Archive

Tag: violence and life

November 23, 2016

We’ve all heard people make fun of a Kum Ba Ya moment—times when somebody thinks a corny little song means we’re glossing over the harsh realities of the world and having a feel-good moment instead of taking real action.

I see that differently after listening, a couple of weeks ago, when Krista Tippett replayed an interview with a former civil rights activist on her NPR show On Being. Tippett, who will speak here at First Presbyterian Church in April as part of our Willard Lecture series, had interviewed Vincent Harding, a leading voice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond. Krista Tippett describes Mr. Harding, who died in 2014, like this:

He was wise about how the Civil Rights vision might speak to 21st century realities. Vincent Harding pursued this by way of patient yet passionate cross-cultural, cross-generational relationship. The Civil Rights Movement, he reminded us, was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society.

At one point in the interview, Mr. Harding was talking about some of the songs that were a part of the Civil Rights Movement, songs like We Shall Not Be Moved and This Little Light of Mine. Then he talked about how the experience of singing that song in the African American church had become something people made fun of. He told a story that shed new light on the old song from Africa.

Whenever somebody jokes about Kum Ba Ya, my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country, especially student types, to come and help in the process of voter registration, and Freedom School teaching, and taking great risks on behalf of the transformation of that state and of this nation. There were two weeks of orientation. The first week was the week in which (Michael) Schwerner and (Andrew) Goodman and their beloved brother Jimmy (Chaney) were there. And it was during the time that they had left the campus that they were first arrested, then released, and then murdered.

The word came back to us at the orientation that the three of them had not been heard from. Bob Moses, the magnificent leader of so much of the work in Mississippi, got up and told these hundreds of predominantly white young people that, if any of them felt that at this point they needed to return home or to their schools, we would not think less of them at all, but would be grateful to them for how far they had come.

But he said let’s take a couple of hours just for people to spend time talking on the phone with parents or whoever to try to make this decision and make it now. What I found as I moved around among the small groups that began to gather together to help each other was that, in group after group, people were singing Kum Ba Ya. “Come by here, my Lord, somebody’s missing, Lord, come by here. We all need you, Lord, come by here.”

I could never laugh at Kum Ba Ya moments after that because I saw then that almost no one went home from there. They were going to continue on the path that they had committed themselves to. And a great part of the reason why they were able to do that was because of the strength and the power and the commitment that had been gained through that experience of just singing together Kum Ba Ya.

There are so many places in our world and in our lives here in 2016 where we desperately need God’s presence. There are global issues—Syria, Isis. There are national issues—racism, economic inequity, political division. There are local issues—schools, affordable housing. There are personal issues—health, family.

For me, this is one of those times when we need to pray Kum Ba Ya—Come by here, Lord. Take a moment and think about some of those areas when we long for God to be present.

Kum bah ya, my Lord. Kum bah ya.

Someone’s crying, Lord. Kum bah ya.

Someone’s praying, Lord. Kum bah ya.

Someone’s singing, Lord. Kum bah ya.

O Lord, kum bah ya.

– Chuck Williamson

Read more about the history of this song as a plea for God’s intervention  from a generation of African Americans.

September 29, 2016

Pen mug 7-16Last week, in the wake of the protests in uptown Charlotte, I’ve never been so clear that our church’s geography plays a big part in our mission. God planted us here in the center of town 195 years ago for a reason.

God needs First Presbyterian Church to be a place of healing and reconciliation. We must be a place where there is honest speech about brokenness and pain. We are called to demonstrate what the good news of the gospel looks like by the ways that we worship with, serve, learn from and provide welcome to all of those who are seeking to connect to God in Jesus Christ.

Many times last week I was uncomfortable. I attended gatherings with other clergy and was uncomfortable with some of the anger I heard and experienced. I met a group of clergy uptown Thursday night to pray at the site where Justin Carr was shot the previous night. The protests were peaceful, but I felt unsettled as I walked the streets that are usually filled with cars and commerce. I was asked by community organizers to open our church up for a city-wide prayer vigil, as well as to provide access to our campus overnight for protestors to rest and re-group. This was a request I declined – it made me uncomfortable to do so, but not as uncomfortable as leaving our church home vulnerable.

Since last week I have both asked and been asked the question “what can we do?” A lot of my discomfort this past week has been not knowing exactly how to answer that question. I am built to try to find quick solutions. Yet the pain we saw on display in our streets last week is not a result of a one-time incident with a police officer and an African American man, nor is it solvable by a few concrete action steps.

Perhaps what we can “do” for the moment is feel uncomfortable. Maybe our discomfort is the soil from which transformation can grow.

One of the reasons I am confident God is at work among us – providing for us, loving us, challenging us – is because a host of events and experiences had already been planned before last week happened. These events will engage us in conversation about race, or difference. They are experiences that connect us with our neighborhood and our community. You can read more about these opportunities online and in this week’s eFirstNEWS.

My invitation to you is to show up at two or three of these events and see how they affect the discomfort you may be feeling at the moment. I suspect that God will use these next few weeks to transform all of our hearts – hopefully to the point that we will be ready to hear where God calls us to go next.

– Pen Peery

September 23, 2016

welcome-sign-croppedAs a church family whose home is in the heart of Charlotte, this has been a heartbreaking week. All of us have hurt and wept and prayed while seeking to understand how God would have us stand for Christ while violence disrupts the streets of our neighborhood.

So many things are unclear, and may continue to be for some time to come.  But this much is clear: The events of the week serve as evidence that there is much for us to do as a church in the center of our city.

Your clergy and staff want you to know that all is well here at the corner of Trade and Church streets. We want you to know that we are eager to gather as a family on Sunday morning, to take comfort in music, to find hope in the liturgy, and to glimpse healing in the warm welcome we always experience from one another.

After our services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., we will take time in the chapel for prayer for our city and for our neighbors as we all seek wisdom in answering God’s call to reconcile.

We hope to see you in worship on Sunday.

– Pen Peery, Katherine Kerr, Erika Funk, Katelyn Gordon, Chuck Williamson

July 11, 2016

The apostle Paul asks, “what then are we to say about these things?” (Romans 8:31)

The truth is that sometimes I am not sure what to say about these things.

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

Brent Thompson.

Patrick Zamarripa.

Michael Krol.

Michael Smith.

Lorne Ahrens.

It’s not just that I fail to understand our addiction to violence that makes taking a life too easy, or that I fail to understand unbridled hate (in the case of the five Dallas law enforcement officials who lost their lives to a man filled with rage).

What this latest chapter in our country’s unfolding series of tragic events has taught me is that as a white man in a “white collar” job in America, I will never understand what it feels like to be black or to wear blue.

That may sound obvious, but I think the events of this week may, finally, begin to disabuse many of us of our need to understand and explain away these kinds of tragedies.

For too long, people (like me) have heard, discussed, commented, debated, and—in many cases—judged these compounding American tragedies as if we had the perspective to offer wisdom.  People—like me—who will never know what it is to teach our children how the color of their skin might impact the way they are viewed by the police, or what it is like for a law enforcement officer to see every encounter as a potential for danger.

What we were really doing is exposing our privilege.

Maybe instead of feeling the need to say something about these things we might try to listen.

If we are white, maybe we might ask a friend who is a person of color what these things are like for them.  Or ask a police officer how these things impact their oath to protect and serve.

And then we might remember that Paul’s question isn’t really an invitation for us to fill the space with our feeble words.  For it is God who speaks the answers to the questions that arise from things like these.  And that answer is found in the person of Jesus, who knows what it is to suffer, and to love.

– Pen Peery

 

July 10, 2013

“You shall not murder.”

The Hebrew word that we translate as “murder” is ratsah. It refers only to criminal acts of killing often committed as revenge or a form of retributive justice. Using the term ratsah, the sixth commandment prohibits taking the law into one’s own hands and prevents that which threatens the sanctity and security of a community. Read more deeply, the sixth commandment speaks to more than just the one pulling the trigger.

As scholars continue to debate the essence of the commandment, one such Rabbi had his own interpretation, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).

Jesus is opening this commandment beyond its face value to uncover the role that you and I play in facing the violence that condemns us all. He is standing in the Jewish tradition that says that because life is a gift from God, each individual’s life is not only sacred but also connected to all other life. Jesus is turning all of the reasons we might have for one “deserving” death back on our own role and responsibility to that individual, to the community and to God for nurturing, preserving and encouraging life in all its forms.

But today is a different world. Sixty percent of all war deaths have occurred in the twentieth century. We have been startled in the twenty-first century by killing fields of the Twin Towers, high schools, elementary schools, movie theaters, marathons (and that is just in the United States). Social scientists and psychologists will tell us that we have become more desensitized to the killing out of gross familiarity and self-preservation. It is simply too familiar to startle us anymore and too much to handle if it did.

While this is understandable, does it numb us to the “image of God” in each perpetrator and victim? Does it absolve us of any responsibility in these killings? How does the sixth commandment speak to us?