Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hands Up, Don't Shoot Sunday: Deacon James brought his sign


Deacon James brought his sign

Our friend and brother Rev. Osagyefo Sekou is in Ferguson, Missouri.  It is, in his words, a movement moment. He’s there on behalf of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. They’ve asked for people of faith from around the country to come and be with them as they call for justice for Michael Brown and an end to violence against young black men. I have thought about it and can’t go. But we can answer the call to have a hands up, don’t shoot sabbath.  Everything in the service will be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ferguson.

Russ is back. And there’s a couple from Brisbane, Australia. And I’m very happy to see Victoire from Open Mic and her friend Henri show up. It feels like a good morning already.

We open our service with words from the Belhar Confession:
We gather to worship believing that God has been revealed as One who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people. In our worship we are strengthened so that we can do what is good and seek what is right.

I explain how the Belhar Confession came out of a South African Reform church struggling against apartheid. How our own Presbyterian Church has now twice recommended that the Belhar Confession be approved as an official confession of the Church. It was defeated in tbe Presbyteries the last time around because those afraid of lgbtq inclusion saw it’s emphasis on inclusion an open door. How truly sad. We’ve got another chance to right that this time around. (

I explain that it is Columbus Day and that even though John Oliver has raised the question why is this still a thing?, it’s still important.  I understand why some states have gone to calling it indigenous peoples’ day, but I can’t go there. A little too politically correct. When I was in Central America in the 1980’s, the day was called el dia de la raza, the day of the race, because most Central American campesinos are mixtures of indigenous Indian and Spanish. They call the coming to the western hemisphere of Europeans el encuentro. A new people was born. Beyond the genocide ( and that’s a big beyond...) it is true that the peasant class is indeed a mestizo people. Where the indigenous have been wiped out, they remain present in the faces of la raza nueva.

 We sing Micah 6 (what does the lord require of you?) together and somehow are able to do it in three parts! We never pulled that off before.  Our psalm of the morning is 106 and we use Happy are those who observe justice as a refrain. Before we read our lesson for reflection, I sing By the Rivers of Babylon again. And then we read Exodus 32: 1-14. Otherwise known as the golden calf story.

The question of course is what does this passage have to do with Ferguson? For me, simply this. It is about substituting for God something of our own creation. Our racism, our honoring of one race over another, is a form of idolatry, of making a false god of a made up reality, ie, race. For those of us who are white, our race…We make a golden calf out of whiteness. If we do not do it explicitly, as most of us would not, we do it implicitly by the devaluing of black life.

And the data is raw. From the drug statistics we learned when West-Park brought to Presbytery the action on the drug laws. With 12% of the population, people of color make up 65% of arrests, 75% o those brought to trial and 85% of those incarcerated. A black man between the ages of 18-25 without a high school diploma has an 85% chance of being in prison.  More black men in  that age cohort are in prison than in college. And in this morning’s Times,  Nicholas Krstof had similar statistics on traffic arrests on the Interstate. (

Two weeks ago we talked about who is the authority in our lives. Last week, we talked about the Ten Commandments and Thou shalt have no other gods before me…This discussion follows in that line. Racism is idolatry.

We have to be able to see the image of God in every human face. I ask around the circle where people are from. French, middle European, Scots Irish and French, Japanese and Italian, English, Puerto Rican and African-American. And if we all did that DNA test, ain’t none of us pure. We need to be able to look around the circle and see the very image of God on every face. If we could do that at work, on the subway, wherever, it would be a step towards being an anti-racist congregation.

We finish our reflection by singing once more He’s got the whole world in his hands…
And as we prepare for our prayers, we sing in Latin,
Confitemini domino, quoniam bonus,                                                                                                 Confitemini domino, Alleluia!  
 (Come and fill our hearts with your peace, you alone are holy, come and fill our hearts with your peace, Alleluia!)

 And this Sunday, given our solidarity with Ferguson, we do a special prayer of confession, again from Belhar:

We confess that in a world full of injustice and enmity, we have not proclaimed enough that God is, in a special way,the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged; that God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows.
We confess that we have not prayed enough that the church would stand by people in any form of suffering or need, which implies,among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
We confess that we have not celebrated enough the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist so as to learn that, as the church of God we must stand where God stands, namely against injustice and        with the            wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
We confess.
God have mercy and hear our cry to you. Amen.
Our final song is Canta de Esperanza:
Dios de la esperanza, danos gozo y paz.      
Al mundo en crisis, habla tu verdad. 
Dios de la justicia, mandanos tu luz,       
luz y esperanza en la oscuridad.
Oremos por la paz, cantemos de tu amor. 
Luchemos por la paz,fieles a ti, Senor. 

May the God of hope go with us every day,
filling all our lives with love and joy and peace.
May the God of justice speed us on our way, 
bringing light and hope to every land and race.
Praying, let us work for peace;      
singing, share our joy with all;     
working for a world that's new,      
faithful when we hear Christ's call.

I point out that for those who don’t speak Spanish, our translator has softened the language. In the original Spanish, it actually says:
The God of hope gives us joy and peace
To a world in crisis, you speak your truth
God of justice, you are sending us your light
Light and hope in the darkness.
We are praying for peace, we are singing of your love
We are fighting for peace, faithful to you, O Lord.. 

Don’t understand why someone felt called to do that. We are fighting for peace…may we be strong enough. Brave enough.

As we are finishing the service, Deacon James asks us not to leave. A few minutes later, he returns with his sign, We stand with the community of Ferguson. He is proud that his church has been there in a cause important to him. The sign will remain in the front of the church throughout the day, to be seen by all our Open HouseNY visitors.

The complete Hands Up, Don't Shoot liturgical tool kit can be found here:

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Stephen leading a tour
One last day of Open House visitors. Once again, a steady stream from 1 PM until 5. Actually, when I get back to the church after a break, Stephan is finishing the last tour of the day. He’s done the whole building. He’s got a visitor from 5th Avenue Presbyterian and a group from the Korean UN office arts and culture department. We would love to host one of their events here.
Last tour of the day. 

Thanks to Don, Leila, Dion, Stephen, Danielle and Marsha for all their help with the tours. Good to have more trained docents for the church. Our story si a rich one.

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