Monday, August 18, 2014

Litany for Peace

I just wanted to share some prayers from a prayer service for peace at house church last week.  The litany and closing prayer are original.  Let us pray and work for peace.
We are molded, each one of us,
in the image of God,
and within our souls there is a fingerprint
none can erase.
We pray for those who have no regard
for anyone but self,
who put no value on human life.
For nations and individuals who abuse and kill.
We are not called to be judge or jury,
but we are called to be agents of change,
and if the butterfly that flaps its wings
should be our attitude to others
then so be it, Lord,
and may the hurricane this generates
somewhere within the world
reach into the hearts and souls of those
for whom we pray, and reveal to them
how precious are those
for whom they have no love,
and how precious are they
who now bring tears to the eyes of God.
©John Birch

We imagine a world
where the deaths of innocent children are never viewed as inevitable and justifiable.
We imagine a world
with no guns, no bombs, no armies, no soldiers.
We imagine a world
free of violence, exploitation and oppression.
We imagine a world
where every human life is honored and regarded as sacred.
We imagine a world
where selfishness and apathy are no longer the norm and good people are no longer silent.
We imagine a world
where grace, gentleness and compassion are prized much more than money, power and status.
We imagine a world
where the triumph of justice, righteousness and peace become an every day occurrence.

Gracious and loving God to you now we turn.  No other help do we know.  For the violence in our hearts, for the violence in the words we’ve spoken, for the violence done on our behalf aided by our apathy and inaction, forgives us, wash us and convert us.   Help us to continue to dream your dream for the world and give us the courage to spend our lives making your dream a reality.  Send us to our homes in peace and out into your world to make peace.  In the name of Jesus, whose very life was pierced by the violence we seek to end Amen.

Following the Way,
Kevin Vetiac

Friday, August 15, 2014

Michael Brown: When Will They Stop Killing Us?

When I first heard about the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri I had no reaction at all.  I just went numb.  I think my heart was so broken by the death of yet another unarmed black man by the police that it would not allow me to feel anything at all, afraid I would collapse completely under the weight of grief, rage and the sense of helplessness.  I was reading another article about the situation yesterday and I finally broke.  I burst into tears at my desk at work and had to run to the bathroom so I could have a moment to grieve in private.  As a black man I cannot help but ask the following questions.  Why do white people hate us so much?  What did we do to them?  Slavery wasn't enough.  Jim Crow wasn't enough.  Lynching wasn't enough.  Depriving us from economic opportunity and forcing many of us into ghettos is not enough.  Now we must also be shot dead for walking down the street.  When will they stop killing us?

I've heard some people blame the militarization of the police for the shooting of Michael Brown.  Indeed, this is a major problem, but let's not miss the obvious here.  As militarized as the police have become, when's the last time you've heard of an unarmed 18 year-old white teenager being gunned down by the police?  Michael Brown was shot dead for being a black man in a country that is as racist as hell and has been from it's very beginning.  America does not have a race "problem';  America in its very nature is racist and the denial of this reality furthers its perpetuation.  Claims that events like the shooting of Michael Brown are isolated incidents are absolutely absurd.  Was the genocide of the Native Americans an isolated incident?  How about the African slave trade?  The war against Mexico in order to steal land and enlarge the US?  Jim Crow?  Lynching?  The massive rates of incarceration among black people today?  The murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and John Crawford?

Am I to believe that all of these are isolated incidents that are not connected to one another?  Absolutely not!  The shooting of Michael Brown is nothing more than the continuation of the subjugation of people of color this country was founded upon and thrives upon to this day.  A racist country produces racist police.  It's simple to understand.  And until the average white American acknowledges the fact that the very foundation of our nation is built upon the refusal to acknowledge people of color as full human beings, the racism will continue and people of color will continue to pay the price.  Your denial is killing us.

Racism killed Michael Brown.  Racism that refuses to acknowledge people of color as fully human.  Racism that says people of color are to be humiliated, exploited and kept in their place.  Racism that says all black men are dangerous menaces to society who need to be locked up or shot dead.  Racism that tells white people to be afraid of all black people everywhere at all times.  Racism that makes it OK to shoot first and ask questions later.  It is this racism that fuels the American way of life and makes white privilege possible.

As a black man it is absolutely ridiculous and heartbreaking that I need to say the following in 2014, but hear me white America:

I am a person.  Do you get that?  Do you really get that?  I'm fully human just like you.  I am not a target.  I am not a dog that can be shot down in the street for no reason.  I do not exist to serve you or be subordinate to you in any way so don't expect me to be submissive to you.  I'm going to say that again because you really need to hear this white America.  I DO NOT EXIST TO SERVE YOU OR BE SUBORDINATE TO YOU IN ANY WAY.  I am made in the image and likeness of God.  My blackness is not a curse, it is a blessing.  I will never apologize to you for existing, never.

We cannot talk about Michael Brown without talking about race.  A racist country produces racist police.  We cannot confront police brutality without confronting racism.  And we cannot end racism in America without dismantling all of the systems formulated to deny people of color their full humanity.  Until we do this all the police training in the world will not stop the lives of people of color from being sacrificed for the maintenance of white privilege one way or the other.  As a black man in America I must return to the question: When will they stop killing us?

Following the Way,

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Every Breath is a Gift

"The breath you just took is a gift."
Rob Bell

I am becoming aware of the truth of this statement more and more.  It  becomes more difficult to take life for granted when faced with the atrocities taking place in Gaza, Syria and many places around the world.  The thought of innocent children being bombed in their sleep is enough to shake you out of apathy.  At any moment life can be taken from you.  A close friend of mine is in the hospital after a medical emergency that could have easily taken her life.  She is still here and in the midst of sadness and worry about her condition I must be grateful.  I must give thanks that she is still here and I am still here to witness her recovery.

Every breath is a gift, every single one.  Every breath is a manifestation of grace that is at once beautiful and fragile.  Here one moment and gone the next.  We must surrender to this reality if we are to live life well.  Denying our vulnerability does the world no good.  Humility and gratitude are essential to a life well lived.  Realizing the limitations of what we can do for ourselves opens our eyes to see all that is graciously given to us, providing us with opportunities to sink deeper into gratitude.  We can do nothing to earn or deserve the breath of life.  We cannot take life upon ourselves.  It is given to us freely as an act of grace and love.

My favorite part of the creation story in the Bible is Genesis 2:7  "Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."  I love the imagery of God stooping down into the clay and personally breathing life into the first human being.  It's a beautiful illustration that our very being is dependent upon another Source, that life is a gift freely given to be received in gratitude.  Love has called us into being.

When I am tempted to fall into despair because of all the troubles in the world I remind myself that every single breath I take gives me another reason to say thank you.  Every breath is a gift.  What will I do with it?  The powers that be seem invincible and ubiquitous, but certainly I can use my life to make a difference in the lives of others.  The ability to be grateful in a world full of trouble saves us from the paralysis of despair and nudges us to use our gift for purposes far greater than securing our own comfort.  Every now and then stop, be still, take a breath and recognize it for the miraculous gift that it is.  Let everything that you do flow from this realization.

Following the Way,

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Such Silence?

I have been so distraught over the relentless targeting of civilians by Israeli forces.  I see the faces of Palestinian children in my dreams and every morning I wake up Gaza has been the first thing on my mind.  Perhaps I am being naive, but I really am in shock that the international community, especially the US, is allowing such atrocities to continue without forcing Israel to stop dropping bombs on innocent civilians.

What I find equally if not more disturbing is the silence of the church regarding the massacres taking place in Gaza.  I've seen clergy promoting books and church programs on facebook, but not mention a word about Gaza.  Israel bombs UN shelters full of women and children in Gaza and the church largely has nothing to say about it.  Why?  Why the silence?

Christians are the only people in the world who proclaim a crucified Savior.  We believe that God is most clearly revealed among the poor and oppressed, not the rich and the powerful.  Liberation theologian Jon Sobrino refers to all people who suffer unjustly as "the crucified people".  What does it mean to proclaim a crucified Savior but ignore the suffering of the crucified people?  Why does the church fail to recognize the Palestinians as a crucified people?  They have been stripped of their homeland by force, occupied by a military regime, trapped in ghettos and refugee camps, stripped of their right of self determination and basic human rights in general, for no other reason than living on land coveted by others with superior military force.  As if living in a concentration camp were not enough, now the people of Gaza must be bombed as well.

To be silent in the face of such injustice is sin and a betrayal of Jesus himself.  We are our brother's keeper.  We are our sister's keeper.  We cannot pick and choose who we will defend if we are to be authentic to the way of Jesus.  We must stand up for the crucified people wherever they appear, whether in Gaza, Syria or the urban ghetto.  I have never been as disappointed with church as I am now, so slow to move, so slow to take notice, so slow to act, so wrapped up in its own agenda.  A church that proclaims a crucified Savior but turns its back on crucified people has lost its way and is of no use to the world.

The world doesn't need more church services.  The world needs people who will lay their lives on the line for the sake of justice and the liberation of the oppressed.  The world needs people who refuse to be silent in the midst of atrocities and will fight for what's right regardless of what it might cost them.  If the church turns its back on Gaza then it has turned its back on Jesus.  Make no mistake about it, we cannot call ourselves the people of God without taking up the cause of those who suffer unjustly. There is no room for us in the kingdom of God if we do otherwise.

Following The Way,

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Deception of Despair

The atrocities currently taking place in Gaza have affected me deeply.  The death of innocent children and the apathy from so many people regarding those deaths have been beyond discouraging.  I found myself nearly slipping into depression and despair, wishing for an eject button to get me off of this planet.  I do not want to live in a world where 1,500 pound bombs are dropped on innocent children in their own homes while the international community fiddles as to what to do about it or barely takes notice at all.

But despair is a deception.  Evil knows that it has already lost and its days are numbered.  Despair is a last ditch attempt to delay the inevitable.  What is the inevitable?  The end of injustice, the end off oppression, the end of violence, the end of unnecessary suffering.  When good people are silent evil wins.  And when good people become overwhelmed with all that is wrong with the world and fall into despair, evil prolongs its last days.  Do not be deceived.  The darkness cannot overcome the light.  Despair is a smoke screen, nothing more than evidence that evil is in its final death throes.  It is designed to keep us from seeing our power and fool us into believing that we cannot overturn every system of oppression.  Do not be deceived.  We can and we must.

Evil will never win because no amount of violence and oppression can ever extinguish the thirst and hunger for righteousness.  The thirst and hunger for righteousness, the desire for a world free of violence, poverty, oppression and hate, the capacity to imagine a whole new world that is just, is eternal.  It cannot be killed.  It cannot be exterminated.  It can only be satisfied and it will not rest until it has had its fill.    

Evil has already lost and because we know this we will fight it wherever it dares to show its face.  We do not give in to fear, apathy or helplessness.  We confront it head on.  I believe that authentic Christianity requires radical militancy regarding injustice, an uncompromising, unyielding, unstoppable determination to end injustice wherever we find it. 

We are seeing injustice now in Gaza where innocent civilians are being regularly targeted by Israel.  Stripping the Palestinians of their homeland and civil rights, locking them into ghettos and blocking them from resources and access to power and self determination apparently is not enough.  Now innocent Palestinian men, women and children must be bombed.

But let us not give in to despair and the paralysis it brings.  Let us not turn our heads and look the other way in apathy.  Now is the time to take our faith, hope and love and translate it into action.  We must stand up to injustice wherever it appears.  We must love the oppressed enough to risk our very lives for their liberation or cease to call ourselves the people of God.  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Martin Luther King Jr.).  It is time for all of us who consider ourselves  be the people of God to join the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed.  If not now then when?

Following The Way,

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Photo by Momen Faiz
Matthew chapter 2 tells the story of the slaughter of the innocents as a part of the birth narrative of Jesus.  According to the story evil King Herod fearing the prophecy that a new king of the Jews has been born orders the Magi to tell him when they find the child.  The Magi do not report back to him so Herod orders the deaths of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and younger.  It's a tragic story of the blatant disregard for for human life in the quest to maintain power, but it is most likely completely fictional.  There is no historical evidence to suggest that such a slaughter of children ever took place under Herod's reign.

The same cannot be said for the Palestinians in Gaza, however.  A real life slaughter of the innocents is taking place there right now.  Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes with over 40 of them being children.  Civilian homes have been targeted with the 1,500 pound bombs used by Israel.  It is important to keep in mind that the residents of Gaza have nowhere to go to escape the bombing.  The borders of Gaza and Israel have been closed and they are hemmed in by the sea.  A population of 1.7 Palestinians live in about 140 square miles and half of the population is comprised of children.  To target civilian homes is to target innocent children.  No political jargon or double talk can avoid this fact.  Israel is dropping 1,500 pound bombs on children.

This fact was made abundantly clear by Wednesday's bombing of  four children on a beach in Gaza.  Hamas was not present.  No rocket launchers were in the vicinity, just fisherman trying to go about their daily lives and children playing on the beach.  Ahed and Muhammed Baker were 11.  Zakariah Baker was 10 and Ismail Baker was 9.  Their crime?  They simply wanted to play outside after being cooped up in their houses for days since the Israeli air strikes began.  They were innocent and they were slaughtered.  No one can deny that.  What are we going to do about it?

We must not remain silent.  We must inform people about the atrocities taking place in Gaza.  We must speak up and demand an end to the slaughter.  We must remind the world that slaughtering children is never acceptable, justifiable or inevitable.  And for people of faith in particular, we have absolutely no right to call ourselves the people of God if we do nothing in the face of injustice, suffering and oppression.  If the slaughter of innocent children does not move us to take action what will?  Now is the time to put our faith into action.

Following The Way,

WARNING!  The following video shows graphic footage of the victims of Wednesday's bombing.  Please be advised.  It is very difficult to watch, but I believe it is very important to bear witness to such atrocities so we may be motivated to act and prevent future atrocities from happening again.