The Weekend Wanderer: 9 May 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 10.42.06 AM“The UK Blessing — Churches sing ‘The Blessing’ over the UK” – Seriously, you have to watch this video. I know, when someone says that, you may be skeptical like me, but do yourself a favor and watch the beauty of various churches of various denominations across the UK coming together to sing a blessing over their nation. You may also enjoy hearing this interview with Tim Hughes, writer of the well-known song “Here I am To Worship,” about the project.


singing“German churches stopped singing to prevent virus’s spread. Should Americans clam up, too?” – Speaking of singing…I had a conversation with a group of pastors about what congregational gatherings would be like after the pandemic. To be honest, it was a bit of an unsettling conversation because we jointly realized that a good deal of what we experience as corporate worship would be changed by physical distancing, mask-wearing, and the necessary precautions of cleaning before and after services in all spaces. Then I read this article, and it really made me consider something else: should we sing corporately when we first regather or not?


Ahmaud Arbery“Ahmaud Arbery, the Killing of Whiteness, & the Preservation of Black Lives in America” – I remember talking with my friend, Bishop Walter Harvey, in the midst of our work with The Milwaukee Declaration about what it means for someone who is white to see the world in the way someone does who is black. Of course, you cannot do that entirely, but we agreed that at least part of that new sort of vision is when you feel the fear for each other’s children’s safety in walking down the street or when your heart drops as you see another black life taken. This last week brought that home to me again with the brutal killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. The concept of whiteness is much debated, but I will go on record in saying what should be obvious: white supremacy and racism have no place in Christianity or Christ’s Church, and should be opposed in the broader culture. Why? Because each and every person is made in God’s image and valuable in God’s sight, but also because God makes space for “every nation, tribe, people and language” equally before the throne of God for eternity (Revelation 7:9-10) that should be imaged forth now on earth (Galatians 3:28). There is equal ground before the Cross of Christ and in the family of God. It is difficult to put into words, but I urge you to read this article by Celucien L. Joseph at The Witness. You may also benefit from reading Russell Moore’s “The Killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the Justice of God” and Andrew MacDonald’s “Don’t Look Away: Why Ahmaud Arbery’s Tragedy Must Be Addressed Head On.”


Pakistan sewer cleaners“Sewer Cleaners Wanted in Pakistan: Only Christians Need Apply” – “Before Jamshed Eric plunges deep below Karachi’s streets to clean out clogged sewers with his bare hands, he says a little prayer to Jesus to keep him safe. The work is grueling, and he wears no mask or gloves to protect him from the stinking sludge and toxic plumes of gas that lurk deep underground. ‘It is a difficult job,’ Mr. Eric said. ‘In the gutter, I am often surrounded by swarms of cockroaches.’ After a long day, the stench of his work lingers even at home, a constant reminder of his place in life. ‘When I raise my hand to my mouth to eat, it smells of sewage,’ he said. A recent spate of deaths among Christian sewer cleaners in Pakistan underscores how the caste discrimination that once governed the Indian subcontinent’s Hindus lingers, no matter the religion.”


Thomas Lynch“Death Without Ceremony: We need time and space to grieve. The pandemic denies us this.” – American poet, essayist, and undertaker, Thomas Lynch, at The Atlantic: “Faith, we are told, inoculates against fear. We are all in this together, the president says. I wonder. Though I was named after my father’s dead uncle, my faith has been shaken into a provisional pose. Rather than serve a bishop or church, I chose, like my father, ‘to serve the living by caring for the dead.’ Some days it seems obvious that a loving God’s in charge; others it seems we are entirely alone.”


117211“Letter Writing Isn’t a Lost Art in Egypt. It’s an Ancient Ministry.” – I was beginning to write an article on the pastoral ministry of letter writing, when I stumbled upon this article about the ancient and present ministry of letter writing in the Egyptian Coptic church. “In his rural New Jersey home, Wafik Habib carefully laid out his letter collection before us, now more than a half century old. Handwritten by the late Bishop Samuel to the physician, they represented the bishop’s pastoral care to a nascent diaspora Christian community started in 1950s North America. We could sense the bishop’s presence in the words of comfort and exhortation set to pen and paper.”


black hole“Astronomers Discover the Closest Known Black Hole” – Since I was a young child, I have been fascinated by astronomy. Black holes are one of those most fascinating objects, not only because of the 1979 Disney movie, but because of the fascinating impact black holes have on space and time. Now astronomers have discovered the closest known black hole to our solar system. “The pair of stars in a system called HR 6819 is so close to us that on a clear night in the Southern Hemisphere, a person might be able to spot them without a telescope. What that stargazer wouldn’t see, though, is the black hole hiding right there in the constellation Telescopium. At just 1,000 light-years away, it is the closest black hole to Earth ever discovered, and it could help scientists find the rest of the Milky Way’s missing black holes.


ECPAChristianBookAward“Christian Book Awards 2020” – The Christian Book Awards for 2020 were announced this past week. I was not familiar with most of the titles, other than Harold L. Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s HeartThe book of the year award went to Mark Vroegop’s Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, which is an important topic that many of us are talking about right now.


Music: Cannonball Adderley Quintet, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Emanuel, Charleston, Forgiveness and the Future

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Last night I had the chance to view Emanuel, a documentary directed by Brian Ivie (The Dropbox), about the shooting on June 17, 2015, at Emanuel A. M. E. Church in Charleston, SC, in which 9 people died. I attended with one of my sons, and we participated in a talk-back after the movie to reflect and process what we had seen.

For me, the movie highlighted three things that are part of my own journey and also things I hope to continue working on:

  1. The power of forgiveness – The documentary focuses largely on the power of forgiveness in the lives of those who lost loved ones through this trauma. On the one hand, there is the power of forgiveness to release the one who inflicted wrong into the hands of God but also the power of forgiveness to release ourselves from bitterness. This is no simplistic journey, but overall I felt the film did a good job of showing how there is spiritual strength that gives us the ability to forgive, but also how everyone processes forgiveness differently and according to different timelines. As followers of Jesus who live in light of God’s forgiveness through the Cross, we know the power of forgiveness. As Célestin Musekura says: “Because of this divine act, the Christian model of forgiveness stresses the granting of unconditional forgiveness to those who cause injury, pain and suffering in this life.”
  2. The need for racial healing – At various points during the film, attention is given to the racialized history of Charleston and the United States. Charleston served as a hub for the slave trade in colonial America and South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union in what led to the Civil War.By interspersing these hard realities, we are reminded of the need for racial understanding and healing in the midst of the contemporary moment in our nation. From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Oakland to Milwaukee, we cannot ignore that slavery, “America’s original sin,” has left a legacy of racial inequality, pain, and violence that cannot be ignored. We need to take steps forward both in facing into the realities that are here, as well as cultivating both personal and institutional healing of racism.
  3. The importance of stopping racial violence before it starts – While the documentary did not directly address ways to stop racial violence before it starts, it hinted at the reality that a wayward, lonely young man found a narrative of white supremacy that filled the gap of meaning and belonging in his life. This grabbed my attention as I considered afterwards how we might work intentionally on stopping racial violence before it starts. Where are those at the fringes of society who find belonging in sickened narratives of prejudice, injustice, and violence? How do we find them and interrupt their stories with grace, love, and shalom from God? While not easy to address, it is vital that we work as a society, as the church, and as Christians to overcome both the fruits and the roots of racial violence.

For the past six years, I have worked across racial lines with other pastors on developing ways to make a difference in our city through The Milwaukee Declaration and other organizationsEmanuel reminded me that in stepping forward with this work there is great challenge and greater hope, great darkness and greater light.

Just this morning I came across an excerpt from journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes‘ recently released account of the atrocity in Charleston in her book Grace Will Lead Us Home.  There, Hawes relates how after the atrocity, Reverend Kylon Middleton, an African American pastor and husband of one of those killed, was invited to a historically white congregation to preach.

Middleton had grown up in this city, a divided one, and knew well the significance of a black pastor in a white pulpit. He approached with a ready step. When he got there, he beamed. “I never imagined in a million years coming to Second Presbyterian Church!” Sunday, he noted, remained the most segregated day of the week.

But why? They all served the same Christian God, the same one who’d brought them all together here tonight.

“Faith becomes the equalizer!”

In many ways, this was the most important change in race relations to come from the shooting. Friendships and familiarity had been born, especially within the Holy City’s largely segregated churches.

May God give us grace to step forward with such grace before more violence happens and before wounds overflow into riots, that we might meet at the foot of the Cross where healing, humility, understanding, and forgiveness can be found.

 


 

Emanuel is in theaters for a limited time. If you want to see it, there are still showings for Wednesday, June 19.