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strange fruit

Persistent Widow

We all exist in multiple categories.

As a CHRISTIAN, I care about loving people the way Jesus has loved me.

As a PASTOR, I care about my brothers and sisters in our church, especially those who are hurting.

As a MAN, I care about stewarding my power and influence to make this world better for my daughters.

As a CANADIAN, I care about how the people of our country are influenced by our history and our present systems and structures.

As a HUMAN, I care about reflecting the image of God to this world in how I care for creation and my fellow human beings.

As a WHITE PERSON, I care about identifying, naming, and challenging those bigotries, prejudices, and othering impulses that lurk in the recesses of our individual hearts, our collective unconscious, and our unjust systems.

As a CHRISTIAN, to end the list as I started, I know that I don’t have to do any of this alone. I am part of a multi-ethnic, multi-gender, multi-national, family that loves me and helps me grow in the heart-art of loving others well.

With this in mind, I want to speak now as a Christian first and foremost (which, I believe, is always our calling as Christ-followers), and as a pastor (knowing that some members of our church are hurting in light of recent news stories and personal experiences), and also as a white person (an infinitely unimportant characteristic by comparison, but one that sometimes needs to be addressed because of the pain understandably associated with this identity among many of my brothers and sisters).

At present, in the news are multiple saddening and sickening stories of racially grotesque behaviour. I’m thinking of…

  • Ahmaud Arbery, shot to death by white fellow citizens while jogging.
  • George Floyd, killed slowly and needlessly by a white police officer.
  • Christian Cooper, who wisely recorded a white woman calling the police to tell them “there is an African-American man threatening my life” when he had simply asked her to put her dog on a leash in Central Park.
  • And the list goes on and on.

In each of these cases, from murder on the one hand to simply behaving in an asinine way in a park on the other, our black brothers and sisters see something repeatedly reflected in the the news cycle: stories that either dramatize their own actual lived experience, reminding them of what they already have learned via personal involvement, or at the very least stories that alert them to what seems to be going on all around them even when it isn’t overtly manifest: the ongoing, actual, and factual phenomenon of white people personally and systemically devaluing black people as fellow human beings.

These cases in the recent news are different than a crime committed by a known criminal, murderer, gang member, mafia hit man, thief, or terrorist. These incidents of death and/or dehumanizing were caused by people we should be able to trust, to be able give the benefit of the doubt, to be able to feel safe around – police officers / former police officers / fellow-citizens who are otherwise unassuming and law-abiding. The racial-gender manipulation of the woman in Central Park was done, not by a KKK member wearing a hood (where we would be prepared for it), but by a seemingly “innocent” dog-walker. (And a Canadian, by the way. This woman was a product of our society.) Racially motivated devaluing of God’s precious image-bearers arises repeatedly, stunningly, aggressively in what should be “unexpected” places, in what should be safe situations, making every encounter in daily life feel a little more unsafe or at least unloving for our black brothers and sisters.

Added to this, many of our black brothers and sisters connect these graphic displays of devaluing seen in the news to their own lived experience. This is not theoretical for them. They have been on the receiving end of being dismissed, devalued, suspected, ignored, or pre-judged in a variety of ways because of their ethnicity and appearance. Think of that word, “appearance.” To simply appear, to show up, to be seen, is for some people to be feared, judged, and resented. And yes, this happens here in Canada, not just with our neighbours to the south.

To be black in this North-American context is, for many, to live with the ongoing psychological background hum of anxiety similar to PTSD. This is multiplied many times over for black parents who care for the tender hearts of their dear children.

This may not be your experience, and possibly not the experience of anyone you know, but trust me, I’ve talked with enough of our congregation and beyond to know that it is the lived experience of many. And as fellow Christ-followers, this is an opportunity for us to empathize and to organize our voices to stand in solidarity with our African-Canadian and African-American friends.

To my white sisters and brothers, I want to invite you to engage with and stand beside those among us who are hurting. We are talking about our family members going through real trauma. To be sure, in the kingdom of Christ, our whiteness doesn’t matter. It is absolutely and infinitely unimportant. But while the kingdom of God intersects with the kingdoms of this world, we can be agents of healing rather than neutral bystanders, and for that task, our whiteness makes a difference. We can steward our whiteness well by being allies, standing alongside, learning from, and practicing basic human empathy toward our hurting friends. This is also another opportunity for us to look inward and to assess our souls. Are we filled with any of the same seeds that, when fully grown, lead to death? (Remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount equating anger, disrespect, and name calling with murder.)

To my black brothers and sisters, I am so sorry. My heart is with you. I realize that I am part of and represent an ethnicity that has a long and horrific history of racial injustice, and a present history of racialized fear, which results in death, in one form or another. I am so grateful for your sisterhood and brotherhood and I stand with you, alongside you, as my family. Jesus has made us family, so you are my family, real family, and this bond is primary, strong, and unshakable. It is a privilege to be your brother and your pastor.

I recently had a conversation with some friends about Jesus’ Parable of the Persistent Widow. I won’t quote it all here, but please read it for yourselves in Luke 18:1-8. In brief, an oppressed woman pleads repeatedly for justice from an unjust judge who holds all the power. The judge doesn’t care about the woman or about justice, and he represents a system that doesn’t care, but he eventually responds to her pleas because of her persistence. Jesus says that, if pure persistence can get results from an unjust system, how much more will our persistence in prayer be heard by our heavenly Father who loves us. And then he ends his parable with this question:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
~ Jesus (Luke 18:8)

Jesus is asking if we are willing to be persistent like the woman in this story. The Greek word for “faith” (pistis) means both faith and faithfulness, belief and behaviour, trust and trustworthiness. Biblical faith means to have enough trust in God to keep on going, together, in this case especially in prayer.

When we have no power, we pray. When we have some power, we pray and advocate. When we have more power, we pray, advocate, and initiate change. We can always do something for justice.

With this in mind, I’m inviting you all to join me in our current teaching series at The Meeting House (www.themeetinghouse.com) called “Jesus & Justice”. I think we are all going to learn and grow together in some important ways.

My friend and worship leader, Brian Doerkson, reminded me of the haunting song sung by Billie Holiday called Strange Fruit. Written in 1937 and released in 1939, the song expresses lament over the injustice of racism, and especially the lynching of black people by white people in the American south. I encourage you to take some time to find a way to listen to the song and lament together in solidarity. For now, here are the lyrics…

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

We might think that lynchings are a part of the distant past, but the same seed of that tree continues to germinate in the human heart today. And it is bearing fruit. I invite us all, as a family of faith and faithfulness, to stand together for the inclusive, embracing, compassionate way of Jesus and against those seeds of injustice that are anti-Christ.

Would love to hear your comments. Let’s do this together.

Peace,

Bruxy

Tags : ChurchEmpathyFamilyLamentRacismWhite Supremacy

21 Comments

  1. Thank you for this Bruxy. I live about an hour from there, now, but grew up in the south Minneapolis neighborhood where George Floyd was murdered. My mother is still in the house where I grew up and is now in lock down. She is safe.
    I am a white mother and can’t pretend to know the anxiety of a black mother whose son walks out the door every day. My sister in law is a black mother. She is asking her children, my nephews and nieces to stay home, right now. The anxiety is just too much. They live in St. Paul. As a Christian sister, I still can’t pretend to know what my sister is feeling, by Jesus showed me that I can mourn with her. There is no way I CAN know, but I can BE WITH my brothers and sisters and grieve the injustice and ACT towards change in society by being a voice. MLK, Jr said that “a riot is the language of the unheard,” and I am willing to listen to what my brethren are aching to say.

  2. Thank you Bruxy for the reminder to step up.and engage.
    I can show love and care for my black family next door.
    I can walk with my black pastor along this sad journey.
    I can pray for justice from our heavenly Father.
    I can influence.

  3. Amazing piece Brother of speaking truth (to power). Well done! Let’s connect soon. Much Peace & Blessings

    1. I thoroughly agree with everything you have to say EXCEPT the posting of this song and its lyrics, I find it disgusting and disrespectful to even post it. It was horrible then and its horrible now. Why not post a song and lyrics that lifts up people instead of feed the hunger for gory sensationalism

  4. We definitely need to acknowledge the pain black Americans have suffered in the past. But I would like to point a couple things out. . Yes the lady in the park was overly emotional. But the man filming, admitted in a post that prior to filming, he threatened to take her dog. Some people see dogs like their children. If someone threatened to take my child I would react emotionally too. Both acted like idiots. Secondly, while all violence against a minority is awful, many of these acts are sensationalized by the media. Evidence? A white person is more likely to be a victim at the hands of a black person then vice versa. Where are these stories in the news? The black man a couple weeks ago was targeting white people and shot and killed an elderly couple. Was barely a blip on the news. Same with the black man who threw a 5 year old white boy off the balcony in a mall because he wanted to hurt white people. Where is your blog urging black people to stop hurting whites?

    1. Crime happens all the time that doesn’t get blasted on the news. The difference between Christian Cooper, George Floyd and 5 year old Landen is that Landen wasn’t thrown by Emmanuel Aranda because he was a white boy. I don’t think a very valid argument can be made to correlate the crimes because of skin color. Black/brown men and boys are targeted as “potentially dangerous” solely on the basis of skin color. I can’t think of one time I heard of someone crossing the street or clutching their purse approaching my white brother.

    2. John

      White people were not enslaved, lynched or exploited because of their race in the last 400 years to any extent that I am aware of. While anger and reverse prejudice exist in reaction (thus the riots and protests of recent weeks) we as white people do not bear nearly the same brunt of scrutiny or suspicion just for being white. Why do we insist on some reciprocal treatment when the odds are historically stacked against people of colour? Why can’t we share the pain of people without qualifiers?

  5. I’ve never attended The Meeting House’s main building. I’ve visited some regional sites, and ‘tracked’ along for many years while living at all ends of the earth. One of my favourite things about the teaching is the willingness to be God in the trenches. To get dirty, to talk about real issues and be a voice for the hurt and a provide a correcting course for the body of believers. In an age where I feel the church too often works to protect the establishment, and not talk about tough or touchy subjects, this is really a spring of fresh water. I’m grateful that all MH’s pastors have the freedom to share their convictions and for the the leadership to allow these conversations to happen.

  6. Thank you Bruxy, for articulating this response. Yes, prayer and justice need to rise from the same place, a loving heart. It’s difficult but necessary to temper the knee jerk anger with understanding, compassion and love of others and truth. It doesn’t take much power, simply the courage to be an advocate for family. We can always discern with wisdom and make the truth known.

  7. Hey, Bruxy
    I appreciate your heart that comes through in this blog.
    You are always gentle, honest, and thoughtful with your responses and this blog is no different.

    I see this as an issue of power and the fear that comes when that power is threatened to be taken away. The woman in the dog park was asked to leash her dog. Her response was to threaten to ruin or end a man’s life. There are massive implications in her actions and they had the potential to be fatal.
    Her power was threatened and the response was to respond with a greater threat.
    Imagine having to have that internal conversation with yourself before confronting anyone that is white or is in a position of authority. Imagine having to do everything in your power to not appear aggressive, or angry or dangerous when in your mind you are convinced that you are being labeled as dangerous, violent, and aggressive before you have a chance to speak a single word. Sadly, this is an everyday reality for many black men.

    The officer with his knee on the neck, I’m sure did feel threatened, but not for his physical safety. His ego was being tested. Bystanders calling him to do the right thing, to do his job with integrity. The fear of losing control over this situation pushed his response over the top.

    I love the idea that we need advocates not saviours!!
    I love what you are implying Bruxy with your idea of what we should/could be doing with power/some power/no power. How we advocate for others says so much about our walk.

    Thank you for walking with us brother!

    Privilege is power.

  8. Thank you so much for the great article Bruxy and for not being afraid to speak truth to power!

    I have been participating in, and helping facilitate dialogues on racial equity here in the state of Indiana.
    It is a disgrace and mar on the real jesus(who is NOT White-European) for the church to overall exercise it’s privilege to more often than not, ignore the issue of racism, which dehumanizes others to the advantage of the dominant power group.
    The church in North America was/is deeply involved in the racist structures that are behind our countries. To be truly Jesus-like is to acknowledge these past and current sins and work make things right. As a body, we need to confess our collective sin of historical and current racism publicly, in order to cooperate together with Christ in conciliation.

  9. Great article Bruxy. Your comments about what to do when you have no power, little power, and greater power are crucial. All of us can do something and Jesus invites us to join him in his work of justice. While we see injustice seeming to thrive the words of Jesus in this story to “not give up” is what we need to hang on to as we relentlessly pursue justice for all our brothers and sisters. Peace.

  10. Indeed Bruxy, prayer is the main avenue to God’s heart. Verse 14 in 2 Chronicles 7 comes to mind in a powerful way: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’ But we should first humble ourselves, really humble ourselves for God to answer our prayers. As always, it starts with the work inside our own hearts, removing all the seeds of wickedness and misconceptions. If feels like God is increasing the speaks volume more and more since the COVID days started. He is giving us opportunity after opportunity to turn to him in prayer for things that really matter. He can do so much if we truly ask him to.

    Bruxy, thank you for the words of wisdom, for your heart that emanates love, compassion, and seeks after righteousness every day of your life! It is indeed a blessing to be part of the Meeting House family!

  11. Well said Brux. Thank you. The first thing Christians need to do is confront those who call themselves Christ followers and yet align with state power – letting the spirit of bigotry, fear, and hatred blow through them. Oddly, Jesus before Pilate, didn’t call out the brutal secular rulers when he he himself was being unjustly accused and brutalized, although I think we can and should in our society. Instead he said “Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Seems that the focus is to hold his own people accountable first, and move then from there to challenge our larger culture. The greater sin today is the inaction, and in fact, the collusion of those who say they follow Christ – including ourselves.

  12. Thank you, Bruxy…
    A subject I’m not well versed in, and very limited experience. Appreciate the perspective you bring, and the challenges this presents for those of us that would live in peace with ALL of our fellow men…

  13. “To my white sisters and brothers, I want to invite you to engage with and stand beside those among us who are hurting.” Bruxy, this topic has been a focus of discussion in our home over the last several weeks (not to imply that it’s not been discussed a lot previously) and bubbled up organically in a meeting with our site leaders this morning. I just want you to know that I am being moved to action, and others around me also. Now is the time to shake ourselves awake and take decisive steps toward eliminating racism from our context, to speak up and not be silent any longer. For me, it means taking a respectful, inclusive, peaceful posture toward all people, standing for equality in diversity, and standing against racism – both in general and during specific events. It means being vulnerable, and exposing myself to potential harm – in Canada I expect backlash mostly. I plan to create some new habits of life, not just in this period of time but over the long haul. I want you to know this, hopefully to be encouraged. And I am also putting my stake in the ground for whoever reads this. Peace!

    1. Thank you. Would like to invite others to join me in praying for the perpetrators…for their hearts of stone to be turned to hearts of flesh…Jesus wants them to know His love for them…

  14. Bruxy, it would be beneficial, I think, to give some further History on the song, Strange Fruit. In fact, it began as a poem written by a Jewish schoolteacher in Brooklyn, who then turned it into lyrics for Bille Holiday. But the fact it was written by a White Jew, someone who fully empathized with social, political and racially motivated ethnic persecution is not by chance. And it is a topic well worth delving into, especially as there is a large, affluent Jewish community in Canada who can sometimes forget that they were once foreigners in egypt, too. And that awareness of our BIPOC brothers and sisters and non-binary folk, is a call to stand against every injustice and exile Jews have endured for well over 5780 years. Exile happens not only as a physical manifestation (e.g. deportation, separation of children and parents, separation of spouses and partners, turned-back asylum seekers,…but BIPOC experience exile internally in the Pan-African diaspora; They are constantly made to feel inferior, unwelcome, barely tolerated hoodlums of the underclasses of urban poverty. Or in rarer cases they’re judged to be Kanye’s “New Slaves” to extreme wealth, sports sycophants, ghetto money grabbers in fancy clothes who barely read and write. In reality, what White privilege never details in any form, is that regardless of what theory of combined creationism/evolution one subscribes to, every single human being on this planet is decended from the origins of humans in Africa. Like it or not, cultural and physical anthropology states unequivocally we ALL have “one drop” in our blood. And that drop is made in God’s image.

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