Daily Devotional: Seeing Christ in the Other

body-of-christ.independencemochurchActs 21:37-22:16

What stands out to me as I read Paul’s words before the tribunal, is how in his experience of the risen Christ, Christ tells Paul that it is He, the living Christ, whom Paul is persecuting as he persecutes Christians.

I believe there is a sense in which Christ is ever saying this to all of us.   If we had the ears to hear it, when our Christian ancestors persecuted other believers in the early Christian era of the Roman empire whom they deemed “heretics”, they could hear the voice of Christ saying “Why do you persecute me?”   When later, the Inquisition persecuted and tortured Jews and Muslims in Spain and elsewhere, if we had but listened right we could have heard Christ whispering to us, “Why do you persecute me?” When my ancestors were complicit in the kidnapping of human beings from Africa, selling them into slavery, and keeping them enslaved across the United States – and almost every white family that dates its arrival back that far is somewhat complicit due to how entrenched slavery was into our American economy – I would have heard the voice of Christ saying “Why do you enslave me? Why do you whip me? Why do you take my children away from me and sell them up river?”

JohnGiulianiTheCompassionateChrist_500In truth the cry Paul hears is one made by the living Christ on behalf of all who face persecution in our world. Christ appears in our midst if we have eyes to see and ears to hear saying “Why did you do this to me, or not do what is right to me”, for whatever we do or fail to do on behalf of the cast down, forgotten, and oppressed in our midst we do to Christ.

In my life, I can say there have been times I heard this call – such as when I sat with a man who told me “here’s the thing preacher, I am gay” and by listening to his voice I began to hear the cry of Christ “Why do you persecute me? Why do you kick me out of my church and stand by why people kick me out of their families?   Why do you not embrace me in love?” a cry found in the voice of countless gay and lesbian people.

I also began to hear it far too late, in the voice of people around me of other faiths, as I began to see the living presence I know as the living Christ in them, who began to say “why do you persecute me?  Why do you speak of me as if God does not live in me and through me, though I call God by other names?” as I began to realize the subtle ways my way of living my faith put down people of other faiths by speaking as if only my own path, Christianity, had truth.

black sacred heart of jesusBut also I have to confess times I look back and see I didn’t listen. Or heard but found myself uncertain as to how to respond.  Even these occasions — these moments of conversion to the living voice of Christ — came after already walking down paths that unknowingly caused me to be a persecutor of the living Christ who was to be found in others different than myself.

I think we must listen, learn to look, pray to have our eyes, like Paul’s, opened more clearly, that we may see the living Christ in our midst, in each person be they outcast, friend, family, neighbor, stranger, exile, or seeming enemy. In each we encounter Christ lives. In each we meet we have a call to recognize the living Christ in our midst, and respond in love.

Let’s work together to do that today and all our days.

Your progressive redneck preacher,


A Week in the Word: Tear Down This Wall

first christian uccThis week I am sharing for the “Week in the Word” a message I gave Sunday July 19th at First Christian United Church of Christ in Burlington, NC.  First Christian is a beautiful congregation with some very loving souls.  Apparently while he was attending UNC Andy Griffith worked there with the youth and the music programs.  I was blessed to meet one of his former students among the many genuine people at worship.

Here is an audio recording of the message for those who prefer that:

I hope the words of my message at First Christian UCC this Sunday inspire and challenge you.

Your progressive redneck preacher


kat and mich

Ephesians 2:11-22

11So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

berlin-1“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”.  So spoke then-American president Ronald Reagan as he stood before the Berlin wall, a barrier of concrete and wire separating not just East and West Germany but symbolically dividing the world between two ideologies locked in a Cold War

The author of those words of course was not the President – it almost never is – but instead one of his speech writers.  This writer of the conversation that inspired him to write these words.

After having had German officials asking him not to reference the wall, so that the people could become used to it, he asked friends of his in then-divided Berlin, “Is it true? Have you gotten used to the wall?”

His friends glanced at each other uneasily. Then one man raised an arm and pointed. “My sister lives twenty miles in that direction,” he said. “I haven’t seen her in more than two decades. Do you think I can get used to that?” Another man spoke. Each morning on his way to work, he explained, he walked past a guard tower. Each morning, a soldier gazed down at him through binoculars. “That soldier and I speak the same language. We share the same history. But one of us is a zookeeper and the other is an animal, and I am never certain which is which.”

berlin09-1That call “tear down this wall!” calling for the dividing wall separating East and West to come down became prophetic.  I still remember sitting spell-bound in a class-room with other kids my age watching as our teacher wheeled in a TV so we could see the many hands taking that wall down brick by brick.  I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing then but I do now– one new people united out of the two. The end of a decades-long Cold War.

Our Scripture reading suggests to us that speech writers’ message became prophetic not so much due to the genius of the speech writer but more because of how it reflected the words of the original peacemaker, Jesus.   Christ is the original one who came preaching to those who are far off and those who are near, proclaiming the walls of division must certainly fall.  In every division we build up to keep others out, to push away those who are different, Christ joins us standing in our midst saying “tear down that wall”.

We still live in a world too divided by walls of fear and misunderstanding.

Just last month, our nation was rocked by witnessing the outcome of building such walls as the news mother_emanual_10was filled with footage of a historically black church in Charleston being shot up by a young white man whose heart was full of hate.  Before that, we saw footage again and again of young people assaulted because of the color of their skin, from Ferguson, Missouri to New York, to within walking distance of the home I once lived in on the Bladen-Robeson County line of North Carolina.

Yet we don’t just build walls that separate us by skin color in this country, do we?   Just a little after the new year, the town I live in was shaken by the death of three young people who devoted themselves to serving the least of these in their community through public service.  These three were killed in cold blood because someone feared their Muslim faith, even though it was that faith which inspired their selfless service.  The gun-shots which killed them were one man’s way to erect a wall to keep people like them out.   Even when our recent Supreme Court ruling tore down walls of division by opening up more equal rights for LGBT people, how shockingly quickly did we see some in our communities began to try to raise walls again with the same worn rhetoric of hate and politics of exclusion!

Even in our own families, painful walls of division can raise their ugly head.  Working as a hospice chaplain, one of the most heart-wrenching things I see is how far too often families come into the chaplain 1hospice torn asunder.  They have not talked to each other for years over events now long forgotten and are scrambling to set things right with the one of them now passing.  Often as a chaplain I am able to help them bridge across this divide, but far more often than I’d wish it is too little, too late.  Illness strikes without giving time to set things right on this side of the veil.

It can look as if division, hatred, violence, are the final word in our world.  In the face of such heartache, Christ appears saying “tear down those walls!’

Multicultural Jesus 1Even in the midst of so much heartache, peace is possible.  In fact Ephesians tells us Christ himself is already our peace, already making now into one new humanity such torn asunder groups by knocking down the walls that divide on the cross.  From God’s side, all that is needed for peace, whether with God or with each other, is already accomplished.  Christ says “tear down these walls” inviting us to be a part of his work.

The starting place in answering “tear down these walls” is realizing that God has already torn down every wall separating you and me from God.   You may have heard over the years that those like you are too different, have no place in God’s family.  Like the Ephesians once did you may feel like a stranger and outsider, exiled from God’s love.

troy perryA man named Troy felt like this.  He felt like an exile, cut off from Christ.  Disowned by his family for who he was, kicked out by the church, Troy decided God must have rejected him too.  Full of despair, he took razors and tried to slit his own wrists. All went black.  When we woke he was on a hospital bed and shocked to be alive beyond all hope.  He opened his eyes with these words echoing in his heart:  “I made you. I love you.  I’ve never rejected you.  Show others the same”.  This experience both saved his life and launched his ministry.  Knowing God loved him despite all who said otherwise, the Rev. Troy Perry became one of the first openly gay ministers in the United States in a day and age when you could be thrown in jail for being gay.  His ministry helped birth the gay-affirming Christian movement which we see at work in our Open & Affirming churches in UCC.  Not only has it helped many LGBT people find faith, but helped inspire the movement for LGBT civil rights behind the recent Supreme Court decision.

What a difference Troy knowing Christ said “tear down this wall made!  What Troy learned in that experience is true for us.  God says to each of us – “I made you.  I love you.  I’ve never rejected you.  Show others the same”.

Answering Christ’s call begins with believing this to be true for you.  Yet this last phrase – “Showing others the same” is part and parcel of the second way we live out this text.

We must learn to live out this grace we are given by being ones who says “yes” to Christ’s call “tear down this wall”.  After the Charleston shooting, a friend from one of our historically black UCC churches put it well.  “You know, folks are scared,” she said.  “After Charleston, when we see some young white man walk into the church, people are going to be on alert.  Instead of opening their arms in welcome people’s first thought will be ‘What is he doing here?  Is he up to no good?  Are we safe?’  And what’s sad is that isn’t what we need right now.  That’s what people like that shooter wanted.  What we need is to all stand together”.  She hit the nail on the head of what tearing down that wall is about, didn’t she?  It is so easy to huddle in fear only with those like us – white folks with white folks, people of color with people of color; straight folks with straight folks, gay folks with gay folks, … you name it … rather than to reach out across the aisle in love.

martin luther kingThe late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King put it well “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Learning to practice this is not easy, but it is the only way to God’s future for us.

“Tearing down that wall” might mean many things.

In our communities it might mean looking again at how we do education, policing, and other community practices.  How is racial bias coloring what we are doing?  How can we change that?

As churches, “tearing down that wall” can mean beginning to own up to our part in creating division.  Dr. King used to say Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. Not much has changed in America these long decades.  We must ask: Are there things as a church we’ve done which helped create divisions over race, over sexuality, over class?  Are there ways we can be more inclusive in our welcome, can partner more across the divides that exist?

“Tearing down that wall” might mean personally looking to ways you might be treating others in ways that push out those you feel are “different”.  This might mean reaching out to build relationships and hear the stories of those who you are avoiding.

“Tearing down that wall” might mean, too, simply being willing to not give up on that person in your life you are tempted to throw in the towel regarding. It might involve being willing to reach out one more time to seek to make amends or to seek to extend grace.  It might mean being willing to say you’re sorry, or to not give up when that one you need to hear “I’m sorry from” aren’t yet willing to.

desmond-tutuAt the heart of the outlook we need to live out is what Desmond Tutu described when he wrote in No Future without Forgiveness that the reconciling lifestyle says “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.  We belong in a bundle of life… A person I a person through other persons.  It is not ‘I think therefore I am’ [but] rather I am … because I belong.  I participate.  I share.”

May we learn to extend this mercy, this grace, this belonging to all people.  May we learn to live out the lives of reconciliation Christ calls us to today, and always.  Amen.

Daily Devotional: Seeing the Bigger Picture

st stephenActs 6:15-7:6

What strikes me as I read the account of Stephen’s testimony is how Stephen does not simply tell his personal story but places that story within the context of the larger story of what God had been doing for generations with God’s people.

So often we see both the acts of grace people do, like Dr. King’s March on Washington, the recent choice by the people of Mother Emmanuel AME to extend forgiveness to their shooter, the work of groups like the Campaign for Southern Equality for LGBT equality here in the south-land, or the work of  Organizing Against Racism in Greensboro to help work toward reconciliation and healing across the lines of race and class as individual people doing good deeds.

Similarly, when we see acts of violence against people of color by police and by armed gun-men, when we see people thrown in jail for illegal drug use, when people struggle to get by at minimum wage jobs, or people who can’t get appropriate medical care, we can look at this as on the one hand just bad people making bad choices and on the other individual people experiencing tragedy.

Stephen’s example, though, suggests we cannot ignore the context of any of these situations.

A year ago I was blessed to attend a Racial Equity Institute workshop done by Organizing Against Racism North Carolina at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church of Raleigh.   This workshop proved transformative to me, as I did not know the ways in which I would see the organizing against racismprinciples I learned there lived out in as public and widespread a way as I have across our country this year . What the Institute challenged in those meetings was the misconception that racisms is just one’s  personal feelings felt in their heart.   No, the Institute suggest.  Racism is not just choices here or there to discriminate against people of a different race than me, it argued. Instead it’s a whole pattern of life in which we are swept up that exists throughout our culture and is woven into all of our institutions from the start of this country. Without raising our awareness to its effect, it can influence us without us even realizing it.  The fact it colors our mind’s unconsciously with racial bias has been shown to in studies of children’s reactions to pictures of people of varied races. Even before explicit racism can form, children raised in our climate of structural racism and implicit racism in the US already at an early age begin to make racial judgments.   In order to combat racism, we must become aware of the history and context in which racist acts occur, so that we can help combat racism’s effect on our thinking and change the climate of our culture at large.

This same theme is true on other issues.   Ecological problems don’t just happen; they come out of a context of negligence about caring for the earth.   Drug abuse is in part such a problem not just because of the way in which people make bad choices but also because of how our country handles access to medical care, the way it criminalizes addiction instead of providing treatment options, the way in which it treats those in poor communities. Mass incarceration at the rate we face it in this country is no accident but, as The New Jim Crow explains, is a direct result of the policies we have in place.

Likewise, change and transformation for the good don’t just happen but occur in a context.   The expansion of recognition of LGBT people as persons deserving rights has occurred as a result of people coming out, raising their voices, engaging in dialogue, letting the community know their needs.   In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s laws that see_the_big_picture_260protected children from abusive labor practices and the groundwork toward education for all children came about not out of nowhere but out of the blood, sweat, and tears of activists, of outspoken churches & preachers, and the expressing of the costs of not having such laws in print.   Together these changed the conversation. Communities that are now accessible to people with disabilities didn’t just become that way over night. No. Laws were passed and enforced. People spoke with city councils and businesses.   People with disabilities, their families, and friends all raised their voices. And, despite many obstacles, things changed.

Stephen’s example reminds me of my need to continue to not just look at things on a surface level but deeper. It also invites me to consider how I might help raise my own & other’s awareness in order to help be a part of what shapes the context into life-giving and liberating ways. After all, isn’t the call of the people of God to be able to join Jesus in being ones who say the Spirit of the Lord is upon us to proclaim liberty to the captives?

Let it be so!

Your progressive redneck preacher,


Daily Devotional: Giving up Making Others Get It

phoenix1 Corinthians 2:1-13 tells us that when Paul preached he tried to present the message God gave him in simple, straightforward terms without a lot of show or philosophical shine because he knew that many would not get it.   He knew this because it was not one’s scholarly ways, academic standing, or powerful place in the world that allowed one to have an awakening from God. Only the Spirit of God moving with you can bring spiritual awakening, and this is something no person can manufacture.

This text makes me think this morning about times I’ve had what I feel were awakenings in my soul, that caused me to see the world with new eyes. I can think of when I first began to grasp the concept of grace, that God loves me for whom I am and nothing I can do can add or take away from God’s loving acceptance of me. I think about when I was awakened to the experience of LGBT people in our communities, seeing them as beloved children of God just as they are, and realizing my old way of treating them with judgment or prejudice which I had been taught in the Adventist and evangelical churches of my childhood was not how Christ was calling me to act. I can think of when conversations with some people who’d experienced systemic racism awakened me to the way in which our society has stacked the deck against people of color and the way racism unconsciously expresses itself in so many daily interactions

templeofGod_000Each of these experiences opened me up to life in ways that have helped me exercise more compassion, understanding, and care in ways that I feel help my relationship with God and help me be a person following Christ’s foot-steps in work of love, justice, and compassion.

Each time I can also think of times I tried to show what I’d discovered to others, and how it would end in hurt feelings and argument, as we each tried to convince the other which way was right.

I think Paul is suggesting giving up trying to convince others because ultimately an awakening can only happen by the Spirit.   We can only share our story, speak our truth, and seek to live it out.   We cannot make another see the world with new eyes. Only God can. We must trust if we share our story, speak our truth, and live it that God will open hearts and minds when they are ready. Though speaking our truth and being ready to answer honest questions about it can be transforming, trying to convince another of what they are not open to now will only bring heartache and alienation. We have to learn to trust the Spirit to awaken when others are ready

I think it is also an encouragement. I don’t know about you, but I often have times I get really frustrated with myself. I look and see so much about myself I wish were different. I have character flaws I’ve been trying to improve for years that linger despite my best efforts. In such times, we can shake our heads, throw up our hands, and say “what’s the point?”

We are reminded our own awakenings are what begin to transform us, and they happen not by our own action but by the move of the Spirit within us. And though we have practices in our lives like meditation, mindfulness, prayer, devotional practices, that can help us become open to Spirit and ways we can follow up on our experiences of awakening, ultimately the awakening itself comes when it comes.   We must be patient with ourselves, continuing to seek healing, growth, recovery, and liberation in our own lives.

This is why the image for the spiritual life is often a tree of life. Planted in the ground, it grows when it is in good soil, when it drinks deep the waters.   That growth is natural, inevitable, when planted by the riverside and no amount of berating or correcting it will speed it up.

So with us.  Our growth will come naturally, as we continue to open ourselves up to Spirit.  We need to not judge ourselves or berate ourselves at its speed of progress, but instead continue to place ourselves in situations in which we can open for more fully to Spirit.

Letters From a Haunted Landscape: PHOENIX RISING FROM THE ASHES Review

spooky plantationQuestions of faith color so much of southern culture that the late Flannery O’Connor described the south as a “Christ-haunted landscape”. Some would add as well that we are a race-haunted landscapes, with our towns and countryside littered with the vestiges of southern slavery and racial segregation – from the beautiful plantation mansions some tour, to the confederate memorials, to the market houses in the center of many of our towns where people were sold as property alongside produce.

In my feature “letters from a haunted landscape” I want to review books which speak to issues in our southern culture from a progressive perspective. As I’ve noted previously in my blog, one task the progressive Christian has here in the south is of embracing the beautiful and good in our southern story and culture while also working to name and exorcise the remnants of prejudice which also have been so intricately woven into our way of life that neither the Civil War or the Civil Rights movement has fully removed.

woman_praying1One lingering legacy of the old Southern patriarchal system is how some churches historically have not only endorsed first slavery and then racism, but also the oppression of women. I’ve always been aware of the church using letters attributed to St. Paul that say things like “women submit” and “women be silent in the church” to silence women who felt called to speak up against injustice or to speak God’s Word. While working among those who were homeless a few years ago I had a chance to work in a leading southern city with families affected by domestic violence. I met many women who had been horribly abused, some beaten within an inch of their life, by controlling & abusive husbands. Many of them had to flee their home, children in hand, for safety.   What broke my heart the most about these tear-filled women and their children was hearing how the churches they came from often would actually make situations worse. Many would share about telling their experience to pastors or mothers of the church only to hear a call to forgive their abuser, to give him another chance, or  to be shamed by questions like “what have you done wrong?”   Many struggled with their experience, wondering where God was in their journey. Verbal-Abuse-3-lSadly too often just as we have often been on the wrong side of history about racism and about homophobia, so the church has failed to know how to be on the right side of issues women of faith are facing in their families and their personal life.

I was recently blessed to receive and read a copy ophoenix 2f Rev. Dian Griffin Jackson’s book Phoenix – Rising From the Ashes.   This book tackles head on many of the issues Christian women and women of color face in their lives, many of which they are often shamed into silence about in the church. Being written by a North Carolina pastor, it reminds us that faith can be big enough for the questions, struggles, and heartache faced by women in our communities struggling to find their way in the face of abuse. It also deals directly with the experiences of a mother of color in the south – from seeing first hand the experience of rejection by the church and community the main character, Melanie, not only experiences but also her gay son; as well as the experience of a son who experiences the very stigmatization by the criminal justice rev jackson at moral movement gatheringsystem I discussed in my review of the New Jim Crow.   Rev. Jackson goes beyond just describing the heart-felt experiences through the voice of the protagonist to boldly presented in a no holds bar way the questions about faith, the doubts, and even the struggle to recover one’s sense of holy sexuality and comfortability in their own body one faces when recovering from the experience of abuse.

And Melanie, the protagonist of this story, not only begins the process of healing from abuse and other heartaches, she truly discovers her own inner strength and her own voice. Before the end of the novel, you see her begin to live with confidence and boldness, owning her own power as a woman of God.

phoenixI highly recommend Phoenix – Rising From the Ashes for any one wanting to become more aware of the issues faced by women of color, women experiencing abuse, or women ministers in the church. It is a powerful clarion-call from a southern woman for the church to wake up to its need to embrace and support all God’s children and particularly for women in our communities to discover their own sources of healing and inner strength.

Before reading this book I was graced to meet Rev. Jackson, a United Church of Christ pastor in the association I serve. Here is an example of a powerful sermon she gave recently on this same theme:

As I prepared to read the book, I heard from few fellow UCC ministers in my association to be careful because you will not be able to put her book down.   And it did not disappoint.   Once I got through the initial introduction to the book, the heartfelt and honest story in its pages drew me in. The courageous honesty of the protagonist, Melanie, to tell her story openly without holding back made me feel as if I am sitting right beside her in her experience of motherhood, of experiencing abuse at the hands of her husband, in finding the strength to stand up for herself and find her strength. Although there are a few editing issues which at times distracted me from the deep meat of the book (the only criticism I have for the book), I still could not put it down.

I’d encourage you to consider reading this book on your own or with a book club at your church or in your community.

And all of us, let’s raise our voices in this same clarion call until all our daughters and sisters recognize their full strength, vitality, beauty, and freedom so that they no more feel a need to take a second class place in life.

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,


Daily Devotional: Sometimes You Have To Roll Your Sleeves Up and Fight

coffee-prayer-scripturePsalm 144 reminds us that it is the Lord who gives our hands strength to fight as men and women of war.

I don’t think I have to take from this that God is violent, literally a soldier in arms. Rather I think it can remind me there are times we have to stand for what is right, and silence is not called for. There are times we must fight for injustice, even non-violently like Dr. King, Sojourner Truth, Gandhi, and Desmond Tutu fought. They did not raise a gun but they were soldiers for justice.   To sit down and do nothing when other people’s rights are trampled on is to miss the call of God.

I cannot help but think as I write these words of ways here in my own blessed south-land, people are doing just this: trying to write into law rules that discriminate against the GLBT community, trying to discriminate against other faiths, setting up rules making it harder for minorities to vote, stripping programs to support those with disabilities. If we do nothing, we miss the call of this Psalm.   We must stand, in our own way. And that is not easy.

Yet Psalm 144 is also a word of hope. It is the Lord who trains our hands for the battle. Ultimately it is God who goes before us, ready to overturn oppression and bring freedom. We are called not to fight this battle alone but to work together with this God, participating with the One who brings liberty. We can know if we do this, victory is coming whether it takes days or decades.

Let us stand. Let us not give up in this fight for freedom.

Daily devotional: The Lord’s Song in the Land of Tears

by the rivers of babylon 2Psalm 137:1-6

This cry is the cry of every person in exile. How can we sing the songs of praise we sang in the place of comfort and certainty in the land of doubt, where we feel cut off from all that matters?   Quite literally Israel endured this experience, as did people of African descent in the early Americas, Native Americans in the Trail of Tears.

As I hear these words today I feel called to recognize my own ancestors’ complicity in these tragedies.   To remember the folks pushing for the exile and oppression of people of African descent and Native Americans considered themselves good people, probably went to church believing they were good Christians, yet failed to see the humanity of others. I feel a need to cry out to God calling for healing from the damage they did, which cannot be undone.   It is a reminder of the work I am called to do as a southern white man to heal the legacy of racism that still lingers here in my home, and also to help transform the ongoing legacy of racism in the systems of power I am a part. For this same cry reminds me of the cries “Don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” which were a way my neighbors of color acknowledged that in many ways they are still made to feel as if in exile, as if they don’t belong, as if oppressed here alongside me.   I hear a call to join against racism.

slave in bibleI also hear an acknowledgement that God is present with those experiencing the moment in which they feel they cannot praise or sing the songs of their experience of home due to feeling exiled. God is in that feeling of discontent and how it is expressed whether in silence before God, in questioning and doubting, or in creating new songs for the new experience – all of which this psalm represents. I can know that God is present with those facing oppression because as a Christian I believe each psalm was given inspired by the Holy Spirit, so their presence in the Scripture shows God’s presence with the author of the psalm as they were written. God is with you, if you face oppression, if you do not know how to sing, pray, praise. If the old songs and prayers are not sufficient and you feel you must sit in silence or find a new path of prayer or praise you have not journeyed before. Do not give up.

trail of tearsFinally, I also think that beyond the literal experience of oppression, this psalm speaks volumes to those feeling exiled by life. In times of grief, in times of loss, of depression, of trauma, we find our mouths stopped. We find it hard, even surrounded by what once felt home, to be at home in our lives. It is hard to pray, hard to praise, hard to relate to God as we always have, let alone others.   This psalm reminds us that in those moments, God is present with us in our doubts, our questionings, our silence, and our struggle to find words. Whether or not we yet have found words or not, we can know God sits with us, even if we sit in the ash-heap like Job. God’s arms is about us. And God weeps along with us, whispering words of comfort. Know, friend, if you face such days, you are not alone.