I find myself trying to sustain a lot of “tensegrity,” and decided that one way to live creatively in the midst of that is to try and journal regularly about the various paradoxes I find myself within. “Tensegrity” is a word Buckminster Fuller once coined — “tension” + “integrity” = “tensegrity.” He used it to describe the incredibly stable nature of the structures he could build by holding competing forces together while respecting their integrities. I like to use it to describe what it is to be a person of faith living in a global media culture.
And here we are at Advent again. Meanwhile the world continues to burn. Back in 2008 I had the privilege and joy of working with a group of liturgical artists from around the world who put together a free resource for Advent that drew on prayers, readings, and songs from around the world seeking to encourage communities who lived immersed in violence. The 84 page booklet is called “Imagine Peace” and while I can’t seem to find it through the World Council of Churches any more, I still have a copy here on my website.
I commend it to you as a compelling resource this Advent.
This is an essay by British author George Monbiot that shares in an accessible way some of how non-linear change could give us hope when it comes to climate catastrophe.
Today I’m thinking about the possibility of non-linear change in relation to racial injustice. I think there is something brewing, there is a Spirit seeking to breathe into and through us, that is pushing us to see not only the stark choices and awful histories we are embedded in, but the forms and stories of resistance.
I also heard something this week that resonated with me: we learn history not because history repeats, but because history rhymes. So not precisely the same thing happening, but things happening that rhyme with the past.
So how might we lift up histories that we WANT to rhyme? There is collective organizing happening all over the world. Some have named October “striketober” for the amount of labor activism. And there are myriad small, local efforts to build communities that are walkable, where mutual aid and mutual responsibility remove the need for militarized policing. Let’s share more of those stories!
The verdict in the Rittenhouse trial plunges me right back into the anguish and anger that accompanies recognizing the depth of white supremacy that is baked into our systems here in the US. I need to remember the work and the spiritual disciplines necessary for confronting white supremacy.
Here is a very helpful conversation between an historian of Christian Protestantism (Robert P. Jones) and a seminary dean (Leah Gunning Francis) that took place a week ago (prior to the verdict).
Jones notes in this conversation that if at one time white Christians had said NO to slavery, and then to every institution of white supremacy after that, it would have ended.
White Christians this is on us.
For weeks now (maybe months?) I’ve been going nearly every morning to the Healing Our City virtual prayer tent. I suppose it was inevitable that eventually they would ask me to offer a reflection, but I was still humbled and anxious about saying something worthy of a space which has offered me such hope.
So today was my turn, and here is what I offered:
I wrote this piece recently for Luther Seminary’s faith+lead blog, and I don’t want to lose it. (It can be hard to find stuff on that site!)
Of all the words and prayers and songs that have been lifted up in the last few days, this piece from Darnell L. Moore best articulates what I’ve been feeling and looking towards. I have an “impatient patience” focused on restorative justice. Thank you, Darnell, for your powerful words!
Tuesday the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial returned with three guilty verdicts. The waiting that started at 3:30 pm that day drew me into hushed silence. The report was that the verdicts would be shared in court betweern 3:30 and 4:00 pm, but by 4:00 pm they still hadn’t been read.
I sat and sat and sat and prayed. And when the judge finally appeared and read the verdicts, and on all three counts Chauvin was found guilty, I burst into tears.
This is only a beginning step. But it is a step I did not dare to believe was possible. I watched as much of the trial as I could — hours and hours of it — and learned far more than I suppose I want to, about legal use of police force, about what police training consists in, and so on.
Our system of law enforcement is so broken. Even as we awaited the verdicts here in Minnesota, a young teenager, a Black girl, was shot dead in Columbus, Ohio by police who were responding to HER call for help. And today as I write this post, we are facing the funeral of Daunte Wright, yet another young Black man killed by a white police officer just outside of Minneapolis. He was stopped for a small traffic violation — license tag? something hanging from his rearview mirror? it’s not entirely clear.
That a traffic stop results in death. That the possibility that someone used a $20 counterfeit bill results in death on the street by a cop kneeling on your neck as you plead for air. These incidents break my heart into tiny little shards.
I am having a hard time doing what Parker Palmer urges — letting my heart be broken open, ever wider, instead.
These are incidents where police are functioning as judge, jury, and executioner — it’s impossible to see how they differ from lynching. And yet our city, our nation, continue to support the police. Even the Derek Chauvin trial, as startling as it was that he was convicted on all counts, was basically a defense of the police more generally and just a condemnation of “one bad cop.”
My prayer this morning is that we begin to wake up from the lethargy, the apathy, even the despair that has held so many — particularly white folx — from collectively organizing to change our systems. I am learning how to be part of a restorative justice circle, and I am reading Kazu Haga’s work on “Healing Resistance.” These are my steps this week. May they be strong first steps on a journey towards true justice.
Caitlin Flanagan writes, in the Atlantic:
“In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item.”
I have to start by noting that all of my degrees come from elite private universities. I know something of what it means to be in that space. Back in 1980, when I was applying to college, you could be a kid from a single parent household who went to public schools, and you could still get admitted to Yale. Public education in Wisconsin really meant something (it still does, in some spaces), and I graduated from high school with a deep commitment to learning, and with a love of reading and writing that continues to sustain me.
Four years of elite university later, I knew that my sisters who went to public universities had gotten at least as good an education as I had. In some ways even better.
Nowadays, far too many of our public schools and universities are crumbling around us, and the opportunities to learn an instrument, to participate in art classes, to argue philosophy, even simply to play outside in recess (prior to the pandemic), are disappearing.
According to this article (and certainly I’ve heard enough from this generation of college students to confirm it), nowadays the competition for a “good education” begins back in preschool, and continues through ever increasing parental anxiety in K12 settings all the way to college and graduate school. And it’s all about wealth. When elite education becomes solely about getting — or keeping — access to wealth, we have lost what really matters and it is not surprising that polarization and ugly dynamics grow ever more rapidly around us.
This author is writing about elite private education, but I want to note that at heart the article is trying to help us to reclaim a deep sense of the public, of a shared commitment to learning that is about engagement with the whole of society.
In the midst of our drastically unequal society, in the midst of the devastation wrought by pandemic and racial injustice, we need to grasp onto Amanda Gordon’s words, and believe there is light, “if only we are brave enough to see it.”
An article like this sheds light on a set of practices that only magnify inequality, and further erode our sense of ourselves as a people, diverse but united. The headline on this article names elite private education of this sort obscene. That’s a strong word, but it is warranted.
Imagine what we could do if we focused our attention back to the roots of learning as a civic enterprise, and poured money into public education. Rather than grasping after a very selfish kind of elite private education, what if the children of our leaders were immersed in contexts and relationships where they were all leaning into building just relationships, and a form of learning that lifts up each child’s unique gifts? Imagine!
A couple of years ago this podcast explored the pressures facing white families to choose the “right” public school here in the Cities. I resonated deeply with the conversation, because these leaders were asking — what if every school was a great school? Instead of the anxieties that were provoked by having to search out and find just the right school (because the assumption was that there were many bad schools), what if every school in every neighborhood was excellent?
The podcast speakers were interrogating the white privilege that had become the air so many of us breathe. Instead they asked, and we need to ask: why can’t we ensure that every school is a great school? That would be an achievement worth celebrating.
Read Flanagan’s article, and think about it.
Bruce Springsteen has long been my favorite theologian.
He writes and sings and dances of heartache and joy, of love and of loss. Back shortly after September 11, 2001 he released an album entitled The Rising, much of which had been written prior to that day. But the songs spoke so clearly and directly to our losses and our fears.
A few weeks ago he released a new album, Letter to You. Once again most of it was written prior to the pandemic, but he sings with such heartbreaking directness about all sorts of things I’m feeling right now.
His song “One minute you’re here” is a song I’ve been listening to - and crying to - since I first heard it. My brother-in-law died this year, hundreds of miles away, and I have not yet been able to be with my sister to hug her, to cry with her, to remember Louie. This song articulates what I’m feeling so well.
There’s a song entitled “The Power of prayer” which offers poetic traces of the ways in which our prayers rise and may be answered in embodied beauty and joy.
There’s a song entitled “House of a thousand guitars” which notes that “The criminal clown has stolen the throne / He steals what he can never own.” I have no idea what Springsteen was thinking of when he wrote those lines, but I know I was immediately thinking about Trump.
Another song entitled “Rainmaker” observes that “Rainmaker, a little faith for hire / Rainmaker, the house is on fire / Rainmaker, take everything you have / Sometimes folks need to believe in something so bad, so bad, so bad / They’ll hire a rainmaker / They come ‘cause they can’t stand the pain / Of another long hot day of no rain / ‘Cause they don’t care or understand / What it really takes for the sky to open up the land.”
There are so many more songs on this album that I love! There’s a song that wonders aloud “If I was a priest” that is a powerful imagination of Jesus as a sheriff and Mary running the Holy Grail saloon.
There is also a beautifully filmed black and white film of the recording of this album available on AppleTV+. I wish I could figure out how to teach a course that uses this album as a primary text. I need to keep working on it!
Each day I praise God for creating this wonderful songwriter/singer who continues to breathe life into theology in ways that I can cry and dance to.
I am grateful for the wisdom shared around the world, as we face this pandemic. This piece reminds me of how important it is to remember this is global, and to imagine when it ends.