Feeding 5000 in a patriarchal system means feeding 5000 men; can we see what’s wrong with this snapshot of helpless disciples and their inability to act? Looking upon this humanity demands a compassionate and humane response – they need to be fed. Not counselled, not removed, not reasoned with, not dismissed, not sent empty away: Feed them. Don’t imagine the dozens of reasons as to why it can’t happen, feed them.
We know this because, in many ways, America has been in an emergency long before COVID-19. As the recent protests have brought into the open, there are entire communities that live in constant crisis situations that have been ignored for our entire history. Black people have been saying for decades that police officers were getting away with murder, that drugs and weapons were planted at crime scenes, that police reports weren’t telling the whole truth. If it weren’t for iPhones and pent-up lockdown energy, Americans wouldn’t never have listened, because it gets in the way of our positive outlook on who we are and what we have done.
The flag of the Country under which my great-great grandfather marched and fought is one inexorably linked to white supremacy. To clamor for the memory of this time as one of “heritage, not hate” is to be blinded by willful misremembrance. And this faulty memory is not limited to Confederate standards. When we hearken back to the Declaration of Independence and its “self-evident” truth that “all men were created equal” (Jefferson 1776), we now proclaim that this was but a partial truth as it only applied to white men. We must acknowledge that the Declaration, profound for its time, was a limited, aspirational document.
When the people who fill our pews (and our clergy too) love the ideals (even as corrupt as they can be) of these yet to be United States more than the ideals of the kingdom of God, how do we reclaim our allegiance not to flags and founding fathers but reclaim our fidelity to a God who already told us that they were jealous, and that idol worship, graven images no matter how noble the human may be is sin against God?
John’s fiery doctrinal ‘law and order’ mandating “Repent!”, come to the Jordan, be baptized, prepare for judgement – make ready for new life. In contrast, Jesus’ commitment to the ‘least of these’, water for all who thirst, and his passion for the God of Justice didn’t not appeal to those who revel in their ability to mete out provision, punishment, blessing or curse as they saw fit: religious and civil authorities covertly cooperating with occupying Romans are not interested in an egalitarian society.
In 1999 the First Presbyterian Church had 193 members. In 2019 the number was 75. This 20-year decline is not much different than what I see elsewhere in our presbytery. However, a church of 500 that drops to 250 can still support a pastor. The Coffeyville church can’t, at least not a seminary trained, ordained, and installed pastor.
We are not good at asking questions like “Why do border controls exist?” and “Why are there borders in the first place?” or “Why is locking up people who are seeking refuge wrong?” These are difficult conversations to have in church and in the public square.
I asked if they had ever had conversations with the town 12 miles away, which has a part time PCUSA pastor, about a yoked pastorate. They wondered aloud about what a pastor would do. The pulpit is filled by church members, retired pastors, and commissioned ruling elders, and they – the members and community – do everything else.
Baptizing in the name of love? No, I see no evidence of love. Those “ye” delegated and charged to go forth without benefit of gold, carrying neither staff nor provisions, might have recognized the general theme of hospitality – as they were supposed to teach hospitality – but they did not recognize the significance of the spontaneous hospitality proffered them by the Indigenous People of the Americas.
Hope, however, sparks in some parts of this country. Thousands of people flocked to the streets, protesting against the deaths of Floyd and other Black people. Their sustained protests have accomplished some positive changes, particularly in the operations of the police forces. If you’re on Facebook, you might have read some posts about the Stockton Police Chief agreeing to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy on racism in the Stockton Police Department. Also, Dallas is adopting a “duty to intervene” rule that requires officers to stop other cops who are engaging in inappropriate use of force. So, God is not silent. God hears the cries of the abused, oppressed, marginalized, and persecuted. God is still speaking!