A Word In Time

Real Life Easter

For Thomas, Easter came late. He wasn't there for the first gasps and glimpses that the other followers of Jesus report. He wasn't in the garden with Magdalene or in that Upper Room with the others. He wasn't on the road to Emmaus. But he gets Easter in the way that many of us get it. He gets Easter when he brings his questions. He wants to see for himself. He wants to touch. He needs his own encounter before he can trust the story. He needs it to be real.

I saw Thomas' kind of Easter last week. I was in Baltimore to visit our Beatitudes Fellow Heber Brown, and see the project he's developing during his Fellowship year. Heber is passionate about changing the way that young people encounter the church. He has developed a new kind of Sunday School where African American children are invited to explore their African roots and their role as changemakers for justice in their community, and to bring both to their encounter with scripture and their faith tradition. He calls this Freedom School, after the 1960s Freedom Schools of the Civil Rights movement where people gathered to root their activism in their shared experience and vision for justice.

For Holy Week, which was also spring break for Baltimore City schools, Heber led the junior high youth of his community through a five day version of Freedom School. This week's series was called the Marisa Alexander Freedom School, taking the name from the African American woman who is serving a 20 year sentence in Florida for firing a gun into a wall. Her gunshot deterred the threatening advance of her husband, who was unharmed and admitted repeated abuse. Her conviction was thrown out and she is awaiting retrial. She has claimed as her defense Florida's "stand your ground" law invoked by George Zimmerman in his 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin.

So with this news story as a context for the week, this group of junior high students encounter the Bible.

I was present for the story of Tamar, King David's daughter who is betrayed and raped by her half-brother Amnon.  She is disgraced and King David will not punish Amnon, who is one of his favorites.  (2 Samuel 13)

I have never heard the story of Tamar in church, much less with a junior high group. It's one of those stories we avoid.  But this group of kids was not fazed. They hadn't heard this story before, but they recognized the story of Tamar and Amnon and David from "real life" and responded with a wisdom that exceeded their years. The students did not hesitate to bring their questions and their perspectives as they worked through the text, naming what's "messed up" with all that unfolds. After their bible study, they sang along with Queen Latifah and Tupac with lyrics about respecting women. And then they had a session with a Baltimore domestic violence professional who helped them identify safe, appropriate, and respectful relationship behaviors. They problem-solved with understanding and compassion.

At the end of the day, when they had a chance to name what was "hot" (their favorites) they named the discussions, where "we get a chance to express ourselves." "We get a chance to try other ideas." "It's a real back-and-forth conversation."

It's real alright. Real life and real church. Guiding them though this was their pastor (who also taught them to tie neckties, and whom they taught to dance the Nae Nae, all with hilarity and lots of noise.)


This sounds like Easter to me: real questions, real concerns, real encounter with real life and New Life, new ideas, new ways to live--all accompanied by dancing and singing, hilarity and noise.

Thomas got Easter when he brought his questions and his concerns. He got something new and something real. And it is still happening today, real life Easter. 

Echoes from the Edge

Freedom School

Beatitudes Fellow Heber Brown shares his passion and vision for the Marissa Alexander Freedom School:

Heber Brown, III is an organizer, activist, writer, and the Pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

Finally, the Poet

A Poem for Marissa Alexander Freedom School

Listen to the audio

There was a time when schooling was a secret for second class-no-class-citizens-without-citizenship

Referred to by names that started with N’s ending in –er’s

In days when churches were used for more than worship

Now-a-days God has been cut out of classrooms

As our babies are taught to praise dollars with a catchphrase “in God we trust” as vain as arteries

Judged by courts that swear on Bibles as a mere formality to shame witnesses into honesty

When honestly, this country and our schools have been lying since they took first steps on these soils uninhabited and discovered anew.

Curriculums be oppressive so we carved out another groove

Called them Freedom Schools

Where we etch the stories of discrimination on their eyelids so they know injustice when the see it

Toughen their legs and stiffen their stature so when its time they can stand for something

While meditating their minds because in a world filled with the un-divine

Keeping calm, may just keep you alive

Teach them life lessons that the world assumes we will somehow gain by osmosis

Like how to engage in healthy relationships

Like how to tie a tie

How to grow your food then bring it inside

Wash away the dirt and panfry your sustenance

Whip up some breakfast

Be sure to share it with your community

‘Cuz we tell the children there is no “I” without “We”

So give abundantly

See we have come to believe that the village will raise the child, but our communities have become so fragmented lately that we must train the babies to raise it back to an aggregate body.

It seems so tough what we must teach them

No rose colored glasses for these future leaders

Never sugarcoat because the world is so much bleaker

Giving them the rhetoric to articulate because they are natural speakers

Discussing political strategies before lunch time daily

And you would think the truth of our reality would make them so serious, but surprisingly

You should see the way they dance!

They laugh lilies in dismal situations

They have learned to cope in this conundrum

And still be youth

Yet willing to fight on behalf of the unsung

Realizing that this is the work of Christ

Because Jesus came and helped not the rich law makers full of might

But the lowly, the cast out forsaken lot

So we teach around the clock because this movement of Freedom cannot be stopped.

 

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