Did you hear that? Do you feel that? Something is shifting.
The American empire and its capitalist machinery that pushes its citizens to work themselves to death, to keep the wheels turning. It’s coming undone and to a screeching halt for some.
“The Great Resignation,” wherein persons up and quit their jobs without a safety net or knowing what was coming next because living paycheck to paycheck wasn’t working. It was never going to work out for them when the minimum wage is the bare minimum and not a living and thriving wage, when the Economic Policy Institute reported in 2020 that “CEOs were paid 351 times as much as a typical worker.”[i] It’s about time then for a change, for a movement.
The Reverend Dr. William Barber II writes in Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation:
“From Moses to Jesus, the Bible tells us that those who fought for justice—those who spoke truth to power, those who refused to accept that injustice and inequality had to exist and that there was no better way—always found themselves hated, hounded, and heaped upon with false accusations simply because they believed in the necessity of speaking and working for the cause of righteousness and building a more just community. This lack of majority support is why the just must live by faith and must know exactly who we are.”[ii]
For Christians, we are called to identify with Christ’s body, which is not to be confused with a political party, which is why we should not paint his body in red or blue, racialize his gospel or color- code his body.
Because Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he wrote in Life Together, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.”[iii] But living the truth is more dangerous than speaking it and not less than this: “The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become,” said W.E.B. DuBois. It is what Jesus offered and not what’s a part of the program at many religious institutions.
The mass exodus from churches during the pandemic as people deconstruct and then disconnect from what was never working for them. They refuse to go back to a regularly scheduled program; no, the revolution will not begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. They are looking at Jesus and the church and noticing the differences, the discrepancies, the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies. They are comparing the church’s behavior with its confessions and beliefs.
Something’s not adding up and before we are rocked back to sleep, we need to get clear on a few things. Walter Brueggemann names it and claims our work in The Prophetic Imagination, writing, “We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable. We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and coopted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.”[iv] His words should get us all thinking.
Because American society is teetering, tottering on the brink of collapse, folding in and on itself. Because it balanced its wealth on the backs of people it enslaved.
Because this is what happens when you are founded on oppression, when your beginning is an act of aggression, when you believe and behave as if the genocide of the indigenous people is protected under the Bible—because God created the earth just for you and the people you choose to accept.
Do you hear that? It’s not thunder but the rumbling of justice, the stomping of feet on pavement. Abraham Joshua Heschel said “prayer is protesting with your feet” and God knows and God hears and God shows an affection for and an allegiance to the marginalized and minoritized, those pushed to the side while people argue over whose left or right.
A capitalist system off balance dumps people into the crushing, grinding machinery of sell or be sold for less than you made last year or at your last job or when compared to the person next to you, all for the privilege of power. It keeps pushing people around so the rich can “break new ground.” It just keeps pushing people down so they can cover new ground. It keeps pushing people out because white supremacy is territorial. “No Negroes, no Jews, no Dogs.”[v]
James Baldwin said rightly in 1969 in an article titled “The Price May Be Too High” in The New York Times,
I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long…”[vi]
Robert P. Jones agreed and titled his book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.
In cahoots and complicit, too afraid to call it like we see it, the North American church doesn’t have an ecclesiological leg to stand on. On shaky ground, it doesn’t have a cumulative or collective or communal history of standing up for the impoverished, the oppressed, those pushed to the margins. All because some people feel that God called them to push everyone else out of the way so that they could be front and center in every picture, every single time, and no matter the place.
Do you hear that? There is a growing chorus of people from all walks of life who have something else, something different, something new to say to folks who respond,
Let’s not pay a living wage or give women equal pay but let’s call it even.
No reparations but let’s call it even.
No peace but let’s call it that. It doesn’t feel right but it does make me feel better and at least, I can sleep at night.
No uncomfortable conversations but “good talk.”
This is performative justice, going through the motions that don’t pass muster.
Call it out and then call it off if you can hear me.
[i] Lawrence Mishel and Jori Kandra, “CEO pay has skyrocketed 1,322% since 1978,” https://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-in-2020/, August 10, 2021
[ii] I pulled this quote from the internet. I just ordered three books this morning and should not buy another one for at least three business days.
[iii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (New York NY: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1954), 21.
[iv] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 39.
[v] This is a play on words. It is an adaptation of title of a play, “No Niggers, no Jews, No Dogs” by John Henry Redwood written in 2000. It is also a nod to a history of exclusion as these signs were displayed in the windows and on the doors of businesses.
[vi]James Baldwin, “The Price May Be Too High,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1969/02/02/archives/the-price-may-be-too-high.html, February 2, 1969.