“Famine of the Word”
Text: Amos 8:1-12
This is a strange equation we find in Amos today. The Lord is so angered at those who have exploited the poor that God promises not only to bring bitterness and mourning, but also withhold the Word—so stingily that it will be, as the passage says, like a famine. A famine “of hearing the words of the Lord.”
How are we supposed to move forward in times when our world has so fallen, that God is withholding the Word as punishment for the abuses of the powerful? Why, when we need guidance the most, would God deprive us this way?
While God remains present, perhaps the Word itself—that is, God’s living teaching, or the spirit of wisdom that leads us toward acting in loving kindness—perhaps the Word itself is withheld from us when we blow it in big ways. When we have arrived as individuals and as a society to the point at which we will buy “the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,” there is something that has broken inside of us. We cannot crawl out of that pit trusting our own judgment. No. It is our own judgment that has brought us down in the first place. To return to the Word we must look beyond our own position and our own need for self-justification.
Press conference of Chicago’s “Rainbow Coalition”: Black Panthers, Young Patriots, Young Lords
“Fred Hampton’s Jesus Movement”
Text: Acts 11:1-18
Among other influences, I was trained in organizing by a few leaders who came out of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. One of my mentors, Willie Baptist, came of age during the Watts Uprisings in Los Angeles. He describes this as a critical stage of his formation—watching his suffering community step up and reclaim its own streets. Several times he’s told me the story of witnessing the local neighborhood drunk, who was usually passed out in a doorway, on his feet in the middle of an intersection directing traffic during the Uprising. This is one of the images I picture when I think about resurrection, and why we bother to fight for it.
Willie has been one of the people most strongly encouraging our organizing at Chaplains on the Harbor, a mission station of this diocese in Grays Harbor County, where our constituency is rural and 70-80% white. Willie’s enthusiasm for our work with poor whites sounds strange to a lot of people because the legacy of the Black Panthers is still poorly understood in this country. From the beginning, the Panthers—while building infrastructure, self-defense, and dignity in poor Black communities—also built alliances with other poor communities across racial lines. This was not a soft, rose-tinted neoliberal form of “celebrating diversity.” It was a series of gang alliances. It was Black Panthers visiting Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, home to poor white Appalachian migrants, to lead popular education workshops and find common ground in their shared experiences of slum housing and police violence. It was twenty-one year old Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton’s ability to organize a multiracial coalition with the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the Chicano Brown Berets, the Chinese-American Red Guard, and the white Young Patriots. The Panthers did this work because they sought to end poverty, and to end poverty, they knew they needed a massive coalition of poor people—that they could never ultimately end poverty in Black communities without recruiting help and solidarity from other poor communities. The fight was and is too big for one community to wage alone. Continue reading
Text: Lessons appointed for use on the Third Sunday of Easter, Year C, RCL
Good morning! I’m so glad to be here with you today. I want to thank Rev. Stephanie and Rev. Danae for the privilege of sharing this pulpit, to tell you all a little bit about the work we do at Chaplains on the Harbor. My name is Aaron Scott. I am the Organizer at Chaplains on the Harbor, which is a mission station of this diocese in Grays Harbor County. People don’t always know what that means—are we social service providers? Are we a non-profit? The answer to both of those questions is no. We are a church. We are a congregation. Like St. Stephen’s we are a network of people who take care of each other, worship together, eat together, pray together, study the Word and the world together, dream of ways to transform our community together, and then take action for that transformation together. We are a church. Chaplains on the Harbor is a church. We have that in common with you.
Here is where we are a little different from St. Stephen’s: we are a congregation made up almost entirely of poor and homeless people. Westport, where our church building is located, has an official unemployment rate around 10% but when you add in the number of people living on disability and the number of people who are no longer actively seeking employment, about 70% of adults are out of the work force. In a town of roughly 2,000 people, over 400 people have active warrants out for their arrest—overwhelmingly for poverty-related offenses like failure to pay traffic fines, petty theft, and other crimes of economic survival committed in the absence of legitimate employment opportunities. As the timber industry pulled out of our county and the fishing industry has dwindled with warming ocean temperatures, the primary replacement industry has been an expansion of prisons and jails. Much of our congregation has done time. Nearly all of our young people—my generation, millennials—have felony records. Continue reading
“The Prodigal Son: Undoing the Criminalization of Poverty and Youth”
Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
So Jesus told them this parable…
Jesus told them this parable about a younger son who, under the rules set out in Deuteronomy to prioritize first-born sons, inherits one-third of his father’s wealth. His older brother inherits two-thirds. This family has animals, land, and slaves—and also relies on daily hard labor of family members side by side with slaves to maintain themselves (near the end the older son says to his father, “For all these years I have been working like a slave for you”). Don’t think the older son is exaggerating in this complaint: under the Roman Empire, male heads of household had legal jurisdiction over their family members that paralleled a master-slave relationship.
With this background in mind, there is a way we can interpret the younger son not as a pampered kid throwing a hissy fit but rather as a rebellious slave. Slavery in this empire, in Jesus’ time, was brutal but less static than in our own nation’s history—debtors and prisoners of war often cycled in and out of slave status, getting their freedom by working off debts. This younger son’s act of demanding the smaller portion to which he is entitled, setting off on his own, and spending it without concern for respectability—rather than working side by side with the elder brother and the enslaved members of his father’s household—might’ve been understood by the crowd around Jesus as the younger son giving his middle finger to the law and social order of their time.
“Christ the Necromancer”
Text: Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
What we find in today’s Gospel, in the story of the transfiguration, strikes me as simultaneously trippy and mundane. Trippy because, as the text clearly indicates, this is Christ the Necromancer Sunday. Dazzling harder than Edward Cullen in a Twilight movie, Jesus is reunited with his long-dead friends: Zombie Moses the Murderer and Zombie Elijah the Rainmaker. Or maybe they’re not zombies, maybe they’re just ghosts. Either way, trippiest of all to me is Peter’s total nonchalance in witnessing this—“Hey guys, great to see you all, let me help you pitch your tents.” Conjuring is obviously no big deal for Peter.
On the flip side, I sometimes have a pretty trippy job. So reading through Luke 9 doesn’t sound all that different from what I might overhear on any Tuesday night swing shift at the low-barrier shelter between serving dinner and scrubbing toilets. I recently finished a book called Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders. It’s written by Chris Hoke, a young pastor to prisoners and gang members in Skagit Valley, and it’s got a lot of overlap with my line of work. He writes,
“For some time I’ve imagined all of us having a fragile nerve inside of us, like a spiritual antenna deep within our core. Some people, I’ve thought, simply have an abnormally large antenna inside—poets, prophets, psychopaths, your slightly crazy aunt who’s drawn to the paranormal, who some days is more compassionate than anyone you know and other days is aggressive and convinced everyone including the government is conspiring against her. In my work both behind jail bars and the years I continued with homeless youth on the streets of downtown Seattle, I’ve met a number of young people with schizophrenia. I’ve wondered, when talking with them about some of the abuse and trauma they’ve survived, whether the internal antenna-nerves of some people are damaged. Maybe they could be exposed, jutting out like a bone from a broken arm, picking up way too much of the otherwise faint spiritual frequencies coursing through this world—from ‘beyond’ as well as from the person across the room. I’ve wondered whether some of these people slam heroin or meth or any street medicine they can find as a way of jamming cotton into their spiritual ears.
“King Herod is a Liar”
Text: Matthew 1:18-2:23
I used to live in New York City. I used to go a little church there, around the corner from where I lived, called St. Mary’s Harlem. New York is a big city but the neighborhood around St. Mary’s always felt, to me, more like a small town. Everybody knows each other’s business, for better or worse. People say “Hi” to each other on the street. St. Mary’s church is an important part of this feeling of community because it’s one of the only spaces where people in the neighborhood can come hang out for free. It’s a poor neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood where the police bother people a lot—especially young people, especially homeless people. We think of Harlem, of New York City, as a place that’s very different from the Harbor. But they’re facing a lot of the same problems and dreaming a lot of the same dreams as we are. St. Mary’s called themselves the “We-Are-Not-Afraid Church.” And they meant it. They were never afraid to talk about hard stuff—about the ways they were struggling, about all the powers and principalities they were up against as a community of mostly poor and working Black people. And even in the middle of their own troubles, they never turned their backs on other poor folks.
a holiday poem
by Aaron Scott
send the Mother of God fleeing across borders,
lock her out at the gates,
bomb the manger,
hunt the children for sport,
raise them in an open air prison,
lock the messiah up for disorderly conduct
and lynch him,
put three generations of resistance
in the ground.
it does not matter–
rome always falls.
that is all they know
how to do,
is kill God and collapse.
so why don’t you try