An Anti-Racist & Ecological Question for our Times: Where Does It Hurt?
I recall living in Los Angeles as a young child when the Northridge earthquake happened. There’s absolutely no relaying in words how scary it is to have the earth literally move beneath your feet, as a child, when that’s never happened before. It’s loud, it’s disorienting; it literally feels like the world is falling apart. And it was. My little brain had no way of comprehending what was happening. And I can’t help but thinking of all the children, all over the world, who are experiencing floods, fires and quakes for the first time. May God’s mercy surround them.
Back on that terrifying day I remember being swooped up by one of my parents and immediately taken underneath a doorway. We were safe. But upon turning on the television, we realized how many weren’t. Of course low income communities of color were the most devastated.
That sunday in church we gathered to hear a word. The sermon didn’t do it. But the prayer did. My mom began to weep as the text of Psalm 46 wove its way into our collective conscious. There was something about my mother’s tears that clued me into the presence of God. Not in spite of the devastation but in the midst of the devastation.
So as a return to and in honor of my mother’s theological garden, in honor of those all over the globe suffering from devastation today, in honor of the faith heritage I claim which is predominantly the voices of people of color living-dying-and-resurrecting in the midst of storms both natural and human created, and in honor of the Planet whose body is comprised of every-body and then some--I turn us now to Psalm 46:
To the Leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A song.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Though the earth should change,
Though the mountains
Shake in the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
She utters her voice, the Earth melts.
The lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our Refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
See what desolations he has brought on the Earth.
She makes wars cease to the end of the Earth;
She breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
She burns the shields with fire.
Be Still and Know That I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the Earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Let us PRAY:
God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Back in August Ruby Sales did an interview with Krista Tippet from On-Being. Ruby Sales is a black woman, a legend in the civil rights movement, a social activist, and theologian. I highly encourage everyone to learn more about her life’s work and to listen to that particular podcast from On Being. (It’d be awesome if someone could post the link below.) The title of the show was “Where Does it Hurt?”
Where Does it Hurt?
This isn’t just a question, she goes on to tell us. It’s a way of orienting to the world.
Where Does it Hurt?
Any of us trained in therapy, social work, pastoral care, anti-oppression work, know what a powerful question this can be. It’s a way of orienting to the world that takes suffering seriously. To draw on Sales’ words, “it unleashes a territory” that gets “to the source of the pain.”
Not, Does it Hurt.
Where Does it Hurt?
So today, in light of the global disasters in our midst, I want us to take up the question intentionally. If we were to take theologian Sally McFague seriously and render our Earth the Body of God, and asked it: Where Does it Hurt?...how might the Earth reply today? Right now?
Where Does it Hurt?
It Burns in
Where Does it Hurt?
I’m drowning in
Where Does it Hurt?
I’m shaking in
Where Does it Hurt?
It hurts all over, but not the same.
I’ve heard many climate change activists and theologians claim that the Earth is our great equalizer, that it’s literally our common ground. And while I don’t debate the planet’s absolute essentiality for us, as us, because we are, according to the Bible, creatures of the dust, literally formed by and from the land--therefore not materially separate from the Earth--I don’t think it’s honest to claim that ecological degradation, or the impact of “natural” disasters, impact communities in the same way with the same severity.
Disabled people are more vulnerable.
People of color are more vulnerable.
Poor people are more vulnerable.
Young children and the elderly are more vulnerable.
Immigrants are more vulnerable.
Refugees are more vulnerable.
Not because of who these groups are, essentially, but because of how social systems of oppression render certain people more vulnerable to disaster. This is what systems of oppression do.
So it hurts all over, but not the same.
As we face the Body of God, hurting all over, today, we also cannot avoid asking the question “Why does it hurt?” as a follow up to the question “Where Does it Hurt?”
Our Earth hurts because of how we, as human beings, treat it, plain and simple. I’m not here to spend a lot of time in the blame game. But we cannot, must not, avoid the hard questions and answers right now. To look away from causality in this moment is to fundamentally disregard our calling to be good stewards. We are beyond a choice point about how we are going to treat our Mother’s body. She is crying out. Will we continue to abuse her, collectively, or not?
I think the essential question here is: can the body of an abused mother heal?
Can the body of God, our Mother, in whom we live move and have our being, heal?
And are we listening to those who have literally healed from abuse as mothers in order to chart this planetary course?
This is one big question about detox. Or decolonization. Or repentance, based on where you stand, kneel, or wheel. Can we detoxify, as individual Earthlings, and collective Earthlings, enough to heal that which transcends us all and grounds us at the same time?
Part of that detox feels like a call to confession. So as a Christian pastor I want to stand firmly in the tradition and say that Christianity, as a global body and movement, and particularly as a privileged and oppressive religion in North America, has blood on its hands and in its theologies--and not the righteous blood of Christ. But rather the blood that gets shed, and cries out from the soil, when anti-science and dominion ideologies have their way. The action as necessary follow up to the apology is a renewed commitment to listen, deeply deeply listen to and partner with scientists. But not without an anti-racist lens, because God knows the science community has its own racism repentance work to do. Further, we must jettison our theologies of dominion once and for all and opt for mutual care frameworks between earth and earthlings.
Another piece of detox that feels necessary to claim here is the way white supremacy, and it’s logic of dominance, has structured oppression of the Earth. Did any of you see that brilliant little video put out recently called “Understanding White Supremacy and How To Defeat IT” by Brave New Films? At the heart of the history that film traces is this notion of domination, which is so closely linked to the “biblical and theological” notion of dominion, and what we know about colonialism is you could also just call it the European christian conversion conquest. White supremacy and ecocidal readings and interpretations of the bible go hand in hand here. At the core, domination and dominion, render the world and all it’s subjects (except for the colonizers) objects for exploitation. People of European descent and some factions of Christianity have literally rendered the Body of God and its inhabitants as deserving of plunder.
So what is the faithful action to accompany this confession?
Decolonization: of ourselves, our communities, and the Planet itself.
Decolonization. To embody the opposite of white supremacist logic. That is to regard all creation, without any form of hierarchy among its inhabitants, worthy of thriving life. To practice mutuality, creativity and flourishing instead of exploitation. To form community around the work of sustainability that will inevitably call on the very best of our differences in strengths and lines of sight.
And here’s the most important for me today as people of faith: to keep our eyes and ears and hearts and mind in the knowledge and power and love of God among us. Not apart from us. Not dictating to us from on High. Psalm 46 tells us as much. Listen to the locations of the Psalmist.
A very present help IN trouble.
God is IN the MIDST of the city.
The Lord of hosts is WITH us.
I am exalted AMONG the nations,
I am exalted IN the earth.
Connecting the dots: God is with/in/theMIDST/among.
And for those who hold Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, let us be reminded that upon entering the world, he was called Emmanuel, God with us.
God within and among us.
Even though God’s Body is hurting, God’s spirit, God’s love, power and Gospel is still in the midst and among us. And it is our refuge and strength. When the earth is burning and flooding and shaking it can be hard to remember. But we can’t call upon the presence of God unless we are reminded of the promise of that presence.
It is the presence of God that will liberate us for the work of decolonization.
It is the presence of God that will heal us from the toxicity we consume.
It is the presence of God that will show us new ways of being community that do not depend on domination, dominion and colonization.
Despite what some of the Religious Right will tell you: this is not a God who sends storms; this is not a God who causes earthquakes and this is not a God who intentionally burns down anything (other than oppression). This is a God who has opted for creaturely existence, who endures the pain--the devastation--that is constitutional to freedom, who is with us, among us, in the midst of us, as the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.
But there is one thing that God has that we don’t have, which is a trinitarian transcendent nature: that is, God loves all, God feels all, and God knows all. We see through a glass darkly, but not God.
God knows how to heal Her own body.
She is inviting us, like she always has been, to detoxify and decolonize our lives and our communities, that she might live, that we might live.
It is a calling to action,
but first a calling to attention.
Be still and know.
God’s presence is sufficient.
It is magnificent
It is in the midst
Trust it enough to claim it
In your own body
In the bodies of your communities
In the bodies of the strangers you encounter
In the Earth itself.
Our inheritances of privilege and oppression are not the same, therefore our healing work is not the same. Some of us are healing internalized superiority and some of us are healing internalized inferiority. Regardless, the Body of God, is our ground of being and She knows how to heal. Which means that since we are made in Her image, we have the healing instinct too.
It is in the midst.
The crying out itself evidence
Of her belief that healing can be had.
So are you making sufficient space to connect with the presence of God?
So are you doing your healing work?
Am I doing my healing work?
Are you doing healing work in your communities?
Am I doing healing work in my communities?
Are you healing your relationship to the planet?
Am I healing my relationship to the planet?
Certainly She is worthy. Certainly as part of Her body, we too, are worthy.
May those with ears, hear.
BENEDICTION Eph. 3:17-19 – And now may Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen.