Category Archives: Antiracism

17 October 2019

In honor of Congressman Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, sharecropper’s son and a giant for justice. Assembled this morning, this playlist features songs about Baltimore, songs from artist with connections to Baltimore, and songs by Fannie Lou Hamer – a sharecropper’s daughter, a sharecropper, and a giant for justice. 

Walk. Morningside Gardens.
On Being a Sharecropper – Fannie Lou Hamer
Run Mourner, Run – Fannie Lou Hamer
Streets of Baltimore – Gram Parsons
Silver – Rik Ocasek
Raining in Baltimore – Counting Crows
You Think You’re a Man – Divine
Baltimore – Audra McDonald
Precious Lord – Fannie Lou Hamer
Baltimore – Nina Simone
This Little Light of Mine – Fannie Lou Hamer
Baltimore – Lyle Lovett
Road to Hell – André De Shields
Baltimore – Randy Newman
Baltimore Fire – Charlie Poole
Baltimore – Prince
I Know Where I’ve Been – Queen Latifah
Amazing Grace – Fannie Lou Hamer

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Exercise, Music, New York, playlist

Andy Henriquez – #CLOSErikers

IMG-0663We honor the memory of Andy Henriquez, 19 years old. He begged for medical attention in solitary confinement on Rikers Island. He died there due to neglect in 2013.

From time to time, I have had the honor to stand with the community working to close the jail complex on Rikers Island and replace the jails with smaller justice centers based in four of the New York City boroughs. People directly affected by the Rikers jails led this effort.

Today the New York City Council voted on a proposal. I joined the community for a rally in the time before the vote. Participants were invited to read brief statements honoring individuals who had died on Rikers.

I read the words about Andy Henriquez. He was arrested for participating in a heinous crime. He  was held for three years without a trial. He was held in solitary confinement. He complained of pain and called for medical attention as did others held near him.

He needed to be held accountable for his role in that crime. But that would have involved a speedy trial. And it would not have involved dying alone in a cell. Whatever he did, whatever he did not do, as a child of God, he deserved better. So did Mohamed Jollah for whose brutal murder Andy Henriquez was arrested. So do all people.

May today’s New York City Council vote mark steps on the journey to a criminal justice system that emphasizes restoration and rebuilding community.

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Human Rights, New York, Presbytery of New York City

“I am a man”

In 1879, Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca people successfully argued that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law” with the right of habeas corpus. The result of case, held in a U.S. District Court in Omaha, meant that Chief Standing Bear became the first Native American judicially granted civil rights under U.S. law. 

Nebraska recently unveiled a statue of Chief Standing Bear in the U.S. Capitol. A recent story about the statue and Standing Bear in The Washington Post story quotes Standing Bear’s affirmation of common humanity during his trial:

On the second day, Chief Standing Bear was called to testify, becoming the first Native American to do so. He raised his right hand and, through an interpreter, said: “My hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. The same god made us both. I am a man.”

“I am a man.” – Sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennesse.

“Ain’t I a woman,” – Sojourner Truth.

“I am a person. I am a human being.” – Countless people in countless situations.

Again and again, people have had to make that assertion as they struggle for civil rights and human rights in the face of oppression, discrimination, and prejudice.  The struggle continues today. It is shared across all social identities as structures grant privilege to some but  not to all. Key to creating and maintaining that privilege is denying the humanity of other people. When will we ever learn that everyone – everyone – is a human being entitled to basic human rights? When will we ever learn to treat one another with respect and love?

For Chief Standing Bear and Sojourner Truth and the sanitation workers of Memphis, may we renew our efforts to eviscerate, in the word of the CoInspire Conference, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, and all systems of privilege and oppression.

Learn more about Chief Standing Bear:

The Trial of Standing Bear – a PBS film

Chief Standing Bear: The Trail Ahead

The Story of Chief Standing Bear (.pdf)

“I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, National Park

30 July 2019

Walking. Morningside Gardens.
Good Morning Baltimore – Hairspray
Baltimore – Tori Amos (on YouTube)
The Lady Came from Baltimore – Tim Hardin
Dancing in the Streets – The Mamas and the Papas
I Cover the Waterfront – Billie Holiday
Barefoot in Baltimore – Strawberry Alarm Clock
The Calloway Boogie – Cab Calloway
The Earl of Baltimore – Terry Cashman
Streets of Baltimore – Gram Parsons
Aerial Boundaries – Michael Hedges
Raining in Baltimore – Counting Crows
Hungry Heart – Bruce Springsteen
Dream Rag – Eubie Blake
Road to Hell – Andre De Shields & Company (Hadestown)
Baltimore Fire – Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers
Way Down in the Hole – Blind Boys of Alabama

Tomorrow’s list will also focus on songs about Baltimore or performed by artists with Baltimore connections or that were featured in The Wire.

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Exercise, Music, playlist

No Human Is Illegal

I Kings 19:1-15a
Galatians 3:23-29
No Human Is Illegal
23 June 2019
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

With thanks to a June 22 post on Presbyterians for Just Immigration that helped jump start this sermon.

If you are like me, you may need some context to understand what is happening in our passage from I Kings. It is story about politics and faith that comes as a part of a longer story about politics and faith.

One point to begin the story of Ahab and Jezebel and Elijah is in Egypt. Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, had been sold into slavery by his brothers. Then hunger came. As it so often does, hunger people from their homes. In this case, Jacob and his sons.

Because he could interpret dreams, Joseph had risen from his beginnings to a position of authority in the Pharaoh’s court. He had responsibility for storing and managing food. After Joseph messed with his brothers a bit, they reunited, and the family moved to Egypt.

The came to be called the Hebrews, the name for the people came from an Egyptian word meaning “outsider” or “nomad” or “workers of inferior status.” Still, life went well for the people.

Then Joseph died. And a new Pharaoh came to power. He feared the Hebrew people. They had become numerous and he saw them as a threat. He tried several ways to eliminate them. But God heard their cry and sent Moses to deliver the Hebrew people.

They made their way to Canaan, after forty-years of wandering. There they settled. For a time, judges ruled them. But the Hebrew people wanted a king. A king like all the other peoples.

“Bad idea,” said Samuel the prophet. “Really bad idea.” The people pushed. Following prayer, Samuel relented. Guided by God, he anointed Saul as the first king. Saul ruled over all twelve tribes of Israel – one for each of Jacob’s son.

Saul disobeyed commands from God given to him by Samuel. Guided by God, Samuel anointed the shepherd musician David to be King. Conflict follows. Saul dies. David becomes king.

David is recognized as the greatest king of Israel. Of course, he was not a perfect king. He stole Uriah’s wife and arranged to have Uriah killed. Like virtually every other servant of God in or out of the Bible, God did not choose David because he was worthy; God made David worthy because he chose him.

David’s son Solomon follows his father as the king. When Solomon’s son succeeds his father, the kingdom breaks into two parts. Israel in the north with nine tribes. Judah in the south with two. The tribe of Levi had taken on religious duties. Competition and conflict prevailed between the two kingdoms. Each had its own king.

After time, a king named Ahab came to rule in the Northern Kingdom. He married a woman named Jezebel. It seems likely this was an arranged marriage designed to strengthen ties between the kingdom of Israel and Phoenicia – Jezebel’s home country.

Jezebel worshiped a god named Baal. Ahab had a place of worship built for Baal and an altar to Baal erected there.

Not only did Jezebel promote the worship of Baal, she suppressed the worship of Yahweh, the God who appeared to Moses and proclaimed, “I am who I am.” The God who led the Hebrew people to freedom. The God of Jesus.

Jezebel had the prophets of Yahweh killed. Altars to Yahweh were destroyed. When a famine came, Jezebel used royal provisions to feed and support the prophets of Baal.

Elijah, faithful to Yahweh God, noticed a fracture in the community. Worship of Baal was increasing. Called by God, Elijah acted. He challenged the prophets of Baal to determine the true God.

They met on Mt. Carmel. Two altars were made. A bull sacrificed and placed on each. The prophets of Baal called upon Baal to send fire and consume their sacrifice. Nothing happened. Elijah called on Yahweh God. Fire came from heaven to burn up the sacrifice. Elijah ordered the people to seize and kill the prophets of Baal and other false gods. It was done.

Jezebel was a wee bit irked at this. With her husband Ahab, she still controlled the power of the state. She called for Elijah’s death. She told Elijah so. And he fled.

In fear and confusion and despair, Elijah fled. That’s where our reading for this morning picks up. With Jezebel’s death squads looking for him, Elijah ran for his life.

Into the wilderness Elijah went. He hid under a tree and asked God to take his life. But an angel appeared and told Elijah to eat and drink. Elijah found strength to continue his flight.

After forty days and nights, Elijah hid again. In a cave. This time, God visited him. God spoke to him. Not in wind or earthquake or fire. No special effects for God this time. God spoke to Elijah in the voice that pierced through the silence.

Elijah heard God say, “There is work for you to do.” “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.” Yet again, God does not call someone who is worthy. God calls frightened, confused, despairing Elijah and makes him worthy.

As I look at what is happening to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in our country, I experience some confusion about policies that are being put into place. I fear for my sisters, brothers, and family members who have come to the United States fleeing violence and poverty. I sometimes teeter on despair.

I am confused to see families separated. I understand that if I had been arrested and sent to prison thirty years ago when Sean and Eric were young, they would not have gone with me. But they had their mother and their church community and their schools. They had roots. They would not have ended up with other children in a cage.

I am confused about why we cannot provide enough attorneys and personnel to process asylum requests efficiently and quickly. People have the right to apply for asylum. It is not automatically guaranteed. But it appears that steps are being taken to make the process more difficult to traverse and to drag it out in terms of time.

I read of overcrowded facilities where children and adults are held. For example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found “standing room only conditions” at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, which has a maximum capacity of 125 migrants. On May 7 and 8, logs indicated that there were “approximately 750 and 900 detainees, respectively … We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space.” I learn that many of the detention centers are run for profit. As the Equal Justice Initiative reports, “Private detention companies are paid a set fee per detainee per night, and they negotiate contracts that guarantee a minimum daily headcount. Many run notoriously dangerous facilities with horrific conditions that operate far outside federal oversight.” And I hear that the government, my government, “went to federal court this week to argue that it shouldn’t be required to give detained migrant children toothbrushes, soap, towels, showers or even half a night’s sleep inside Border Patrol detention facilities.” I teeter on despair.

Immigration raids were announced to take place today in cities across the country. The planned raids raised fear in me and many others that “some immigrant children — many of whom are American citizens because they were born in the United States — would have faced the possibility of being forcibly separated from their families when ICE agents arrived to arrest and deport their undocumented parents.” Yesterday afternoon, the New York Times reported that the plans have been delayed. Still the fear remains. Fear that, whether it happens in an organized series of raids or it happens on a case-by-case basis, friends, people for whom I care deeply, and people I do not know may face separation and deportation. And that deportation may lead to death in their home countries.

I am in an Elijah moment facing the issue of immigration. I am confused. I am fearful. I teeter on despair. I wish I could hide hid in a cave. Maybe you do too.

I am in an Elijah moment. And I know that God has work for me to do. God has work for you too. God calls us. Not because we are certain. Not because we are free from fear. Not because we are far from despair. God calls us as we are. And God will grant us clarity and courage and hope and everything to leave the cave and follow where God leads.

What might that look like?

It begins with prayer. God will offer us the opportunity to pray. To pray for people who have fled their homes and those who care for them. To pray for those who work on the border both to provide humanitarian aid and to enforce laws. To pray for leaders in government. To pray that God’s love will be shared.

God will call us to challenge the language that is used in the discussion. We need to proclaim again and again that there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. No human is illegal.

People can be fat. People can be bald. Peopled can be bearded. Heck, you may even know a fat, bald, bearded person. But people cannot be illegal.

People can do illegal things. A person may get a speeding ticket or two or more. That does not make the person an “illegal driver.” It makes the person a “person who breaks driving laws.” There are laws governing immigration, which people can break. That makes them people who have broken immigration laws or people who have entered the country illegally.

No human is illegal. The phrase originates with Elie Wiesel. Wiesel survived the Holocaust. He knows the absolute horror that can happen when language dehumanizes and demonizes and divide people. Once we accept that some people are “illegal”, there is no end to the abuse those people might be forced to endure and we might tolerate.

The Wakes are a band from Scotland. Their sound is described as traditional Celtic punk rock and funk. They have created a song with the title “No Human Is Illegal.” It is an upbeat melody with a powerful message that brings tears of hope to my eyes every time I hear it. Its lyrics contain a colorful metaphor or two or I would play it for us this morning. But here’s a couple important lines:

          No human is illegal
And everybody has their worth

Everybody has their worth. Those who follow Jesus know that worth comes because everybody is made in God’s image. Everybody is a beloved child of God. Everybody is someone for whom Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead.

“The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel.” That affirmation of the worth of every person comes from a truly radical source. The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – Book of Order, G-1.0302.

A step out of the cave of fear, confusion, and despair involves a refusal to dehumanize and consistent persistent insistent affirmation of all people. Other steps may follow.

Maybe God will urge us to learn more about issues surrounding migration and human movement. A list of sources of information may be found in Fellmann Hall after service.

Maybe God will ask us to call our government to work with other nations to address the circumstances that cause people to leave their homes and make dangerous journeys to places they perceive as safe. Of course, some people migrate who are criminal; some people migrate to commit crime. There are always such people in any group.

But the vast majority of people migrate for safety or because they cannot sustain themselves in their home places. Joseph’s family journeyed to Egypt because of famine. Mary and Joseph took their baby Jesus to Egypt to escape the soldiers of Herod who sought to kill him. As the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire writes:

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Clearly the immigration system in our country needs corrections. But the solution to immigration lies not in reforming detention centers or keeping families together or speeding up the processing. All those and more need to happen. The poverty and violence that drives people from their homes must be overcome. A postcard to send to Congress and a sample script to call Congress are available in Fellmann Hall. You may fill it in and leave it and I will see it gets mailed or you may take it home and send yourself.

Maybe God will invite us to prepare family care plans for our own families or to share them with friends and community members who are at risk. Examples are available in Fellmann Hall.

Maybe God will nudge us to use a part of the treasure we have received to care for people in need. The Deacons have made a gift to Angry Tias and Abuelas, a group that provides care and advocates for people on the border from Brownsville to McAllen, Texas. Our One Great Hour of Sharing Offering supports the ministry of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance with refugees and immigrants. There are other organizations to which we could give if we choose. Fellman Hall.

God will ask us to take care of ourselves in times of fear, confusion, and despair. Elijah took a nap. The angel gave him something to eat and drink. Anne Lamott reminds us that “Radical self-care is the secret of joy, resistance, freedom. When we care for ourselves as our very own beloved—with naps, healthy food, clean sheets, a lovely cup of tea—we can begin to give in wildly generous ways to the world, from abundance.”

And God will ask us to listen. God is still with us and, if we keep listening, God will remind us that the love that binds us all together is stronger than any fear. Any confusion. Any despair. God’s love is stronger, and it is in that love that we will find our way. May it be so. Amen.

 

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

25 June 2019

Walking. Morningside Gardens.
Massage. NK Body Philosophy (OK – I did not listen to any of these songs then.)
Lakota Song – Oglala Lakota Nation
Little Bighorn Song – Paul Plume
Crazy Horse Honor Song – Wilmer Mesteth
Wash Your Spirit Clean – Walela
Sitting Bull’s Medicine Song – Kevin Locke
Firedancer – Brule
It Is a Good Day to Die – Robbie Robertson & The Red Road Ensemble
Akua Tuta – Kashtin
The Little Bighorn March – Bill Miller
Bobtail Horse – Fire Crow
Got to Tell You – Indigenous
Tatanka – Luis Cachiguango
Garryowen & Valley of the Little Bighorn – Jack Gladstone

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Filed under Antiracism, Easter, Human Rights, Music, New York, playlist

20 June 2019

Although this was the playlist for June 19, the exercise did not happen until today.
Walking. Morningside Gardens.
Stretching. Shire.
Juneteenth – Cast of Black-ish
Freedom – Beyonce
I’m Just a Slave – The Roots
We Built This – Cast of Black-ish
Not a Slave – Dre’ Sr.
People Get Ready – The Impressions
Oh Freedom – Kim & Reggie Harris
Get on Board Little Children – Paul Robeson
Freedom – Richie Havens
Freedom Train – Sweet Honey in the Rock
Sing a Song – Earth, Wind & Fire
Freedom Now – Tracy Chapman
Freedom Road – The Blind Boys of Alabama
Freedom Train – Lenny Kravitz
People Gotta Be Free – Keb’ Mo’
Juneteenth – Suav
Shimmer, Prayer for Cleaning the Water – Joy Harjo
Trail of Tears Song, We Will Go Together – Joy Harjo

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