Am I My Brother’s Keeper? Reflections on the Eve of Columbus Days

Cain said to Abel, “Let us go out in the field,” When they were in the field, Cain turned on his brother Abel and killed him.  God asked Cain “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain Answered, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
-Genesis 4:8-9 (Inclusive Bible)

“We are the party of independent individuals”
-Republican Platform from GOP.com

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In coming out as a transgender woman, I saw firsthand the loss of my patriarchal privilege as I transitioned from being seen as a cisgender man to being seen as a transgender woman. I am fortunate that my experience opened my eyes to the varieties of other people in the world, and the necessity to be open to learning about other’s experiences. In doing this, I have had to confront the harsh truth that I am privileged as a white person, as a Christian, and as an American.

I have placed high priority on studying and learning about what has lead us to our current moment in history. I have slowly begun to learn about things like white supremacy, colonialism, the patriarchy, wealth inequality, and heterosexism. In learning about these things, I have tried to theologically reflect on them from my perspective of Christian Theology.

In these reflections, I have thought about our understanding of independence both as Americans, and American Christians. We are fed the ideas of the individuality, and our ability to make our own way in the world, we are told that our country has had some flaws, but that we are making progress. To me, I cannot as a Christian let these ideas stand without challenging them theologically.

Our nation and our own selves, are intrinsically linked with our past, and we must acknowledge it. We must acknowledge that we as white Americans, like Cain, have murdered our brothers and sisters. I have murdered my brothers and sisters. You have murdered our brothers and sisters. We cannot let the history of systemic genocide towards Native people and enslavement of Africans simply be a hiccup on our nations narrative of progress. These are sins that we have committed, and that must both be spoken of and repented of, then we must find true Justice to address them.

We must acknowledge that this nation is founded on colonial exertion of power over those who were different, and his been written into how our society functions. Our country operates on a false narrative of equality while ruining the lives of so many through institutionalized and individual racism and privilege.

It is these systems that decimated the Native American Population. It is these systems that have perpetuated slavery, Jim Crow, and Mass Incarceration. It is these institutions that cause us to now view Hispanic or Arabic Americans with suspicion as not belonging here. It is these systems that have led to the killing of queer people, and especially LGBT people of color.  These are not past sins, but sins that we are part of continuing today.  I am responsible for the death of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland,  and so many others. All of us are, as we benefit from this system.

We may say “I’m not like those people, I would never…” or “I’m not racist”, but we cannot simply look past the fact that we have abandoned the Christian belief that we are our brother and sisters keeper, and instead have marginalized so many as “the other”. We cannot simply look for a scapegoat, it is all too common for us to talk about “those racists”, or “those conservatives” or “the 1%” instead of acknowledging that the whole system is guilty, but that we love the system and benefit from it ourselves. We eat food or buy cheap clothes without thinking of those who were robbed of the fruit of their labors in order to make us a $5 t-shirt or a $1 burger. We buy houses on land that was stolen from the people who lived here for centuries, while told narratives of Columbus discovering America.

Repentance must start with listening to others, acknowledging our part in these sins, and working to “decolonize” our minds- leaving behind the lies we are fed to justify these sins. We must become accomplices in breaking down this system, instead of simply allies in knowing about oppression (Wonderful Article About This Concept). We cannot let these systems simply sit as assumptions, but must be willing to confront them.

Please join me in acknowledging our sinfulness, in repentance, and in seeking justice.

Let us live a creed that spans all religions: we must love others as ourselves.

-Em
GoldenRule
(Picture Found at Link)

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The Basics of Ministry

So I have been thinking a lot recently about what are the core things I am hoping to achieve as a youth pastor. I have been pondering what ministry looks like- especially for myself as I move forward in seeking a call for ordained ministry.

I came up with 3 specific elements that constitute what I believe makes a healthy ministry/congregation/calling for the Church.

1) Community- People need to feel welcome. People want to feel safe. There should be activities going on so that everyone feels there is a place for them to be involved in the life of the Church. As many have said- Church should not only exist on Sunday. And Church can be fun. Having a Nerf War with high schoolers can build community in a unique way, just as having something like a quilting club could as well.

2) Discipleship- It is also vital that we be educating those attending our Churches or groups. I think the key to good discipleship is not forcing certain answer and doctrines on anyone, but rather guiding individuals on how to have good tools for interpreting the Bible and for being in relationship with God and the community of the Church. Acknowledge that most of us struggle with our faith. The idea that some people are always perfect in their faith is poisonous to good Christian community and towards the long term health of any Christian.  Sometimes we may feel that our discipleship is not making a difference, but we are called to just keep spreading the seed that God gave us and see what God will plant in the hearts of individuals.

3) Outreach- what are we doing in our community? In our country? In our world? Are we inviting our neighbors? Are we sharing in community with those outside of the Church? Are we advocating for change in the world instead of accepting things as they are? Outreach takes many shapes, but is vital, and is an obligation of everyone- not just the leaders.

So those are a few thoughts today. What do you find are elements of good ministry? I’d be curious for feedback and thoughts.

Em

#Privilege

I always thought I was fairly open minded growing up. I would have proudly said that I was not racist. That sort of stuff only happens in the South. I thought I was a good person with regards to racial relations. Luckily, I have had this challenged in my life, but many people still have this mindset: racism is not something they are capable of, it is something everyone else does.

The first time I can say I distinctly remember realizing that I was operating from a place of internalized racism came when I was about 20 years old. My wife’s family lives in what some in the city may call “the not nice part of town”. In other words, its the part of town where the African American community has been segregated into. I was driving down to visit, and realized that I suddenly rolled up my windows, and locked my doors.

And in that moment it hit me- I would not do this if it was a group of white kids walking past me, or if I was in a predominately white part of town. And in that moment I realized that I needed to begin to analyze my own mind, and start to deconstruct this framework that had been embedded in me as your average white American.

It has not been the easiest thing, and it is so important to remember that I always have room to grow. That is why being able to attend the Selma at 50 conference was so wonderful. I kept my mouth shut, and listened to other people’s experiences. My life as a white American is not the norm for the whole world. That was hard to step away from. But I have learned so much and connected with many wonderful people once I was able to step back and realize that there is no norm, and that I needed to listen and learn from other people’s lived experiences.

As I have transitioned as a trans woman, I have watched male privilege disappear, as well as cisgender privilege. I can attest that both of those were very real things. While I have experienced what it is like to be seen as an object, or seen as a “freak”, I also realize that Trans Women of Color are far more likely to be killed for living their truth than I am. I have no clue what it is like to have to worry that police will constantly harass me. I have no clue what it is like to be profiled as a thief when I walk in to a retail store.

Instead, as a white person committed to racial equality, I need to check my privilege, and share the voices of those who have had these experiences. It is not my voice that needs to be heard, but rather the voices of those who have lived these experiences. I cannot say “I am Freddie Grey” or “I can’t breath”- because those are not injustices that I face, but I can say “Black lives matter” and call out racism and privilege that I see in the white community and in my faith, and instead use my voice and faith to empower change and not embrace the status quo.

I hope this all made some good sense- battling a headache today.

-Em