Tag Archives: Justice

Peacemaking: Play as Resistance

I’m so, so honored to be guest posting over at The Smitten Word today! Suzannah has been writing for 31 days on the topic of peace, and I added my voice to the conversation today.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his followers multiple times that children know something special about the Kingdom of God, something that adults seem to be missing. If you can’t accept the Kingdom as children do, Jesus warns, you will never figure it out.

My first year after seminary, I worked in under-resourced public elementary schools in Oakland, a city strained by urban poverty and racial tension. The children I met there showed me what it means to be Kingdom builders, peacemakers who make peace with their bare hands and sheer tenacity.

When the Occupy movement took up residence in downtown Oakland, I was working at a large public elementary school a few blocks away. I was doing school recreation in service of building positive school climate, so I spent most of my day outside playing with the students, most of whom came from low-income immigrant families. Inner city kids have an incredible resilience; they just play on like nothing is happening. I, on the other hand, had to adjust to Occupy’s impact on the city.

That learning curve of adjusting was steep.

Please join me at the Smitten Word to read the rest

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Filed under Ethics, Guest Post, My Faith Journey, Theology and Faith

The bleeding, the bold, the believers

A Gospel full of sick women

This weeks Gospel text is full of sick people.

Specifically, it’s full of sick women.

First, a sick little girl, whose father is distressed because she is “at the point of death,” and then a sick older woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Twelve years, my friends.

These are some women in need of deep care.

Here’s the other thing I notice about these women: they are not poor.

The little girl’s father is one of the synagogue leaders, a position of power and means in those days. And the older woman, we read, has “endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had,” which implies she’s got the spare funds to shop around for the best doctor in town.

Still, their positions of social power and their financial stability hasn’t helped these two women: they need the kind of healing only Jesus can give.

A Jesus-kind of healing

And of course, in typical Jesus style, that healing is unconventional and earthy and startling. While he’s on his way to the little girl’s house, pushing through the gathered crowd, the bleeding woman simply grabs hold of his cloak and is inadvertently healed.

The text almost makes it sound accidental, as though Jesus is just oozing healing power through his pores, without even trying.

“Who touched me?!” he asks, turning on the crowd. And when the desperate formerly-bleeding woman admits her touch, Jesus tells her it is her faith that has healed her. Not his magical pore-oozed healing, but her faith.

Then Jesus shows up at the synagogue leader’s house just a little too late: the girl is already dead. But Jesus barely flinches. “Don’t fear, only believe,” he tells the frightened family members.

Then he goes in, takes her hand, and talks to the girl. He touches her and talks to her. He invites her to get up, and she does. Just like that. And then he feeds her.

This is how Jesus heals: through touch, conversation, and shared food. It’s not fancy, it’s not showy. It’s just… Jesus.

Asking the tough questions

There’s something underneath this story.

Why are the sick people both women, one young and one old, with such parallel stories? Why are they both so critically ill, beyond conventional help? Why are they both wealthy? Why does Jesus heal them with such an air of nonchalance?

And, of course, the tough question that must be asked of all Gospel stories, what do we take away from this?

I can’t help be think about how important it is to be reading about the sickness (and wellness) of women this week, when the Supreme Court announced their landmark — and surprising! — decision to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act.

I am going to be clear about how important this conversation is for people of faith: the Gospel is not silent or irrelevant on the topics of health, healing, and wellness, and religious communities today should not be silent either.

Sometimes the best take-away is questions, rather than answers. Here are three questions I’m chewing on after reading the Gospel story:

  • What happens when wealth and privilege are not enough to keep us healthy?

The two women in this story had safety nets. The young girl had a well-off father who advocated and provided for her. The older woman had the finances and the audacity to continue seeking a cure for her illness. But even those protections failed them. Money cannot buy healing.

  • What happens when the vulnerable of our society (a category which certainly included young and old women in Jesus’ time!) do not have safety nets?

These women were lucky to have options, and they were lucky to encounter Jesus. Those who lack sufficient healthcare today are not always so lucky. I’m sure I’m not surprising anyone by stating that Jesus had a heart for the vulnerable and unlucky of his society. Are we, his followers, still living that Gospel value today?

  • Are we mourning in fear or are we seeking healing with faith?

Remember what Jesus told the bleeding woman who touched his cloak: “Your faith has made you well.” And remember what he told the mourners at the little girl’s house: “Do not fear; only believe.” Jesus clearly favors the faith of the bold.

The people in this story had tried living up to society’s traditional expectations, but they had failed to find wellness there. We need to be willing to move past our fears, our judgments, our preconceived ideas of human solutions and move into a place of radical faith. When our systems are broken, we have to have the courage and compassion to change them.

Do we believe in healing, as fiercely and wildly as the young dead girl and the bleeding woman in the Gospel story? Or are we too afraid to boldly grab at the cloak of Jesus, to invite him into our homes and believe in his unconventional healing?

– – –

May we, like Jesus, be willing to enact healing through talking to each other, touching each other, feeding each other. All our categories and opinions and politics aside, may we believe with a faith that is bold enough to pursue healing, even when all our traditional avenues have failed.

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Filed under Ethics, Lectionary Reflections, Theology and Faith

Witnessing Occupation

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Eviction

The day they evicted the Occupy Oakland protesters, the helicopters came back. They hovered over downtown all day, hanging in the sky like giant house flies. Eventually, my mind tuned out their incessant buzzing, but they were still there each time my eyes turned upward.

I had an evening meeting in Jack London Square, so after school I walked the mile-and-a-half through downtown Oakland where the protesters and policed had re-gathered for another round of their complicated dance.

The protesters looked relaxed, signs slung casually over their shoulders. They were talking on i-phones and sipping sodas from McDonalds. And I marveled that this is how we fight capitalism. Many of the protesters were young, with babies or dogs or bicycles in tow. A man stood on the steps of the public library speaking into a loud-speaker, and the crowd repeated his words in unison so the people further back could hear.

The police looked tense, gripping their night sticks with determination and white knuckles. At the city center, they were wearing riot gear and holding clear plastic shields in front of them, even though nothing was happening yet. I could count the zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I tried to make eye contact with them, but their eyes are hidden behind helmets.

Later, when the protesters began marching, the noise escalated and sirens blared. The protest moved like a giant, undulating creatures as it made its way down 14th to Broadway. The police surrounded it on all sides, making me think of ants attacking a long, sluggish worm.

I hurried to get a head of the protesters, and for a moment I occupied the empty space between the front line of marchers and the front line of police. The police were trotting towards me, shoulder-to-shoulder, with shotguns drawn and loaded with tear gas canisters. The protesters were pushing behind me, shouting threats from behind a heavy banner, “We are the 99%.”

For a moment, I feared the police wouldn’t let me through. But as I passed them, one of the heavily armed officers made eye contact with me and said, “How are you?”

And I answered, honestly: “I’m scared.”

And I offered a silent prayer that the children I play with every day, the children who live in this neighborhood, would get home safely.

Return

The morning after Occupy Oakland shut down the Port, my phone rang just before 7 am.

It was my mom, and I was still sleeping. Groggy, I answered and she asked if I was okay. Oakland had made the news again and it all sounded sensational from far away. She hoped that I was smart enough to leave before there was trouble, before darkness fell and chaos was unleashed.

I had to get up and go to work. There were children who were waiting to see me smile and make them laugh. My legs ached: it was a long walk from downtown to the water’s edge. I rolled my shoulders and stretched my hands, waking up.

I was there, I tell my mom, but I didn’t see trouble.

I saw dogs and babies and bicycles. I saw banners and drum circles and hipsters. I saw anarchist trucks handing out free ice cream, shuttles safely carrying people with disabilities in and out, ministers laying hands and praying over protesters. I saw marching bands and Dia de los Muertos costumes and Guy Fawkes masks. I saw friends and strangers and people with bullhorns and dance parties and a really amazing view of the sunset over San Francisco.

I might have seen change. But I did not see trouble.

As my mother hoped, I left when darkness fell, and I was not there for vandalism or violence. I was marching with friends, many of whom have been arrested at protests or have been victims of police brutality. We collectively voted to leave before the trouble began, so we made the long trek back out of the Port, encountering no opposition or police.

It takes courage, patience, perseverance to work for change. These are times when many are rising, joining, creatively attempting to do their part. I am not one of those who is brave enough to leave my own life in order to make a stand. But I did feel like I needed to be there, to be a part of it in some way.

And in order to witness, the story has to be told.

What has been your experience with the Occupy protests? How do you work for or embody change in your own life? How is the message of the Occupy movement changing (or not) your economic decisions? What do you think can be a faithful response to the current economic crisis in America?

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Filed under Ethics, Musings