Gone Missing, Part 4
The Courage to Stand Against Race-Based Violence
by Rev. David Rommereim
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American woman who worked as a seamstress, boarded this Montgomery City bus to go home from work. On this bus, on that day, Rosa Parks initiated a new era in the American quest for freedom and equality.
She sat near the middle of the bus, just behind the 10 seats reserved for whites. Soon all of the seats in the bus were filled. When a white man entered the bus, the driver (following the standard practice of segregation) insisted that all four blacks sitting just behind the white section give up their seats so that the man could sit there. Mrs. Parks, who was an active member of the local NAACP, quietly refused to give up her seat. Her action was spontaneous and not premeditated, although her previous civil rights involvement and strong sense of justice were obvious influences. "When I made that decision," she said later, "I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me."
It was a powerful day of reaction and strategic action to racialized behavior in the United States of America. It was initiated by a powerful soulful leader who took a stand against the North American version of Apartheid. We called it, "Jim Crow." Jim Crow laws were set up in America to keep the white species and the African American species separate. It was designed by the power of the white species over against the African American. It is one of the viruses that causes great harm through our land of promise.
This African-American civil rights activist was honored by the United States Congress and named "the first lady of civil rights," as well as, "the mother of the freedom." What makes Ms. Parks so pivotal was not that she had just, 'had 'nough.' Or that she 'was just tired' after a long day as a seamstress and didn't want to give up her seat to a white man, in a full Birmingham bus. Rather, her refusing to move was part of a calculated civil disobedience strategy that was prepared for, and acted on, as a faith-based, non-violent, disciplined civil action. She was supported by a long trajectory of leaders trained in this faithful form of democracy.
The power of that moment in history (December 1, 1955) inspires and is inspired by its non-violent social critique of "evil political policy." These days all throughout our land people are standing for justice. We live in a violent land. We have learned that every 28 hours a black or brown man or women is killed by the police. That violence must stop for the sake of future generations. I grieve for our kids who grow up in violence, with raw racism, and an environment where there is such a limited ability to listen.
After my own three decades of pastoral care in Lutheran congregations in the center city, I long for that same courage of Ms. Parks. I long to dispel the "bad policies" that exasperate our civil shalom. As a Christian, I know that the Lord of the Church has zero tolerance for racial profiling.
Over a month ago persons from the Arab American Association of New York met in our Soul Cafe to announce the national campaign, "Take Back Hate." Over the next few days we will be asking our communities to put up a mirror and ask whether we can organize systematically, collectively, and faithfully, so that each of the adults in the room can help the child in the room learn what is good and what is bad ... what is helpful and what is hateful.
We begin now as if our lives, our children, and their children depend on our faith active in love.
All lives matter!
I announce two upcoming meetings - two steps in the marathon we will be running to overcome this systemic evil of our land:
"Prayer, Praise, and Peaceful Protest: A Prophetic Response to Violence"
Friday, December 12th, 3:30pm,
Steps of New York City Hall
Organized by the over 70 congregations of Faith in New York and collective allies of justice. We are taking a prophetic stand as faith leaders for healing and justice in our communities. Join us as we gather in solidarity and charge President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to fulfill our action plan for ending police violence and bridging the relationship between law enforcement and community. Black Lives Matter. Brown Lives Matter. Our Lives Matter!
The rally will conclude with a Jericho Walk and teach-in by 'Black Lives Matter' at a congregation in the City Hall area (TBD) starting at 7pm.
"REAL TALK: Where is the Solidarity? From Ferguson to New York"
Thursday, December 18th, 6:30pm - 9pm
Good Shepherd Church, Soul Cafe
Join the Campaign to 'Take on Hate' in New York City for a timely conversation and teach-in on solidarity in light of the recent national spotlight on police reform and racism.
We will hear from advocates and experts and engage in exercises that explore our own internal biases and how we can get past them to demonstrate genuine solidarity to oppressed communities. We are ready to engage in a courageous conversation. Are you?
We will be joined by leaders from Justice League NYC and Million Hoodies Movement for Justice
Rev. David H. Rommereim
Gone Missing, Part 3
To the Public Pain of Ferguson, Staten Island & East New York
by Rev. David Rommereim
The public violence in Ferguson, Staten Island, Ohio, and now the Pink Houses in East NY is causing a cauldron of fear, anger, bitterness, sadness, and loss.
I show my age when the song comes to mind, "When will we ever learn. When will we ever learn." But, as a country, we don't learn. Violence, and particularly racialized violence, takes the lead. When will it end. The ones who are now missing due to the violence at the hands of those hired to protect the peace are Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri), Eric Garner (Staten Island), and Akai Gerley (East New York "Pink Houses"). We also know of pregnant women who have been beaten by police - abuse which threatens their birthing. It brings to mind a parish member I served in the Bronx who was gunned down by police in the Castle Hill area. It happened shortly after the Amadou Diallo killing, right around the corner from our church building.
Now, in conversations with other pastors and rabbis of our community, the memories become vivid. The lives of our neighborhoods are harmed and threatened by this race based violence. Each name shares specific deep, deep pain. We are a nation at war with other peoples around God's planet. We are also a nation at war with ourselves. Racism runs deep. It must stop. Finding a way to heal from systemic racism is the prophetic call from the core of our faith tradition. Such a calling resounds in passages from sacred texts in both the Hebrew and the Christian Bible. That calling begins with listening to our lamentation. Putting a voice into the lament. Then, only then, we begin to move toward healing.
The prophets speak both in Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:18:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more."
Nothing can go any deeper than the lamentation for the children who 'are no more.'
People are dying at the hands of the ones we hire to protect our neighborhoods, the ones we ask to protect the peace. That is why the public pain runs deep. It is a pervasive public crisis.
On Thursday, I shared in a national call through PICO - our multi-faith, multi-racial, multi-national organization of faith leadership. Faith in New York and PICO shaped the conversation. Leaders began by sharing their pain. Over 60 persons from every region of our country spoke on the call to hear the pain and speak with those from PICO staff, who have been on the ground in Ferguson since the 6th day after Mr. Brown was killed.
The meeting was a conference call to pray together, share our pain together, and plan action steps that are deliberate and long term. We know that the community needs healing. We also know that deep systemic action is needed. Thoughtful, deep, profound, and faithful action is needed that is secured by faith in the God of peace.
PICO national leaders have met in the White House to demand a national agenda of healing. Our President is in conversation with these faith leaders to begin proposing 5 issues/steps of transformation. The steps are not an answer. Yet, without a systematic effort to heal this systemic evil of racism in our country, we will continue to memorialize the dead, rather than heal the living.
Being a white man in a community of privilege, it is my prayer that we join in this grief, share the pain, and know that racism is everyone's thorn in the flesh. By racism I am referring to the systemic dynamic that has kept some on a different trajectory of opportunity. By using that term, racism, I mean to make myself upset, and to upset all of us, so that we may show our faith in the God of peace through the lens of a faith active in love. For me that faith is a Jesus faith. But wherever it comes from, the honorable way to live is to heal the wounds that have killed too many people at the hands of frightened, over zealous police and weapon wielding citizens.
Racism is a word with a long history in our land. I have a book on my desk by W.E.B. DuBois who wrote in 1906, that unless and until American deals with its racism, it will never live up to its democratic demands of liberty and freedom. This remains true today. W.E.B. DuBois' voice is resolute. Racism can be overcome when the faith community stands up and speaks through the lens of justice, fairness, hope and healing. This community has a prophetic responsibility to speak through the lens of justice-love. Police policies must be inspired by these values. Without a faithful response, especially from a white community, we will continue with the compartmentalized culture that causes friction and fear; a place to incubate racism.
I must be absolutely clear - this is not a quick sprint. It is a marathon of justice-love.
Rev. David H. Rommereim
Gone Missing, Part 2
Reflections on the Ministry of Sanctuary and the Pain of Ferguson, Missouri
(Photo: Northwestern Cedar)
By Rev. David H. Rommereim
Last week, I wrote to our 285 persons on the Good Shepherd private e-list a note titled, "Gone Missing." It was a personal testimony about this time of year when we remember persons who have "gone missing" from our Thanksgiving table. It also referred to others missing from the communal hedge seeking to build a strong community of faith.
Today, I provide a second e-letter to the 'apostles of sensitiveness' called, "Gone Missing, Part two." My Rabbi always told me, "David, you contribute to the peace of the world when you acknowledge your sources." Well, the source of the term 'apostles of sensitiveness' is from the powerful preacher, theologian, teacher, and Christian mystic, Howard Thurman. His book, "Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness" (published in 1948), has remained on my desk for over 20 years. In his illustrative career, he was the pastor of one of the first deliberately multi-racial/multi-national congregations. He wrote weekly devotions as a way of garnering conversation and support for a very challenging mission.
Today, I write while the turkey cooks. It is a bittersweet Thanksgiving. It is a day, which provides what the Celts call "thin places." That is, the thin line which intersects the sacred and profane. It is where joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, beauty and ugly, touch each other.
Today is sweet because I am with my beloved family and thinking of wonderful friends. It is sweet because I respectfully think of the ministry at Good Shepherd. I am honored that you support an inclusive approach to the radical hospitality taught by that itinerant poet, prophet, healer, economic agitator, and storyteller, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God.
Good Shepherd is a ministry of hospitality that goes well beyond setting a good table or a nice coffee hour after worship. The power of hospitality takes place in many ways, but yesterday the ministry of hospitality was clarified once again.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a few of us spent the morning at Immigration and Custom's Enforcement (ICE). We accompanied Joe and Mei to their immigration "check in." Each of us knew the quiet pain resting on each face of the four rows of migrants also "checking in" on the 9th Floor of the Federal Plaza just above City Hall and Wall Street. In that 33 x 25 sitting room, there is always a silent 'shout out' to the intimidating fear due to the record number of deportations over the tenure of the Obama administration. We have been going there ever since we helped found the NY New Sanctuary Coalition seven years ago.
With the latest "Executive Order" announced last week by our President, we know that many may be given temporary safety from the threat of deportation. Joe and Mei may be one of the families spared through this order. Yet, there remain a vast number of immigrants not affected by the president's Executive Order. In addition, a hostile opposition has retaliated by every means possible to 'send 'em back to where they came from,' by every means necessary.
Despite the political hostility, Good Shepherd ministry of hospitality remains committed to being vigilant until we Americans live up to the tradition of welcoming the stranger. Not a day passes without my seeing that icon of liberty in our New York harbor. She reminds me of that American value - of welcome.
At the "check in" everyone knows the administration has placed a quota for deportation. You just never know if this is your day to help fill the quota. Each person, each family, knows that "today may be your day." Because of that fear based ecology, each person sits quietly despite a loud television blaring Fox News in the upper corners.
Some pray, others just sit and wait to be called forward. There are a few immigration lawyers. Most are alone. We address the ministry of accompaniment because, as people of faith, sanctuary is the spiritual power of our tradition. We practice sanctuary every Sunday while you visit to worship in public. Hospitality, together with sanctuary, fulfills our covenant with God. "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." Our team accompanying Joe and Mei feel very helpless. However, we remain called to be there and provide sanctuary in this hostile universe. It is a ministry of presence.
As it turns out, I was able to go with Joe and Mei to speak with the ICE officer inside a little room. Rarely do you get a chance to accompany that far. The four of us spoke. He was fully aware that there were seven persons accompanying this family. There was limited conversation. He did almost all the talking. I got a few words in to remind the officer that this family is needed among us. We went home relieved. All is well for a little longer. Joe and Mei will have a quiet Thanksgiving.
It was John Berger who wrote in the lovely book, Hold Everything Dear (Pantheon Books, 2007), "The world has changed. Information is being communicated differently. Misinformation is developing its techniques. On a world scale emigration has become the principle means of survival." Today's Thanksgiving celebration bumps into the Celtic "thin places" sharing the bitter with the sweet. It brushes the principle means of survival to gather where you are needed and where you may be able to provide help. Migrants do that consistently throughout our land and history as a nation.
The experience at Federal Plaza leaves a bitter taste because we watch our political hired help (all elected officials) make justice seem less value driven, less constitutionally inspired, and more like a number and a name on their accountants' financial ledger books. We have become a country where our democratic values of justice and fairness appear to have "gone missing."
That political stalemate is also vivid today as the painful and historic events in Ferguson, Missouri blare across our land. You can see the sad and bitter taste in the outrage and cold anger of those who have directly experienced justice deferred. I can see it even in the fear of the photographed eyes of those who are hired to "preserve the domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense and the promotion of the general welfare" (as each of us memorized in 6th Grade civics class). Despite their military armament, the police seem to act out of fear, rather than the professionalism and respect we trained them to provide. The mass of desperate people are armed with anger, disappointment, and deep pain located in the living memory of the one who has gone missing since August, Michael Brown.
It was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who preached these words on March 14, 1968: "As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption." He spoke those words three weeks before he was assassinated. Those prayerful words have come alive again this week after the historic decision in Ferguson, Missouri. Their Robert MacCulloch, Saint Louis County prosecuting attorney, announced that no criminal charges would be filed against Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael.
Today, we are invited to remember justice gone missing. It has been deferred for a vital part of our American heritage; often those less fortunate, or on the other side of opportunity.
I cannot face this day of wonderful joy without touching the fearful pain and praying over the vital memory that has kept me alive these 63 years. As a white man, I have a significant opportunity. I grew up with easier access to opportunity than the African American, the Latino, the people of color, and women. I am one of those who has benefited by our racialized system that supported me. Justice is not deferred, for people like me. Yet, because of Ferguson and places like Staten Island or other parts of Brooklyn, we see the suffering from wanton injustice spewed from the guns of those we hire to insure the "domestic tranquility."
I have always understood justice and its kindred spirit, fairness, to be available to me. I have lived a privileged life. Yet, now, the news from Ferguson, Mo, and other cities from around this country, we see a justice deferred that has injured the very soul of our country.
The captions in many articles I have listened to remind me that when justice is deferred violence erupts. Moreover, violence is not in the will of the people. Violence rises in that thin space between anger and silence. Violence enters the scene when people are unheard. I look at the photos and see young persons of color, together with a few white folks, trying to undo the harm and to practice fairness. Nevertheless, the faces of these youth leave me with a sigh too deep for words.
As a person of faith and a citizen I know that one of the diseases we witness is the virus called amnesia. When amnesia goes viral in the church, we forget who we are and why we gather for the ministry of "faith, hope, and love" (1 Corinthians 13). When amnesia goes viral in citizens, we forget who we are. We forget our founding principles that state, "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We forget that we are designed, as a country, to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.
These values and the covenant between people of faith and the Trinitarian God of justice, God of mercy, and God of fairness, are the rock of our living. In our fragile politicized, polarized, and compartmentalized culture it is essential... no, it is vital (the Élan vital - life giving), that we cling to this granite which houses the permanence of our values for ourselves, our posterity, and all residents on this divine planet.
For now, however, please enjoy the gift of Thanksgiving and allow the photo at the beginning of this Thanksgiving muse provide a moment of profound memory that will accompany you in thin places; like this tree clinging to granite.
It is amazing that something as strong as this northwestern Cedar could stand so tall and so confident only because she clings to that rock which has given her life.
Rev. David H. Rommereim
Gone Missing, Part 1
Reflections for the Apostles of Sensitiveness
(Photo: Entering ‘Avalanche Creek Glacier Park’ Montana)
By Rev. David H. Rommereim
A few of the people I write about in this e-letter will never read this note. They have "gone missing." Some have died and they are missed in a special way. Others just left.
Every Thanksgiving, we remember the blessed dead. We remember their smile, their voice, their presence, their gifts. We reconnect with their spirit through the lens of a blessed memory.
As your pastor, I understand death, intimately. I honor the blessed dead and the life force that remains with their blessed memory. Among many in my life today I remember Rabbi Swiss. He left me with a soul force through continually reminding me of the preciousness of life. He did so through his seven word poem,
"We all live under God's Sacred Canopy."
The Rabbi spoke often at Good Shepherd. He participated in our intense inter-denominational and inter-religious scripture study. He led us through the interaction with the Hebrew Prophet "Jeremiah" as we led him through the interaction with "Jesus."
We were honest that these two Semitic prophets were so in love with God that their message remains at the forefront of our faith journey.
In today's governmental stall, their historic climate, economic/social/political stalemate, and their horrific corporate funding, the obvious responsibility public leaders must face remains at the core of the Rabbi's poem. Monitoring that poem in the political, social, religious biosphere will pull us out of the lethargic numbness and their practice of sabotage. In his living memory I remain mindful of Rabbi's poem and the permanence found in the Sacred Canopy of God.
What is vital to the poem is that the canopy is not protecting humankind. Rather, humankind is called to return to our partnership with forces within the planet's divine canopy.
Others have gone missing because they are ill and infirmed. We pay attention to them through simple gestures of cards, letters, visits, or perhaps extensive assistance through the ministry of the church. Such a ministry is a network of spiritual gifts linked with an extensive partnership with health care professionals, especially those from the massive resources of our Lutheran Health Care.
Yet, today, this week, I remember others who have gone missing by simply leaving without telling anyone. It becomes a lonely and lonesome goodbye. There is a deep pain in that loss. That form of "gone missing" hurts the most in congregational life.
When I remember those who are missing by this empty, quiet, loss I am fully aware of what it means to be in love with community. The loss hurts because community is so vital to the well-being of the neighborhood. Then there is the beauty of intimate family, the dearly beloved posse of friends who suspend judgment enough to allow authenticity to flourish between one and another. That is precious and a great Thanksgiving.
Then, the public community of fellow believers is a diverse expression of various choices we individually utilize when we work our faith in the community of the church. That is, each of us are different. Each brings to the table unique choices of how God has embraced and challenged us. Each understands Jesus in new and fresh ways.
In the beloved community of the church each of us invite others (even those who have silently gone missing), into the assembly of believers. We are sustained by a delicate fellowship.
Each remembers that the lasting force of faith is the trustworthy living stone of those who care for one another and actually share in the stakeholder community dedicated to the larger ministry of the church.
So, at this Thanksgiving week, I am asked to begin with thanks. Then, I am called to worship, pray for, interact with, support, celebrate, grieve, and honor others.
After I complete those sacred chores it is at that point I turn to the poet who writes in Psalm 133:
"How good and how pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!"
Or, the same psalm is interpreted through another contemporary poet, David Rosenberg (A Literary Bible, Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, 2009). He writes through the lens of that same ancient text:
It's so good, the turn of a season
people living for a moment as equals
secure in the human family
as sweet as spring rain
making the beard silky
his robes sparkle
rich with heaven's simple jewels
like the crown of dew
on Lebanon's Mount Hermon
shared equally on the hills
where the Lord graces our eyes
fresh from reborn wonder
as if we'd live forever.
May you, your intimate family, family of dear friends, and your extended family of relations, have a safe, blessed and honorable Thanksgiving. And may God grace your eyes/ fresh from reborn wonder/ as if we'd live forever.
Rev. David H. Rommereim