why it mattered by Sarah Schwartz

This is why "they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists" mattered.

Because taking someone's baby isn't that hard, when they were trash to begin with. 

There's nothing new about peddling a tale where it is all Their fault

that your job pays crap

and your taxes are too high

and you have to say happy holidays.

Locking a child in a cage isn't that hard, when they're snakes.

It's the easiest and oldest human inclination—create monsters out of those you do not understand. Be sure that different means bad, means wrong, means crime & violence and threat to everything you hold dear, facts be damned. 

Ever Cain's indignant sons and daughters, we shout at the sky, am I my brother's keeper? when what we really mean is, how dare you suggest I am. 

We approach the Rabbi and inquire, but who is my neighbor? hoping he'll draw a small circle around our family and friends and people who speak our language and pray to our God and stand for the anthem and don't marry the same sex or cause a fuss about their lives mattering and leave us unchallenged and comfortable.

Certainly, teacher, you did not mean my brown neighbor, my poor neighbor, my undocumented neighbor.

Ripping a family apart isn't hard, when love your neighbor as yourself is drowned out by he's just rough around the edges and I like that he speaks his mind in the face of rhetoric that chipped away at our neighbor's humanity.

It's not hard, when it's not people.

***

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

 

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2017 by Sarah Schwartz

I began 2017 with love and lament—wrestling with the evangelical tradition that birthed me, and so often looks for reason to give up the very people our faith calls us to protect for political and cultural gain.

I ventured into poetry with Rulestell me how it’s okay for one hand to paw at my pussy, as long as the other is signing papers to keep brown people out... (I also marched with 750,000 Angelenos who believe that "defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.")

Life came back through the hard work of dragging my ass to therapy and taking my medication, the faithfulness of friends and worn edges of poetry books, and plenty of stopping to breathe and admire the bougainvillea.

I flew home often to visit my Grandmother, and we sorted through the trash and treasure my Grandfather left us when he passed last spring.

I started shopping ethically, thanks to my friend Ellie over at Selflessly Styled.

I got to be a part of creating and launching my alma mater's first women's resource collective, GRIT. (File under "life long dreams").

Charlottesville happened, and we do not get to go back to sleep.

I officiated my friends Natalie & Joey's wedding, and became an officiant for hire through Young, Hip & Married! (what's up Southern CA, hire me to pronounce you wed!)

We began a public reckoning of a culture that allows the Weinsteins of the world to prey on women with little to no consequence.

I took up arms in the War on Christmas—banning refugees in need of sanctuary.

As part of the completion of my master's program, I got to write a short statement that was read as I was hooded.

Oh, did I not mention that I finished my M.A. in Theology? I have not even begun to process the closing of that four and half year chapter of my life, but for now I'll just say hither by Thy help I've come.

As we dream of what 2018 might be, I'm meditating on the words of Dr. Mika Edmonson,

"You cannot love your neighbor while supporting or accepting systems that crush, exploit, and dehumanize them. You cannot love your neighbor while accepting less for them and their family than you do for you and your own."

In 2017, we saw women, immigrants, the poor, and communities of color exploited and dehumanized, but we also saw a flood of resistance, of neighbor defending neighbor, of hope and love and the unsexy work of day in and day out activism.

In 2018, let's renew our commitment to radical neighbor love, and all of the humility, sacrifice, and hard work that it entails.

***

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25, The Message

 

The War on Christmas by Sarah Schwartz

I fell asleep last night with thoughts of Christmas, and the recently instated refugee ban.

Luckily, I awoke to a fresh piece from Rachel Held Evans, who powerfully expressed the great irony behind the desire to "put Christ back in Christmas" while opposing him with our actions.

"To claim that the lighting of a national Christmas tree each year makes this country 'a Christian nation,' while its powerful systematically oppress the poor, turn away refugees, incite violence against religious and ethnic minorities, molest and harass women and girls and call them liars when they dare to speak up, is, in the words of the prophet Amos, sickening to God."

Since the tree lighting ceremony, this administration has congratulated itself on bringing "Merry Christmas" back to the White House, as well as proclaimed that "Christmas is back, and bigger than ever."

There are many things about our current political state that have caused me to lose sleep this year, but what causes me to double over in sorrow is when Jesus' name is invoked to animate the very powers he came to destroy.

So, let's be clear about a few things:

Christmas is the celebration of a middle eastern child, born to an unwed teen mother, who soon became a refugee fleeing state sanctioned violence, only to return to a home suffering the brutal effects of military occupation, and eventually became an itinerant preacher who urged his followers to go, sell all you have, give your money to the poor, and follow me.

He preached a gospel that blessed the poor, the meek, the pure in heart, the merciful, the peace makers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

He condemned those who honor God with their lips but revile him in their hearts; those who are careful to keep the letter of the law without attending to mercy, faith, and justice.

He warned against love of money, or desire for public recognition; instead he dined with the destitute, the reviled, and the mistreated.

He proclaimed a kingdom where the last are first, the poor are blessed, and the person who gives everything away gains it all in the end.

He died a violent death at the hands of a corrupt justice system, where he did not have the full rights of a citizen.

He echoed the Jewish prophets, who said, "Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow..."

and

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;  your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

He reflected the words of his mother, who proclaimed, "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."

He foreshadowed the words of his beloved disciple, who would write, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."

In the words of the great prophet Beyonce Knowles Carter, don't get it twisted.

The war on Christmas is not Happy Holidays—it's banning refugees in need of sanctuary.

The war on Christmas is not Starbucks cups—it's indifference (or disdain) towards the plight of black and brown bodies in the face of an administration that thinks there are "many sides" in discussions of Nazis.

The war on Christmas is not the recognition of other winter celebrations—it's throwing away young girls bodies in the hopes of political gain.

Make no mistake; Jesus wrapped himself in flesh in the most political away possible, making God's solidarity with those on the margins crystal clear.

And if we want to "make Christmas great again"? So must we.

Looking to put Christ back in Christmas? Consider donating or volunteering for some of the organizations below.

National Immigration Law Center

U.S. Commitee for Refugees and Immigrants

Campaign Zero

International Justice Mission

 

weinstein, me too, and selective outrage by Sarah Schwartz

Last week, the New Yorker published an investigative piece 10 months in the making, where 13 women described the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since the piece was published, dozens more women have come forward with similar accounts.

As with most "bombshell" stories like this, the question arises, why didn't anyone come forward? How did he get away with this for so long?

But much like the sexual abuse scandals surrounding Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, and Donald Trump, women have been coming forward and telling their stories about Weinstein's abuse for decades, only to be met with threats of lawsuits, defamation of character, accusations of greed, and all around skepticism.

As Emma Thompson wondered this week,  "Does it only count if you've done it to loads and loads and loads of women? Or does it count if you do it to one woman once?"

It would seem we only believe survivors when there are "loads and loads and loads" of them (that aren't sluts or weren't asking for it or hadn't been drinking, of course) and only when their stories can be corroborated by enough outside "objective" sources to fill a football stadium.

And even then, we might not believe them.

Or worse, we might not care.

As Molly Ringwald recently wrote for the same publication that initially broke the Weinstein story, "Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive. And the men? Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President."

So, why don't women come forward?

Because a man can describe a sexual assault *on tape*, and a dozen other women can describe nearly identical experiences with him, and still we don't find it entirely unacceptable.

Is it unpleasant? Sure. (Honestly, no one was looking for "pussy" to be reintroduced into popular culture's lexicon.)

But it certainly didn't stop us from telling our daughters, our sisters, our co-workers and our friends, just a few weeks later, that their own bodies were a reasonable price to pay if it meant political gain. (And perhaps even worse, told our sons, our brothers, and our friends that committing sexual assault is not that big of a deal.)

Ugh, Sarah, get off of this soap box, 45's pussy grabbing tape is old news. You need to get over it.

I'm not over it. Not even close. Especially in moments like these, where as a nation, we are collectively horrified by the sexual violence women suffered at the hands of men like Weinstein (as we should be) but seem to have forgotten that we are outraged when it suits us. That we will, and have, tolerated men who spend decades demeaning and abusing women, if we have something to gain by our silence.

We should be using this moment to better educate ourselves on the prevalence of sexual assault in our communities (which, judging by the heartbreaking chorus of "me too" that filled my social media feed this week, is far more people than we realize), asking how we can better support survivors, and most importantly, how we can work to change a culture where a reign of terror like this is allowed to continue for so long.

But I don't know that we can do that, if we don't first acknowledge (and repent) that the message we sent every survivor of sexual assault last fall was that their safety and dignity were less important than culture wars and tax cuts and saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays".

It takes a village for the Harvey Weinsteins of the world to keep ushering unsuspecting women into their hotel rooms, cover up complaints, and smear victims. And our village is no less complicit in affirming and perpetuating a culture where these kind of predators go unchecked.

As Jill Filipovic puts it, the Weinsteins and the Aileses and the Cosbys of the world are easy to dismiss, and their downfalls, easy to celebrate. But the ones who are supposed to be on our side? To protect and support and believe us? Those are the ones who break our hearts.

Check out these organizations for ways to get involved, support survivors, and end sexual assault in your community:

RAINN: the nations largest sexual assault support network

It's On Us: combating sexual assault on college campuses

SafeBae: educating junior high and high school students about dating violence

Charlottesville: We Do Not Get to Go Back to Sleep by Sarah Schwartz

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn."  -Martin Luther King Jr.

White sisters and brothers, can we have a quick huddle?

What we saw this past weekend in Charlottesville was horrific. It was repugnant and it was evil. I know that you know that.

What I'm not sure you know, what I'm not sure I really know, is that racism doesn't always come waving a Nazi flag or wearing a white hood. It does not usually identify itself as obviously as it did at UVA.

It's easy to condemn (and then dismiss) events like Charlottesville as a handful of fringe extremists who represent a strain of racism that was largely eradicated post Jim Crow.

What I'm not sure we have ears to hear, white sisters and brothers, is that racism, in all of it's ugliness, is alive and well in 2017. 

It is present in housing,

in education,

in the surgical precision of voter suppression,

in health care,

in the criminal justice system,

and scores of public policy.

It is the nation I love's original sin.

As the Reverend Dr. Barber has said, "To say you are against white supremacy without standing up against the policies that embolden white supremacists is hypocrisy."

If that makes you uncomfortable (I didn't own slaves! Why do you want us to feel guilty for being white?) let me assure you— no one is trying to make us feel "guilty for being white".

What they are trying to do is wake us up.

If you're still uncomfortable, that's ok. You'll work through it—you'll live. Frankly, your and my discomfort is less important than the tears of Micheal Brown's mother, the child sized casket of Tamir Rice, or the shattered spine of Freddie Gray. It is not as important as the motherless children of Meagan Hockaday, or the 29th birthday Sandra Bland never made it to.

As a follower of Jesus, I do not get to claim I love my neighbor—hell, I don't get to claim Christ—if I do not listen and respond to the suffering of my sisters and brothers of color.

We do not get to go back to sleep.

***

What do we do?

Listen. Listen, listen, read, listen, and then read and listen some more. Listen to understand, not just to respond. People of color are the experts on their own lives, and they should not have to work so hard to convince us that what they experience is real.

Voices to listen to:

Rev. Dr. Barber

Austin Channing Brown

Christina Cleveland

Bryan Stevenson

Drew G.I. Hart

Organizations to Support/Ways to Get Involved:

Southern Poverty Law Center

The NAACP

Campaign Zero

Equal Justice Initiative

***

Friends, the gospel and ways of Jesus are not partisan—that is, they are not owned or fully embraced by any party or label.

But in as much as the political impacts the well being of our neighbor, the gospel is most definitely political.

As Jonathan Martin says, "If the cross makes anything clear, it is that God is never indifferent. God is never aloof. God is never 'above the fray.'"

We do not get to go back to sleep.