Birthday Poem & Queries about Dismantling Oppression

For the third year in a row, I want to share a poem with you all for my birthday.

A Small Needful Fact
Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

For the last several years, I have been working on understanding racism and the ways I benefit and how I uphold structures of oppression, especially racism. This is hard work and I constantly continue to make mistakes.

In this ongoing work, I have learned that while dismantling systems and structures of oppressions, I need to also think about how to create new structures and new systems that work to center the experiences of the oppressed. We, the oppressed and oppressed, need new models of how to be truly free from systemic oppression.

In thinking about this new growth, this poem reminds me that the fruits of our labor may outlive us and continue to subvert the power structures for a long time. As the poem points out, even through the state unjustly took away Eric’s breath, his own handiwork might still be helping others to breathe and thrive to this very day.

As a Christian, that is what encourages me about the Cross, death and the state did not have the final word. Jesus rose again to give freedom to the oppressed.

Here are some queries:

  • How are you working to understand how systemic oppression affects your life?
  • How are you working to be free?
  • Where are you seeing new growth in your daily lives that subverts these oppressed structures?

I am interested in reading your responses. They would be great gifts to me on my birthday.

Are We Giving Enough of Ourselves?

In the scripture that was read this morning, Apostle Paul is talking about generosity. He is encouraging the Church at Corinth to continue with their generosity towards the Church at Jerusalem. The challenge I want to offer to you, to me, to us today is: Are we giving enough of ourselves?

Thinking about the ChMembers of the public continue to pay their respects and leave flowers outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina June 19, 2015, two days after a mass shooting left nine dead during a bible study at the church.urch in Jerusalem this week, the mother church for early Christians, led me to think about another mother church, Emanuel AME, in Charleston, South Carolina. This church is affectionately known to many as Mother Emanuel because it is the oldest AME Church in the South. Over the years, the church has served as a beacon of hope for many generations of African Americans.

Probably all of us know about the sad events that transpired there on the evening of June 17th. A white man, Dylann, who was intent on starting a race war, entered the church with only unthinkable plans in mind. When he left the church an hour later, nine people were dead and one more was left injured.

There are reports that Dylann sat there for about an hour listening to the Bible Study they were having and even participating in the study near the end. During that hour, Dylann started to second guess himself about what led him to Mother Emanuel in the first place. Sadly, he decided to go through with his plans anyways.

When tragic events like these occur, I wonder what can I do? What can we do? Are we giving enough of ourselves?

In our current Capitalistic society, we are often told that time is money; what we devote our time to is what we truly invest in. With that colloquialism in mind, I am looking at generosity this morning more by what we spend our precious time on than how we use our money.

Last December when I preached here, I talked about the Black Lives Matter movement and the need to proclaim that this is the year of the Lord’s Favor following the call of the prophet Isaiah. Seven months later, there are still calls of Black Lives Matter from protestors in the streets. Even more parents of color have been burying their daughters and sons far too young. We have new names, likeimgres-1 Freddie Gray and Walter Scott that are being held up, and new locales of Baltimore and North Charleston being invoked as epicenters for the movement. Like these prior tragedies, the shooting at Mother Emanuel has revealed how much work still needs to be done towards achieving racial justice.

We are hearing the calls for us to be involved in the movement.

Yet, how are we responding to these calls? Are we using our gift of time towards working for racial justice? Are we giving enough of ourselves?

Paul writes, “Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so” and then he adds an exhortation: “Now finish the work”. This last part Paul is demanding us to do more. In that context, this meant that the Corinthians needed to give more of their material wealth to Jerusalem.

But, what does this mean for us some two thousand years later? I would say that the need at this time is to use our white privilege to combat the racial injustice that our sisters and brothers of color are fighting against. It is also a call for self-examination as white people1397407175801 to think about the roles we unwittingly play in our current system that perpetuates injustice. We all have some internalized racism because we currently live in a society where institutional racism still thrives long after the Whites Only signs have been taken down.

One thing that I have been challenging myself on is re-imagining the Christ Jesus. We often see images of Jesus as a white man. This certainly would have been quite the sight in First Century Palestine: a really pale white man. Yet, all of the popular depictions of Jesus in the US and what we probably grew up with is seeing Jesus portrayed as a white man that looked like all of us in this room today.

The Black Liberation theologian James Cone writes:

For too long Christ has been pictured as a blue-eyed honky… We need to dehonkify him and thus make him relevant to the black condition.^.

urlI will add that dehonkifying Christ would also make Him more relevant to the white condition today, a condition that needs to really face the racial injustice in our midst.

What would it mean for us to follow a non-white Savior? A Christ that does not look like the more privileged class in the US, but more like the oppressed. With that challenge, would we more likely seek that of God within people that do not look like us or who do not happen to sit among us today in worship?

One of the many qualities that I value about Quakerism is our use of queries to help guide us going deeper in our faith and to discern what the will of God is for us at this time. The answers we may find one day could be quite different from the answers that we could come to at another time. These will change not because God changes, but our abilities and gifts change over time. For this reason, I ask a lot of questions in my message today because our answers will be different because God has equipped us with different abilities and gifts to further the creation of God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Some within our yearly meeting, North Carolina (Friends United Meeting) find this theology of continuing revelations distressing, but I find comfort in that because it honors Friends’ longtime witness that God is still speaking to our condition today, both as a corporate body and as individuals. We should always be listening for how God wants to use us and our abilities as disciples of God’s grace within today’s ever-changing world.

In the last part of the passage shared today from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he talks about the need for fair balance in giving. In giving of ourselves, we need to be careful to rest and not burn out. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Racial justice will not be achieved quickly, so we need to pace ourselves for the long haul.

But we need to keep asking us along the way:

Are we giving enough of ourselves towards the cause of racial justice?


^ A Black Theology of Liberation, 29.