“Tell me what you believe about Jesus, and I’ll tell you what you believe about Ferguson.”
Those words from our guest speaker this weekend have stayed with me, and if you participated in the weekend, there may be other words that stay with you. I’ve heard from some of you that his words were haunting or inspiring.
Sekou shared stories of being on the front lines of the struggle for justice in America and around the world. Lately, he’s in Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown, black and unarmed, was shot and killed a year ago by a police officer, and where Michael’s body lay in the street for several hours, in plain view, dishonored, disrespected, devoid of life. Sekou moved to Ferguson to help organize for social change.
And his visit has pushed our question, already on the table: who is Woodside and to what are we called, in this time of social unrest and political disease?
It’s all related, you know. What we believe and what we do are related. Whatever it is that we believe is what compels us to engage in the world in particular ways. Like, if heaven is a one-of-these-days reward for patient suffering, we’ll engage by suffering patiently. If the reign of God as Jesus proclaimed it is “near” and being like Jesus means living in the reign of God now, then we engage by trying to shape our world to God’s vision. I’m sure you know where I fall on that rather basic spectrum.
But then what?
Not all of us are going to be jumping over police barricades. I personally don’t have the knees for it. But there are other job responsibilities. If we were in Ferguson, we would find people telling the story, organizing events, bringing food, raising money for bail, offering shelter or hospitality, praying and teaching, comforting, standing together in support and hope, standing alongside the ones who got arrested, defying bad laws and shouting down the establishment when it is doing harm, offering safety and sanctuary. All of which are “Jesus behaviors,” all of which are told in great bible stories we can also tell.
We’re probably not going to Ferguson. We, as a congregation, live in Flint. Replete with struggles all its own. And we have to ask ourselves, individually and as a congregation, “who are we and to what are we called?”
Two weeks ago, our board was on retreat together, pondering this very question. And part of our pondering was the book I told you about, Spiritual Defiance: building a beloved community of resistance. I promised you more about that. So here you go.
The first thing we learn to resist, according to the author, Robin Meyers, is ego, the notion that it’s all about us. The community of Jesus has been afflicted for a very long with the belief that faith is all about me, a private matter, just between me and God. Whatever is happening “out there” is not a faith matter, we might say, and we aren’t sure we want the church to be political. Honestly, it is part of the distaste for me of what we call “praise music,” which tends to elevate a private relationship with God over any sense of community. Whether syrupy (like Open the Eyes of my Heart), or camp-ish (like Sanctuary), or even funky (like I Can’t Wait to Meetchu), it all reinforces the idea that faith is my own gig and I can do whatever I want.
To be sure, there are faiths like that. I just can’t think of any. And faith the way Jesus did it is not at all like that. Faith the way Jesus did it is completely engaged in the community, completely resistant to status quo. Meyers says this: I’m talking instead about resistance as a form of direct or indirect action opposing anything in the dominant culture that brings death and indignity to any member of the human family, or to creation itself.
Which is pretty big. It could mean jumping police barricades in Ferguson. Or it could mean becoming an evangelist for a sustainable planet, or a living wage, or humane immigration policies. The UCC calls all of these “justice” issues. So did Jesus. But since we are called to act out our faith where we live, resistance can also mean calling for a new water source – and a criminal investigation into Michigan’s water debacle.
Wherever resistance takes us, it starts with resisting the idea of heaven as a personal reward for good behavior. The reign is near; God is dying to get through to us.
So, let’s talk about what we believe about Jesus. Then see where that takes us in the task of world-mending.
With you on the journey,
— pastor deb