David and Bathseba, my interpretation

The Episcopal Church uses the lectionary to select our readings every Sunday. Today many Episcopalians heard 2 Samuel 11:1-15. This is the story of David impregnating Bathsheba and then having her husband killed to “hide” this. It is a deeply disturbing story about the way that power corrupts people, even David. He was God’s anointed one – he was supposed to be God’s holy one bringing the Israelites into new age of peace and prosperity. Yet he did this.

One of the things that struck me about this passage is that it starts with the phrase “when kings go out to battle” yet David, the King, didn’t go out to battle. He sent his army to fight for him. He stayed safe in Jerusalem where he had the leisure to impregnate other men’s wives despite already being married to multiple women. He was not on the front line, the front line was the place where he gained his fame by defeating the giant, Goliath, in battle. He led the Israelites through many successful battles yet now he was simply staying in Jerusalem.

When Bathsheba told David that she was pregnant he tried to “do the right thing” by getting her husband to come back and sleep with her so that he would think it was his child. Yet this soldier would not – he could not bring himself to have simple pleasures while knowing that his brothers were fighting. David was not only not on the front line, he had lost the sense of urgency of battle. He thought that his place was lounging in Jerusalem while others sought freedom was the correct place to be. This soldier’s commitment to and solidarity with his brother’s fighting caused his death. He did not know it – but he carried his own death warrant back to battle.

David was doing terrible things – sleeping with Bathsheba (perhaps against her will?) and then killing her husband to cover it up. Yet it did not get covered up, perhaps it is the most famous and well known example of adultery in Western culture. This sin that he attempted to hide has become infamous.

Despite all of that, David goes down in history has the forerunner of the messiah. His son, Solomon, would build the temple. He was the king that wrote the psalms. He has a deeply flawed and problematic history but he was still able to do God’s will. Clearly in that instance he had forgotten the importance of being in the midst of struggle and strife. When we remove ourselves from the suffering of the world we cannot serve the world. When we start to believe that it is our right to be comfortable – to be insulated against the very real wars  that was killing people we make choices that kill more people. We become complacent and cover our initial sin with more sin. David lost connection to pain and suffering and became complicit in sin.  As I battle for injustice I need to make sure I continually evaluate myself to see if I am like Uriah – on the front line or if I am called back to Jerusalem for a time that I am always looking for ways to be in solidarity with those that are on the front line or if I am like David – I “served” my time on the front line and have now moved to place of power and so I no longer need to go out. I no longer need to be experience the battle. But even when I fall into being like David God can still use me and my work. God can redeem (and does redeem) all people. David was a murdering adulterer yet he also was a forefather of Jesus. I pray that most days I choose to be like Uriah despite the risk but know that when I fail God redeems me.

Is it goodbye? (aka Day 5 of the Millennial Leader’s Conference at Union Theological Seminary)

This past week has been very heavy for me. I have had conversations about the meaning of the god of capitalism before we have conversations about what our names are. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

Climate change is the heretical claim that our civil gods of empire and capitalism are mortal.

– Tim DeChristopher

I have been able to be raw (and yes, even cry) with almost strangers about the normalcy of being white while trying to understand and breathe in the normalcy that others find in the experience of not being white. I have prayed with people I don’t know very well with fervor to send them off. In this one week we have learned something about what it means to live social justice in a way that acknowledge our differences and the gifts that we all bring to the movement – to each other – the gifts that we bring that will allow us to be individuals in deep solidarity and support with one another.

Allyship based in guilt is not lasting – but when it’s based on a thirst for justice, equality and liberation it can last.

– Willie Francis III

Many of us went to the rally in memory of Sandra Bland. She was an

This was the scene of the Sandra Bland Protest at Union Square. #BlackLivesMatter

This was the scene of the Sandra Bland Protest at Union Square. #BlackLivesMatter

African American woman who was murdered by the police in my home state. She was not guilty of any crime except being an outspoken black woman who would not take the officer’s harassment. She paid for that desire for justice with her life. She is just the most recent example, to date almost 600 people have been killed by the police in the US. Most of those people don’t look like me. It’s important for me to recognize that I am not the most vulnerable to this type of violence. I’m more vulnerable to other types of violence but this one isn’t mine. I’m learning how to form allyship based on a thirst for justice, equality and liberation. It’s a long process but I’m aware now of how to take the first step. I’m simply going to start listening.

In the intensity of this week we made bonds and created spaces to learn. I know that going back home will be hard after this. I am not as plugged in with the activist community as I once was in Austin. I don’t have many progressive, activist, Christian friends in Austin. Being surrounded by such an amazing group of people makes it hard to go back to the normal world. I’m hoping that in the coming weeks I can remember the connections I made here and also look for new connections to support me in Austin.

No more! (aka Day 4 of the Millennial Leader’s Project at Union Theological Seminary)

There was a post that I was crafting in my head as I walked back to Union Seminary tonight.   It was about the interfaith dialogue I had over dinner. I was taught about the Holiness traditions and how different Christians experience and understand their faith differently. It all started when I asked what does it mean to “fall out” in church. I learned so much by simply listening. This post will not be written tonight.

I might have written about the ways that I saw finally broke through some of my own fear and asked the tough questions How can I be an ally in this struggle for liberation while I am still privileged? How can I engage and fully support those people around me that are marginalized? How can I listen better? This post will not be written tonight.

Instead when I got to my room I looked at Facebook. I saw that three people had their lives ripped from them because of gun violence. Seven more kept their lives but have had them irrevocably changed. I have no words, no response to that action.

I cry because I know that we need serious change in this world. We live in a time and place that values some lives more than others. We live in a world where the right for a white person to carry a gun anywhere at any time is trumpeted as more important than the rights of black and brown people to live. We live in this world. If we truly cared about the epidemic of violence that is being suffered disproportionately by people of color we would make changes.

Change is happening. It is happening in the lives of people affected by gun violence. They are dying and being injured.  The change is not happening in the power structure. Instead we become numb to the names. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Lafayette. We do not even call the names of the people – we simply name the place. As if by naming the place we are remembering the children, men, women and all the people that have been killed by these weapons of death.

We need to stand up and say, as one, No More. No More. No More. We will not tolerate any more deaths. We will no longer protect the rights of the few to be comfortable at the expense of the lives of black and brown children. No more.

Connections and Communities (aka Day 3 of the Union Theological Seminary’s Millennial Leader’s Project)

I am an ally in this struggle. In this particular moment and at this particular time my role is to shut and up listen. One of the panelists today said that it is the role of allies (white people in the Black Lives Matter movement for example) is to listen until the struggle reverberates in their souls. Then we probably should listen a little longer. I think that I am very quick to speak – I even foolishly asked my home group to police me on this instead of admitting my challenge and stating that I would try and police myself. I am learning how to listen – how to be open to be present and not talk, not share my story. My norm is people privileging and listening to my story. I speak clearly, I am well spoken, I am well educated, I am white – I am in a space where I need to be an ally, not a leader. The struggle for black freedom does not yet reverberate in my soul.

Last night I went out to a bar. Going out to a bar is a comfortable experience for me. But last night I went out with a group that was entirely composed of black people except for me. I went beyond my normal comfort zone. I listened. I didn’t talk much. I wanted to hear about their struggles and their joys. I wanted to be able to listen with my whole body and my whole heart and my whole spirit. When I am thinking of how their stories connect to my story, of what my response will be, of what I can add to improve their story I am no longer listening as I could. I am then trying to make it about me. I heard incredible stories. I saw pain. I saw shared experience. I saw joy. I saw connections. I saw generational pain inflicted by people very much like me. It made me uncomfortable. It also made me grateful that I was accepted into this group of people that did not need to include me. I was welcomed with no questions, no assumptions, but simply with a smile and a hug. I am humbled and grateful for that time last night.

Today many of us are going to a protest to bring attention to the death of Sandra Bland. She died while in police custody in the great state of Texas. She was pulled over because she failed to use a turn signal when changing lanes. Why did she die? We don’t know and maybe we won’t ever know. Too many people are killed by the police in this country. Too many of them are black and brown. I am going today to proclaim that Black Lives Matter because I am still learning what that means. I still, unconsciously, privilege white lives and white stories over those of people of color. I confess that I need help to change that. I need to see that the comfort of white people’s emotions is not more important than lives. I pray that one day the story will reverberate in my soul.

Day 2: Intersectionality

Today was themed around “intersectionality”. Today was long and difficult. It was tiring. How do my identities as a white, Christian, straight, cis-gendered, straight woman intersect? How do oppressions intersect? Which of my identities are real and which are simply constructions I’ve internalized?

In talking about this we listened to two very engaged activists talk about their work – a Muslim woman working in the Black Lives Matter movement and an African American man working with young black men. They were very engaged in their movements. The Muslim woman spoke with authority and clarity about why she, a woman of Palestinian descent was working with people of African descent in this movement. She talked about the temptation to focus only on how Arab Americans are being treated and to ignore the suffering of black people.  But she said – and she said it repeatedly “My people can never be free until black people are free.” I understand her sentiment, but I have trouble internalizing it.

I am struggling so far this week with my own whiteness, with my lack of community. My lack of awareness of my white privilege and my lack of my identity as white. I do identify as white – but I do not have a culture that I feel rooted in. I am from Louisiana but do not feel tied there currently. I live in Texas – and I love living there – but I don’t consider myself 100% Texan. I have often felt more American when I am abroad then when I am living in the US. I am struggling with who “my people” are.

In the afternoon we went to the center of our capitalism at Wall Street. We saw the golden calf that represents our idol of money. If you have ever been to the Stock Exchange you’ll see a statue of a bull. This statue is mostly brown but a few key points are bright gold. These are the parts that people touch for good luck. This bull – an aggressive animal, in an aggressive pose – represents the Stock Market. Everyone that comes by there touches the bull’s testicles. After all, it is an anatomically correct bull. They not only erected this golden calf to praise money – they praise and reinforce the patriarchal supremacy that forces (through violence) this world on us. This tour was depressing. We saw all the halls of power of capitalism and the roots of slavery, oppression, exclusion and theft that go back to the very founding of New York and our nation. I left feeling our fight for and belief in justice might be somehow misplaced.

Redemption was found. It was found in the subway ride. We took over a car of the subway and turned it into our own personal “freedom train” to sing to each other about the possibility of a new future. A future that is built not on lies and deception and oppression – but a future that is built on love and respect and mutual support. It is possible and until we get there we’ll continue to fight and to sing.

Union Theological Seminary: Millennial Leader’s Project

I have arrived in New York City at a place that I have felt called to study at since I first walked through these halls nine years ago. I am Union Theological Seminary. Since then I have visited three times. Each time in a different capacity. Each time this place has felt less mysterious, less like “Hogwarts”. I am now staying in a room here and studying with 49 other millennials.

This programs brings 50 millennials around the country together to talk about faith/spirituality and social justice/activism. We are diverse. We are from different faith traditions or no faith tradition at all. We are questioning, we are searching, we are artists. We are people committed to making something new happen in the world. Each day they are giving us questions to answer individually as we think and process about our own lives and what we are called to do.

Just in our first day we are expected to answer these questions:

1. What do these concepts mean to you? Define them:

  • Leadership
  • Social Justice
  • Power
  • Authority

2. How do you think other generations perceive millennials?

Just on day one. We are supposed to be able to define these terms that people can spend a life time defining – in fact I would like to suggest that most people that consider themselves activists spend their lives living out various definitions of these words.

Leadership is power and authority. Leadership demonstrates social justice (or lack thereof). Leadership should be shared. I consider myself a leader. I know that others consider me one too. Yet I still doubt my authority or my power to lead and act. I am in the middle of organizing (or trying to organize) yet another Urban Pilgrimage. We had to cancel one in May due to lack of students to participate and we are postponing the one in Miami until we can find better places to serve. I am trying to lead but so far my projects are not succeeding in the way I had imagined.

Despite that I am sitting here in the quad at Union Theological Seminary looking at the ducks and enjoying the beautiful scenery. There is this disconnect between the walls of this place and the need for social justice.

Ducks at Union

Ducks at Union

We had a hard time defining justice. This afternoon we tried to talk about what it was – but mostly we talked about goals. We talked about what a just society might look like – or we talked about injustice. It was hard to pin down an exact definition of justice. We do know that justice means listening more than you’re talking especially if you’re a person that has been privileged in the past. Justice is more than just our individual actions – but our individual actions are part of making a more just world. We are giving aspects of justice but we have not yet made a definition.

Perhaps this is why Jesus always spoke in parables. Justice is not any one thing – it is instead a relationship, or a set of relationships. It is always changing. It is something that is dynamic and is needing conversation and explanation. Jesus taught in parables. Jesus also taught with authority. (Mark 1:22 for example). Authority is not necessarily knowing things – it could be simply using the right metaphors or asking the right questions.

I suppose all of this rambling and talking about Jesus is to really say that I do not know what leadership, social justice, power and authority are. I do know that I want to live in a world where people love and respect each other. I want to live in a world where those in power (who have authority) use that for good and not for evil. I want to live a world where worldly power is questioned – where power structures and hierarchies that are damaging are torn apart so that all people can flourish and blossom. Tearing that structure apart reveals all the cracks and all the problems that are already there. Tearing it apart allows that rats that have been hiding to be revealed into the light. I know that we are living in a moment of transformation – this transformation is scary for those of us that are already winning. We are the ones that need to be torn down. It will be painful. Perhaps social justice is willingly entering into that pain. Because Jesus did. Jesus sought the pain because there is no way around it but there is a way through it. Once we have torn down the structures of oppression and authority we can begin to build a new so that all people can flourish. Perhaps social justice is creating a world where all can flourish and live fully into the person that they were created to be.

Maybe I’ll get to number 2 tomorrow.

Proud and Nervous

It might seem like being proud and being nervous might not go together – but today those two emotions were the main emotions that I felt.

I am proud of so many people! I am proud to be a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.  I am very proud of each of the Young Adult Delegation that has showed up here with us.  They are an amazing group of people. They prayed the litany at the Wall of Injustice that EPF used to demonstrate how we can break down the barriers to life that injustice create in our world.  Today the EPF honored Newland Smith with the Sayre Award. Hearing about his dedication to peace and justice and then hearing him speak so humbly about his own influences and his own dedication to anti-racism activism, as a privileged white male made me proud of EPF.  We are an organization that values the work that people put in over their entire lives to activism. We encourage and support those that give their lives for peace – not through dying – but by living a life that embodies peace. What would you give your life for? Perhaps this question should be “What would you live for?” It creates a different meaning and different context. Newland is a person that has given his life for peace. He is such a joy to be around. I am proud that my organization honored him.   I am also proud that the EPF encourages people, like me, to try to make a difference too.

Members of the Young Adult Delegation at the Wall of Injustice.

Members of the Young Adult Delegation at the Wall of Injustice.

I am trying to make a difference by testifying for legislation even if it makes me nervous. I found C048 just a few hours ago. This resolution proposes that the Episcopal Church formally endorse a policy of a minimum wage of $15/hr. I was one of two people who testified for this resolution. The other person, also from EPF, although not part of our Young Adult Delegation (YAD), also endorsed it. In my testimony I pointed out that the Federal minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.13/hr while the minimum wage for non-tipped workers is $7.25 an hour. The resolution does not specify that this $15/hr stance would be towards those that are tipped as well. By being present and testifying I was able to bring to the table a different view point. I was able to bring to this committee the viewpoint of someone that earns minimum wage.  It made me nervous to speak in front of them.  After I spoke, I sat down and my hands were shaking. I had trouble holding my small notebook. I was not very nervous before I spoke, but it was the nerves being settled afterwards that made me shake.

Today was a day full of pride – pride in the group that I am shepherding; pride in the organization that is sponsoring us; pride in myself for overcoming my nervousness to take a stance that is important to me and important for creating a more just world. As we said in our litany we will focus and be able to fight injustice with God’s help.

This was originally published on the EPF Young Adult Blog page.