Creating Connections in the Chaos: A Mother’s Day Reflection

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.” 

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing. 

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.” 

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are. 

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so. 

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon. 

— 

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day, our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, below, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

Traci Smith is the author of two books with Chalice Press, Faithful Families (formerly Seamless Faith) and Fellowship of Prayer (2015), and a contributor to Out of the Deep: Pastoring in Creative Space. Traci has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is pastor of Northwood Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband and children.


An Appeal to the Methodist Council to Defer Action on Bishop Oliveto’s Case

By Rev. Frank Schaefer

On this day deliberations have begun by the highest United Methodist judicial body (Judicial Council) whether our first openly gay bishop, Karen Oliveto, can remain in office after being elected and consecrated less than a year ago.

My thoughts and prayers are especially with Bishop Oliveto, as I personally know what it’s like to face the possible loss of your career in front of the Judicial Council. I remember going before this body just two years ago knowing that not only my personal career was at stake, but the fate of so many LGBTQ members including my three gay children. When the ruling came out that I would not be defrocked again, I counted it a victory for the LGBTQ community as much as a personal victory. That was a good day. I was certainly not ready to face another defrocking—an experience I have described with intimate details in my book Defrocked published by Chalice Press.

Our beloved United Methodist Church has been stuck at an impasse over this for many years and show-downs like this are becoming more frequent and more intense. Representatives on both sides of the issue are aware of just how high the stakes are. The biggest fear, which appears to become more real with every show-down is that our denomination could split, splinter and become irrelevant.

I do realize that there there are two sides of course. No matter what the Judicial Council decides, there will be grief. I do realize that the church law, as currently written, forbids the ordination of openly gay persons in relationships (“self-avowed, practicing homosexuals”).

However, it should be clear to everybody after General Conference 2016 that our Conference Delegates have acknowledged that the United Methodist Church is divided over the human sexuality doctrine as currently written. General Conference 2016 voted to authorize the council of bishops to put into place a special commission to determine a way forward.

In my opinion, as long as there is official debate on this doctrinal issue, the Judicial Council should not make a drastic decision. While I personally long for the Council to affirm the election of Bishop Oliveto, I think the wisest outcome of this hearing–given the ongoing Way Forward process–would be to defer action.

I appeal to our Judicial Council to please consider deciding this way. And should a decision be made to defer action, I also appeal to the entire body of our denomination to embrace this ruling. May God be with us in these times of struggle!

For news of the Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri, see here.

Frank Schaefer is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. He is married to Brigitte and has four children. He was educated at Princeton Theological Seminary. In 2013, Frank Schaefer was tried by a United Methodist court for officiating his son’s same-sex marriage and was defrocked over his refusal to uphold the Book of Discipline, which meant virtually to denounce gay marriage rights. In June 2014, a regional appeals committee decided to reinstate him as a minister; in October 2014, the highest court of the United Methodist Church upheld that reinstatement. Now leading a United Methodist campus ministry in California, he is a speaker and human-rights activist.

Order your copy of Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the Methodist Church here.

Is Your Pastor Sexist? Is the New York Times Sexist? Are You Sexist?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched our Presbyterian colleagues protesting Princeton Theological School’s plan to honor Tim Keller, who in his long ministry has argued women should be subservient to their husbands, a point of view that is also interpreted to state women should not be ministers.

Before I go any further, let me be clear: CBP/Chalice Press strongly disagrees with that stance, or with any stance that espouses inequality in any form whatsoever. There are many, many, many1 women doing incredible ministry that should inspire us all to step up our game. We’re lucky to work with them.

Back to the story. Traci Smith, author of the recently released Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home and a Princeton alumna, blogged about this and caught the attention of both Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News (she declined their interview request) and the New York Times, which didn’t reach out to her but quoted her blog instead.

Is Your Pastor Sexist?, by Times contributor Julia Baird, referred to “Rev. Tim Keller” and “Dr. Keller.” It then referred to Traci as “Traci Smith, a former Princeton seminarian who is now a minister,” and noted Christian author Carol Howard Merritt as “a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” No Rev. before their names.

Surely this was a mistake, right? Copyediting gone awry? 2

Traci and Carol both mused about that on social media, and their connections jumped on the bandwagon. I’m not one to fire off Letters to the Editor, but this was clearly an instance where we could offer our opinion as a publisher regarding one of our writers, as well as share a view on the world of ministry with some folks who might not necessarily understand how things work in the professional field. So this morning, I sent off this missive:

    Dear editor,

    Julia Baird’s opinion piece, Is Your Pastor Sexist?, contains several unintentional but extremely ironic sexist errors. The male subject of the article is referred to as both Rev. Keller and Dr. Keller, indicating the Times uses honorific titles. Two female pastors, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, do not have Rev. attached to their references, indicating the Times does not use honorific titles. Which is it? Surely this decision isn’t driven by gender?

    It’s likely bad copyediting is the culprit here, but this oversight epitomizes the everyday challenge female pastors face in their vocation — sexism undermines the equally challenging work they do in a workplace that is all too often hostile to them simply because of their chromosomal combinations.

    I see one correction already in the online version. If a story about sexism is inherently sexist, that probably merits at least a correction as well, does it not?

    Sincerely,
    Brad Lyons

A few hours later, an email rolled in from Matt Seaton, Staff Editor in the Op-Ed Department:

    Thank you for your letter regarding Julia Baird’s Op-Ed essay “Is Your Pastor Sexist?” I am responding because your letter was forwarded to me as the editor of this article.

    Times style usually allows for use of the title “Rev.” (for Reverend) only on first mention, and this was applied to the Rev. Tim Keller in this case. (Thereafter, he appeared as Dr. Keller, given his doctorate of ministry.) But honorifics are applied as context allows, not as a rigid rule.

    Our chief copy-editor explained to me that the “Rev.” title was not applied to the other two ministers in the piece, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, because they were introduced in ways that would have made the addition of “the Rev.” awkward and clumsy, and because, in each case, they were both clearly identified as minister or pastor.

    On second use of each of those ministers’ names, “Ms.” was the correct honorific, since neither of them, to the best of our knowledge, has a doctorate of divinity or ministry.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter and taking the trouble to communicate your view to us.

    Best, Matt

So the honorifics were cut because it would make the writing clunky. That’s weak. Very, very weak. Just rewrite the sentence! You’re not going to wear out your computer or need Tommy John surgery to fix that.

But it’s more than weak — it’s offensive.

I understand we’re talking about a few letters, but those few letters make a world of difference. Though their choice was intentional, their choice also subliminally subjugates female pastors in their vocation and in our culture.

CBP/Chalice Press is a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has for decades ordained women, and our first female General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, is about to be followed by our second female General Minister and President, Teresa Hord Owens. We’re darn proud of that. Beyond that, we work with women and men, ordained and non-ordained, from many denominations, because we believe everybody has gifts from God regardless of whether they’ve gone through school or the proper training.

What I hear from my female colleagues in ministry is that it’s getting better but that the gender gap we see across society still exists in ministry – in the lack of respect shown to female clergy, in disparate compensation packages, and in the opportunities to lead at vibrant congregations. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix this, but we must fix it, and all the other prejudices in our culture, if we are to live in the Beloved Community.

It falls to all of us in the ways we talk about each other, the ways we hold each other accountable for our biases, the way we work on ourselves to erase those biases. But the New York Times, bless its heart – I sure hope it comes to its senses soon.

Footnotes

1. Many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many… well, you get the gist.
2. Baird reached out to Traci and said she hadn’t used titles, that they were added later.

How Progressive Christians are playing catch-up

Every once in a while, small publishers think about big media and how to overturn the tables in the temple.

A few weeks ago, Publishers Weekly’s Lynn Garrett asked for my thoughts on Progressive Christian publishing given the electoral insanity beginning to unveil itself on our national and state stages. (There is still sanity at the county and municipal levels, thank God. Let us unite around quality trash collection!) That article, “Justice a Hot Topic for Religion Publishers: Books on racism, immigration, and poverty are more relevant than ever,” was released on Inauguration Day, and it looks across the broad religious spectrum. It’s a good read about the state of the industry.

Here’s the quote Ms. Garrett used:

“Progressive Christians now have the sense of urgency that the Evangelical church has had for a long time. Conservative Christians built their movement through a variety of media, and book publishing has been a key part of that. Now it’s the progressives’ turn.”

Need evidence? Driving across southern Missouri last Sunday, I couldn’t find the Packers-Falcons game[1] – one of the NFL’s penultimate games, two teams playing for a Super Bowl berth – but I could find half a dozen evangelists trying to save souls through the AM dial. For at least 40 years, Evangelical Christians have learned how to organize and how to spread their message, and now they dominate the political stage, the airwaves, and the bookstore shelves. Progressive Christians haven’t had that multimedia ambition, and we’re paying the price.[2]

One would think the Republican Revolution of 1994 would have been enough to jumpstart the liberal/progressive multimedia boom. Or the 2000 election. Or the rising tide of resentment in the Tea Party eight years ago. But here we are, a quarter-century later, lagging far behind, with the highlights being Air America and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Both secular, and both just memories now.

But what good is a multimedia network if you have no clear message? Let’s not dwell on the Evangelical with-Jesus-or-against-Jesus mentality that can be wonderful or terrifying. Let’s think about the message of the Progressive Christian media. The Jesus of Progressive Christians welcomes the immigrant; shows mercy and tangible support for the downtrodden; and celebrates the iconic American belief – and Christian belief – that in our uniqueness, we are all beautiful in God’s eyes. Progressive Christians need to teach that Jesus[3], the scorned Jesus who weeps when 30 million Americans lose their health care, when refugees are sent away, when LGBT persons are treated as third-class citizens.

And what will the multimedia network empower us to do? It will train a new generation of Progressive Christians in the art of opposition and organization; teach the language of protest, conflict resolution and compromise; and reframe for the world the oft-ignored fact that Christian values come in many forms often the polar opposite of what the high-profile, media-darling Christian leaders assert.

There is room on the airways, in the bookstores, and in the places where power resides, for all points on the theological spectrum. But we can’t just hope that equal time will materialize out of thin air. It will take action, it will take money, it will take commitment, and it will take courage.

So far, we’re all set on courage. Saturday’s global Women’s March included all the issues dear to progressives; we may finally feel the urgency. The tide might actually be turning. The time is right for a Progressive Christian media explosion. Now it’s the Progressives’ turn to put in some grunt work and build our movement. Religious publishers can be a key part of that new movement, but that will require having those books more widely available and visible, and people will need to buy them. And, I think, people will buy them … AND put them to good use.

Let’s get to work.


[1] Thank goodness. I was wearing Green Bay green, and the afternoon did not go well. Not at all.

[2] And without mass media sharing the inclusive message of the mainline church, it shrinks rapidly as the Evangelical church grows. I can’t help but think there’s a connection.

[3] Have no doubt that our Islamic siblings would say the same of Muhammed, our Jewish siblings the same of their prophets, our Buddhist siblings the Buddha, and so on. Bar a few folks dealing with severe mental illness, we’re all on the same side — of peace and justice and freedom, despite what the fear mongers want you to believe.

 

Pearl Harbor, Heart Mountain

A pleasant sunny, muggy Hawaiian morning that smelled of seawater and steel.

A miserable blustery, rainy Wyoming afternoon that smelled of snow and mud.

One caused the other. And it could happen again.

Two summers ago, my family visited Pearl Harbor, just west of Honolulu. We’ve all read about the infamous attack time and time again, and I knew a lot about Pearl Harbor. I could name all the battleships on Battlefield Row, knew the timelines, and understood the multipronged attack that lured the United States into World War II. When I stood on the USS Arizona Memorial, gazing at the ghostlike shell of a ship just below the water, when my 5-year-old daughter spotted oil rainbows in the water, I could, for a moment, hear the explosions and the planes and the screams of pain and death and smell the smoke and the blood. When the attack ended, 2,471 American servicemen and civilians had died, another 1,213 were wounded, and Pearl Harbor had become a national shrine for the American fallen of all our wars.

The flag over the USS Arizona Memorial, June 2015. Photo by Brad Lyons
The flag over the USS Arizona Memorial, June 2015. Photo by Brad Lyons

Then, this past October, I visited Heart Mountain Relocation Center, between Cody and Powell in northwestern Wyoming. Built in the months after Pearl Harbor, during the desperate first months of a war we were losing, Heart Mountain detained almost 14,000 Japanese Americans during its more than three years of operation. A shameful part of American history, these Americans weren’t given the option to relocate to Heart Mountain or the other relocation centers scattered across the western half of the country. They were forcibly moved. The centers provided some measure of home; students continued their education, a hospital offered medical care, and semblances of community such as a camp newspaper and dances were allowed. But the 650 barracks were abysmal, the camp prisonlike. The early winter weather the day I visited made it far too easy to imagine the Wyoming wind tearing through the cracks in the poorly built barracks far too easy. Residents had some freedom within the walls, but let there be no doubt: those residents were interred, held against their will.

Barracks and chimney, Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming. Photo by Brad Lyons
Barracks and chimney, Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming. Photo by Brad Lyons

Just as there’s not much of the devastation left at Pearl Harbor, there’s not much of Heart Mountain left, either. A guard tower stands near the highway turnoff, and there are a few old barracks, the hospital’s chimney, and a short footpath with plaques detailing life at the camp. When the camps closed in the months following the V-J Day, most Americans went on as though internment had never happened. Most of the Heart Mountain camp has been erased from existence, and I assure you I never learned about internment in history classes.

Pearl Harbor caused Heart Mountain.

And if we’re not careful, the ongoing persecution of Islamic Americans may yet cause another roundup of Americans who look different from those in power, who have beliefs different from the majority of Americans (or, more likely, a vocal minority) but who still share a belief in justice and equality and freedom. That another Heart Mountain could possibly occur, unthinkable not too long ago, is a horrifying shift in American politics. In these xenophobic times, it is our obligation as people of faith, as people urged to love the strangers among us, as people who follow Jesus who was a refugee as a child and oppressed and executed by a foreign empire, to keep that from happening again.

Brad-signature

Christians and Standing Rock: An Update

News outlets often describe the standoff between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Energy Transfer Partners, developers of the North Dakota Access Pipeline, as contest between the water rights of indigenous peoples and the energy needs of the nation. This is a false and misleading characterization of the conflict.

People of faith have understood from the beginning that for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe the deeper issues are Native sovereignty, treaty rights, and religion. Religion for many Native peoples is land-based, and Native spirituality is bound to the land, making sacred places set aside for human remembrance such as burial grounds. For the Great Sioux Nation, to be a Sioux is to care for Mother Earth.

The centrality of land for Native spirituality was recognized by the United States with the enactment of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. This law calls upon the government to “protect and preserve for Native Americans their inherent right to freedom of belief …  and to worship through ceremonies and traditional sites.”

In October Churches Uniting in Christ, eleven denominations in covenantal relations, joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other indigenous peoples to support tribal sovereignty, water, cultures, way of life, and sacred sites, citing the centrality of land to Native peoples and Native religious practices

On November 4, 524 clergy representing many denominations responded to a call put forth by Reverend John Floberg, an Episcopal priest who has been serving the Standing Rock Sioux people for 25 years, to come to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, for a time of prayer and to be in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The clergy who gathered used the occasion to ceremonially burn a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, a policy used to justify the confiscation of Indian lands, the destruction of Indian cultures, and the taking of Indian lives.

One month later, with protesters facing an order from the North Dakota governor to leave their encampment before the harsh winter sets in, more than 1,000 communities around the world joined an Interfaith Day of Prayer. People of many faiths came together to pray with and to pray for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Water Protectors. That same day, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a key permit needed to finish construction, a major victory for the water protectors. Whether that victory will end the debate, rerouting the pipeline away from Standing Rock, time will tell.

These prayers and the ongoing vigilance of the faith community is greatly needed. North Dakota Governor Dalrymple called the Army Corps of Engineers decision “a serious mistake.” The Morton County Sheriff’s Department pledged to “continue to enforce the law.” Energy Transfer Partners has pledged to complete the present pipeline.

Christians from many denominations are showing strong support for the religious rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. We must stand in deep solidarity now and in the coming year.

David Phillips Hansen David Phillips Hansen is a minister in the United Church of Christ and author of Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice, available for preorder now for delivery in January.

Black Friday – Cyber Monday – Giving Tuesday

This summer I attended a trade show for Christian publishers and retailers. When I entered the display floor, I was amazed – and, frankly, appalled – at the size and expense of some of the displays. Convention floor space is never cheap, and displays are ridiculously expensive. Lots and lots of marketing dollars were being spent in that display hall on what struck me as frivolous, wasteful spending.

Then I realized: The big spenders were for-profit publishers trying to make money for investors. And the idea that people are making money off of other people’s faith turned my stomach a bit. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus and the moneychangers.

CBP/Chalice Press is different. We are a non-profit corporation, a charity, a ministry. Our revenues are reinvested into our company, our products, and our employees. We have no stockholders to satisfy. Giving Tuesday: November 29, 2016

Though we are affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we do not receive one copper penny of financial support from the denomination. We do not approach congregations, organizations, or individuals for donations. We make nearly all of our money from selling our products and services.

Today, Giving Tuesday, is the only time this year we will ask you to consider making a tax-deductible gift to support our ministry. Every dime you give goes directly to the development, publication, and distribution of resources that invite all people into deeper relationship with God, equip them as disciples of Jesus Christ, and send them into ministry as the Spirit calls them. We are careful and accountable stewards of financial resources in our care. You may find many details about our governance and management at guidestar.org.

More than that, we believe now more than ever that progressive Christians need to have a voice in society’s heated discussions on inclusion, privilege, race, gender identity, and multifaith cooperation. We want to proclaim the messages of 21st-century prophets to a broken world desperate for good news.

This ministry depends financially on the people and congregations who buy what we publish and the donors who believe in what we do. This work depends on you.

You can donate through ChalicePress.com, either directly or when you make a purchase. You can also choose to mail a donation to CBP/Chalice Press, 483 E Lockwood Avenue, Suite 100, St. Louis, MO 63119.

We are grateful for the work we do, the people we work with, and the customers we serve. Thank you for your support.

Thankfully,
Brad-signature
Brad Lyons
President and Publisher

10 Ways to Care for Our Veterans Today, and Every Day

We give our nation’s military service members the training they need to accomplish their missions during deployment, but what resources await them back home? Church congregations play a unique and vital role in the reentry and reintegration process post-deployment. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn… In all seasons of life and with all that life entails, our congregations have resources to engage challenges and make the most of opportunities. Post-deployment reentry and reintegration presents many challenges and opportunities. Will we answer the call to work along side our nation’s veterans and their families?

Here are 10 things to remember when ministering to our veterans:

  • Reaching out to our nation’s veterans and their families is not charity.
  • Ministry with veterans and their families is not about helping them; it’s about how we can help each other.
  • The only way to know something about military service, is to know someone who has served.
  • Military service can mean a lot of different things to a veteran, so ask.
  • Veterans aren’t the only ones serving our nation; military families make sacrifices every day. Their courage and resilience too often go unnoticed and unacknowledged.
  • Veterans deserve more than medical care, they deserve meaningful opportunities to continue to serve this nation at home.
  • PTSD is sometimes called an invisible injury, but its impact on veterans and military families is evident to all those with the eyes to see.
  • Being in trustworthy relationship with a veteran isn’t about knowing all about his/her problems, it’s about knowing yourself, and showing up authentically, compassionately, and persistently.
  • Military deployments are stressful, but there is a lot of stress after deployments too.
  • Your church doesn’t need to be a mental health clinic; your church needs to be church.

Rev. Dr. Zachary Moon, Ph.D., is the author of Coming Home: Ministry That Matters with Veterans and Military Families, available HERE.

moonzacharynew

Sitting In Between: Community during Crisis

Last Friday night, Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by a Tulsa police officer. On Sunday morning, we sat in worship. On Monday afternoon, there were press conferences and video. And questions, still: What if? Where was? Who should? Why don’t? When will?

And in between? Sitting there – at home, in worship, in my office – in between Friday and Monday, all I could think was: It’s really quiet.

And maybe it should be. Maybe … before we run the compassion gauntlet in an effort to be the first to speak, the definitive word, the declarative voice, the One Who Will Be Heard … maybe we should be quiet, at least for a minute.

Maybe, when it is not our experience, when we do not entirely know, when we cannot even imagine, maybe sitting and being quiet and listening to the voices that need to rise, that come in pain, that wail in agony, that cry out for understanding – from every direction and every place … maybe THAT is where God’s voice can be most clearly heard.

… something is very, very wrong: And if it’s wrong for one of us, then it’s wrong for all of us. – says the pastor
… This beautiful child just told me that he skips and smiles while he is walking home so that he will look less threatening to [white] people. – says the mother
… It hurts my heart more than yours when you accuse me of anything less than simply wanting to make sure my words are articulate, and accurate when using them. – says the officer
… There is simply no easy fix to be found here; there is just challenging and uncomfortable and deeply important work that we must engage in to build a better Tulsa for ourselves and for our children. I believe in Tulsa. – says the educator

And after Friday night, and Sunday morning, and Monday afternoon: On Wednesday evening, sitting in between colleagues and friends and strangers of every tradition, and neighborhood, and hue … maybe it was good to listen some more to the songs sung and prayers prayed and challenges issued and laments shouted and mourned. Sitting in between those hundreds of people, in the beautiful worship center at Metropolitan Baptist Church, it was not hard to hear: but it was terribly hard to listen. And painful to listen. And heartbreaking to listen. And for many, it has probably been heart-hardening to listen.

It is not, as some have suggested (particularly in comparison to Charlotte this week), that Tulsa is ‘better’ or ‘doing it right.” We  are doing it how we do it. We build relationships in between so that when the time comes – even when the time comes too often, and far more often than we would like – when the time comes to sit and be together, we can sit and be together. We hate to have to keep showing up to mourn, but we are honored to keep showing up for our friends and our neighbors and our leaders and our children and our communities. To advocate for change; to commit again (and again and again and as many agains as we need) to be new and renewed in our hope; to mourn with those who mourn and to let that mourning come. Maybe that seems too little, but it can never be too late.

Maybe it is wise for us to practice the discipline of a Holy Saturday … that sitting, and waiting, in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. It is NOT inaction. It is active listening. It is intently considering what WE are NOT saying. Maybe it is in that silence … when we don’t know what to say, and when we shouldn’t be the ones saying it anyway … maybe that is where God is most readily heard: in the cries of God’s people, in the stones crying out: That we might hear, and listen, and THEN act, and be most faithful.

Courtney Richards is the Connections Pastor at Harvard Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Tulsa, Okla., and the co-editor of It’s Not All About You: Young Adults Seeking Justice (2012, Chalice Press).

10615362_10204429896164000_7886964354237509499_n

America’s Undeclared Martial Law

Twenty-something years ago I was a police and fire reporter. Fresh out of college, I worked for two Oklahoma newspapers: first in a mostly rural county of about 30,000 residents and then in Edmond, my upper-class suburban hometown. I spent mornings reading police and fire reports, talking to the police department spokesperson, occasionally calling the families of those who had died or who clung to life. I got to know the officers I met each morning, and we built a cordial, professional relationship. We never went out for drinks after work, but I never feared being pulled over by one of them during a traffic stop.

During my time in Edmond, I had the misfortune of covering two fatal shootings by police in the course of about a month. I forget which came first, but one involved two police officers in the woods firing 13 shots at a naked, intoxicated suspect. I think he was Hispanic. The other shooting resulted when a suspect, high on inhalants carrying a baseball bat, charged the officer. I think he was white. 1

After the second shooting, I had the so-called audacity to ask publicly if the police department had a shoot-first-ask-questions-later problem. In a time before tasers became standard-issue, I asked whether pepper spray should have been used instead. This challenge of authority didn’t sit well with the spokesperson I talked to each morning. He and the police chief thoroughly lectured me that the cardinal rule of use-of-force is to keep the upper hand on suspects. To an extent, I understand why police are trained to use necessary force before somebody uses it on them. When dealing with people consciously breaking the law or who are mentally ill or chemically altered, they are not making good decisions. Police officers, more than anyone else, know lives are on the line, especially theirs. We thank them for their courage, for doing what we cannot.

But goodness gracious, these are hard times to be a cop in America. Not only because American policing is so militarized. Not only because training is outdated. Not only because mental health services for police are insufficient for the demands of the job and using mental health services is scorned by an uber-tough culture. Not only because there are more guns on the streets. Not only because violence is gaining tacit, silent approval from the powers that be. Not only because racism is getting bolder and more aggressive in its violent manifestations. Not only because the income disparity makes the poor poorer and more willing to take desperate measures. Not only because politicians want to look tough on crime so they overprosecute the financially vulnerable to feed the prison-industrial complex. Not only because politicians knowingly drive wedges between races and classes as a way to mobilize their base.

I can’t help but think that in 2016, the hardest factor for any socially conscious police officer has to be how race figures into law enforcement – and the worst-case scenario of having to fire shots. Over the past two years, since the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, the relationship between police and people of color is under tremendous scrutiny – as it should be.

Let’s be perfectly clear here: People of color in this country are living – and dying – under undeclared martial law.

People of color – not whites like me – are living and dying under undeclared martial law. I know it’s highly unlikely that I, a middle-aged suburban white guy, will have to deal with a police officer drawing a gun on me, due only to the fact that I’m a middle-aged suburban white guy. White privilege is on full display right here.

Cops know that people of color are justifiably angry. Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, a million other injustices – who can blame people of color for being scared of law enforcement? The lack of trust makes both the officer and the citizen even edgier when engaged in a law-enforcement situation. The odds of an altercation rise immediately.

Our Wild West mentality toward guns only makes it worse for both the cop and for people of color when their paths cross. Loosening gun laws means police are now far more likely to assume people are carrying guns (and they probably are) and instinctively react based on that assumption. Lawmakers do police officers no favors by loosening gun laws despite opposition from the law enforcement community. If politicians support law and order, why are they betraying the people entrusted by our society to carry it out?

How do we break this horrific cycle? How do we reduce violence, build trust, and find common ground?

Fact of the matter is, fewer and fewer people know how to do it – and the so-called leaders in American society don’t appear to give a damn. That means politicians, and that means the voices of faith as well. Across the political and theological spectrum, the increasing polarization of American society portrays compromise as a vice, and listening to the opinions of others a weakness. That trickles down into the way we treat each other each day. We don’t listen to each other, our relationships crumble, we hurt each other and ourselves. We allow the love for our fellow humans and the world around us to decay. We quit thinking, we shut down emotionally, and we live hollow lives. Yes, we are physically safer for it, but are we morally or ethically better for our isolation and emptiness?

Clearly there is not an easy answer. But it is our duty as followers of Christ, of a man who called for us to reconcile a broken world, to turn the other cheek, to seek justice, to represent the oppressed – it is our God-given duty to try. We are called to be reconcilers, to hear others, to facilitate the exchange of ideas, and then to put the best ideas to the test. And if we have to try one hundred thousand different ways, and all but one of them fails, it will have been worth the effort.

Where shall we start?

Gratefully,

Brad-signature


Suggested resources:

Introducing a 25-part series on how to reduce police brutality following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philander Castile by Shaun King, New York Daily News

Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines by Sandhya Rani Jha

Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community by Leah Gunning Francis

Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation by William J. Barber II and Barbara Zelter

Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter by Chris Crass

Reconciliation Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)


1 The articles I wrote for the Edmond Sun are no longer online, so forgive me if I misremember a specific detail.


Brad Lyons’ opinions are not necessarily those of the Christian Board of Publication, its imprints, authors, or other affiliates.