1. Ruby Bridges is still superhuman, a super-hero.
Remember the little six-year-old girl in Little Rock, Ark., November 1960, who didn’t get the message (her family had no phone) to stay home on the first day of school integration, and avoid the screaming crowd of whites and the disinterested National Guard? The beautiful little girl walked through angry jeers and hateful spittle, alone. Indeed, alone she integrated the all-white William Franz Elementary School. Wilma Bailey, guest speaker at the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference assembly June 9-10, told Ruby’s story in her four lectures on the story of Esther. Ruby is an Esther to remember. Ruby has written a children’s book, I Am Ruby Bridges. Order it. Read it to your children, grandchildren, to any available child or adult. If you don’t remember 1960, try Wikipedia.
2. Every minute, ring a bell, read a name, grieve a child, hear the gunshot.
Outside the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference assembly in our Fresno and Reedley churches last weekend, members of our conference held a gun violence awareness vigil to cry out to God (who else listens?) the names of children shot this year. We are home now, but the bell is still ringing in our souls. Real names, real children, real bullets, real shooters, real death. But who cares? Whose heart is broken for the fallen little people? How easy to forget as our memory skills grow numb. Is it a source of pain for your conscience and for your core of compassion? We hope and pray there is still such a core in us.
3. Polarization and Alienation.
Nelson Kraybill is a provocative teacher. In our home church, we are studying his book, Stuck Together: The hope of Christian Witness in a Polarized World. He tells us we do not need to let contrasting views or opposite ends of issues alienate us, as hard as it may seem. In our study, we talk freely of the wide gaps between us and old friends, cut-offs with co-workers and the ensuing mistrust and caution that petrify the free flow of curiosity and camaraderie. We share the hard lessons we are learning: “To differ is to be human,” “Disagree-able does not mean disagreeable.” “Love of neighbor does not require denial, avoidance and flight.” “Who says we have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand”? Get the book; think with Nelson.
4. Hijacking Jesus, corrupting Christ.
“I am so sorry,” I begin my prayers. This week, our worship liturgy will begin with regrets. How can we approach Jesus without first offering an apology? It is here in our nation that he is taken hostage, his name soiled, his legacy corrupted. Do you need an example? All eyes are on Florida these days, so consider Paula White, the prosperity gospel megachurch pastor, who “led Donald Trump to Christ” (WOP, Nov. 14, 2017) or SBC pastor Tom Ascot, close advisor to Ron DeSantis, who is defending Uganda’s “kill the gays” laws, or a wave of politico-weaponized-Jesus lookalikes we encounter almost daily. Did Jesus die crying, “Go get them, Father, go get them — they know good and well what they do?”
5. A workshop led by Pastor Charlie Au-nitch Carpenter, Mono Tribe of the Indigenous peoples of Central Valley
This was a highlight of interest and low point of sadness in my experience of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference’s assembly. Oh, what we did to the peoples who had lived here for a thousand years! Our first governor wanted them exterminated. Some tribes and language groups he erased. God have mercy. Charlie and his wisdom ring in me like spiritual tinnitus.