I’m afraid for the lives of my students

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It has been less than 24 hours ago that police killed Alston Sterling and Philando Castile. It has been over the course of my shift that I started thinking how I am afraid for the lives of my students.

One young man, a kind demeanor, playful and articulate, this is what I’ll remember him for, but what if for some reason he gets singled out by the police and pump him full of lead? They don’t know him like I know him, they won’t have the reach that I do with him, are they going to “shoot first and ask questions later”?

What about another student of mine, a guy who wants to go to college, who wants to make a difference, who wants a wife and family some day. Doesn’t his life matter?

I used to be concerned about my students not adjusting to life in the community, or in a group home setting due to not taking their treatment and individual plans seriously, or just plain old learned helplessness. Now, if anything, I’m concerned that they might become another killed by a cop statistic!

I’m not fearful, police violence has always been around, but now with technology it is more at our front door than it was before. I don’t want to read about my former students shot by the police, especially when I know them and I know some of their families, that kind of hurt I’ll carry with me forever. God forbid they’re found to be innocent and the cops walk free.

The system isn’t successful, the system is corrupt, and no newly elected President will solve anything. Change starts from within, change starts at the grassroots level, and until those changes occur there will be no overarching change within our society.

No justice, no peace!
~ Nathanael~

Church Incognito; A peace church, liturgical and intergenerational; my experience at a Mennonite church

Last Sunday I went to Christ Community Mennonite Church on an intentional whim. As of late I’ve been reading more books on theology in my free time. I recently came across a book on Anabaptists and other historically known “peace churches” and their views on pacifism have intrigued me to be more committed to pacifism AND social justice. With that in mind I went to commune with Mennonites, to listen, to talk, and ultimately to be.

What I gathered upon entering this particular congregation is that while small in numbers, there were several inter-generational families who worshiped together. I also noticed that with the exception of a song or two, the entirety of the worship was a Capella and the song choices were varied; from newer songs to songs sung in Swaziland.

Amy, the pastor, delivered a message on Jesus’ interactions with those who were looked down upon in his society. She posed the question of whether we write ourselves into the stories found in the gospel, do WE reach out and engage with the marginalized, the oppressed and the unexpected. She talked about how we should still move and engage others because God too continues to move and engage with humanity. We should, out of love and out of response to who Jesus is to allow ourselves to take in the new wine as new wine skins, that is to allow new experiences move us rather than not be moved at all and  be stagnant in our faith journeys.

After the service there was a communal meal. It was during this time that Pastor Amy and a member named Art introduced themselves to me. They were both inquisitive as to me visiting them that morning and I talked to them about my project. Over lunch those gathered discussed some church-related issues, Art and I talked about theology and he filled me in on some information pertaining to Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites.
After lunch, Art and I talked more about these followers of Christ and how their lifestyles influence their faith and vice versa. Since another church uses their space after they do, we decided to talk more at a local coffee shop.

Art’s information and integration in these communities (as he is a friend to many) made me realize that he is a passionate man who embraces knowledge of the heart as well as the mind. I am a big fan of someone passionate people, and people who have merged the mind and the heart are my favorites.

I had a very good experience with those who gathered at Christ Community Mennonite Church. Their hospitality and inclusiveness was certainly felt by me. Because of them and other peace churches, it is my intention to find ways to engage with them in the near future.

~Nathanael~

Church Incognito; Social Awareness and Social Justice, my experience at a Church of the Brethren

A couple of months ago I went to church at a Church of the Brethren, a denomination I knew that was known for conscientious objectors and being very verbal when it came to issues of social awareness and social justice. The Sunday I went to was no different as the church shooting in Charleston was brought up and discussed at length (which I for one think is a good thing). It was very encouraging to hearing this issue brought up as well as police shootings of recent brought up in church, as I think that these are issues that people face all too often and I think that the church should foster discussion about this more often. The church does already, but I think more is required, and not just by pastors but by the congregation as well.

The congregation was multi-generational; it was encouraging to see kids with their parents and grandparents coming together to worship God together. When it came to worship music it was very hymn based, and I enjoyed that because I don’t worship in a setting where we don’t sing hymns. I tend to fall in the middle when it comes to contemporary worship music and hymns, I like a good deal of them and appreciate the sentiment expressed.

After church I struck up a conversation with one of the parishioners. He shared with me what being a follower of Christ meant to him as well as what being aligned with the Church of the Brethren church. He had been a member of the church for a long time, and for him faith kept him following Christ but also the memories tied up in attending that church for so long. All the while he had a nostalgic look upon his face and I gathered that with the stories he shared with me.

I was also encouraged by their posture in reading the Bible, that for the most part they read the Bible seriously but not altogether literally. Marcus J. Borg’s Reading The Bible Again for The First Time comes to mind when followers of Christ choose to do this, and I for one agree it must be done in this fashion.

I too can say one of the reasons that keeps me coming back to The Orchard every weekend is the memories I have associated with it and yet I realize that it’s not a bad reason to go but I realize it shouldn’t be the only reason I go. Yet we all go through seasons of life, and sometimes a church works for a while and there are times where your best bet is to leave on good terms and find something else (not necessarily better in all occasions).

Overall it was a good time communing with the people who attended the Church of the Brethren. I appreciate followers of Christ who exemplify the beatitude of “blessed are the peacemakers” because it is one of several things I want to align myself with and practice in my faith system of a Red Letter Christ-centric Universalist. I want to have a hand in Tikkum Olam / Healing The World, and it starts with my individual efforts that ripple outward rather than inward.

~Nathanael~

speaking up for and defending others as a spiritual exercise; day 11 of Ramadan / A fierce kind of love; my recap of Chicago Pride 2015 and the I’m Sorry Campaign 2015

I am going to make this a “two birds with one stone” post, so here it goes…

Speaking up and defending others is a spiritual exercise, because sometimes in life others need your voice / be an alternative voice / be a buffer / be an ally, and yesterday friends and acquaintances of The Marin Foundation were that to the LGBTQ Community by way of the I’m Sorry Campaign. But it so happened that I and several others positioned ourselves at the end of the parade, in front of the protesters.
Now I don’t have much to say about the protesters because they’re a verbally violent and virulent bunch of people who have a convoluted understanding of God and God’s love for humanity. God’s out to get you, and if you’re a member of the LGBTQ Community or even an ally, the wrath of God is and will be poured out upon you and they want to make damn sure that you know it; they make this known by their numerous signs and bullhorns, and it gets loud and hurtful quick.

My friends, and acquaintances, and The Marin Foundation, do what we can to build bridges between the LGBTQ Community and primarily the church community. Not that they’re mutually exclusive but there’s been an unfortunate marginalization that has been occurring by the church to a certain extent for quite some time now. We want to be agents of change, agents of a fierce love that does what it can to bring forth restoration and reconciliation.
I am encouraged by the I’m Sorry Campaign and what it is capable of doing. I am also encouraged by it being seen at different Pride Parades around the country as well as outside; it’s amazing to see what God is doing through others who want to bring about reconciliation and restoration unto the LGBTQ Community who has been marginalized by the church. We’re getting better all the time in doing so!

So for the second year running I positioned myself in front of the protesters. My friend L* and I found ourselves there a bit earlier, we actually beat the protesters there!

and with some time to spare we took care of a few errands before heading back to our spot in front of where the protesters would be. Having one under my belt I felt less nervous about being there. This year we actually had more space than we did last year, and so while we were right there in the front of the protesters it didn’t feel like their bullhorns were positioned directly right behind our heads.

As more protesters got settled into their places, more friends and acquaintances made their way to the spot as well. My friend D* and I did what we could to be a buffer directly behind them, we were at the barricades that kept them in (or the rest of us out). I did feel the verbal heat from what they had to say, but my anxiety and fear was not present. God was with us and he wasn’t going to let us down, and it was the presence of God that sustained us that day because love is louder than hate, and we got to be a part of that fierce love of God that loves everyone.

Given that we were at the end of the parade, and so it started rolling by our location close to two and a half hours. Immediately our presence was known by those in the parade to be one of God’s love and one that wasn’t like that of the protesters who were behind of us. Hugs and thank-you’s were extended by those in the parade to us, for they could see that we were willing to be there and to be present as a counter-protest to the protesters. Most of those in the parade had moments of “getting it”; getting what we we were saying and what we stood for, and it was the a very beautiful thing to bear witness to time and time again.

Our love is fierce to the extent that we couldn’t hate the protesters, for we also vocalized our love for them as well! I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King who said; “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” And it’s true! If we were to lower ourselves to the level of the protesters than in a way we’d be no better than they are. But by loving them as God loves us, we are able to transcend that fear and that hate and overcome it despite the odds.
The protesters were dismayed and a bit angry at our verbalization of our love for them:

But despite the fact they didn’t feel the same way, it was the right thing to do and we meant it. It is the fierce love God that propels us forward to go out into the world and do big things, it is the fierce love of God that sustains us and helps us become a voice of change, it’s the fierce love of God that will see each and everyone of us to completion. May our actions and words in defending those who have been hurt and marginalized by the church become a balm of healing. To God be the glory!

That is why speaking up for and defending others were my key words on the 11th day of Ramadan. May God, the defender and protector of the wounded, continually bring about change in our lives and in the lives of others, so that we can be instruments of his peace, so that we can be instruments of his fierce love that is lavished greatly upon all of us every day.

Salaam Alakium and Happy Pride y’all!
~Nathanael~

Morning meditation 3.15.15

Nearly morning meditation:

On words…

Words don’t bother me. “bad words” / “cuss words”, that is. If I am going to care about what someone said to season their conversation, or to appropriately connect a socially deemed strong word to a strong feeling or a strong situation, I personally think my priorities are whack.

I should care about those dying of malnutrition,
I should care about those dying because they haven’t any clean drinking water,
I should care about those who have been martyred, who have been torn from their homes and homelands because some ruthless dictator has swept over their lands.
I should care about the gay son or lesbian daughter who is kicked out of home and church because their family, their church community, deem them “living in sin”.

And I do care about these people-related issues, and I am working on ways to care MORE, which is part of the reasons “bad words” / “cuss words” don’t bother me in the slightest. And guess what? God doesn’t care either.

Good morning y’all! I love you, but God loves you more!

Being mindful on Martin Luther King Jr day / We have so far to go

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(my favorite quote by him)

I was reading and listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s I have a dream speech the other day, and this time around of listening to it this part jumped out at me; “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I listened to its entirety, being mindful of what he said, but I grew a bit sad because we’re still not there yet.

I don’t need to rehash events that took place in 2014, if you follow the news even casually you know what happened and perhaps even the where and possibly the why. But it goes beyond racial inequality, we still have human trafficking, people still die of water issues and starvation, LGBTQ rights are disregarded by states as well as countries. And while it might seem like too much sometimes, it doesn’t have to be, anyone can be a voice for themselves and sometimes they can be a voice for others as well.
On a personal level I realize that this life I live wasn’t meant to be turned inward, I wasn’t meant to take on life alone for my own gain or to tackle issues as they come up alone. I was made…I am designed for community, and part of that means thinking and acting and being more than “one person”.

***

A few months ago I went to a conference about what’s going on in Israel as well as Palestine. It was well attended, and in between the sessions we had breaks to get coffee and perhaps dwell on what we had just heard and learned. I asked those around me and those at the coffee station what they had thought so far. The most common answers I heard that day were:
“I can’t wait for God to do something about what’s going on in Palestine and Israel”
and
“I want to find out more about what’s going on in Palestine and Israel so that I can do something about it.”

Frankly, those are postures I have taken on in my life, thankfully I lean to the latter. One that expects God to take care of the problem and one that wants to play a role in working to change that problem. While I do think God could very well take care of such matters devoid of human interaction, I don’t think it was meant for us to do. We can play a role in finding a way to be engaged in a social justice manner. How does one get social justice minded? I honestly don’t know, I only have suggestions not solutions. Perhaps the questions of 1. What am I passionate about in life? 2. What fires me up? 3. What injustice in the world do I see that bothers me? 4. What can I do to bring about change, no matter how microcosm it may be? is a good place to begin.

In my own life, the issues of what happens to the LGBTQ Community on a local level are on my heart and on my mind. Being an ally has taken time, but I am thankful to God for leading me here and beyond. It’s why I participate in the I’m Sorry Campaign, it’s why I own up to my shortcomings and collective issues caused by Christians. There’s still so much that needs to be done, but it’s being done.

The sooner you start, the sooner it becomes a habit. The sooner it becomes a habit, the sooner you can impress these values on your community going outward. It also helps you find people who are likeminded and likehearted, people who resonate a deep “me too”. Your life is not your own, you were made for so much more!

“It’s always the right time to do the right thing” – Martin Luther King Jr.
~Nathanael~