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

Daily Devotional | Wednesday, February 17

Wednesday February 17, Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:5–7 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?


Strength of a Man is a painting by The Art of DionJa'Y

In Black Theology & Black Power, James Cone wrote: “The white church has not merely failed to render services to the poor but has failed miserably in being a visible manifestation to the world of God’s intention for humanity and in proclaiming the gospel to the world. It seems that the white church is not God’s redemptive agent but, rather, an agent of the old society. It fails to create an atmosphere of radical obedience to Christ. Most church fellowships are more concerned about drinking or new buildings or Sunday closing than about children who die of rat bites or men who are killed because they want to be treated like men. The society is falling apart for want of moral leadership and moral example, but the white church passes innocuously pious resolutions and waits to be congratulated.”


Action step: today, with brutal honesty as Lent 2021 commences and we are living with huge loss from the pandemic, racial strife and inequity, economic crisis, and social upheaval ask where your congregation is headed. The pressures on our denomination, Conference, and local churches are real and can feel oppressive. What is God calling us to for Lent 2021? Is there room in your life, considering all these pressures, to commit to antiracism? If not now, then when? “Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?”


Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer)

Daily Devotional | Tuesday, February 16

Tuesday, February 16

Acts 2:7-11 – Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”


Luke goes on to list a diversity of nations of origin each testifying to the universal nature of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. We in the church today often walk the razor’s edge separating patriotism from nationalism. American exceptionalism, as expressed for instance in Lee Greenwood, “[a]nd I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free” offers a view on our nation more in line with the experiences of the dominant culture. People of color, the LGBTQ+, and the disabled may recognize their reality more accurately portrayed in Nikki Giovanni’ poem BLK History Month:

If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too

Anthropologist Jonathan Marks writing for the PBS series Race – the Power of Illusion challenges us to think about the way we see people. “Here’s the paradox. The classifications that are the most arbitrary, and the least natural, seem to be the ones that matter the most to us. People could be categorized in many ways. There are short people and tall people; people with straight teeth and crooked teeth; with wiry, muscular, or chunky body builds; with freckles; with more or less body hair. These are natural differences, but they’re not very important to us. What is important? Whether you’re an American or an Iraqi. Whether you’re a Nazi, a Communist, a Democrat, or a Republican. An Oriole fan or a Yankee fan. Rich or poor. Us or them. These categories of history and of society, the categories of human invention, are far more important to our daily lives than the categories of natural variation in our species.”


Action step: today, with brutal honesty, and starting from the thesis that the arbitrary categories white, male, and English language still structurally dominate church life ask what changes, if any, to these systemic structures have happened in your congregation and where is God asking you to lead next?


Prayer: A Prayer for Challenging Racism

God,

You are the source of human dignity,

and it is in your image that we are created.

Pour out on us the spirit of love and compassion.

Enable us to reverence each person,

to reach out to anyone in need,

to value and appreciate those who differ from us,

to share the resources of our nation,

to receive the gifts offered to us

by people from other cultures.

Grant that we may always promote

the justice and acceptance

that ensures lasting peace and racial harmony.

Help us to remember that we are one world and one family.

Amen.

from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council. Shared on July 24, 2020  by UMC Discipleship’s Praying for Change: Daily Prayers for Anti-Racism E-mail

Daily Devotional | Monday, February 15

Monday, February 15

John 1:45-46b – Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?


Mural artist Shane B. repairs his George Floyd mural in downtown Birmingham, AL, after it had been defaced.
Image from Birmingham Real-Time News.

What’s up with Nathaniel’s attitude toward Nazareth? “Because it was a No place: it is never mentioned in the Old Testament, the Jewish Talmud and Midrash, nor in any extant pagan writing.” The College Press NIV Commentary on John. Nathaniel’s reaction exemplifies a very human mistrust of the other. The idea of race, constantly evolving and re-weaponized against people of color, is rooted in our acquiesce to otherness.
“Hunky” has a simple derivation, though with arresting complications…Josephine Wtulich’s American Xenophobia and the Slav Immigrant attempts interestingly to untangle bohunk and hunky. Wtulich allows that between 1900 and 1930, bohunk came to mean not only a Bohemian–Hungarian but also a “Pole, Slovak and even an Austrian” or “any uneducated, unskilled immigrant from central and east Europe.” Thus when a Texas planter fretted that “Bohunks wanted to intermarry with whites,” and added, “Yes, they’re white but they’re not our kind of white,” it is by no means certain to whom he refers.” From Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White, by historian David Roediger.


Action step: today, with brutal honesty prayerfully consider the racist epithets of your youth. While we may have managed to bury the words themselves, in powerful ways their shadow remains. The trope that asks “do you cross the street when you see a group of young black males” asks us to examine the vulgar and derogatory words directed at otherness of race, class, disability, gender, and sexuality we carried forward from youth. Ask God to cleanse you today of the remnants of cultural indoctrination to which all of us were subjective no matter where we were raised, or our own ethnic, racial, class, denominational backgrounds.


Prayer: A Prayer for One Flesh in Christ

My Lord and my God, I see you being torn apart on the cross still, as we persist in tearing the body from the spirit. You dared to penetrate the flesh of humankind with the presence of God. You took on the flesh of every human being.

Help us now, after all these years of denial, to finally embrace your incarnation, to feel, in the depths of our beings, that we are part of each other’s bodies in your body, may we clasp to ourselves the flesh of all persons, especially those whose flesh looks different from ours, whose language is strange to our ears, whose music sounds dissonant, whose sexuality offends our sensibilities. May we have the courage to hold the sick and the old to our health and our youth. Thus may we behold the glory of the Word become flesh as he dwells among us. Amen.

Paul Moore, Jr., from Race and Prayer: Collected Voices Many Dreams edited by Malcolm Boyd and Chester L. Talton (Morehouse Publishing, 2003), 141.