Tuesday, November 27, 2018

moral memory, identity, participation, imagination

Pastor Abraham Funchess gave our group a folder of materials to read through as we traveled to Memphis on our recent Civil Rights Vision Tour.  One of the articles was a chapter from a book written by Kelly Douglas Brown called Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.

In this chapter (chapter 6), Brown writes...


"Moral memory is nothing less than telling the truth about the past and one's relationship to it."
"To have a moral memory is to recognize the past we carry within us, the past we want to carry within us, and the past we need to make right."
"A moral memory recalls the story of America's chosen identity, the way it is shaped by the Anglo-Saxon myth, and thus recognizes how that continues to play itself out in our current reality."


"A moral identity recognizes, as Paul Tillich says, 'that every human soul has infinite value.'"
"A moral identity is one that is relieved of pretensions to superiority. It lets go of any myths that suggest one people is more valuable than another or that one people is chosen by God while another is not."
"A moral identity affirms the shared humanity of all human beings."
"Essentially, it is with a moral identity that one lives into the image of God who is freedom."


"This is a participation marked by a commitment to freedom, love, and life.  Such participation is a matter of faith."
"God's call to faith is an invitation to become a partner with God in 'the mending of creation.'"
"The Greek word for faith, as used in the Gospels, is pistis.  This word does not suggest a way of thinking about who God is or reflecting upon God's relationship to us.  Rather, it points to a way of acting in light of our relationship to God."
"The only way to change the realities of the world is through moral participation in history."


"A moral imagination is grounded in the absolute belief that the world can be better."
"A moral imagination envisions Isaiah's 'new heaven and new earth,' where 'the wolf and the lamb shall feed together,' and trusts that it will be made real."
"With a moral imagination, one is able to live as if the new heaven and new earth are already here.  This means that one's life is not constrained by what is."
"Moral imagination allows black bodies to live as free black bodies, despite the forces that would deny that fact."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

braving the wilderness

This past year, a friend gave me Brene Brown's book Braving the Wilderness.  I needed it.  I loved it.  I then ordered another one of her books, Rising Strong.  I needed it.  I loved it.  I have recently ordered both on CD so that I can listen and listen to them on my daily drives to and from places.

Brown identifies and articulates so much about ourselves as individuals and as a collective, and even better, she offers some skills and steps to overcome some of the trouble spots we have as humans. 

In Braving the Wilderness, Brown talks about the fear and the disconnection that we are experiencing in our lives and helps us address the fear and conflict to move toward one another in courage and love.  It's a much needed read for us in the midst of such divisive times. 

"Addressing this crisis will require a tremendous amount of courage.  For the moment, most of us are either making the choice to protect ourselves from conflict, discomfort, and vulnerability by staying quiet, or picking sides and in the process slowly and paradoxically adopting the behavior of the people we're fighting.  Either way, the choices we're making to protect our beliefs and ourselves are leaving us disconnected, afraid, and lonely.  Very few people are working on connection outside the lines drawn by 'their side'.  Finding love and true belonging in our shared humanity is going to take a tremendous resolution."

Brown then goes on to teach us how to "brave some serious wilderness" through four practices. I need her writing to inform and teach me.  I need and am grateful for friends to practice braving in the wilderness so that we might ultimately "become the wilderness". 

You can check out the table of contents and reviews of this book here


These allies inspire and make me want to be brave in the continued work to be done for human and civil rights.  

Friday, November 23, 2018


It's hard for folks like me to see systems at work.  I grew up being taught that racism is overcome by treating each neighbor, one by one by one, with respect, dignity, and kindness no matter what ethnicity or skin color tone.  I understood racism solely as individual prejudice, and I could not see power structures and scaffolding that have been constructed by racial values assigned to people through time.  I could not see bias that has lived in me and directed my thoughts and approaches to life.

While it is true that individual and interpersonal relationships are needed to overcome distance and negative stereotypes, there will be another kind of seeing needed to move toward justice. 

I spent a great number of hours on a small church bus as I recently traveled from Iowa to Memphis to Montgomery to Selma and back to Iowa on a Civil Rights Vision Tour.  I chose to read the book Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World by Jer Swigart and Jon Huckins along the journey.

Swigart and Huckins talk about "seeing" as the first way we move toward mending divides.

"Of Jesus' thirty-one miracles documented in the Gospels, nearly one in four involves the healing of sight."

"What if, like so many of those healed by Jesus, we owned our blindness and made it a practice to cry out, 'I want to see like you see' ? What if we acknowledged that the systems we were raised in taught us to see and not see certain groups of people?  What if we confessed our preference for particular media channels and worked to understand how a steady diet of them had formed cataracts in our eyes and blurred our sight?  What if we analyzed our upbringing to discover where our mentors' biases scratched the corneas of our souls, causing damage to our ability to see particular people with generosity and empathy?  If we want to see like God sees, we need to do the hard work of understanding what caused our blindness and then cry out for the healing touch of Jesus.

When we pray that prayer, an essential journey from noticing to seeing begins.  On that journey we find ourselves aware of things we've never seen before.  We become people who choose to see things that make us uncomfortable.  What we see begins to change us and produce compassion in us.  That compassion, the precursor to responsibility, propels us forward to become a part of just solutions that lead to restoration."  p.81 Mending the Divides Swigart and Huckins, 2017, InterVarsity Press

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

strength to love

Martin Luther King Jr's suitcase contained his book, Strength to Love.  This was the suitcase he had packed for his time in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, on April 4, 1968.  The day he was gunned down.

 “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”  MLK Jr's Strength to Love

Monday, November 19, 2018


As I left the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, I penned this page in my journal.  This was the overwhelming sense I got of oppressor and oppressed throughout the museum.  I could literally feel the determination in the oppressor to keep control and power and feel the determination in the oppressed to be recognized as fully human and afforded respect, opportunities, and a life as such. 

I have been thinking about the roots of deception that have guided the minds, attitudes, and actions of the oppressor over the centuries.  What  are the roots in the narratives and beliefs of predominately Christian Europeans that drove them to set up a value hierarchy for humans and to justify their treatment of both Native Americans and African slaves?  


1.  It's an "off" theology that gave Anglo-Saxons a sense of exceptionalism.  A belief that they were the chosen people of God who had reached the Promised Land.  A belief that God favored them over others.  A theology of superiority and a conquest mentality believed to be ordained and sanctioned by God.

2.  It's the love of money.  No wonder Jesus spoke so much about the danger of this in the Bible.  The love of money and power over the love of people was evident through the period of slavery and beyond.  Greed has created a hold on people that has driven so much injustice.  

These roots have tendrils wound throughout our being and our country in such a way that we cannot just simply say, "That was in our past."  We still see these deceptive roots active and alive today.  We must interrogate the narrative together that has guided us in order to understand it better and to ultimately change that narrative.  

consider with me this gross contradiction

At the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, it is stunning to see Jefferson's quote from the Declaration of Independence engraved high on the wall over exhibits that detail the kidnapping of millions of human beings who were brutally treated and forced into labor for the amassing wealth of white America. What a gross contradiction.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".  

How could a new country with such high ideals so violently treat fellow humans?
Who were the "all men" being considered by these new founders?
Who was not included in this statement?  Why?

I believe it is not unpatriotic to critically examine these questions.  In fact, I believe the opposite.  In order to be the nation that we desire, one that ascribes to such high moral ideals, we have to look back at how our foundations have formed us in order to move forward toward freedom and justice for all.  That is patriotism at its best.

"White man, hear me!  History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read.  And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past.  On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.  It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.  And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this."  - James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket

Action Step:  Revisit history from voices other than male Eurocentric perspectives.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

L!VE Cafe

My friend, Reesheda, shared a story on stage of the 2018 National CCDA Conference last Thursday in Chicago.

She talked about going to Africa and observing a group of women who were part of a savings group.  They saved money together in a box and helped one another start businesses with the microloans from the box.   Reesheda spoke of how terrific the program was but also of all the questions that formed in her as she considered how the box traveled from one woman to the next for safe keeping each week.  What if the box gets stolen? lost? What if a woman spent the money in the box on something outside of the collective rules and goals?  Reesheda mentioned some of her "what if's" and fears that were raised and told us that she asked several questions of the women through a translator regarding these fears.

Reesheda waited as the women spoke to the translator in response.

"What did they say?"  Reesheda asked the translator.

"They said, 'You Americans have time to worry and be afraid.  You Americans have everything and do nothing.  We have nothing and do everything.  When you are ready to live, then we will answer your questions."

Hence, the name of Reesheda's innovative business ministry model, L!VE cafe.  It's in Oak Park, IL, and if you're ever in Chicagoland, please stop by there.  I got to spend a morning there last week, and I love the vision and mission of  Jesus's justice being worked out through products, staffing, coaching, and events held there.

Reesheda told the CCDA audience that we have to live rooted in community and courage.  We have to go forward afraid...we will never move if we wait until we have no fear.  What might you need to do even though you're afraid?

#live intension  #live in tension