I finished Archie Smith, Jr. and Ursula Riedel-Pfaefflin’s book, Siblings by Choice: Race, Gender, and Violence. I read one of Professor Smith’s books in seminary (Navigating the Deep River: Spirituality in African American Families) and have found in him a deep well for my own thinking and practicing of pastoral care. When I saw this book, I had been developing my reading list for my supervisory education training, and I put this on it.
The book is about their studied suggestion in how women, men, and children from different cultural and spiritual backgrounds can, together, struggle against oppression. They write about how we can choose to become siblings as we form relationships of resistance, safety, trust, and accountability.
“When people are thrown together by external circumstances, they may discover themselves as siblings in a common struggle against whatever it is that oppresses them. They are siblings in struggle, perhaps, but not yet siblings by conscious choice” (pg. 8). The book highlights the intentionally taken paths toward becoming siblings by choice.
My reading was first in the context of my current training. I’m studying to become a supervisor of pastors, an educator of chaplains, and a caregiver to folks in a myriad of crises, likely but not exclusively in the medical setting. But my inherent reading experience is shaped by my right now work as a pastor in an urban multiethnic congregation and as a teacher in two distinct denominational seminaries. There is much to learn and enrich me in the book for all of my work settings.
I say this for a couple reasons that are worth repeating to myself. First, violence has been a historical reality for people I know, and the book does a great job in thoroughly summarizing several peopled experiences of violence. Note that oppression is one form that violence takes.
Second, gender and race are two words which are of continued appeal to me, especially by these two writers—one a black man and the other a white woman—who were working together out of their shared, abiding interest. In the book they are using their experiences as racial and gendered people to point to paths they’ve taken as colleagues so as to offer us a good read of reconciliation.
Third, I’d love to see churches who are trying to reach people from different social, cultural, and experiential spheres use this book’s treasure. Churches are experiments in multiculturalism even if they don’t make explicit their concerted efforts to embrace that multicultural attribute. People are different, especially when skin color shows off that difference. But churches need real and constructive resources which are thoughtfully prepared and easily adaptable for their own local church processes. This is such a resource. And I’m a pastor and will be a pastor so material like this is enlivening.
Finally, I’m a reconciling, contrarian who finds delight in starting illuminating, educational, and interior fights for the purpose of healing and growth. This book and books like it help me become clearer about my role in the world in that respect. I’ve taken to telling people that a part of practice is in graciously initiating fights and then seeing what happens. I instigate. I do this better now because of readings like Siblings by Choice.
The material helped me think through the authors’ primary conceptual vehicles of narrative agency, systemic thinking, and intercultural realities, words they define well throughout the book. Here is a quick summary from their text:
Narrative agency is the meaning that people make of their lives over time—gifts of love, activities, beliefs, hopes, anxieties and doubts, fears and courage.
Systemic thinking is based on the principle of linkage, in which everything is actually or potentially linked to everything else, either directly or indirectly.
Intercultural realities are the coming together of influences from many different streams of cultures and systems of meaning.
If these definitions leave you interested, spark a question, or light you up, take a look at the book. The three pieces above become their primary means of investigating public morality, gender, and cultural traditions. Their wedding of Mark 10:28-30 with these three avenues brings an echo of biblical and theological reflection to the book so that you keep with the reminder that you’re reading a work that is pastoral-theological.
We read of life from the African-American experience of man who is of the Baptist tradition and life of a white feminist who is of Lutheran and Catholic heritage. They intend to push by boundaries which impede community, and they give real, helpful exercises to pursue community. I find that inclusion to make this book extremely useable. Using vignettes, literature, and examples from current life, a theoretical work is immediately made practical.
The authors also have a lot of good stuff about reflexivity and experience, and the book is worth buying for the individual and group exercises they develop in order to show how pastoral people can work these concepts into practice. They use literature, historical events, and personal experiences to highlight how vital race, gender, and embodiedness are when it comes to addressing the varied expressions of violence in the world.
They are counselors and theorists in pastoral care. They are basically talking to people who care about some of the same things, and if those areas are yours, you’ll want to locate this book. Bending toward clinical applications, they discuss the ways life these days is connected to life in past:
We create the future through our behavior, and whether recognized or not, we reproduce certain established patterns from the past. Our current activity is guided by maps in the mind or certain enduring ways of thinking and being in the world. (pg. 89).
They encourage the reader to “become aware of the history that has shaped” them in order to “self-consciously work for the good, confess our limitations, stay alert to every new and emerging form of evil, and challenge our students, colleagues, family members, individuals, and groups to develop their own practices and traditions of care, prayer, and work for spiritual discernment” (pg. 71).
History is not our only influence. “We are also shaped by ignorance.” We are impacted by what we don’t know and what we choose not to know. I’m particularly aware of this as I sit through and live through the nasty, vitriolic presentations of people claiming to be Christian in the political realm. As the authors recount stories from their own lives and from their people’s lives, you hold the strong reminder that such stories are hard to hold, heavy.
And this book is encouraging for the witness who, in their words, “hears the story of the traumatized ones, acknowledges their demoralization, helps to give voice to their trauma, and enables them to face the depths of their experiences” (pg. 135). We don’t witness alone. Remember that, whether you read this book or not: we don’t witness alone.
My Monday night group is discussing Kelly Brown Douglas’s Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. The book is an indispensable theological response to black people’s corporate experience of violence and brutality, while also offering a historical narrative out of which such injustices emerge.
Our small group discussion has so far taken us through United States of American history as it relates to race, strong and illuminating conversations about how easy it is to be black and to not see one’s self spoken of or spoken to in the scriptures, detailed discussions about education and youth and poverty, and quiet but pronounced conversion happening among us.
Today’s chapter is “A Father’s Faith” and here are some of the quotes that I’m turning over in anticipation of seeing my friends this evening:
Faith is a response to God. Faith is possible only if God has acted and has initiated a relationship with human beings. Faith is the human response to God’s invitation to be in a relationship. Black faith represents a resounding yes to God’s offer. (p. 139)
Spirituals, essentially, reveal the foundation for a faith that will sustain black people through the paradox of being faithful in a society defined by the Anglo-Saxon myth. (p. 141)
According to the enslaved authors of the spirituals, the freedom of God concerned the very nature of God’s presence in their lives as well as God’s very nature. Theologically speaking, the freedom of God as expressed in the spirituals bore witness both to the economy of God (God’s movement in human history) and the aseity of God (who God is in God’s self). The spiritual’s testimony concerning the freedom of God suggested at least two interrelated things. First, God was by nature free, therefore, complete in God’s self and dependent on no other being or power for existence. Second, God’s movement in human history reflected God’s freedom. (p. 143)
…This African principle maintains that everything the Great High God creates has sacred value because it is intrinsically connected to God. It is the belief that undergirds an African worldview that all reality is sacred. (p. 150)
The freedom of God that the enslaved experienced became the adjudicating principle of their very faith claims. This has implications for the black faith tradition. (p. 162)
…Thus, if the norm of black faith is an understanding of a God who is freedom, then that also means there are certain stories within the Bible that cannot be given authority. If black faith means refusing to capitulate to or compromise with any situation that violates the very freedom of God, then this principle must be maintained even when it comes to the Bible. Therefore no story that compromises the freedom of God, and thus the freedom of those whom God created, can be given authority in the black faith tradition. (p. 163)
As for the black faithful, the best response is indeed a response of faith, which means being relentless in the fight to dismantle this culture of death. (p. 166)
Me and my friend David Swanson talked together as part of an interview with our denomination’s communications department. I had originally written a piece and submitted it, and that piece turned into an occasion to talk with a friend and brother about people we deeply care for and issues we’re drawn to address.
Read the post here at Covenant Companion.
When asked about how she talks to her sons, navigates with them, on topics such as being black in the violent world, Poet Elizabeth Alexander said this:
That the life force we have as a culture that has survived against all odds is extraordinary and beautiful. That is why I teach African-American studies. And my babies—two tall young men, walking around in these tall bodies, made vulnerable by their skin color, that is a parent’s nightmare. You teach children to be safe and smart in the street. But you need to teach them to stand up straight in themselves in their gorgeous, mighty culture. That they are fierce people from fierce people. The worst damage racism can do to our children is to raise them up to be fearful.
There’s much to learn in these words.
Read her full interview in “On the Healing Power of Words” on the Root here.
But here’s what Facebook comments are good for: revealing data about whether you want your “friends” to be your friends any longer. That is, of course, if you believe, as I do, that the way someone responds to other people’s pain and mistreatment—including the systemic mistreatment of entire groups of people—is a perfectly fine way to decide whether he or she is someone you like or want to continue to interact with.
Call me intolerant, but my view is that, if someone’s reaction to an unarmed black teenager being killed is to announce that he probably deserved it, that person is not someone I’m interested in being associated with, and I won’t miss him or her a bit after I hit “block.” There are too many compassionate and smart people in the world for me to waste even a fraction of my social media scrolling time on interactions with people who are either racist or unintelligent and insensitive enough to appear so.
From Jenee Desmond-Harris’ article “How to Deal With Friends’ Racist Reactions to Ferguson” here
A cursory glance at human history reveals that men have sought for countless generations to bring peace into the world by the instrumentality of violence. The fact is significant because it is tried repeatedly and to no basic advantage. The remark which someone has made, that perhaps the most important fact we learn from history is that we do not learn from history, is very much to the point. Violence is very deceptive as a technique because of the way in which it comes to rescue the of those who are in a hurry. Violence at first is very efficient, very effective. It stampedes, overruns, pushes aside and carries the day. It becomes the major vehicle of power, or the radical threat of power. It inspires fear and resistance. The fact that it inspires resistance is underestimated, while the fact that it inspires fear is overestimated. This is the secret of its deception. Violence is the ritual and the etiquette of those who stand in a position of overt control in the world. As long as this is true, it will be impossible to make power–economic, social or political–responsive to anything that is morally or socially motivating. Men resort to violence when they are unable or unwilling to tax their resourcefulness for methods that will inspire the confidence or the mental and moral support of other men. This is true, whether in the relationship between parents and children in the home or in great affairs of the state involving the affirmation of masses of the people. Violence rarely, if ever, gets the consent of the spirit of men upon whom it is used. It drives them underground, it makes them seek cover, if they cannot overcome it in other ways. It merely postpones the day of revenge and retaliation. To believe in some other way, that will not inspire retaliation and will curb evil and bring about social change, requires a spiritual maturity that has appeared only sporadically in the life of man on this planet. The statement may provide the machinery, but the functioning of it is dependent upon the climate created by the daily habits of the people.
May we tax our own resourcefulness and may these good peaceful things be so in us. (From Deep Is The Hunger, 34-35)
I’m sensitive to restraining my thoughts on all things global, especially since I’m blogging in my own southside social location, but I thought I’d pass this on and invite you to comment, reflect, or pray, in no particular order. I read something in Religious Dispatches yesterday and then saw a related story in the Christian Century this morning. Both address a piece printed in a Ugandan newspaper. You can access the RD article here, but since the Century’s summary was short, I’m including it:
YELLOW JOURNALISM: A new Ugandan newspaper named the Rolling Stone (not to be confused with the American magazine with the same name) featured a list of the 100 “top” homosexuals in the country, along with their pictures and addresses. The banner on the paper said, “Hang them.” This edition of the newspaper appeared near the one-year anniversary of the introduction of legislation in the Ugandan parliament that would impose the dealth penalty for some homosexuals and life imprisonment for others. The proposed legislation was shelved, yet more than 20 homosexuals have been attacked in Uganda since its introduction and another 17 were arrested and are in prison. The legislation was supported by some conservative Christian leaders in the U.S. (AP).
To be clear, I don’t think it’s helpful to jump altogether on the last words “supported by some conservative Christian leaders in the U.S.,” but those words ring in my ears. I am a citizen of the US. I am a Christian. I am a leader. You may be all or none of those labels. Now, Christians believe a lot of things when it comes to the subject of human sexuality broadly and homosexuality specifically. I suppose some folks believe that their beliefs and best interpretations of sacred texts leave room for violence against those who don’t share or embody their same beliefs. That’s not new in world history. Unfortunately. But I tend to think that the violence mentioned in these pieces is what is opposite our best faith in Jesus Christ. Not homosexuality. Not any expression of sexuality. No. Violence like this.
Regardless of your religious views when it comes to homosexuality (or perhaps, fully regarding those views), it’s the “longest strain” of those opinions to endorse violence of spirit or body, no matter where it’s done in the world, because of a person’s sexual orientation. This grieves me, even though I’m nowhere near Uganda.