In the Name of Life

I'm going to say their names. Elijah Clayton. Eli. Screen name Trueboy. 22-years old. Erin's boy. Easygoing. Fun. Cool. Full of Laughter. Calabasas High School football player from California.

Taylor Robertson. Screen name SpotMe. 27-years old. From Ballard, West Virginia. James Monroe High School football player. Quiet family man. Husband and father to a toddler, a son.

They are dead. Eleven more are injured. More names: Tony "GTech" Montagnino of Austin, Texas. Drini "Young Drini" Gjoka, from Washington, D.C. "InfamousGuru". George "Fitzmagic13" Amadeo, a 17-year-old from Belford, N.J.

On a day violence was supposed to be confined to the screen, Sunday, August 26, a man with a gun opened fire in a crowd at a popular video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida.

The night before in the same city, after the Raines High School football game on Friday, August 25, 19 year-old Joerod Jamel Adams was killed and two students, one from Raines and one from Lee High School, were injured. First reports were that the two boys had criminal gang connections. Maybe that's why it's hard for me to find much on Joerod.

But I'm saying his name, too. Joerod Adams. Leroy Murphy's grandson. Somebody's baby, boyfriend, buddy. Shot dead. His grandfather insisting he's not in a gang, pleading for someone to come forward. Someone had to see, and with 57 police at the game how did this happen anyway?

Let's say their names and let's talk about the guns. If guns are easily obtained, mass shootings will continue to happen. If guns proliferate our streets and communities, disputes and conflicts will lead to death. Lives of children, teens, men and women will be lost. They will be killed by disgruntled employees, relatives, partners and spouses. They will be killed in turf wars, in retaliation, in acts of domestic violence and by accident.

People with guns kill: Mothers, fathers. Sons, daughters. Children and Seniors. Lovers, spouses, partners, friends. People with stories, vulnerabilities; dreams and ambitions; fears and insecurities.

More than thoughts and prayers, we need to make common sense gun safety an election issue. Now. If our electeds can't stand up for human lives, we need to vote them out.

For God's sake, find your Gun Sense candidates here: https://everytown.org/. In the name of Las Vegas, Sandyhook, Orlando, Oak Creek, Charlotte, Chicago, New York... In the name of Jacksonville. In the name of life.

Faith and Justice: Leading with Revolutionary Love

Religion-Ethics-Twitter-Cover-07.2018 (1).png

By Rev. Dr. Jacqui J. Lewis
Host and Executive Editor, Faith and Justice
Originally published on Chapter & Verse

No matter how blue, red or purple your state, the polarization and injustice rampant in our nation is devastating to people of faith. These are hot-mess times!

From immigration issues, to the erosion of human rights; from economic disparity to prejudice against religious minorities and people of color; from the plight of families on the border to the unrelenting despair of poor families in our cities and towns—leaders of moral courage and imagination must set our nation on a path toward healing. Even with broken hearts, this call to lead is urgent.

What keeps me hopeful, even in the midst of tears, is my congregation in Manhattan’s East Village, Middle Collegiate Church. We are a multicultural, multiethnic, intergenerational movement of Spirit and justice, with room for all. We are a beautiful community that believes God is speaking many languages, and calling all people of faith to build a more just society.

Every April since 2007, we’ve convened thought leaders and movement builders—authors, activists, preachers, poets, attorneys, and artists—to create strategies and share best practices to, as Ruby Sales says, redeem the soul of our nation.

Most recently, Revolutionary Love has been the theme of our conference. Young activists chanted “Revolutionary Love, Love, Love” as they marched for justice in Ferguson, Missouri. For me, Revolutionary Love is shorthand for all of the teachings in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. Quoting Deuteronomy 6.5, the Jewish Rabbi Jesus (who came to be known as the Christ) taught his followers to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. He also said to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Mark 12.28-34). To be faithful is to Love. Period; revolutionary love means acting for justice.

Middle Church and this convening give me hope that good people can make America whole, just, generous and equitable. I sat down for intimate conversations with seven inspirational leaders—movement colleagues—who will inspire you. They prove we can move mountains and do justice through our faith.

My friend Otis Moss III and I laughed about our love of superheroes, and shared deeply on how myths and stories—whether in the Bible, in literature or on movie screens—help us know we can combat the powerful forces of discrimination and hatred. You are going to love listening to this compassionate man, as comfortable in the world of comic books as he is the Bible.

Simone Campbell is one of the most amazing people I know. She’s an attorney and poet who punctuates her lobbying with wisdom and wry humor. Speaking with her is a lesson in humility and the power of relationships to change the world. She cares about the poor, invites the wealthy into our movement, and can go toe-to-toe with Stephen Colbert!

To be with my sister Traci Blackmon and our Mama Ruby Sales in a conversation was to participate in the magic that happens when Black women get together. Whether at the kitchen table, on our front porch, or on the streets, sharing our stories is always a rich, soul healing experience. You’ll be inspired by the wisdom and warmth of these leaders.

Linda Sarsour calls me her big sister. There is no one I know who is more indefatigable, and committed to standing for every injustice towards women, Black and Brown people, and religious minorities. Listening to Linda describe her faith in God and how that undergirds her work will dispel any stereotypes about Muslims.

Brian McLaren and I work together to create curricular materials to renew progressive congregations. Whenever we speak, I marvel at his particular journey, his intention about growing, and his passion for racial justice. Though Brian, as a straight white man, could have had a path of privilege, he is instead a model for sharing power and surrendering self-interest to heal the world.

Valarie Kaur is one of the most exceptional young leaders on the planet. She’s a brilliant speaker, and a gifted filmmaker and story-teller whose commitment to justice is tireless. She believes Revolutionary Love is the call of our times. You’ll be moved by this woman warrior speaking so tenderly about her young son, and what we can birth together.

America is in a state of emergency. We can’t afford private and personal faith. Each of us is called to speak truth to power, and to build coalitions with folk who are not like us so we can move together toward healing our land. We must love each other toward a revolution of values, and use our moral imagination and courage to disrupt American racism and xenophobia. We must work tirelessly on behalf of the vulnerable, activating our superpowers to make America a loving, and safe place for all. Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God: This is faith. (Micah 6.8)

Watch the Interviews:

Otis Moss III

Brian McLaren

Valarie Kaur

MetroFocus Special: Faith & Justice in America

Linda Sarsour

Ruby Sales & Traci Blackmon

Simone Campbell

SCOTUS Bans Muslims: Grieve. Act. Make America Free

JacquiwithMuslimandjews.jpg

My rabbi, Jesus, once encouraged his crestfallen followers, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) Jesus, who has come to be known as Christ, spoke these words to a grieving people, to an oppressed people, to a people occupied by the Roman Empire which maintained a so-called “peace” with violence and the blatant disregard for brown bodies that were not Roman citizens.

Jesus, a Jew himself, told his followers to welcome the strangers and the foreigners, because they were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 21:22) The God of Jesus is the God of Abraham and is the God of Muhammad, peace be upon him. Muslims, Christians, and Jews pray to the same God.

So many of us are deeply mourning today’s Supreme Court decision. And, as our Muslim brothers and sisters suffer soul-death at the hands of the highest court in our land, as the racist and xenophobic policies of this administration are upheld, and therefore sanctioned, I also feel grief and outrage. I feel as though the Supreme Court has kicked us in the stomach. And so, I can only imagine the waves of grief washing over Muslim Americans today. Faithful. Gifted. Citizens. Our neighbors. Our colleagues. Our teachers, police, veterans, physicians.

We must be clear; these policies are part of a systematic, unrelenting, pernicious campaign to strive to make America white. Cruelty at our southern borders; caging human beings in urban jails and in detention centers; the state-sanctioned murders of Black and Brown men, women, and children; and banning Muslims—all of this, filled with hate and derision, must be named for what it is, and fought with all of the revolutionary love we can mobilize.

As my beloved friend Ruby Sales says, "we must name this evil programme, religious and ethnic cleansing."

We have been here before; we know what this hatred looks and smells like. We know the deep pathology of the haters. We know their hatred brings soul death to our friends and families. And we know this hatred also rots the heart of the perpetrator.

What, then, do we do to bless the mourning ones, to comfort them?

We must comfort our Muslim and Sikh friends and colleagues today, as they mourn. Gather with them in solidarity.

My friend Linda Sarsour, a co-founder of the Women’s March and a Muslim, shared that she was “sitting in her daughter's high school graduation this morning when she got the news that SCOTUS has moved to uphold the racist, immoral Muslim Ban. History repeats itself and the Supreme Court was wrong today like they were wrong in Korematsu when the court permitted incarceration of thousands of people based on their Japanese ancestry. Just because the Supreme decides something is legal, does not make it just or moral. WE CANNOT BE SILENT.” Don't be silent. Speak up!

We must allow our own hearts to feel the sorrow and disappointment in a nation governed by fear and hatred; let our grief propel us into action. We must support Muslim grassroots organizations, like MPower Change and Cair Michigan.

We must also connect the dots between these SCOTUS decisions, and the ways the decisions are eroding human rights. We must take our dissatisfaction to the polls, voting out the haters, and electing officials who share the ways we value each human life. Our grief is prophetic; we know that even as we mourn, even in our frustration, we must never forget the unbelievable power we have when good people of moral courage bind our hearts and wills together to make America free, really free, at last.

Blessings to you, my Muslim friends, colleagues, and family. Peace to you. Assalamu ‘Alaikum.

And to all of us, let’s DO this! Let’s grieve, let’s act, let’s make America free.

#FamiliesBelongTogether: They Are the People of God

2018-06June-22_FamilesBelongTogether_no text.jpg

There once was a little boy named Yeshua. He was born to a woman named Miriam and a man named Yusef. When the child was young, the man who was king, Herod, decided he needed to kill all of the male children under the age of two. Miriam and Yusef took their child, and helped by strangers along the way, traveled from Judea to Egypt. When this refugee family arrived, they were welcomed. They found shelter and food; they were able to stay together. Miriam could nurse her baby; Yusef could protect his wife.

That baby grew up, and learned the trade of his father. As an adult, he became an itinerant rabbi, and went around the countryside preaching, healing and feeding people. He tried to explain to them what the Kingdom of God was like. He said if they wanted to understand this Kingdom, they would have to become like a child. In fact, he invited the children to come and be with him, and chastised those who would keep them away.

That’s Jesus, people. That’s the one who we Christians say is our mentor, our leader, our rabbi. That is the one we say is our Christ, anointed to bring good news to the poor, to preach liberty to the captives, to bring sight to the blind. Jesus taught his followers that when we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison, we are visiting Jesus himself. (Matthew 25) "When you've done it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you've done it unto me," he said. When we serve the “least of these,” we are serving God.

Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Kristjen Nielsen, and all you government leaders who claim to be Christian: Shame on you for terrorizing families this way. Shame on you, immigrants that you are, for treating Black and Brown bodies as though they are less than human. Shame on you for your manifest destiny, white nationalist, border-closing, poverty-increasing policies that you enact while simultaneously claiming allegiance to the poor, itinerant preacher who was once a homeless baby, and then a refugee in a strange land.

I call on you to repent. I call on you to ask forgiveness, and to cease and desist from these abominable policies. I call on you to open your blind eyes and your too-small hearts to the lives of the human beings—children, mothers, fathers, aunties and uncles—who happen to be immigrants, who you are treating like scum. I call on you to stop lying and to acknowledge that neither your behavior or these policies are blessed by God.

And you, fellow Americans of all faiths and no faith, I am calling on you to have a zero-tolerance personal policy on hatred and bigotry. I am calling on you to have the moral courage to insist on #RevolutionaryLove as action to repudiate these wrongs. Those families belong to God. Those crying children? They are the voices of God. Those anguished parents? They are the body of God. Suffering, weeping, needing liberation. We must do something about this, and we must do it now.

It is our moral responsibility to tell our elected officials that Families Belong Together. Join me in following these steps offered by the NAACP to make a phone call, send an email, or write a letter to both of your senators. We need to foster a nation where strangers are welcomed and the most vulnerable—all children—are able to stay with their families.

People are heading to the streets this Saturday, June 23 in Washington DC to protest; I’ll be there to join the culmination of the Poor People’s Campaign at the National Mall as we come together to demand #FamiliesBelongTogether. Find a rideshare here to join us in DC. You can also watch the livestream online at the Poor People's Campaign website.

It is our moral call to treat each person at the border as though they are the body of God.

—Jacqui

Image: Washington Post

Ready to March this June!

Dear Revolutionary Lovers:

I always look forward to the invitation I get from Rob Stephens to march for justice. Check out this email, that let's you know all of the things we are doing to make the world a better place. And there are some great pictures of things we have done.

If you want to stay connected to the ways we are moving for justice, or if you want to join our community of radical welcome and love, click here!  We'd love to have you.

Toward the Revolution,
Jacqui

P.S. Here is a video I made with GLAAD about what I am calling "Cake-Gate." We must be vigilant as our civil rights erode right before our eyes.

Dream. Pray. Act.

If you really look closely, you can see the fatigue around the edges of the staff. Holy Week, Easter, and the Revolutionary Love Conference was quite a bit to do in two weeks’ time. But we did it! And though we are tired, we are thrilled with what we all—you, our staff, and our partners—did together. Thank you for your part in it!

Holy Week was tender. Easter was joyful, with some 1,200 people joining us in the building and online, celebrating the power of new life.

And the conference? More than 500 people came to what has been called the best conference ever. More than 400,000 total clicks into the livestream!Why? Because people think Middle Church is doing a special and bold thing in the world. They want to convene around the thing, around Revolutionary Love; and they think we know how to do it!!

Working at Middle Church? Hosting that gathering? Working with our team? Partnering across faiths to heal souls and the world? This is my dream come true. I work hard to support it, and John and I make a significant gift each year to make it happen.

As a young enslaved African, Harriet Tubman, who was known as Minty, survived a head wound that should have killed her. One symptom of the wound was the need for spontaneous deep sleep; in those moments, she would dream routes to freedom. She dreamed of liberation and her dreams came true for 300 souls. She took risks, she spent her capital, and she put her body on the line to make them free.

If we are dreaming of liberating God’s people, we’ll have to take risks, Middle Family. It takes hard work and we will be tired sometimes.

And liberation—this movement for love and justice—it takes money. I know that these times can make us want to hunker down and turn inward in order to survive. But we are connected. I don’t survive without you; they won’t survive without us.

Friends, we are behind on our offering goal. If we don’t meet our offering goal by June 30, we are signaling to our Collegiate partners that though we talk of love and justice, we can’t fund it. Though we talk of bold, revolutionary love, we don’t believe strongly enough to support it. And if we don’t make it, we will have to make cuts for next year. We’ll have to assume that we can’t afford our amazing programming, worship, and justice works and we’ll have to let something go.

You’ve noticed we are talking more about money. We are talking about money because we need some! As you recall, the Collegiate Church did major capital improvement projects at its four churches in recent years. To pay for ours, our Collegiate funding has been reduced by $30,000 each year. In addition, each ministry has been asked to make funding 50 percent of its budget an urgent goal. This is our way of partnering in the creation of our new safe, accessible buildings.

At the time this was announced, Middle was funding 20 percent of its ministry. We have increased year by year, and currently are funding 37 percent of our budget—that is AMAZING! But we are not on track to make this year’s offering goal. It is imperative that we meet the goal of  $625,000 this year as we continue to lean into funding 50 percent by 2022. As of this writing, we need about $167,000 to meet the goal.

So, my question for you is this: Is Middle Church the stuff of your dreams? Do you feel called to liberation? If so, the staff and I need you. We can’t afford any bystanders. There is too much work to do and it is not free!

Please join me in prayer about the spiritual gift of generosity, about giving some of what God has given you—maybe a tenth of it—to support
God’s dream. To complete God’s Dream.

In my dream, we’re all making it happen. Showing up. Loving. Being generous.

Love,
Jacqui

Dreaming a Dream

It was 1999, and I was serving a church in Trenton, NJ. Trying to decide what to do as a relationship was dying. Trying to remember the dream of forever that was embedded in my marriage vows, implied by my faith, inspired by my parents’ long sometimes rocky, often tender marriage.

I received this book, this beautiful book, as a Christmas present from my youngest brother. We’ve shared books about Africa, about Black history; we give them to each other, a shared vocabulary in a family that loves the spoken word; a silent conversation. I see you, I know you like this kind of thing, need this kind of thing. Once it was a beautiful book about the kings and queens of African nations. Once it was a book about Black hair, and the ways Black women make magic out of it. Once a book on the spectacular hats of Black church ladies.

This time, this year it was I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women who Changed America by Brian Lanker. Opening it, I gingerly touched its pages, studying the portraits of these stunning women who dreamed a world of peace, of wholeness, of safety for their people—my people, all people. I noticed lines etched in their faces, strong and fierce and beautiful faces. I touched the pages, weeping, praying, remembering that in my blood, in my DNA, is the stuff of dreams. Dreams deferred; dreams fraught, frustrated; dreams of a world full of revolutionary love and justice for all; a dream determined to become true.

Standing in the pulpit at Middle Church, I study your faces, each like a portrait in a book. Wide eyed faces of toddlers in the Family Zone; wise, knowing faces of seniors, framed in greying hair. The glowing faces of expectant mothers; the pained faces of those who have lost loved ones.

Scanning, I feel so curious. What is it that you are dreaming? New job? New apartment? Forgive- ness? Peace? Love? A safe world, free of violence and fear?

I pray, as Easter comes, that anything that feels wooden, frightening, or dead for you is quickened with new life. I pray your dreams of peace and freedom come true. I thank God and the universe that we are connected here, in this space we called Middle. Dreaming a dream we can make together. Dreaming a world we can create together. A world that will be honed out of our faith and struggle; a dream fueled by our time, talent, and treasure. A dream birthed by Love. Period.

The staff, our consistory, and I thank you for being the stuff of our dreams. Being in relationship with you—working together to liberate our souls and the world—is a dream come true. Happy Easter and so much love

This Is a Woman to Celebrate

Mark tells a really fascinating story about a woman whose daughter is sick with an “unclean spirit.” She wants and needs Jesus to heal her child. We who are the readers of the gospel get to witness something really unique in her exchange with Jesus.

From there he set out and went away
to the region of Tyre. [Jesus] entered
a house and did not want anyone to
know he was there. Yet he could not
escape notice, but a woman whose
little daughter had an unclean spirit
immediately heard about him, and she
came and bowed down at his feet.
Now the woman was a Gentile, of
Syrophoenician origin. She begged him
to cast the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, “Let the children be fed
first, for it is not fair to take the children’s
food and throw it to the dogs.”
But she answered him, “Sir, even the
dogs under the table eat the children’s
crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying
that, you may go—the demon has left
your daughter.” So she went home,
found the child lying on the bed, and the
demon gone. —Mark 7:24–30


I am not a media expert, I am a theologian. But you and I both know this is not really good press for Jesus; it is not his best moment. He is caught in the act—in the act of being human. Let the children be fed first, it’s not fair to give their food to the dogs. Wow. These Gentiles are . . . dogs! This is Jesus being a product of his culture, shaped by being a man, a Jewish man, a Jewish religious man in a time and space where his identity meant not being for everyone. We are witnessing something very human in Jesus. We are seeing something, if we look closely in the mirror, that we might see about ourselves. We can be, in our humanity, prone to stick with our own kind and kin; to be fearful of, even disdainful of others.

More about Jesus ina sermon soon. But let’s think for a moment about this woman. She is also a product of her culture. She knows how Jewish people felt about Gentile people, about Syrophoenician people. She knows how a male rabbi would feel about talking to any woman not his wife or family. But talk to Jesus she does. She asks for what she wants, she engages his prejudices and sexism on behalf of her child. She stands in when Jesus rejects her; she basically tells him that #TimesUp on his behavior. What she needs for her child surpasses Jesus’ biases; what she wants pushes her out of her prescribed role.

This unnamed woman is a woman after my heart. She is bold. She is brave. She is womanist/ feminist. She reaches past the space allotted to her and causes this man, this human, this rabbi who happens also to be the son of God, to change his mind. We who are women know what time it is. Time’s up on treating us with disrespect. Time’s up on ceilings that must be broken, on pay that is less than we deserve. Time’s up on objectifying our bodies, and teaching our girls there is only one way to be beautiful. Time’s up on competing with each other for small crumbs under the table.

March is Women’s History Month and I want to start our celebration by honoring this woman, this unnamed bad-ass who takes on Jesus. This story speaks of Jesus’ humanity. This story speaks of the extraordinary poise, power, and tenacity of a woman. A woman who teaches Jesus how to be a better human. She is a woman to note, to admire, to emulate. Listen to #Herstory.

Can You See It?

Friends, our nation needs a course correction, so we can fully and finally realize our dream of liberty and justice for all. So we can live and flourish in God’s Dream. There are lots of ways to talk about this, but the earliest followers of Jesus called it Love.

Though faith, hope, and love were all incredible gifts, they declared that love was the greatest. They said it was impossible to love an unseen God and hate a neighbor right in front of them. They asserted that God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them. And that there is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear.

America has a fear problem. We fear that those whom we do not understand are fundamentally different than we are, and, therefore, threaten our way of life. We fear that well-being is a zero-sum game in which the sharing of power puts our survival at risk. These fears must be dismantled with light. This hatred must be driven out with love. These lies must be dispelled with the truth.

The truth is our vulnerability, is our strength. Our yearning for connection is what makes us uniquely human. There are more than enough resources for each of us to not only survive but to thrive. We are inextricably connected one to the other, and connection is the power we have to heal ourselves and our world.  

We know this truth as well: We stand on the shoulders of people who have struggled, failed, and forged new wisdom; people who have been tested by disappointment and disaster; and what they have left us is confidence. We know how to help our neighbors in need, to save each other in times of trial. We know how to stand up for those who are left behind, to protest and march and lobby until laws and structures are changed.  

And so as we turn our faces toward February, toward African American History Month and the celebration of the Lunar New Year; as we turn our hearts toward a day set aside to celebrate love, let us love like revolutionaries.

Revolutionary love sees each human being as a beautiful creation, capable of amazing acts of kindness and justice, designed to partner with God to complete God’s dream. Revolutionary love understands political upheaval as birthing pains, as the universe pushes the creation toward Shalom. Revolutionary love is empathic; it binds us together. It means when a child is hungry in Haiti or Hell’s Kitchen, my stomach growls.

Our staff and Consistory have been listening to you, trying to see what you see for our future. And this is the vision statement we created to guide us in these next years:

Middle Collegiate Church Vision Statement

Middle Collegiate Church is a multicultural, multiethnic, intergenerational movement of Spirit and justice, powered by Revolutionary Love, with room for all. Following in the Way of Jesus’ radical love, and inspired by the prophets, Middle Church is called by God to do a bold new thing on the earth. We aim to heal the soul and the world by dismantling racist, classist, sexist, and homophobic systems of oppression.
Because our God is still speaking in many languages, we work in inter­religious partnerships to uproot injustice, eradicate poverty, care for the brokenhearted, and build the Reign of God on earth. This activism is fueled by our faith; our faith is expressed in art; our art is an active prayer connecting us with the Holy Spirit. Founded prior to this nation, Middle Church affirms the transformative power of moral imagination, reclaiming and reframing Christianity inside our walls, on the street, and in virtual spaces around the globe.

Can you see it? If we can see it, we can do it.

In Revolutionary Love,
Jacqui

Redeeming the Soul of a Nation

I was on a field trip to a nature center outside of Chicago on that April day. My fourth-grade class at Gresham Elementary School had escaped our urban neighborhood of dark, red brick bungaloes set on little patches of green and gone to a nature center in the suburbs. We saw flowers blooming and learned how to speak about them in Latin.

Mr. Smith, our teacher, was a dreamy, chocolatey brown man who smiled all the time, a smile as bright as his highly shined shoes. Even when scolding rowdy tweens, his eyes kept the smile going. So when his face was crumpled, his eyes swollen, we knew something was wrong before he spoke to us.

On April 4, 1968, at about 6:00p, Mr. Smith gathered us together just before we boarded the bus home and said, “Children, I have terrible news for you. Dr. Martin Luther King has been shot. He was standing on the balcony of his motel with his friends when a gunman took his life.” Dr. King was dead, our teacher was weeping, and we were stunned into grief.

That night, Chicago was on fire. Even our pleasant South Side neighborhood erupted in violence. We could hear people shouting in the streets; some were shooting guns. My sister and I hid under out beds for a while, and I imagined, one month before my 9th birthday, that since Dr. King was dead, I was going to have to pick up his mantle and do his work. This was the beginning of my sense of call. I knew I’d join him in being a drum major for peace, that I’d work so that no matter the color of one’s skin, one could be loved, celebrated, and have enough.

Now, 50 years later, I am the Senior Minister of the church of my dreams, the church of Dr. King’s dream, the church of God’s dreams. In all of our ethnic and cultural diversity, in all of our sexual orientations and genders, in the wide breadth of our ages and the ways we see God through diverse eyes—I am so in love with us, so very called to the work we are doing to heal the nation, to redeem her soul.

And, 50 years after Dr. King’s death, I have a new friend, colleague, and partner in the movement for love and justice. Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee alumna, Civil Rights activist and public theologian Ruby Nell Sales is coming to Middle Church. She will make her home here! Together, her non-profit SpiritHouse Project and Middle Church will form the The Center for Social and Spiritual Restoration. The center will be a national project that offers a common space where people of different social locations come together to address the spiritual and social impediments that stand in the way of up-building a beloved community and a more realized democracy that is both transformative and sustainable.

A few weeks ago, I was with Ruby in Char­lottesville, listening to the way she speaks to people of all ethnicities. She calls them to action  in her gentle voice, her brilliant insights pouring out of her like ginger tea. Strong, brewed with love. Meant for healing people. Meant for redeeming the soul of our nation. 

Ruby has a wonderful spirituality, a deep religious soul, that she calls “black folk religion.” In a conversation with Krista Tippet, Ruby described an experience of realizing that God is always present, healing her, redeeming her soul:

“I was riding down the road one day in Washington, D.C. after having been at a demonstration against the war in Iraq. And suddenly, out of nowhere, I started crying, and I realized that God had been with me even when I hadn’t been with myself. And those moments made me really begin to seek, to go back to really think deeply about black folk religion and to really want to develop, in a very intentional way, an inner life that had to do with how I lived in the world.”

Ruby and I will offer our annual Martin Luther King., Jr. teach-in on January 14, 2017, at 3:00p. We will talk about black folk religion, about completing God’s dream, and about redeeming the soul of America. You won’t want to miss it.

Toward the Love Revolution, and a healed world,
Jacqui

 

What Will We Do? A Faithful Response to Poverty in Advent

Did you ever have one of those bracelets that said “What Would Jesus Do?” Maybe a bumper sticker? Did you get the T-shirt — WWJD? This was all the rage in the 1990s.

In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?, a novel written by Charles Sheldon in 1896, grew out of sermons he preached about imitating Christ. In His Steps was not about personal redemption but about making the moral choice when encountering the poor and marginalized. Sheldon believed all people — including Blacks, women, Jews, and Catholics — were equal and should be treated as such...

Read the latest post by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis on Huffington PostWhat Will We Do? A Faithful Response to Poverty in Advent.

One Year Later... 10 More Things to Do

We just got an invitation to re-connect with our friends at Lab Shul in a Primal Prayer event. We attended it at Washington Square last year the day after the election. Before we screamed, we sang, we prayed, we cried, we hugged. The scream bubbled up out of our bodies, our grief, our surprise. It felt good, to let it out, let those feelings rise on the winds, rustle browning leaves, reach the heavens. 

More than screaming, what healed me was being together in the beautiful diversity that is Manhattan. Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, people of no faith and people who had lost faith. Students, older people, clergy and lay leaders; a rainbow of ethnic, gender and sexual orientation diversity. One woman held her toddler close to her bosom, like she was a life raft. Maybe our children will save us from these swirling waters.

In the midst of more and more revelations of sexual misconduct by powerful men in the arts and in the media, one such man was elected to the highest office in our land. This shocks me to my core, still. A liar, a cheat, a sexual predator—our president. How desperate must so many have been for a change for this to happen. I feel like we are cast in a horrific reality show, and the premise of the show is: How far can POTUS push the envelope on decency and have our nation’s most vulnerable citizens survive?

While I was grieving last year, I posted an article on HuffPost’s religion page—“10 Spiritual Responses to the Election.” You can still find it there. Brokenhearted, still, and more resolute than ever that we must persistently resist this administration with everything we have; I am calling us once again to ask, what would love demand of us? In these precarious times, what does Revolutionary Love and Resistance look like as an organizing principle? We need answers, and here are 10 NEW things to help us get there: 

    1.     Get with some people you love and hug them, and cry with them, and let them love you back.

    2.     Make Revolutionary Love a spiritual practice. Antiracism, LGBTQ advocacy, caring for the poor and marginalized, supporting women’s gifts, mentoring children, supporting common sense gun control, and demanding that everyone have enough healthcare and resources to thrive—this is the spiritual practice of Revolutionary Love.

    3.     Have some honest conversations with your friends and family members who voted for Trump. Ask them about how they see this administration now. Can we recruit some people to a worldview based in love and justice? We need to do that now! 

    5.     Watch news from many perspectives; follow many viewpoints on social media. Let’s learn what we need to do on the way to 2018. The political is personal AND spiritual. Jesus was political, never forget.

    6.     Come to church often, and bring friends. Join a Bible study. Let’s learn about Revolutionary Love from the experts. Register for the Revolutionary Love Conference 2018.

    7.     Pray, eat, love, breathe, exercise, sleep, laugh, play, take sabbath. We need to re-create in order to survive.

    8.     Donate to Middle Church, your one-stop hub for love and justice.

    9.     Invite your friends into a book and/or movie group. Watch 13th or Crash. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kelly Brown Douglas. Learn. Make strategies. Invite them to join our movement.

10.       Call Congress, write your senators. Demand commonsense gun control laws, needed now more than ever in the wake of recent horrific shootings.

You give me such hope, Middle Family. You are resilient, loving, powerful, generous. You are revolutionary in your faithfulness, you are revolutionary in your love.

Tell Congress: No Silence on Gun Violence

As the families of those slain in Las Vegas bury their beloved; as the wounded struggle to survive; as detectives and forensic scientists piece together the what and why of yet one more mass shooting, what can we do?

After Sandy Hook and Oak Creek; Charlotte and Orlando; it can feel like it’s too much—like nothing’s going to change—but I need to tell you what I see. As each of these horrific days pileup, I see more and more people standing up and standing together. Sooner or later, something is going to give, and I think it starts right here, right now, with us.

Tell Congress: No Silence on Gun Violence 

Prayer is not enough. We come from people who put prayer and activism in the same breath to battle Jim Crow; to ensure voting rights and marriage equality; to protect health care and the rights of religious minorities.

Now we are breathing prayer in order to push for justice —to speak up, vote, lobby, march, protest, blog, tweet and insist on the value of every person. In the midst of prophetic grief too painful to describe, we are raising our voices in the name of Sandy Hook and Oak Creek; Charlotte and Orlando; and Las Vegas.

Tell Congress: No Silence on Gun Violence

First, we’re going to stop things from getting worse. There are two pieces of legislation moving through Congress that would make it easier for people to carry and use guns that we can stop, right now. If you sign and share the petition, we’ll connect you to an easy system to call your member of Congress to make sure that happens. 

Then, I'm going to personally deliver your names to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell, with as many people as are willing to join us as possible. Voices of faith and moral courage will be crucial as politicians try to hide behind their “thoughts and prayers” or small concessions.

Tell Congress: No Silence on Gun Violence

We can be a part of turning this all around. Already, I've been joined by two sisters of different faiths, Valarie Kaur and Rabbi Sharon Brous. When you join us we’ll be among those people standing up in new ways to stop these tragedies from happening again.

Let's lift our voices, let's flood the phone lines. Let’s be the groundswell that changes the tide.

In solidarity, 
The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church
Auburn Senior Fellow

This petition was originally shared on GROUNDSWELL: Inspiring faithful action to heal and repair the world, powered by Auburn Theological Seminary.

We Should be Shouting, Not Silent, on Gun Violence

John F. Kennedy. Martin Luther King, Jr. Robert Kennedy. Malcolm X. Medger Evers.

In my growing-up years, the murders of these leaders were a hideous stain on the fabric of our nation. Against a backdrop of television movies of bad guys and good cops; of settlers and Indians; of mob hits and army battles, these were my heroes, cut down by gunfire...
 

Read more of Rev. Jacqui's response to the tragedy in Las Vegas on Huffington Post.
Sign the petition here: Tell Congress: No Silence on Gun Violence! 

With Washed Eyes: Care for God's People

In the parable at the center of my sermon on Sunday, God’s Economy, Jesus told the story of a landowner who hires workers to pick grapes for a day. Some start before dawn, others are hired at about 5:00 PM in the evening. In the end, they are all paid the same wage (Matthew 20:1-16)

Of course, there was grumbling from those who worked the longest, out in the heat all day. They don’t mind that the last to the fields get paid, they just believe the ones who worked the longest should get paid more.

Not in God’s economy, not according to this parable. The last shall be first; this is what Jesus is saying. And that just—well, that just blows our minds!

We can be left disquieted by the radical and lavish way God loves ALL of the world, including the people in it that seem unlovable. We struggle in our ‘that’s not fair space’ with this story. Although we are taught to share with others when we are little children, this parable and the teachings of Jesus make us question what it means to share. How much? With whom? When is it enough? What is fair?

Those are really important questions, and we will keep talking about what it means to complete God’s dream this year, to live the ethics of the beloved community. This text is clear, though; it is meant to wash our eyes, to change the way we see. Everyone should have enough. Everyone.

Enough food, clothing, and shelter. Enough healthcare, and enough opportunities to live safely, learn and grow. This is why Middle Church is committed to feeding God’s people and working for a living wage. Even when we don’t know all of the answers to all of the questions, we are trying to do our part, with washed eyes and open hearts.

Here are two ways to do our part right now.

1.) Let’s share what we have with those devastated by these horrific storms and earthquakes. You can give here to a variety of relief efforts: 

—Hurricane Maria/Puerto Rico relief efforts: click here
Also, consider attending the Center for Puerto Rico Studies (Hunter College) event on 9/26/17 at 6:30 PM to learn about other ways to help with relief efforts. More information is available on their event page

—Central Mexico earthquake relief efforts: click here

—Hurricanes Harvey & Irma relief efforts: click here.

2.) Let’s keep the pressure on our elected officials, so they fix the Affordable Care Act as needed, but they DO NOT PASS the Graham-Cassidy bill. It puts the most vulnerable Americans at risk, guts Medicaid, and removes protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Make a call right now; light up the phone lines, and speak up for the vulnerable.

If you missed my sermon, listen to it here, and tweet what you think about it @RevJacquiLewis. I pray for more washed eyes among us, Middle family. More revolutionary lovers doing more to make God’s reign here on earth. I am SO glad we get to do this work, together.

Love and Light, 
Jacqui

Condemn White Supremacy and Violence

Join me and other faith leaders to "call on all elected officials to explicitly and publicly condemn white supremacy and the organizations that advance and seek to give it mainstream credibility." And "call on President Trump to remove Steve Bannon and other supporters of the alt-right from his White House and stand against the racist policies they propose". Sign the petition here

The petition was started by Faith in Public Life.

Rev. Jacqui Lewis Speaks at Chautauqua Institution

 Photo credit: Erin Clark.

Photo credit: Erin Clark.

The Rev. Jacqui Lewis gave a lecture titled “Speaking Truth to Power When the World’s on Fire!” as part of Week Five’s Interfaith Lecture Series “The Supreme Court and Religious Communities: Holding America Accountable?” on July 27 at the Chautauqua Institution.

Read about her lecture here. 

Watch a video here.