These lyrics have been so encouraging for me this week. Being a public school teacher and mom of black boys in today's craziness is hard, to say the least. I am consistently reminded of how much I just CANNOT. I mean cannot speak up every time I observe problematic instances in the white supremacist institution of public education. I cannot teach kids to seek to unlearn wrong history so they can be part of real change in our world. I cannot teach kids how to be good humans. I cannot give my own little black boys the time they need. I cannot find hardly any time to do one of the primary things that gives me the most life--singing. And this is why I'm so thankful for the community to which I belong. I usually come to our city village gatherings exhausted from a day of teaching and managing student personalities. Our shared meal, check-ins, scripture study are all so special to me (no matter if I'm wrangling my two year old for half the time). But last week, I am most thankful for the song at the end of our time together. Singing, clapping, finding our harmonies (sometimes--haha) reminds me of home. It reminds me that I am right where I need to be. Singing together reminds me that I am a part of a community both in that room and across the ages. Singing reminds me that my momma is with me (because at this stage in my life, I'm trying to embody her strength and wisdom). Singing reminds me that regardless of the time I have (or do not have) with my black sons, they know that they are loved by me. Singing reminds me that the work I do is a part of a long line of black educators cheering for me. That all those who have struggled, endured, and gone on are still with me. That Jesus is with me.
This Christmas story which was meant to bring freedom has been so sanitized throughout the ages. I come from enslaved ancestors that refused to use the Bible to oppress, but instead to set people free. So here’s the truth . Jesus’ poor, refugee, brown family was seeking help. Rome was happy to register Jesus’ family to get their taxes. No room was made for the humanity of Jesus and his family.
As the parent of a two- and five-year-old, I have learned to play the role of late-night interpreter, to differentiate the wet-bed whimpers, the nightmare shrieks, and the hungry screams. I’m also learning to recognize my own reactions to these cries, to acknowledge my frustration at the disruption of my sleep, and to then resume the role of loving father. As I’ve grown as a father, I’ve come to believe that healthy people are characterized by their ability to perform this same kind of dual listening—to hear their own cries of frustration and need and to also respond to the cries of another person or neighbor with empathy and solidarity. As a black man from the South, I have come to see that the legacy of white supremacy in the United States is a story of the failure to hear and respond to the racial cries of broken bodies and spirits. Violence, oppression, hierarchy, tyranny, and inequity of any kind are the results of the refusal to feel and interpret and respond to one’s own cries and to the cries of the other. If we listen carefully, we can hear these cries in the ways we speak to our spouses, engage our children, and relate to our siblings. I am reminded of the ancient story of Cain and Abel, brothers torn apart through mishearing each other’s cries.
The Good Neighbor Movement invites you to join our first community conference call entitled: Vote to Fight for Justice. The call will cover important topics impacting the 2018 mid-term elections such as:
- Constitutional Amendments
- What’s on the ballot?
- Youth Voting
- The moral & spiritual urgency to vote
“White people are trapped in a history they don’t understand.” --James Baldwin
This summer a group of friends and church members have been reading the book, Waking Up White and Finding My Place in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. On Monday, September 17th I attended Debby Irving’s talk at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro. The place was packed with mostly well-intentioned white people seeking to confront racism in our society and our lives. I was one of them!
What Debby presented wasn’t a tutorial of how to address racism, but a history lesson of how racism has created our the society and world we live in. She exposed a history of racist policies that white people have never had to address nor confront. My eyes were certainly opened.
The bible is a perplexing book. The proof is in the thousands of denominations that exist based on divergent biblical interpretations. Though I grew up in black denominations that held a more fundamentalist approach to the bible, I remember observing my mom’s stubborn challenge of literalistic biblical interpretations. She’d strut into those Baptist and Holiness churches with her makeup done to the “T”, a badass pantsuit, and would dare someone to tell her that tithing was a requirement given by Jesus. Before I learned to parse koine Greek and understand the “cultural hermeneutics” in seminary, my mom taught me about a biblical hermeneutics of suspicion and reading the bible through the lens of Jesus’ life and teachings.
The first day with TGNM began with a blast. I made my commute to Greensboro, went to get breakfast, and then my tire popped. In that moment I found myself wobbling on three tires hoping to get back to the lot - a safe space for towing. This event somewhat foreshadowed the challenges I would have here. Soon during my placement I too became like my car during it’s traumatic experience. I was rolling tirelessly on three wheels with hazards on, driving carefully bracing myself for roads to come. As I look back on my journey, I see that TGNM church journeyed similarly as I in this season, embracing change as it experienced storming, forming, and norming dynamics of community-building. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (MSG) portrays this image beautifully stating,
When I was younger I thought that God was a reality that was a complete and undoubted fact. As I got older I could not fathom the divinity and humanity of Jesus. It was clear to my faith community that the Bible would fill in the gaps of misunderstandings and curiosities; after all, how could anyone not understand what was written in it? It was very simple. Grab the KJV version (falsely presumed to be closest to the original translation), read what was there, and the preacher would help you process it. I learned that scripture can’t be wrong. It was presented that scripture applies to everything and the words in it are good for everyone who reads it. Growing up in the South as a young black Baptist woman meant you know Scripture, you quote Scripture, and that you’re fully aligned with Scripture.
My name is Brandy Vines and I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama. I relocated to North Carolina to continue my college education at Winston Salem State University. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Information Technology in 2012 and have been working in the technology field ever since. I grew up in a single parent home along with my two sisters and we faced a number of serious challenges. Despite the challenges, attending church was a part of our life. We grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist Church and when I was around the age of six we transitioned to a Baptist Church. Both of these church experiences have impacted my life in major ways.
I was born into the church, specifically the United Methodist Church. I was baptized as a baby, went through confirmation in middle school, and sang in the church choir as a teenager. I came to understand the church as an extension of my family - a place to gather for food, fellowship, prayer, and support. I learned about grace and how to extend it to others. I was taught that everyone was welcome and that God loved us all. My church was not perfect, but it was my home--an idealized home--where love and kindness dwelled among imperfect people.
Several weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a press conference honoring immigrant mothers, just before mother’s day. I found myself reflecting on the words of John Wesley, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.” In the days leading up to the press conference, a friend reframed these words by asking ““How might the church and world be different if we listened to and were willing to learn from our mothers?” I have learned more about what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ from my mother and those who have played the role of mother in my life.
The Ole Asheboro city village has recently partnered with the Ole Asheboro Street Neighborhood Association to revive the neighborhood garden. We had our first community garden work day and cook out a couple weeks ago where we tilled some raised beds, shoveled dirt into a few beds, and planted a few things that we had on hand. A few folks from around our neighborhood showed up to help out and grab a hot dog or two. One middle-aged African-American man sticks out in my memory that day. He approached me first and gave me an uncomfortable hug, squeezing me too hard and even picking me up off the ground a bit. I watched him do the same thing to my friend as he mentioned how pretty we were. A bit uncomfortable, I felt myself putting walls up toward him. I asked him if he stayed in the neighborhood and found that he actually lives pretty close to us.
That is the number of children separated from their families by ICE and the Trump administration. In times like these I think about what we are called to be: a good neighbor. Being a good neighbor does not end with a specific street, a city limit, a state line or a country border-it should be without boundaries. We should be good neighbors to all.
As a Ghanaian, I was extremely ready for moving to the United States of America. I wondered if the movies I had seen on TV had done justice to what my first-hand experience was going to be like. I was super excited for this new phase of my life and couldn’t wait to get into this brave new world. Since arriving on American soil – the land of the free and home of the brave – my experiences have been life-shaping.
They say summer is a time of less work and more play. Pastors know this all too well. The pattern seems universal in most congregations: lower attendance, virtually no young people, and very little if any willingness of everyone that's left to commit to anything more. So I was in my feelings as I struggled to figure out next steps following a leadership transition at the beginning of this summer. We were "losing" Joey Lopez and Patricia Perkins at the same time, two founding facilitators and just all around wonderful human beings. And I couldn't shake the nagging question of whether or not we had developed "enough" direction and momentum to sustain the downtown city village through the summer. Scarcity mentality held me captive. I should've known better. After all, I can articulate the toxic norms of empire culture with the best critics. What I strive so hard to fight externally was showing up inside of me.
(Joey is a leader of the downtown city village. He read this statement at the Greensboro City Council meeting on May 15 in solidarity with the Homeless Union of Greensboro, a new homeless-led group advocating for housing and other forms of justice to eliminate poverty in Greensboro.)
My job gives me the ability to work from anywhere in the state of NC. I chose to live in Greensboro because of the values of inclusiveness and hospitality that have been evident throughout Greensboro’s history. As a faith based community organizer working with Faith communities that affirm and welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people into their congregations, this ordinance is quite alarming to me. LGBTQ people experience homelessness a higher rate than their straight or heterosexual counterpart. As a young queer latino, I chose Greensboro because I thought I would feel safe. However considering ordinances like this make me wonder if others in the LGBTQ community will feel as safe as I have.