Resources for talking about Ferguson
Resources for talking about Ferguson

Ferguson protest

Since well before last Wednesday’s grand jury verdict not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, colleagues have been sharing resources for discussing, praying about, and otherwise grappling with Ferguson—the shooting of Michael Brown, the events that followed, and what they all mean about and for our nation and for Christ’s church in the world.

This post collects a few of those resources, drawing heavily on Episcopal sources and including excerpts intended to give a sense of the whole. If there are other resources you think we need to see, please email them to cmt@vts.edu. We’ll update this post as needed.

Resources from the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church has published several lists of resources on different outlets, including here on the denomination’s official webpage.

From the invitation to engage:

Many congregations will host conversations about Ferguson this Advent season. Advent is a good time to take up the deep work of engaging racism and other issues that divide us. Advent is a time for waiting with hope. Christ was born in the midst of a divided and violent society. The Word was made flesh among a people who faced bias from their neighbors and persecution from the occupying Romans. Jesus modeled a different kind of community.

From Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s statement on the way forward:

This nation was founded with a vision for freedom, a vision that has required repeated challenges in order to move toward true liberty for all the people of this land. Christians understand the sacred vision of the Reign of God as a society of peace with justice for all. May the life and death of Michael Brown drive us toward reconciliation that will shake the foundations of this nation toward the justice for which we were all created.

From the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations:

We offer you several examples and ideas for practices that promote justice, dialogue, action, and racial reconciliation. This section is intended to share ideas and examples that Episcopal congregations and dioceses can replicate in their local contexts.

Resources for online conversation and engagement

Perhaps the most thorough curators of the online conversations about how “faith, race, justice, and activism intersect” is Theology of Ferguson (@FaithInFerguson on Twitter). I spent much of yesterday afternoon with their constant stream of excellent resources and wanted to pass along a few.

Arise News produced a 90-minute Town Hall Special called Ferguson: From Anguish to Action. VTS senior Broderick Greer contributes a bit from his faith perspective past the 30-minute mark:

I think that faith communities have to be very intentional about telling young black men and young black women … that they are loved, that they are treasured, that they have an infinite capacity for potential—no matter what a system of white supremacy may say to them or about them. We have to have a very positive self-understanding in order to counter those narratives that seek to dehumanize us.

#StayWokeAdvent is a collection of Advent meditations in the spirit of the #StayWoke conversation. Here’s Theology of Ferguson editor Micky Jones’s introduction of the effort:

#StayWokeAdvent is a project of people interested in exploring the depths of the darkness and interaction with light through the time of Advent. It is an experiment in spiritual honesty during a time of the year that is often covers up the pain and struggle of the world with a giant glittery bow.

The night is not silent. We are not asleep. We will have a #StayWokeAdvent as we process through the lectionary with visual art, literary and biblical reflections, music and more. Join us in whatever way you desire. The darkness is fuller and richer — and not nearly as scary when we are in it together. I am asking that you join us in this journey.

Models and Authorizations is an interview on Ferguson, prophecy, and protest with renowned Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann:

MJ: How do we find inspiration in the Bible for strength in protest or activism?

WB: It is in the narratives and the psalms. Beginning with the Exodus narrative and the Elijah narrative and the Jesus narrative, they are all storied about public transformation that happened by courage of uncredentialed people. These kinds of narratives feed our imagination and give us energy and courage. As the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ‘70s understood, singing is a way to keep your nerve. If you think about the Song of Miriam or those dangerous songs (many of which are in the mouths of women) we are invited to join that kind of singing which is a refusal to accept the dominant definitions of reality. Such singing and storytelling is an insistence that there is another way to experience the world and there is another way to act in the world.

Although it doesn’t have an explicit faith lens, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the #FergusonSyllabus conversation. Here’s the big picture from Marcia Chatelain:

I have few talents in a crisis, but I do know I’m pretty good at teaching, and I knew Ferguson would be a challenge for teachers: When schools opened across the country, how were they going to talk about what happened? My idea was simple, but has resonated across the country: Reach out to the educators who use Twitter. Ask them to commit to talking about Ferguson on the first day of classes. Suggest a book, an article, a film, a song, a piece of artwork, or an assignment that speaks to some aspect of Ferguson. Use the hashtag: #FergusonSyllabus.

People did, and have continued to.

Resources from local Episcopal leaders

Danielle Dowd, diocesan youth missioner for the Diocese of Missouri, offered a framework for discussing tragedy with youth and children:

1. Show Up
This is the hardest and most important step. Show up. These conversations are difficult but we absolutely need to have them. Your ministry of presence is vital in these difficult times. In times of tragedy, people, especially young people, look to their leadership for how to respond. You are part of their faith community. You have made promises together, in baptisms. You have eaten at the Lord’s table together. You have worshipped alongside each other. Because you have been present already in their lives in those ways, you are now called to continue your ministry of presence by giving youth and children an opportunity to wrestle with these difficult questions and emotions.

Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, has published numerous reflections, including this one about what clergy elsewhere can do:

Preach about it. I need you not to let your congregation pretend this has nothing to do with you. I need you, in your own words and with your own integrity from your own heart, to preach about race and privilege and the deep brokenness we have not just in Ferguson, not just in St. Louis, but all over our nation. To preach in a way that will make your congregation uncomfortable in the same way we at Christ Church Cathedral are uncomfortable right now. To preach in a way that doesn’t jump too quickly to peace and reconciliation but holds a mirror up to your own congregation and your own city. I need you to see what is happening in St. Louis and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ for your own congregation and your own community. And don’t just preach it once like it’s earning a merit badge but keep preaching it over and over again.

Inspired by a statement from the young adults of the Union of Black Episcopalians, leaders from St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in nearby Creve Coeur, Missouri, selected a collection of prayers for personal or congregational use. It is available as a free download from Leader Resources:

In response this situation’s eerie reminders of countless cities across the United States in the 1960s, we commit the church, and ourselves, to remember our past, to regard the victimization, fear and helplessness fueled in communities by these situations, and to stand boldly even though we may have failed to do so before, in this continued call to the difficult work of confronting oppression, and so we pray,

Holy God, we are your creation, and in you we know redemption and righteousness. You have established us among your people across the earth, with saints from before and those yet to come. Again and again you call us to return to you. Strengthen us in times of uncertainty, restore us to you and to one another, and cause a new light to shine brightly in our hearts. Amen

As I said, we’ll continue to post other notable faith resources here as appropriate. Thank you for remembering that faith is formed as we engage with each other in the midst of pain, grief, anger, and confusion about the subjects Jesus cared most about: justice and mercy.

Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary and editor of Key Resources.

Image credit: “Ferguson protest in downtown St. Louis” by velo_city via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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