All posts by Hannah Adair Bonner

Hannah Adair Bonner is the Director of Frontera Wesley, The Wesley Foundation of Tucson. She was ordained in the United Methodist Church in 2012.

Grief on Both Sides of the Border this Mother’s Day

On May 10th, the Thursday before Mother’s Day, Mothers from throughout the United States plan to converge on the Capitol for #STAND, a Day of Action organized to demand legislation and reforms that would address the police brutality experienced by their loved ones.

As they gather at the center of the nation’s power, thousands of miles away, here in the borderlands, their cry will echo from the lips of a mother who shares their pain.

In Mexico, Thursday will be Mother’s Day itself, and the mother of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez will walk the final steps he took in life, just as she has done on the 10th of every month since he was murdered by Border Patrol in 2012.

A mere seven months after the murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin rocked the nation, the October 2012 murder of 16 year-old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez shook its furthest territories. Their deaths proved that even a Border is insufficient to protect Black and Brown teenagers from the racialized violence that stalks our streets.

With piercing irony, it became clear that the Border Wall erected to keep the sons and daughters of Mexican mothers out of the United States could not protect them from the police brutality they would encounter here. As 16 year-old José Antonio stood in the Mexican streets of Nogales, Sonora, where the road dipped 20 feet below the wall, Officer Lonnie Swartz put his gun through an opening in that wall and fired 16 bullets – one for every year of José Antonio’s brief life. After 3 bullets, José was facedown on the ground, as Swartz fired 13 more bullets at his motionless back.

It is impossible not to think of the 20 bullets fired at Stephon Clark’s back in California. The 8 bullets fired at the back of Walter Scott in South Carolina. The brutalized body of Joe Campos Torres, dumped into the Bayou in 1977 by Houston police.

They say they want to build this wall to protect us, but those on the other side are the ones needing protection from us. We left slats in the Wall not big enough for a body to squeeze through to our side, but – like any fortress – wide enough to let our bullets pass through to theirs.

Like Trayvon, José Antonio longed to be a pilot when he grew up. As Trayvon toured Opa-Locka Airport in Florida, dreaming of the day when he would pilot one of the planes, about 2,300 miles to his west in Sonora, Mexico, José Antonio was sharing the same dream. Achieving that dream, for José Antonio, involved plans to join the military and make his mother proud.

Those dreams were cut short as Border Patrol Officer Lonnie Swartz gunned José Antonio down in the quiet streets of his own hometown, aiming from where he stood safely above on the US side and raining down a hail of bullets on the child below.

In 2012, just as life was beginning, like Trayvon, José Antonio was rendered powerless to tell his own story, portrayed as a threat by his own killer, and dehumanized in court.

Nearly six years later, his mother had to cross through the Nogales Port of Entry, past the Border Patrol Officers, and into the country where they killed her son. She came hoping for justice, only to sit in a courtroom in Tucson, Arizona and hear her a jury of US citizens find her son’s killer not guilty of second degree murder.

As mothers who share her pain walk the streets of our nation’s Capitol this Thursday, José Antonio’s supporters will surround his mother at the Border in Mexico in the spot where he lay face-down as bullets ripped through his body from above. They will carry grief and outrage, but also the hope and prayer that United States Prosecutors will send a message about the value of their lives by choosing to begin a retrial in the case of his killer, Officer Lonnie Swartz.

Preach the Disruptive Gospel

A word for my clergy colleagues: We do not have to decide whether or not we will be “political.” We simply have to wake up each morning and answer the same question we have every other day of our careers, be it 10 years or 50 years: will I preach the Gospel today?

If that Gospel critiques the Powers, it will not be by your choice: it will be by the choice of those Powers who have positioned themselves in opposition to the Gospel of love, compassion, and kenosis. Our task and responsibility has not changed, it has merely become harder. You bear the task of saying what is and is not Christ-like; that is not a political agenda, it is a spiritual responsibility. Our message cannot be compromised, merely because others have colonized and appropriated its name. The church has been sold right out from under it’s shepherds, will you stand by as the wolves advance?

You bear the task of saying what is and is not Christ-like; that is not a political agenda, it is a spiritual responsibility.

The scriptures tell us, “Preach the Gospel, in season and out of season.” Yet, today and for many days to come, we will wake up in a nation in which the Gospel is most decidedly out of season.

You may be tempted to miss this fact, because it will appear that Christianity is in season. You will wake up each day in a nation where Christians elected the President, and where Christians feel more safe than any other religion (despite the fact that we will claim we are under attack). You will wake up in a nation where Christians fail to recognize that the people whose deportations they applaud are members of the same flock.

Do not allow this to distract you. There is an irreconcilable difference between the Institution of Christianity being in power and the Gospel being in season. If greed, prejudice and exclusion are in fashion, then the Gospel is out of fashion. We serve a Christ of “kenosis”, of self-emptying, of choosing love over power, of seeking solidarity over security.

We serve a Christ of “kenosis”, of self-emptying, of choosing love over power, of seeking solidarity over security.

In a context where the ‘Gospel’ is for sale to the highest bidder, you will have to choose: will I sell the ‘Gospel’, or will I preach the Gospel? Choosing to preach the Gospel is what makes us pastors, not a stole, a robe, a piece of paper, or the seat of honor at the prayer breakfast. Never choose any of those things over the Gospel.

It is entirely possible, dear friends, that the more the Institution of Christianity is in season, the more the Gospel will be out of season. Every day, then, your responsibility to preach it will grow heavier. You will be called political if you preach it, you will be called a traitor as Bonhoeffer, King, Grimke, Sojourner Truth and Jesus were. You will find that the doors of friends and colleagues do not open to you anymore. It may cost you your job, it may cost you your life to preach the Gospel to a nation where the Institution of Christianity holds the keys to power. The greatest threat to a coopted Christianity is the Gospel itself, this is always the case when religious and political power becomes aligned.

So, as you wake up each day, keep your mind set on one thing: will I preach the Gospel today? Will I speak up against cruelty and racism and sexism today? Will I lift up the women about to be stoned? Will I protect the widow and orphan? Will I welcome the immigrant, visit the prisoner, confront the Pharisee? Do not worry whether it will sound political, disruptive, or divisive. Worry over whether it is the Gospel. If it is the Gospel, then preach it. Preach it with love, but preach it. Preach it. Preach it. Preach it.

May our lives be a holy sacrifice, however long or short they be.
May every day begin with, “Yes.” May every day begin with Love.

Link to Resources

*Originally shared with friends on January 9th, 2017, posted here on January 9th, 2018, upon hearing that convicted racial profiler Joe Arpaio will run for Senate in the state of Arizona. 

 

We Will Not Be Owned: A Response to Roy Moore & Purity Culture

Nausea washed over me when I saw the article in my feed about Pastor Flip Benham’s statement that Roy Moore dated younger women because of their purity. The coded fetishization is something that ought to sicken us all, but for those of us raised in purity culture it bears with it an extra stench.

The heartbreaking stench of a “Vote Trump” sign in front of the home of a friend, father, brother, whom you were taught was supposed to “protect” you from men like Trump.

The stench of Joshua Harris’s apology during the heat of last year’s election to all the women whose lives were damaged by his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, the Holy Grail of purity culture.

The stench of insincere apologies from unrepentant men who preened on the progressive moral high-ground for decades, while using their power to take from women what they wanted behind the scenes.

Purity: freedom from adulteration or contamination. freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes.

Freedom. It would be hard to find a more ironic choice of word. 

Purity in reality has been related to women’s status as property. Women, transferred from one man to another. Unsullied. Undamaged. Property. Extra virgin, just like the olive oil. A descriptor of our status and value and worth. Neither “Good” nor “Excellent” would do, our Amazon rating must be “Like New” or the purchase is void.

We strived to keep our wrapping intact, for the purchaser on the other end. We tried to make sure that we were worthy of being “Handled with Care.” Even so, our wrapping could be torn by a bike accident. Or a young ER doctor in Nashville who really wants to get in some practice with a speculum while you are sedated on morphine and cannot say no anymore. Or, for so many of us, a #MeToo moment, a Roy Moore moment, or a #ChurchToo moment.

Then in this historic moment, all is revealed. The evangelical churches that raised us overwhelmingly stand up in support of a man who we have known was a tearer of wrappings since we were kids. He is no stranger to us. We have watched how Trump treated women our whole lives. Our whole lives. Our whole lives. Our whole lives. When the churches we were raised in supported him, it revealed that our whole lives were a lie. We had never been special. We had never been precious. We had always been property. Like a hammer. Like a spoon. Utilitarian. Use us as you may.

Is it any wonder the onslaught of fury and honesty that has been unleashed from women who have been betrayed. Women who have stayed silent because our culture told us that it was we who were at fault if the estimation of our property value was diminished by the unwelcome touch of a heavy hand.

Then a pastor leans up to a microphone in Alabama, and he tears the whole facade down. “He did that because there is something about the purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.” He tells us that Roy Moore went for younger women because they were more pure. Translation: Some conservative Christian men fetishize our innocence and fantasize about being the first to get to us. Our purity, they believe, like everything else about us, belongs to them. In their lecherous perversion, they salivate at the innocence of children. They long to unwrap us like a new phone, with no fingerprints or scratches. They do not want to be the second one to get to us.

For we all know the property value drops the moment that you drive the car off the lot.

As a Christian minister, I must confess the role the church has played in this, even while standing in the role of victim more than perpetrator. Yet, is that not the burden that the world places upon women. To both bear the mess, and be the ones to clean it up. We told young women this was about our relationship with God, which it can be. Yet, the earthly consequences we heaped on them when they acted with self-possession, as if their bodies were their own and no one else’s, made it clear that this was much more about earthly powers than heavenly ones. We called them damaged goods. We taught them that male aggression was caused by the length of their shorts. We measured them with rulers when they came to school. Once “sullied,” we told them no one would want them now. At the same time we elevated the very men whose contact supposedly contaminated them. We looked down our nose at them like so many dented cans in the bargain bin, judging can but not denter.

If we really think about it, we never even tried to hide it. For what are “damaged goods” but another way of telling someone they are property. What is “left on the shelf” but another way of saying unpurchased.

I will not be owned.

Sisters, let us not be owned.

You are valuable, just as you are. You are powerful, just as you are.

You are beautiful, even if no one ever tells you. I’m telling you now.

You are brave, look at all that we have born.

We will not be owned.

When We Cannot Say Her Name

On the Sonora, Mexico side of the border wall running through Nogales, I bent over to pick up a white cross from the dust. “Girl, 18, Mexico,” it read. Two words and a number, all that was left of a life cut short by this desert whose dangers we make light of as “a dry heat.” A few yards away musicians played for the crowd assembled on both sides of the wall, a community of people intersected by the rusty metal slats that unnaturally divide our life here in the Sonoran desert. These bars that seek to diminish our humanity on both sides as men in Michigan and Iowa and Washington debate the contours of our lives. Who comes, who goes. Who stays, who leaves. You would not dare to ask a person which of their arms they would like to keep, but here we stand under the daily threat of our communal body being hacked, vital limb from vital limb. They threaten to take from us those people that we cannot live without, and expect that we will accept it heads bowed low.

I looked down at the cross in my hand and felt the weight of it wash over me. For the past two years of my life, I have fought to make the world #SayHerName #SandraBland from the moment that those words left her sisters lips at the pulpit of Hope AME in July of 2015. Thousands of hours, of miles, of images posted from the jail where she died. Relentless, consuming, determination that she would not be silenced. Hundreds of videos covering the progress of the case, and documenting the activity of the police. We said her name and it drew out with it others: Natasha McKenna. Renisha McBride. Yvette Smith. Rekia Boyd. Gynnya McMillen.

I looked down at the cross in my hand and realized that we could not draw out her name from that wood anymore than we could from the sand and dust that had cradled her. I could not scratch behind the paint to unearth it. I could not cut into the wood. I could not claw the truth out of the sand.

How do we find justice for her when we cannot even Say Her Name?*

Girl, 18, Mexico. Unidentified. Unknown.

As is the tradition of the School of the Americas Watch, the crosses were picked up and the names read one by one. 147 deaths in our Sonoran desert this year alone; 147 that were found at least. Driving through our border lands, it is easy to see how some could disappear without even two words and a number to mark their passing. Each name was read, as the crosses were lifted, and voices raised to answer “Presente.”

The School of the Americas was opened by the U.S. Military in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946 and trained Latin American soldiers in assassination, interrogation, and psychological tactics to control the politics of the region and quell uprisings of the people. It’s graduates include Manuel Noriega, Leopoldo Galtieri, and Hugo Banzer Suarez. In 1980, soldiers trained at the School of the Americas were involved in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero as he celebrated Mass. Four years later, in 1984, Panama was able to rid themselves of the School, but it re-opened in Fort Benning, Georgia the same year. In 2000, the school ‘closed’ only to reopen the next year and rebrand itself as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. As citizens of the United States engage in uproar over Russian meddling in our elections, we stand in a nation that has indulged in a rich tradition of interference in other nations’ governance.

I looked down at the cross in my hand with the realization of what I held. This tool of execution. This archaic electric chair. This noose. This pyre. This needle. This wall. This cross. The thousands of ways we have killed people by the power of the State. The thousands of ways we have continued to miss the whole point of it all. Adorning our walls and necks with an instrument of death, forgetting it’s implications for those that we kill, embedding it with jewels and filagree and flowers. Compromising the Gospel as it fits our needs, our prejudices, and our economic goals. Slathering the name of Jesus like butter over burnt toast, attempting to cover up the burning.

I looked down at the cross in my hand and realized how much of Christianity remains unconverted. We seek and speak and vote to banish Jesus from our company. As the arbiters of condemnation, we speak with Paul’s words, challenging people about whether they are ‘saved,’ without lining up our own lives agains the measure of Jesus words and example to discover where we stand.

“I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was an immigrant and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in detention and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or an immigrant or naked or sick or in detention, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

We have Christians walking around bold, condemning people to their left and right without taking an honest inventory of the unrelenting cruelty that pervades their life both in word and in deed, stripping them of any claim to the name of Jesus even as they use that name to rain down judgment on their neighbor.

Girl, 18, Mexico. Unidentified. Unknown.

Jesus was there when she said the same words that he spoke as he died: I thirst.

Where were we as she lay dying? Where were we as he lay dying?

Girl, 18, Mexico.

How do we find justice for her when we cannot even Say Her Name?

Still without a name, we can know that the same system of white supremacy that killed Sandra, by one means or another, took down Girl, 18, Mexico as well. This system that teaches us to fear one another. This system that criminalizes and dehumanizes people of color. This system that targets the most vulnerable for elimination by the power of Empire.

What can we give her in death that we did not give her in life? We can tear down the system that took both their lives. We can tear down the system that this cross in my hand represents, this symbol of state violence, this symbol of the powerful intimidating the people into fear. Leaving Jesus on the cross to intimidate those who would rise up against the Romans. Leaving Michael Brown in the streets of Ferguson. Leaving Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez in the streets of Nogales. Leaving Sandra Brand unchecked in her cell. Leaving Girl, 18, Mexico to pass from recognition under the heat of the Sonoran sun.

We can educate ourselves to understand that we have caused the very flow of humanity that we seek to impede. We can spend 5 minutes researching our own nation’s abuses of others’ democracies for every 1 minute that we spend outraged over Russia’s abuse of ours.

We can start by tearing down that Wall. We can start by understanding that Jesus is not on our side of it. Like a spear, the wall has pierced his body, separating blood from water, limb from limb.

In this, our desert, he pleads through the rusty slats that pierced his side once more, “I thirst.”

His name? “Girl, 18, Mexico.” Say it.

…just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me… 

 

*This week, as we honor Transgender Day of Remembrance, it is important to remember as we engage in the movement to Say Her Name it’s roots in the erasure of transgender women of color as media outlets and family members would misgender and misname transgender women of color in death, doing further violence to them and leading to the push to Say Her Name. 

 

Good Men, Me Too, and the Rise of Nazism

At 5:07 am this Friday, October 20, the Nazi who attacked me in Houston back in January was booked into a jail in Alachua County, Florida. He was charged with attempted homicide in the first degree. His bail was set at one million dollars. He and two other Nazis had shot at protestors speaking up against White Supremacy when Richard Spencer came to their University of Florida campus this week.

I call William Fears a Nazi, because William Fears does not like being called a Nazi. He prefers to be called a White Nationalist, because he told me he believes the plans of Nazis are weak and small compared to what he has in store. I’m sure he also knows that there are plenty of “good, God-Fearing men” that do not want to be associated with the Nazis that their granddaddies fought, but are begrudgingly content to be associated with the White Nationalist, Alt-Right that won their party the Presidency.

In January of 2017, with the childish and snide smirk of a 5 year old who has just put a whoopee cushion on his teacher’s chair, William stood next to men, women and children holding welcome signs at the Harris International Airport. We were waiting for the release of University of Houston students who had gotten their travel interrupted by Trump’s ban, and he thought it was wonderfully clever of him to hold a Nazi poster up amongst their words of love.

William looked like a baby who has just messed his diaper, as he smirked slightly and looked back and forth, waiting to see who would be the first to notice his stench. He and his brother were trying to get someone to fight with him so they could film themselves getting punched and send it to Fox News. They wanted to do it for Big Daddy Trump: create some fake news to make his lies look real, so that people sitting comfortable on their sofas in suburbia would be afraid of us and continue to sit silently when the violence against us and eventually, he hopes, the killings begin.

Unfortunately for William, the optics did not turn out the way that he was hoping. I asked him to stay away from the Muslim women and children, happily chanting their words of welcome. I asked him if he was a White Supremacist or a Nazi, hoping to distract him from them, knowing that it might offend him. It did offend him, but not as I had thought it would. He told me that Nazis and White Supremacists were weak, that they did not go far enough. That the Alt-Right would have to push them further.

He then he told me that women were inferior and not worth engaging in conversation, so he did not have to talk to me. Without thinking it through, I did something that could have cost me my life.  I turned my back to him and informed him that we did not need to engage in discussion, but that I was not going to let him near those children either.

As much as William had wanted to get his “liberals punching Nazis” video clip for Fox News, and there was a man standing right there ready to do it, to have a woman turn her back to him seemed to be too much. Suddenly I was being violently shoved from behind as he lay hands on me. The Virgin Mary with Jesus stitched into my clergy stole by the nuns of Marianhill Monastery in South Africa whipped back and forth, until another woman with baby in arms pulled him off of me, as a cry of “He’s got a knife!” went up.

The police officers took him off without searching him for the knife and he went to creep around the parking garage, waiting for another woman to harass. Advocates spoke to City Council about him, but it came to nothing.

Good Men did not want to be associated with his behavior, but they did not want to confront him either.

So, as I’m still blessed with a life and a voice, here’s what I need from our nation’s self-described Good Men, specifically those who bear the hue that William Fears prefers:

I need you to stop telling me from your armchair that you are one of the Good Men, and start showing me.

I am not asking you to punch a Nazi so you can feel like a man either, that is exactly what he is desperately longing for you to do. We cannot give this petulant child his way. Instead, I need you to start talking to William Fears. I need you to visit him in prison. I need you to find his 12 year-old self at your local school and mentor him. I need you to talk to your son about what he is reading on the internet, and teach him to listen to women rather then feel entitled to our gratitude and silence. I need you to understand that you can never lay a hand on a woman, and still be a part of the problem. I need you to step up and take responsibility.

When I say we have a problem, when I say Me Too, and you respond by saying that “there are good men out there” and you “don’t know what made me so mad at men” then what you are saying is that you do not actually hear me. What you are saying, just like William Fears did, is that I am not worth hearing. What you are saying, just like William Fears did, is that you do not have to listen to me. If you want to change the world that William Fears is trying to create, then teach your sons the opposite. Show them what it looks like to change in response to the voices of women.

Do not strive to keep the focus on yourself as one of the Good Men, without realizing that continually centering our national narrative on the irreproachability of the Good Men is exactly what is at the root of this whole White Supremacist system.

All that William Fears is doing is taking the Good Man’s fear of critique to the extreme. Listening to all the complaints of Good Men not getting their due, and spinning it into a philosophy of what he will do to return the world to the kind of place where they do. He is not the opposite of the Good Man philosophy; he is the extreme of it.

The same culture that makes the rise of Nazism possible in this nation is the one that tells you that you are a Good Man and that you do not have to listen to me. That raises young, white men to believe that it is their role to protect me and treat me like a lady, as long as I do not step out of line.

Meanwhile, here I stand, face to face with William Fears, unafraid of the wounds to come, while you sit on the sidelines waiting to use those very wounds to silence me. Waiting to rub salt in by telling me that you too do not have anything to learn from me; by telling me I am irrational; by telling me “I don’t know who made you so angry baby.” Pitying yourself for the way that women do not act like ladies anymore, while I stand here with a knife at my back.

The very system that puts me in danger, claims to protect me. It silences me by telling me to be grateful that Good Men want to treat me like a lady, while simultaneously using protecting my body as a justification for violence against others. The same culture that makes the rise of Nazism possible in this nation is the one in which the penultimate “Good Man”, retired General John F. Kelly, can get on television and reminisce about the days when women were treated with dignity and honor while simultaneously dehumanizing a Black woman because Black women are not who he is talking about.

Why should we be suprised? The narrative of Good Men in our nation was built by men who regularly assaulted Black women in the slave quarters, and Indigenous women on the plains, and then came back to bed to snuggle up with their white wife, relying on her to say he is a Good Man. The Good Man counted on us to make it possible for him to get up and do it again the next day. Our affirmation of his goodness made him feel confident to stand before God on Sunday without a care in the world. Don’t you think that broke something within us? Don’t you think we, all of us, need to be healed? Don’t you think it is time for a new story? Don’t you think you should stop relying on white women to tell you that you are a Good Man? Clearly, we have been lying to you for centuries, anyway. Maybe we should all start listening more to Black women like Representative Frederica Wilson if we want to get to know ourselves better.

Try this: Stand up from the leather office chair behind your pastoral desk. Stand up from the armchair where you are reminiscing about the good old days when I stayed in my place. Stand up and go find William Fears, wherever he is in your community. It may be awkward, it may be hard, it may even be dangerous. Yet, if I can do it, so can you. We need you to do it now, because when William Fears was a little boy, you taught him in so many ways that he did not have to listen to me. Now he has taken it to the extreme and is ready to kill to prove you right. It is time for you to show him he is wrong.

My friends at the airport were good people, precisely because they would never expect me to call them Good Men. Precisely because they would not have presumed to tell me what to do with my body or whether I could place it in harm’s way. Precisely because they were not about to disrespect my non-violence by punching him, but they were not going to let him stick a knife in me either. We were in it together.

Maybe all of us could stop worrying about who are the Bad Men and the Good Men, and all of us try together to be good people instead. That is not a title to be either earned or demanded, rather it is a life to be lived.

Do not insist on maintaining the role of a bystander in the struggle we face.

Do not try to change the topic to the fact that you do not feel like your goodness is acknowledged, in order to avoid acknowledging and facing our righteous indignation.

Do not tell me you are a Good Man, show me you are a good person.

 

To those that said “Me too” and those that thought it…

The other day, I was walking down the street in my clergy collar and dress slacks, when a man with a white beard drove up. He was yelling something at me and so I turned to listen better, thinking he may need directions. “That’s a nice ass you’ve got,” he hollered. “Why don’t you get in my truck? I am going to pull over, up there at the corner, and you get in my truck.” I was walking into the Jewish History Museum, in a converted synagogue in south Tucson, and I knew that there was a small crowd of Jewish leaders watching. Not wanting to be disrespectful to them, all I could muster in response to him was, “Do you have any idea how inappropriate that is?” I walked inside the gate, only to see him continue to drive back and forth like a circling shark until I went inside the building.

I need you to know that there is nothing you wore or said or did or went that caused this. It happens to women in clergy collars, nuns in habits, and mothers wearing the hijab. It happens to lawyers, and teachers, and stay-at-home moms. It happens to the most famous people you know, and those closest to your heart. It happens on sidewalks, and schoolyards, and our own homes. It happens in offices, and Starbucks, and church sanctuaries.

I need you to know it’s not your fault. I need you to know that this is not about our behavior, it’s about their behavior. I need you to know that when this passes as a trending topic, and ‘woke’ men return to avoiding the discussion and demanding the exchange of flirtation in order for us to gain their collaboration, we will all still be here. You are not alone.

It’s been a while since I’ve written to you, I know. The better part of the year. The last blog I wrote was after that white supremacist in Texas was physically assaulting me at the airport, whipping my body back and forth like a rag doll until a woman with a baby in her arms tore me from his grasp. It’s always the women. Thank God for us. Thank God for you. You are so valuable.

In a couple weeks, I’ll be 35 years old. That makes it 23 years since the first time my mother told me that she did not like how the man at the store was looking at me. 23 years of being woman. 23 years of bearing the gaze of man. 23 years of having my male friends do that thing where they hug you really hard and pick you up without your consent and swing you around so that they can simultaneously assert their strength over you and at the same time squeeze your breasts against their chest. They think they are getting away with something. (Newsflash: we totally know what you are doing. It pisses us off. Stop.)

Going to college did not change things. Nor seminary. Nor the pulpit. I was 23 the first time I helped lead a funeral, and realized how uncomfortable I was with how the retired clergyman in attendance was gripping my waist. A little too low. It was a feeling I would grow accustomed to as men always felt the need to hug me tight after I preached. They never did that when the men preached. I learned, as women pastors have to do, how to put one hand out to shake the person’s hand and the other to place on their shoulder to hold them back from encountering my body.

It was always I who had to move out of the way, or out of the state. I had to leave North Carolina when my stalker walked into church and sat behind me. I was told my safety “could no longer be guaranteed.” I did not want to be a danger to those I cared about, either physically or mentally. I did not want them to know what I was experiencing. I left so silently and quickly, as if it was I who should be ashamed.

It was always like that. Men like my stalker wanting to own me as a possession. As if we should be grateful that they offer us the attention we so clearly do not want. Believing the myth that it is only they and not us who can give us value; only they and not us who are supposed to realize we are powerful and beautiful. That it is a virtue when they see our power, and a flaw when we see our own power.

I see our power now, and I am unashamed. We have every right to relish it. I celebrate us. I celebrate you. You are at the heart of everything I do.

I had a conversation with a colleague during seminary that I will never forget. He told me that there were men who would want to possess us, and if they could not possess us, they would want to destroy us. It seemed a little dramatic of him at the time, that is until I spent a decade living it.

Until I was told when seeking help in later years:
“Have you forgiven yourself yet?”
“I hear relationships often start with violence.”
“Maybe its good this happened, maybe this experience will help loosen you up.”
“You can never ever tell anyone, or they’ll say, ‘this is why we can’t let women be pastors.’”

When I got inside the gate at the Jewish History Museum, the people inside told me it would have been fine with them if I had cussed the man in the truck out.

I’ve had over 30 years to practice, and I still have not learned how to properly cuss someone out. When I was being driven out of San Pedro, by a stranger trying to kidnap me in a taxi, the best I could muster in response to his “Te gusto sexo” was, “Por favor, estoy una Pastora. Estoy una Pastora.”

This world has taught us that what is more offensive than the behavior of men like Weinstein is our response, our scream, our outcry, our fury. They have opened the door for him, while pushing us out it.

Lord, deliver us from polite society that would prefer us to be silent so that dinner is not interrupted by our screams. Lord, deliver us from liberal society that is all too happy to point the finger at Trump while shielding Weinstein. Lord, deliver us from institutions that see our rights as more of a liability than their wrongs. Lord, deliver us from those who will only listen for as long as this trends.

I set about to write tonight because I wanted to let you know that if in a week it is no longer trendy to listen to and believe us… if in a week the world has gone back to the way it was… if in a week institutions would still rather protect themselves than us… I want you to remember you are still not alone. I want you to remember that we can do something to change this. I want you to remember that if it happens to women in clergy collars walking into synagogues, there is nothing you wore or did and nowhere you went that caused what happened to you.

I need you to know that you are never alone. I need you to know that you are loved. I need you to know that you are valuable. I need you to know that I need you. Not a one of us can do this on our own.

 

The Super-Virus of White Nationalism

White Nationalism and White Supremacy are not identical beasts. I am not sure if I could explain why, but I could feel it in my bones facing him. It felt as if we have been treating White Supremacy with too many antibiotics and had created a drug-resistant super-virus. It felt as if our desire to sooth the discomfort of the prejudices in our country had led us to ignore the root cause and the growth had festered. My soul aches.

For the past 24 hours, I’ve been highly aware of a spot on my right side, at the bottom of my ribcage. Judging from our respective heights and the position of our bodies, it’s where I imagine the knife that the crowd said they saw in the self-described White Nationalist Nazi’s hand would have gone if a mother holding a baby had not pushed him away from me before people started the outcry that they saw a knife. Like a ghost limb, I feel a wound that is not there. I suppose the wound is in my heart.

At the entrance to the airport, where we held signs with verses of love, and cheered when detained students were released, I turned from the police officer guiding the Nazi away from the crowd and rested my weary head on a friend’s shoulder.

For weeks I’ve been seeing people joke about wanting to punch a Nazi, but after being close enough that I could have done so, I do not feel like its funny. I only feel really, very sad. I’m sad for him, and I’m sad for me. I wish the officer that stepped in had searched his coat pocket where he stowed whatever was in his hand, rather than just patting down his pants pocket and directing him away. Maybe it would have created a much needed intervention.

I had started to talk to him, hoping there was some way to connect, some way to reach him. I could not find a foothold. I felt helpless to do anything other than place my body between him and the many children that were around the airport entrance with signs. When he asked me whether I understood evolution, and whether I grasped that I was inferior to him because I was a woman, I turned around. I told him I was not going to engage him any further, but I would place my back between him and the crowd.

He could have done anything to that back; I understand that now. It was the most peaceful thing I felt like I could do. I was not alone, I had plenty of people looking out for me, and another man began to engage him. He assumed at first that the man was there to support him because of his appearance and went in for a handshake; but the large, white man actually had a “Not One Inch” shirt on and was there to push back against fascism. “Nah bro, I’m not with you,” he had said to him. I do not know what I should have done. The White Nationalist felt dangerous. He told me he had been on the same websites that I knew had radicalized Dylann Roof. He told me that he believed in fighting for there to be all white nations in the United States and Australia.

Like my siblings in the back seat of my mother’s car growing up, he started saying “why are you pushing me” while pushing me. It gave the illusion that I was the one moving him. I stayed in front of him. I was not sure what to do, but I figured that if he was at a point where he was shoving me, I didn’t want him shoving the women and children around me that were cheerfully chanting that “Love not hate, makes America great.”

It was only afterwards that I would understand that he was trying to get us to attack him, when his friend told a spectator that they (what I would call a cell of white men radicalized on the internet) were trying to get footage of themselves being attacked to send to Fox News.

He kept pushing at me as I stayed between him and the crowd until he was shoving me and my body was whipping back and forth like a rag doll.

Just then one of the mothers with children that I was trying to keep him away from pushed him off of me, his sign with the Nazi SS symbol tearing from his hands as she did so.

Then there was an outcry about a knife, an officer appeared, I tried to explain to the officer that the men who had stepped between the White Nationalist and the women and children and I were being protective not aggressive, and the officer guided the young man away.

The children were crying. It was so upsetting. I did not feel tough, or strong, or brave, I just felt really, very sad.

Making enough assumptions to bury himself, he had thought he would catch me off guard with his embrace of evolution. Yet, I knew where his comment about evolution and my inferiority came from. It was an old staple of racist theory in the United States ever since Ralph Waldo Emerson studied Scottish scientist Robert Chambers racist theory that “The stars and all the heavens had developed from spontaneous electrical generation, giving rise to every form of life through means of elaboration from the lowest, simplest organism to man’s apex in Europe.”*

He did not know that people in airports keep asking me where I go to school because they see me desperately studying to try to understand the roots of dangerously flawed logic like that which had infected this young man. Still, I did not know how to reach him. I’ll study harder. I’ll love harder.

Samuel George Morton, the most revered of the white supremacist school of anthropology developing in the 1800’s in the United States, argued that the superiority of the Europeans was due to their Egyptian origins. In his Crania Egyptiaca, he claimed that the Egyptians only looked like they had curly dark hair because they were wearing wigs over their straight, blonde hair.** People really believed this… !?!?

*Side. Eye.*

Josiah Nott of South Carolina argued that the Torah applied only to white Westerners and that non-white people had other scriptures that told their stories… yes, he claimed the Pentateuch told the origin story of his ‘real America’ while excluding the Jewish community that actually wrote and preserved the Torah.***

As intellectually cartoonish as these thoughts seem, they were respected in their day, leading Emerson to write that the lives of the poor were “not worth preserving,” and leading Theodore Roosevelt to a preoccupation with “race suicide.”

Perhaps the truly alarming thing is not that White Nationalism is rising, but rather that it has always been here. Seeing it upon the desk of history, we have shifted the papers to hide it from view; but it has remained, residing in the minds and writings of some of those scholars for whom our history books reserve the most praise. Their unquestioned legacies lending unquestioned legitimacy to current teachers of radical racism that follow their defunct and disproved ‘science’ based in head measurements of stolen skulls.

I sincerely believe that we will not defeat White Nationalism without facing that aspect of ourselves, of our past, of our history.

I have seen that whether it be Ida B. Wells use of investigative journalism, or Zora Neale Hurston’s use of anthropology, solid facts do have an impact upon culture. Information – truth – does matter. Facing the truth does help. The work of those women and many other men and women did help us.

Yet, we need so much truth right now. How will we make our cousins see it?

We have to face the truth about ourselves. We have no entitlement to goodness, and neither do our heroes. We’ve got to face who we are and who we have been as white people in this nation if we are going to find out who we could be.

I do not have all the answers, but I’m not going to stop trying to find them. No matter how much it hurts. Six months from today, I fully expect to look back and say, “you knew nothing six months ago”: just like I said six months ago, and six months before that.

 

*Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People, New York: W.W. Norton & Co, p. 178

**(Ibid) p. 193

***(Ibid) p. 195

Let’s Not “Make Feminism Great Again”: An Open Letter to Emma-Kate Symons

My dear sisters,

There is a feeling that has been building in me for weeks. Maybe months. A concern that in our own woundedness, we will wound others. It is a concern well founded in our previous behavior. From the racism of Elizabeth Cady Stanton ( ‘We educated, virtuous white women are more worthy of the vote’); to the deep grief and rift of white women being asked to leave SNCC after our inability to grasp some of the dynamics at work  during Freedom Summers.

We all fail, I know from experience, but we all have the opportunity to learn and listen. We all have the ability to feel multiple complex emotions. We are capable of feeling the grief of what this moment means for us; while also making room for the grief of others, some of which we have caused. 

Over the past week, I have been quietly observing the sometimes strained conversation going on around the Women’s March; knowing in my heart that I do hope the streets will be filled with people on Saturday, but what I am most interested in is what people will do on Monday morning.

 Tonight, I saw the very worst of what we are capable of as white “progressive” women; my very worst fears confirmed; the very thing that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned about.

It was a piece written for the Women of the World Op-Ed section of the New York Times, by a woman named Emma-Kate Symons: “Agenda for Women’s March has been hijacked by organizers bent on highlighting women’s differences.” 

This is what I have been dreading. Since Ms. Symons has requested real critique with reason and substance, I am going to respond to her point by point.

fullsizerender

Here you go, point by point:

“The controversy surrounding the exclusionary identity politics unsettling what should be a unifying event — Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington — shows that the fractures underpinning Hillary Clinton’s devastating election loss have not healed.”

First one is simple. Emma-Kate, you imply that women of color had something to do with Hillary Clinton losing the election. We white women – us – we are the ones who elected Trump. Possibly not you personally, but definitely some of the women around you. 53% of white women voted for Trump. This. Is. On. Us. It does not have anything to do with division between white women and women of color: it has to do with our own internal issues, and our long-standing partnership with patriarchy, and our role as, at the very least, passive recipients of the benefits of white supremacy.

“Unfortunately, the activist wing of the Democratic Party and many leading progressives are clinging to a profound disconnect with the broader mass of Americans, both women and men.”

If you find yourself having an easier time connecting with the broader mass in this moment, it may because of your distance from the margins and the marginalized. I’ll leave it at that.

“I live in Washington and plan to attend the protest because Donald Trump’s presidency, and what it portends for America and the democratic world, demands such action. A commander-in-chief who revels in grabbing women “by the pussy,” myriad insults to women, cozies up to a Russian dictator who hacked the U.S. election, spews contempt for our allies including Angela Merkel, wants to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, or target people because they are of the Muslim faith, merits a strong collective response.”

Awesome! Glad you’ll be there. The more bodies the better.

BUT, your words would ring more true if you did not then go on to yourself “target people because they are of the Muslim faith” within this same article… but I digress.

“But the attempted hijacking of the march’s agenda and all the nasty tit-for-tat between white versus black/queer/Muslim/trans and other identities tells a very disturbing story about the divided state of feminism today. The separatist, inward-looking politics that helped drive Trump to power and Clinton into oblivion is not going away — in fact it is becoming more entrenched, and all for the better, say organizers bent on highlighting women’s differences rather than their commonality as American and international citizens.”

Once again: WE WHITE WOMEN elected Trump. Hillary’s loss does not fall on the shoulders of any division between us and “black/queer/Muslim/trans and other identities.” This is ours. They actually did show up for Hillary. It is 53% of us that did not. In addition, while citing an article that calls for an end to identity politics, you are writing an article calling women to unite under the identity banner of woman; and you are asking them not to debate what that means but accept the dominant narrative as their own, regardless of whether it fits them or serves them.

“Just go to the official Facebook page of the march and associated events, read the online discussions, and there amid the enthusiasm and excitement you will witness the unfiltered and unedifying spectacle of women going at each other not because of the content of their character but because of the color of their skin, their gender, ethnicity, or religion.”

Welcome to the intersectional movement. Listen to the truth of others and have some compassion, and what you’ll find is that it motivates you rather than offending you.

The New York Times reported on a white wedding minister from South Carolina, who is persecuted at home for marrying gays, but said she wasn’t attending the march. She was made to feel highly unwelcome and ridiculed for only allegedly waking up, since Trump’s win, to the racism that black women have always experienced. Others were also riled by constant suggestions they “check their privilege” or more offensive versions of the censorious catchphrase. Then in a story titled “The Activist divide over the Women’s March on Washington,”  Northeast Public Radio profiled a Black Lives Matter activist from Minnesota who said she was skeptical about going because “a lot of the stuff I was seeing on social media was really centered around white women being upset that they didn’t get their way.””

Now here is where you went off the rails. Right. Here. First of all, you are making a martyr of a woman who canceled her trip because she saw a comment on the internet that offended her. If we are to be such fragile warriors we will not stand a chance against Trump and Breitbart. When you are going into battle, you want to be able to trust the person to your left and right. That trust is earned. Many of have been earning it side by side for years, so no, such extremes of white fragility do not inspire confidence in our new comrades. We’ve been getting death threats and still coming to marches, do not ask us to center the feelings of someone who backed out from a march because a random comment she saw on Facebook that was not even directed at her. This is the height. Which brings me to your “Black Lives Matter activist from Minnesota.” You don’t even know who Lena K. Gardner is, what she has already been doing and sacrificing for women, and how much she means to many of us. Please stop. Yet, you went further.

“And to me, you know, as a black queer woman navigating the world, it was really clear to me post-election that black folks, immigrants, LGBTQ folks like myself included, are at a higher risk of violence of targeted policies that are meant to take away our rights,” Lena Gardner said. “And I really wasn’t hearing those sorts of things from a lot of white women. Some were articulating that. And some were just like — it was almost like a temper tantrum.” On Twitter, a dissenter fumed, “So this should be called ‘White Womens March on Washington?” In a subsequent post, she added, “My solidarity detectors read ‘nah bruh.’ I’m not with a movement whose poster children are WW [White Women] who have directly shitted on BW [Black Women & WOC [Women of Color]. Bye.”

This is the part where we listen to the words of women of color with a humble and teachable spirit, and see where it is that we can improve so as to diminish the hurt and division we are causing; rather than accusing them of causing the division because they dared to open their mouth and say how they felt.

“It saddens me to see the inclusive liberal feminism I grew up with reduced to a grab-bag of competing victimhood narratives and rival community-based but essentially individualist identities jostling for most-oppressed status. We need a better reaction to the election of a man who cynically responded to the center-left’s fragmentation by celebrating his own angry populist’s definition of white identity. Can’t we rise above the sniping about “privilege,” “white feminism,” “intersectionality,” and hierarchies of grievance in the face of Trump and the dangers he poses to the American and international liberal world order and women everywhere?”

This it the paragraph where you proved the point that you were trying to disprove, by emphasizing the fact that you see feminism as a sphere where women of color should be seen and not heard. If they want to say something that critiques you or makes you uncomfortable, you want them to be quiet about it: once again proving that to you, feminism is what white women say it is. Hence, why many women of color have trouble trusting us and our feminism. You are actually asking women of color to stop holding us accountable as white women and using Trump as your argument, once again implying that it is them and not we ourselves who are responsible for his triumph. This is so painful to read. Both the content of the emotion conveyed, as well as the inconsistency of the logic.

“Such an approach doesn’t mean ignoring the differing experiences of women, or the history of racism between women, but confronting them empirically and resisting blaming each other for systemic disadvantage. Despite rampant inequality in the U.S., the word “class” doesn’t get a mention in the ‘Guiding vision and definition of principles’ of the march. Yet trans women/youth/migrants receive six references.”

So, what I hear you saying is that women who are not cis/het/white women are allowed to have different experiences, as long as they do not express them in a way that critiques white women or holds us accountable for the ways that we have participated in systems that harm them. Once again the “seen but not heard” role.

“Cursory attention is given to the structural inequalities that limit all American women, regardless of their race, religion, sexual or other identities. American women across the board face huge barriers to labor force participation and achieving work-family balance compared to their sisters in Europe and other comparable developed countries. The vision document doesn’t even call expressly for nationally mandated paid maternity leave of at least three months — it describes “family leave” vaguely as a “benefit” rather than a right, in contrast to LGBTQIA human rights.”

So, once again, you want to prioritize the aspect of women’s rights that impacts you directly and resent the prioritization of aspects of women’s experiences that do not impact you as directly?

“There is no detail about the urgent need for the creation of a universal public system of quality, affordable child care, pre-school and after-school care, coverage and access to decent, paid pre-natal and post-natal care and the universal coverage of deliveries so no woman is crippled by exorbitant costs when she has a baby. Did all of these goals of feminism just get sidelined? Women are dying in childbirth at increasing rates in the U.S., the world’s richest country, at triple the rate of Canada, going against global trends, and particularly hurting black women.”

Perhaps the conversation changes when other voices enter it, and we would be best to listen and learn and understand why new voices bring new priorities, rather than resenting that we no longer define the agenda.

“Strangely there is no reference to Latino women either in the march’s vision document, yet alongside poor African-American women they suffer greatly from soaring economic disparities, poverty and discrimination. Have they been “replaced” by transgender and Muslim women? But Muslim is not a “race” or class, it is a religion; American Muslim women are of diverse national, racial and ethnic backgrounds and, in the U.S., the Muslim population compared to Europe’s, for example, is more middle-class and educated. And if we are going to talk about religiously-based disadvantage why not name Jewish women? The latest figures show American Jews are by far the most targeted group for hate attacks based on religion, well ahead of Christians and Muslims. Meanwhile, poor white women in the U.S. are experiencing declining life expectancy, in contrast to all other groups, however their plight isn’t referred to.”

So you first want to critique others as being divisive, but then you want to pit Latino* (try Latina or Latinx) women and poor African-American women against Muslim women and trans-women? Then pit Muslim women against Jewish women and poor white women? First things first, none of these groups need you to speak for them. Secondly, all of these groups have been out in the streets together for the past several years marching for justice for one another. They do not need white women who have been missing from the scene to now insert ourselves and try to divide them so that we can once again gain control. p.s. your Islamophobia is showing… remember how you said we should resist Trump because he “targets people of the Muslim faith.”

“The emphasis on a particular perspective regarding religion appears to have something to do with one of the march’s lead organizers. Linda Sarsour is a religiously conservative veiled Muslim woman, embracing a fundamentalist worldview requiring women to “modestly” cover themselves, a view which has little to do with female equality and much more of a connection with the ideology of political Islam than feminism. Could we imagine a wig-wearing Orthodox woman emerging from a similar “purity”-focused culture predicated on sexual segregation and covering women, headlining such an event? No, because she is rightly assumed to be intensely conservative, not progressive on issues surrounding women’s roles and their bodies. Bizarrely, however, it is Sarsour, who has taken a high-profile role speaking about ordering pro-life women out of the march, after a bitter dispute over the initial participation of a Texas anti-abortion group. In justifying the decision, the co-organizer invoked the liberal language of choice, despite her association with an illiberal ideology that many Muslim women say is all about men controlling their bodies, and taking away that choice on a range of issues including reproductive health.”

Please Emma-Kate. This part made me feel sick to my stomach. Once again, as with Lena, you clearly do not know who Linda Sarsour is and how well respected she is throughout the struggle for justice. The fact that you do not know who she is reveals that you are not the expert on feminism and the movement that you claim to be. Your feminism wreaks of “Make Feminism Great Again.” In addition, after you just got finished claiming to be defending Jewish women, you are now wig-shaming Orthodox Jewish women. ALSO, “many Muslim women” do not need you to speak for them; and certainly do not need you to use them as a vague faceless mass of people to deploy against one of their own, Linda Sarsour. You are doing everything to divide, while accusing others of doing so. I am not calling you a white supremacist, Emma-Kate, but this is how white supremacy operates: it seeks to divide everyone with less power against each other in order to maintain control.

“And why is a woman seen wearing a heavy veil pulled up tight to cover her neck — not even a headscarf — emerging as the symbol of the rally? Yes, Trump is singling out Muslims but must we play his reductionist game? Muslim women are a diverse group. Such a vision purposefully excludes non-veiled Muslim women, who make up the majority of American Muslims, and all feminists who champion a woman’s right to be free from the degrading virgin-whore dichotomy that has afflicted them since most of the world’s great religions blamed women for tempting men. Beyond the domestic context, what about all the persecuted and murdered women activists and dissidents in Saudi Arabia, Iran and elsewhere fighting the politico-religious ideology behind the veiling of women? Encouragingly the official march mission statement names Nobel winner Malala Yousafzai who fought the Taliban’s hatred of young girls and women and their own attempts to assassinate her for going to school.”

So. Let me get this. You want us to stand up against Trump because he “targets Muslims” but you do not want to have to look at a Muslim woman, and you do not want to have the image of a Muslim woman represent you? Yes, Muslim women are a diverse group; also, those who are veiled are the ones in the greatest danger because they are the most visible and easiest to target. You then want to pit veiled Muslim women in America against non-veiled women, and women in Muslim countries whose lives are at risk? Then you use Malala as your example? You mean the Malala Yousafzai who chooses to wear her headscarf in the same manner as the image that you are saying offends you? Once again, may I remind you, that division is both the thing you claim to be fighting against, as well as the tool of white supremacy.

“Then there is the growing body of secular activists, ex-Muslim women or “apostates” who didn’t vote Trump but have no representation among the organizing group. The Women’s March on Washington could also take care to call out the shaming of those women who have voted for Trump, including minority women labeled “traitors.” Muslim reformer Asra Nomani has been abjectly harassed and vilified for admitting she voted for Trump, mainly due to her concerns over the Obama administration’s response to radical Islamic terrorism and healthcare. I don’t share her views on the president-elect and Nomani’s decision may be a rarity among Muslim voters, but her defense of the secular public space is not an outlier, and no one deserves to be told they are “betraying” their race or religion for exercising their democratic rights.”

So, after vilifying Linda Sarsour yourself, a Muslim woman who is resisting Trump; you want the March itself to defend Asra Nomani, also a Muslim woman who is supporting Trump. Trust me, I understand your point about the right of every woman to her views; but your biases are showing so strongly, that I am very confused at this point about where you stand and who you stand with.

“If one lesson is to be learned from Trump’s election, which was helped along enormously by ultra-traditionalist evangelicals, the opposition movement needs less religion — not more. Or as Barack Obama said in his farewell speech in Chicago, we need to recall the origins of America, “that spirit born of the enlightenment,” with its faith in reason and science.”

To quote you yourself, “many leading progressives are clinging to a profound disconnect with the broader mass of Americans.” When you acknowledge that the “broader mass” that elected Trump was overwhelmingly religious, it does not logically follow that the resistance to Trump should move further away from religion. At least, if you want to be logically consistent with yourself.

“Feminism in the Trump era needs to reclaim its universalist core, realizing that conservative religious modesty culture, like the binary hyper-sexualized image of women, seemingly favored by the incoming president, is doing us no favors.” 

If I’m to understand you correctly, you want to “Make Feminism Great Again” and reclaim a time when what white women defined as universal values set the agenda, a time before we had to listen to the voices of all these “black/queer/Muslim/trans and other identities.”

“Here’s hoping the Women’s March on Washington will stick to one of the core principles it has wisely outlined and that hundreds of thousands and even millions around the world will remember the forward-looking message of unity, liberty and justice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.””

You know what, Emma-Kate… I think Dr. King has got this one:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” 

  -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

64 Hours for Sandra Bland: The First Night

“You’re going to be arrested tomorrow,” my neighbor said to me solemnly.

Sitting on the front stoop of his house, the street was silent. The laughter and mariachi music from the birthday party down the block had long since morphed into a pile of tables and chairs awaiting pick-up. Only a few neighborhood dogs walking their patrol kept us company as we huddled over my iPhone, watching DeRay McKesson’s Periscope lifestream from Baton Rouge. All of a sudden the shot tilted sideways as DeRay’s phone fell to the ground and an officer seemed to tackle and arrest him. With countless people watching around the country, we were filled with outrage. He had just pointed down to the road lines to show he was not walking in the street or breaking any laws.

Only 250 miles away in Texas, we were preparing for an action of our own. It was Saturday night; the next morning, a Sunday morning, would be July 10th. Exactly a year earlier, on a Friday afternoon, Sandra Bland had been arrested. In preparation, we had worked on all kinds of plans for arts events to make people in the surrounding cities say her name. Yet, as the date had approached, it had became clear that we still needed the same thing that we had needed a year ago: Action in Waller County.

So many days of 2015, 80 in fact, we had sat in front of the jail where Sandra had died, and every day I had prayed that it would make some difference, not only in the communal struggle, but some difference in her personal struggle. I had stood at the back wall of that jail, where she had spent her last days, and prayed that somehow in her last moments she would have some peace. I prayed that somehow she would know we would hear her. I prayed that somehow she would know we would come.

All of the ways Sandra Bland was being remembered had created a sledgehammer strong enough to break through the walls of deception; an ax strong enough to cut through the roots that dug into fear, allowing only silence to grow. Yet, the blow still needed a place to land. It became clear what we needed to do.

For every hour that Sandra Bland spent in custody in 2015, we would be there in 2016.

At the time of her arrest, we would have the powerful voices of women like Aerio, Blanca, Rayla, Kayenne Nebula, Jasminne Mendez speaking from the spot under that tree where Encinia threw her down. We would show them she could not be silenced.

From the scene of her false arrest, we would go to the scene of her false incarceration, and every hour that she was there we would be there. Personally, I knew that I was called to be there the full 64 hours that she spent there: whether that be outside of the jail or inside of a cell. We had not been there with her in 2015, we would be there for her every moment in 2016.

We had prepared. No wine for a month in advance. No caffeine for two weeks in advance. No television or videos for a week in advance. We knew that those 64 hours had the potential to be just as dangerous and physically grueling as the 80 days before.

Then the eve of the action arrived, and there we sat, watching DeRay be arrested just a few hours drive away, for seemingly no reason at all.

On the night before our 64 hours was to begin, we knew we had the right to freedom of speech and freedom to practice religion. Yet, as DeRay’s phone fell to the ground, the reality was more plain than ever that rights were conditional in this nation.

As we watched the lifestream of DeRay being taken away, my neighbor said out loud the concern that everyone around me had only been saying in whispers: “You’re going to be arrested tomorrow. Things are changing. They are cracking down. Trying to send a message.”

A single tear slid down my face. I could not let it linger. Wiping it away, I measured my words out carefully: “What do I need to know?”

He told me what to expect If I was arrested in Waller County. How it would be different from being arrested in a city with news cameras present. What they would do to me as a part of an arrest and booking procedure. What they would do to me. What they could do to me. What they might do. What they would want to do to me after a year of rising tensions between us. He told me that in this nation it did not matter any more if you were resisting in a non-violent manner; resistance, regardless of the manner, was what they wanted crushed. I informed those who planned to be there – Joshua, Mirissa, Jeremy, Lena – not to interfere if they tried to take me, I asked them to promise to step back, remain peaceful, and stay out of custody themselves.

At 4:30 pm on July 10, we gathered at the scene of Sandra’s arrest in front of Hope AME in Prairie View, Texas, just a couple blocks outside of the gates of Prairie View A&M University. Two officers sat in a car across the street watching as dozens of poets, local residents, children, and Prairie View students came to the scene of Sandra’s arrest to show the community that Sandy still speaks. Setting up a microphone the first voice heard was that of Mirissa Tucker, a Prairie View A&M senior, followed by Linda Clark-Nwoke, one of the sorority chapter advisors during Sandra Bland’s tenure at PVAMU. Then the poets begin to speak their truth on the microphone, and the singers sang theirs out.

Close to the end, some students from Join the Movement at PVAMU came forward and Joshua Muhammad took the microphone to share some of the successes they had seen that year and some of their goals for the coming year. Those of us headed to the jail invited those at the Speak Out to join us for a service of Holy Communion at the jail if they chose and we slipped away to follow the road down to where Encinia had taken Sandra.

Upon arriving at the jail, we began to prepare the elements for Communion, using a chalice and paten given to me by Pastor Mireya Ottaviano; Hawaiian sweet bread, the favorite of Methodists like Sandra and myself; and the first of 6 cans of grape juice that we would need if made it through the full 64 hours.

Others began to arrive, and we were uncertain of what would happen when the Jail realized our intention to stay. Just then, two of the more senior local activists surprised us by pulling into the parking lot unexpectedly and radically transformed the atmosphere. DeWayne and Hai began setting up chairs for us, gained consent from the Jail to plug into their electricity for our phones, and made it clear to the Sheriff that the local community was watching, and that he did not want the audience to become larger than that.

Within moments we were live-streaming the first of what would be 6 services of Holy Communion, each one becoming progressively longer and more fully developed until by the third day we were having full on church in the parking lot of a jail.

Yet, that night we did not know all that would lay ahead as we projected Sandra’s videos on the wall and made the community see her face and hear her voice throughout the three nights and two days.

That night, we simply gathered, as 13 friends had done 2,000 years before, not know what would happen next. We gathered and we said the words from the Methodist liturgy, slightly adapted for the occasion.

Merciful God,

we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have failed to be an obedient church.

We have not done your will,

we have broken your law,

we have rebelled against your love,

we have not loved our neighbors,

and we have not heard the cry of the needy. 

We have not heard the cry of Black Lives Matter.

Forgive us, we pray.

Free us for joyful obedience,

      through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

When Politics Trumped Faith

As a child, I was taught that the most important characteristic about a political candidate was their faith: as a Christian nation, we needed Christian leaders, preferably born again and evangelical. Learning to swim in waters so thick with political convictions and action, it felt at times as though the world around me inhaled religion and exhaled politics, and somewhere inside us one became the other.

The political world changed over time, and so did my faith. Once I learned that I could fail and God would still love me, I started to understand grace and fell in love with being a part of the Methodist movement that places grace at the center. Once I released the list of “Don’ts” that I clung to as a life-preserver in a terrifying sea of sin, I found solid footing on all the “Do’s” of a loving God. I began to walk forward. I found passages in John and 1 Corinthians and Isaiah that became old companions on the journey; my oldest and my dearest friends, always faithful, always present.

The years passed and I journeyed far and wide seeking to be a good Methodist, to “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

I messed up plenty – as often as everyday and as recently as this morning – but I put my heart and soul into it. I tried so hard. Every day. I tried to live with faithful discipline, love with liberal generosity, and learn with determined optimism. With time, I learned that faith was not about what I did or did not do, it was about the fact that God loved me and that love required a response.

One of the biggest changes I had to make was the choice to accept my calling to preach after being raised in a church that taught that women were not to be clergy. I wrestled so hard with it; the struggle most intense between the age of 20 and 25, when one of my deepest points of identity fought for it’s very survival against the erroneous teachings of my youth that tried to tell my calling that it deserved to die; that it was heresy; that I was heretic.

My calling won, and I proceeded forward as United Methodist clergy, fully ordained, fully credentialed, fully amazed by what God had done with a little girl who had never imagined she’d live in a world that wanted to hear her voice.

As my faith grew, it brought me to acquire a set of my own deep convictions: some the same I had been raised with, some different, and some quite the opposite. I came to understand how Christianity had been co-opted and used to justify the expansion of Empire after Empire; how the same Empire that had issued Jesus’s death warrant, would be the first one to recognize the power of misusing his name.

I decided that my faith could inform my politics, but that for the sake of my faith, it was too dangerous to mix them together in the same bowl and end up losing track of which was which.

My faith changed, and so did the political world around me. When I crossed paths again with the Republican Party of my youth, I saw a stranger before me and I felt betrayed. I may not have found myself in sync with the Republican Party, but I expected that when we came across one another he would at least look familiar and we could be civil with one another. He had, after all, sat at my dinner table every evening growing up. I may have taken a different path in life, but I felt unreasonably aggravated that the old path did not feel familiar.

When I bumped into the Republican Party, he told me that Barack Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, was a Muslim; and that Mitt Romney, a member of the Mormon religion, was closer to the evangelical Christian ideal. I was so confused; I felt like the whole world had been turned upside down. I had been okay with all the changes that had taken place within me, but I felt betrayed by the changes that had taken place within the world I left behind. I no longer recognized the Republican Party when he told me that Donald Trump was a Christian man; although there was a flicker of familiarity when he claimed that Hillary Clinton was not a Christian, that was an old song he had sung all throughout my youth.

Yet, when Hillary spoke, I could not deny I heard the echoes of her Methodist upbringing in her words; I heard that earnest determination, that Wesleyan intensity, that I shared with other Methodist women like Jarena Lee, Harper Lee, and Sandra Bland.

On Trump’s tongue, I heard poison. A poison that threatened to destroy everything I am and everything I love. Fear. Hate. Mockery. Sexism. Racism. Xenophobia. Power. Greed.

I wondered how could the political realm I had grown up in have changed so much? Then again, maybe it never changed; perhaps we are only just becoming aware of the repercussions. While we were inhaling religion and exhaling politics, did we never realize that the direction of the wind might change? Did we never realize that we might choke on our own exhaust?

Maybe it was politics that trumped faith all along. We just failed to see it clearly until now.