#BlackLivesMatter and Crucifixion

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief Christ, Interfaith, Christian, BlackLivesMatterI am supposed to be packing my bag for my next big adventure. In a little more than 24 hours I will be moving across an ocean. But I am not packing, my thoughts and prayers are interested in what is happening in the place I am stopping at on my journey. I am speaking of St. Louis, of Ferguson, of U.S. America, and the struggle for justice that is happening there today, and every day.

There are a lot of issues that need exploring on this topic, but I want to take a moment and explore the link between the crucifixion of Jesus and what is happening at this moment in my home country.

With the recent arrests of Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, many of the Millennial Activists United folks, and Cornel West, among other, my mind drifts to my recent trip to the Vatican in Rome.

While I was at the Vatican, I was told that after a terrible fire, early Christians were blamed for this fire and were tortured, burned alive, arrested and crucified by the Roman state. This is of course after Jesus was arrested and killed by the government of the lands in which he was born.

When I see my friends, brave activists, and those who I hold in the deepest gratitude of the spirit, and I see what they endure, the tear gas, the bruises, the beatings and the deaths, I cannot help but recall Matthew 27:30-31:

 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As an ally, a comrade, a co-conspirator with those fighting for the literal lives of people of color in U.S.America, I cannot ignore the violence that is being perpetrated on those seeking justice, those calling for an end of domination, of racism, of injustice. In the same way I am called to give up earthly comforts to follow Jesus, I am called to give up the illusion that I too have not been steeped in racism, called to not merely observe but to stand with my comrades of color.

Marcus Borg explores the link between the crucifixion of Jesus and the movement to end oppression and domination far better than I ever could.

Jesus was killed. This is one of those facts that everybody knows, but whose significance is often overlooked. He didn’t simply die; he was executed. We as Christians participate in the only major religious tradition whose founder was executed by established authority. And if we ask the historical question, “Why was he killed?” the historical answer is because he was a social prophet and movement initiator, a passionate advocate of God’s justice, and radical critic of the domination system who had attracted a following. If Jesus had been only a mystic, healer, and wisdom teacher, he almost certainly would not have been executed. Rather, he was killed because of his politics – because of his passion for God’s justice.

Jesus fought against the state, the corrupt status quo, and he suffered for it, he was killed for it. As a Christian, I am firstly and most importantly a citizen of the way of Jesus. And as a citizen of such a state I salute everyone working for justice with #BlackLivesMatter. I believe Jesus is with you, I believe you are doing the work of God, and this post is for you.

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Courage is Acceptance

FullSizeRenderBy: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

Recently, six amazingly brave people climbed on an oil rig that is still headed to the Arctic. These six people were part of a Greenpeace mission to stop Shell from drilling in the arctic. Along side this direct action, Greenpeace also  started a conversation about what courage is.  Then I ran across a post about living cross culturally and I remembered that this Saturday is Global Citizen Earth Day.  Suddenly, courage was an international question. I began thinking about courage, acceptance, and my cross cultural life as interconnected concepts.

Living abroad has taught me a lot of things, and has involved a strange mix of struggle and beauty. Yet, of all the things I have seen, and learned by  living in a world of cultural mixing, I think the most important is that accepting difference is brave, even courageous.

When I am experience someone’s difference, or a different culture, when I am confronted with a different idea about how to greet my neighbor or how to pray, I have two choices. I can degrade the things I find strange and different, or I can accept them.

It takes a lot of courage to accept difference. It is easier to degrade it, and our history as humans has shown that humanity often takes this easier route. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, even the degradation of the earth can all be seen as ways we humans have tried to degrade difference.

But every day each of us has the chance to choose something else, to be brave, to embrace difference. I may not understand someone else’s faith, but I can be brave and accept that it is true for them. My support of Greenpeace’s direct action against Shell may seem wrong and strange to you, but you can be brave, you can accept that this is my path, my way of saving the planet.

We are each called to our own spiritual journey, our own life path, our own interpretation of faith, we all have our own passions, our own beliefs, our own way to save the world. Be we can all also share the common courage of accepting each other’s difference. Courage isn’t belittling the things we find different, courage is accepting them and seeing if they hold any truth for our path.

The Silence of What We Don’t Say

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

The above Ted Talk really got me thinking about the end of our theme of silence, which also almost exactly coincides with the end of the Christian Lenten season and the beginning of our theme of acceptance. In the talk, poet and educator Clint Smith talks about how our silence is sometimes implicit acceptance.  Although our intern Nermine already wrote about some of the negative sides of silence, I found myself exploring both silence and acceptance in their most positive lights.

Yet, silence and acceptance aren’t always positive. It is important to look at the ways my silence hurts the world. I am not someone who is generally accused of biting my tongue. In fact, one my greatest struggles in life has been learning how to preach my truth without alienating or hurting others. Even so, I am not guiltless when it comes to the silence of what we all neglect to say. I live a huge urban center, and I  am guilty of being silence and ignoring the humanity of those around me. I have silenced more than a few people with my words, with my implicit acceptance of systems of oppression.

So as we close this month, as we move from silence to acceptance, I pray that each of us can look at the places where our silence has caused pain, has sent the message that we accept some terrible injustices. I pray that we all have a chance to seek the best in silence and acceptance, and that we also take time to grapple with the use of silence and acceptance that hurt our world. I pray that none of us stay silent when we should be speaking our truth.

When Silence Must End

Keeping International Women’s Day in mind, our intern Nermine, has written this compelling piece about the silence surrounding sexual assault and harassment in her home country of Egypt. We find immense wisdom in her strength to speak out, to break the silence, and we are honored to share her words here.

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By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Where I come from, we (women) are raised and taught that silence is just the other side of femininity: an essential quality you must possess as a woman. We are not to raise our voices. We are not to laugh too loudly. We are not to object too much, for a troublesome woman is less feminine and therefore less desirable. We are not to express bluntly what we want or desire, for audacity is a smear in your reputation that will forever haunt you. Our silence is always taken as our approval and acceptance, when in reality we often keep silent simply out of fear, helplessness, or a deeply-rooted conviction that this is the best we can get. I know I have been silent for all of these reasons, and more.

Being labeled loose or slutty is  the price we as women in Egypt have to pay if we chose to speak up and fight against this society. This society that taught us that domestic physical and sexual abuse must be kept behind closed doors. This society that taught us that this abuse is a normal part of our lot as women. This society that taught us that sexual harassment and rape are our fault and we must remain silent as these stains of shame will never go away.

It is a terrible fact that I consider myself lucky because I was only sexually harassed once. I was quite young and I never spoke about it. I shoved the memory out of my mind as there was nothing but guilt, shame, and helplessness. The memory has not been forgotten.

Looking back, a part of me wished I had screamed and fought, but I didn’t. But now I raise my voice about this ugly reality that women in my country are facing on a daily basis. Although lots of awareness has been raised lately, so many voices are still silent about abuse, harassment, rape and oppression against women in all its forms.

I know that sometimes silence can seem easy and safe; we think it will save us from more pain and help us avoid battles that we think we won’t be able to overcome. But this silence is poisonous, it is painful, it is haunting and it must end.

I salute all the strong and courageous women in my country and elsewhere: those who chose to speak not only for themselves but for others too. And my heart goes out to all women who still cannot and I pray that we may have the courage to speak up and fight even among the piercing eyes and pointing fingers that are ready to blame us. I pray that we may always know our value and our strength and believe that we deserve better, and I pray that we may together defeat this silence that was not our choice.

Desire for a Radical Chrisitanty

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

It is important to note that for the purposes of this article, the word “radical” is used in the sense of desire for drastic social, political, economic and cultural reform. It is also important to note the privilege that I, as a white christian writer, have in using that word. I encourage everyone to consider their own personal reaction to this article and its title if we had substituted Islam for Christianity. 

So let’s get this out of the way… I am a radical, anti-racist, sex-positive queer feminist. Oh and one more thing, I am a Christian.

As such I believe in the unconditional love of God, and in living a life dedicated to  the service of others. I believe in the power of prayer, and the power of the Bible.

I also believe we live in a racist society that privileges white skin over lack and brown skin. I believe that, as  Dossie Easton put it, “Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you”.I am pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage, pro-gender neutral bathrooms.  I know that many people, indeed even some people reading this very article may think, may believe that my beliefs are incompatible with Christianity. Some may even think that my desires, my beliefs, cause me to be separated, or distanced, from the love of God.

I however, believe the opposite. There is a passage from the Bible that is often cited by my friends over at Faith Aloud, at times when people see their work, or a woman’s reproductive choices, as keeping them from God.

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love –Romans 9:38-39 The Message Bible

I can turn to God’s love and know that I cannot be parted from the love of God, no matter what anyone else says. My beliefs, my desires, my thoughts, and even the opinions of other Christians, cannot separate me from my God.

Yet, for me I want more than to be able to claim that my beliefs aren’t separating me from God. I need, I yearn for, and I call for a view of Christianity that embraces these beliefs. In fact, I demand a Christianity that reflects the radical politics of that totally radical guy, Jesus, whose message was one of radical love, radical action, and radical welcome.

Riffing on Flavia Dzodan’s awesome article on intersectional feminism, I  would say that my Christianity will be radical or it will be bullshit. Let me say that again, my Christianity will be radical or it will be bullshit. I don’t think this means everyone’s Christianity needs to be as radical as mine, but I do desire to have a place in the world of Christianity. I need a powerful Christianity that challanges me to be a better adovocate for justice in this world, but I also know that my desires aren’t everyone’s desires. 

I desire worship services that reflect my beliefs, I desire churches that seek out and support marginalized people, I desire sermons that discuss how difficult and revolutionary love can be. But mostly, I desire a racial Christianity that worships this Jesus:o-JESUS-570

Yet, I am well aware that many people have no desire for the view of Christianity I am talking about here, and I think that is okay.  I am also called by the Bible to honor the fact that no one’s belief’s can keep them from being loved by God, and that I am called to love people whose views are different than mine. Indeed, love for each other, and everyone else is what defies us as Christians, or as the writer of John puts it:

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.–John 13:35

We are all human, our desires are infinite, but we all deserve a place at the table, a chance to voice our desires without judgment, and above all, we all receive, whether we deserve it or not, the unconditional love of God.

15 Ways to Start Over

By: Jenni Taylor

  1. Be thankful. Journals, happiness jars, or even just an alarm set to remind you to be thankful for something for 10 seconds every day.
  2. Don’t be thankful, but be honest. The voice listening to those socially-unacceptable emotions is not worried about your piety or your artificial gratitude. It wants to have an honest conversation. Honesty in hard times is still just as worthy as the thankful thoughts in the good times.
  3. Set schedules. Scheduling will help you stop feeling guilty when you know you have set aside time for the important things. You can breathe a sigh of relief that there really are enough minutes in the day to do what needs to be done.
  4. Don’t set schedules. Time is not set in stone. There are days when freedom is more important than detailed plans, and when these out-of-hand, wild days happen, be accepting. Need ideas for a wild day? Here’s 14 ways to start a new journey!
  5. Dance. There is no “don’t dance” option here. Find music you love, guilty pleasures galore, and dance your butt off.
  6. Find a place. A place filled with comfortable knickknacks or one completely bare- whatever works. Make that place yours, make it uninterrupted, and make it holy. What you think, feel, write, and dream in that place is sacred.
  7. Practice forgiving. Forgiveness is like yoga- it’s an ongoing practice that never becomes perfect, but gets better with time. Forgive in small ways. Forgive the dishes for being dirty when washing is the last thing you want to do, forgive the messy children who ruined your dress, forgive the trains for being late and the meetings that scheduled themselves at an inconvenient times. Forgive, and let go, and then try to do it again.
  8. Only compare yourself to the person you were yesterday. Comparisons are sneaky and ruin…pretty much everything. Stop. You are still just as important as you always have been to the universe, no one else and their successes can change that. You are growing, you are learning, you are changing, and that is beautiful.
  9. Hug trees. Walk by a lake. Look at animals and learn from them. Connect yourself to nature, listen to what it is trying to tell you, protect it as best you can and I promise more peace will come to your soul.
  10. Read. Seriously. Need a suggestion…try one of our longer posts or check out NPR’s Book Concierge
  11. Memorize something. Something funny, something inspiring, something classical or not- but memorize it. Say it out loud, hear how beautiful you sound, feel the accomplishment of doing something poets and storytellers used to do to create magic for yourself and others. The words become your own, second nature, and a strange comfort to say at very surprising times in your life.
  12. Be passionate about something, and then be active about it. Even if it’s just once, like attending a protest for the first time or helping out at a prison. You will never forget it, you will grow, and it will make a difference.
  13. De-clutter. Keep the good stuff, and toss as much as you can of the rest. This goes for thoughts as much as for things.
  14. Write. Type, find a journal, use a pen you like. Share it…or don’t. Fiction, free writes, poems, words anything that lets you see the authentic you.
  15. Be wise. Learn something new this year, from both victories and mistakes, and share it with us here at Sophia’s Pockets. We’re listening.

Rituals and Racism

By: Autumn Elizabeth

As an expat, I am constantly creating new rituals. New ways to celebrate, to morn, to live in new places.  have become pretty good at re-creating rituals, yet confronted with the recent epidemic of violence, I am struggling to find rituals that sufficiently encompass my beliefs. I try to live my life in the model of the anti-racist, anti-sexist, radical lover I know as Jesus. In these weeks that have led up to the celebration of this radical leader’s birth, and in light of recent events across the USA, I have been forced to look at the rituals I use to acknowledge this birth and question whether these rituals resonate with the Jesus I know, and the world I live in.

For me, this year, I have felt the call to prepare for the birth of Jesus with new rituals. Ones where I chant with hands raised, ones where I lay on the cold ground and contemplate the lives taken unfairly, and the unfair privilege my skin color endows upon me. My church this year hasn’t been filled with pink and purple candles and biblical scriptures, but with red and black painted signs, ad the words of other radical spiritual leaders working for peace and love like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet tonight I will go to a traditional church service, with rituals that will not reflect the anti-racist message of my advent. I will do this because for all my thinking, and for all my experience with re-creating rituals, I have not adequately been able to re-create a Christmas Eve mass or the christian church that encompasses my anti-racist beliefs. This failure of mine and of the christian community in which I currently live, saddens me. I have seen some of my Jewish friends celebrate Chanukkah in beautiful ways that honor radical anti-racist movements. I am honored to see the ways they have honored the voices of people of color in the rituals of their faith.  I hope to learn from them. I hope to find a way to encompass my grief at the world’s current state into religious rituals of joy and hope. I hope to find a way to listen to the voices of the oppressed as we together celebrate the birth of Jesus.

How does an anti-racist church make new rituals in times like these? How would my radical savior want me to honor his birth today? I am not sure, but I know the answer requires more of us all than simply lighting a candle. If we are to honor the birth of Jesus who died with love on his lips, we have to live in that radical love always. We have to face the bruised, murdered, tear-gassed world, and bear the pain we have brought, we must listen to those we have silenced for so long.

Ferguson: We Are Praying

Searching Sophia’s Pockets prides itself on being dedicated to global spiritual journeys, and yet today we feel most keenly that both Autumn and Jenni spent years of their respective spiritual journeys in the Saint Louis area, which struggles at this moment with the decision not to indite officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. 

To honor that part of our journey and to stand in solidarity with everyone affected by the decision, firstly we offer Searching Sophia’s Pockets as a safe space, as always, on the internet. We offer these pages, these posts, these prayers, and their comment sections a as a safe place for conversation, rest, and action.

Secondly, we offer the following prayer, along with the quiet lamentations of our hearts, to the people of Ferguson, Saint Louis, and more broadly to those upon whom our racist systems inflict harm, which is to say, the world.

Dear God,

We are in agony,
crying, aching, but still we are praying.

This is the world we have made,
one where hurt has boiled to the surface,
despite our attempts to deny it.

Give us strength to bear witness to the racist systems that run this world,
to face the realities of oppression with open hearts and minds.

Give us compassion to gather with those who are not like us,
make us united in our common love,
our common search for justice,
and our common desire for peace.

When systems of power rage against us,
help us continue to survive as beacons of love.

Let us not dally in sentimental love,
the easy love that cannot withstand times like these.

Let us show the ferocity of love,
the bravery of love,
love that is not sated with mere words,
but demands living justice for all.

We are afraid, we wish for an easier way,
yet, filled with radical love,
we can stand together against even the greatest injustice,
calling out, in voices clear and united,
Black lives matter!
Amen!
Amen.
Amen.

Choosing to Let Go

By: Autumn Elizabeth

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You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

― Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

Being an immigrant can be frustrating, so can being a Christian, and being a traveling Christian feminist…that can definitely get frustrating. Most of my frustration comes from concentrating too much on the results of my life. I want things to go my way, want my prayers to be answered the way I want, want everything to go as I have planned. Once I choose a path, I want it to be the right one. I want to be the one in control of all the outcomes.

But that’s the thing, I am not in control, not of my life as an immigrant, and not as my life as a Christian. I have to give up that illusion.  Now, I am not one to say “let go and let God”. I don’t believe that if I sit at home and do nothing God will make everything perfect.  I am pretty sure God wants us all to strive, to work, to hustle for a better world.

However, sometimes, when we are doing the best we can, when we are working to change the world with thought and action, we can give our frustration to God. We can choose to let go of the result, if and when we have given our best to the process.

So this is what I am choosing. I am choosing to let go of those things that are out of my control, like the result of a job application, or a visa application. I am deciding that my hard work will eventually pay off, even if I can’t see it.

Isn’t that the whole mystery of the universe, of God anyway? None of us, not a one, can know the ultimate effect of our actions. Yet we are called, as humans of a hurting earth, to act, to create, to work, even if the end result goes unseen by our eyes.

I choose to continue to support organizations like Faith Aloud, even when it seems like we fight the same battles every day. I choose to continue to pray for the people of Syria, of Ukraine,and  for all people who live in the mists of this world’s conflicts, even when it seems my prayers go unanswered. I choose to continue on this life path as immigrant, even when I don’t know if it is the right one.

I choose to believe that my work and my life are important for this world, even if I never see the good they do.  I am constantly, forever, choosing to believe that I am a child of the universe, a child of a loving God, and, that with my help, the universe is unfolding as it should.

If you want to tell us what you believe, what you choose, and how you are making a difference, you can submit your words, photos, and prayers.

Honoring the Choices of Others

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Today, we start a series of responses to Faith Aloud’s multi-faith Forty Days for Prayer. After looking at the prayers, which are currently being prayed during the Christian season of Lent, we invite you to send us your responses. Today’s post comes for our very own  Autumn Elizabeth.

I have made a lot of choices in my life. I’ve chosen which church to attend as an adult. I’ve chosen which birth control method to use, which people I want as romantic partners, and even which countries to live in. I’ve chosen to make a lot of decisions that other people may not understand. But in every decision, I know that God understands.

The God I know, the Jesus I follow, does not require me to justify my choices to those who do not know me. I am called only to make my choices with my God, and to let the choices of others remain between them and their God.

We can never know the real reasons for the choices of others. Yet, the universe calls us to love, not hostility.

I have chosen to protect the very women today’s prayer honors. I have stood in front of anger, hatred, and violence at abortion clinics and tried my best to project the love of God. That was my choice–to protect the choices of those who I do not know.

So today, I choose again to use my voice, my faith, and my love to shield people from harm.  I pray for the women who must walk through crowds of hostility and anger. I pray that more people will choose to protect everyone’s right to make their own choices with their own God. I pray that we all choose to honor choice with love, respect, and care. 

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