Last November

Growing up out here in the country taught me things. Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants….But since Mama got sick, I learned that pain can do that, too.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Last November

by Lauren Corder

A pile of clothes
   composts in the bathroom.
Canes and a walker
   rust in place.

A garden
   once vibrant
       grows over with weeds.

Her blank canvases
   will not bear
       flowers or fruit.

The season changed.
   Leaves are browning,
and the earth is rising
   to take her.

Advertisements

Core Issues

The past couple of years have brought Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, #MeToo, #NeverAgain, teacher strikes in three states. Though we have much to despair about, we have many reasons for hope. A big hope. The rich white men in power are going to lose their power. People of color, women, and millennials are going to shove them aside.

We will push with our votes. We will push by organizing, advocating, and communicating. We will displace these men from their seats in the halls and boardrooms of power. We will band together–black, Latinx, Native Americans, women, LGBTQ+, youth–to become a tidal wave of change that will blast out the structures of society built on foundations of evil: greed, self-interest, consumption, and environmental degradation.

The marginalized peoples of America are saying, “Enough!” No more profit over people. No more profit over planet. Native Americans are done with living in the shadows in a land that is their home. African Americans are finished with being enslaved in each decade a different way. Teachers are fed up with this richest nation on earth paying them a pittance while demonizing them for children’s low test scores. Women will not submit their bodies to men to advance their careers. Schoolchildren have had enough of death in their classrooms. The poor are finished being blamed for their poverty.

All of these groups have looked around at the structures these men have built and have “woke” to the imperative to tear them down. To build anew on foundations of actual equality, actual liberty, and actual justice for all. A nation founded on a contradiction must be recast because, indeed, it is cracked. These men saw no irony in crafting a declaration of equality while at the same time enslaving Africans, destroying and displacing every indigenous nation, and disenfranchising women. But we see the rot beneath the golden facade. And it shall not stand.

 

White People’s Work!

Welcome to my blog’s first guest post! The writer is the Rev. Lorrie Corder, my wife, who is  called to the holy work of bringing about social justice for all oppressed, marginalized, and stigmatized people.

White People’s Work!
Sermon thoughts from a recent Sunday Lectionary
By Rev. Lorrie Corder

John 1:43-46        New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathaniel

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathaniel 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.” 46 Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of any place we who are white might fear or mock or ridicule or make less than our own homeland?  For anyone who has traveled, the answer is a decided, “Yes.” We have crossed boundaries and borders and seen that all of God’s world is good and that there is good in all persons. More than good, there is God in all persons—whether they look like us, pray like us, love like us, eat like us, dress like us, die like us, mourn like us, celebrate like us, or worship like us. God is in and through all the earth.  The key to the scripture passage is Philip’s invitation to “come and see.” Nathaniel must make a journey in order to see the good that came from Nazareth.  He must step out and see the world outside to answer the question.

In Saint Louis where I currently live, many white people are insulated in gated communities and intentionally, economically, and racially segregated suburbs. In order to see the good that exists throughout the city and the county, white residents must “come and see.” White people must let go the convenience of driving the freeways—that also serve to isolate them—and travel surface streets. They must drive north and cross the Delmar divide, the avenue that separates the people in St. Louis by race and class from their Nazareth. delmarWhite people must stop lying to themselves that since they have good schools and grocery stores and hospitals and health care, everyone here in the region has the same access and opportunity. They need to cross the divide to learn that the “derelict” neighborhoods in North City and North County are actually full of human beings with similar dreams and ambitions.  These Nazareths are full of human beings who deserve the same access to services where they live as anyone in wealthy enclaves like Ladue or Chesterfield would expect.  Furthermore, if one were to come and see, one would learn of the amazing work happening in these so-called ghettos to repair and restore communities.  There is enough wealth here that all parts of the city could prosper if there were a will to do it.  The Gospel here is about integrating access to basic human services in all places and taking down the walls and barricaded streets that keep all of us in our own lanes and separate us from our common humanity.

What about where you live? Do you need to reach across a street or a border? Do you need to come and see the indigenous people whose homelands we of European descent are all squatting on as illegal and unwanted aliens? Do you need to learn a new language or about a new religion? What is your journey? To whom or to where do you need to “come and see”?

Besides an outward physical journey to understand that good can come from Nazareth, we who are white need to take an interior journey as well. The courageous pastor Andre Trocme’ stood up to the Nazis and saved as many Jewish people as he could regardless of the danger to his own life. He once preached: “Whoever does not love God will always be dividing humans into races, classes, or other kinds of groups…We, on the other hand, know that God abides in the soul of every human being. Every human can find God there, can hear God’s voice. Every human possesses the capacity to look within, where God can always be revealed. Sometimes this even happens without us being aware of it. God’s love for humans teaches us how we too are to love…Every human is a bearer of God’s image in the world.” 1

When we look within ourselves and find God there and listen for God’s voice, what do we hear? If we do not hear Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we have work to do. We must ask ourselves what lies have we swallowed from friends, parents, news programs, history books, and pastors that do not square with the great commandments? Where are our carefully taught biases and blindness to white privilege keeping us stuck and ignorant? Again, Philip’s words send us out to “come and see.” We need to investigate our own hearts and minds and souls, to ask questions, to meet neighbors we don’t understand or know.

We will make mistakes and it won’t be easy!  The very act of questioning our inner thoughts will prevent our hearts from hardening like Pharaoh. If we say we have faith in God through Christ, then we must take a risk and turn our inner examination to outward visible action.

Little children can help us as we go. A little girl I know is fond of questioning adults who give sermons and lectures at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis.  Her question is always a variation on, “What do like best about what you do or who you are?” She asked Bishop Gene Robinson what he liked best about being gay. She asked young demonstrators from Ferguson what they liked best about their work. To a pastor friend of mine she asked, “What do you like best about being black?” These are simple questions asked to strangers designed to elicit responses that cut to the heart of our common humanity. We must come and see and go and ask of ourselves and our neighbors, “What is it like to be you?”

Recently, the president wondered why we should take in immigrants from certain countries. In his crude way, he asked Nathaniel’s question, “What good can come out of those ‘shithole’ countries?” Disciples of Christ pastor and social justice activist the Rev. Dr. Barber tweeted this response to the president’s version of Nathaniel’s question: “Since we have a President who wants to talk about ppl [sic] from ‘shithole countries’—& extremist preachers & politicians who defend him—let those of us who believe in love & justice turn this shithole moment into fertilizer & grow a movement of resistance & redemption for America!”2

Indeed, we cannot let the tweeter in D.C. go unchecked. We must protest his hate. More than that, we who are white need to search our thoughts and deeds and figure out where we too have “othered” people and places that we do not know. From that searching, we must act to explore, grow, and learn.  We must correct our ignorance and our actions. From searching, growing, and learning, we must then turn to action: to fix broken relationships in our own families and communities, to reach out a hand of giving to persons unknown, to offer shelter, to feed and clothe the least of these, to set free the wrongly imprisoned, and finally to love even our enemies.

It is a tall order, a calling that could lead to personal discomfort or possibly danger. We are not living into the life of Christ if we are not willing to lose our lives for the sake of others known and unknown to us.  Don’t let the scriptures be only words. Act now! Grow into the stature of the Living Word each day.  Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of a lot of time for all this searching and growing. The world needs our action more desperately because of the hard and soulless Pharaoh in the Oval Office who currently claims to tweet for all of us. We must challenge this wrongness and say, “Not in our Nazareth!” Good things and people are found in all parts of our towns. They are found both in the ghettos our ignorance and greed have made and in the segregated neighborhoods of the wealthy and fearful. We need to cross the divide and meet at the communion table and realize we are part of a common humanity created by God. We need to live for one another and not against.  We can do it because we walk in a love that is from God and that is greater than any hate. Come and see the good that comes out of Nazareth. Be the good that comes out of Nazareth. Amen!

Sources

  1. Schott, Hanna. Love in a time of hate: the story of Magda and Andre Trocme and the village that said no to the Nazis. Herald Press., 2017.
  2. Barber, Rev. Dr. (@RevDrBarber) Since we have a President who wants to talk about ppl from “shithole countries”—& extremist preachers & politicians who defend him—let those of us who believe in love & justice turn this shithole moment into fertilizer & grow a movement of resistance & redemption for America! January 13, 2018, 4:09pm. Tweet.

 

A Place to Call Home

We all take up space on this planet. Birds in the air and on their nests, whales beneath oceans, foxes in their dens, trees in forests and suburbs. None of earth’s creatures or plants pay a mortgage or a rent. It is a given that if a creature or plant begins to grow, it will require a space in which to have its being. The earth provides that space with generous abundance.

Why then is it a given that humans must pay to be given space on this planet? Why is housing a privilege instead of a basic human right and need? Why do we monetize the necessities for living? Imagine if birds monetized their food. Worms $1.00. Seed 25 cents per teaspoon. No money? No eat. Nesting material 3 reeds for a dollar. Soft down to line your nest will cost extra.

Imagine if whales were expected to pay tolls to travel their ocean migratory routes. Don’t have enough dough to make it to salmon spawning feeding grounds, too bad, so sad. What if trees had to pay by the foot for their growth? You want to be 100 feet tall? Fine, but it’s going to cost you.

Of course, there was a time when humans did not monetize their living arrangements. They simply found a place to settle and built either temporary or more permanent dwellings. They paid no rent to anyone except the price of subsisting off the bounty of the land. It was not an easy life, but they lived upon the earth in the same way that other animals and plants did. It was normal to expect that you would require space in which to live.

Then, of course, human societies began developing systems of domination. Overlords took over swathes of land and demanded that the people already residing on it owed the lords for their protection. Without cash money, the peasants paid in crop yields and livestock.

Today, in my view, this system of domination is not much different. If a family cannot afford to purchase a home, they must rent from a landlord. Landlord….think about this term for a minute. Landlords charge a “market value” for their rents, which is oftentimes much more than the mortgage they pay, if they have a mortgage left to pay at all.

To purchase a home in many areas of the country is a prohibitive proposition. Some people manage to do it but at a ratio too high to afford their medical, food, and other expenses.

Naturally, with the number of people living on the earth these days–billions of us–it is not reasonable for humans simply to choose a place and go live in it. Where would they go that isn’t already occupied? However, I do believe we need a better method of assisting people to get housing. We need to see it as a right, not a privilege, and provide housing allowances for those unable to afford to rent or buy a home or apartment.

Some will say, but why should I help some deadbeat person get a home? I have earned what it took to buy mine. They should earn what they need to get theirs. That logic does not make sense in a housing market like Seattle where even an 800 square foot house sells for half a million dollars. No person working full time for minimum wage is a “deadbeat.” They have a right to a warm, dry, affordable place to call home.

Wind

At this moment, wind is coursing through hemlocks and cedars, its movement like surf through branches and needles. A branch, kicked out of the stream, clicks onto the roof, and I look up, wondering whether more will be ripped loose.

Darkness surrounds the house and me, except for the two candles lighting my home altar. Even with windows closed, this storm tilts the candles’ flames to the current. It is two months since my mother died in this place. I sit now in the room farthest from where she lay. Twice, the touch lamp in her bedroom has turned on by itself. Once, I awoke to a voice saying, “It’s lonely here.”

Twice in one year I have sat next to the body of my parent. Twice, I watched to make sure they were not still breathing. And I held their lifeless hands and beheld their unseeing eyes, and I cannot unsee this. These were uneasy deaths, full of pain and suffering.

And silences. A year of silence while they yet lived; a year of silence now they are dead. What should have been said? The things they left behind are no Rosetta stone. They are size 6 pants, 3/4 sleeve blouses, and shoes. They are sets of twin sheets, nail clippers, and unopened vials of insulin.

They are my missing baby clothes and cup. My letters unopened never read. No pictures of my wife. Misunderstandings as deep as the piles of Mom’s clothes neatly folded on her bed.

The wind has died down. The candles’ flames steady themselves. I ponder the good times and the bad, the music, the laughter, the omissions, the love. A love that ripped my heart out. Like a branch torn off a tree in the wind.