Code Switch it President Obama’s Legacy

Code switch is a podcast about race in America with some really incredible hosts. It’s worth subscribing and listening to, but this last episode where the begin a three-part series of looking at President Obama’s legacy as president, especially in regards to race and how that plays into the challenges he faced, is really on point. I can’t recommend it enough:

Rev. Barber: We Will Take Back Our Country, by Moral Means | Diane Ravitch’s blog

Diane Ravitch recently posted excerpts from an article Rev. Dr. William Barber wrote for Think Progress on December 15, 2016. If you do not know who Rev. Barber is, you should find out. He is the president of the NAACP in NC and a pastor of a church in Goldsboro, NC and wrote a book called, “The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear,” which I cannot recommend enough.

I learned about Rev. Barber a number of years ago when he helped build the Moral Monday protests, which were in response to the “extremist makeover of North Carolina’s government,” in other words, what it looks like to “take back America.” And this past spring, I had the good fortune to meet and work with Rev. Barber as we invited him to Guilford College to be our commencement speaker (video of his talk here). That was an incredible experience for me in so many ways. I admire Barber’s political insight as a community organizer and I am inspired by how it flows out of his theological commitments and analysis as a pastor and theologian. Barber is building a “fusion coalition,” rooted in a history of the fusion party in the South, of people across various issues, needs and communities, something he is working to build across the country.

Here is an excerpt of his piece via Ravitch:

When Obama broke through in North Carolina in 2008, we witnessed firsthand the whitelash that America is reeling from right now. Some folks are saying we’ll have to wait and see what a Trump administration decides to do. But we’ve already seen it in North Carolina. The blueprint for what it looks like to “take back America” in the 21st century was laid out in the extremist makeover of North Carolina’s government during the 2013 legislative session. What’s the policy agenda of Make America Great Again? I can tell you because we’ve seen it:

Give tax breaks to corporations and to the wealthy, attack public education, deny people access to health care, attack immigrants, attack the LGBTQ community in the name of “religious liberty,” strip environmental protections, and, finally, make it easier to get a gun than it is to vote….

First, we must recognize the need for indigenously led, state-based, state-government focused, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, and transformative movement building. There’s no shortcut around this. We must build a movement from the bottom up. We must build relationships at the state level because that’s where most of the extremism of the current-day deconstructionists are happening. They see the possibility of a Third Reconstruction, which is why they’

Source: Rev. Barber: We Will Take Back Our Country, by Moral Means | Diane Ravitch’s blog

 

Mary: Revolutionary for Our Time

The Black Madonna

It is advent, a critical moment in the church calendar.

It is post-election, a critical moment in the life of the United States.

Advent is marked as a time of quiet, expectant waiting. There is hope in birth narratives of Jesus, but it is hope tempered by loss, defeat, and suffering that comes from living under a brutal imperial regime. There is no fanfare in his coming, it is noticed only by poor shepherds and Pagan Stargazers. The priests, pundits, and powerful elite were unaware.

This US election is marked by something vastly different. It unmasked the anger, pain, division, and in many cases, hatred of those ‘others’ operating as scapegoats for the US Empire. Fanfare is on order for the triumphant party, running victory laps, rallying one side over and against another. Whipping people up into a frenzy for a great return. The priest, pundits and powerful elite rejoice. Continue reading Mary: Revolutionary for Our Time

Trello Love In a Tweet

trello-logo-blue

I love trello.com and that’s not news to folks who know me. I use it for personal work and work work and everything in between. So I was happy to get Michael Chapman’s tweet and respond:

Here are my responses in tweets (okay – one tweet increments – does that count?):

There’s no reason to not try trello. It’s free and quick to setup and fun to play around with. They have super handy tutorials and a great getting started guide. While you’re out it, check out the trello inspiration page.

Revelation and Angelic Troublemaking

Over the last century, the book of Revelation has lost its edge in the West. What was understood as a letter written to small faith communities surviving the threat of Roman empire, propped up by its imperial religion, economics and violence, has largely become a book underwriting what some have called “evacuation theology.” In my view, these are two incompatible readings of Revelation.

The latter view is about how to get out of here: here often is construed as “this life” or “the world about to come to an end,” but could also be avoiding difficult conversations, uncomfortable or even dangerous issues arising within a particular community. In this reading, of which I too have subscribed to in my own life, the faithful are ultimately not committed to seeing the powers and principalities of this present order changed, challenged, or subverted. In this view, Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount are ultimately too idealistic to be formative practices for everyday life.

On the other hand, the former reading of Revelation, reminds us that God is opposed to empire and its practices of religion, economics and violence that it generates to sustain itself. In this space the church is to be a “brave space” bearing prophetic witness against empire. Jesus’ vision of the church is designed to be a dynamic, revolutionary presence within this current order, demonstrating, what Quakers call, “Gospel Order.” Quaker testimony is born out of the leadings of Christ as present teaching, a conviction that suggests Jesus’ teachings are not only practices with ongoing usefulness in the here and now, but that they are ultimately in opposition to “the ways of empire.”

If the way of empire is about benefitting the few at the expense, exploitation and oppression of the many, then the way of the Lamb that was slain, is a subversion of all of this. It symbolizes God’s counter vision. The way of the Lamb that was slain is rooted in nonviolence, it is radically present to the needs of the disenfranchised in our communities, it does not scapegoat and it loves both enemy and neighbor. This reading of Revelation calls the followers of Jesus to be, what African-American Quaker Bayard Rustin named, “Angelic Troublemakers.” Radical love through radical presence – a vision of the church we desperately need today.

This is an entry previously submitted for a NWYM Peace Month Reader. 

Blocking and Quakerism as a “No” Tradition

Flickr - New Forest Roadblock by Allen
Flickr – New Forest Roadblock by Allen
The Quaker movement began like other Radical Reformation traditions, rejecting the basic Christian creeds. This wasn’t because they weren’t Christian, but because they believed that creeds created a consumptive rather than participative faith. Quakers believe that creedal Christianity led to folks to professing rather than possessing authentic Christian faith. They saw this playing out in 17th century England where the church and state were in bed together, where Christianity was used to legitimize a “religion of empire,” rather than one that challenges and critiques empire.

I write this because I am wondering to what extent this saying no to creeds has hurt our contemporary understanding of Quakerism? Let me be clear in saying that I fully accept the early Quaker critique of creeds. On the other hand, I accept the heart of what the creeds are after, which I believe is meant to put something forward, affirm something, and say “yes” rather than “no.” Maybe this is too generous a view for some and I am fine with that, but stay with me for a moment: my concern is that the Quaker tradition, at least in some sectors, has largely become a “’no’ religion.” Not only are we often defined by others by what we are against, but we ourselves use Quakerism and Quaker process as a gateway to say no.

It reminds me of the idea within improv of “blocking.” Here is something I wrote about regarding this in the past:

“In improv, if you have a group of people who are developing a storyline on the fly, without a script or master plan, and someone says “No” to an idea put forward, what happens? It stops everything. No, ends the scene. It prevents forward movement in the story line.”

In improv, they call this “blocking.” Blocking is the cardinal sin of improv acting.

Blocking comes in many forms; it is a way of trying to control the situation instead of accepting it. We block when we say no, when we have a better idea, when we change the subject, when we correct the speaker, when we fail to listen, or when we simply ignore the situation.” (Patricia Madson – The Wisdom of Improv)

I think I first stumbled upon this kind of Quaker “blocking” when I noticed that the people within Quaker meetings who receive the most resistance, push back and are generally treated with a greater amount of suspicion are the individuals who take or at least appear to be a little too decisive, a little too pushy, and take initiative. It is easy to be comfortable with the status quo and I have seen our unwillingness to respond quickly to the moment, act in ad hoc ways, and be decisive around decisions as being chalked up to “we need to honor process?” But this can easily move into blocking territory. Afterall, Quakerism is itself a lot like improv in that it is a tradition that calls for paying attention in the moment, being obedient when one is led and stresses the immediacy of the Holy Spirit.

I have heard and see people talk largely about what Quakers don’t do and don’t believe: “we don’t celebrate holidays, we don’t use titles, we don’t record people, we don’t force people to believe anything, we don’t evangelize, we don’t have preachers, we don’t use the lectionary, we didn’t keep enslaved humans, we don’t have symbols, we don’t practice communion or baptism, we don’t have people in the military in our meetings, or worse… ‘you can’t do that because it’s not Quaker.’” Friends, this is treating our tradition as a blocking tradition.

Not only is a lot of this not true it represents a certain version of the story that serves some and puts others at a disadvantage, a religion of no needs gatekeepers. If this is what our faith tradition has become then this is a sad state of affairs. If all we have to offer is who we are not then we have lost the ability to create, produce, and think outside the box and be responsive to needs in the moment. We have let go of the immediacy of an authentic connection to God who very well may call us to act now.

When we adopt the Quakerism as a religion of no we are no different from those Jesus chastised in Mark 2:

“He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath…”

Process is meant to be a guide, but it is not the end all be all. Quakers have to think on their feet. We have to be responsive to what God is doing in the moment and when people are led to respond, we should use process to support faithfulness and obedience to the One who calls us, not shut them down. Process doesn’t always have to be front-loaded either. It can work behind the scenes and after a decision has been made. Placing all of the emphasis for process prior to a decision betrays our idolatry of “choice,” rather than trust, relationship, and community which tend to be where the weight of things lay after a decision is made. Be able to have a choice is itself a privileged position.

BlankI would suggest instead that It’s like a line with two arrows one leading up to a decision and one delineating the process after a decision or choice has been made. We need as much help after we make a decision as we do before and sometimes we have to make decisions on in the moment, sometimes we have very little or no choice. Is there space for a supportive process after decisions are made? Is process and Quaker belief about blocking or is it about saying yes, building affirmation, trusting, and producing something good in the world.

The anecdote to blocking in the improv world is “yes, and…” by building rather than blocking the scene is opened up, new possibilities are created, new pathways become available, new characters enter the scene. How often is a block made out of fear? Fear because saying “yes, and…” means things will go beyond what we can anticipate and control?

This second version to Quakerism is more participatory, building upon a collaboration and an “open work” view of our faith communities.

I am attracted to Oscar Romero’s version of this “yes, and…” faith,

“I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God,who loves us and who wants to save us.”

What do we need to do to move from a religion of “no” to a practice of saying “yes, and,” from a practice blocking to a practice of building up, working from a place of trust and generosity. One word I hear very little in Quaker circles is grace. I learned the sign for grace the other day at work and I have been practicing ever since, reminding myself of the grace that God showers upon me/us. What would it take for Friends to focus on grace and yes and allow process to be not a gateway, but a path towards building a great affirmation before and after we are faced with a challenging moment?


How does the word “no” and our practice of blocking impact our ability to reach out to others?

How does it impact our ability to hear and learn about racism and whiteness and other important critiques within our Quaker meetings and churches?

How does this perception impact what people think about our ability to be “team players?”