“Stand against the Storm” by Ched Myers

Yesterday was both an exhilarating and excruciating day for faith communities around the world.  On one hand, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the ecological crisis was released, and Muslims observed the beginning of Ramadan at the new moon.  On the other hand, news spread about two historic Christian sanctuaries that were violated on Wednesday, in Charleston, SC and Tabgha, Israel/Palestine.  A few days ago I commented on the extraordinary pontifical call to discipleship under the shadow of the climate Endgame.  Today my heart is centered on the murder of nine members of Emanuel A.M.E. by a young white supremacist.  
Today is Juneteenth—indeed, its 150th anniversary—on which we are supposed to celebrate the long march to freedom of African Americans.  Instead we are preoccupied by yet another brutal shooting of unarmed black folk by a white predator.  As Obama said yesterday: “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times.  Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.”  Look in the mirror, white America.
Pictured above is Denmark Vesey, a former slave who was executed in 1822 for attempting to organize a massive slave revolt in antebellum South Carolina.  Vesey was one of the founders of Emanuel A.M.E., the oldest black church south of Baltimore.  This was, and is, a congregation with a long history of struggle for justice, right up to slain pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
There is a long, bitter history of white terrorism toward black churches in America, most infamously symbolized (until now) by the bombing of 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963.   Whites tend to be both ignorant and suspicious of black church as a relatively safe, insular space for African Americans, as well as a center of black social and political power.  As Laurie Maffly-Kipp, a professor of religion and American history at the University of Washington in St. Louis put it: “It’s the one safe space they have for decades that is out of the surveillance of white communities. It has a sacredness just by virtue of being a separate space.”  In light of this, the specter of a young white man posing as a seeker, and being warmly welcomed into this space for a mid-week Bible study, only to open fire in cold blood, is bone-chilling.  It represents a new level of violation, and testifies to the persistent and deadly virus of white supremacy that continues to circulate in the bloodstream of European American culture. 
I feel the same dread and rage at the news of young Israelis setting the Church of the Loaves and Fishes aflame in Tabgha by the Sea of Galilee.  Scrawled on a wall was red Hebrew graffiti warning that “idol worshippers” would be killed.  Like Charleston, this is not an isolated incident; Mazin Qumsiyeh points out that many other churches and mosques have been destroyed since the founding of the Jewish state.  Elaine and I visited at Tabgha church a few years ago, grateful for the modesty of this ancient sanctuary in a land of religious spectacle.  We were taken with the spring that runs by the church and into the lake, and captured by the famous loaves and fishes mosaic on the floor underneath the altar, so iconic for our work in Sabbath Economics. 
These acts are not “extremist”—an epithet hauled out at moments like this by the dominant media to justify the status quo—but rather the inevitable result of our continuing tolerance for racial and religious absolutism.  Two historic sacred spaces have thus become lightning rods for the storm that is gathering. 
It happens that the gospel reading for this coming Sunday, the Solstice, is the story of Jesus and the disciples on the sea in such an archetypal storm—a scene depicted not far, we should note, from Tabgha (Mk 4:35-41).  May we have ears to hear this Word, and to find the faith and courage of Vesey and Pinckney to stand against this storm.