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We Cry Justice: Reading the Bible with the Poor People’s Campaign

Edited By Liz Theoharis
Broadleaf Books, 241 pages

As a minister in training, I was advised to follow the well-known Karl Barth quote and hold the Bible in one hand and newspapers (electronic or otherwise) in the other. After reading We Cry Justice, the list has expanded to include this poignant resource. It reminds us that the biblical text works in tandem with social movements — we just have to sit still in order to connect the two. This devotional is structured to help us do that, by intentionally reading Scripture, reflecting and praying.

The ease of this book is that it is well-laid out, with 52 scriptures and an accompanying question for reflection accompanying each essay. Essays are grouped by broad categories, such as jubilee, struggle and lament, the days of liberation, and the advent of revolution. Each category leads to deeper dives; for example, in the essay “Songs of Revolutionary Mothers,” Savina J. Martin pricks the wisdom of German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who notes the subversive nature of Mary’s song — the most revolutionary advent hymn ever sung.

Bonhoeffer’s words and Martin’s insights challenge us to hear and understand the combined power of this revolutionary mother. “This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings … this song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols,” Bonhoeffer preached. Mary and her song become multidimensional with power and a charge for us all — to sing even the dangerous songs. Mary’s assertion that God is especially concerned for the poor was considered so dangerous by the Guatemalan government in the 1980s that public recitation of Mary’s words were banned.

There continues to be a forward throw of the combined power of Mary’s soul and song that catches us at a time when we can call the name of other revolutionary mothers, specifically Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi who brought us the clear song and rallying cry: #BlackLivesMatter. This movement is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. Revolutionary songs like Mary’s, and all those sung over the years, have been deemed dangerous, leading Martin to ask: “What in them is dangerous?”

Martin offered this question for me to ponder; I now share it with you (pastor, theologian, seminarian, lay leader, church group, curious seeker, chaplain, avid reader, organizer). I invite you to ponder, with the hope that you will add this book to your reading list. Theoharis intends for us to understand and wrestle with the “biblical arc of justice and our challenge to be chaplains for a movement rather than priests of empire,” and she provides the tools to get us there.

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Rev. Nannette Banks serves as the vice president for community engagement and alumni relations at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. A people and poetry lover, she believes in the power of worship and the sacraments to liberate and set free all who are marginalized and oppressed — for God prepares a table in the presence of my enemies (Psalm 23:5)!