Everything Old Is New Again #wgfest15

I realize this is a little premature, but this feels a little like a “What Did I Do Over Summer Vacation” essay that I had to write in fifth grade. Mrs. Henson was a stickler for good penmanship and right manners. Old school. She was decidedly old school. But I digress.

This summer I had the distinct privilege of being asked to serve as the Liturgical Coordinator for the Wild Goose Festival held in Hot Springs, NC. The festival is a time and place of celebrating the “intersection of Spirit, Justice, Music, and the Arts” that began a few years ago. As such liturgies abound. Some of them were rather traditional. The Episcopal tent, for example, held Compline services every night. They also broke out of the mold and hosted a songwriter circle and an agape feast. The Goose is like that. Ask the Methodists about the beer tent. Oh, and the Baptists had a coffee shop.

People break from the mold a little. There was a eucharistic liturgy where a blacksmith literally hammered a rifle into a farm implement. It was an unusual eucharist, to be sure, but beautiful.

Dr. William Barber preaches at opening ceremonies.
Dr. William Barber preaches at opening ceremonies.

This summer’s theme was “Blessed Are The Peacemakers.” Preachers like Dr. William Barber were there to inspire us. Rev. Traci Blackmon from Ferguson, Missouri was also there. She preached at our closing Eucharist. Rev. Joy Wallis was our celebrant.

Others were there like Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. There were three or four different sessions going on simultaneously each of the three days. Ana Hernandez was there to help out with music. She says hello to everyone.

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Matt Morris offers his musical talents.

Right, the music. One of the ways to understand Wild Goose is to imagine Burning Man and then mashing it up with Greenbelt or the Chautauqua Institute. Musicians from various stripes were there to perform. Gungor, Matt Morris, Yara Allen, Emmanuel Jal, The Collection, The Brilliance, and many others. No one genre was featured. No one style. There were pop-up concerts all over the place. Jam sessions and impromptu meet-ups happened all the time.

As the Liturgical Coordinator, it was my responsibility to make sure that the scheduled liturgies and their organizers had all they needed. I tried to have my title changed to Liturgical Enabler because that’s what I was actually doing. Everyone there had a liturgical habit they needed met. I was happy to help out. From free church to high church and everything in between and beyond, I counted over 45 liturgies (officially sanctioned or otherwise) during the festival.

Bree Newsome spoke.
Bree Newsome spoke.

This was the first year they asked for someone to serve in the position. I was not the first person they asked. I’m really glad that the first person turned it down. It was incredible.

What all these liturgists needed was a sense of common vision, a way to articulate a liturgical posture or narrative for the weekend. So, to close this little missive for you all, I’m going to share what I offered during our opening ceremony. I wanted to show people what I was already seeing and to invite them into a community, a social space, a geographical place where everything old was new again.

What is going on here?

You have stepped through the veil
into a temple without walls jet-lagged,
road weary, burned out, intrigued, hopeful,
enthusiastic, and just a little confused.

You have entered a basilica
where the dome of heaven itself is the ceiling.
Shrines and altars line the route on our pilgrimage together;
a holy time;
a thin place crafted by your hands
and kissed by the Holy Spirit.
She is inviting you to join in
The rhythms of our time together.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is the three great days of Holy Week,
a continuous liturgy that begins on Thursday night
and concludes on Sunday morning.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is a tent revival
where we will testify to the movement of The Divine
in our streets, classrooms, courthouses, homes,
and even our churches urging one another
to wake up to the truth that the holy is in each of us.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is a festival of art and music where we are reminded
that we are bodies-good creatures-blessed icons of heaven on earth
and we can move and sing and be engulfed
in landscapes and soundscapes of hope.

Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are you, the peacemakers.
Blessed are we, the peacemakers.

This is the liturgy of Wild Goose. Welcome.

It was an honor to have the opportunity to play with 2,200 people who gathered there on the banks of the French Broad River. I hope to do it again.

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Rev. Tripp Hudgins is Director of Admissions at American Baptist Seminary of the West and a PhD student in Liturgy and Ethnomusicology at Graduate Theological Union.

Sacred Lessons in Resistance

Black History Month arrives as a difficult reminder that core ethics of human equality espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King in his DREAM, and called for in the BIBLE, still have not been realized! From Ferguson to Queens to Cleveland to Berkeley, streets are filled with young, angry black protesters joined by brown, white sisters and brothers compelled to mobilize resistance against increased militaristic behavior of police, against loopholes in legal systems, and against a pervasive societal ideology of ‘othering’ that marginalizes based on race, class, sexuality, and faith tradition. These national resistance movements expose this country’s systemic structures of discrimination.

In his provocative 2011book – Punished: Policing the Lives of Black & Latino Boys, Victor Rios’ ethnographic study revealed that poor inner-city kids are targeted, stereotyped, and falsely accused from grade school until anger at such demoralization become self-fulfilling prophecy – demons that provoke bad choices and fuel society’s fear. In reality, by Michael Brown’s age, embedded suspicion of law enforcement, regulatory systems, and a life of economic disparities result in tensions that almost are insurmountable. Across our nation, the land of the free and the brave is far the promise land of human equality–WE’RE NOT THERE YET! Killings increased exponentially since the 2012 assassination of Oscar Grant and the vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin. Albeit marred by violent outbreaks, the clamor for justice drew clergy leaders and people of faith to join in overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations of RESISTANCE. They invoked God’s will to resist injustice, amplified by chants and prayers that sustained a call for SACRED RESISTANCE.

Crucial for our self-reflection is to recognize that this landscape of unrest and tension between those with power and those unduly burdened is not a new phenomenon. We are reminded that righteous indignation and RESISTANCE are Biblical. Jesus knew what it felt like to be ‘othered’ – the Nazarene rejected and critiqued for speaking hope into lives of prostitutes, robbers, demoniacs, invalids, and tax collectors. The Messiah proclaimed his prophetic purpose to “ bring good news to the poor, proclaim release of the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”- words in direct resistance to Roman imperial occupation and a Jerusalem power structure designed to maintain the status quo. Jesus spoke against undue burden on impoverished and powerless masses under militaristic enforcement. All the Gospels report SACRED LESSONS in RESISTANCE and mode of leadership development: anointing disciples with sacred authority over unclean spirits to cast out evil; teaching with sacred power to speak life into broken spirits; and taking action to change lives.

The first sacred lesson of resistance was to SHAKE IT OFF and keep moving! “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town”… The act of dust-shaking is the first century parallel to a 21st century act of protest; it is an externalization of a reality of hardened hearts in folks intent to preserve a status quo or afraid to push for change! Jesus’ taught such action was sacramental – revealing or manifesting a spiritual reality that ALL won’t accept the truth that the Kingdom of heaven had come near. The disciples were to mobilize a message of sacred justice and deliverance anyhow and, if rejected by folks, have nothing else to do with them, not even to carry the dirt and grime of close-mindedness any further… BUT SHAKE IT OFF! That very physical action was sacred resistance – Racism, classism, sexism – forms of rejection that ignore God’s love for ALL creation – SHAKE IT OFF!

The second lesson of sacred resistance was to recognize the socio-political landscape aims to silence. “See I’m sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…Beware of them for they will hand you over to councils, flog you… persecute you… and put you to death.” Today’s context is: we might be outnumbered but not outwitted. They will beat you with billy clubs, use tear gas, media-manage your story, while DAs and Grand juries acquit their own in ridicule of you! Is it any wonder that young people of color across the nation reject sound bites and political propaganda that say we live in a post-racial society, while overt and subtle discrimination confront them daily? Is it any wonder that some are disillusioned by silence of the church universal until MSNBC AND CNN cameras appear – and as the ragtag rebels caught national attention, then celebrity clergy arrived with rules and caste systems of who “qualifies” for screen time. Jesus said to be wise as serpents – organize, rally, discern true agendas as you proceed gentle as doves!

Jesus knew that principalities and powers did not WANT change that transformed lives – especially sacred change for those so long oppressed, blinded, and imprisoned in systems of disparity. He knew that his words and deeds led to hateful persecution on the Cross; yet, his third lesson assures us that the POWER IN US is greater than any power that opposes us! “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time: for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you!“ Today, as young disciples strategize and pray, clergy colleagues first-hand in Ferguson, New York, and Berkeley affirm that an abiding power of Holy Spirit anointing is evident when young and old courageously assemble and march.

RESISTANCE to injustice is a necessary action and sacred right… No municipality can stop or silence so many voices. Our foremothers and forefathers in Selma and Montgomery believed the sacred message cannot be quelled: ALL are created in God’s image! ALL lives Matter! Black Lives Matter, Asian Lives, Latino Lives, Muslim Lives – ALL Lives Matter! So today, young disciples still ask: Will we go together with divine authority from community to town to city proclaiming sacredness of life for the least and left-out? Do we still have faith to cast out demons of ‘isms’? As 21st Century disciples, will we challenge normative systems of privilege and share the prophetic message of One who was NOT? Sacred resistance shouts GOD’S demands for JUSTICE. It disrupts routines and sacrifices comfort. It respects and dignifies those different and diverse, yet in whom sacred breath of the Creator flows! To resist injustice, WIPE THE DUST OFF our FEET – and keep moving!

Rev. Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble  is Assistant Professor of Ministerial Leadership and Functional Theology at American Baptist Seminary of The West. A womanist theologian, she is also a consulting leader in the PICO National Prophetic Clergy-Women Network.

#Ferguson and A Reason to Hope

The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson by a white police office is a miscarriage of justice and sets the country back forty years. It says to me, that my life as a black man in America and the lives of my children are not valuable. It also says to me that a white officer can shoot me or any one who looks like me if he only says he was in fear for his life – even if the facts and eyewitness accounts contradict that.

In Ferguson, I was hopeful that the grand jury would do something- even if only a small reprimand – to send a message to police officers around the country, that it is not okay to shoot an unarmed man 35 feet away from you with his hands in the air and ready to surrender. But this did not happen. And while many in the nation (like myself) were grieving over this miscarriage of justice another grand jury in New York refused to find any wrong doing in the choking of a black grandfather who was accused of selling cigarettes but was not a threat to anyone. Those two decisions made me feel as if someone punched me in the stomach and knocked all the wind out of my body.

I am still grasping for air and I am still shocked and saddened.

My concern is this: if there is never any police sergeant on the scene to tell misbehaving officers to stop using excessive force; and then the justice system does not step up to the plate and say this wrong and you will be punished, then how can any black man in America feel that he will receive fair treatment on the streets or in a court of law?

It now seems obvious, that there are two justice systems in America, one for white people and one that denies black persons due process.

There is one thing, however, that gives me a reason to be hopeful.

Many protesters throughout the nation were also white men and women (and other races as well) saying that this is wrong. If enough Americans can continue this protest and insist that these killings stop and everyone be treated fairly, then perhaps one day we can have a country that protects all its citizens.

Ronald Burris, PhD., is Associate Professor of Church History American Baptist Seminary of the West

Boots on the Ground Theopraxis

Boots To be a Christian is to be an optimist—to believe that good can overcome evil. In this day and time there are so many negative messages in the news: the Boston bombing, young women being held captive for years in a private home, the closing of US embassies around the world due to terrorist threats, young men of color being shot down in the streets…. To be a Christian, to be a person of faith, is to believe that there is a just and good presence that has, can, and will overcome evil.

One of my favorite theologians, Jon Sobrino, speaks about the crucified people. Sobrino teaches at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, where in 1989 a government death squad entered the Jesuit faculty living quarters in the middle of the night, pulled everyone out of their beds (6 Jesuits, 1 female housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter) and slaughtered them in the University square. These brutal deaths were to be a message to the people of El Salvador that evil was in control.  Except that the extremity of the event caused the message to backfire. As a result, the US ceased to support the government armies of El Salvador and the United Nations called for a cease-fire. In essence, this horrific event led to the end of a brutal civil war.

Jon Sobrino, away on a lecture tour, escaped death that night, but has been writing about it ever since. In his liberation theology we hear the call to search our souls for our own part in creating and sustaining the brutality of the cross. When asked at the Presidential lecture of Santa Clara University in 2009 how he would define ‘Liberation Theology’ his immediate response was this: “first we must ask, liberation from what…?” and then he answered his own question, “liberation from ourselves!” He went on to ask the audience, “how have we, how are we putting people on the cross?” This was not a general question, but specifically addressed to those of us privileged enough to be in the audience. “How have we, how are we putting people on the cross?” He concluded by saying, “we must work at taking people down from the cross, and if we are not working at taking people down from the cross, then we are part of the problem.”

Liberation theology brought to the world the challenge of theopraxis. No longer content with the discussion of philosophical systematic ideas about God and the work of God in the universe, liberation theology has challenged the world to put legs to faith. Latin American theologians and the theologians of Black Theology of Liberation in the US have pounded away for decades now crying out for boots on the ground theopraxis that essentially takes people down from the cross. Our global 20th century liberation theologians, of which there are many—far too many to begin naming them in this short blog—have shown us the way….

To be Christian is to be an optimist—to believe that God has, can, and will overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that resources are present to overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that God reigns and people count. We need the faith to believe that our efforts can and will make a difference. We need to get our boots out, dust them off and get to work!

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD

Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament

American Baptist Seminary of the West

Stones, Cry Out!

A sermon preached by Jennifer W. Davidson, PhD

At American Baptist Seminary of the West

October 15, 2012

 

Scripture Texts:

Habakkuk 1:1-5; 2:1-5, 9-11; 3:17-19

Psalm 22:25-31

1 John 4:7-21

 

Photo courtesy of NWHM.org

Her name means “Grief Stricken.” Malala. She was named for an Afghan girl of the late 1800’s, a warrior and a poet who led the Afghan’s into battle against

the colonizing British. This is her namesake; a girl who died before she reached the age of 20. Grief Stricken. Malala.

She is today a fourteen year old girl, who, if she lived in my hometown, might be in ninth grade Biology, sitting next to my own son in High School. They were born only three months apart—my son and Malala – three months in time, but worlds apart.

Malala is fighting for her life today. She was transferred from a hospital in Pakistan to greater safety in the United Kingdom. Why is Malala fighting for her life? Because she dared to fight for the right of girls to receive an education in her home town of Mingora, in the Swat District of Pakistan.

When she was only eleven years old, Malala became well known around the world when she kept a blog for the BBC. One of her entries, dated January 3, 2009, described her fear and anxiety and her astounding courage and determination to pursue her education even then:

“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat.

My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.

Only 11 students attended class out of 27. The number decreased because o the Taleban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to [other districts] with their families after this edict.

On my way from school to home I heard a man saying, “I will kill you.” I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”

Eleven years old.

Just this past week, three years after Malala wrote that blog entry, she refused to give in to the increasing threats and warning letters. She did not stop her advocacy work for girl’s education, that had been getting increasing attention worldwide. So last Tuesday “masked gunmen approached her school bus

and asked for her by name. Then they shot her in the head and neck. ‘Let this be a lesson,’ a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said afterward. He added that if she survives, the Taliban would try to kill her again.”[1]

The lament cried out powerfully in the voice of Habakkuk rings and resonates with clarity into our twenty-first century world tonight:

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?

Or cry to you, “Violence!”

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrongdoing

and look at trouble?”

The words taste bitter in our mouths. Too much suffering. Too much violence.

“The law becomes slack and justice never prevails.”

Written sometime between 609 and 586 BCE, the words of Habakkuk – and God’s response to him—were composed in the midst of a brutal occupation of Judah

with corrupt puppet leaders reigning.[2]

Habakkuk’s confrontation of God, likely took place in a liturgical setting—in the midst of worship. This is no private weeping or whispered agony. This is full-throated, public agony. This is the heart-wrenching sob the clutched stomach in the midst of worship.

This heartache, these accusations, are not hidden away from view—not at the time that they were spoken, and not now—preserved as they are in the heart of scripture. God allows our grief its full expression –  her name means “Grief-Stricken” – Malala – because God knows that if we are awake then these tears of anguish will overcome all of us at one point or another in our lives.

The prophet stands at the watchpost, waiting to hear what God will say. We hold our breath. We wait, too.

God’s Word comes.

Write the vision;

make it plain on tablets,

so that a runner may read it.

What is that vision?

First, God reminds us what it is not. Why do we need to be reminded? Because the powers in this world would have us forget. Because gunshots fired into the head and neck of a fourteen-year-old girl in Pakistan, because gunshots fired by a Neighborhood Watch member in Florida into the defenseless body of a boy buying skittles for his little brother at half time—try to pass themselves off as the truth. As if death has the last word. As if threat of violence—and violence itself—is enough to silence God’s people.

As if the collusion of corrupt powers and governments which keep

“61 million girls and boys shut out from even the most basic of primary schooling”[3] is the end of the road and not the beginning of our work.

This is why we need to be reminded of what God’s vision is not.

Pride. Arrogance, Wealth, and Insatiable Death are identified as contrary to God’s vision. So much so that “the very stones will cry out from the wall” against the unjust use of power. Even stones that have been crushed into “plaster will respond from the woodwork.” When the people fall silent the walls will shout. Proclaiming that God’s vision for the world is vastly different from that of the world’s most powerful and vicious.

In the days following Malala’s shooting the stones started to cry out. The walls started shouting. Protests broke out across Pakistan. Islamic leaders spoke out against the violence. Gordon Brown, U.N. Special envoy for global education,

writes that “Demonstrations for Malala have spread  [through Pakistan and beyond]— not just to Bangladesh, India, and Afghanistan, but around the world.

…For one Malala shot, there are now thousands of even younger Malalas ready to come forward. We may not yet be seeing a 2012 Asian autumn led by children to mirror the Arab spring, but the spontaneous wave of protest we are witnessing

shows that children are more assertive  of their right to education than the leaders who promised to deliver it.”[4] The stones are crying out— and they have the voice of children. The plaster in the woodwork is shouting. The Spirit of God is moving.

What is the vision? We see a glimpse of it in our psalm reading. Like the Habakkuk text, the verses of the Psalm tonight are also proclaimed in the midst of a lament.

This lament is most familiar to Christians as  the lament that was on the lips of Jesus as he suffered the worst that the powers of pride, arrogance, wealth, and insatiable death could levy against anyone. Jesus cried out the words that begin this Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In the light of the resurrection, however, our eyes not only take in the agony of the cross, but also the vision of God’s redemption offered to the least of these—

to the ones whom pride, arrogance, wealth, and insatiable death always exploit.

This is God’s vision— hear the stones cry it out now: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek God shall praise the Lord.”

When the least of these are cared for—and who is more “least” than the 600 million girls who live in the developing world—girls like Malala? When the least of these are cared for and given full dignity, then God’s true character is revealed for all the world to see. In seeing every last little one thrive, our hearts will leap in recognition of God’s dominion. Our response—the response of the whole earth—

will be to worship in praise and adoration the One who cares for the least, the lost, and the little.

God’s dominion is unlike that of other kings. The uniqueness of our God, who bestows dignity and life on the forgotten and forsaken ones—is the astonishing good news that must be proclaimed to future generations. So that all may recognize God.

We recognize God not in God’s fierceness and fury, but in God’s steadfast love,

in God’s lovingkindness, in God’s hesed and shalom.

God’s steadfast love, God’s lovingkindness, God’s hesed and shalom

they sound like abstract concepts, ideals; they have almost a dreamlike shimmer to them.

But they are nothing if not made concrete, if not made real, if not embodied in our relationships with one another.

Why is a little girl named Malala such a threat to the vicious powers of this world? Precisely because God’s kingdom breaks into this world in the lives of those the world dismisses. God’s kingdom breaks into this world in the lives of “nobodies.” In the lives of girls like Hagar and Miriam; in the lives of girls like Tamar and Ruth; in the lives of girls like Mary and Elizabeth, in the lives of girls like Malala.

God’s love is poured out on the world in the life, death, and resurrection

of a singular nobody—In contrast to the misuse and abuse of power in the world,

God’s love hung from a cross and swept away the tombstone.

This is the outpouring of God’s love for us and for God’s broken, breaking, hurting, and hurtful world—that we are ourselves empowered to love.

It is God’s love for us that transforms our hearts of stone. It is in our love for one another that we come to know God at all.

This is God’s vision made plain, so plain that even those speeding by can read it.

This is God’s vision made plain, plainly different from the vision of oppressive rule today.

Even when all evidence continues to be to the contrary: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines…” we must remain faithful to God’s vision of abundant life and love offered graciously to all. Even when the man Jesus hung cursed on the tree, we continue to rejoice in the Love that is our salvation, in the God who makes our footing steady and sure even in the midst of turmoil and danger that surrounds us.

Grief-stricken and emboldened by Love—we cry out with the stones: Your kingdom come, O God, your will be done. Amen.


[1] Nicholas D. Kristoff, New York Times. October 13, 2012. “Her Only Crime was Loving Schools.” (Accessed October 15, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/11/opinon/kristof_her_crime_was_loving_schools?r=0.

[2] See Valerie Bridgeman’s introductory essay to the book of Habakkuk in The Peoples’ Bible, published 2010 by Augsburg Fortress Press.

[3] See educationenvoy.org

[4] See Gordon Brown, “Malala’s Next Fight,” at www.educationenvoy.org/press