The Ancestors

“But if they confess their and their ancestors’ guilt for the wrongdoing they did to me, and for their continued opposition to me— which made me oppose them, so I took them into enemy territory—or if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they make up for their guilt, then I will remember my covenant…”

Leviticus‬ ‭26‬:‭40‬-‭42‬ ‭

This is a warning and a prescription of what repentance should like if they were to violate Torah, which included acting in love toward neighbors. After all, to sin against a neighbor is to sin against God. (For ex. see Lev. 6:1ff).

Confessing the guilt of the ancestors and addressing the legacy of harms inflicted on others whose sacred dignity and worth were violated, which is a direct affront to God, is to humbly do justice to the command of love. Repentance that is both reparative and reconciliatory is as old as Torah. It requires unfettered dependency upon God’s faithful love and genuine humility.

May I (and you) have ears to hear.

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In the face of antagonism

In response to the antagonism coming from religious and political leaders, the naysayers, resisters, and deniers, Jesus said “wisdom is vindicated by her children.” (Luke 7:35).

I am thinking of many I care for who are doing the hard work of love and justice in my city. So, I have a word:

People will antagonize. They will slander and attempt to do harm. They will bait you publicly and privately. As for you beloved, let your presence remain faithful and your actions be marked by love. Let that be your witness.

May you resist having something to prove, because Christ has proven everything on our behalf. Maintain the integrity of your confession when you said, “Jesus is Lord,” and always remember your baptism. Then, your heart and mind—your deepest state of consciousness—will be liberated and you can commit yourself to the work of keeping the wisdom you speak and live in alignment with God’s, and wait for it to be vindicated by what it produces.

Many will cry out from the cheap seats, beloved. As for you, stay in the arena.

Do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with God, and trust the Lord with the consequences.

And let’s do it together.

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There are Many Expressions

There are expressions of Christianity that will keep me cozy and comfortable, not asking or requiring much of me. Some will exist to pump me up, “feed” me and be wind for my sails to get through the week. Others affirm my ideology and lift up a God who believes a lot like me. All will talk about Jesus, guarantee my salvation, call it discipleship, and use Scripture to do all of it.

Then there are expressions of Christianity that center on Jesus, on the kingship, priestliness, and prophetic in his person and teaching. It recognizes that all of the Scriptures, Hebrew and Christian, testify of him. This version invites me into an understanding of life other than the one I’m managing.

It is less concerned about cozy and comfortable, and more concerned about abiding faithful love and shalom-shaped joy and peaceableness.

It doesn’t aim to pump me up and feed me as much as prepare and form me for the world that is and is to come.

It won’t affirm my ideology, but it will summons me to submit my whole self to the redemptive politics of God’s Kingdom where my allegiance to the reign of Christ is necessary.

It will assure me of unending grace, cover me in the deepest love, expect faithfulness rather than perfection, and guide me into a common life shared by others more than one day a week. This version of Christianity can liberate me into an unexpected life where truth, goodness and justice meet. It will not keep me from suffering and sorrow, but will ground me in hope and a joy of a different kind that overcomes.

There’s so much more. But for now I’ll say it is, at the very least, deeper than the expressions of Christianity we most often settle for. The tragedy is many of us don’t even see it.

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Happy Birthday Frederick Douglass

Each Valentine’s day I remember the life of St. Valentine. I also remember the life of Frederick Douglass. Today is the day he chose as his birthday. As one born into enslavement he never knew his real day of birth.

Prophets, woman or man, have always been preachers, poets, and social critics. They speak in the language of lament and hope to give voice to love and justice. Douglas was no exception. Our world would be different without his witness. In a society where politicians want to ban his work and censor him from US history books, I’m grateful for the records that tell his story.

Banning and censorship is nothing new.

U.S. newspapers, North and South, were critical of Douglass’ speaking about slavery in Britain. They wanted him to remain silent. But a man named Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, offered his support. In a letter Douglass wrote to him, he said,

“I am one of those who think the best friend of a nation is he who most faithfully rebukes her for her sins—and he her worst enemy, who, under the specious and popular garb of patriotism, seeks to excuse, palliate, and defend them. America has much more to fear from such than all the rebukes of the abolitionists at home or abroad.”

“General Correspondence 1846” (page 30)

Not only did Douglass speak prophetically to the governing authorities, he spoke to White Christians and leaders. Concerning the Fugitive Slave Law he said:

“I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it. At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness.”

“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” delivered to the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York, in 1852

I’m grateful for his birth.

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Conclusion, King in Context

Rev. Dr. King was most certainly a man who was “blues in the life of the mind and jazz in the ways of the world” (to quote Dr. Cornel West). I close out the King in Context posts with one of my personal favorites: Rev. Dr. King’s address for the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival. He riffs about faith, jazz, and justice in a way that is soul-stirring. Here is the text of his speech.

“God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”

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