About a year ago I came across a grass roots movement called “Healing Our City” – it is centered in Minneapolis, and had begun actually the summer before in May of 2020, as a response to the traumatic death and murder of George Floyd.
In that year – this movement provided 30 Days of Silent Prayer in a physical tent in North Minneapolis. A month-long, African-American-led collaborative… conceived to add this vital spiritual element – to all the strategic thinking, policy proposals, and investments that were being considered at the time to address the multi-layers of trauma that were being experienced in this city. www.healingourcity.org/about2020prayertent
It was a shared public ritual where people of all faiths and good will came together throughout the day for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silent prayer/meditation. Over the course of 30 days, this prayer tent became a place to collectively grieve, to remain somehow – open to change, and pray for a new future.
Last year – in 2021 (when I came across this), this space evolved into a virtual space – where there was intentional daily prayer and meditation during the trial of Derek Chauvin. The city was humbly learning how not just to consider responding to tragedy, but how they might proactively create wholeness and live together in beloved community as people of goodwill… wherever they are and whoever they are. They were pressing in to discover together how to heal.
The reflections and prayers were offered by leaders – mostly in the Minneapolis area – and some by folks who have given their lives to this fight of justice, like Ruby Sales and Don & Sondra Samuels, and others who are fresh, young powerful voices. Cole Arthur Riley (black liturgies), Krista Tippett – as well as Rabbis and Muslims and Buddhists, Hmong speakers, and Reverends, community organizers, teachers, writers, poets… of all faiths, denominations, races, and orientations were part of this movement. Expansive and inclusive… and hinged on this notion of being together, not alone.
Led by the spirit to be alongside one another and “stay with it.”
There are over 90 of these daily prayers/reflections that you can view if you subscribe to their youtube channel, “Healing our city.” And what’s been most meaningful to me, as I’ve watched and rewatched so many of these only the thoughtfulness of each person’s presence and words – but it is the collective leaning to come together with humility and say, “where is God in all of this?” and “who is God to us?”. . .and “how does that help us mend our way forward?”
How do we grow the Beloved Community?
How do we create the kin-dom of God?
How do we whole-heartedly proclaim “all shall be well?”
How do these sentiments not just hang out as abstractions, but become tangible/practical ways by which we live, ways to keep healing? And how do we keep that at the forefront of our minds and in our hearts… as we move about our world, in our communities, and love Jesus?
That’s exactly what we have been talking about in this spring mini-series, called How to Heal the World. It’s in some part a daunting title, and an inspiring title – and an all together TIMELY and timeless title. As you may have noticed… this title doesn’t have a question mark at the end. It’s not “How to Heal the World?” It’s How to Heal the World .. Period. It’s a statement – a prophetic statement perhaps – and a given at the center of our faith – at the center of our lives, as followers of Jesus.
It is the work we are called to be part of.
Therein lies a lot of questions…
How will we create these tents of healing? Whether they are physical like Minneapolis. .. or metaphorical in some way?
How will we participate and partner with God for the healing of the world? How will we humbly come alongside one another to learn, to unlearn, to change, to believe for that which we can not see – but only imagine?
How will we allow our faith to do what faith is intended to do – to expand, adapt, flex and be the force that it can be … of good and repair.
The author and feminist, bell hooks said in her book All About Love – that
“rarely any of us are healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.” (215)
I think these folks in Minneapolis know what they are doing.. To talk to one another , regard it as prayer. To hold the one whose voices, lives, and beings are most oppressed – in view, with love…. Because love that participates in justice is the way to wholeness and healing.
Today we are going to talk about the value of humility and the reality of power. And these questions,
“Who is God to us? Where is God ?”
.. as we take a look at the story of Philip and the Eunuch from Acts and see how it might help expand how we find our way into the ongoing call to Heal the World.
Thank you Jesus for this day. Let us be glad for the opportunity to be “more today ….than we were yesterday.” Thank you for the spirit of God that nudges us into greater spaces of learning – inside of ourselves and for the wellness of the world around us. For those of us who are tired today, who are grieving today – give us rest, let our souls find comfort in your presence – that asks of us nothing, and yet provides us everything.
*Credit fnor this translation and many of the thoughts to follow to Pádraig o’Tuama. May 2, 2021, YouTube.
Oe of the reflections that was offered last year by this “Healing Our City” movement was by Padraig O’Tuama – an Irish poet-theologian, a scholar, who has spent years working at the intersection of power, conflict and healing.
He also presentsPoetry Unbound with On Being Studios, which is situated in Minneapolis. I consider Padraig a friend, we shared a bit of whisky in a pub in Ballyvaughan, Ireland (which seems as good friend-making material as any). Padraig hasn’t officially weighed in on the status of our relationship – but we talked a little bit about liturgy, story and leadership – which I hope in his view is the stuff of friendship as well…
Anyway – he offered some thoughts on the passage we are going to read together, some thoughts about healing particularly.And some thoughts about the “healing” of Philip – as much as I have ascribed to the eunuch.
Let’s read together.
Acts 8:26 – 40 (Common English Bible)
26 An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take[a] the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)
27 So he did. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship. He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace. (Candace is the title given to the Ethiopian queen.)
28 He was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage.
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Approach this carriage and stay with it.”
30 Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?”
31 The man replied, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him.
32 This was the passage of scripture he was reading:
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent
so he didn’t open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself or someone else?”
35 Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him.
36 As they went down the road, they came to some water.
37 The eunuch said, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?”[c]
38 He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him.
Now Philip is a follower of Jesus. He, like many followers of Jesus, has left Jerusalem as the early church is taking shape in Acts.
There is much persecution that is happening in and around Jerusalem – and the “good news of Jesus” is meant to be taken beyond Jerusalem, to Judea, and to Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth.
So Philip ends up traveling north to Samaria. Home to the Samaritans. He moves in and lives there – despite historical deep lines of division and hate between Samaritans and Jewish people. Philip shares the love and goodness of Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit the people of Samaria listen and many of them get baptized.
He loves God and loves others, even his enemies, and he brings the good news of Jesus wherever he goes.
And so most of these stories go. The spread of the “Good news,” you move into an area where no one has heard such a Jesus message.. And you spread it, you deliver this important message.
It’s how the stories went for me as a kid – a young one learning about God. I absorbed that one of the primary duties – as a follower of Jesus – was to bring the “message” of God to other people. We had missionaries that would come to our church and share slideshows and stories about the travels that they had taken.
Converting, saving, the wayward from a life of certain demise. Our church’s name was Wayside Church – so we really went for the “wayward” language a lot to differentiate ourselves .. “us”, the sure/the certain/the right/ the powerful (on the inside).. From “them” – the ones (on the outside) who were lost.
Padraig says, that’s often as far as an interpretation of a scripture like this story of the eunuch and Philip would go… Philip is out for a walk, comes alongside a carriage – hears a man reading from the scriptures. Philip is the one with a message that can help…
“Do you know what you are reading?” “Oh you don’t – let me hop in and tell you.”
And the conversation that ensues – Padraig says – is on the grounds of a “converting conversation”.
And it is no more original than the missionary stories I heard growing up – the ones that were heroic and doing the real work of Jesus – saving lives, counting them – “one, two, three, ten , a whole family, a village… “ I’d pray and pray – and cry in secret, “God please don’t send me anywhere I don’t want to do this …
Somewhere I knew that this way of “messaging” the good news – was one that offered no humility, no freedom, no choice… it was a message meant to convert (with power over – not a transformation of the heart), heavy with an agenda – it had an end goal. And the tenor was, “You need to accept this message- by force or friendship – and this of course as Padraig says, over time has affected “culture, language, politics, land, families, relationships, livelihoods…”
So Padraig offers that perhaps this is not what this story is about. It’s not about Philip going and saving the eunuch, this Ethiopian man… Perhaps instead, this story is about healing – he says – a kind of healing that goes to the roots.
When Philip gets into the carriage – and as the standard story would go – the eunuch is the one that is healed. Philip is praised for his effective discipleship, his messaging of the good news. .. a good student of Jesus.
And it makes sense to think the Ethiopian man is the one that needs the saving/ the help/ the good news – he’s a,eunuch, he was likely castrated at a young age, likely against his will.. and made “other” in gender, and body and regarded as a sexual minority.
He’s also a high up official in Candace’s – the queen of Ethiopia’s court. He’s come to Jerusalem (likely a two month ordeal) to worship, and yet he arrives at the temple and is not permitted to enter.
In the law of Moses – Deuteronomy 23:1 – it says
“no one emasculated by crushing or cutting can enter the assembly of the Lord.”
He’s rejected, excluded – the message that has greeted him is that
“he is forbidden to join the family of God.”
And it seems kind, and obvious – to offer a different message – one about Jesus.
And yet, the scripture that this Ethiopian man is reading is about a Lamb – who also has had a blade held to its body…
And the Ethiopian man asks Philip,
“about whom is this text speaking?” Is the prophet talking about himself or someone else?”
He asks, “Is the prophet talking about someone like me?”
Padraig says it’s
“all well and good to talk about sacrificial lambs when you are thinking abstractly.”
Here though Philip is being converted as he is brought face to face with a person – who when in their own body has been brought close to a weapon. Where a weapon has been pressed against their body.
Philip here – is being invited to rethink what he thinks he’s talking about.
When I met my *now* husband Scott – I had been away from the church of my youth for a bit.. But the way of thinking about God, and faith that my church had defined for me – was not far from me.
This would become evident in our endless conversations about faith and spirituality. Scott, an agnostic at the time, would press me on my “positions” and issues and “platforms” that I backed always by some great zinger as it related to truth. He was always bringing in a story or a name of a person and would ask,
“well how does this person’s story fit into your thinking? Or what would you say to this person if they were here?”
Bringing my beliefs from the abstract into the concrete.. human lives. And again and again I would be invited by Scott’s inquiry to rethink what I thought I was talking about. And he’d always say,
“and who is God to you, Ivy?”
The eunuch here is attempting to infuse faith with encounter. With a face. Asking Philip how does this scripture that you’ve read, that you know – translate as you see it in the flesh? In human form? Here I am:
“a sheep led to slaughter”
“A person humiliated and mocked for being different”
“a person with no descendants”
“Where is God?” “Who is God to you, Philip?” “What do you think about who God should be to me?”
He invites Philip to go back and look at his faith before it becomes reduced to a system ofabstractions and beliefs. Maybe asking Philip, “How can you stretch your faith to be a series of stories and as a series of encounters. How can you value me, my story – this encounter with me… as much as being “right” about what you’ve learned about God or faith or scripture.
“This Ethiopian man is not in need of any conversion. But Philip – this early missionary, most definitely is.” (PO’T)
“The Ethiopian man was not the one that was saved that day. He was fine as he was – reading, thinking, asking questions – pursuing his own curiosity and intelligence and interests..”
The person that was saved – was the person who’s imagination was in need of expansion – Philip – the follower of Jesus – perhaps the one that thought he had the message – or even more dangerously thought that he “was the message.”
Philip goes back with a message – the message wasn’t about this Ethiopian man – the message was about his understanding about what POWER was – b/c he had been converted and healed into a better understanding of power, justice, inclusion, equality , equity.” (PO’T)
So here we can witness that Philip – the person who thought that they had the message to give, was the one that most needed the message themselves.
It can seem mostly harmless to tell this story as Philip is being praised for engaging with this Ethiopian man. But when we nestle our understanding of scripture through the lens of a colonialist mindset – one that values power, control, domination, conversion as a sign of spiritual status, or holiness… We injure, we harm, we erase story, people. . . lives.
Healthy faith is always humble about its own holiness and knowledge. It knows that it does not know.
It knows that Jesus sat with people at tables, in storms, in fields, at their feet, in temples and streets, at gates and in grief, in birth and unto death..Jesus’ message is to be with, to share , to be alongside – not OVER.
A healthy faith is what the eunuch saves Philip u/into – into a non-conquering, non-fearful faith – a humble faith. A faith that reminds us that power is demonstrated in the capacity to learn and to adapt and to see and take in WHO is in front of you. To enter the prayer tent, or chariot of another… (upon invitation)… especially those that we have othered.. And listen, “repent,” act differently … this is the healing here in this scripture.
A healing of the arrogance of entitled posture – and an invitation to a posture of humility and repentance and awareness of your own limitations… of how much we have to learn (and unlearn) – and how much harm has been done in imagining and ACTING as though we are right.
How much we have to learn even when we think we’ve gotten scripture “right”
How much we have to learn, even when we think we know all there is to know about another’s story – where we think we’ve gotten individual people and groups of people “right.” Knowing what’s good for them. Defining who God is for them.
How much we have to learn when we think we’ve gotten God right.
If we try to claim it. If we say we understand it. If we try to own it. Control it. If we declare “Power” because of it… Then IT. IS. NOT. GOD. (riff on St. Augustine of Hippo).
And this is the importance I think of imagining that Philip is the one healed here. Because it gives all of us followers of Jesus a chance to see that humility is a way forward, humility is a way to heal the disrepair that has been rippling through Christianity, our society, our world. It is not a value by which we become doormats, or silent, or apathetic – but it is an essential component by which we keep the face of the other, and thereby the face of God in view.
We’ve got to constantly remind ourselves what we do not know.
Instead of clinging to certitudes on every side of every question – could we enter into conversations with humbleness, curiosity, an openness to unlearn – to listen. We don’t know exactly how Philip responded to the Eunuch’s question of “who is this scripture about a lamb being slaughtered?” But we can imagine that it provoked an internal movement for Philip from, “oh wait -this could be you.. To this IS you.” The word became flesh indeed.
And maybe then Philip explains some of how he’s understood scripture, of who God has been to him… speaks of his own experience of faith, of what he’s challenged by or inspired by…
We can gather that something stirred in Philip because the Ethiopian man says – here’s some water – “what’s to stop me from being baptized?”
And if Philip had stuck to the law – much like the Ethiopian man’s temple experience – there would have been a lot that would have prevented him from being baptized.
But perhaps Philip knew then the power of being more loving than “more right.”
Perhaps the law he had also read many times, came to life in him – where it says, “to the eunuchs I will give a name that will not be cut off… a name that will last from generation to generation.” (Isaiah 56:4) Maybe Philip wanted to be part of that healing, that mending a way forward… the naming of a nameless man… as a child of God, as he comes up from the water.
The good news of God embodied, and carried onward- living in generations to come.
“The message of the Hebrew scriptures has always been about the evolution of a more just world. The dismantling of power – where power has defined what law/order looks like – and as Padraig says, “what “right” and rights looks like.”
Here at Reservoir humility is one of our core values. .. . we not only acknowledge but we are wholeheartedly committed to pursuing the truth of Jesus through multiple sources, including scripture, reason, culture, and experience, and we take the posture of learners, recognizing that our understanding of God’s truth continues to unfold. .. as we evolve, change and grow.
Recognizing that our “knowing” of God is only that we can not fully “know” God.
And our best shot at knowing anything of God is by staying in connection with one another. It is by running alongside the chariot, the honored space of another’s story… and as the Holy Spirit says to Philip in this text, “STAYING WITH IT”….running for as long as we have to… listening as best we can – and maybe somewhere along that journey being invited in…
A world without humility is rife with arrogance, inflated pride, ego, unchecked power, uninspected motives, hearts that harden… law that becomes stone.
Scripture that becomes weapons…
Scripture that is held against people’s bodies, cutting off their rights to be fully human.
This is the history of whiteness – in our country.
Twisted and wrapped around faith..
Obsessed with “rightness” – over right relationships with one another & God.
Obsessed with domination over humanity.
It doesn’t just wound.
It erases all that makes us human – our stories, our voice, our hearts, our face –
Without humility – we continue to live in a world of abstraction.
Without humility – our world does not heal.
And this is frustrating and dangerous.
Just in the last couple of weeks I have heard two stories of people being excommunicated from their communities of faith… over gender equality and LGBTQIA inclusion … here and now.
In greater Boston.
Their disorientations are not abstractions.
It is here – in the absence of humility – where the breeding ground of violence really takes off, if power is threatened. And maybe that’s why Padraig’s take on this scripture and Philip being the one that is healed is so moving to me – because it calls into view the work so many of us as white Christians, still have to do – and continues to showcase how violence can overtake and become extreme when the roots of our faith, our country, ourselves are not uprooted and examined – and untwisted from the legacy of white supremacy.
On Friday of last week, in Dallas – three Korean women were shot in a hate-motivated gun shooting.
Those three human beings are not abstractions.
On Sunday last week one person was shot and killed, and five were injured – at a Presbyterian Church in Orange County.
Those six people are not abstractions.
On Saturday of last week, in Buffalo – 10 Black people were shot and killed in a racist hate-motivated gun shooting.
Margus D. Morrison
Were not abstractions.
Humility is a way to digest the message of God – it is a way to embody God, it will take our constant conversion (moment by moment heart transformation), but may be a potent way forward in healing our world. These folks in Minneapolis, “Healing Our City”, inspire me to keep the faces of those in our midst in view – the ones who have weapons drawn against their bodies, the ones who have for centuries been led like sheep to the slaughter – and erect wherever we can tents for grief, change and action.
And may our faith be this tent too – held up by humility, and an unwavering commitment to collective healing.
In Proverbs 22:4 it says,
‘The reward for humility and loving God, is riches and honor and LIFE’
may it be so.
An effort to mend and heal:
In what areas of either learning/or unlearning do you feel like the spirit is calling you to “stay with it?” What does this look like on a practical level for you? Whose companionship might you need? What resources could you use?