upper room daily devotions

Thursday, March 09, 2017

A Prayer for John 3:1-17

In the darkness, we stumble toward you, O God, not knowing where we go or who, in you, we really will find. You meet us here. You reach into the sorrows and questions that compel us to seek you in the dark, and you offer us new life. This new life comes from struggle, as does all life. It springs from mystery, as only life in you can. Love is the source of this life. And that love is you. For this truth, we are eternally grateful. Amen.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

2017 @The Well

Public Engagements for The Well 2017

This year's theme is Repairing the Breach. In addition to our Kids and Race workshops, which are constantly being scheduled, We have the following public engagements already lined up:

  • March 17 - Cornel West Workshop: Love as Prophetic Witness; Lecture: Art as Resistance. Co-sponsored with and hosted by The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Tickets here.  
  • March 23 - Reggie Williams: Interrupting Whiteness: Harlem Renaissance, Black Christ, & Christian Ethics. Come explore how Bonhoeffer's discovery of the Black Jesus during the Harlem Renaissance changed how he understood humanity and divinity, sustaining him for resistance work in Nazi Germany. Tickets here. 
  • May 11 - Diana Butler Bass: Gratitude and Love: Sustaining Powers for Resistance. Tickets here. 
  • June 2 - Ron Finley: Gardening for Community. Gardening for Life. Tickets here. 
  • August 5 - David Zinn: Art for the Soul, Joy, & Community. Workshop on temporary, public art.  Tickets here.
  • September 21 - Rita Nakashima Brock: Moral Injury and Soul Repair. Tickets here. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Lent Confessions

This image from http://likesuccess.com/img58059

This Lent I'm going to get real about some of my darker traits. I am going to look at them and consider them in private. And, from time to time, I'm going to share some of them here. Consider this a kind of community confessional. So, here's confession #1.
Why I think I could kill some people: I typically hold a fairly pacifist stance - generally speaking. I realize that sometimes the violent aggressions of some may require a violent response. And so, I break with true pacifists. That said, I'm about to state how I betray my own internal ethics. 
I really and truly want to hurt people - really hurt them - when I see animal abuse and unethical hunting. The killing of endangered species evokes a violence in me that is incredibly disturbing. I believe that I actually could take a person's life without regret - not just to stop the imminent threat to an endangered animal, but just out of rage and spite. This is a disturbing truth. 
To be honest, I'm not quite sure what spiritual intervention I would like from the Holy One. I don't want to "be okay" with the rapacious greed of humanity that leaves a wake of death behind it. The killing of rhinos for their horns. Elephants for the tails and tusks. Big cats as trophies. Red wolf probable extinction. Or the collateral damage of other animals - western pond turtles due to habitat destruction. And so on. This is not okay with me. I believe the violent responses I feel come from the overwhelming sense of complete and utter powerlessness. Yet, what can be done? Hundreds upon hundreds of conversation groups exist. I give to many of them. And the death continues. I'm not callous to human suffering, but I am especially attuned to the death of non-human sentient beings. 
This ends my confession.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Not in My Name: No to the Dakota Access Pipeline

I love my home, my country, and my culture dearly. I can love them and still see and name when ugliness and injustice mar them. We founded the US on two particularly unconscionable acts - slavery and the genocide/dispossession of Native Americans. The ongoing and persistent attempts to access or intrude upon remain Native lands for the transport of petroleum products or the excavation of land for the extraction of petroleum products is injustice upon injustice. Apart from environmental concerns, which are plenty and vital, the continued neglect of Native American interests in these projects, whether the Keystone Pipeline, the Cherry Point terminal, or the Dakota Access Pipeline, requires strong rebuke and concrete measures to change course.

Blocking off access to property, illegal incursions on to Native lands, misrepresenting the process, cutting off access to water for protestors, ignoring the pleas of Native American leaders, disregarding letters from the EPA and other organizations written on behalf of Native leadership, delaying responses to questions regarding route and safety...these have all happened. And it is wrong. 

The image of the US Army destroying, mistreating, and degrading Native Americans is one seared into my imagination. Today, instead of a cavalry it is the US Army Corps of Engineers (which I have always held in high regard). Instead of guns they use political tactics. Instead of a railroad and white settlements, this time a pipeline is the excuse for these actions. Yet, history repeats itself. It is the same thing in a different guise. 

I want to interrupt this repetition of history. Not in my name as an American will this be done. 

So I say no to the Dakota Access Pipeline and I will send money and offer my voice and my time to do what I can to stop it.

For more information, visit it the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's website (http://standingrock.org/data/upfiles/media/Backgrounder%20DAPL%20SRST%20FINAL.pdf). You can also access the US Army Corps of Engineers or the DAPL website. 

Friday, July 08, 2016

Racism and White Supremacy are Killers

Two more Black men shot by police. Eleven police and 2 civilians ambushed in Dallas, 4 police and 1 transit officer dead. One shooter killed by police after failed negotiations. He was killed by a remotely triggered "bomb" on a robot. He maintained that he had placed IEDs that will eventually be found. The killings of all of these people are tragic. The situation facing the Dallas Police chief is untenable.

The murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling are wounds to the soul of our nation. They reveal the ongoing dehumanization of People of Color in general, and African Americans in particular. Black men and Black women have been dehumanized in different ways, but both continue to live stigmatized in our society, and live at risk of violent treatment by the very system that should protect each individual in a community. Racism is not just the institution of slavery. Racism is not only a set of laws like Jim Crow. Racism is also not only a direct hatred of Black people. Racism also can be a deeply internalized and often latent set of biases that results in heightened suspicion of Black folks' motives, exaggerated fear of Black power, and belief that Black people are somehow "different" from other human beings. These biases dehumanize and make it easier to quickly form conclusions not grounded in fact, decisions that result in the death of Black children, women, and men. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile join a growing list of everyday people who are now dead for no reason other than the color of their skin and the racism of their country.

Racism and white supremacy must be condemned, addressed, and and faced head on every day. They must be dismantled brick by brick. This is real work and it requires with commitment. Platitudes have never been sufficient.  They are especially egregious in the wake of unpunished killings of precious children of God. We must hold leaders accountable for pjustice making for our people and our communities. And we must hold them accountable when they shirk this responsibility.

mourn the losses of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Jessica Hernandez, Walter Scott, and the many others whose lives were taken from them. I mourn for their families and the infinite grief they will experience every day for the rest of their lives. I stand with Black and Brown folk who worry for their children when they leave the house, drive a car, enter a store, or walk their own neighborhoods. I share in the outrage that this happens again and again seemingly without recourse.

The violence in Dallas is overwhelmingly tragic. It is part of our country's deep woundedness, a woundedness that bleeds untreated. We mourn the loss of the five officers who were killed. I hold in prayer the other officers who were wounded and all of the people walking in peaceful protest who are now traumatized. The families of the officers will mourn for the rest of their lives. All of our hearts break for them. Fellow police will grieve their colleagues. Their pain will follow them all of their days. And, it is important to recognize and honor the difficult work faced by police serving in our communities. It is dangerous work. I am grateful for police who protect and serve. For the Dallas Police chief, whose police force is now devastated, a horror unfolds. For the city of Dallas, the news is staggering. Yet, Dallas is a strong city. It will over days and weeks begin to rebound and heal. 

That said, racial tension and the white supremacy that undergirds it are tearing us apart. White supremacy is in our churches, our schools, and our families. It is bigger, more pernicious, and more persistently insidious than individual hate. It is a disease that has infected and affected the DNA of our country. The wake of pain it leaves behind touches us all. Good people are killed because of it. 

Our communities and our families will continue to mourn. The fabric of our nation will continue to be pulled and frayed and strained. Tensions between White and Black communities will grow more taught. Peace will not come. Until.

Until white supremacy and racism are rooted out again and again. Until. Until we make real changes to our justice system. Until those who kill while carrying a badge go to jail. Until. Until we lay bare the biases that cause us to suspect Black folk of a special form of malevolence. Until. Until our criminal justice system actually becomes a "justice" system. Until. Until a White person and a Black person carrying a gun in public are treated exactly the same. Until. Until we do not look upon one another as enemies, other, different. Until we create communities of trust based on demonstrable acts of good faith. Until...

It is far past time to address the "until." And Until we do, our communities will not know peace.

As the prophets Amos and Isaiah each wrote: 
Amos 5:21-26 
21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
    I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Isaiah 1:11-17
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
    says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
    or of lambs, or of goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,[a]
    who asked this from your hand?
    Trample my courts no more;
13 bringing offerings is futile;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
    I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

And yet, there is more. The Way of Christ is nonviolence. Nonviolence is a powerful response to violence. Rooted in love and not vengeance, nonviolence can lead us to the courage needed to face the "until" work ahead of us. He said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt...Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:27-29, 31). These words lead us to engage one another, and engagement is needed to dismantle white supremacy and rebuild our communities with health, wholeness, and love.

Friday, September 25, 2015

from the New York Times
I write for "Real Spirituality for Real Life," which is the new name for "Process and Faith," a website grounded in process theology.

My latest submission explores the power of looking and seeing the world and its woundedness.

There is something deeply powerful about the act of bearing witness, something we often discount, especially those of us Americans who value action over reflection, repose, discernment, and silence. Doing nothing, even for the sake of discerning what to do, leaves us panicky. And so, if we can't fix, change, or control a person, a situation, a feeling, or an event, our next default is to ignore it, pretend it isn't there, and look away.

Sometimes choosing to look, as hard as it may be, may be the most faithful thing we can do.

*I take up the importance of knowing when to look away in my next outing at Real Spiritual for Real Life."

Friday, May 08, 2015

Using Words to Discuss How Words Fail and the Importance of Narrative

Interfaith Partners for Peace
I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Israel and Palestine. Not only did I take a walk through the past, as so many pilgrims do, but my journey was also rooted in the here and now, and it was focused upon the future. This trip, put together by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs' newly sponsored organization Interfaith Partners for Peace, brought together 28 interfaith religious leaders to study sacred texts, experience worship, tour one another's religious sites, and hear the stories of Palestinians, Jews, and Arab Israelis. These were intense days - long, hot, over scheduled, and deeply holy.

"Narrative" was the operative word of this trip. The land has stories to tell. Remnants of civilizations long gone are found in the dirt, in the landscape, and in the ruins of buildings. The people have stories to tell - stories of collective histories, despairs, and hopes. They have more localized and personal stories about conflict, betrayal, trauma, fear, and sometimes - sometimes - hope. Stories of suffering, struggle, and faith were thematic throughout the week. Moments came when I didn't think I could process another story, honor another narrative, or receive well the life entrusted to me through the precious words that were shared.

Stories were everywhere, even among the group itself. Together we told our stories - our narratives - and in them discovered deep difference and common hopes. There was little, precious little, quiet time. Instead, we were busy writing a collective narrative through shared experience all while hearing stories about the past, the present, and a future that has yet to be charted.

Ali Abu Awwad speaks with Rabbi Dennis Sasso
and Bishop Catherine Maples Waynick
When the words fell to the earth and silence descended in the all too short nights, I was left with a desolate truth - This place, which is holy to billions of human beings, is a crucible of trauma. This land and the legends and tales of our religious identities have always been marked by struggle, violent conflict, and battling narratives. When one person was sharing his story with us, Ali Abu Awwad, of The Roots, he told us that as a child he dreamed of being a pilot, perhaps, he said, because he wanted to fly away. It seems so strange that even as some cling to the hillsides and landscapes littered with religious history, there is also a desire to leave behind the particularities that have left so many dead and keep billions of humans suspicious of one another because of "otherness." The narratives that hold us are also the stories that drive us apart. The same stories that give us meaning and identity can also keep us captive.

We are recipients of narratives. We begin learning them as soon as light touches our eyes for the first time. We learn them in the stories we are told as children, in the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the games we play, in the neighborhoods we inhabit, in the people we love (and hate). Through our experiences, a narrative of identity begins to form in our core. This narrative tells us who we are (a hero? a villain? victim? a good person? a bad one? a girl, boy, or something else... a race, an ethnicity, a nationality, and so on...). It informs all that we do, and our experiences are filtered through it.

Many of us learn that we have to undo and deconstruct the narratives we learned as children, especially the parts that demonize and dehumanize others. The gift that we have is that with a great deal of work we can actually do this - we can unwrite our narratives and pen new ones. However, this hard and holy work is met with deep resistance. We resist this rewriting of self. (Without this narrative, who are we?) The world we inhabit resists this deconstructive work as well, sometimes violently. The world prefers the status quo - equilibrium. When we begin the disruption of unwriting narratives, we are undoing worlds. We are taking away people's world views. This is deeply disturbing - and for good reason. It undoes reality. Sometimes, though, reality is a damning thing that needs to be undone for the sake of a new and better one. Those who are engaged in deconstructive work understand that a further step will be taken; generative work will follow. New narratives are written. New identities will be formed. But, the liminal space is threatening. It is chaos, and its formless state robs people of power and privilege. Very threatening.

Chaya Gilboa from the Shalom Hartman Institute
For the past week or so, I have heard from peace negotiators, politicians, and others involved at the geopolitical level. Real peace, it seemed, will not come from them. They cannot give up on the narratives that have claimed them. And, for each and every one of them the narrative is the same. It can be summarized in six words: It is a victim-villain narrative. The only thing that changed from one person to the other was who the victim and who the villain is in the story. Real peace, it seems, like it so often does, is emerging out of the dirt, from the ground up, by people who have been the most traumatized, who understand the deeply wounding experiences of loss, betrayal, and even death.  Peace, for them, is not about winning or losing or about being right or wrong; it is about life and death.

In Israel and in Palestine, grassroots efforts are unwriting and rewriting narrative. Grassroots leaders understand the folly of narrative that keeps people bound as victims and villains. These courageous individuals are daring to reach across religious and nationalistic lines to form relationships and bonds that are at best considered suspect and at worst traitorous to "the cause." Settlers and Palestinians, Israelis and Palestinians, Arab Christians, Muslims and Jews, religious and secular - all kinds of people are transgressing the boundaries that have been drawn as circles around identity keeping some people in and some people out. These people realize that the words of our narratives sometimes fail us and keep us captive to necrophilic existences. These individuals hope and labor for something more - a biophilic, thriving, vital existence - a neighborly way of life.

I will be processing the particulars of the stories I heard for some time to come. I hope that I honor them and the lives they represent. These stories have been entrusted to me. I don't know that I'm honorable enough to have heard the words that were spoken, but I have received them. Now I have to decide what to do with them. They live in me now. The words - they do not disappear as the sound waves expand and dissipate in the world. The sound itself may have fallen silent, but the words and their meanings remain.

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