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God of Our Tears

July 16, 2019
Originally presented as a sermon at Spring Mount Mennonite Church on Sunday, July 14 2019.

This summer we’re looking at Bible passages that speak of water, to reflect on how the image of water can guide us into deeper relationship with God.1 Today’s water image is tears2, and I believe we find one of the most beautiful pictures of God in this passage. Let’s think about what this passage might reveal about God and how God relates to us through water.

Photo by Chris Nickels

Tears are a part of life. It’s how we were created. This week I read some articles that noted several benefits to crying/shedding tears: it has a soothing effect, it can help relieve pain and stress, tears keep our eyes clean and help improve vision. Showing our tears publicly can be a way to break some of the stigma our society has about crying, and can help us become emotionally healthier.

So there are physical and emotional benefits to our tears. But let’s also think about tears from a spiritual and theological angle. All together, I think we can discover that beautiful picture of God I mentioned earlier.

The writer says,

You have kept count of my tossings;
 put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record? (Ps 56:8)

The writer of this psalm envisions God as one who carries around a bottle filled with our tears. I wonder how the writer got that sense that God knew about their tears, that God was present as they cried?

One reason we put things in bottles is to protect or to preserve them. That means the contents are valued. So when I hear about this bottle, it tells me that God values our tears and our experiences, and that God wants—or even needs—to remember those experiences too.

And when I think about how God acts, I’m reminded that God validates our tears, too.

We believe that Jesus was God, in the flesh, the fullest revelation of who God is. While Jesus didn’t show up carrying a big bottle of tears, he did demonstrate that God cared about specific details of our lives, including our tears.

Sometimes Jesus used different images to show this care, like when he told his followers that God knows all about the tiny sparrows and doesn’t forget them, and that God even knows how many hairs are on your head.3

But perhaps the most powerful image is that Jesus cried his own tears. When Jesus wept, for me it feels like God was acting in solidarity with us, being aware of why we cry and shedding tears as well. Jesus shed tears at the death of his friend Lazarus, as he joined his friends in grief. And later, when he approached Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city because they refused to embody the things that make for peace.4

I’m also reminded of the tears Mary Magdalene cried at Jesus’ tomb.5 Mary, this dedicated disciple of Jesus and the Apostle to the apostles, she experienced first hand the God who values us, who holds space for our crying, and who keeps our tears.

Mary discovered the empty tomb and imagined the worst. She was still reeling from the state execution of her teacher and friend, and now the trauma was compounded by a mysterious empty tomb. So very understandably, she wept.

But there at the tomb she sees two angels—messengers from God—who ask, “why are you weeping?” Now, they don’t say, “Stop crying!” (which is sometimes the response in our society). Instead, they compassionately held space for her tears.

So she answered them, and when she turned around she met Jesus in her tears. Jesus also said, “why are you weeping?” Jesus held space for her and gave her room to share her grief and her tears.

And I think that in that moment when Jesus listens (and in all the ones like it, ours included), that tears were being added to God’s bottle.

Jesus validates our tears, because God values our tears, and God values every single inch of our being.

Unfortunately, when people experience pain and suffering, sometimes they are met with a lack of compassion, empathy, mercy, or even respect. This is a disturbing trend that I’ve noticed in our society, and it almost feels like people will find any excuse not to care. But when we behave this way—toward people who are vulnerable and suffering—I think we end up becoming like the “enemies” named in the psalm who caused so much distress for the writer.

When we read a psalm like this, we may see ourselves in its words, or may feel sympathy for the writer. It’s interesting that we often are willing identify with ancient psalm writers, who’s identity we may not actually know. We will give the writer the benefit of the doubt and trust their experience. But we may be less willing to hear the cry or trust the experience of our actual neighbors that we do know.

So, as a response to this scripture text, can we also open ourselves up to identify with the people who are crying out today, whose tears flow without relief, and who could write this same psalm out of their own experience?

Can we see the tears of Black men, women, and children harmed by police brutality? Their cries may be ignored by many, but their tears are in God’s bottle.

The Border Patrol and the White House doesn’t want us to see the tears and the abuse being inflicted in their concentration camps, but the tears of these refugee children and parents are in God’s bottle.

The tears we shed at the loss of loved ones, they are in God’s bottle.

I have personally witnessed the tears of friends in the LGBTQ community, and their tears are in God’s bottle.

Can we hold space for the tears of struggling veterans, because God puts their tears in the bottle.

When times are tough and it’s hard to get through the day, our tears are in God’s bottle.

When we are afraid, or frustrated, or stressed out, our tears are in God’s bottle.

And when we experience joys that bring us to tears, I think those are in God’s bottle too.

This psalm speaks of trust in God. A God who can be trusted is one who hears our cries, and carries our tears, and is with us, moving us toward abundant life for all.

God doesn’t say “Stop crying!” Instead, God listens and holds space for our tears. Your tears are valued, and respected, and validated by God.

So may we do the same for each other, and for our neighbors, and for this world that God loves. AMEN.


  1. Our summer series is based on my friend Rev. Sandy Drescher-Lehman’s book, Waters of Reflection: Meditations for Everyday
  2. Each Sunday members of the congregation are invited to bring a water sample in a small jar (from the ocean, a stream, rainwater, etc) and share a reflection of how that water reminds them of God or their faith. It has been a powerful experience. This past week our area endured some of the worst flash flooding in its history, and members of our church family were affected. A church member collected a bit of the leftover floodwater from her children’s home and shared a tearful testimony with us-lamenting the terrible damage, but thankful that her family members were able to escape the currents. 
  3. Luke 12:4-7. 
  4. Luke 19:41-44. I recently felt this way when experiencing an angry Trump supporter who was trying to disrupt our local Lights For Liberty candlelight vigil. It was incredibly sad to see and hear someone so enveloped in fear, racism, and xenophobic hatred, who refused to listen to any other perspective as he shouted the administration’s talking points at us. 
  5. John 20. 

An Advent Prayer

December 19, 2018

Photo by Chris Nickels. Nov 11, 2018

Each year my congregation (along with a number of local churches and non-profit organizations) participates in a local witness called the Witting Tree. On a tree in front of the meetinghouse we solemnly hang dog tags to remember and raise awareness that 20+ veterans commit suicide each day. And we recommit to being a compassionate presence for our veteran neighbors and their families, in light of the often unseen burdens of moral injury, traumatic stress, and return from war.

We put the tags up on Veterans Day, and it dawned on me this year that we take them down as the season of Advent begins. The temperature was cold with a slight wind, and each time I removed a metal tag there was a chiming sound as it gently touched the nearest branch. I heard twenty-two chimes as I worked, once again reminding me of twenty-two servicemembers and neighbors who may be struggling.

So I decided to pray through the themes of Advent while I was out at the tree. Hope, peace, joy, and love seemed an appropriate request, as these are longings I have heard as I listened to my veteran friends over the past few years.

If you like, pray with me…

I pray for hope…for those who have lost faith in the promises made to them, and for those who wonder what the next day will bring.

I pray for peace…for a journey home that leads to welcome and healing, and for our nation to break the cycle of endless war.

I pray for moments of joy within the dark nights of the soul. And for friendship and community to share in joyful moments with.

I pray for love…that each one would know that they are loved, both by their Creator and their neighbor, and that we would embody this love in meaningful ways.

Amen.

Bridging the Military/Civilian Divide

December 15, 2018
This post was co-written by D. Glen Miller and Christian J. Nickels

One of the most powerful quotes we’ve read in a long time comes from a nearly century-old text: “War is like a comet—the tail is longer than the star itself.” 1 The tail of course is the aftermath of War. Some Americans are stunned to know that more Vietnam veterans died in the 15 years after the War’s end then are memorialized on the Wall. Most of these deaths were premature and caused by Agent Orange, wounds, suicide or drunkenness. Current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have their own legacy. Approximately nine (9) soldiers/marines/airmen/others are wounded for every war zone death. The Defense Department of the United States reports that 20 active duty or veterans kill themselves every day. That is 7,300 in one year. Compare that to the combined war zone deaths of 7,652 to date. Starting with Vietnam and carried forward the carnage is significantly higher after the War.

 

The more we learn about moral injury, PTSD, reintegration into civilian life, and other things that veterans face the more poignant the tail of the comet named War. Since war affects us all in small and large ways civilians need to understand and eventually empathize with the difficulties, uniqueness and gravity of the War experience. We certainly need more than the current refrain of “thank you for your service.” The refrain is quite often received as sincere but disingenuous. The phrase “TYFYS” may further distance the military from civilians because the soldier, marine or other military person knows that American citizens rarely experience the violence and moral dilemmas encountered in war zones. More importantly military personnel realize that war is not front page news and is secondary to most of our daily politics. George Bush famously said that civilians should go shopping and that the military will take care of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In our view he said that war-making is not part of the American civilians’ responsibility. Rosy the riveter would be turning over in her grave.

 

Another way to describe the separation and distancing between military and civilian is called “performative allyship.” We learned of this term from an article by Logan M. Isaac that called attention to its practice. 2 Performative allyship, to us, looks like a device that ends up further separating the lives and experiences of military members and civilians. The phrase, “TYFYS,” is probably a fine sentiment on the surface. But the problem is that it stays on the surface. One author of this article is a combat veteran. He is open to it, but it’s kind of an awkward thank you. We have heard veterans’ wonder if they should reply to TYFYS with a comment like, “what do you know about my service?” That reply would create an awkward space in the conversation. Yet, we think that awkward spaces can be a path toward growth. Previous agendas could go to the wayside, leaving an opportunity to explore new ground together.

 

This connection is important because soldiers need allies and support from their nation. This support is voiced but action is limited. Veterans know, for example, if they need medical support when discharged there will probably be a long line at the VA. Funds are limited everywhere. However, our military knows there is plenty of money for war making but little for repair of the mind and body of those that fight. U.S Marine Corps veteran and author Phil Klay describes this experience in a piece he wrote for the Atlantic. 3 He has fought in our current war on terror and he sees a detachment between our military people and civilians. He questions if service members can “maintain a sense of purpose when nobody-not the general public, or the Congress elected to represent them, or the commander in chief himself-seems to take the Wars we’re fighting seriously.” 4 Ask yourself the last time you read or heard news coverage regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Klay writes, “American service members are willing to sacrifice their lives for one another and for their country. In return, they ask only for a mission that is moral and achievable.” 5 We wonder if “TYFYS” is seen as an insincere thank you because the receiver knows that after 17 years of War nobody cares enough to scream “What are we doing in Afghanistan and Iraq??”

 

Being a soldier, marine or other serviceman or woman is not just another job. It requires skill, strength, endurance and savvy. Most of all, fighting in a war requires purpose. A civilian may continue to go to work, perform and collect a pay check while he or she finds the corporate mission to lack meaning and higher purpose. On the other hand, a soldier is expected to fight to the death. That is almost impossible to do just for a pay check. To face violence and constant danger there must be a moral imperative. War fighting is not just a job. Klay notes that morale is perilously low because “after nearly 17 years of war, service members have seen plenty of patriotic displays but little public debate about why they’re fighting.” 6

 

We have noticed the continued distancing between our military friends and our neighbors in the community. We do not live near a large military base but those veterans and their families that we do know are suffering from 17 years of war. We meet and speak with veterans and their families. Morale is not high and people are worn out. The stress of numerous deployments is breaking the strongest of personalities. Moreover, getting help is not easy and certainly not swift. Furthermore, the VA does not seem to have adjusted to prolonged war and the severity and quantity of injury because of the type and length of these wars.

 

These issues will not be solved easily and addressing them might feel awkward. But we need a compassionate willingness to move down that path. Perhaps learning to engage in deeper, mutual conversation and relationship can help bridge this divide. We wonder if civilians could learn to respond in ways that create better opportunity for relationship? Instead of “TYFYS” being the beginning and end of their veteran engagement, what if it was followed up with, “Can you tell me about your service sometime? I would be glad to listen.” This response will demand greater participation and commitment from us as civilians, because it’s not something you can simply say and walk away. And honestly, more needs to be required of us as civilians.

 

As this realization has emerged for us, we have also sensed connections to a foundational instruction in our faith—to “love your neighbor.” 7 We cannot love our neighbor if we are not truly listening and growing in relationship with them. A willingness to go deeper into this kind of relationship may be a good first step in helping to take the “performative” element out of allyship.


Glen Miller was deployed as an Army Ranger in Vietnam, 1969 – 1970. In 2010 he founded Veterans Community Network a non-profit with a mission to educate the greater Philadelphia area regarding Post Traumatic growth. Glen also teaches ethics and leadership within the Fox School of Business, Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pa.

Christian J. Nickels (MACL Eastern Mennonite Seminary) lives in Schwenksville PA, and partners with community members seeking to help veterans return home and find healing from trauma. Chris is the pastor of Spring Mount Mennonite Church in the suburbs of Philadelphia.


  1.  Corinna Haven Smith and Caroline R. Hill, Rising Above the Ruins in France: An Account of the Progress Made Since the Armistice in the Devastated Regions in Reestablishing Industrial Activities and the Normal Life of the People (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920) 153. 
  2.  Logan M. Isaac, “Why ‘Thank You for Your Service’ May be Performative Allyship at its Worst,” Medium, March 27, 2018, https://medium.com/pewpewpress/thank-you-for-your-service-is-performative-allyship-at-its-worst-c9611bb3cde5. 
  3.  Phil Klay. “Two Decades of War Have Eroded the Morale of America’s Troops,” the Atlantic, May 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/05/left-behind/556844/. 
  4. Ibid. 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:34-40. 

A Refugee Reflection

December 14, 2018

I heard this new song today, Away From The Manger: The Refugee King, and it is both a moving and powerful reprise of a familiar Christmas hymn (the lyrics are available at the link). Listening to it led me to open up the gospel of Matthew and reflect on the story from which it is based. I invite you to do the same, by reading the scripture text below and then watching the video.

Consider the story of Jesus’ incarnation, the experience of his family and the dangerous path they navigated, and also how this story relates to the harsh realities that refugees face today.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15 NRSV)

Eastertide

April 18, 2016

In our congregation‘s worship time yesterday, an appreciation for our local climate was expressed. In this part of the country we typically experience distinct seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall. Most years, each season receives its due time-even if winter feels like it lasts much longer than the others, and even if we do get April snow once in a while. Each season offers a gift if we choose to accept it-a gift of time.

We also have seasons in our spiritual life. The current season in the Christian Liturgical year is traditionally called “Eastertide,” meaning “Easter time” or “Easter season.” It’s a time to celebrate-Christ is risen! It’s a time when we we are most likely to say the word “indeed.” We believe that the resurrection of Jesus was the incredible institution of everlasting life. Easter helps us to envision and embody the new life Jesus taught his disciples to pray for. I like how my friend Drew Hart described it:

Everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. It is the game changer. Much more, it is the initiation of a new order of justice & peace.(1)

How are we noticing new life? How are we participating in the new way of justice and peace? We celebrate this resurrection and new life on Easter Sunday…and we keep going.

One day is not enough time to celebrate Easter.

The early Christians seemed to agree. They gathered for meals and worship on Sunday, the beginning of the week. The gospel writers all noted that the world changed on “the first day of the week.”(2) Each Sunday then, no matter what time of year, is a celebration of resurrection. We probably need more than one day to celebrate, to learn how to notice the new life around us, and to live into our role in the new creation.(3)

Throughout Eastertide this year our congregation has been looking for signs of new life and creating space to share these observations with one another when we gather. In the course of our meal liturgy yesterday, I was reminded of one that brought the Easter story to life for me in a new way.

Shortly before Easter Sunday, one of our church members told me that he had to move the “stone of help.” Our congregation has a stone that we use as an Ebenezer stone (1 Sam 7:12). During a worship gathering each August we write on this stone all the ways God has helped us in the past year. Then the stone is placed in a garden near the entrance to the meetinghouse, as a weekly reminder of what God has done. This practice helps us remember that God is our help, and is a way to reaffirm our commitment to be the church in this community—to live as Christ’s Body, offering healing and hope.

The thing is, where the stone had been placed last August was a spot where this church member thought something was going to happen. So he moved the stone. And sure enough-as if creation was also observing the Liturgical year (4)-the spring flowers started to return.

EastertideRollTheStone

Photo by Chris Nickels. April 17, 2016

Literally, the stone was rolled away and there was new life!

Indeed!

Alleluia!

I took a picture and share it here as a visual for inspiration and meditation. If you like, comment below and share:

What signs of new life are you seeing?

Blessings to you this Eastertide!


(1) Drew G.I. Hart, Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/Drew.GI.Hart/posts/939092022873289?fref=nf

(2) See Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1.

(3) See 2 Corinthians 5:11-21.

(4) Apparently creation is pretty “high church” in this part of the country.

 

Holy Saturday Living

April 6, 2016
DroneProtest1

Photo by Chris Nickels. Taken on March 26, 2016 outside the drone war command center in Horsham, PA.

I’ve rarely done anything special on Holy Saturday. As a Christian pastor Holy Week is normally full of worship services and and events that help the congregation trace the steps of Jesus to the cross, as well as preparing to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. Saturday is often a time to rest, reflect, and catch my breath in the midst of  the season (and to try to answer the questions about Jesus’ death that my inquisitive children are now beginning to ask).

The bible doesn’t say much about Holy Saturday, though some passages can be helpful for reflection on this day (the lectionary offers Lamentations 3:1–9, 19–24, Psalm 31:1–4, 15–16, 1 Peter 4:1–8, and John 19:38–42). Whatever happened on the original Holy Saturday, we know that Jesus entered into the reality of death. Though we look forward to Easter Sunday, perhaps Holy Saturday could be a formational instrument for followers of Jesus.

Christopher Hays suggests that Holy Saturday should be thought of as a day of quiet and of mission to those who are suffering(1). Claudia Highbaugh notes that “[Holy Saturday] is a day for us to witness to the reality of suffering, even as we call out for God’s presence”(2). I like these ideas and the possibilities for actively living into the Holy Week story.

“Endless war” is a name for a manifestation of suffering and death in our world today. I was a delegate at the Mennonite Church USA Convention last summer, and there we passed a resolution concerning endless war defining it as,

a different kind of war, without traditional armies operating under rules of war. The entire world is the battlefield. The enemy is shifting and ill-defined; sometimes it is a group with a history of recent collaboration with the U.S. Often the enemy is described vaguely as “terror” or “insecurity.” (3)

War becomes a constant state, and one of the ways this is carried out is through drone warfare. The resolution linked above names some of the terrible consequences of using these death from a distance machines. As a follower of Jesus (an innocent killed through state violence), I believe that war is not the will of God and that these tactics which create the opposite of God’s shalom should be exposed for what they are-a path that leads to destruction (Mt 7:12-14). Additionally, many citizens are likely unaware of what is being done in the name of their “security,” the effect this has on innocent people abroad, as well as the consequences for drone operators at the controls.

The resolution had three action steps. The first was to call congregations to renewed the emphasis on trusting God and the way of Jesus instead of violence. The second calls our denomination to “ministries of healing and renewal in response to the moral injuries experienced by those who feel the guilt for having killed in the name of security and experienced by those who feel no guilt for the killing done on their behalf.” The third action step involved seeking public ecumenical witness(4), demonstrating the spirit of Psalm 20:7:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Since the resolution passed I’ve wanted to find ways to begin living it out. One way I do this with my congregation is through participation in a local church and veterans network. Through this network we have had members trained in trauma awareness specific to veterans (and their families), and we have also participated in coordinated public witness to show love to veterans who are suffering from tremendous burdens. I have also felt the desire to personally commit to a more active peace witness in light of the harsh realities of “endless war.”

So on Holy Saturday this year I attended a protest. The base where the drone command center is located is very familiar to me, as I grew up nearby. Here I met a number of faithful peacemakers who instantly welcomed me into the cause. For a few hours on a Saturday we held our signs at one of the Philly suburbs busiest intersections as hundreds of vehicles passed by. Some drivers showed their displeasure with unpleasant comments and hand gestures. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the greater number of travelers who honked in support of the witness or gave a thumbs up. I also noticed some drivers slowing down to read the signs and banners as they drove past. If they become interested in learning more, then perhaps this was a small sign of renewal in these brief moments.

I’ve tried to put myself into the story of the original Holy Saturday, thinking about what it would have felt like from the perspective of those who were there. Being touched by tragedy, feeling completely overwhelmed, and not having the benefit of knowing what would happen on the third day, means I would just have to live into the reality of the present day. Though I might have an expectation for God’s kingdom to come in Christ, it sure feels like death is winning the day. Life probably kept on going for many other people. And yet it still feels like we should be doing something, no matter how small or insignificant.

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Lk 23:50-56 NRSV)

Joseph went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And a small group-Joseph and the women-lived into Saturday as they intentionally cared for Jesus. When you believe that all life is precious then when someone dies you acknowledge them, remember them, and faithfully care for them. Perhaps your action could be a witness to the governor-who might learn that even the life of his supposed enemy is precious.

The folks I met at the protest reminded me of these faithful friends of Jesus. They are waiting and working expectantly for peace-some of them have been for decades. They are faithfully doing what needs to be done in the Saturday of violence and death.

I noticed that if a driver yelled an obscenity or made a derogatory comment, the gentleman standing next to me would calmly respond by offering the peace sign to each detractor. As I drove home I continued to think about his simple action and witness. And while on a stretch of route 202 I was reminded of the risen Jesus, who walked around a fearful world offering the greeting, “Peace be with you.” This gentleman was doing a small thing, but it made a significant impact on me. Standing up and offering a word of peace is part of the work on Saturday.

In reflecting on the above Luke text, N.T. Wright offered the following:

“Our part is to be prayerfully faithful in the small things that we can see need doing. We cannot tell what God will then do.” (5)

I met folks at the protest whose witness for peace totally puts mine to shame. They inspire me and give me hope. So I’ll be back again to join them, because there will be more Saturdays and more small things to do to promote peaceful alternatives in the face of fear. And I’ll wait expectantly for what God will do.

Peace be with you.


(1) Christopher B. Hays, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Kindle Locations 11000.

(2) Claudia Highbaugh, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Kindle Locations 11150.

(3) “Resolution: Faithful Witness Amid Endless War,” http://mennoniteusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Faithful_Witness_Amid_Endless_War_Resolution_English.pdf

(4) Ibid.

(5) N.T. Wright, Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 112.

 

Remembering Black History Month

February 29, 2016

 

blackhistorymonthSMMC2

In recent years, in my small Mennonite congregation, we have made it a priority each February to celebrate Black History Month when we gather for worship. This celebration has taken various forms, through: singing African American spirituals (and learning context to the songs), sermons, intentional moments to highlight persons and events in black history, a testimony from a church member, or children’s stories (1). It is important for us to do this as a worshiping community whose membership is mostly white. The practice of celebrating Black History Month helps us to learn history we were not taught, to view the world from the vantage point of those who have been oppressed (and perhaps start learning how to incorporate that perspective into how we do theology), and to grow as neighbors and followers of Jesus. And it is also a small way to demonstrate that #blacklivesmatter, even if the forces of a white dominant society constantly seek to declare otherwise.

There were a number of voices which helped shape our worship time this past month, in which we also were exploring the life and ministry of Jesus during the season of Lent. Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and an activist, who helped us explore the kind of faith that Jesus (also an educator and activist) was developing in his disciples.

Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.

-Mary McLeod Bethune

With the help of Dr. Vincent Harding we explored the history of a familiar, and often misunderstood, song, “Kumbaya.” Far from being a passive and naive musical exercise, the song is about a deep spiritual truth that can inspire action. It’s a sincere plea for the Lord to “come by here.”

Whenever somebody jokes about “Kumbaya,” my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country, especially student types to come and help in the process of voter registration and freedom school teaching and taking great risks on behalf of that state and of this nation. … In group after group, people were singing: “Kumbaya. Come by here my Lord. Somebody’s missing Lord. Come by here.”

-Dr. Vincent Harding (2)

Sheyann Webb and Drew Hart helped us explore the defiant and subversive ministry of Jesus as he marched toward Jerusalem in the pages of Luke’s gospel.

Jesus was defiant and determined to continue manifesting his subversive kingdom right within and under the jurisdiction of the powers until he clashed with the establishment in Jerusalem… He would not be turned around. A similar sentiment was expressed in the 1960’s when the people sang that they wouldn’t let anyone ‘turn us around.’ Jesus was on a mission. As his disciples living in a racialized society, we must reenvision what types of prophetic words need to be spoken in our day to unveil the hidden evil forces of oppression and hierarchy, which have been permissible in our society for too long.

-Drew Hart (3)

At this point, please stop reading this post and go order a copy of Drew’s fantastic new book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.

As we reflected on a Luke 13:31-35 we watched a clip from the film about Ms. Webb’s life, Selma, Lord, Selma, to help us imagine modern day expressions of this insistent, prophetic, and subversive way of Jesus.

On a personal level, there are two TED talks which have helped me grow and be challenged toward action. The first features Mellody Hobson and is titled, “Color Blind or Color Brave?”

The second video features Vernā Myers speaking about overcoming our biases and learning to walk toward our discomfort.

These talks invite us to pursue greater awareness-of self, and of the dominant racial frames that exist in society. Both messages are well worth one’s time and are a good invitation toward uncomfortable yet healthy action.(4) One of my responses is to commit to listen deeply and see how these messages can take root in my life.

How did you remember Black History Month this year? What are your favorite practices for celebrating in a congregational context?


(1) This book works well for a children’s story in a congregational setting: The Story of Rosa Parks (Candy Cane Press, 2007), http://www.amazon.com/Story-Rosa-Parks-Patricia-Pingry/dp/0824966872.

(2) “You’ll Never Hear Kumbaya the Same Way Again”, http://www.onbeing.org/blog/youll-never-hear-kumbaya-same-way-again/3860

(3) Drew G. I. Hart, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, (Herald Press, 2016) 66.

(4) Both of these TED talks are part of a Black History Month playlist, which can be found here: http://www.ted.com/playlists/230/10_great_talks_to_celebrate_bl.