A Word In Time
For Thomas, Easter came late. He wasn't there for the first gasps and glimpses that the other followers of Jesus report. He wasn't in the garden with Magdalene or in that Upper Room with the others. He wasn't on the road to Emmaus. But he gets Easter in the way that many of us get it. He gets Easter when he brings his questions. He wants to see for himself. He wants to touch. He needs his own encounter before he can trust the story. He needs it to be real.
I saw Thomas' kind of Easter last week. I was in Baltimore to visit our Beatitudes Fellow Heber Brown, and see the project he's developing during his Fellowship year. Heber is passionate about changing the way that young people encounter the church. He has developed a new kind of Sunday School where African American children are invited to explore their African roots and their role as changemakers for justice in their community, and to bring both to their encounter with scripture and their faith tradition. He calls this Freedom School, after the 1960s Freedom Schools of the Civil Rights movement where people gathered to root their activism in their shared experience and vision for justice.
For Holy Week, which was also spring break for Baltimore City schools, Heber led the junior high youth of his community through a five day version of Freedom School. This week's series was called the Marisa Alexander Freedom School, taking the name from the African American woman who is serving a 20 year sentence in Florida for firing a gun into a wall. Her gunshot deterred the threatening advance of her husband, who was unharmed and admitted repeated abuse. Her conviction was thrown out and she is awaiting retrial. She has claimed as her defense Florida's "stand your ground" law invoked by George Zimmerman in his 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin.
So with this news story as a context for the week, this group of junior high students encounter the Bible.
I was present for the story of Tamar, King David's daughter who is betrayed and raped by her half-brother Amnon. She is disgraced and King David will not punish Amnon, who is one of his favorites. (2 Samuel 13)
I have never heard the story of Tamar in church, much less with a junior high group. It's one of those stories we avoid. But this group of kids was not fazed. They hadn't heard this story before, but they recognized the story of Tamar and Amnon and David from "real life" and responded with a wisdom that exceeded their years. The students did not hesitate to bring their questions and their perspectives as they worked through the text, naming what's "messed up" with all that unfolds. After their bible study, they sang along with Queen Latifah and Tupac with lyrics about respecting women. And then they had a session with a Baltimore domestic violence professional who helped them identify safe, appropriate, and respectful relationship behaviors. They problem-solved with understanding and compassion.
At the end of the day, when they had a chance to name what was "hot" (their favorites) they named the discussions, where "we get a chance to express ourselves." "We get a chance to try other ideas." "It's a real back-and-forth conversation."
It's real alright. Real life and real church. Guiding them though this was their pastor (who also taught them to tie neckties, and whom they taught to dance the Nae Nae, all with hilarity and lots of noise.)
This sounds like Easter to me: real questions, real concerns, real encounter with real life and New Life, new ideas, new ways to live--all accompanied by dancing and singing, hilarity and noise.
Thomas got Easter when he brought his questions and his concerns. He got something new and something real. And it is still happening today, real life Easter.
Echoes from the Edge
Beatitudes Fellow Heber Brown shares his passion and vision for the Marissa Alexander Freedom School:
Heber Brown, III is an organizer, activist, writer, and the Pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.
Finally, the Poet
Listen to the audio
There was a time when schooling was a secret for second class-no-class-citizens-without-citizenship
Referred to by names that started with N’s ending in –er’s
In days when churches were used for more than worship
Now-a-days God has been cut out of classrooms
As our babies are taught to praise dollars with a catchphrase “in God we trust” as vain as arteries
Judged by courts that swear on Bibles as a mere formality to shame witnesses into honesty
When honestly, this country and our schools have been lying since they took first steps on these soils uninhabited and discovered anew.
Curriculums be oppressive so we carved out another groove
Called them Freedom Schools
Where we etch the stories of discrimination on their eyelids so they know injustice when the see it
Toughen their legs and stiffen their stature so when its time they can stand for something
While meditating their minds because in a world filled with the un-divine
Keeping calm, may just keep you alive
Teach them life lessons that the world assumes we will somehow gain by osmosis
Like how to engage in healthy relationships
Like how to tie a tie
How to grow your food then bring it inside
Wash away the dirt and panfry your sustenance
Whip up some breakfast
Be sure to share it with your community
‘Cuz we tell the children there is no “I” without “We”
So give abundantly
See we have come to believe that the village will raise the child, but our communities have become so fragmented lately that we must train the babies to raise it back to an aggregate body.
It seems so tough what we must teach them
No rose colored glasses for these future leaders
Never sugarcoat because the world is so much bleaker
Giving them the rhetoric to articulate because they are natural speakers
Discussing political strategies before lunch time daily
And you would think the truth of our reality would make them so serious, but surprisingly
You should see the way they dance!
They laugh lilies in dismal situations
They have learned to cope in this conundrum
And still be youth
Yet willing to fight on behalf of the unsung
Realizing that this is the work of Christ
Because Jesus came and helped not the rich law makers full of might
But the lowly, the cast out forsaken lot
So we teach around the clock because this movement of Freedom cannot be stopped.