A Time for Silence, A Time for Social Distancing, and a Prayer for Shalom

Labyrinth at Olin T. Binkley Baptist Church, Chapel Hill, NC

On April 17, 2019 I posted some reflections on the practice of silent reflection during holy week. Now, in 2020, social distancing is hindering our ability to do some of the things we did last year.

Typically, during holy week, Olin T Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, NC erects a labyrinth and invites the community to walk the centering path. The use of labyrinths as an aid to reflection has a very long history, even predating Christianity. Evidence for their use in a specifically Christian context begins very early. But walking the labyrinth is not possible now. Visiting the stations that usually surround it at Binkley Church is out of the question in our current time of social distancing.

The practice of silent reflection, however, is not hindered by our current circumstances. If fact, for some this is a great time for just such a practice.

Using pictures from what I posted last year at https://www.michealpalmer.com, I would like to offer some reflections on what we can do now during holy week to deepen our understanding of what it means to pursue justice and peace in the way of Jesus.

Earth Care with Lenten Banner

Living with social distancing I have found time to care for the earth in the small part of the world where I live. My family’s mulch pile—not a very sophisticated approach to mulching, but one we have practiced for several years—has grown as I have pruned a muscadine vine and numerous trees. In a very small way, this care has become a part of my spiritual discipline.

Earth Care Station

This week I intend to nurture the life around me. Prune where necessary. Cultivate and nurture my small part of God’s creation. As I work, I will reflect on the ways in which Jesus cultivated relationships, both nurturing and challenging where necessary.

Intercession Station

Typically, one of the stations around our labyrinth has been an intercession station where we are encouraged to pray for others, even writing brief prayers for those we know or those we do not know, but whose situation needs attention. This week we can all pray for the deep need of our entire world for healing and deliverance from COVID-19.

I will pray for the doctors and other hospital staff who must put their own lives at risk for the rest of us, and for the low wage workers at grocery stores who must show up to work and cannot avoid close contact with the public.

I will also pray for those who are being forgotten as our world turns its attention to solving the current great crisis. Immigrant children and their parents are still in detention, where they are at even greater risk than the rest of us. Many poor people remain in crowed housing and urban communities and cannot exercise social distancing as easily as I can.

Intercessory prayer must be a part of my spiritual discipline this week.

Penitence Station

Last year there was a penitence station in the circuit around our labyrinth. I will have time this week to think about the ways that I have contributed to the brokenness in the world around me and reflect on what I must do to heal that brokenness. Penitence is more than asking for forgiveness. It is the will and the intention and the effort to make right the wrongs we have done. That I can do, even while separated from my church family, from those people who normally give me strength and encouragement.

Mary Station

There was a Mary station last year. The table contained reflections on Mary’s powerful role in the various ways she has been viewed in different Christian traditions. While the tradition with which I grew up has never venerated Mary in the way that our Catholic brothers and sisters do, I can recognize that she demonstrated an acceptance of God’s will and a dedication to the purpose and ministry of Christ that should be a model for me.

I also recognize that the Protestant Reformation’s reduction of Mary’s role in our Christian tradition fits within a larger rejection of the feminine aspects of God in order to justify a heavily male dominated tradition. Gender discrimination continues to contribute to the brokenness in our world and specifically in my religious tradition.

This week I will reflect on my own gender assumptions and how I can view God more holistically, focussing specifically on Creator as a feminine role.

Shalom Station

Last year’s Shalom station featured broken pottery. What a wonderfully graphic image for what we are facing now! “Shalom”, a typical Hebrew greeting, is also the word for peace. Peace is much more than the absence of hostility. It is the result of healing.

This year I will seek peace amid the stress of an uncertain future. At a time of pandemic, peace can seem elusive. Healing is what we need at this moment, a reparation of the brokenness that is growing with the pandemic. My discipline this week will involve reflecting on that brokenness, praying for all who suffer from it, and acting as best I can to bring healing and avoid augmenting the suffering. I will observe social distancing as a means toward this end and view it as a part of my spiritual practice.

Thanksgiving and Praise Station

There was also a thanksgiving and praise station last year. That station was focussed specifically on thankfulness to God and praising God, but this year I will expand my practice of thanksgiving and praise. I will go out of my way to express thanksgiving to those who are putting their lives on the line for the greater community, whether they are doing so out of the goodness within them or because they cannot do otherwise, I am still thankful for them, and I will make it a part of my spiritual practice to say so.

I will also offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise for those who protect me and my family by exercising appropriate distancing, wearing face masks and gloves, and taking other measures to avoid infecting us.

Crosses Over the Labyrinth

I thank the fine arts committee at my church for the beautiful display of crosses found there this year, symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ. This week I will contemplate that sacrifice and what I am personally willing to give up for the greater good of our world.

May you find Shalom as you face the pandemic this week.

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What does Silent Sam have to do with Anti-Immigrant Sentiment? A few resources for this Sunday’s Discussion.

News & Observer Video on Silent Sam and UNC Support for the Statue

Student Response to UNC’s gift to the Sons of Confederate Veterans

WUNC Report on the Gift

https://www.wunc.org/post/unc-board-governors-give-confederate-group-25m-preserve-silent-sam

Sunday, December 8

This Sunday will be our last time together for this semester.

I had originally scheduled the class to be about Ephesians 2:17-20, and we will read that passage, but a lot has happened this week, and it would be wrong not to address those issues as well.

Our local university (the one in Chapel Hill) announced over the Thanksgiving break that it is giving $2,500,000 to the neo-confederate organization, The Sons of Confederate Veterans. While the university tried to portray the gift as an effort to avoid a costly legal action, even the recipients have acknowledge that the amount is astonishing. This unprecedented support by a major university for a white supremacist group speaks volumes for the racial climate that still exists in our area.

The New York Times broke the story on Tuesday. The Washington Post followed up with an article on faculty response on Friday.

Are current attitudes toward immigrants at the level of our federal government any surprise if such a respected institution as UINC can provide such support? Current mistreatment of the poor and minorities—including immigrants—is not a recent development, but somethings rooted in centuries of prejudice and abuse.

Student at UNC have been speaking out against actions by the university’s administration to protect Silent Sam—a monument paid for by the Daughters of the Confederacy and major UNC donors—for a long time now. The monument was erected in 1913, at the hight of Jim Crow, and one of the speakers at it’s dedication bragged of having horse-wipped a black woman “until her skirts hung in shreds” for ‘disrespecting’ a white woman. The intent of placing a bronze confederate soldier with a rifle at the top of the monument was clear.

The scriptural passage we will read does not address the issue of Confederate monuments, but I hope our discussion of it will inform our understanding of christian responsibility in the face of such disturbing action by powerful people in our region.

The presentation for this class is already online. You can find it here.

Sunday, December 1: A Litany of Welcome

Line of Police Blocking Street

Tomorrow morning we will discuss last Sunday’s protest against Alamance County’s cooperation with ICE, talk about when Civil Disobedience is warranted for the Christian Community, and read together a litany of welcome drawn from scripture.

Part of our discussion of last week’s protest will involve watching this short video:

ICE Protest in Graham

Police in Riot Gear Intervene in Graham to Prevent March

Police participation in last week’s protest against the Sheriff’s department’s cooperation with ICE was clearly not meant to protect protesters. As the afternoon progressed, policed steady stepped up pressure to break up the protest. This two and a half minute video from The Times NEWS shows what was happening at 4:38 pm.

Today’s direct action in Alamance County.

The crowd gathers, 1:30 pm

The event began with short speeches, singing, and chanting. Never Again, a movement led by our Jewish brothers and sisters to fight against racism, and SIEMBRA NC, a Latinx organization working to build power within Latinx communities in our state provided leadership.

We left the property led by a procession of six black coffins representing those who have died in ICE custody. Our intention was to deliver them to at the door of the jail now serving as an immigrant detention center.

The procession begins, led by six black coffins

As soon as we left the property, we were met by police who had blocked the streets surrounding our location.

A show of force by Alamance police, some even in riot gear, blocked the streets in every direction.

The amazing show of force that stopped our procession was very disappointing. It seems that our peaceful action was perceived as a serious threat by someone in the local police department.

Speaking truth to power sometimes requires being willing to face such nonsensical use of force. While I was not able to stay till the end of the March, there were many among us who could and we’re willing to face arrest. As of this writing I have not heard news of how that played out.

Please be in prayer for them and wish us strength and courage as we continue to press for change.

Welcoming the Stranger – Welcoming Angels – Hebrews 13:1-3

In the video above, Dr. Eric D. Barreto (Assoc. Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and Dr. Jacqueline Hidalgo (Assoc. Professor of Latina/o Studies and Religion at Williams College) look to the Bible to guide us through our response to Immigration, Migration and Refugees.

Our class tomorrow morning (November 24, 2019) will begin with this video and a reading from Hebrews (13:1-3). We will look at the tradition of viewing strangers as messengers from God rather than threats of violence. Can we shift the national dialogue around immigration to be more reflective of this biblical tradition?

Direct Action this Sunday

We will also talk about a direct action that we can take in Alamance County in the afternoon after our class.

Those of us who attend will be joining our Latinx neighbors in Alamance County to confront Sheriff Terry Johnson’s racist policies and to pressure for an end to Alamance County’s contract with ICE.

Never AgainDown Home NC, and Siembra NC are collaborating on this event.  Down Home and Siembra are both organizations doing immigrant justice work (among other work) locally. Never Again is a national mobilization of Jews, immigrants, and allies organizing to shut down ICE and stop deportations across the US.  

This is a non-violent event. There will likely be walking, chanting, and singing as well as speeches.  The event is well-organized and will be attended by many who have been part of a mass actions like this before as well as people who are taking action for the first time.

Logistical Information

The gathering will begin at 309 S Maple St, Graham, NC 27215 (“The Center for Spiritual Living in Graham”) at 1pm

PARKING: Feel free to park on the street. We also have verbal permission to park the Children’s Museum of Alamance (across the street and about a half-block down the street from the Center for Spiritual Living). 

Here are some suggestions of useful things to bring with you:

  • Water, and perhaps a light snack such as a granola bar
  • Warm clothing. Here is a local weather forecast.
  • A small cushion for sitting (If you think you will need one)
  • Signs (Some ideas: Get ICE out of Alamance, Welcome the Stranger, Dignity – Not Deportation)
  • Comfortable shoes

A Theological Appeal for Defending the Refugee

Christian Aid is the relief and development agency of 41 Protestant and Orthodox churches in the UK and Ireland.

This short video is an advertisement requesting support for Christian Aid and its mission. In that appeal, though, we can see a theological perspective on the church’s role in fighting for justice and offering compassion. These are values that align directly with the focus of our class.

How can we promote this theological perspective in our own congregation? We will discuss this issue as we look at the story of the the refugee journey of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus to Egypt and their failed return to Judea, leaving them finally in Galilee.

We would love to have you join us.

Gentle Joseph Heard a Warning, by Carl P. Daw Jr. (Hope Publishing Company, 1990)

Harvard University Choir sings Gentle Joseph Heard a Warning

Gentle Joseph heard a warning,
from an angel in the night;
valiant Mary, maiden mother,
roused from sleep, prepared for flight:
thus the Christ-child’s family lived out
what the prophet had foretold,
that he might be called from Egypt
as God’s people were of old.

Targets of a tyrant’s army,
seeking safety, fleeing strife,
leaving house and land and kindred,
spurred by dreams of peaceful life;
through the desert of unknowing
and the night of doubt they went,
guided by God’s promised presence,
by that trust made confident.

Give us, God, such faith and courage
when we move from place to place,
and to those who come among us,
make us channels of your grace.
Let us see in every stranger
refugees from Bethlehem,
help us offer each one welcome
and receive the Christ in them.

Hagar, abuse, and the naming of God

Tomorrow morning we will examine the complicated stories about Hagar in the book of Genesis. A slave brought to Canaan from Egypt by Sarai and Abram (later Sarah and Abraham), she is forced to bear a child with Abraham, then kicked out of the house after Sarah has a child of her own.

Yet God protects her. And she gives God a new name: El Roi, the God who sees.

What can these stories tell us about ancient views of foreigners and how communities of faith should view them?

The presentation for tomorrow’s class (November 10, 2019) is online. You can find it here.