Beyond the Flip Side

by Mindy McGarrah Sharp

Border fence Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.

Border fence at Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Photo by Brian Auer. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Have you noticed all the warring sides in contemporary life? I’ve been learning and thinking about borders through profound experiences accompanying seminary students to the US-Mexico border for week-long intensive border theology courses with the BorderLinks organization. I’ve noticed that many students long for the idea of two clear and distinct sides. And once clear that this must exist, students wonder why particular neighbors can’t see that there are two clear, distinct sides.

The first time that students reach their own hand into the border wall – even students who’ve been to this region previously in their lives – the division of sides is clear. Emphasized by visible surveillance of persons, vehicles, drones, cameras, and more, this wall divides and militarizes both sides. Crossing from one side to the other involves a specific process with clear restrictions and protocols.

It doesn’t take long at this contemporary border for the illusion of two sides to break down as we begin to hear many sides of life on the border. And yet, students long for clarity that will make sense of this wall, clarity around right and wrong, legal and illegal, good and bad. My hope as accompanying instructor is to side with human dignity through the many perspectives and voices we hear. There are always more than two sides within any human story.

But then, driving through my middle US America neighborhood exactly twelve days before Easter, I saw the first Easter lawn ornament of the year: A white cross with the words “He is Risen.” It’s too soon. Crossing from Lent to Easter involves a specific process with clear restrictions and protocols.

Even though pastel candy eggs have been appearing in grocery store aisles since Valentine’s Day, the lawn sign is different. Lent is a time of preparation. Unlike advent when we prepare by lighting trees and candles for midwifing a birth, Lent invites life-review, an examination of attachments, hopes, dreams, impediments to freedom, finitude. The dust well before new birth. A 40-day practice of unearthing what’s at stake grounding faith practices. Then the feast.

Why can’t my neighbors see that there are two clear and distinct sides? There is Lent and there is Easter. Staking an Easter proclamation in the land is no Lenten preparation. It’s rather a comment on time, but on the wrong side of time. In the midst of Lent and approaching Holy Week, we are firmly in the before. The liturgical calendar here is clear: Lent before Easter; Easter after Lent.

Ritual practices structure time and space. In today’s passage from Deuteronomy 16:1-8 (see below), ritual practices are carefully placed within specific hours of specific days of specific weeks of the year, unfolding an ordered remembrance to heighten acknowledgment of identity as a people on the way to liberation, feasting and resting only after embodying generational memories of a movement from oppression to freer possibilities. The text outlines clear and distinct markers: unleavened, then leavened bread; night, then day; work, then rest. Paradoxically, the point of ritual, even and especially in its most ordered progression, is to invite blurred boundaries of time and space. Ritual is at once held in a specific time and place even while breaking open time and space to new possibilities. Ritual invites participants into the in-between.

My students’ longing for clear and distinct border policies that make sense of the wall’s life-and-death implications and my own recent lawn-ornament-reactive-yearning for a clear and distinct observance of liturgical ordering of time are both fueled by a deeper yearning for the enduring kind of love the Psalmist speaks of in 118 or the unity in practice hailed in Philippians 2. But, even while held into being by steadfast love and living in a world with incredible potential for unity, we human beings live in the in-between.

Recognizing only two clear and distinct sides dooms our border theologies and liturgical practices to a thin, cheap practice rather than what I hope the Psalmist means by a steadfast enduring love enfleshed in human community. In-between, we humans have to linger in order to remember and review life.

In her book Trauma and Spirit, theologian Shelly Rambo calls readers to linger in the in-between of Holy Saturday. She writes, “the rush to Easter, this anticipatory trajectory, removes the distinctive witness of Holy Saturday” (2010, 64). Likewise, biblical scholar Walter Bruggeman calls us to “…walk the walk from Palm Sunday to Easter through the Thursday arrest and the Friday execution and the long Saturday wait in the void…” (2015, 104). Linger in-between.

Organizers of a recent event at The Riverside Church in New York, entitled “Seven Last Words: Strange Fruit Speaks,” also invite us to the in-between: “As Jesus calls on us to remember his death, so are we to remember the deaths of those ‘crucified’ in our midst. The voices of the executed are crying from the ground, calling us as disciples of Jesus to remember them and advocate for justice. How may we do this?”

Beyond one side or the flip side lives the in-between, that potential space of beautiful uncertainty. Living in-between requires radical practices of remembering and listening to the last words of Jesus: “I thirst”; or neighbor Eric Garner: “I can’t breathe.” This void calls for lingering, questioning, yearning, partnering, reviewing life and death and in-between. Approaching Holy Week, let us linger in the ambiguous in-between void, resisting the allure of walls and other anticipatory trajectories that reduce steadfast love to a simple either-or. How may we seek horizons this day beyond the flip side?


Mindy McGarrah Sharp is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Ethics
Phillips Theological Seminary and author of Misunderstanding Stories: Toward a Postcolonial Pastoral Theology.

Today’s Texts

Psalm 118:1-2

1 O give thanks to the Lord for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever
2 Let Israel say, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

Deuteronomy 16:1-8

1 “Observe the month of A’bib, and keep the passover to the Lord your God; for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night.
2 You shall offer the passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place which the Lord will choose, to make God’s name dwell there.
3 You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in hurried flight—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.
4 No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days; nor shall any of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain all night, until morning.
5 You may not offer the passover sacrifice within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you;
6 but at the place which the Lord your God will choose, to make God’s name dwell in it, there you shall offer the passover sacrifice, in the evening at the going down of the sun, at the time you came out of Egypt.
7 And you shall boil it and eat it at the place which the Lord your God will choose; and in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents.
8 For six days you shall eat unleavened bread; and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God; you shall do no work on it.

Philippians 2:1-11

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3 Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.
4 Let each of you look not only to his or her own self interests, but also to the interests of others.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humans.
8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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Future Glory

by Phil Morice Brubaker

“Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, … all you people of the land,” says the Lord. “Work, for I am with you, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. … Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; … and I will fill this house with splendor.” – Haggai 2:3-7

The Israelites had been slaves. Then they were exiled. This passage from Haggai finds a remnant of the people back in Judea and looking at the once glorious temple of Jerusalem. The ruined temple was a reminder of that time when they were their own community, not exiled or occupied by others.

The prophet’s message is simple and timeless: the disenfranchised community should remain hopeful because the temple, a centerpiece of the community and symbol of its freedom, will once again be made whole, even better than it was before.

People of Color have a similar story: slavery, imperialism, disenfranchisement, exile, destruction of their communities. The hope is that the lost glory of the community — its freedom from injustice and oppression — will be restored.

God’s message continues with the imperatives “take courage” and “work.” The glory won’t return on its own, so the community has some responsibility to help make this happen. White people can join in the courage-taking and working, as members of the same community of glorious freedom.

The song “Glory” from the film Selma expresses some similar ideas about working toward glory.

God of Glory, “shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the dry land.” Shake us out of our laziness, our fear, our complacency, our despair, whatever it is that keeps us from working for the future glory of your community restored in justice.


Phil Morice Brubaker is coordinator and trainer with Roots of Justice.

The Spirit Poured Out

by Rick Derksen

flameSeveral years ago I read Eric Law’s book The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb and was challenged by his power analysis of the Pentecost story in Acts 2. He points out that it was those without institutional and systemic power, those from the margins of first century Palestine like Peter, who received the gift of tongues and began to prophecy (or preach). Those with institutional and systemic power – the Jerusalem temple establishment as well as wealthy pilgrims from other parts of the Mediterranean world – received the gift of the ear and listened to what Peter and the apostles had to say.

In his address to the people of Jerusalem, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit…”

As Demetrius Williams points out in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, “The story of Pentecost indicates that the coming of the Holy Spirit represents a new order that is manifested as a leveling power that destroys privilege: the Spirit is poured upon ‘all flesh,’ sons and daughters, young and old, male and female servants.”

There is no doubt in my mind that at this time in the United States this same Spirit has been poured upon the thousands of youth of color who are speaking up and speaking out – speaking out against the violence and injustice of mass incarceration as modern-day slavery, police brutality, the ongoing detention and deportation of immigrants even while we take advantage of cheap immigrant labor, the continued violation of Native sovereignty, Native land, and Native families, xenophobia, homophobia, and the list goes on. Not only are these youth speaking out against injustice, but they are already re-shaping entire communities based on love and justice. I see it happening where I live here in Seattle, and I’m sure that you see it happening in your communities.

The challenge for white, middle-class Christians like myself is to listen, not just superficially, but to listen deeply, acknowledge our complicity in these systems and follow the leadership of movements like Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, and so many others both nationally and locally, not by inserting ourselves where we don’t belong and taking over, but by organizing our own families, faith communities, neighborhoods, schools, places of work, and larger communities to recognize and support these movements of the Spirit among us.

Give us the clarity to recognize those daughters and sons upon whom the Spirit has been poured in our time and place, the wisdom to get out of the way when that is what we need to do, and the passion to support them in accountable and authentic ways. Amen.


Rick Derksen is a trainer with Roots of Justice and serves on the ROJ board. He’s an antiracism organizer with several Seattle-based activist groups including European Dissent, EPIC (Ending the Prison Industrial Complex), and the Seattle Race Conference committee. His identities include white, male, partner of 40 years, parent, grandparent, ordained Mennonite minister, and part of Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church.

Witnesses to Justice

by Phil Morice Brubaker

Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
    who are deaf, yet have ears!
Let all the nations gather together,
    and let the peoples assemble….
Let them bring their witnesses to justify them,
    and let them hear and say, “It is true.”
You are my witnesses, says the Lord…. – Isaiah 43:8-10

First, let it be said that using “blind” and “deaf” as metaphors for a lack of understanding or wholeness is problematic. I can wish that the writer of Isaiah had realized a modern concept of differing physical abilities, but he didn’t. So, what we have in this text is a call to gather together people who lack understanding, who don’t “get it,” to defend their beliefs and actions. On the other side are the witnesses who know God’s deliverance and salvation.

redstatebluestateIn our polarized world, normalcy has us functioning in separate social enclaves. Red State or Blue State. Fox or MSNBC. People who “get it” or people who don’t. Those who want to make change for justice can’t simply relegate those who “don’t get it” to a class that we never associate with.

We are witnesses to God’s justice. As witnesses, we don’t have all the answers, but we are called to speak to what we know. Even when it’s tough, and we don’t want to deal with this person any more. Witnesses speak truth, and in this case, it is a truth that sets free, not a truth that imprisons.

(Two asides on appropriateness and self-care: It’s not necessarily appropriate for white people to witness justice to people of color, or men to women, etc. And, while witnessing involves sticking with it through difficulties, it doesn’t mean that we don’t tend to ourselves.)

God of Truth, you call us to be your witnesses to justice. Give us courage and tenacity to stick with those whom we find difficult and intractable, believing in your grace that works in unknowable ways. Amen.


Phil Morice Brubaker is coordinator and trainer with Roots of Justice.

Victim-Blaming Distraction and Refocus

by Phil Morice Brubaker

Today I’m distracted. I sat with the lectionary texts, hoping to “reflect” on them for this post. Psalm 51. Habakkuk 3. The anointing of Jesus by Mary. I’m sure these texts would say something to me on some days, but not today.

FranklinGraham

Franklin Graham

Today I learned about Franklin Graham’s victim-blaming Facebook post of last week. I come to this late, by first seeing the open letter written by some evangelical leaders in response. (Two of the letter’s crafters, Micky ScottBey Jones and Brian Bantum, have contributed reflections for this Lenten blog.)

For readers who, like me, missed the hubbub until now, suffice it to say that Graham asked people of all racial groups to “listen up” while he schooled us all on the biblical importance of obeying authority, which is the simple answer to not being gunned down by cops. Eight days after the post, it garnered nearly 200,000 Facebook likes, and 83,000 shares.

Now, I rarely give Graham a first thought (let alone a second), but he wields power, and he has expressed a widely held view, granting it the authority of “America’s Pastor” by association with his father’s name. I’m grateful to the responders and their skillfully crafted letter, touched with history, analysis, rebuke, mercy, and invitation.

But I hate the distraction. People are dying, and far too many look to simplistic aphorisms for explanation when a robust analysis is called for.

After such a distraction, I appreciate the Psalmist’s prayer as a call to refocus the struggle against injustice, a struggle that shouldn’t get stuck on easy targets like Graham (especially when good people have already responded), but starts with oneself:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.


Phil Morice Brubaker is coordinator and trainer with Roots of Justice.

Sixth Sunday of Lent – Palm Sunday (March 29) – Worship Resources

Lectionary Texts

You are free to reprint these resources for use in worship. Please include the attribution “RootsOfJusticeTraining.org, 2015.” If text is spoken but not printed, we appreciate printing in your bulletin a general “Thanks to RootsOfJusticeTraining.org for some of the [prayers/text/ideas] used in this service.”

Opening Prayer

God-who-is-making-all-things-new, we know you were there in those Jerusalem streets when those who were marginalized came to meet Jesus. Though they had been long kept silent, we know you heard their cries: “Hosannah! Save us!” As we gather for this time of worship, we bring our own lives, hopes, dreams, fears. We bring, too, an awareness of the great mutual interconnection of all that lives and breathes in your world. We open ourselves to the pain and joy that is always present in our homes, community, and world. Help us to have an awareness of the ways in which we need saving. Hear us when we, too, cry out, “Hosannah! Save us!”

– Caela Simmons Wood, RootsOfJusticeTraining.org 2015

Responsive Reading

One: O give thanks to our God. For he is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever!

Many: God’s steadfast love endures forever!

One: Open to us, O God, the gates of your righteousness. Keep us on the path as we work to bring about your Reign on Earth.

Many: Let us enter through God’s gates and give thanks for holy dreams of justice.

One: This is the day that our God has made. A day of freedom, healing, salvation, justice.

Many: Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

One: O give thanks to our God. For she is good;

Many: God’s steadfast love endures forever!

– Caela Simmons Wood, RootsOfJusticeTraining.org 2015

Benediction

As we leave this place, may we be blessed with the courage to engage in prophetic acts that challenge the violence of the powerful.

– RootsOfJusticeTraining.org 2015

Preaching Ideas

Psalm 118:1-2,19-29 and Mark 11:1-11

As part of the Passover festival, pilgrims to Jerusalem recited or sang Psalm 118. Hosanna, meaning “Lord save,” came from the same psalm. Interestingly, in verse 22 of Psalm 118 we read, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” While Mark seems to imply that Jesus was at least in some way fulfilling the messianic expectations of Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover, a deeper look at Mark’s version of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem suggests a stark contrast between the expectations of the restoration of the Kingdom of David and the nature of the Kin-dom that Jesus had come to establish.

In his book JESUS: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, Marcus Borg suggests that by riding a donkey into Jerusalem, Jesus is engaging in a “prophetic act.” Borg goes on to say that “prophetic acts were provocative public deeds performed for the sake of what they symbolized… ancient ‘street theater’—actions performed in public to draw a crowd and to convey a message.” He also reminds readers that the other procession entering Jerusalem, as it did every year at the time of Passover, was that of the Roman governor Pilate accompanied by the imperial cavalry and foot soldiers. Jesus, like the authors of the gospels, knew about this annual imperial procession, so his decision to enter the city as he did was “a planned political demonstration, a counterdemonstration.” It was, if you will, an anti-imperial act.

The last thing Jesus did on this day of his anti-imperial entry into Jerusalem, according to Mark, was to enter the temple and look around before retiring for the night to Bethany with his disciples. This same gospel tells us that the following day Jesus went to the temple once again and dramatically challenged the oppressive temple-state system by angrily overturning the tables of the money changers as well as those selling offerings. As Timothy Geddert concludes in his commentary on Mark’s gospel, when Jesus looked around the day before, he was so outraged by what he saw that he was “prepared to risk both popularity and his life in response.”

When was the last time any of us engaged in a “provocative public deed” as a prophetic act? Are we prepared to participate in anti-imperial acts as Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey? Are we willing to look around the way Jesus looked around in the temple? To recognize the oppressive systems of our time and the ways in which we support them and perhaps benefit from them? Are we prepared to get angry enough at the exploitation, oppression, and killing of those who are marginalized, dehumanized, and criminalized by our society to risk our popularity and our lives, not only as individuals, but as faith communities?

Contributors

Rick Derksen is a trainer with Roots of Justice and serves on the ROJ board. He’s an antiracism organizer with several Seattle-based activist groups including European Dissent, EPIC (Ending the Prison Industrial Complex), and the Seattle Race Conference committee. His identities include white, male, partner of 40 years, parent, grandparent, ordained Mennonite minister, and part of Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. Caela Simmons Wood is pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Manhattan, Kansas. Pastor Caela is passionate about racial justice, LGBT rights, and gender equality. You can read her sermons at her blog.

Guido Rocha’s “Tortured Christ”

by Brian Bantum

In the last year I have been pressed more and more to ask what do we Christians mean when we confess Christ. The seemingly never-ending news of people’s lives disregarded, murdered, criminalized is almost too much to take in. Trans, gay, lesbian, black, Muslim, women. Do we not worship a God who was desperately, unabashedly, scandalously for our bodied lives?

Guido Rocha's "Tortured Christ"

Tortured Christ, by Brazilian sculptor Guido Rocha

Today my Jesus is not a placid Jesus who quietly allows himself to be pinned to the cross taking punishment for transgressions of ideology or theological phantasms of right thinking. Today my Jesus is Brazilian sculptor, Guido Rocha’s Christ. One who identifies with the pain and suffering and totalizing terror of sin manifest in society’s structures. He is nailed to the cross for his opposition to terror and hate. He is nailed to the cross because his love is transgressive.

And upon that cross, his body pulls against the torment of society’s refusal of God, his emaciated and suffering body struggles against the evil that courses through creation’s veins. His screams of agony are mingled with a rage and anger that emanates from the very beginning of time, that his creatures would kill and destroy and dehumanize one another so. This Jesus calls to me to struggle in my everyday, to not let a single muscle in my life not work against this tyranny. This Jesus calls me to a transgressive love and a perpetual call to confess, to make right, to speak truthfully.


Brian Bantum teaches theology at Seattle Pacific University, and is author of Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity. You can read his blog here.

Intentions of the Heart

by Phil Morice Brubaker

swordIndeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

One of the problems with bringing legal action for civil rights cases is that the prosecutor must clear a bar that includes, essentially, “judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” In the wake of the DOJ’s inability to bring a case against Darren Wilson, attorney general Eric Holder has said that he would like to see the legal bar lowered in relation to proving intent. This would have made it easier for federal civil rights charges to be brought against the killers of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and other high-profile cases of racialized violence.

As it stands, unless it can be proven that the defendant made an unambiguous statement of hatred towards the victim’s group status, such as using a racial slur while committing the crime, there’s not much of a legal case to be made.

A robust analysis of racism reveals that intent is not required for racist outcomes. One can have the most noble intentions, with not even a “racist bone in their body” as the formula goes, yet still inadvertently support white supremacy. It happens all the time. I am guilty.

In our reflections on racial justice during this Lenten season, let us take a moment to list and judge the intentions of our hearts. But, not stopping there, let us consider how well our intentions line up with the outcomes of our actions. How do our actions perpetuate white-skin privilege? (Yes, I assume that there are ways that we all – regardless of racial identity – do this at times.) How do we accept without challenge institutions that operate with white cultural norms?

Living God, pierce us with your Word and Wisdom to reveal our intentions, and guide us to examine our outward lives so that we can more truly act in ways that align with your justice. Amen.


Phil Morice Brubaker is coordinator and trainer with Roots of Justice.

Permission to say: This is Hard and Taking a Long Time

by Sarah Morice Brubaker

Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with no one to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress;
he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
    and broke their bonds asunder.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind. – Psalm 107:12-15

This evening, we watched Star Trek: First Contact. It’s spring break, we have two school-aged kids, and frankly we had somewhat maxed out on more active forms of togetherness. In First Contact, there’s a lot of playing with time. Captain Picard and crew travel back in time to 2063, just before the liquor-soaked human Zefram Cochrane successfully uses warp drive technology, thus ushering humanity’s first encounter with alien life.  Cochrane isn’t thrilled with all the attention he gets from the Enterprise crew — which, to be fair, is for something he hasn’t done yet — and so First Officer Riker gives him some sage bit of life advice. “Who said that?” asks Cochrane. “You did,” replies Riker, “in about ten years.”

Zefram Cochrane as portrayed by James Cromwell in Star Trek: First Contact.

Zefram Cochrane as portrayed by James Cromwell in Star Trek: First Contact.

James Cromwell, who plays Cochrane, effects precisely the scoffing sneer that I sometimes feel is appropriate to texts such as these.  Can’t you sort of picture the scene?  God says, “There was once a people whose bonds were completely broken asunder!  Let them thank the Lord for the Lord’s steadfast love!”  “Oh yeah?” asks the people still crying to the Lord in their trouble. “Which people were those?”  “Oh, they were you… in a couple thousand years.” “Um. Ok, God. Well, thanks?”

If you believe that God hears and delivers those who cry out to God for deliverance, and you take seriously all the people who are crying out yet are undelivered… well, it often requires taking the long view, to say the least.  One of the most beloved sayings of Martin Luther King, Jr. is his reminder that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” King was paraphrasing a reflection by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian abolitionist minister, from more than a century earlier: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe,” Parker said. “[T]he arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”  An odd way of reasoning, no?  You can’t see that the moral universe bends toward justice, but from what you do see, you’re sure that it does?  Why?

Some might call it wishful thinking.

Yet there’s something to be said for realizing how agonizingly long the struggle is.  For one thing, it fosters endurance, in a dominant culture that promises the quick fix.  It also allows for the celebration of small victories: even if oppression wasn’t ended forever thanks to that thing we just worked on, we did something, and it was real;   and there will be more things, and they will be real too.  It reminds us that the work ahead is complex, and will involve lots of people doing different things, rather than everyone doing the same thing.  If you’re the sort of privileged person who *cough* gets a little too *cough* hung up on whether you’re Doing A Good Job At Being Visibly Anti-Oppressive (NOT THAT I KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT, NOPE NOPE!)… well, it can remind you that your feeeeeeeeeelings about your public platform are not even close to being the point.  And it can also give a kind of permission to say — to each other, to the Psalmist, to God — this is hard, and it seems to be taking a really long time.


Sarah Morice Brubaker is assistant professor of theology at Phillips Theological Seminary, author of The Place of the Spirit, and an associate editor at Religion Dispatches.

Instruction from History

by Phil Morice Brubaker

1 Corinthians 10:11 – These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us,…

If you’ve never see the Eyes On the Prize video series on the history of the Civil Rights Movement, I highly recommend it. The leaders of the time were clever organizers and there’s a lot to learn from them – both their successes and their mistakes. Other movements can also instruct us as we further the cause of justice. Ignoring the history of social justice movements will simply lead toward avoidable mistakes and missed opportunities.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn is that effective actions did not just happen accidentally, but were the result of careful planning that went back far beyond the actions that are recorded in newsreel footage. That planning included training in nonviolent civil disobedience, building community through songs of resistance, as well as specifics related to any individual action.

Charles Hamilton Houston speaks at an unidentified government hearing in Washington, D.C. circa 1940.

Charles Hamilton Houston speaks at an unidentified government hearing in Washington, D.C. circa 1940.

One of my favorite stories of that past that is instructive and hopeful (unlike the ancient stories that Paul refers to in Corinthians) is the history of Howard University Law School. In the early 1900s, the school had become largely a training ground for successful African American lawyers, without a particular stress on achieving civil rights victories. However, when Charles Hamilton Houston became dean in 1929, that began to change.

Houston wrote that “the Negro lawyer must be trained as a social engineer” and through his teaching, mentoring, and leadership developed the Law School into a training ground for civil rights lawyers who, led by one of Houston’s students and mentees, Thurgood Marshall, would eventually end legal segregation with Brown versus Board of Education in 1954.

God of History, may we learn humbly from those who have gone before us, not thinking that we stand on our own when we stand on their shoulders.


Phil Morice Brubaker is coordinator and trainer with Roots of Justice.