Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Radicalized and Tongue Tied

I grew up singing songs from the Billy Graham crusades. We sang them at church. We sang them at home. I memorized the lyrics to those songs and still sing them. Often. Especially when I watch the Bill Gaither music specials on television on Saturday evenings. Just as I am without one plea. He touched me. His eye is on the sparrow. Because He lives. The King is coming. It is well with my soul. Blessed assurance. I grew up with the image of Billy Graham, with one hand holding the Bible and the other pointing towards heaven, etched into my mind. A few years ago, I visited the Billy Graham library here in Charlotte and marveled at the accounts of his life, his travels, his influence over presidents - and was saddened by his decision to stop visiting with sitting presidents right about the time that President Barack Obama was elected.

Along came Billy Graham's son, Franklin. He founded and led the charity known as Samaritan's Purse. For years, we supported Samaritan's Purse with money and also with shoe boxes filled with goodies for needy kids at Christmas. Samaritan's Purse is known for its quick response to humanitarian crises around the world. Then he began to say things and demand things that were troubling to me. Things about gay people and gay marriage. Things about President Obama. And most recently, things about Muslims - about how Muslims can be radicalized and therefore should not be allowed to come into this country. I refuse to post links here as I don't want to confuse anyone into thinking that I agree with his statements.

Anyway - being the "good Christian woman" I had been taught to be, being the submissive woman I had been taught to be, being the unquestioning woman I had been taught to be, I have held my tongue. I learned my lessons well: if I had questions about what Christian pastors and other leaders were doing, if I disagreed with what they said and taught, that was my problem. If I didn't understand how they could be so insensitive and wrongheaded, if I couldn't let it go, whatever "it" was, that was my problem. I felt tongue tied. How could I disagree with this Christian leader, the son of someone I had only heard positive things about? Even that changed as I learned more of Billy Graham's story and about his relationship (or lack thereof) with leaders in the black church and the civil rights movement. Who am I to speak up against what I hear and explain what I believe to be true? What can I possibly say or write or even pray that would make a difference?

Thankfully, mercifully, I have met people and listened to people and read people and have been taught by people whose words, questions, demands, challenges are unsettling me, changing me, and transforming me. They and their words are tongue tying me in a new, far more radicalizing way.

I am thrilled and disquieted and stirred to hear and read the words of women and men whose aim and goal in life are not submission, obedience, or easy acceptance of whatever they hear. Women and men who are reading history books, ancient and modern philosophy, and the Bible itself - but are coming to radically different conclusions than the ones I have heard my whole life. Things like - just because something is in the Bible, that doesn't mean we have to agree with it or live it out now. Women are equal to men, even in the church. Gay people deserve to be loved and accepted and welcomed into all aspects of church life and the culture at large. America is not a Christian nation and never has been. What? You can say that? You can write that? And not get struck by lightning immediately?

As a result of the words and actions of those brave and wise women and men, and the bravest and wisest man of all, Jesus Christ, my heart, my mind, my soul, and my mouth now overflow with questions. What if the ways in which the Bible has been read and taught are more about maintaining a status quo of inequality and injustice, slavery and abuse, extreme wealth and abject poverty, than God ever intended? What if the poor really will inherit the kingdom of God? What if Jesus really meant that we should feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty and free captives and restore sight to the blind? What if the last really will be first and the first will be last? What if it truly is harder for the rich (and, if the statistics about global wealth and poverty are true, then I would have to include myself in the number of those who are rich) to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? What if I am sitting in the midst of a whole lot of stuff that needs to be sold so that the money can be given to the poor? What if I need to just give a whole lot of my stuff to those who are in need?

A few weeks ago, I attended a service in Salisbury to remember and honor the Charleston Nine. The man who preached the main sermon that night spoke words and issued challenges that radicalized me. The friend who informed me about that service recently penned the following brief letter to Franklin Graham about the murderer of the Charleston Nine. Who is getting radicalized, Franklin? Why not speak out loudly and angrily about those deaths? Here's what my friend, Anthony Smith, who recently preached the best sermon on the 23rd Psalm I have ever heard (if you want to hear it, click the link and listen to David Week 4), wrote: Dear Franklin Graham,
I understand you are calling for the expulsion of all Muslims from America. Question.
Dylann Roof is a devout Christian. And he is a terrorist. Mr. Roof stands in that long standing tradition of domestic Christian terrorism. In light of that: Should we now throw all Christians out of the country?

Here's the most recent thing I've read that has both tongue tied me and radicalized me. How can I go on with my normal life, reading my normal books, doing my normal chores, having my normal conversations when there is so much work to be done to bring about justice and peace in this messed up country and this messed up world? How many more black people must die and how many more absolutely perfectly coordinated events with perfectly polite and forgiving families of victims before this country, this entire country, is willing to face and name and deal with its horrific past and present?

And it's not only black people who are dying; latino people are losing their lives at the hands of police officers as well, but not a lot of public attention is being paid to that crisis.

And don't get me started on the whole immigration thing; we are all immigrants. We all came here from someplace else... well, not exactly everybody. There actually were people on this continent when europeans arrived in the 1400s and later in the 1600s. Most of them killed by the immigrants who came here to find freedom to practice their religion and those who came here to find gold and other resources. Some of those whose land this really is, some of them are standing strong, speaking up, and becoming radicalized themselves. Here's another article about Native American women and their place, their role, their leadership in their tribes and nations.

These new thoughts, these new questions, these new readings of Scripture,
these new doubts, these new concerns, these new conversations,
these new voices in my life, these new authors, these new teachers,
they are changing the ways in which I relate to people I know and even those I don't know.
they are giving me reason to drive an hour or two or five to engage in conversation about faith and God and peace and justice and bringing about the peaceable kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
they are providing me with a new point of view and a new level of excitement as I enter seminary.
they are showing me my deep misunderstandings and profound lack of knowledge about history, my own, my country's, and that of oppressed people everywhere.
they are silencing me so that I can listen to those whose wisdom I need to absorb.
they are causing me to talk back where previously I would have remained silent and submissive.
they are waking me up in the middle of the night to journal and write blogs and pray and figure out what my next moves need to be.
they are scaring me and empowering me and draining hope out of me and also giving me courage.

Warning: be careful what you ask for. be careful what you pray for.
Recently I prayed and asked God to wake somebody up, someone I love,
someone who needs a wake up call in a lot of areas of life and relationships and self-care.
Turns out the one who has been awakened is me.
Turns out the one who has needed to see life more clearly is me.
It was me, it was me, it was me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
Standing in the need of challenge and change.
Awakened. Tongue tied. Radicalized.
May God have mercy on my weary, angry, frustrated, increasingly clear-eyed soul.


Linda K said...

Amazing! Thought-provoking! Motivating! Your blogs are always filled with food for thought, action and contemplation. Reading this blog entry left me dazed and thinking "I need to wake up too." I admire your heart. I admire your honesty. I look forward to reading about your journey ahead, knowing that I will become wiser and braver as a result.

GailNHB said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, Linda. I too look forward to seeing where this journey takes me. My eyes are being opened and so is my mind to justice and injustice and peace and reconciliation every day. So much to learn. So much to pray for. So much to act on. Please let me know what you are learning and reading and experiencing on your journey as well.