“It comes as a great shock to discover the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you.” James Baldwin
“I don’t know what most white people in this country feel but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian church that is white and a Christian church that is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday. That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church. I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me—that doesn’t matter—but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to. Now this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.” James Baldwin
“Because we live in a nation that has begun its path to democracy by putting stumbling blocks in our way, we’ve got to start moving those blocks.” Stacey Abrams
“Love one another deeply, from the heart.”
1 Peter 1:22b NIV
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Are you offended by Baldwin’s critique of church and country?
- Can you attempt to imagine living his experience? . . . feeling as he does?
- Do you notice “stumbling blocks” meant for people of color where you live? Do you want them moved out of the way? Think about your answer.
Abba, teach me what it means to love deeply, from the heart. Truly.
For More: James Baldwin on Dick Cavett (1968)
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“People were bringing even infants, presumably those so young that they needed to be carried, and other children to Jesus ‘that he might touch them.’ Perhaps they had heard of Jesus’ miraculous healing powers and wanted to gain some of that for their children. However, that is partly to impose our more caring view of children onto first-century people. The literature on how children were viewed then suggests that people then did not value children very highly. Children were, in one interpretation, seen to be on the same social level as slaves: with few rights, open to abuse, and lacking protection under Jewish law. Other, more moderate views are that children were merely treated with indifference. . . . Clearly there is more than a metaphor here; there is an emotional image for us who would be disciples to imitate. There is something about Jesus that is a blessing, a hospitality, an approachability, a charisma that draws others into him. Luke the author wants us to get that image. . . . No one can merit or achieve the kingdom; it must be received without merit, as a child receives everything. . . . We, like the disciples, are to welcome as Jesus welcomed. We are to follow the example of Jesus, who called the marginal and the despised to himself. What we can do out of gratitude is to call the socially rejected to physical and spiritual life in Christ. Like the early church, we are to transform society by not just accepting but seeking out the outcasts and the marginalized. We are to treat them as Jesus did the children. . . . Ministry to, with, and for those who are on the margins is our response to God’s welcome of us. . . . What is the quality that commends children? Precisely their dependency. Their dependence on adults mirrors our dependence of God; that is one of the marks of the kingdom, which belongs to them (v. 16b). Here is exemplified the equal unworthiness, marginality and dependence of us all before God.” Shannon Jung
“Whoever does not receive
the kingdom of God as a little child
will never enter it.”
Luke 18:17 NLT
Moving From Head to Heart
- What would a church look like that called the “socially rejected to physical and spiritual life in Christ?”
- How would that impact it’s philosophy of ministry? . . . congregational demographics?
- Have you ever been an outsider? Are there many socially rejected people in your congregation? . . . in your list of friends?
Abba, thank you for our approachable Jesus.
For More: Feasting on the Gospels, Vol. 2 by Cynthia Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, eds.
“Let me say plainly that gratitude and humility swell when thinking of those who’ve held me up, who’ve helped me endure the many ways I’ve been reduced and worn of my falsehoods through the years. I smile deeply when thinking of those who’ve opened me to the joy of simply being here. I would be less without these friendships. I love you all. I keep telling strangers: to be in the presence of those who can both share pain and celebrate just waking up, this is the answer to loneliness. Such friendship makes sharing pizza in a noisy pub and standing in silence as the old oak creaks all one could ask for. In truth, this process, of being worn to only what is raw and essential, never ends. It’s as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly. Thank you for holding me up to the elements, and for freeing yourselves, and for the joy of these unexpected moments together.” Mark Nepo
“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing–that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.” Fred Rogers
“Use your freedom
to serve one another in love.”
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Do you understand the never-ending process of “. . . being worn to only what is raw and essential?” Have you embraced it as a something good? . . . as God’s loving care?
- Friends who share our pain and celebrate our “waking up” can sustain and save us. Do you have some friends like that? Can you really do without such loving friends?
- Presenting your “sculpted” self to God to love others is “something sacred” you can do. Are you available?
Abba, your strong love has freed me to fly. May I love others that way myself.
For more: Reduced to Joy by Mark Nepo.
Nepo, Mark. Reduced to Joy. Berkeley: Viva, 2013.
Rogers, Fred. “Commencement Address at Middlebury College May, 2001.”
“A state that threatens the proclamation of the Christian message negates itself. There are thus three possibilities for action that the church can take vis-à-vis the state: first, . . . questioning the state as to the legitimate state character of its actions, that is, making the state responsible for what it does. Second, is service to the victims of the state’s actions. The church has an unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. ‘Let us work for the good of all.’ (Gal 6:10) These are both ways in which the church, in its freedom, conducts itself in the interest of a free state. In times when the laws are changing, the church may under no circumstances neglect either of these duties. The third possibility is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to fall [ourselves] within the spokes of the wheel itself. Such an action would be direct political action on the part of the church. This is only possible and called for if the church sees the state be failing in its function of creating law and order, that is, if the church perceives that the state, without any scruples, has created either too much or too little law and order. It must see in either eventuality a threat to the existence of the state and thus to its own existence as well.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“So [Jesus] made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle;
he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”
John 2:15 NIV
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Think about that first sentence. Does government have a genuine self-interest in protecting Christian proclamation?
- Bonhoeffer says the church must bind up the victims’ wounds in an unjust state. When a government is really out of control, such victims could include large parts of the population–even its majority. In such a case, wide-spread neighbor love (likely in some form of “direct political action”) is required. (Matthew 22:39) Is your church even thinking about these responsibilities? Are you?
- Does the church where you live focus on other things rather than these things? If so, on what?
Abba, give me a heart for any of my neighbors who are victims.
For more: Works (Vol. 12) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of . . . resistance . . . . It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods. Such an act of resistance requires enormous intentionality and communal reinforcement amid the barrage of seductive pressures from the insatiable insistences of the market, with its intrusion into every part of our life . . . .” Walter Brueggemann
“The departure from that same system [the exploitation of modern day ‘brick-makers’] in our time is not geographical. It is rather emotional, liturgical, and economic. It is not an idea but a practical act. Thus the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is an act of trust in the subversive, exodus-causing God of the first commandment, an act of submission to the restful God of commandments one, two, and three. Sabbath is a practical divestment so that neighborly engagement, rather than production and consumption, defines our lives. It is for good reason that sabbath has long been for theologically serious Jews, the defining discipline. It is for good reason that Enlightenment-based autonomous Christians may find the Sabbath commandment the most urgent and the most difficult of all the commandments of Sinai. We are, liberals and conservatives, much inured to Pharaoh’s system. For that reason, the departure into restfulness is both urgent and difficult, for our motors are set to run at brick-making speed. [But] To cease, even for a time, the anxious striving for more bricks is to find ourselves with a ‘light burden’ and an ‘easy yoke.'” Brueggemann
“And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, demanding,
‘Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?’”
Exodus 5:14 NIV
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- The Sabbath calls on you to stop, even if you prefer “brick-making speed.” How else will you practice “neighborly engagement?”
- Many brag about working 80-hour weeks, or never taking vacation. Does it make sense to you that anyone would brag about living like a slave? . . . as if life were all about making bricks?
- If Sabbath-keeping in our seductive culture requires “enormous intentionality and communal reinforcement”, is there any hope that you’ll succeed at it? What can you do?
Abba, help me to join the subversive, exodus-causing God, and his community, in resisting unjust powers in my day. Make me available for loving my neighbor.
For more: Sabbath As Resistance by Walter Brueggemann
Thanks for reading, following and sharing these “Daily Riches!” Look for my upcoming book –Wisdom From the Margins: Daily Readings for more of these provocative quotes, verses, questions, and prayers.
Brueggemann, Walter. Sabbath As Resistance: Saying NO to the CULTURE OF NOW. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014.