Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Keeping One Another's Courage Up

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967

Ojai, CA

Yet again, we've weathered the storm. Back in early October, we got more than a foot of snow in Saskatoon, just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving. Then, in early January, we got snowed out of our place just outside of Portland. This time, the Ojai Valley got pounded with six inches of wind-gusting rain for twenty-four hours. The tree outside our little apartment came crashing down, ripping down power lines with it. Amazingly, we only lost power for eight hours (we went dark for three full days in Detroit back in the Fall of 2014).

Our time up here, one hundred miles north of downtown L.A., has started with a bang. Last week, we staffed the annual Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries Institute, a gathering of leaders from all over North America. It is a blessed space committed to alternative theological education, uniquely intersecting the seminary, sanctuary, street and soil. Starting just a month after the inauguration of a new President, the timing couldn't have been more important. As Ched Myers proclaimed, "This is not just another conference, but a family meeting to deal with this unique historical moment." Elaine Enns called it "a brave space, a kindred space for tending and befriending." What we need now, these organizers said, was a gathering dedicated to keeping one another's courage up.

Really, the Institute is part-church, part-strategy brain-storm, part-therapy session, part-recovery meeting, part-spiritual retreat. Lindsay served as the gathering's therapist and many attendees signed up for time with her. She also helped facilitate the "Feminary" cohort of six women who studied and corresponded throughout the year, and acted on the side as ad-hoc child care guru and playmate. Tom was a chaplain and helped facilitate a workshop on the importance (both spiritually and politically) of grief work. Both of us were tasked with all sorts of logistical endeavors, from making meals to setting up for plenary sessions to staffing the book table to transportation needs.

The Institute focused on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech as a sacred text to help guide us during this time. The prophetic speech was honest and forthright and more than 150 newspapers editorialized against King the next day. It was written by Vincent Harding, who decades later wrote "the un-tranquil King and his peace-disturbing vision, words, and deeds hold the key to the future of America." History often forgets just how much opposition King experienced from every angle. His political vision was what he called "the militant middle:" participating in both strategic, organized nonviolent civil disobedience and a continuing quest to win electoral power.

King was wedged between the black nationalists who believed King was a sell-out and the white moderates in Birmingham calling his protests “unwise and untimely” (and white Evangelical Billy Graham telling him to “put on the brakes”). Many “people of conscience” believed King was too radical, trying to move too fast and furious on issues of race, poverty and the war. Dr. King, most certainly, was not what we would call “moderate” or “centrist” today. He was very much like the radical Jesus of the Gospels, himself squeezed into “the militant middle” between the fiery zealots advocating violence against Rome and the religious elites seeking compromise to sustain their power and privilege.

Our gathering focused on play and creativity too, exercising the right side of the brain. One morning, Lindsay got swept up into a spontaneous parade with the Carnival de Resistance, complete with song, dance, games and plenty of face-paint. Over the course of the week, many participants worked together (animated by the work & vision of Resident Artist Chris Wight) to build up a lego Trump Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)…

...and then transformed it into a Tree of Life whose leaves are for "the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2).

It is with this "revolutionary spirit" that we move forward into this season. Fifty years ago, Dr. King pleaded with people of faith and conscience to "make America the truly great America that it is called to be." He proposed that the main obstacle to this vision wasn't "the bad people," but instead the good people who were staying "silent about the things that matter most." He called upon "discipline non-conformists" and "creative extremists" to organize and strategize for a whole new world.

We invite everyone, people of faith and conscience, both the spiritual and the religious, to join us in journeying through the forty days of Lent, starting tomorrow (what Christians call "Ash Wednesday"). Tom and Lydia Wylie-Kellermann have organized a daily devotional on Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech on RadicalDiscipleship.Net. Every day, there will be a couple paragraphs of King's speech with a short devotional from a long-distance runner for justice. We hope it helps to inspire and challenge and, above all else, to keep one another's courage up.

*Lastly: mark your calendars for April 7-8. BCM and our dear friends Hyun and Sue Park-Hur of ReconciliAsian are teaming up to organize a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the L.A. Uprising (what we used to call "riot"). See below for more info on this two-day forum called "429: Remembearing and Renewal."

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