Beatitudes and Black Lives Matter . . .

Union of Black Episcopalians Fourth Lenten Service

There is something about Episcopalian services, or black church, or good music. Once a decade or two I experience that je ne sais quoi that puts me over the edge. Perhaps it is just my own intensely spiritual experiences have been in the Catholic and Episcopal churches.

Sunday, I went to a Lenten service held by the Union of Black Episcopalians. This service was held in the late afternoon in Inglewood, CA, once morning duties had been completed. This was a gathering of black clergy and a black choir at one of my great favorite social justice priest and fellow alum, Francisco Garcia's, Holy Faith Church. The theme of this service was Beatitudes, #Blacklivesmatter, and the Jesus Movement. An intimate number of folks showed up to participate. There were enough though, that two Caribbean dignitaries slipped in in cognito enough to be acknowledged at the end of the service once their presence was realized.

The second hymn was Kumbya. I'm thinking okay, Kumbya. This is probably not going to be my campfire Kumbya. The rendition is incredible, and I'm good until the lyrics "somebody's in despair, somebody thinks that no one cares," and we repeat it and repeat it like in the YouTube link below. Not only did my neck hairs stand up, the star spangled banner can do that, but my hair stood on end, every last one on the top of my head. Unbidden tears just streamed tears down my face. The last time that happened as a spiritual experience was at All Saints Episcopal Church, sometime in the mid 1990s. (Tears streamed down my face as I walked to the communion rail at that church, more than once.)

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=S-a9Fk1PAu4

There are too many hurting out there. I have much brokenness inside that rarely gets activated at that deep spiritual level unless it is in a church space I feel safe in and the music is not from a short list of acceptable Protestant composers, arrangers, or songwriters. I was an Episcopalian for a few years before I decided they were not liberal enough, theologically or politically, and moved further left to Unitarian Universalism. That does not mean I do not love still the churches and services. At the time, my heart and mind wrestled weekly with the Nicene Creed in the service. There is something to worshipping body and spirit, however.

One thing I will say is that the outpouring emotion during Kumbaya was not about my grief, truly a first in recent memory. Of course the service was Black Lives Matters, but any sadness in recent memory would automatically tap grief. This was not about my fears and anxieties. The outpouring of emotion was not about me at all, but tapped into that dark place of despair and losing one's way. I have been there, but I am on the other side now. The community holding the lament, and the sense of the community's faith was strong, based on way too much experience, and tradition. The community carries the broken until they can move forward. That is something that is missing in so many white churches. They want to skip the pain, the lament, to happy, or at least numb.

The rest of the service was amazing. We invoked the ancestors. The Episcopal Chorale was beautifully directed. There was a lot of music, contemplative, mournful and uplifting, covering different styles of the diaspora. We remembered the lives stolen. What upset me was except for a few, Travon, Tamir, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, the Charlston Nine, I cannot keep track of the names, or the circumstances of so many dead. There are too.many.dead. This is a lament. No one person can keep track of so many names.

The collection plate was taken for the families of the man and woman, Marquintin Shandlin and Kisha Michael, who were shot dead by police just a few weeks ago right there in Inglewood. The couple was asleep or unconscious in the car. The policeman felt threatened. Between the two single parents out on a date, they left seven children. The church generously matched the collection.

The world is broken. For just a little while, in a loving strong cohesive faith community, can one feel whole again. Hopefully, those in pain will find some comfort. Perhaps there are those of us who found respite before we go back out with the foolishness we prayed for to think we can make a difference.

I was Gobsmacked #BlackLivesMatter. It was beautiful.

Image credit Brooke Anderson/KQED

I got it. I finally got it, and I had not yet written to help others understand. It is now time.

Black Lives Matter was important to me from the beginning. The city of Pasadena has our own young black man, shot dead by police, reports delayed and heavily redacted, and no indictment. He has a name: Kendric McDade. I went to a vigil for him after #BlackLivesMatter was established, and he was mourned in the context of men and women across the country being killed by police. I mourned with fellow citizens and members at the First AME church when nine people were murdered in cold blood in Charleston, South Carolina. The examples above, plus black person, after black person, after black person dying at the hands, or guns, of those sworn to “protect and serve” cemented my support for #BlackLivesMatter. To put myself in context, I walk the border, la frontera, between white and black as a queer multicultural, or mestizaje, Unitarian Universalist graduate of a Methodist seminary who believes showing up is an important part of ministry, and for those who do not show up, educating. So at this point in a blog, a typical progressive could write something like “I support them, but…,” or, “I supported them, but they…” Mine is more like, “I support you. Oh! (Face palm!) Of course!” With about a year between “you.” and “Oh!”

As for the tactics #BlackLivesMatter employ, I admire the courage it takes to shut down business as usual. This country’s citizenry is entirely too comfortable to have compassion for the true suffering of others, unless it directly affects their social circle. It is not until the pursuit of the dollar or the spending of that dollar gets interrupted that the bubble of comfortable ignorance is burst. Oh, and interrupting their driving will get most of their attention. Brilliant move.

Fellow liberals complained that emergency vehicles could not get through when roads were blocked. Although this was was untrue, fair weather liberals said they could not support #BlackLivesMatter as a consequence. People dying in the streets had their lives interrupted. Permanently. The families and friends of those victims had their lives interrupted by profound grief. Then the families had their lives interrupted by something utterly unfathomable when the justice system failed them not only by not indicting the perpetrator, but by blaming their loved one for their own death. Will not interrupting your ride cause you stop, think, have any kind of empathy or compassion?

The interruptions of Bernie Sanders’ campaign speeches were another tactic that even more older white liberals used to stop supporting #BlackLivesMatter. Yet, there was progress, too. Conversations began. The establishment opened a tiny bit to listen. Supportive liberal white people who continued started conversations with their friends, their families, their churches. Places of worship who supported all along became more overt by putting out signs. The women #who started #BlackLivesMatter started a chapter program so that there would be a unified voice, and those with other agendas would be less able to hijack local groups.

My only question was why #BlackLivesMatter did not work more with the leaders from the civil rights era. As I am not a black person, I cannot, nor will not presume to know better. Occasionally, I’d been dropping in on a Saturday workshop held at a church in Los Angeles on nonviolent resistance, with examples coming from from the Civil Rights Era. The tactics were adapted from Ghandi in India. It all sounded good. The bus boycott and the lunch counters were issues chosen by women, and worked on equally, we attendees were told. The workshop facilitator did not think #BlackLivesMatter would work because of the tactics, and that the appeal is not broad enough, that is to young and old alike, which is code for respectability politics. Yet the tactics chosen in the late fifties and early sixties were radical enough to shake the status quo, in that context.

To the North, Neighborhood UU Church in Pasadena, strengthens its commitment to racial equity with numerous events and meetings. At a film and panel held there, I was fortunate to see one of the founding members of #BlackLivesMatters, Ms. Patrisse Cullors on a panel. Without asking, my question was answered. Respectability politics. Again. I get respectability politics: the elders know from experience that the oppressed must approach those in power in an approved way in order not to offend them. Tone policing goes with that, modulating one’s voices as not to frighten or offend the one in power. I could understand why Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were refused when they swooped in to Ferguson. Sometimes one just does not need that kind of help. I had read certain words over and over related to #BlackLivesMatter. Once I heard the words: women, queer, Trans, agenda, from Ms. Cullors mouth in the context of being held back from talking in Church did I understand. I was gobsmacked! Of course! These are women leading. There are queer and Trans women leading. These women are about far from what the church civil rights leaders can handle.

Black Lives Matter is radically inclusive. I kept hearing Trans and queer but it did not register deeply until I, in my inner vision, saw the women of Black Lives Matter asking to speak, and being barred from talking in church about people dying in the streets because of their “queer agenda.” My heart hurt every time I learned yet another Trans woman was murdered this past year. Black Trans women, although a tiny minority, are the most vulnerable of black adults. Queer black women are not far behind. Black Lives Matter is based on the profound truth that all black lives matter, even queer and Trans black women, because they are the marginalized of the marginalized.

The older generation of Civil Rights and/or leaders still reduce the embodiment of the radical love of Christ to an “agenda.” In the wake of yet another Martin Luther King Jr. day the straight church civil rights leaders are being left behind in that journey towards restoring equity, civil rights, and sometimes basic human dignity to all those who are marginalized in this country.

A Winter Solstice Ritual for 2014

Calling the Directions Spirit of the East Spirit of air: wind and sky, the breath of life. Spirit of possibilities with each morning sunrise. Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the South Spirit of fire: heat and sunlight, electricity energizing life. Spirit of passion as we seek justice Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the West Spirit of water: quenching, drenching, and dew, the fundamental molecule of life. Spirit of perseverance in the face of difficulties. Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Spirit of the North Spirit of Earth: dust and mountains, in which life teams, and from which life springs Spirit of becoming, that each moment we may start again Please join us and bless this circle as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

Introduction On this eve of Winter Solstice, this longest night, let us acknowledge that the time has come for the Earth to rest. Just as the earth needs to rest, fields lay fallow, and seeds need the richness of the earth to seep in giving sustenance in preparation for germination, so we need a time to rest and restore. Just as our body needs sleep to rejuvenate us in daily cycles, the earth gets the rest it needs in the yearly revolution around the sun. The earth is furthest from the sun in our hemisphere, and low in the sky. Although Northern European winter is not evident in Southern California with it's nearly perpetual sun, vegetable gardens lie fallow, or freshly seeded in anticipation of the coming spring. Thus the nights have grown longer and longer until tonight, the longest night, and then the days will instead begin to lengthen.

We acknowledge pain and suffering in the world, especially the killing of innocent black men as a result of systematic racism, and the two policemen of color murdered yesterday. In this world these and other tragedies are traditionally associated with darkness. Instead of perpetuating the false association, we pray that the darkness bring healing and restoration to our broken world. May the new sun illuminate the interconnected web of life that more and more are beginning to realize.

StoryThe Rebirth of the Sun" by Starhawk

Giving Thanks Let us give thanks for that and whom we are grateful.

Prayers Let us pray for those in need.

Making Merry Feasting and Pagan Carols from Moon Path CUUPS

Dismissing the Directions Spirit of the East Spirit of air: wind and sky, the breath of life. Spirit of possibilities with each morning sunrise. Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the South Spirit of fire: heat and sunlight, electricity energizing life. Spirit of passion as we seek justice Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the West Spirit of water: quenching, drenching, and dew, the fundamental molecule of life. Spirit of perseverance in the face of difficulties. Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless each of us as we part from one another.

Spirit of the North Spirit of Earth: dust and mountains, in which life teams, and from which life springs Spirit of becoming, that each moment we may start again Thank you for joining us and blessing this circle. Please bless us as we part from one another.

Our ritual is ended. Merry meet and merry part until we meet again. Image: Victor Hanacek Directions and Introduction: Kathleen McGregor

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