What Do We Want?: Deciding what Justice Means in Chicago

Some of my friends don’t like going to protests. They say, “I believe in this one thing, but when I get there, all of these other causes are there and I don’t want anyone to think I’m marching as a communist or an anarchist or saying we should get rid of the police.” Protests have a tendency to swell–to begin with one issue and then cascade into a pounding waterfall of grievances. What do we want? Justice? That’s such a big, abstract word.

Every protest is a little bit different. Some of the people are the same–Lamon Reccord, staring down police and running up and down the protest line; or the guy with the communist newspaper–but every protest is different. The first protest I went to this fall, the hearing where activist Malcolm London’s charges were dropped, was a celebration. A crowd of young black protesters gathered in a circle, singing a song of their own rhythm, dancing and shouting, “I love being black! I said, I love being black!” That protest felt like a party. What did we want? Justice. A very narrow, specific justice–for the judicial system to admit the felony charges against Malcolm London were trumped up and targeted. Continue reading

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Injustice Requires Interruption–why Protestors needed to be on Michigan Ave

“Some of the most important moments in your ministry will happen in the interruptions,” a professor told me while I was in my first week of seminary. As I walked down Michigan Ave, speeding to keep up with the 15-year-old from my church, I wished I could say this to the shoppers around me.

Today, let yourself be interrupted. By God, let yourself be interrupted. I understand white Christians who are reluctant to take to the streets in protest–but I do not understand white Christians who justify the police’s murder of Laquan McDonald and find black anger “disruptive.” Injustice should be disruptive. Continue reading

New Testament Anti-Racism: Bitches and Hood Rats in the Kingdom of God

Everybody’s a little bit racist, or so the song goes. But what about Jesus? The more time I spend with Matthew 15 (and I’ve been spending a lot of time with it), the more clearly it becomes a racially-motivated exchange. It’s one of the problem passages of the New Testament where Jesus comes out looking racist. It’s the story of the Syro-Phonecian woman who needs a miracle. To call her Syro-Phonecian is putting it nicely; Mark puts it nicely in his parallel version (7:24-30).  But Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman, a derogatory, outdated term that recalls a long history of racial tension between Jews and Canaanites. Where Mark tries to de-escalate the situation, Matthew reports that sparks were flying and tensions were high.

Jesus was only in Tyre and Sidon–a non-Jewish territory–because he’d gotten into a kerfuffle with the Pharisees and was laying low. Jesus left his rural Jewish homeland to spend a couple weeks hiding out with the Gentiles (read: pagans and hedonists). It’s not that Jesus and the disciples want to be around the Gentiles, it’s more that they don’t want to put their lives at risk by standing too close to an angry Pharisee. Continue reading

Police Brutality and Christian Pacifist Silence

When it comes right down to it, Anabaptist Christians can never justify siding with the police over a civilian. We are pacifist. It is a fundamental tenet of our faith that there is always an alternative to violence and that, as people of faith, we ought to seek it. When it comes to police ethics, we begin with a hermeneutic of suspicion. That is, theologically–as pacifists–it is in our outlook to approach every officer-involved shooting with a healthy skepticism to doubt whether the officer was justified. If what we know of the situation is that the officer used a gun, it is morally consistent for us to assume the officer should not have.

If, in reading a media report, we ever find ourselves sympathizing with a shooter–whether it is a documented fanatic or an officer of the state–at that point, we ought to reexamine our assumptions. If you find yourself wanting to sympathize with law enforcement consistently, you ought to consider retiring your pacifist card and joining a different tradition. Continue reading

‘When I think about Sandy, I think about Jesus’

“This is not a protest. It is a demonstration of faith.” From the moment we arrived at DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church, the focus was not just on Sandra Bland but on the God who had created Sandra and saw the injustice that led to her death. The church where Sandy attended for almost two decades found itself mourning under the spotlight of the media and hype of what has been a long, long year of mourning, since Michael Brown died in Ferguson last summer. When Rev. James Miller stepped into the semi-circle to address his grieving congregation, the video cameras said “Speak into the mic, please. Will you say your first and last name and spell it out?”

James Miller reminds the media to look at God, not him.

James Miller reminds the media to look at God, not him.

Rev. Miller refused. He was not at a media circus. He was at church, at home, the second home of African American culture, and this house did not change its rules because the cameras were rolling. Hundreds of people gathered around the courtyard of the church, spilling into the parking lot. It was hot. Humid, the way July is supposed to be. All the women in their best church dresses, all the men in suits. The ushers didn’t even take off their white cotton gloves. Church is church, even when grief lands in your backyard. Continue reading

Christianity without Rules

If I learned one thing from Jesus, it’s that rules are for breaking. That’s what Jesus did, really. He broke just about every rule in the book–I mean, in the Torah. And there are a lot of rules in the Torah.

In many churches, we’re taught as children that Christianity is about following rules,  about obeying the 10 Commandments and not swearing in church, but that’s not true at all. Rules are arbitrary and blind. Justice is self-aware and gracious. Rules are universal and justice is always situational. For Jesus, rules were useless. Well, rules can be useful, but they are only useful as a reference for knowing when to break them. Continue reading

The Mad Farmer and the Hard Work of Joy

It’s been a long couple of weeks, hasn’t it? What with Michael Brown’s grand jury; the grand jury on Eric Garner’s case; all the other recent headlines on police brutality; and on top of it, the ongoing hopelessness of immigration reform; the looming prospect of Keystone XL; the dry, dry winter; the intersectionality of it all.

Who even noticed we’re halfway through Advent? (On the church calendar, not the picture pop up calendar you buy from the toy store or the German market.) My church’s theme this Advent is Faith on Tiptoes, in the traditional four parts. No, you Mennonites, not bass, tenor, alto, soprano–the other four parts: hope, peace, joy love. Continue reading