Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Perils of Failure to take Resurrection Seriously #Baltimore SCP #TractSwarm Two

I'm on a lovely and wonderful vacation right now, visiting my mom and stepdad in England. I've mostly adapted to the time change, sleeping through the night regularly now.

Except for last night.

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night, wide awake for some reason. I did what my wife lovingly reminds me I shouldn't do if I want to go back to sleep... reached for my cell phone. I clicked open Facebook and  saw what was happening in Baltimore. I read through the posts beginning to appear as the violence was escalating, a city appearing to fall apart while I peacefully slept in my mom's house among the Yorkshire dales.

"Fifteen police injured in clashes with protestors in Baltimore" was the first headline I saw.

I clicked through more posts and saw police in full riot gear, hiding behind a tank.

I clicked more and came across my friend Broderick Greer, a seminarian in our church, tweeting his perspectives on what was happening. (One of his posts: "It's difficult to be injured or in grave condition when you're waging war on black bodies from a tank." Broderick captured the anger and outrage at the sheer sense of injustice felt by so many black Americans right now. He tweeted one particular post that really struck me. It said,
Christians: "Jesus, it's not nice to turn over those Temple tables."  
Jesus: "It's a sin to exploit the poor." 
Photo from the Baltimore Sun
As I read post after post, I got more and more unsettled by the anger in the streets, more and more unsettled by the violence of the state, and more and more unsettled by the inability of so many to understand what is going on, by my own inability truly to understand and appreciate the real situation of my black sisters and brothers in our country right now.

I was reminded once more that I, a straight white middle-class male, am not particularly qualified to speak to that anger and rage.

True, I longed for the protests to remain non-violent, for that powerful image of hands raised in front of the advance of a heavily militarized police force to hold the day... but the violence levied by the state only continues to grow, teasing violence out of an unheard group of people. I knew that I probably never had to worry about my life being in jeopardy from police, about being suffocating or having my spine injured so badly it killed me, simply because my color makes me easier to treat as other, as less than... simply because my color makes me appear dangerous to some.

When groups of black people step forward boldly in society they are immediately perceived as violent protestors. This is the problem. This is the disease. Indeed, that parts of this protest have become violent and turned to looting is undeniable. But the perception of violence in black protestors precedes any actual violence, as demonstrated by the police response in the beginning of each protest across our country. Black equals violent in the eyes of the police and in the eyes of the state. Thrown rocks disturb society more than a severed spine.

For Easter, a group that I am in, the Society of Catholic Priests in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, is doing a TractSwarm on the resurrection, on whether or not it matters. It's been interesting because our first #TractSwarm on the sacrament of confession got several diverse and powerful posts. The essays posted on the resurrection have been good... but they have not been nearly as numerous or quick to come.

I think that is probably because the resurrection, in the minds of most Christians, is more about belief than it is about practice. The sacrament of confession is tangible, something you can see and experience and this enables potent reflection. Resurrection, for many Christians, is a doctrine that is not embodied, ironically enough.

I don't know if I can prove the bodily resurrection of Christ to you, if I can find the eloquence and rhetoric to help you to believe in it. There are days I don't know if I can muster the belief in the resurrection, days when life seems too dark to imagine a dead body rising up again.

But I do know what faith in the resurrection forces me to believe, what the resurrection insists the church must believe. The resurrection forces us to take bodies seriously.

And so, as I read through what is happening in Baltimore, I thought of what sort of force it might take for the spine of a body to be severed. I thought of the terrified police officer, sweat dripping in his riot gear, hoping he makes it through tonight, too. I thought about the black protestor who feels the same, but who also feels the same obligation as the police officer to be out there, to be doing what is right. I thought of the protestors sense of moral duty to stand up for the black bodies killed.

The black bodies of protestors are seeking to be agents of resurrection, they are seeking to make Freddy Gray's body alive once more as they pour into the streets in witness to the passionate belief that this man's life cannot simply be snuffed out, his body cannot be eliminated. Protestors are seeking to embody the person whose body was robbed by a violent state, a violent state that has systemically wrought violence against the bodies of its citizens.

The problem is that the militarization of the police has turned black bodies into targets or violent forces to be quelled, it has sought to disembody our black citizens. Militarizaiton seeks to disembody people, whether it happens in a war across the world or in a battle on the streets an American city.

And militarization further disembodies that police officer, as well, by the way. It swaths his body in force and violence, it removes him from his true self and transforms him into an agent for a state that cannot see the bodies of all of its citizens. It robs him of his body.

Resurrection is needed for all.

As I began to pull away from the violence in Baltimore, to try to go back to sleep, I saw a post from my colleague Barabara Lee.  It was a protest sign from a college campus, one that dealt with sexual violence. The sign said, "While he raped me, I forgot how to return to my body."

Faith in the resurrection is meant to return each of us, you and I, to our bodies. Faith in the resurrection should heal that which had sought to disembody us. Faith in the resurrection is meant to return the oppressed and the wounded to their bodies. The state wants those bodies to become, in the words of an essay in the Atlantic, "compliant." The Church, in her fullness, wants those bodies to become alive once more, alive and free, vibrant and assertive in their pursuit of justice.

Bodily resurrection begins with bodily death. Indeed, the first resistance in the early church to the bodily resurrection was because people struggled with Christ's bodily death, with God dying on the cross. It is one thing to insist upon the bodily death of Christ, it is another to remember that his blood flowed because of ethnic and class-based violence. Remember when his own people abandoned him, claiming allegiance to peace and the state instead of to their own prophetic leader? ("We have no king but Caesar!") Christ's blood flowed (at least partly) because of ethnic and class-based violence from a society that had sought to disembody its citizens

There is blood in the streets of Baltimore today, blood that is the same color as that of Christ's, blood that comes from the same root sin, the same root death, the same supposed Powers. I wonder if the blood of protestors is mingling with the blood of police officers, both disembodied by their state, by the forces of evil in our time.

I believe Jesus chooses to make that blood on the streets of Baltimore his blood, too, just he did with wine so long ago, just like he does with wine at altars around the world. Sacraments are meant to be aids to belief in the resurrection, whether those sacraments come into being on altars or on streets.

Resurrection means Jesus is here. Resurrection means Jesus is in Baltimore.

And faith in the resurrection means we ignore Christ's bodily and ongoing presence at the peril of our souls, at the peril of the soul of our community and nation.

#BlackBodiesMatter #PoliceBodiesMatter #ChristisinBoth

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Christian Call to Housing Justice

My April 12, 2015, column for the Grand Haven Tribune, "A Christian Call to Housing Justice,"
The discussion surrounding affordable housing in the Tri-Cities, particularly as it has occurred on the Tribune’s website, has been fascinating to watch.

What it has demonstrated to me is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of some in our community about what exactly many are seeking to address. Some apparently think that the issue is people who simply are getting houses or apartments that are beyond their budgets, but that if those people lived more carefully they could indeed find places to live that they could afford.

The problem is they cannot....