First Free Methodist sanctuary | photo by Quinton Cline

This episode of SPU Voices will be different from previous episodes. We invite you to listen to a recent Chapel that was held on campus titled, “Prayer and Lament.” Hear from Chaplain Lisa Ishihara, Dr. Stephen Newby, Caenisha Warren, Ashlee’ Thomas, Kelsey Rorem, and Priscilla Onyedikachi Ozodo as they share their experiences and the experiences of students on our campus with race and injustice. Listen to the stories of hardship and sorrow in this time that is set aside for lament.

Lisa Ishihara: Good morning, SPU. And we welcome you to Chapel this morning. In light of many things that have been happening in our country, here in Seattle, and also on our campus, we wanted to take this time to lament and to pray together. And so I invite you to join me in this prayer of lament. We had actually sent this out to all of campus, a couple of weeks ago when we prayed it in light of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. Today, we want to pray this prayer of lament together for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Would you join me in prayer? How long, oh Lord, how long must we see and hear of a life cut short, of justice denied, of systemic racism at work? Our hearts are weary, our spirits are broken. God of comfort, be near as we bear the weight of yet another loss, bring your embrace around Ahmaud, Breonna, and George’s families. Steady weakened knees and hold us in our pain. When the grief threatens to overwhelm, we call on your presence to be near.

In groans beyond words, we lean on the truth that the Spirit is always interceding, always advocating. Speak your love and peace over devastation and fear. God of justice, our pain and righteous anger testifies to the reality that this world is far from what you dreamed it might be. We denounce the ways in which racism, power, and privilege continue to marginalize in both big and small ways. Creator God, pour out your justice and righteousness in this place. In your redemptive work, overturn unjust institutions and establish your grace and truth as the standard. God of courage, continue to strengthen your people as we lament the injustice we see around us. Empower our voices and actions that we may call out specific acts of racism and confront the oppressive systems that divide and endanger our Black and African American siblings. When hope feels lost, would you fan it into flame, as we continue to pursue your will and Kingdom purposes, in earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Ashlee’ Thomas: So I’ve been tasked with welcoming the SPU community, and for the last 24 hours, I’ve been poring over what to say. And I just keep coming up with words like “strange” and “disjointed” and “upsetting”. And in my own life, I feel the deep pain of Black men and women dying at the hands of White supremacy in our country. And so, like many of you who are in this pain, we’ve created a space of deep lament and mourning, particularly for those in our community who are Black. God calls us to mourn with those who mourn, to sit in the deep suffering and pain of those who are suffering and in pain. And so we ask you to not look away, but instead join us. We’re asking you to feel the pain that we currently feel in our country, to see us. To our Black community, we see you, we love you, and we’re going to keep showing up for you. In University Ministries, we also believe that racism is a discipleship issue, and we are committed to discipling the students at SPU.

This means that we are rooting out the anti-Blackness and racism in our own lives, but it also means that we are rooting it out in our common collective. So again, I’m going to say their names: Breonna, Ahmaud, George, and we boldly profess that Black Lives do, in fact, Matter.

Lisa: I believe that God has much for us in the Scriptures. I believe them to be true. I believe that the wisdom and the calling and the reflection of how we are called to be Christ lovers, Christ followers, is revealed in the Scriptures. And so this morning, I want to ground us in the Book of Amos. I’ve been spending a lot of time with the prophets recently and in the Old Testament, it is very clear that the prophets were always calling the people of Israel to repentance. In the Book of Amos, in particular, Amos is calling Israel to repent of injustice, and God makes God’s voice and desires known that God wants justice. And in the same way, in our parallel lives, I believe that God has invitations for us. In Amos 5, there is in particular, a lament and a call to repentance. So just as we are sitting in this space today, we also want to lean into the Scriptures.

“In the book of Amos, in particular, Amos is calling Israel to repent of injustice, and God makes God’s voice and desires known that God wants justice.” — Lisa Ishihara

Amos 5:7, this is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: You who turned justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land, the Lord is His name. He flashes destruction on the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin. You hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth. God is saying you trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, you have built stone mansions and you will not live in them, though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore, the prudent man keeps silent, keeps quiet in such times for the times are evil. God says, seek good, not evil that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you just as you say he is.

Hate evil, love good, maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. Therefore, this is what the Lord God Almighty says, there will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail, there will be wailing in all the vineyards for I will pass through your midst, say the Lord. God goes on to say, I hate, I despise your religious feasts, I cannot stand your assemblies even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them, away with the noise of your songs, I will not listen to the music of your harps, but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness, like a never failing stream.

“Hate evil, love good, maintain justice in the courts.” — Amos 5:15

Amos is calling the people to repentance, calling people to turn to God and calling people to turn to one another, to bring justice and righteousness. At the end of the Book of Amos in chapter nine, God gives us a picture of salvation of Israel’s restoration of what could be. And I want to read this for us because it gives us a picture of a different world of what God desires for us, as the body of Christ. Amos 9:9, the Lord says, for I will give the command and I will shake the house of Israel among the nations, as grain is shaken in a sieve and not a pebble will reach the ground. All the sinners among my people will die by the sword. All those who say disaster will not overtake or meet us. Israel’s restoration. In that day, I will restore David’s fallen tent, I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and the nations that bear my name, declares the Lord who will do these things.

The days are coming, declares the Lord, when the reaper will be overtaken by the plow man, and the planter by the one treading grapes, new wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. I will bring back my exiled people, Israel. They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine. They will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land. Never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them, says the Lord your God. May God bless the reading of God’s word. And my prayer is that the Scriptures will be a place for the Holy Spirit to bring repentance in ourselves. The beautiful thing about the prophets in the Old Testament is that, the reason they were able to preach repentance is because they knew that God was always with them. In the Book of Jeremiah, it’s very clear that God said, I am with you, and that is what gave Jeremiah strength.

“God is the one who empowers us, who teaches us, who helps us to see things beyond our own understanding.” — Lisa Ishihara

In the same way today, in the New Testament, we have the incarnation and we have the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. God is with us. God is the one who empowers us, who teaches us, who helps us to see things beyond our own understanding. And so God, in this place during this time, I pray that you would give us your eyes to see, with love, with compassion, with justice. And as we are exalted or exhorted in Micah 6:8, that we would do justice, love, and mercy, and walk humbly with our God. But God calls us to do that in community. Now we’re going to take some time to share some reflections about where our students are at and what they’re feeling. And students, we want to reflect the things that you’ve shared with us and in this space, we also want to invite you to be with us, to let us walk with you.

Priscilla Onyedikachi Ozodo: As you can see we have here some of our campus pastors, and we are going to be reflecting on some of the things we’ve heard that our students are going through. Some of the ways you’ve been processing this pain of the injustice in our nation. And we’re just going to talk a little bit about spaces and how we want to provide care for you in this season. And so I’m going to actually start with Ashlee’ who is right next to me and just to find out what are some of the things you’ve heard? What are some of the areas that students are struggling? What are some of the things that are changing and how can we provide care? So go ahead, Ashlee’.

Ashlee’: So I’m going to speak about our Black students, and I want to name that Blackness is not a monolith and it’s also not a monolith on the SPU campus. So I’m not speaking for all of our Black students. I’m speaking, not even for, but I’m speaking words that my students, that I have relationship with, are sharing with me and the ways that they feel like they can be cared for in this season. And so words that come to mind are “exhausted,” “angry,” “disheartened”. And I think that these students need our community to hold whatever emotion they’re feeling. And I think oftentimes we want to make people happy or make people feel better. And I think we’re in a season where we just need to hold Black pain, joy, excitement, sadness, and heartbreak, confusion. And we need to not be quick to tell people to move on or use Christian niceties.

“I think it is so crucial that our team is being the hands and feet of Jesus. And for me, that means mourning with those who mourn.” — Ashlee’ Thomas

I think it’s OK to be in a space where you’re hopeless. God is big enough to hold people’s inability to see hope. And so it’s my hope, particularly on University Ministries teams, that we can be in those spaces. And for me particularly, I feel like my space and my role in this season is to sit with students in their pain and process, not only their pain, but my pain. And so I think it’s really important that we are all doing our part in showing up for students on our campus. And for some of us, that means that we will champion and before and be walking alongside our students of color. For some of us, that means that we will be sitting in pain with our Black students who are struggling, for some of us that will be teaching students who are White. And so I think it is so crucial that our team is being the hands and feet of Jesus. And for me, that means mourning with those who mourn.

Caenisha Warren: I’ve been here at SPU for 15 years now. And it has been a part of my journey as a person of color on this campus, on a White campus, to figure out what that embodies and what that means. And I’m here for my students. I’ve lived this long at SPU because of the students that I get to be able to be a part of their journey. And so I have lightly looked on to see both current students and alum, students of color and dominant students, bringing their advocacy and bringing their voices into this time. And so one of the things that I’ve been able to be, I think for me to be encouraged by, is seeing that consistent place of where people are living this out. A few students have encouraged those who may not be quite as aware or quite as along on their journey to be reminded.

Some of the sentiments that I’ve heard are White students saying, I know that you’re tired of so many different things coming into your feed, in terms of about present time, but our Black, indigenous, and people of color friends are more tired than you or I can imagine. And so being able to see responses that we are seen and that we are heard. An Asian American student saying, we might have been perceived as a threat during this pandemic, but Black and Brown communities have been perceived as a threat their whole lives. And these are honest truths. And I think one of the things that for me, that I’ve taken in terms of why I endure here at SPU, is to embody and to bring in and live into a counternarrative into this place for my students of color, so that they can see a beacon of hope. And my encouragement and my place is that I’m here for you.

“I think one of the things that for me, that I’ve taken in terms of why I endure here at SPU, is to embody and to bring in and live into a counter narrative into this place for my students of color, so that they can see a beacon of hope.” — Caenisha Warren

And so I want to offer just that place in terms of, you need to find and finding your place in this place, in this world, but also at SPU is finding people that are here for you and we can be that place. And so the Perkins Center, before all the pandemic, has been an open office, a home, a place of refuge, a place to vent, and that continues to this day.

Kelsey Rorem: Hi all, it’s good to be with you this morning in worship and I want to just continue to affirm and echo the voices of my colleagues and my sisters, in saying that I see, and I hear the cries of our Black students, of our students of color. I hear your pain, know that I’m with you and for you, as is our whole University Ministries team. And that I know that the burden that you carry is unthinkable. And I need to know that I own the pieces where I’m complicit as a White person and I hope those in our White community can continue to look intrinsically and be naming those spaces and growing and doing better. And I want to especially speak to White folks in our community this morning, our White students, our staff and faculty. It is long past the time when we need to do better. And like Ashlee’ said, this is a discipleship moment. And as we heard from the Book of Amos, our worship is meaningless if it is not also partnered with a commitment to justice for our neighbors. And that time is now, that time was long before now.

“As we heard from the Book of Amos, our worship is meaningless if it is not also partnered with a commitment to justice for our neighbors.”
— Kelsey Rorem

So for students and alum like Caenisha named, who are already in this work, White students, I just want to continue to voice and ask you to press on, to resist the temptation, to look away, to stay engaged, to learn, to do your work, to bind your ways that you’re going to be part of this action. And for students, maybe for whom this is a newer conversation, or for whom maybe you’re feeling really bewildered or confused or not sure where to start. I want to ask you to not go to our students of color right now, because they are exhausted as we’ve heard already. Okay. So there are folks on campus, I want to be one of those folks that want to be with you in this journey and help you get started on this path. Okay. So there are resources, there are other leaders on campus that we want to help you get on board and get moving in the right direction, but we can’t look away. We cannot look away, it’s time to be part of this.

Priscilla: Thank you all for your thoughts. As a woman of color on this campus, also as an immigrant woman of color, sometimes there’s a tendency to be a little bit detached. I spend time a lot with our African students and African Student Association. And many times we’ve been told this is an African American problem, this is not a Black African, indigenous African problem. And I realized recently that when I go out on the streets, nobody asks me, were you born in Nigeria? Or were you born in the U.S.? Are you African American or are you this? Nobody has time for that question. And I realized that I embody a Black person in America, and that makes this my problem. And I just want to address that for some of our African students, our parents raised us to be like, no, this is America’s problem, don’t get involved. But this is the time that we have to say, this is a Black issue, this involves us as well. This is involves us as well.

I got married two years ago and suddenly it hit me that I’m going to have sons in this country and they will be Black males in America, walking the streets. And so my eyes are no longer closed, my heart is no longer shut. I speak on behalf of students I’ve heard who, African students who lived through Apartheid and this is like reliving that pain. For some of us whom injustices in our country have become a norm, where Christians are being killed and kidnapped every week, this is opening old wounds, but let that stir us up. Injustice is injustice wherever it is in the country. And so I just want to encourage us, we are here for you. If you need to process again, you go on our website. Each of us here would love to receive an email from you, depending on who you’re connecting with. The reason why we all came out of our holes to come talk together is to tell you there’s all these faces, all these people you can relate to, whatever your background is.

“I got married two years ago and suddenly it hit me that I’m going to have sons in this country and they will be Black males in America, walking the streets. And so my eyes are no longer closed, my heart is no longer shut.” — Priscilla Onyedikachi Ozodo

We can be here for you. We are here for you. I want to just turn it over to Chaplain Lisa to just wrap us up in this segment.

Lisa: Every year at the beginning of Orientation, I always say to students, this is the time for you to own your own faith, to figure out what you believe. You have staff and faculty here who love you, who want to walk alongside you as you ask these really hard questions about your faith and about the community of Christ. And so we want to invite you into that conversation. And here’s the deal, it’s like a hard thing to figure out how the rubber meets the road. We have this great opportunity in Christian higher education to really think through faith and integration and what that looks like. It means to be honest, we’re going to fail, we will hurt each other. We will say things that are painful to one another, maybe not on purpose, but it’s in those moments that then we need to own that and we need to be able to ask for forgiveness.

And as an ally, I am also someone who is learning how to own my own inadequacies, the places where I fall short, the places where I need to learn, how to be a better learner and how to be a better listener, how I can be for my siblings in the body of Christ. And so we want to invite you to just be on the journey together in this space. That’s what your education is for, it’s to really think through how does faith and what I believe about life intersect with all the things that are happening in the world and the country and the people around me, from friends and family. And so we invite you to be with us on that journey in all of our humanity, as we affirm and as we bring dignity to one another, as we are created in the image of God.

Stephen Newby: Thank you, University Ministries. This is not an easy time for our young Black brothers on campus. The reality is, when we walk down the street, we hold a particular embodiment that has been threatening. And I want to encourage you young men to take courage, to be strong, to be courageous. And I want to make a personal invitation to our young brothers on campus, young African American men, I want to hang out with you, I need to talk with you, we need to talk. We need to get together, we need to be in community in another kind of way. In this time, in this setting, we need to pray together, we need to talk, we need to lament, and let us not hold onto this idea of somebody putting their knee on my neck. Something’s going to stop us. So I want to encourage you that when we come out, hang out on Zoom, at some point through the ministries, we’re going to take another opportunity and we need to get get together, men, brothers, we need to talk. We need to pray.

It reminds me of this of, I would say Gospel song, a Spiritual, that James Cleveland wrote: I don’t feel no ways tired, I’ve come too far from where I started from, nobody told me that the road would be easy. Nobody said that this would be easy, but gentlemen, yes, gentlemen, I’m calling you gentlemen, gentlemen, courageous men, mighty men of valor, strong men, Black men, rise up, wake up, be gentlemen. I don’t believe that God has brought us this far to leave us hanging. And we’re going to stand on this. We’re going to stand on God’s word. We’re going to sit in God’s Spirit and we’re going to sit with each other, but men, we need this. And I want to say something else to the administration, wake up. Jesus turned over the table. Yes, he did. His leadership, he refused to allow injustice to mess up his father’s house. Administration, this is your house or your watch.

“Jesus turned over the table. Yes, he did. His leadership, he refused to allow injustice to mess up his father’s house.” — Stephen Newby

I want to encourage you as a brother of the faith, stand up, be strong, be courageous, do the right thing. I’m not talking about, do the right thing, as a Spike Lee movie. No, this ain’t no movie, this is real. And I know that I’m confident of this, that He that who began a good work in us, will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ in our lives. And if we’re Christian, we stand on this. So we have to be willing to be perfected even in the time of affliction, where there is destruction, it’s an opportunity for God to do his reconstruction in our lives. Wake up, wake up, administration, wake up, faculty, wake up, friends, wake up, students, wake up, SPU. May God bless us with these invitations to join in the work of the Kingdom. Can you say Amen?

Congregation: Amen.

Caenisha: As a Black leader on campus of something called the John Perkins Center, I find myself with huge expectation to speak out. But as a Black person in this country, I had no words. And so in the midst of everything, what I was able to express, I’m going to offer to you as a lamenting poem. Am I silent? No. I am silenced, the murder of Black bodies, manipulating law to murder Black bodies, wielding threats of systems to murder Black bodies, taking matters into your own hands to murder Black bodies. I know you White world, as I know you see this Black body, even as a multiracial being, an African American and Chinese woman, you have only seen my Black body. Even my Asian American world, sees only my Black body. I embody the way you see, think of, speak to, my brothers, nephews, my sisters, niece, my aunties, my cousins, my uncles, fathers, and my friends. And so know what matters is not that I am silent because we are being deathly silenced. For it seems I cannot scream enough, for centuries it seems we cannot have screamed enough.

Black Lives Matter, for the tired me cannot scream. The hoping less and less me cannot scream. The weary me that continues to work toward a justice that I doubt will see me, cannot scream. The rooted reconciler in me wants to scream, but I know I am not silent. And that I, in particular, have not been fully silenced yet.

Stephen: We want to sing We Shall Overcome, but I want to just take this here, moment to just start with this. We shall live in peace. Get the vision.

Congregation: (Singing)

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