was too young to lead? What if they had dismissed him and asked him come back when he had more experience?

Dr. King wasn't even 30 years old when he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Indeed, he was 27 when his house was bombed by the KKK. Malcolm X was 28 when he was appointed to Mosque No. 7 in New York. The same Civil Right movement that we sometimes remember as mature or stoic, was in reality young, passionate, and vibrate. Much like our youth movements today.

Crowd of students with hands up. Sign: "I am a human. Don't shoot"
Today, we have groups like the Ohio Students Association, which has led the protests for John Crawford (as well as for police reform across their state).  We have Ferguson Action, which leverages the emerging media of today's world to spread the growing protest movement.

Instead of sit-ins, they're hosting die-ins. Instead of buttons, they're using hashtags. And like those four freshmen in Greensboro, their actions are not the result of years of training, but rather spring out of felt need in the moment. Like their predecessors, they too are also being told they are too radical, too disruptive. They too are being told to step down and go quietly.

Like SNCC and others, our young activists today also express a wariness of the establishment and of the old methods of protest that may have run their course. Their fresh perspective is helping innovate and to creatively construct next steps for us to take as a nation.

Medical students in white coats lying on the floor in a 'die in'And like those that came before them, today's students are making tremendous personal sacrifices for the sake of the movement. We must remember to listen closely to what they have to say. After all, the very Lord and Savior who died for our sins, was barely 30 when he did so. Was He too young to lead??

We must trust the observations of our young movement leaders and learn from their lived experiences. Otherwise, we might never even realize we've let the movement pass us by.

This post originally appeared on the blog of UMC Collegiate Ministry
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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