Election 2016: A Tale of Two Photos -Rev. Joseph L. Morrow, Campus Engagement Manager for Interfaith Youth Core

ThomasLinda sittingOur next post on the subject of last week’s election comes from Rev. Joseph L. Morrow – Engagement Manager for Interfaith Youth Core. Focused on the very real pain many US citizens are feeling after the election of Donald J. Trump, Pastor Morrow’s post is a reminder that fear need never shake our faith, nor get in the way of being able to see the other, no matter how much the ‘other’ may be problematic to us. Read, comment, and share, friends. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


The flourishing of a diverse democracy is incredibly important to me both personally and vocationally. As a Presbyterian pastor I work for Interfaith Youth Core, a civic organization working with US colleges and universities to make religious diversity a source of social strength, rather than division. I also belong to a family and have friends who represent a broad cross section of American life. So in the midst of this contentious and fear ridden election cycle, I was struck by two photos that succinctly capture my thoughts both before and after the results came in.

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First photo, Korean American Resource and Cultural Center 11/8/2016

The first photo is one I took early evening on Election Day, before the votes rolled in. I was at an election watch party with my wife and young child held at the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center (KRCC) where Korean American seniors who had volunteered to make calls to get out the vote throughout the day were gathered with staff and youth volunteers. As youth from diverse cultural backgrounds played in the office basement with my daughter Ella, several of us of diverse cultures, languages, religions, and ages, huddled around the TV, munching on lukewarm pizza and Korean food. An impromptu concert began and we suddenly found ourselves serenaded by one volunteer’s stirring rendition of the national anthem played on harmonica. I snapped a photo to capture the endearing moment.

It’s a scene so reminiscent of others I’ve experienced in sundry times and places throughout my life, from my neighborhood, to my school, to my college campus. This is the America I love. A place where people of from all walks of life are comfortable and encouraged to share their gifts with one another. A place where sweet music can be made that warms the heart and encourages the soul. This is the America so many of my forebears toiled and sacrificed to make possible. Despite the waves of despair and frustration, I will continue to fight and struggle for its survival. Wherever I see our government or citizenry safeguarding this image of America I will lend my support and wherever I see them denigrate it I will lend my opposition.

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Second Photo: At work the next day, 11/9/2016.

The second image comes from my workplace the day after the election. Because we are an interfaith organization comprised of staff from diverse religious and non-religious traditions, our office has an interfaith room in which we are free to gather for prayer, reflection or meditation. On that day, many of us in the organization who in some way identify with the Christian tradition gathered to pray and read scripture. While we were gathered inside, one of our colleagues, Prerna Abbi, who identifies as a Secular Hindu, noticed the pile of shoes outside the room. Removing our shoes  before entering that reflective space is an almost instinctual custom we observe in the office out of respect to our Muslim and Hindu colleagues who require it in order to purify the space. But in that moment, our collection of shoes meant so much more. For Prerna those shoes were a sign of hope and solidarity. And looking at her photo I can understand why.

Each pair of those shoes represents someone who made the time and space to hold a vulnerable nation in their heart. In that room, we expressed our grief and hope, we prayed for strength to those living in fear, wisdom for those with newfound power, and courage for those who must humane ways resist. Whoever you may be in this land of ours, I hope it is heartening to know a few dedicated people gathered on that day to pray for your individual and our collective well-being in a time of deep fear and uncertainty.

Huddled in our worship, liturgy and prayer, it is not often that as Christians we get to glimpse the effect of our faith from the outside. Many times we are not aware of our spiritual imprint, but for me the sight of the shoes of the prayerful was a reminder that our presence and our commitment matters. And it prompts an important questions for US Christians in the season ahead:

In this uncertain and fearful hour, what imprint will our prayers make on the lives of others? To what purpose will we direct the liturgy of our everyday existence?

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Photo Credit, Andrew W. Rennie.

Most people I know are grieving the election results, some I know are satisfied or more optimistic.

Either way, what gives me hope and life in this moment are thinking about the promise that is captured in these two striking images, which represent so much of what I hold fast to about my country and my Christian faith. Those promises stand before the horizon as destinations toward which I will step forward with pilgrim shoes.

If I may riff on a line from the prophet Isaiah (52:7):

‘Beautiful are the shoes that bring good news! Who proclaim peace, who bring glad tidings.’


bio.jpg Joseph L. Morrow works for the national non-profit Interfaith Youth Core and is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Chicago for the PC(USA). Joe received his M.Div from North Park Theological Seminary, studied at McCormick Theological Seminary and received his B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University. He is a native of Chicago where he lives with his wife Sung Yeon and their daughter Ella.

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The Road to 270 Was Through the ELCA – Vicar Lenny Duncan, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church; Conshohoken, PA

Picture 002To fulfill its duty as a way-station for theological discussion of current events, all this week “We Talk. We Listen” will be playing host to multiple perspectives of the recent election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency of the United States. Our first is from a student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelpia, Vicar Lenny Duncan – and he doesn’t pull punches. For presenting itself as a denomination that is welcome to all, many of the ELCA’s churches are thick in states that ultimately catapulted Trump to the presidency, harking to his campaigns use of misogyny, racism, Islamaphonbia, and ableism. As a black man who is formerly incarcerated, he writes unflinchingly of what this new political reality means to him, and many marginalized communities that now worry for their survival after last week’s tidal shift. Read, post, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


 

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Secretary Hillary Clinton making her concession speech on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – after losing the Electoral College vote to Donald Trump 228 – 290.

I know many of you are still reeling from the results of Tuesdays election. Many of you reading this are still trying to deal with the seismic shift that you believed happened. You are trying to find a new north for your moral compass. A way forward.

I am not. I stand before you unafraid, unsurprised and unbowed. Not because I’m made of better stuff than you. But because I know white America. I have traveled all over this country as a homeless teen. I have hung with “friends” for months or years only to hear them say “nigger.” Then explain how they didn’t mean me, because I’m different.

I have been hungry. I’m talking real hunger, when you haven’t eaten for at least 3 days. You start out full of emotion, anger and desperation. But by day 3 your emotions deaden. They become flat. You start to shuffle through the day and your body starts to eat itself.

Spiritual hunger is no different, and the body of Christ reacts the same way.

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I have seen empire clearly since I was a child. Since the police dropped a firebomb in my neighborhood in West Philly to stamp out the M.O.V.E organization. As the flames rose and I asked my Dad what the smoke was from he looked me in the eye and said “That’s what happens when you call the police for help.”

I have worn leg and wrist shackles with the long chain dangling in between. Unable to take a step longer than 6 inches without it pulling on my ankles. Blood filling my county issued shoes. Sat in a room with 40 other people. Anger confusion and rage floating around like an unwelcome shadow. Sat and listened to a harried public defender get my name wrong three times as he explains the deal I must take. Or I could to stay in jail for a year while the courts figure it out. What’s another felony weighed against being stuck on the modern-day plantation?

I’m not surprised because as a Black man I have lived in Donald Trump’s America since I was a child. I have been preparing for Tuesday since I taught myself to read.

A mantra I often use in regards to my work with the #decolonizelutheranism movement is that “the problem is not sociological, it is theological.” I stand by that now.

Here is your wake-up call.

The area’s that won this demagogue the day were overwhelmingly ELCA Lutheran strongholds. The path to 270 and beyond marched right through the heart of the Augsburg Confessions and wore the red cover of an ELW as it marched up to the voting booth. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the crumbled “blue firewall.”

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Many states that propelled Donald J. Trump to the presidency – North and South Dakota, North and South Carolina, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – have significant numbers of congregations in the ELCA.

Many failed to see it coming. Why? Because they thought they were having a political discourse, when they were actually facing systemic evil and its consequences. A theological battle was raging across our pews and we depended on polite society to win the day. They underestimated the power of white supremacy and evil. White supremacy doesn’t need its unwitting participants to be consciously racist.  In fact it relies on you not believing you are. The pundits refuse to call it what it is. The conversation has already shifted.

“We need a reset”

“We need to give him a chance”

“Unity should be our main focus”

This call rings hollow to me because it is always what the oppressor always says to the oppressed. It tells you that the boot on your neck is actually a deep massage. That your dying children are actually your own fault. That the continued state of poverty and emptiness you find yourself is your fault. It relies on the deeply embedded mythology of the American dream.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”

People talk about gas lighting, but Black peoples have been getting gas-lighted in America since the first whip beat us close to death, and we were told it was our behavior that caused it.  

They will tell us in the next coming weeks it was a DNC collapse that caused this. They will point out that neo liberalism is a failed experiment. They will talk about the lack of dialogue between urban society and middle America. Someone will write a New York Times bestseller about this like Nero playing violin as Rome burns.

But the problem isn’t political. It isn’t sociological.

It is theological.

The path to 270 was through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We failed. The magic number was 107,000. That was how many votes decided the Trump Presidency.

We only had to point out to 107,000 people that the Gospel is good news to the oppressed, never to the oppressor. That the Gospel is liberation here and now. But we as leaders of this church refused to because we were concerned about portico benefits. The next council meeting. Someone said my sermon was too political. To treat Jesus as someone who was incarnate in time and space, and then to believe he was unaware of the political ramifications of his ministry is heresy. Period.  

Resurrection has political ramifications because the structures we have as government are imbued with deep evil that runs down to its DNA.

This happened because many of us quiver with fear at the prospect of declaring from the pulpit that Jesus was a brown man, in a colonized land, railroaded in court, and killed by state sanctioned execution. Because we are heretical. We have taken Jesus from time and space and reduced him to an intellectual exercise that has far less impact than the hymns we choose every week.

We are all guilty.

We have entered a 2nd Reconstruction.

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A a post-election protest rally in downtown Chicago, one of many such protests around the country.

Black codes will become Muslim codes. Or LGBTQ codes. The prison industrial complex is going to have an orgy of pain and merciless hunting in the coming weeks and days. Law and Order the new twin gods that we will sacrifice our children too. The economy the new golden calf that we will make love too. My life is on the line, but you never mentioned that. You sat in pastoral care meetings and let your parishioners talk about health care. Meanwhile on Tuesday I became an endangered species.

The hope. Where is the hope for us than?

The church has always flourished when it was counter cultural. When it was in resistance to the empire.

The hope is that you are seeing America clearly for the first time in a long time. The hope is that same brown man who was executed stood up three days later and shifted the entire universe.

The hope is you were anointed, called to a time such as this. Republics have fallen. Kings pass away.

Empires crumble. The church has stood throughout it all. The first step is we need to challenge what it means to be a Christian and a Christian leader. The next is we organize, we resist. Lastly we need each other so desperately right now. People gather in community because when we gather in the name of God something deep down inside each and every one of us gets fixed. Set right and renewed.

I leave you with this as we contemplate what we each will be doing in response to all this last week.

—–

“All people need power, whether black or white. We regard it sheer hypocrisy or as blind and dangerous illusion the view that opposes love to power. Love must be the controlling element in power, not power itself. So long as white church men continue to moralize and misinterpret Christian love, so long will justice continue to be subverted in this land.” 

National Committee of Negro Churchmen, “Black Power Statement” July 31st, 1966


 

14718881_10206240696451273_7297790714910039448_n.jpgLenny the vicar at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshoshoken, PA and Candidate for Ordination to the office of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. He is also the Evangelist for the #decolonizelutheranism movement, as well as a frequent voice on the intersection of the Church and the cries of the oppressed. He pays special attention to the #blacklivesmovement in his work, but lifts up the frequent intersection with other marginalized peoples.  He believes that the reason the ELCA has remained so white, is a theological problem, not sociological one. He is currently an M.Div Coop student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and holds a Bachelors of Biblical Studies from Lancaster Bible College, with an emphasis in New Testament Theology and Ministry.