By Jim Segaar
Last month we introduced a new Affirmation of Values for Seattle First Baptist Church, and asked our readers to think about the values expressed, especially how we can implement them in our daily lives. That conversation continues at this writing. We seek to do more than simply affirm our values, we seek to live them.
Our world today is in desperate need of organizations and people willing to live values such as “We will respect all religions,” “We will welcome the stranger,” and “We will protect our environment.” In the United States, we seem to be focused on insults instead of respect, fear vs. welcome, and exploitation over protection. Like the prophet Habakkuk, some cry out:
“How long, YHWH, am I to cry for help while you do not listen?
How long will I cry ‘Oppression!’ in your ear and you do not save?
Why do you make me look upon injustice?
Why do you countenance tyranny?
Outrage and violence – this is all I see!”
Reading the prophets and the latest news, it seems that some things haven’t changed much since 605 BCE.
But like the prophets, we are called to cry out against injustice and oppression. And beyond that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to action. Oppression is ended only when we overwhelm it with acceptance. It is up to us to bring forth a world of justice, free from tyranny. Our church has a history of reaching out to those whom society vilifies, and today we have another opportunity to do just that.
With incendiary talk of walls and immigration sweeps and travel bans and “old white guys first” filling the airwaves, churches are once again becoming places of Sanctuary. This goes beyond providing a safe, quiet place for parishioners to worship, and can extend to housing and protecting those unjustly accused and in danger. Today that can mean taking in undocumented immigrants who are in danger of being separated from their families and deported, often without due process. For example, First Baptist Church of Denver recently took in a woman until she could receive a fair hearing, where she was granted more time in the U.S.
Our church needs to decide what our role should be. The Church Council of Greater Seattle has taken a leading position on Sanctuary, and Jim Singletary, president of our congregation, has started a conversation about how we will help. In a church like ours, with a history like ours, a reasonable answer seems to be “we will help in any way we can given our resources and our congregation.”
So what’s next? This is not an issue to be decided by staff, or by the Diaconate. We believe the congregation needs to weigh in on this important issue. And we need to identify people who take the lead in whatever action we, the congregation, deem appropriate. Our leadership is committed to continuing this discussion. What do you think? What should our response be? What can you personally bring to this effort?
Stay tuned for a continuing discussion.
By Jim Segaar
One of my favorite sayings of Jesus is “I have other sheep who are not of this sheep pen.” (John 10.16) When I was younger we used the word “fold” instead of “sheep pen,” but the meaning is the same. Jesus is telling us, “Look, I have other followers who are not like you.”
As a kid, I took this as affirmation that life exists on other planets, and that “space aliens” are real. In my college days I began to understand that perhaps people of other religions were like sheep in another pen. And today, as Jim Ginn and I work on our small-but-not-tiny house in the Methow Valley, the message feels even more personal. I am like a sheep who lives in multiple pens.
The photo with this blog is my view as I write this. I’m sitting in a trailer on our lot. Outside I see wild flowers, mountains, puffy clouds, sun, a few houses, and no people. It’s actually an event when someone passes by our lot, either on foot, on bike, or in a car or truck. It happens seldom enough that we usually notice, and often wave or say “Hi.” I took our dog Otto out for a peaceful walk this morning – we didn’t meet any other living creatures to set him off.
Compare that to life in Seattle. We have a peekaboo view of mountains, but surrounded by houses and large trees. When I walk to the store or to church I always see other people, and rarely speak to or wave at anyone. Walks with Otto are a constant game of “avoid all babies and other dogs,” because they send him into Tazmanian Devil mode. And I not only act differently, I feel different in the two places.
I’ve started noticing not only how different life is in the Methow Valley as compared to Seattle, but how different my attitudes are, even on some of the major issues of our day.
I remember my working days in Seattle, when commuting downtown often meant squeezing into an already-too-full bus with a mixture of business people and students and street kids, then creeping along clogged streets to our various destinations. Jim G had a different experience the other week when he needed to ride Okanogan County transit to get to Omak to rent a car when our pickup broke down. He took a total of five bus rides, and was the only passenger on three of them. The drivers said it isn’t unusual for them to drive an entire route without a passenger. And the routes are miles and miles long, on empty highways. The few other passengers he did meet all “smelled a bit” or didn’t have the $1 bus fare.
So how might those experiences shape one’s attitude toward paying for public transit? In Seattle, I see it as a no-brainer. More transit is needed desperately, and anyone who votes against it seems out-of-touch or greedy or ignorant. But in Okanogan County? I might classify transit as a government boondoggle, a perhaps-well-meaning effort that serves very few people, costs a ton, and that I may never use. Dare I say a waste of money?
How might my opinion change on more of a hot-button issue, like gun control? The other day we went to a local auto repair shop to retrieve our pickup, Earl, who was finally running again. At one point we walked with the mechanic into a room that looked like a combination conference room, storage room, and living room to get an engine additive. On the way I saw a shotgun propped up in a corner. “Hmmm,” I thought. “Not a bad idea for the next time I see a snake in front of our trailer.” When in Seattle I have decidedly different views on firearms, preferring that they be few and far away. Armed police officers make me nervous, let alone random shotguns in people’s places of business.
As humans we share so much, not the least of which is our fragile planet. Even in our deeply divided nation we have much in common – basic needs for food, safety, shelter, love. And we often live in very different sheep pens, which means we can also feel quite different from each other, and hold opposite opinions on crucial issues for justifiable reasons. So how can we get along? How can we let each other live to the fullest?
It starts with recognizing that we are sheep who live in different sheep pens.
By Pat Kile
Easter’s over. . . Good Friday was appropriately dark, and two days later, to the sound of the usual glorious music, we found the stone rolled away one more time. Now three weeks later, I’ve put away the few little Easter decorations we saved when we moved into our condo, and most of the half-priced Easter candy bought the day after at Bartell’s has been eaten. Even the after-Easter ham we bought at Freddy’s for almost nothing has been consumed, down to the bone, with a pot of beans. So here we are—halfway to Pentecost, looking for Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
But this year there are a few Eastery thoughts still hanging around, at least in my head. Those discussions that Cherry Johnson led in the Lenten adult education classes were extremely thought-provoking. That wasn’t surprising because I think Cherry is one of the most gifted teachers among us. And that’s saying something, because at SFBC we have a wealth of wonderful sermons and rich teaching and reflections throughout the year.
Cherry’s sessions focused specifically on the resurrection. There was a wide range of thoughts and beliefs on the resurrection expressed by members of the SFBC community—also no surprise. For some people, at least, the question of whether we are to take the resurrection as literally true is very important—and there are of course people on both sides of that question. Personally, I’ve never thought too much about it. But then I was nearly 30 when I discovered that not everyone believed we all descended from Adam and Eve. An interesting thing we learned and maybe helpful to know is that resurrection—a type of return from the hero’s journey—is a common element in most religions. But what I found most life-changing of all that we considered together with Cherry is the idea that maybe literal truth isn’t the most critical question. Maybe the most critical question is the larger meaning of the resurrection. The metaphorical meaning. Where have we been entombed? How would it feel to have the stone rolled away? How much strength or grace would it take. . . ?
I have several tombs sealed with stones in my own personal life. (I’m claustrophobic enough to have to take a deep breath just writing that!) Maybe this will be the year those stones begin to roll away. Those Lenten discussions were a good beginning. Thank you, Cherry and fellow SFBC believers—and non-believers!
By Susan Blythe-Goodman
Editor's Note: this blog was written on April 30, 2017 - the night before May Day.
May Day, the March for Science, Black Lives Matter, People’s Climate Summit, the Women’s March, Tax Day. The past month has provided a lot of opportunities to take to the streets. Our political climate gives us a lot of reason to take to the streets.
My newsfeed has been full of critiques and defenses of the different protests and tactics that are occurring. I’ve read posts by folks expressing pre-emptive anger at the anarchists for whatever they end up doing on May Day. Others are reminding us of the difference between vandalism (destruction of property) and violence (harm to people). Some are upset that the March for Science organizers wouldn’t address needs from grassroots women of color climate justice groups. Others are upset that Block the Bunker activists seized the mic to share how those needs had been ignored. Posts point out the difference between the BLM marches, how one was organized by a single individual with an anti-immigration speaker, but many others are organized by accountable leaders who focus the events on fighting displacement, gentrification, and racial inequity in the criminal justice system. And for the Women’s March, Ijeoma Oluo summarized the criticism best.
As much work as doing the research takes, learning about every group, action, rally, march, and cause feels helpful. In all these online debriefs, I saw a comment someone made pointing out that polarizing topics within movements can actually help us dig further into our organizing work and become more passionate about our cause.
This took me back to the night at the airport after the Muslim ban on January 28. Seeing so many comments and likes from church members gave me a lot of strength during a long, tiring night. At one moment where we were sitting in a hallway, pressed right up against a line of bikes that the cops were clutching. They silently stood over us, the tension was palpable, but the protesters exuded calmness and determination. At one point I noticed a completely open hallway next to where we were sitting, and I asked someone what exactly we were blocking. It turned out more people were on their way to join us at this checkpoint, but since we didn’t know this, one guy joked, “You know this is the moment that will make the front page tomorrow: protesters take up half a hallway and block nothing.” It felt good to laugh.
The next morning I got a text from a friend that said, “I wouldn’t have known the protest was going on if it wasn’t for your Facebook. I went to all the news channels on TV and no one was covering it live. I was able to watch live on Facebook because of your post.” She told me she didn’t agree with all the actions we used, but she thanked me for keeping people informed.
She wasn’t the only one to critique what she saw that night. When we were at the airport, the main tactic we used was blocking checkpoints, entrances, and exits. We wanted it to be as inconvenient as possible for people to come in or go out. For the whole airport to come to a grinding halt, until we couldn’t be ignored and the people being immorally detained were let go. Many folks have reacted strongly to this tactic. Several friends of mine were concerned for the people coming off the airplanes. What if they had an emergency to get to? What if they were an immigrant or refugee who had finally made it through customs? It’s been suggested to me many times that using our bodies to get in the way of the airport flow was taking it too far.
At the airport, one protester would say, “Come and join us! And if you can’t join us tonight, what are you doing about this cause? Can you join us at Westlake tomorrow?” Another one wrote on the back of his protest sign, “Angry? Call your rep or senator and tell them to fight the ban!”
I used these responses in my conversations with friends expressing hesitation about our tactics at the airport. I asked what they were doing to stop members of marginalized populations from being deported based on their religion? Because before I can handle criticisms of peaceful protesters fighting for justice, I need to hear a strong statement about the unfair Muslim ban. And a statement about the creator of the ban who has caused refugees and immigrants to live in terror.
This response has led to some enlightening conversations. One friend expressed concerned with the short-sighted reactions to the ban, asking where the massive protests were a year or two ago when the last administration restricted travel from these same countries, which might have laid the groundwork for the travel ban. Her reaction helped me remember how easily I can be angry with a leader I didn’t vote for, but we all need to hold all of our representatives accountable regardless of what party they identify with.
I hope everyone who has feedback like this feels inspired to show up even more for protests to share these points. We need to hear one another’s concerns to create a movement that fully expresses the values we are advocating for.
Back at the airport, our group had moved to new locations throughout the night, and at the end we were blocking a side hallway. We realized none of us were the central organizers of the event, and one person asked if we wanted to have a quick philosophical chat on how we all felt about keeping people in. We all hesitated to support blocking people from leaving, but we didn’t want to dilute the action we were a part of. A friend of mine pointed to an unblocked exit within sight and said folks could still easily get out that night, so we kept blocking our hallway as best we could.
We were definitely the pushover group! A couple with a baby showed up and said they were with our cause but wanted to get their child home, we quickly broke apart to let them through. Someone even helped them carry the stroller up an escalator. That started a norm of disassembling for families with children. We also collectively decided to break apart for all the employees. They’d been helpful to the protesters all night, and we wanted them to be able to leave work.
The rest of the folks who came to our hallway would turn around and go look for another exit. Several people throughout the night (always an older white man, we couldn’t help but notice) were furious at being blocked. As they pushed and shoved the line of mostly young women hooking arms together, one protester would say, “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. We’ll do this for you if you’re ever detained.”
One man walked up behind us, but his flight was delayed because of all the protests, so he sat down and joined us. “This is my first protest!” he kept saying in an excited and proud way. We were glad the pizza showed up while he was with us so he could share in a slice with us. He liked the protester’s line that we’d come back for anyone who was detained. “I’m leaving for India tonight,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the middle of this. I don’t understand if I’ll be able to get back in.” We assured him we’d be right back here if we found out he was unethically held coming back.
My Civics class asked if we could go to May Day as a class, so that’s what we’re doing tomorrow. I was nervous at first to go to a protest with my students. Looking back on the night at the airport, I now can feel excited. I look forward to showing my students with my actions what I believe is right. If you’re in the crowd on May Day, I hope we get the chance to walk side by side! If you’re following the local news from home, friend me if you haven’t, and I’ll do my best to give you more information. Either way, I look forward to the debrief afterward!
Editor. "Alternative BLM Protest Focuses On Halting Displacement." South Seattle Emerald. 19 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Groover, Heidi. "So Let's Revisit This Also, by @brendankiley Https://t.co/Slb4ZvgEMx Pic.twitter.com/CcmbofKVYN." Twitter. Twitter, 28 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Oluo, Ijeoma. "When You Brag That The Women's Marches Were Nonviolent." The Establishment. The Establishment, 23 Jan. 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Schulberg, Jessica, and Elise Foley. "U.S. Expands Visa Waiver Restrictions For Recent Travelers To Libya, Somalia, Yemen." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
"Women of Color Speak Out." First of All, We Wish to Humbly Say To... - Women of Color Speak Out. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist