Daily Devotional | Saturday, February 27

James Cone, Illustration: Uzo Njoku (UVA ’19)

Saturday, February 27

The Rev. James Cone, writing in the 1989 preface to his 1969 book, Black Theology & Black Power, offered this holy and human observation on his place in history, “Since theology is human speech and not God speaking, I recognize today, as I did then, that all attempts to speak about ultimate reality are limited by the social history of the speaker. Thus, I would not use exactly the same language today to speak about God that I used twenty years ago. Times have changed and the current situation demands a language appropriate for the problems we now face. But insofar as racism is still found in the churches and in society, theologians and preachers of the Christian gospel must make it unquestionably clear that the God of Moses and of Jesus makes an unqualified solidarity with the victims, empowering them to fight against injustice.”
Thirty years later we have, as a Conference answered the call to see that “insofar as racism is still found in the churches and in society, theologians and preachers of the Christian gospel must make it unquestionably clear that the God of Moses and of Jesus makes an unqualified solidarity with the victims, empowering them to fight against injustice.” We as a Conference committed ourselves, in holy conferencing, to antiracism. From 1969-1989 Rev. Cone saw movement, not completion of the task, but movement. We stand now at an historic moment of crisis in American Christianity. Future generations will be right to ask, “when hate arose yet again did they as leaders answer the call to antiracism?”


Action step: today, with brutal honesty ask simply, “can I, as a called church leader, ignore the call to antiracism?”


Prayer:

God of Unity, We come before you dismayed at our own divisions. We have struggled as your church to come to live in unity; but we are divided – along all the fault lines of our societies. The ruptures in our families, among friends, among denominations, among nations are wide and deep. When we attempt to get on the same page, we build taller walls and dig deeper trenches. God, help us! We know that Christ is not divided. We know that it is your baptism to which we have been called. It is your service to which we are compelled. You have called us to proclaim the gospel, but we even fight about what that is. Help us, God! Help us to give up our power and our privileges. Help us to yield for the sake and cause of the cross of Jesus. Help us to embrace and to live the foolishness of a life emptied of power and given to service, in the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Help us to walk in salvation – in the name of the Servant Christ, Amen.

Valerie Bridgeman Davis, The Africana Worship Book, Discipleship Resources, 2006, p.85

Daily Devotional | Friday, February 26

Friday, February 26

Matthew 10:36 – And a person’s enemies will be those of their own household.


The bronze statue (by Hank Willis Thomas) called "Raise Up" is part of the display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice,  shown on April 23, 2018. Brynn Anderson / AP.  The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public on April 26, 2018, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. It is located in Montgomery, AL.

War against another nation damages both nations, war against our own nation devastates us all. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writing in Stony the Road, offers this chilling observation about our racist history, “In the broadest terms, Reconstruction was a revolutionary time in American life—a time of national renewal extended out from four years of Civil War, death, and destruction that narrowed the gap between the country’s ideals and laws and advanced racial progress. Yet it was also a turbulent and brutally violent period, one marked by in the broadest terms, rapid economic change and new forms of white resistance that included everything from organized paramilitary assaults and political assassination to night rides and domestic terror.”
Watching last month as Americans attacked our Capital in violent insurrection Gates’ words rang out in challenge describing our own times as, “a turbulent and brutally violent period, one marked by in the broadest terms, rapid economic change and new forms of white resistance that included everything from organized paramilitary assaults and political assassination to night rides and domestic terror.”


Action step: today, with brutal honesty ask how you can lower the temperature, counter the rhetoric, and preach an antiracist message as we look forward to the Resurrection Sunday. We are called to solemn ministry as our nation wakes to a spring of either emergence from isolation into love or a summer of violence – our time is now to lead the church of Jesus Christ with holy compassion.


Prayer:

God whose name has been used to enslave those who bear your image,

God whose name has been used to steal this land and kill those who bear your image,

God whose name was called upon by Moses and Miriam and Martin Luther King Jr and Sojourner Truth, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

God who raised up prophets to speak truth to power, and poets to speak truth to stupid,

We call on your holy name to give us what we need to undo what has been done in your name.

We call on your name to bring your fierce mercy upon us and remove our complacency and our complicity.

We call on your name to heal the wounds of those whose daily reality we do not understand.

We call on your name to give us a holy curiosity about what being Black in America is really like, Lord.

We call on your name to free us from our cherished notions of being “good” that keep us from hearing this truth,

We call on your name to give us this day our daily truth, our daily humility, our daily rage, our daily hope.

This country is burning Lord…may is be a cleansing Holy Spirit fire.

Guide us to believe that the true name of God is stronger than what has been done in God’s name.

Come, Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Nadia Boltz-Weber, Sunday Prayers, https://nadiabolzweber.substack.com/p/sunday-prayers-may-31st-2020

Daily Devotional | Thursday, February 25

Thursday, February 25

In John 8 we read the familiar, perhaps too familiar: When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.


Christ of Maryknoll by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

A chilling call to the church’s own failure in justice seeking is painfully present if you replace “civil rights activists” with “Methodists” or “Christians” in this passage from the New Jim Crow, where Michelle Alexander writes, “Challenging mass incarceration requires something civil rights advocates have long been reluctant to do: advocacy on behalf of those labeled criminals. Even at the height of Jim Crow segregation—when black men were more likely to be lynched than to receive a fair trial in the South—NAACP lawyers were reluctant to advocate on behalf of blacks accused of crimes unless the lawyers were convinced of the men’s innocence.”
Are we, comfortably nestled in our churches, inured to the raw accusation present when Jesus says to us, “let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”? The men who wish to stone her to death are not asking Jesus a sin question, they ask him for a legal opinion. The writer of John captures perhaps the most powerful amicus curiae brief in history, God asks us to see our guilty and the criminal siblings not as foreign to us, not as one of us who is lost, but as us.


Action step: today, with brutal honesty question how you feel towards the murderer, the rapist, the abusive spouse, and the drunk driver among us. Is there someone in your life, your congregation, your family, or even in the mirror for whom you cannot find compassion as it is modeled by Jesus in John 8? Ask Jesus to help you lay down your stones. Antiracism is only real when extended into the most challenging corners of our own anger and fear.


Prayer:

God,

Grant me justice, so that I may treat others as they deserve.

Grant me mercy, so that I don’t treat others as they deserve.

Grant me a humble walk with you, so that I may understand the difference.

 

Patricia McCaughan and Keith Yamamoto, from Race and Prayer: Collected Voices Many Dreams edited by Malcolm Boyd and Chester L. Talton (Morehouse Publishing, 2003, p.166).

Daily Devotional | Wednesday, February 24

Wednesday, February 24

Romans 12:18 – If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.


Thurman. (Photo source unknown. Found on Google Images. He believed that personal spiritual renewal was important to the liberation process and that inward liberation was a prerequisite for social transformation. In his seminal 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman provided an interpretation of the New Testament gospels that laid the foundation for a nonviolent civil rights movement.

These just may be the most challenging, and convicting words, Paul ever wrote. In Bring the War Home: the White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, historian Kathleen Belew writes: “In 1977, Louis Beam used a Texas Veterans Land Board grant—a program designed to provide economic benefits to returning veterans—to purchase fifty acres of swampland. On a landscape that recalled the rice paddies of Vietnam, Beam built Camp Puller, a Vietnam War–style training facility designed to turn Klansmen into soldiers.”
Clearly an overwhelming majority of Vietnam veterans did not return radicalized into the white power movement. Many returned to serve as pastors in our denomination as well as other Christian denominations, or to public service and the betterment of our nation. Still war’s role in the formation of the white power ideology present at the insurrection in our capital last month is undeniable. For the first time in history an entire generation of Americans grew up during wartime. These wars do not appear on the front page of newspapers or on the evening news. These wars challenge us as church leaders to ask during this Lent, “have we forgotten that our country is at war”? How do we answer our God if we are asked, “have you, so far as it depends on you, lived peaceably with all?”


Action step: today, with brutal honesty ask this question prayerfully of the Holy Spirit, “have I, so far as it depends on me, lived peaceably with all?” Do not be afraid of the answer but let God show you how to do so personally, corporately, and as a people.


Prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace.” Teach me how to order my days that with sure touch I may say the right word at the right time and in the right way — lest I betray the spirit of peace. Let me not be deceived by my own insecurity and weakness which would make me hurt another as I try desperately to help myself. Keep watch with me, O my Father, over the days of my life, that with abiding enthusiasm I may be in such possession of myself that each day I may offer to Thee the full, unhampered use of me in all my parts as “an instrument of Thy Peace.” Amen.

Howard Thurman, The Inward Journey: Meditations on the Spiritual Quest (Harper Row, 1961, p.104), cited on Renovare website, https://renovare.org/articles/make-me-an-instrument-of-thy-peace

Daily Devotional | Tuesday, February 23

Tuesday, February 23

1 Peter 2 contains this call to citizenship – Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution… [f]or this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.


Area faith leaders condemn police brutality in 
Richmond, VA, in 2020. 
Image from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander a lawyer herself, draws a line between the traditional idea of community policing and a militarized police force. “The transformation from “community policing” to “military policing,” began in 1981, when President Reagan persuaded Congress to pass the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, which encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, intelligence, research, weaponry, and other equipment for drug interdiction.”
By militarizing our police departments against our own citizens do we ignore when 1 Peter goes on to say, “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil”? The murder of George Floyd is a direct result of 40 years of “military policing”, which disproportionately targets people of color. The Church too often stood by as the war on drugs was waged as a war on communities of color.


Action step: today, with brutal honesty examine your church’s place in the community asking, “do we speak prophetically to our local, state, and national governments about police integrity and violence?” A church that demands the liberation of all people is antiracist offering the prophetic voice of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Prayer: Forgive us, Lord.

Forgive us when we wake each day hoping the nightmare has ended.

Forgive us when we cling to our opinions that it can’t be as bad as some say.

Forgive us when we shout for our rights when others can’t breathe.

Forgive us when we look for short-term fixes rather than substantive changes

in our society, in our institutions, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, in our hearts.

In our hearts, O Lord, of every part of me, every thought of mine, every reaction and response.

In our hearts.

Forgive me when I think this problem is about everyone else’s heart.

Forgive me when I won’t do the work I need to do to examine my own soul because

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

Forgive me when I discover that I am a part of the problem and not somehow different or pure.

Forgive me when I want to give up because this is too big, too much, too frightening, too overwhelming.

Forgive me, Lord.

Forgive, please forgive.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matt. 18:21-22)

Derek C. Weber, July 2020  by UMC Discipleship’s Praying for Change: Daily Prayers for Anti-Racism Email on July 24, 2020

Daily Devotional | Monday, February 22

Monday, February 22

Revelations 3:14-17 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write… “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”



Norman Rockwell’s desire to reach out to a global community and emphasize the commonality of humankind  found its forum on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post with his 
masterful work, Golden Rule, in 1961.

What would the letter to the church in Greater New Jersey read? Antiracist is not an easy position to take, the work ahead will be difficult. These days, amid the pandemic, our people are weary and we clergy often feel weighed down. Again it is Ibram X. Kendi, writing in How to be an Antiracist, who challenges us amid our weariness to learn from our past. “The racist champions of racist discrimination engineered to maintain racial inequities before the 1960s are now the racist opponents of antiracist discrimination engineered to dismantle those racial inequities. The most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s unlikely drive for a White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a “race-neutral” one.”


Action step: today, with brutal honesty consider what the letter to your local church would contain. Would you receive a letter like that written to the church in Philadelphia, or has your ministry or church grown lukewarm? These are not question of shame, they are questions of renewal. We are at the end of the day the Easter people. Renewal is at the heart of Christianity, and powerfully present in the DNA of Methodism.


Prayer:

We thank you for your church, founded upon your Word, that challenges us to do more than sing and pray, but go out and work as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon you. Help us to realize that humanity was created to shine like the stars and live on through all eternity. Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace. Help us to walk together, pray together, sing together, and live together until that day when all God’s children — Black, White, Red, Brown and Yellow — will rejoice in one common band of humanity in the reign of our Lord and of our God, we pray. Amen.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from Thou, Dear God: Prayers that Open Hearts and Spirits(edited by Lewis V. Baldwin, Beacon Press, 2012).posted on https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/road-peace/prayers-martin-luther-king-jr.

Daily Devotional | Sunday, February 21

Sunday, February 21

In Luke Chapter 2 we read: So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.



Jesus’s face as created by artificial intelligence 
Artbreeder software and Bas Unterwijk.
(Image: Bas Unterwijk )

In Stoney the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow Henry Louis Gates, Jr. calls our attention to the use of imagery as a tool of racist oppression. “The difference between the circulation of racist images of black people before and after the war, especially after Reconstruction, is the jaw-dropping extent of its sheer numbers, its remarkable reproducibility. Repetition of a range of offensive character types—ostensibly of “Negroes”—was an attempt to fabricate and stabilize a single black image, “the Negro,” to reduce the complexity of actual black human beings and funnel it into fixed, unchangeable signifiers of blackness that even black people would see when they saw themselves reflected in America’s social mirror.”
The church has a history of cooperation in the oppression of non-white peoples demonstrated in the ubiquity of European imagery of Biblical people. The blonde Jesus of Warner Sallman’s Christ at Heart’s Door or his Christ’s Head hang in many of our churches. The paintings done in the 1940’s reinforce the dominant culture’s appropriation of biblical imagery and implicitly or explicitly are in accordance with the racial hierarchy established post-reconstruction and affirmed in the negative imagery of Gate’s passage, yet biblical people were persons of color.


Action step: today, with brutal honesty review the images present in your church, don’t overlook the most dangerous spaces: libraries, Sunday School rooms, and social halls. If you have stained glass, does it portray Jesus and other biblical figures as Europeans? The covers of your Sunday School materials, the books in the library, the three dimensional representations of the nativity that are put out at Christmas, how many of these reinforce a false narrative of white dominance?


Prayer:

Lord, help us to persist although we want to give up.

Lord, help us to keep trying although we can’t see what good it does.

Lord, help us to keep praying although we’re not sure you hear us.

Lord, help us to keep living in ways that seek to do you will.

Lord, help us to know when to lead and when to follow.

Lord, help us to know when to speak and when to remain silent.

Lord, help us to know when to act and when to wait.

 

Marian Wright Edelman shared by UMC Discipleship’s Praying for Change: Daily Prayers for Anti-Racism Email on Nov. 5, 2020

Daily Devotional | Saturday, February 20

Saturday, February 20

Luke 13:34-35, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”


The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, left, accompanied by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, march outside the US Capitol during a Poor People's Campaign rally in June 2018. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)

This is not God’s will; it is Jesus lament. Antiracism is not a program or one more training. Antiracism is a clarion call to prophetic ministry, a reminder that the apparatuses of systemic racism were set in place on our watch. Change will not result from acquiring a new set of videos, books, trainings, or songs – it will arise when we engage in fearless ministry as prophetic preachers, teachers, and leaders. The moment is now, there is hope, but there’s little time.
“Another sign of hope is the Reverend William J. Barber II, the most Martin Luther King–like figure in our time. His Moral Monday movement and now the Poor People’s Campaign is, alongside people such as Father Michael Pfleger and his great ministry at St. Sabina Church in Chicago, the Reverend Katie M. Ladd at Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle, and the Reverend Michael Mc-Bride at the Way Christian Center in Berkeley, California, the last hope for prophetic Christianity in America.” Race Matters: 25th Anniversary Addition, by Cornel West


Action step: today, with brutal honesty identify fears that may hinder your taking up the biblical authority to preach, teach, or lead prophetically. We all have fears in ministry, are there members of your church whose opposition to antiracism inhibit you? Let God speak to you in prayer that your fears or concerns might melt before the flame of truth.


Prayer: Prayer for Humankind

God of all humanity,

You call us to bring about healing and wholeness for the whole world –

for women and men of all races and cultures and creeds.

Help us to respond to a world that is groaning under the weight of injustice

and broken relationships.

Remind us that differences are a gift,

and interdependence a strength from the same creative God.

Strengthen us to resist the forces that encourage polarization and competition

rather than understanding and cooperation.

We know that your reign is not built on injustice and oppression,

but on the transformation of hearts –

new life, not just reordered life.

Teach us forgiveness, O God.

Bring us reconciliation.

Give us hope for the future.

We pray in Jesus’ love.

Amen.

 

Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, from Race and Prayer: Collected Voices Many Dreams edited by Malcolm Boyd and Chester L. Talton (Morehouse Publishing, 2003, p.76).

Daily Devotional | Friday, February 19

Friday, February 19

In Acts22:3 Paul, describing both his Jewish lineage and Roman citizenship says, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.”


Paul’s revolutionary ministry breaks with the hypodescent present in the biblical genealogies. From Paul forward “Christian” does not designate any one nation or race, describing instead a single body of believers. As a presbyter of the Church of England it was a Pauline-like overreach for John Wesley to ordain clergy let alone raising someone to the episcopacy. Wesley gifted us with an apostolic succession rooted in spirit not bloodline. Yet we have not always demonstrated this nimbleness addressing questions of race, gender, class, or sexuality.
“In the United States we have governmentally crafted definitions of race as well as broadly accepted social definitions. We also practice a form of hypodescent, the notion that racial identity is denoted by physical inheritance and by “blood” from a racial group. But this works in a particular way: the lower ranking group is what defines the descent. So throughout US history (and up to today) “looking” black makes you black, as does any black parentage (even great-grandparents). According to popular opinion, having even one drop of “black blood” in your genealogy makes you black, but having many drops of white blood does not make you white.” Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature, by Agustín Fuentes.


Action step: today, with brutal honesty look at your beliefs about race and blood. How were you shaped by ideas of hypodescent? Ask that your eyes be opened to ways in which you believe race is biological and not a social construct. To be antiracist we must first challenge all preconceptions about race. Are these racial categories of humanity as real as you were taught they are?


Prayer:

Oh Lord, let me love my brother,

let me love my sister

always and everywhere

as your mirrored Self

here among us, beside us,

and where I need to lift up,

let me bend my knees,

put my hands to the plough,

and do just that.

And where I need lifted up,

let pride never refuse

the rainbow touch of another.

Bless him, bless her, bless us

and weave us together within that covenant comfort

that stretches from here to there

till it reaches everywhere,

warm and strong

within the shelter of your loving arms.

Amen.

Marc Harshman, from Race and Prayer: Collected Voices Many Dreams edited by Malcolm Boyd and Chester L. Talton (Morehouse Publishing, 2003), 136.

Daily Devotional | Thursday, February 18

Thursday, February 18

Jeremiah 29:4-9 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”


St. George's United Methodist Church, Philadelphia. Black lay preachers Allen and Jones drew a large community of black worshipers to the congregation. Racial tensions flared, most notably in a seating policy segregating black members into a newly constructed upstairs gallery, without notification. The next Sunday in 1787, white ushers attempted to forcibly drag a black member of the church, Absolem Jones, to a different pew. This ultimately resulted in the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination.

Christians are called to be prophetic voices to the dominant culture yet too often Christians operate within the framework of American exceptionalism or succumb to the idea that America a Christian nation. Left unchecked Christian exceptionalism becomes Christian nationalism. In Bring the War Home: the White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, historian Dr. Kathleen Belew writes: “Founded by Robert Millar in 1973, Elohim City – “City of God,” in Hebrew – consisted of some seventy-five white separatists living on a 400-acre wooded compound, mostly in trailers parked on cement slabs. Residents trained with homemade napalm, Claymore mines, grenades, assault rifles, AR-15s, and Ruger Mini-14s…Millar preached Christian Identity and separatism, and said that the wealth of the white race proved that they were God’s chosen people.”


Action step: today, with brutal honesty ask yourself is your sanctuary a Christian sanctuary or an American Christian sanctuary? Is your sanctuary a Christian sanctuary or a white Christian sanctuary? What is the history of your building? What objects and images fill its spaces? How can you as a leader not hide these but shine light on them as objects of investigation and discussion?


Prayer:

Dear God,

In the effort to dismantle racism, I understand that I struggle not merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep racism alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of our family are inferior and others superior.

Create in me a new mind and heart that will enable me to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by racial categories.

Give me the grace and strength to rid myself of racial stereotypes that oppress some in my family while providing entitlements to others.

Help me to create a nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed people of color where we live, as well as those around the world.

Help me to heal your family making me one with you and empowered by your Holy Spirit.

Adapted by Debra Mooney, PhD from Pax Christi, https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/online-resources/prayer-index/prayers-for-racial-justice-and-reconciliation