Tag Archives: white supremacy

Emanuel

EmanuelPosterOn the fourth anniversary of the horrific, terrorist attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by an avowed white supremacist, I had the opportunity to view a new documentary Emanuel.

The event shattered lives and rocked Charleston and the nation. Emanuel powerfully weaves the history of race relations in Charleston, the significance and impact of Mother Emanuel Church, and the hope that somehow emerges in the aftermath.

Featuring intimate interviews with survivors and family members, Emanuel tells a poignant story of justice and faith, love and hate, and examines the healing power of forgiveness.

Emanuel is playing in theaters across the country for two nights – June 17 (tonight) and June 19 (Wednesday). See if it is playing near you and check it out.

Clementa Pinckney
Tywanza Sanders
Daniel Simmons
Sharonda Singleton 
Myra Thompson
Cynthia Hurd
Suzie Jackson
Ethel Lance
DePayne Middleton-Doctor

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Of Love and π

Luke 13:31-35
I Corinthians 13
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
March 17, 2019
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

What comes to mind when you hear the word pie?

Perhaps your favorite pizza?

For me, the word takes me back to  childhood. My mother made better pies than cakes. We celebrated my birthday with chocolate cream. My brother chose Boston Cream. My sister blueberry. At least one of us made a semi-healthy choice.

Of course, mathematicians may think not of pie but of pi. Pi.  A number that designates the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

In Greek, perimetros means circumference. Staying in Greek, Pi is the first letter in perimetros. Because of the influence of Greeks on early European mathematics, pi became the word used to describe this number.[i]

To put pi in numbers, one begins with 3.14. At some point in time, March 14 became known as Pi day. People share bad jokes. Bakeries and restaurants offer deals on pie.

Pi Day came last Thursday. I ate no pie. But I received reminders that Pi is both infinite.

Pi is infinite. It’s decimal representation never ends. It starts 3.14 and then goes on forever. Mathematician Emma Haruka Iwao recently computed over 31 trillion digits of pi. In an interview with the BBC, she said, “There is no end with pi, I would love to try with more digits.”[ii]

Reflecting on the infinite nature of Pi, reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend, Joanne Westin. Her teen-age daughter had died in a drowning accident. We talked of Jennifer and we talked of loss. And Joanne observed that, “Grief is infinite.” After a pause, she added, “And so is love.”

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”[iii] Love is infinite, because God is love.

I know that. I believe that. I preach that. But I need to hear that this week. This heart-wrenching week.

29542890_10214989437271181_7380570066821968457_nIn Louisville, I worked with the Rev. Robina Winbush, our church’s staff person for ecumenical and interfaith relations. On Tuesday morning, returning from a visit with our church partners in the Middle East, Robina stepped from the plane and into the everlasting, ever-loving arms of God. As she deplaned at JFK, Robina collapsed. Airline personnel and EMTs could not revive her.

Tuesday evening, Mike Miller, the acting chief financial officer for the national church in Louisville, died of a massive heart attack.

53786357_10156864546396063_7080109362454200320_nWednesday evening, my phone buzzed with a text from Rex bearing the heartbreaking news that Byron Vasquez had died. A gentle, good man gone too soon, too young. Byron made a commitment and gave of himself to the United States – where too often the sin and hate of white supremacy “othered” him as it does to brown and black people.  Labelling him as “less than” and telling him to return to his country.

On Friday, New Zealand time, white supremacy struck in New Zealand. A man who posted a statement rooted in white supremacy and white nationalism, opened fire in the Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Masjid Mosque in Christchurch. As the Muslim community gathered to worship. As they prayed. At least 50 people died; many others were wounded. In the words of the New Zealand Herald:

“They are fathers, mothers, grandparents, daughters and sons.
They are refugees, immigrants and New-Zealand born.
They are Kiwis.”[iv]

Around the world, white supremacists distort the message of the Gospel in a effort to justify their heinous and heretical beliefs. The good news of Jesus Christ diametrically opposes any idea of supremacy. The idea that one group of people is supreme in any way violates everything that Jesus taught. It is a sin. Jesus calls us to love. To love God. To love neighbors. To love neighbors who love us. To love neighbors who do not love us. To love neighbors who have many similarities to us. To love neighbors from whom we differ in every imaginable way. Love, not hate, not division, not superiority, not supremacy. Love is the message of the Gospel.

Friday evening, my phone buzzed. Rex and Camilla’s friend Eugene Lloyd had died. Another good man gone.

A heart-wrenching week.

Our passage from Luke shows Jesus lamenting Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”[v]

Jesus goes on to express a desire to gather the city and its people in a protective embrace of love. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”[vi] His lament continues as he acknowledges that will not happen. “You were not willing.”[vii]

Of course, we know the rest of the story. Jesus will proceed to Jerusalem. He will endure betrayal and denial. He will experience torture and execution. And three days later God will raise him from the dead. God’s infinite love will have the final word.

Valerie Kaur is a human rights activist and a member of the Sikh faith who knows something about love. She notes that the shooting in New Zealand transports her back to Oak Creek, Wisconsin. In 2012, a white supremacist opened fire at the gurdwara – the Sikh place of worship and gathering. The community was preparing their communal meal known as a langar. Kaur writes: “I see the blood of Sikh uncles & aunties in the prayer hall. What helped me breathe then… and now: love. Love as sustained practical care. Love as courage.”[viii]

At the Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Masjid Mosque, love as both courage and practical care were displayed. The first responders. People on the streets. I saw an interview with a woman who provided care to a wounded man. When told she was a hero, the woman responded. “I am not. I did what needed to be done.” That’s not a bad definition of a hero. It is certainly a definition of love.

Ava Parvin and her husband, Farid, left Bangladesh and settled in New Zealand in 1994. Farid grew ill and had to use a wheelchair. On Friday, as the terrorist aimed at Farid, Ara jumped in front of the bullets. He lived. She died. Love never ends.

Forty years ago, Haji Daoud Nabi fled war in his native Afghanistan and resettled his family in New Zealand. On Friday the 71-year old sat at the back of Al Noor Masjid. And when hate came through the door, Nabi shielded a friend with his body. Haji Nabi died. His friend lives. [ix] Love never ends.

Halfway through the shooting at the Al Noor mosque, Naeem Rashid rushed the shooter. He was killed. But in that instant, with no weapons, just his hands, he tried to stop the horror. [x] And when the shooter arrived at the Linwood Masjid, Abdul Aziz ran at him, throwing a credit card reader and then a gun that had been dropped. As the shooter drove away, Aziz continued to follow the car. Practical. Courageous.[xi] Love never ends.

My phone buzzed again on Thursday. The Session had begun the discussion that would result in the decision to receive an offering to help send Byron Vasquez’s body home. Words from a South African song from the days of apartheid went through my head:

Courage, our friend, you do not walk alone
We will walk with you, and sing your spirit home[xii]

Through our gifts, we will walk with Byron as his body returns to his home. Expressing the love that binds us together in Jesus Christ, we accompany Byron even as he is held in God’s eternal embrace of love.

I asked the Session if could I post about the offering on the church’s Facebook page and on my own Facebook page. I thought a friend or two might contribute.

Several have. Among them Janice Stamper. A Presbyterian minister, she left her church in Alaska to provide care for her aging father in Kentucky. After a lengthy illness, her father died a year ago. We prayed for her and “Ol Pap” as she called him. She sent me a message on Facebook asking how to mail a check. As I teared up, I typed back that this was amazingly kind. Jancie replied, “I sold my father’s truck. I have some money. People helped me bury my father. This is my turn to help someone else.” Love never ends.

In response to one of my first posts about the shooting in Christchurch, a friend wrote: “It’s a wicked world we live in, Mark.”

It’s a wicked world we live in. I have thought about those words ever since. I will probably continue to think about them for a long time to come.

And I don’t agree. I will stand with Louis Armstrong. We live in a wonderful world. God’s creation bears incredible beauty. People can be incredibly kind and loving. We experience tender mercies and moments of grace regularly.

People suffer. People die. People die suddenly and for reasons we may never understand. People die far too young. People die because they have difficulty accessing medical care.

Sin exists in this wonderful world. Evil exists. Wickedness, to use my friend’s word.

People do wicked things. Incredibly wicked things.

Systems and structures are shaped in ways that benefit some people and disadvantage and violate other people.

The world is broken and fearful and frightening.

In this broken, fearful, frightening world where sin, evil, and wickedness are so strong, I have chosen love. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say God’s love has chosen me and in response I choose to love as well as I am able.

“We love because God first loved us.”[xiii] We find those words in the first letter of John. They are the essence of the Biblical narrative. Out of love, God creates. For love, God creates. God makes us to love God and one another and again and again, God invites us to love. And God acts to show us how to love. Jesus lived, died, and has been raised to show God’s love for us and to open us to love.

God embraces us in merciful love that extends to the whole human family. God challenges us to address the issue of “othering” people from whom we differ. Othering is what Byron and so many people experience when they are falsely told they have less value, they do not belong, there is something wrong with them because of where who they are. In the place of such othering, God invites us – demands from us that we see all people as our siblings.

Tommy Sands sings:

Let the circle be wide ‘round the fireside
And we’ll soon make room for you
Let your heart have no fear, there are no strangers here,
Just friends that you never knew[xiv]

Grace Ji-Sun Kim puts it in more theological language: “God sent the Son and the Spirit to descend into humanity’s darkness and despair, bringing the light of love and hope … As God has embraced us in merciful love, we now warmly embrace the wounded and the excluded in world as a testimony to the merciful love of the Triune God.”[xv]

Or as Robina Winbush wrote in a reflection published on Valentine’s Day, “Love is the essence of God in our midst … [in God’s] love we discover that there is no “other” there is only LOVE manifested and waiting to be known.”[xvi]

In this wonderful, wicked world, love has encountered me, love has grasped me, and I have said yes. As well as I am able, I will love. And in love’s name, I will work to end hate, disrupt white supremacy, and create justice, equity, and peace.

For those who make the choice to love, phones will still buzz. People, friends will die. Wickedness will take place.

Heads will spin. Hearts will ache. Pain and wounds will be endured.

We will be hard pressed. But not broken.

For love never ends.

Love never ends.

Thanks be to God,

Love never ends.

After a brief pause, I issued the following invitation:

Loved by God, we can love one another. We can love at any time. We can love at every time. We can love now. I invite you to greet one another in the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

 

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi

[ii] https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-47524760

[iii] I Corinthians 13:6-7

[iv] https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12213358

[v] Luke 13:34

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

[viii] https://auburnseminary.org/voices/auburn-senior-fellows-respond-to-christchurcheart-auburn-senior-fellows/

[ix] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/03/15/among-new-zealand-mosque-victims-parents-children-refugees/?utm_term=.7784361577c4

[x] https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/111335681/heroic-worshipper-tackled-gunman-at-linwood-mosque-during-christchurch-terror-attack

[xi] https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2019/03/17/492509/when-gunman-advanced-one-man-ran-at-him

[xii] My first experience of this song is the use of these lines in Eric Bogle’s song, “Singing the Spirit Home.” Here is a video of the song being sung – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JidpXcKZits – in an incredibly brave move, I led the congregation in singing the song today

[xiii] I John 4:19

[xiv] https://www.irish-folk-songs.com/let-the-circle-be-wide-lyrics-and-chords-by-tommy-sands.html

[xv] Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Embracing the Other (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015). P. 169

[xvi] http://blog.oikoumene.org/posts/love-the-very-essence-of-god-in-our-midst

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Friends, Gun Violence, Human Rights, New York, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Worship

Disrupt and dismantle

Killings motivated by racism at the Kroger where I shopped when I lived in Louisville.

Killings motivated by anti-Semitism at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, where I have never lived but claim as home because it is more recognizable than the nearby small towns where I did live.

Pipe bombs sent to public figures, putting at risk the intended recipients and everyone who came near the packages.

Words do not pull the trigger on guns. Words do not build explosive devices. But words create an atmosphere in which some people think it is somehow acceptable to build and send bombs and shoot guns. When we hear words that express hate or stoke violence, we need to find ways to respond.

Racism. Anti-Semitism. White supremacy. Patriarchy. Homophobia. Ableism. May we find ways to disrupt and dismantle these and all systems that divide us and distort our living.

See you along the Trail.

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Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy

It is past time to join the chorus of many inside and outside of the church crying out in the face of racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and any form of human hierarchy—conscious or unconscious—that diminishes the inherent dignity of those whom God created. We can no longer be silent. We cannot and will not retreat. We believe the good news of Jesus Christ is freedom to those held captive by bigotry, hatred and fear; liberating oppressed and oppressor alike.

2017-09-10 (2)A wide array of Christian faith leaders from across the United States have issued a Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy. This statement calls  for a return to the liberating work of the Gospel and a rejection of racism and colonization and suggests action steps: listen, lament, repent, and re-imagine.

In the face of white privilege, white normalcy, white supremacy, and white nationalism, the Declaration offers an alternative vision, rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. The Declaration notes that:

The churc\\\h has always stumbled toward the promise of scripture. At times it has done well. Other times it has suffered under the weight of white nationalism.

The crafters of the Declaration write and act in the hope that followers of Jesus will reject hatred and violence and work to disrupt racism and work to renew both the Church and our society.

Check out the Declaration. As it states, if you hear God’s Spirit speaking, consider signing the Declaration and joining in the suggested actions and work. If you do not, pay no further attention.

See you along the Trail.

 

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An act of commitment

19622780_492922141049366_7685019939471622144_n(1)

Staff and friends of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) gathered this morning at the Presbyterian Center for a chapel service in response to racism and white supremacy in Charlottesville and other places. (An archived live stream of the service is available.)

My colleague and friend, José Luis Casal, director of World Mission, helped celebrate communion.

During the Words of Institution, José Luis observed that, “The bodies of all who have been victims of injustice, the victims of rejection, the victims of violence…are the body of Jesus Christ.”

He reminded us that to come to the table and to partake of the bread and the cup is to commit ourselves personally to stand on the side of love with Jesus and to work against racism, white supremacy, every form of systemic oppression, violence and all that harms any of God’s precious children.

Silently, I shouted “Amen” as loudly as I could.

And I wondered—when the Presbyterian Center or any church or worshipping community gathers to celebrate communion, isn’t that organization making a similar statement? The act of gathering at Christ’s table is, for the community as well, a radical act of commitment to Jesus and to justice, to love and to grace.

May it be so. Amen.

See you along the Trail.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Marissa Galván who posted some of José Luis’s word and inspired me to write this post. The image appeared on the cover of the worship bulletin this morning. View the bulletin for the service

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Presbyterian advocacy group issues challenge to ‘raise our collective voice’

From the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns calls church to action

Press Release | ACREC

The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to embody what it has confessed, “that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others. Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.”
– Belhar Confession

People of color in the U.S. are being killed by police in disproportionate numbers because of the color of their skin, their race, and ethnicity. We condemn and lament the continued and routine killing of unarmed people of color particularly African American men and call for full investigations in the police killings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio.

People of color in the U.S. live under surveillance, the threat of deportation, and constant systemic violence. We are alarmed by the Obama administration’s continuing pattern of deportation and family separation. We are alarmed by the ways in which police and ordinary citizens are deputized, formally and informally, to perpetuate this culture of surveillance and violence. We are alarmed by the persistence of anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric and policy proposals abounding in the current presidential campaign.

People of color in the U.S. are being attacked and criminalized for their courageous stands against police violence, greed, environmental injustice, and treaty violations. We condemn the use of militarized private contractors to remove the Native Americans encamped at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers seeking to stop the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens water, earth, and indigenous sacred spaces.

People of color in the U.S. are reminded daily in explicit and implicit ways of the hold white supremacy has over the soul of this nation. White supremacy; as a church we must say it. It is white supremacy that lies at the root of the systemic violence that kills, suffocates the life, limits the mobility, and creates the logic for the policing and detention of people of color in the United States.

Given this reality, ACREC calls the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to leave the comfort of their buildings to put their bodies on the line as co-conspirators in a movement for transformation, to stand for reparative justice instead of cheap reconciliation, to join communities of resistance, declaring that all people are created by God which means uttering without equivocation that Black Lives Matter!

We call the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to support the efforts of those gathered at Standing Rock to protect the water, the land, and the generations of people whose lives are threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline expansion.

We call the teaching elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to not just lament and pray for change but to challenge the members of their congregation to acknowledge and confess our participation in systems of oppression and to lead them to work for justice in and outside of the church.

We call the ruling elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to exercise their spiritual and ecclesiastical leadership by creating and formulating ways for their congregation to engage in actions – economic and programmatic – that interrupt white supremacy.

ACREC strongly encourages the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and all of its members to join the mobilization of 5,000 prayers and/or actions around the world calling for water rights, clean air, and the restoration of the earth and its peoples by participating in the International Days of Prayer and Action with Standing Rock (October 8-11, 2016).

ACREC also strongly encourages the congregations and mid-councils of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to support the newly established Freedom Rising Fund created as a result of an action taken by the 222nd General Assembly (2016). This fund will support specific actions, “not just in word, but also in deed, to address and improve the worsening plight of the African American male.” Congregations and mid-councils are asked to direct a portion of the Peace and Global Witness Offering to this fund.

Finally, we urge our church and all of its members, especially those who are white, to join us in breaking silence. Commit with us to raise our collective voice not just to proclaim the good news of God’s grace but to call out injustice, to call out the forces that threaten to tear us apart with xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic rhetoric. May we have the courage.

Buddy Monahan (Chair, ACREC)
Thomas Priest Jr.(Vice Chair, ACREC)

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In response to the killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

From my friends who have commented on the act of terror that involved the killing of nine people, nine of God’s children, nine of my brothers and sisters, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, I share, with permission, some words that touched me:

This is outrageous – this white terrorist murderer said “you’re raping our women and taking over our country and you gotta go” before killing 9 African Americans, and Fox is trying to spin this as the nutty right wing “Christian persecution” complex that somehow this is part of the war on people with traditional values. This was racial hatred – our own particular American sickness. The white shooter has not been portrayed as a “thug”, or even a terrorist, even though he has a mug shot and was arrested twice in the last 3 months. “We do know we’ll never understand what motivates someone to do this” (Governor Nikki Haley) Yes, we do understand what motivates him – he told them – racial hatred. And a white terrorist, according to the media, must have some sort of mental illness, or bad childhood, some reason to explain his actions, other than that he was raised in the US, where racial hatred is taught and not addressed and is so rampant that our media give this white kid all kinds of white privilege.
– Patrick Evans

What happened in Charleston was not random or senseless. It was an act of domestic terrorism fueled by ever present white supremacy. Church, let’s not live in denial.
– Christine Hong

Senseless (adj.): A word that forever needs to be extracted from our political and national vocabulary, especially after instances of mass violence. We can make sense of the horrific murders of nine black South Carolinians gathering for Bible study– and it starts with confronting a culture which idolizes guns and violence and refuses to acknowledge white supremacy.
– Kyle Cristofolo

Recent events are almost incomprehensible. From the precious lives lost, to how it happened, to the fact that these acts of hate happen way too often, to the policies that allow them to happen, to the hatred and bigotry that undergird the violence. Wish this wasn’t true. RIP, our fellow humans, brothers and sisters, and neighbors. It seems almost trite to say that we send thoughts and prayers to the impacted community…right? But maybe we do that, in combination with holding onto conviction and hope for a better tomorrow, that we have the courage and will for justice to co-construct better and more peaceful communities and country.
– Ester Sihite

And finally, my own words:

I grieve for my brothers and sisters, unknown to me in person yet my family nonetheless, who were killed in Emanuel AME Church. I rage against the racial hatred and anger that apparently resulted in the killing of God’s precious children. I ache at this bloody reminder of the power of the system of racism to shape our behavior. I hear a call, again, still, to work with my sisters and brothers more creatively and effectively to dismantle racism and to build community and to address gun violence. And I pray for the grace and courage and faith and hope to respond.

With thanks for my friends.

See you along the Trail.

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