Hear Our Latest Podcast: Profiles In Resistance

 

After a short break due to having to focus on some family concerns, I am back with our newest Progressive Redneck Preacher podcast. At a time when many of us are feeling torn and heartbroken at rising prejudice and discrimination expressed in recent events here in the south-land, my interview with Rev. Dr. Rollin Russell highlights the fact our struggle is not new.   You can hear this interview here.

Over delicious cajun food celebrating his New Orleans upbringing, Rollin shared stories of resistance and reconciliation by faith heroes here in the southland from the Congregationalist tradition within which my United Church of Christ rests. Rollin shared so much wisdom from his experience at the heart of bridge-building and justice-focused ministry and so many stories of heroes in justice work from his tradition, that I anticipate doing a series of podcasts out of the complete interview. My hope is we can have interview others about profiles in resistance to injustice not only from his United Church of Christ tradition but also others rooted in the south-land, including trailblazers from Baptist, Methodist, Quaker, and other faith traditions.

To hear this and other previous podcasts from the Progressive Redneck Preacher, check us out here:  https://progressiveredneckpreacher.podbean.com/

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Song of the South: (repost) Heart of Brick and Stone

I thought this was appropriate to share, as we deal as a country (and particularly as southerners) with our legacies of racism, slavery, Jim Crow, and other forms of white supremacy.  I wrote this poem about my home town of Fayetteville, NC, and how certain symbols of that racism linger and have shaped me as a white, southern, Christian man.

Having visited my hometown this past weekend with my partner, I am really aware of those symbols.  I wonder how you have made sense of such symbols where you live.  How do you make sense of their legacy, and how has it changed your relationship with them?

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

Heart of Brick and Stone

fayetteville nc markethouseIn the center

of the small army town where I was reared

stands a brick building I heard called a “market house” –

well, heard called that by people like me,

people with their lily white skin aglow,

their accents as southern as red clay and swaying tobacco fields

yet which friends bussed into school from the next neighborhood over

called “the slave market”

Their parents, unlike mine, could never forget

not even for a moment

how, not so long ago,

little boys like their little ones playing with me on the bus

would have stood shackled like common criminals,

their dark skin shining like polished obsidian

under the oppressive heat of our blistering southern sun,

while they were hawked to the highest bidder

like  handmade pottery fresh from the kiln  or worn out mule,

not someone’s baby boy in whom the sacred fires burn.

 

It was up one of the many small roads

Slave in chains which flowed like a rivulet from the traffic circle

surrounding this symbol of southern life

not just here but throughout every Carolina hillside

from the dunes of Hatteras to the lofty peaks of Mount Mitchell

not just in my Sandhills but everywhere our life together

is built on the sweat of those without a voice

as far from Dixie’s rolling fields as  the flowing Potomac,

as the Hudson resounding with its maritime music,

even under the ever dancing aurora lights of Alaskan winter,

It was up just such a road

where I first saw a woman born bearing the name  “man”

in a tight leather skirt,  offering her own wares too.

Her face was lined with her own interlocking roads of sorrow

dug out by years of pilgrimages I still cannot grasp

made under the crushing weight of a southern chivalry

which made no space for one such as her.

white frame churchMy parents tried to look away from her

and urged us not to turn our head

lest we saw her too

as we sped away from that city center

in our finest dresses, suits, and ties

to the house of God, the tabernacle of the almighty

 

It is up a road that meanders away from those brick walls,

over a hill and around the bend, where I first earned my bread,

my first dollars I could call my own earned

by my own sweat and labor,

groceriesas I bagged groceries and mopped floors at the Carlie C’s

that tiny empire Rusty Brock ruled with his own iron fist

This is the same neighborhood store

where I first saw the spark of desire in a coworker’s eye

as he turned to see  young men in short shorts lining up to buy their evening’s libations.

I finally  understood what all that fuss was about

when the soldiers up and down  all our town’s busy streets

that flowed out from this ancient center like so many rushing tributaries

together with my uncles lounging beside the one room white trim sanctuary

of our Primitive Baptist ancestors, complained

at family reunion bout “them queers”

 

Up the hill from this tattered shrine of commerce

I met my first real love,

first kissexchanging my first kiss,

intoxicated with warm moonshine of infatuation

which set my body afire, clouding my mind with rapture

 

It was just around its corner

I first sat, at the tender age of sixteen,

beside a dear friend while,

tears in their eyes, they faced the chance

sitting vigiltheir mother’s sudden headache might snatch her life away,

all at the same hospital where I later sat vigil

over someone dear as she lay, still as a corpse,

surrounded by the whir and beep of machines

after, in her 20s and my own, she took all her pills in hand,

swallowing them like so much poisoned candy,

in hopes of escaping the weighty pressure

our south-land’s polite niceties

place like so many lacey shackles

upon the shoulders of a young woman

longing to not be another southern belle

but something fiercer

someone more afire with life

 

It is on the steps of this house of chains,

still echoing with the pieces of silver

judas silverdropped in every Judas’ hands

of those who sought to sell souls for profit,

that I stood arm and arm with a wizened life-worn veteran

of our costly wars and my Quaker

friend complete with white beard and piercing eyes

a soldier in his own bearing

carrying in his own soul

scars from his own swordless war for peace

his battle for guns to be beaten into garden hoes,

while my dear rabbi friend,

now long gone from the circles of this world,

stood with me surrounded by the encircling paths of southern life

with its honking horns,

crying children,

twang of banjo strings,

army drumbeats falling in  rhythm

with the echoing thud of bodies

felled by every gunshot blast

our addiction to scapegoating and violence

offer heartlessly on the altar

of southern gentility,

all of them crying out together

with this Gospel preacher

and with the voices of those who’ve shut their hearts’ doors

to all old time religion with its sawdust trails,

all crying out with one voice,

“never again.”

 

amendment one protest 2

Our voices rose like the call of the katytids in summer,

like the whippoorwill song,

like the thunder and hammering rain on tin roofs

in Carolina summer showers,

like the earthquakes I woke to as a boy

like the earth trembling from gun drills at the army base

which lay way up the hill from that brick heart of our common life,

calling out for all to see the sacred fire in every soul,

no longer smearing the queer,

nor lynching little black boys upon swingsets

and with handcuffs in the back of police cars,

no longer leaving battered eye and broken bones

among women locked in relationships that tear apart their souls

 

amendment one protest 1

We are not there yet,

but I do know it is also, within steps of that abandoned bazaar of souls

that I returned, along the long and winding paths from my big city home, years later

to stand before men and women

who until then had been locked out of announcing their love,

speaking over them the ancient words of promise,

proclaiming not just “your love is blessed”,

but “but by the power vested in me by our dear state”.

As I did so, I looked up at the vexing aging ziggurat

that causes us to stumble

and calls us to repent

deep in the heart of my hometown, and I wondered.

Could it be, such hearts can change

and stories be remade?

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Further Prayer for Peace (repost)

As we reflect on finding peace and openness to another I wanted to introduce another prayer practice that I find helpful in this endeavor.  It is a type of prayer that, whenever I engage in it, reminds me that my life is held by the all-enfolding presence of the loving God and that even on my worst day, if I pause and pay attention, I will find God present in, with, and through my whole life.  It also reminds me for each of the major groups of folks who people my life that the same is true, so I ought to both be kind to them and open to the presence of God within them.

This is a way of praying based on Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present  help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
boat in stormGod is in the midst of the city;[b] it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.[c]Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.[d]Selah

 

I begin by centering my attention.  For some people this is best done by focusing their attention on a relaxing image in their surroundings, even a religious or spiritual piece of art.  For me it is helpful to close my eyes as I reflect, if I am not in a situation I have to keep them open.

meditateFor many people, it helps to find a comfortable place to sit.  As I do my time of meditation and prayer to begin my day usually as I am either walking my dogs, hiking, or running on the treadmill, I usually get my body in a rhythm of movement that I can continue with very little focus before I begin.

I then begin, in a focused way, to breathe in slowly, hold my breath with intention noticing its feel in my body, and breathe out slowly so that I pay attention to the movement of air out of my lungs.   Focusing on either my body’s stillness or the sensations of its movement, I pay attention to my breath and how it feels for awhile.

Then I quickly do what is called a body scan, where I pay attention to how each major area of my body feels from the tip of my head to the tips of my toes, pausing to notice and more deeply experience any key points of pleasure, pain, and tiredness.  Normally as I do this practice, emotions, memories, and concerns arise in my mind.  Rather than casting them off, I pause and take in each, savoring the pleasure and noticing the discomfort with a focus of self-compassion.

Still small voiceWhen this feels complete, I begin to use a phrase based on Psalm 46 in breath prayer:  “Be still and know that I am holy.  Be still and know that I am God”.

The way I like to do breath prayer is, in step with my breath, to say this prayer word for word focusing on the feeling each word evokes.   I will first say the whole prayer together in time with my breath – “Be still and know that I am holy.  Be still and know that I am God”.

Then, in rhythm with my breath, I say the prayer one word at a time, so that I begin with “Be”, then add on each word until I recite through the whole prayer.  Here is an example:

“Be.  Be still.  Be still and.  Be still and know,” and so on.

As I say each new word, I focus on the feelings, thoughts, images, and memories that each word brings up, sitting with them and noticing what they bring to mind.

breath prayerWhen I finally say the whole prayer again, “Be still and know that I am holy.  Be still and know that I am God,” I move to another prayer I’ve shaped out of this practice.

I think acknowledge God’s presence in me and in others around me.

What I do is then say “I am still, and I know that You are holy.  I am still and I know that you are God” as a prayer to God.

Then I begin to use this refrain to recognize God’s presence as surrounding and enfolding me and each of the important groups of people and living things in my life, much like a mother’s womb surrounds her unborn child or the elements of air, heat, water, earth surround us all.  Here is an example of how I might shape such a time of prayer:

“I am still and I know that I am holy.  I am still and I know that I am in You, God.

I am still and I know that my partner is holy.  I am still and I know that they are in You, God.

I am still and I know that my family is holy.  I am still and I know that they are in You, God.

I am still and I know that my church family is holy.  I am still and I know that they are in You, God.

I am still and I know that my coworkers are holy….”

You see the pattern.  As I go through each group of people, I pause and pay attention to images, memories, feelings, and names that come to mind.  If I remember a concern I have for someone in these groups, I take a moment to realize that they are held in God’s hands and, if the concern is affects my relationship with them in a fearful or anxious way, I remember God also stands around and between us in our relationship.

If there is something I think of I would like to see this made evident with, I will also list off that request for God’s response to that need in prayer as a part of this. For instance, I have several friends struggling with health concerns right now and when I pray “I am still and I know that my friends are holy.  I am still and I know that they are in You, God”, I always pause both to remember God holds them in embrace through their struggles, and I specifically list off their names.

I don’t just include people but also remember to include my pets and the earth including the natural areas around me in my time of meditation and prayer.   Lately I have chosen to begin to add the group of those who annoy me and who feel like adversaries, since I think they are often the ones I have the hardest times acknowledging as ones bearing God’s presence.

When I am in a significant romantic relationship or partnership, I will also add a number of the groups important to my partner, as a way of remembering how life-giving and important these people are to them.  For instance, “I am still and know my partner’s family are holy … I am still and know my partner’s friends are holy…”  For me, at least, that acts as a check against our romantic ideas that those we love and date or partner will become just like us.  It reminds me that, as Kahlil Gibran’s classic poem says, two trees cannot grow under the same shadow, and whatever love may form between me and another needs to include the breathing space where we can both spread out our branches and let down our roots in life-giving ways.

I always conclude this part of prayer with the phrase “I am still and I know that it all is holy.  I am still and I know that it is all within You, God.   I am still and I know that you are Holy.  I am still and I know that you are God.”

Then I go through this process again, with a simple reversal of a phrase.  Instead of saying “within You, God” I say “You are within” them, “God”.

Here is how that works with the phrases I said above:

“I am still and I know that I am holy.  I am still and I know that You are in me, God.

I am still and I know that my partner is holy.  I am still and I know that You are in them, God.

I am still and I know that my family is holy.  I am still and I know that You are in them, God.

I am still and I know that my church family is holy.  I am still and I know that You are in them, God.

I am still and I know that my coworkers are holy….”

As I go through each group, I pause and try to pay attention to what names, faces, feelings, and memories of experience come to my awareness.   I try especially to focus my mind on ways God has showed up in my life through people in each of these groups that day or week.

For instance, this morning, I thought about the ways some wonderful conversations last night with someone led me to feel held, loved, and embraced in areas I had not realized I was feeling alone and how that reminded me of God’s grace and care.

A few weeks ago, I remembered a friend who stood with me as a family member faced a health crisis in ways that helped me discover God’s strength to love and be present with them in ways I couldn’t on my own.  I remembered with gratitude how their humor taught me to see the grace in suffering in new ways.

I have had mornings I remembered the ways in which my dogs excitedly begging me to be walked and played with call me to embrace the health in my body and the beauty of God’s earth, each of which are ways to experience the grace of God.

I always conclude as I did before, with “I am still and I know that it all is holy.  I am still and I know that You are within it all, God.   I am still and I know that you are Holy.  I am still and I know that you are God.”

I often close this with the Lord’s Prayer, but have been experimenting with closing with the “Jesus Creed” – “The Lord our God, the Lord is One.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Amen.”

I hope hearing about this prayer practice of mine helps you find ways to let your spiritual practices open you more to your deepest self and the gifts others in your life, both stranger and friend, bring.

And I would love to hear from you about spiritual practices that help you see and embrace the presence of the living Christ in those around you, other living creatures, and yourself.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Praying for God’s Peace

refugee-protest-afp

Right now is a time of great strain and discord, with rising hate groups we see expressing their loathing for people of color and minorities in events like Charlottesville.   Our leaders have mixed responses to this as a country; and sadly I find alot of mixed responses in the church.

Often it is easy to respond with political statements, pronouncements, and actions that deepen our alienation.   In this moment I feel called to deeper prayer and openness to other’s story, knowing there are others words more pressing and important to be heard than my own.

prayer-handsI wanted to share the prayer I am engaged in to help me find this attitude, inviting each of you who, like me, are often in the place of privilege where your voice is asked for, to focus on either this prayer or some other practice calling you to quiet your voice, listen to your heart, and listen to the voice of others.

It is in choosing to be open to the other, to listen to their need,  particularly when they are not people of privilege but marginalized, that the path to peace with justice will come.

Here is the prayer I am engaged in, focusing on one line, one word at a time, every day as I pray through it each morning in my time of prayer:

st francis wolf 1Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen

What practices are helping you find your center and remain open?  I would love to hear your story too.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

A Week in the Word: From Storm to Restoration

In our Week in the Word feature, I like to share words from progressive voices here in the south-land, speaking speaking out about justice, care for the earth, and our deepest values.

This week I share the words of Rev. Jenny Schultz-Thomas, pastor of Community United Church of Christ of Raleigh, NC.  She says very well something I’ve had heavy on my heart as we face the tragedy of our historic hurricanes and storms shaking the southern coasts.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

20989251_10154825904186867_4604996531662515654_oA Confession:
The most devastating news about climate change is that we will continue to see catastrophic storm systems developing across the globe which will take and destroy life in the blink of an eye–all of which are due to our enduring sins of greed and our insatiable appetite for more, more, more. My prayer tonight for those in the wake of this storm includes a long confession, coupled with a commitment to do even more to combat climate change.
What I can’t do: erase thousands of years of misuse and abuse of the Earth and her gifts. What I can do: educate my children and those in my realm of influence about working to care for all of God’s creation, choose clean energy and renewables over fossil fuels, stop investing in the destruction of the planet, but use my voice and my financial resources to further the advancement of a cleaner, greener, better world (thanks, Rodney Sadler!)…where an economy of shared resources leads to an ecology of shared resiliency and sacred worth for All living things.

None of this is possible without first a confession:
Jesus Redeemer of All CreationDear God of the wind, and rain, God of the waters and waves, God of the storm and calm, we confess that we have set Mother Earth against her children by growing selfish and crazed by the gods of this time; while dumping upon those with less we seek only to steal, kill and destroy that ours may be bellies filled to overflowing, drunk in our own lust for the shiny things that this life has promised, we are lost in a hollow valley of abundance. Bring us to our knees, not only as the raging storms sling timber carcasses through our windows, but as the calm surrender of the eye passes over-bring us to our knees. In the quiet moments, months, years of soggy devastation, and silent pleas for help- bring us to our knees.
God of the storm, your waters bring both death and life, your rage leads us to hide and to climb high; to rise and to fall, to speak and to fall silent. God of THIS storm, we ask you to humbly move, again, upon the waters with your right hand before you- as rescuer of the poor, vindicator of the oppressed, healer of the wounded, and haven for the lost. We ask you to sustain each warrior who moves like the merciful in the mysterious wake, to uphold the meek as the intensity of flight inflicts paralysis and fear, and to Sovereign the dying that their last might be breathed in the shelter of your womb.
Bring us to our knees, Holy One, bring us to our knees.

Song of the South: Untangled Knot

Since the message I shared yesterday connects with baptism, I thought this poem about how going to “wade in the water” claims us, might be a good way to reflection.

What are the ways in which you experience being claimed as God’s own?

Micah

 

Untangled Knot

celtic knot

Arms trembling, heart racing

I fall head-long, face-down

fragile crystal plummeting

toward rocky coast

my voice a breathy whisper,

my words a tremble devoid of boast:

“I bind…”

echoes as upon me like a weight

shaking countless centuries of chains

bound on my race and I by cruel fate,

heavier than iron, harder than steel

under which we together strain

celtic path

“I bind unto myself”

like wind brushes my ear

while under the weight of a thousand worlds

I choking cry

my soul and spirit trembling

soaked by a sense, worn by the weight, of

unfulfilled promises and broken dreams

hearts shattering, minds splintering

friendships broken, hatreds borne, peoples divided

Jesus-walking-on-Water-christianity-9568335-1024-768

“the strong name”

I shout like a warrior clad for conflict

and as a mother laboring new ones into life

I hear a call like the crack of winter’s end

I feel my burden, like ice shattering in the morning sun, fall

about me in pieces

Suddenly from the void of night

there comes a soft embrace

as mothering arms unseen

I hear in silence

the whispers of love from strong voice

I am lifted by love-pierced hands

This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.

“of the Trinity”

resounds about me

and I find myself rising high

as one drenched in salt-worn sea

baptized by enfolding Divinity

newly named

a child of eternity

aloft upon the winds that blow

now weightless and free

amidst the starry host aglow

mother-and-child