I’ve been thinking a lot about Kayla Mueller, who apparently was a close friend of family friends. In addition to her work in Syria, Kayla worked for peace in Palestine with International Solidarity Movement, an organization I got to know a bit during my time tKayla-Ashraf-posterhere with CPT. She’s a true martyr for peace, in the best tradition of the church. Read some of her beautiful words from Palestine on my birthday in 2010:

But like most martyrs, her death has quickly been used to as a point for propaganda. Israeli “news” sources, call her a terrorist: What rubbish. In reality, she was a terrorist for peace, of which this world could use a few more. Jesus, MLK, and Gandhi were all terrorists for peace. They terrorized the reigning authorities, made them quake in their boots because they knew their violent grip on humanity was at stake.

The powers that be are always afraid of people of who die working tirelessly for justice because they know that there’s something compelling and convicting about the unjust death of peacemakers, and if it happens too often, people might re-question their allegiances. That’s why police brutality is condoned from the general population–police are usually hurting “bad guys.” The U.S. learned it’s lesson after the Civil Rights era–don’t kill the heroes, kill the villains. Kill the bin Ladens, the drug dealers, the kids high on pot. Give their communities drugs, poor schools, no jobs, and then turn them into the villains, so you can kill them. You can’t kill Martin Luther King any more, it’s too risky. So instead, turn the would-be Martin Luther Kings and Fannie Lou Hamers into something people love to hate.

I am suspicious of words of comfort and the pursuit of “justice” from President Obama after her death. Justice, for the powers that be, is simply code for killing. We will find the people who killed you and kill them, is what he means. That’s vengeance. Justice for Kayla would mean to question the U.S.’s unhinged support of an oppressive Israeli regime. Justice would mean questioning the U.S. foreign policies that led to to the creation of ISIS. Justice would mean taking a risk for love, as Kayla did. There can be no justice from the reigning authorities. In the Christian tradition, that’s what the kingdom of God means–a new reign of justice which can only be carried out by the one whose justice is self-sacrificial, loving, and redeeming.

Kayla’s death, ultimately, cannot be made right through vengeance,through the powers. It has already been made right because of its cruciform nature–she shared in the sufferings of the risen Lord, she became like him in life and in death. She died with him, that she might rise with him. I pray for more like her, that we would let the world have “all my everything” for peace.


To Grow Spiritually

Not my words, but Killian Noe’s:

If we are to grow up spiritually, if we are to become who we were created to become, we need structures in our lives in which we are held accountable to that becoming. We need people in our lives who will hold us to the commitments that keep us in the process of growing spiritually. Again, spiritual practices like prayer, sharing of resources and being with the suffering and excluded have no power in themselves to heal and transform. These practices merely keep us in the process of growing up spiritually. Spiritual practices are what keep the doors of our hearts open to the power of the Spirit of God. That Spirit does the healing and transforming.

I don’t know that much else needs to be added to that.


I’m Going to Set Your Flag on Fire

In Paris just a few weeks ago, a few men attacked employees of the controversial magazine Charlie Hebdo in response to mocking images of the Prophet Muhammad. The headlines in the following days largely defended the magazine’s work as an expression of freedom of speech. Another theme in the discourse following the attacks was criticisms of Islam and confusion when some Islamic communities in France did not come out in full condemnation of what had happened because the magazine had incited the violence with their offensive work. Charilie Hebdo had been warned. For many people, it’s hard to imagine why mocking images of Muhammad would be offensive enough to incite physical violence. Jesus is found in cartoons, T-shirts, dashboard ornaments, portrayed in offensive ways, yet Christians don’t make headlines for murdering the creators of this content. Same with other kinds of religious or important figures.

I tried to think of a parallel that Americans might understand.

  • Don’t let it touch the ground
  • It should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind placed on it or attached to it.
  • It should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • It should never be used in advertising
  • It should not be used as a costume
  • It should not be turned upside down for display
  • It should not be bunched up
  • It should not be used to decorate or adorn
  • Don’t let it tear

To what do I refer? Old Glory. The Star Spangled Banner. The Stars and Stripes. The Grand Old Flag. The [U.S] American flag is the Prophet of American Civil Religion. Want to start a fight? Insult the flag. Refuse to pledge allegiance. Turn your back on the colors that don’t run. Interrupt the hymn (anthem) during church (sporting event). Question whether or not it belongs in your church’s sanctuary. I’ve seen how angry people get about their flag. It’s not hard to find examples.

Here’s a hypothetical situation: Remember “Pastor” Terry Jones and the Koran burning party he planned? Imagine instead he had planned a flag burning party. It doesn’t take much to convince me that there might have been violent responses to such a thing. I can easily imagine threats against his life, church, ministry, and more. Or if something did happen, it’s not hard to imagine interviews on the local news with people saying, “Well, it’s never good to hurt someone, but he was kind of asking for it by burning the flag.” People take the flag that seriously.

Americans and Muslims share a lot in common in the level of respect for their religious/civil religious figures. The vast majority, as strongly as they might object to offensive displays, would never hurt or kill another person over it. Some might. On the one hand, these parallels are simply interesting to note, and innocuous.

What is scary to me is that extremists in one of these groups of people have access to the largest military on earth and unchecked stores of nuclear weapons.


Do you have a gun?

It’s a question I’ve only been asked twice in my life, that I can recall. The first time was after I was hit by what turned out to be a stolen motorcycle (I wrote about it here). The police started to search the other bystanders and I wouldn’t let them not search me, and in the process they asked if I had a gun. Come to think of it, that was probably the very first time in my life I had an encounter with the police that didn’t leave me feeling too enthusiastic about their role in my neighborhood. That was six years ago.

The second time was just over a week ago, on a Sunday. I was walking, around 9 PM, headed to a neighbor’s house. A police car passed me slowly, clearly taking a long look at me. It’s not the first time something like that has happened. I kind of stick out in my neighborhood a bit, and get some inquisitive looks from police from time to time. I felt a little annoyed, and so as the car drove off, gestured slightly with my hand, waving the car off with a bit of chip on my shoulder.

The car turns around at the next intersection and pulls up next to me and the car doors open. Two cops get out, one with his gun drawn, and I hear those accusatory words directed at me. “Sir, what do you have in your hand? Do you have a gun?”

I am, of course, shocked by the situation, and even more so when I see four more police cars pull up behind me and cops start getting out. “Sir, place your hands on the vehicle and spread your legs.”  I get patted down, my clothes adjusted, and am told that a call had come in reporting a “light skinned man with dreadlocks” walking around the neighborhood carrying a gun. Another office told me, multiple times (methinks the lady doth protest too much…) “This is for real. He’s not bullshitting you.” Though, the man in the description was wearing a white tank top, I’m told, so they ask me what is underneath my jacket, and sweater, and button down shirt, and even adjust some of my clothing to see better.

Eventually, they are satisfied that I probably don’t have a gun, and they leave without saying much.

Afterwards, I didn’t know exactly how to feel, but I could really feel a strong temptation towards something I knew to be wrong. I could feel every ounce of white guilt tempting me to say, Now I know what it’s like. Now, I too know what black men experience. I’ve arrived at the pinnacle of racial solidarity. 

Except the thing is, I didn’t experience what I’ve been told many black and brown men go through with police, and I knew it immediately. One important ingredient was missing: fear. In the entire ordeal, I was annoyed and frustrated that I was being viewed as a suspect in my own neighborhood, stopped while carrying a cell phone for what very well could have been a phony excuse. I was annoyed because I didn’t know what my rights were and whether or not I could have refused the search or parts of it. At one point an officer asked if he could move an article of my clothing, and the way he asked it, I honestly couldn’t tell if I had a choice, or what would have happened if I said “no.” It bothered me to realize that the cops could have said or asked in a similar way lots of other questions and that I would have been equally clueless as to whether I could choose not to answer without being arrested.

Yet the one thing I wasn’t feeling was fearful for my life. It didn’t even cross my mind that the cop with the gun pointed at me might decide to shoot me if I moved too quickly. I didn’t put my hands up. I knew I didn’t have a gun and I was certain that the cops would realize that and move on. Of course it would be arrogant for me to assume that every black man stopped by the police is necessarily fearful for his life, but my parents never had to tell me what to do when I was stopped by the police. As we’ve seen far too often recently in this country, the presumption of wrong doing is often enough to result in deadly conflict with the police, yet I didn’t even entertain the notion that anything but my swift release would occur. Friends of mine have told me about being stopped by the police when they weren’t speeding, and how their parents counseled them how to avoid being killed by the police when it happens.

I’m not trying to make more of this situation than is there. I wasn’t even sure I’d write about it, because I don’t want to run the risk of it sounding like me saying, “See, it happens to white people too!” I don’t want to confuse my experience with experiences of racial profiling, abuse, and injustice. I am not a victim.

But tonight, as I drove home, I passed a car that had just been pulled over by the police, and as I drove by slowly, I watched a black man in the driver’s seat (with the cop still in the police car) reach both hands out of the window into the air with his license in his right hand, as if to say, “I don’t have a gun.” I nearly started to cry when I saw this, because it reminded me of thousands of people on Saturday in D.C., and tens of thousands in New York City, marching through the streets with their hands in the air saying, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” It’s not a slogan for a campaign, it’s an earnest plea.

That’s racism: a world where I can be stopped and frisked with nary a worry even with a gun pointed at me, while a black man sitting in his car has his hands in the air with the police safely in theirs 25 feet away. Lord, have mercy.

Dear Fellow White People

To My Fellow White Americans,

In the last two days, a lot has been said about Mike Brown, Officer Wilson, racism, and so much more. I’ve noticed that many of my white acquaintances on Facebook or other places have said or posted some pretty terrible things, perhaps not realizing it. So, here’s a short guide for my fellow white people about how to publicly engage in this situation.

  • When in doubt, shut up. If it crosses your mind that it might be perceived as offensive, racist, antagonizing, or “honest,” just keep it to yourself. If you describe your post as, “Some people might get mad, but this is true…” you’ve already gone too far. Delete it.
  • Racism is not “over.” You, as a white person, might be inclined to think that the Civil Rights struggle ended what we call institutionalized racism. You might think that because you have black friends, because your school has black students in it, because a black person can vote, racism is officially over. But racism is not like a football game. It is not over because someone in charge declared one team the winner, and we all move on and accept that team’s victory. Racism is more like capitalism. It’s been a part of this country’s societal fabric since before day one, and like capitalism, it cannot be voted away. Every time goods and services are exchanged in the U.S., capitalism is happening, even if you are a socialist. Likewise, whether or not Officer Wilson is consciously racist, or his actions were consciously racially motivated, his actions are a result of the racism inherent to American society, where black people, in particular black men, are regularly killed by the police.
  • Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to hear you say that white people are victims of racism too. If your response to the overwhelming number of black men who are mistreated by police is to say, “It happens to white people too,” don’t say it or post it. Anybody can be racist, it’s true. But racism in the U.S. is about the system, a system which is designed to benefit white people. Therefore, you, as a white person, cannot be a victim of racism. You can be mistreated because of your skin, yes, but you are not a victim of the system.
  • Just shut up about the people in Ferguson you call “rioters” or “looters.” We all know that destroying property is not going to help the situation, but we don’t need you to tell us, and if that was your first reaction to the verdict, you should be concerned. You have no authority to tell protesters that this kind of behavior is the problem. No, the problem is what is causing the riots, and you should be more concerned about that. Let leaders within the black community and in Ferguson deal with the best way to protest.
  • Not being a “racist” does not qualify you to comment on how black people should dress, talk, or act. Just stop. Really. Mike Brown was not killed because some people sag their pants. Trayvon Martin was not a thug because he wore a hoodie.
  • If you are tempted to comment on the details of the case, choose to listen first. You might have something meaningful to say. You might have something blatantly ignorant to say. Wait. You might not be able to tell the difference. Let other voices who are not white speak first, and learn from them how to react. Chances are good that your gut reaction has been influenced by racism, so learn what the people most affected by the racist system have to say first.


Brian Gorman

War is Abortion: Why Pro-Life Christians Should Care About Gaza

If there is one thing that most Christians of all denominations agree on, it is abortion. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 54% of American Catholics and 57% of Protestants/Others consider themselves “pro-life.” Every presidential election, we hear of prominent pastors raising questions about a candidate’s position on abortion. And while organizations such as Sojourners have tried to emphasize additional issues which ought to concern Christians as they go to the polls, the reality is that abortion is still a central issue for many people. This is not altogether a bad thing; since the earliest days of Christianity, the church has always had a special concern for unborn and abandoned children, taking them in and caring for them when others do not. These days, however, whether or not it is an accurate portrayal, “pro-life” Christians are more associated with picketing abortion clinics, hanging pictures of dead fetuses in public places, and gathering for the March for Life than welcoming such children into their homes.

But why should the term “abortion” apply only to medical procedures done in sterile offices? Is not the killing of pregnant women and would-be mothers also a kind of abortion? Is not the ending of a child’s life through violence also abortion?

With such vocal concern for the unborn across the spectrum of Christian perspectives, it should be concerning to us all how silent these 57% have been about the recent violence in Gaza. In 27 days of bombings and ground combat in Gaza, over 1000 Palestinians have been killed. One-third of them have been children, and many others have been women. Some of these women have even been pregnant. No matter anyone’s political leanings, this reality should make us sick. But where are the outraged masses of pro-life Christians when mother and child are being killed by the Israeli military? Are the children of Palestinians less valuable than others? Are pregnant women in Gaza not carrying a sacred life? It disturbs me that often the most vehement spokespeople against legalized abortions are the most vehement defenders of Israel, and I am amazed at the spiritual gymnastics people will do to justify an otherwise abominable practice of killing children.

Pastors are often no better at pointing out this contradiction. Instead of challenging their congregations to vocally oppose the U.S.’s unconditional support of Israel and the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli forces, my experience is that pastors in the U.S. either ignore the ongoing conflict out of ignorance or fear of dividing their congregations, or they endorse Israel’s actions in the name of a biblical mandate to care for God’s “chosen people” in Israel.  Neither response is sufficient.

I can sympathize with feeling uneducated about the conflict. It was not until I participated in a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Palestine last May that I saw firsthand how Palestinians suffer at the hand of Israeli policies. Children, yes children, are imprisoned without cause on a regular basis. Homes are demolished by Israeli Caterpillar-brand bulldozers. Women give birth at checkpoints because they are detained on their way to the hospital. But it is not enough acknowledge our ignorance, we must address it. If more pastors and church members would commit to experiencing Palestine firsthand as part of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Israel, it would be impossible to stay silent. Churches could take advantages of resources from Sabeel, an ecumenical theology center based in Jerusalem which attempts to engage churches in more healthy interpretation of Scripture related to Israel.

Unfortunately, It is not only the conflict in Gaza which illustrates this sad disconnect between an earnest concern for unborn children and supporting indiscriminate killing. When U.S. drone strikes destroy homes and kill children in other parts of the Middle East, we find American Christians equally passive at best. We are quite willing to sacrifice the children of other countries and religions for our own sense of safety from terrorists. It has become too easy for us to look the other way while the U.S. government carries out abortions in our name and with our blessing.

We have to do better. As the church, as Christ’s body which extends beyond borders, we cannot ignore the cry of children in Palestine, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan, Iraq, and beyond, any more than we can ignore the children in Chicago, New York, or Washington, D.C. If we cannot, as people of the church, find ourselves loudly calling and acting for an end to violence, especially when children are involved, then we can no longer call ourselves pro-life. War is abortion. It ends life unnaturally through violence, life that has not reached full term. It destroys the emotional, spiritual, and psychological fabric of those who commit it and those who are victims of it. We, who follow a God who was born amid the slaughter of children, must cry out in deep anguish for forgiveness for allowing the Massacre of the Innocents to happen over and over. Let us pray for the courage to be truly pro-life.

Join Our Co-op! It’s the Bee’s Knees!

We’ve had a very successful few months at the Meade Street Co-op. Our bees seem to be thriving and are very happily collecting a lot of pollen.

I’m happy to announce that we’re adding another bee hive to our co-op! It’s exact location is being finalized, but it would be great to involve some more investors! Shares are $25 and I’m selling 20 more shares. A share guarantees you a portion of the honey we will collect next year, should the bees survive the winter. Investors also are part owners of the hives and can come any time to see them and learn.

So, please share this with your friends! Shares can be paid in person, a check mailed, or by Paypal. Contact Brian Gorman at Brianjgorman [AT] gmail [DOT] com.


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