The Dogma of Mountains & People

The Dogma of Mountains & People

Blue Skies Above Hood. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Blue Skies Above Mt. Hood. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
“No.”
“I looked it up. It’s true,” she said.
“No,” I said sticking to my guns.
“Um, yes dear. Mt. Adams IS taller than Mt. Hood.”
“Nope,” I said, “Mt. Hood is the best, the tallest of all mountains!”

***

In my unbending insistence, I was a five-year-old defending my dad as the strongest and smartest. (He is, by the way.) That’s the trouble with dogma; it often ignores facts. Though institutional religion is the quintessential dogmatist, it is far from alone. The laying down of ideas as beyond reproach is common among human beings.

My mother-in-law even once criticized the color we painted our house because, she pronounced, “houses are white with black shutters.” There was no room in her thinking for cheerful yellow.

Partisan politics, brand loyalty, American exceptionalism, the importance of eating locally, the definition of marriage, the best mountain, paint color, and even atheism can become dogmatic. Anything from which we find identity or meaning can become dogmatic. All it takes is a little passion and a dash of inflexibility sautéed over a bed of unquestioning spirit to cook up dogma. Spiced with fear or ignorance and the dish becomes poisonous.

***

Since the deadly dogma that led to the murder of nine African American men and women at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I’ve been reflecting upon my theology and found it wanting.

Theology, or how we understand and experience the divine mystery, hints at the nature of the one I call God. Though it seeks to explain the divine nature, my personal theology reflects as much or more about my nature than that of God. Though useful, any theology has its limitations when faced with the mysterium tremendum (literally, tremendous mystery).

I lean toward a process understanding of the inexplicable One. In Process Theology, God allows evil in the world because God cannot prevent it. In simplistic terms, the killing of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson is the result of human free will.

The coercive God of most theologies could have prevented the shooter from his deadly action, leaving us with the question, “why?” In the Process view, God is non-coercive and was incapable of directly preventing the killings. God seeks to lure, beckon, or encourage each of us toward the most loving action in each moment. Evil happens when we make choices contrary to God’s desired (loving) action for us.

In the case of Charleston, we collectively allow racism to fester. Instead of heeding the luring spirit to eradicate this American sin, we make other choices. Within this context, relationships influence each of us but it never means the individual perpetrator is faultless. Given his free will, the shooter ignored God repeatedly. The final and deadly action was the result of utter disregard for the non-coercive God’s preferred action. He instead chose evil.

***

So, what do I find wanting about my theology following the heinous crime at Emanuel AME Church? The non-coercive nature of the divine seems to explain why God allows evil to exist. Isn’t that enough?

No. What I find lacking in my theology is an attribute which I perceive to be in God’s nature: passion. My pedantic explanation of how a young man could sit in Bible Study with nine men and women and then shoot them is too-tidy, too-easy, and too-sterile. Like my ancient forebears in the faith, I perceive God as passionate.

“The Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord the God of Israel”. 1 Kings 11:9 REB

I imagine God raging, not only at the shooter but at those of us who are white. For too long, we have allowed the poisonous dogma of white supremacy and privilege to fester. Having constricted racism with color blindness, we are culpable.

At worst our white failure to confront our personal and collective roles in the scourge of racism caused the killing of the nine women and men of Emanuel AME Church. At best, our failure to question the dogma in which we were raised sanctioned not only killing the nine at Bible study but the countless other people of color who are killed daily in our nation.

LORD of Justice, 
Your anger is justified. We have been ignorant and indifferent to the lives of others. Clinging to personal comfort and the dogma of whiteness, we’ve failed to listen and learn and grow. Confronted with the sin of white supremacy, we explain it away.

Help us to see the road ahead. Taking responsibility for our personal and collective sin, may we listen, follow, and move to act in ways that bring forth justice for our sisters and brothers who have suffered at our expense for too many generations.

Amen.

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Right-Handed Privilege

Right-Handed Privilege

family photo focus 2I bought a new camera earlier this year. The body of the camera fits my hand so that I can hold it and click the shutter with one hand: my right hand. When I ordered the camera, I did not specify that I am right-handed nor did I seek out a right-handed camera. It never even occurred to me that the camera I ordered would not be easy to handle and use.

I am the beneficiary of right-hand privilege. I didn’t see it when shopping for my camera. I didn’t even think about it because as one of the 70% to 90% of human beings who are right-handed, I can take for granted that my handedness is considered. My value as a right-handed American has never been questioned. As a child, no one tried to change me and make me left-handed.

My right-handed privilege allows me to assume that services and products are designed for me. The intrinsic message is simple: right-handed people are the right kind of people. Left-handed people are, well, not quite right.

***

Privilege identifies a particular set of characteristics in human beings and systematically (and often invisibly) favors people with those characteristics.

As a person who was born with and into a family with many of the characteristics of the unspoken ideal (e.g.; male, light skin, hetero, American of pre-Revolution British descent, currently-able, thin, Christian, etc.), my identity has been affirmed by images and culture throughout my five-plus decades on this planet.

Confronting personal bigotry is about identifying in ourselves our own biases toward others and choosing to act differently. Confronting our privilege is about accepting that though we did not choose it, we benefit from having any of the unspoken, “right” characteristics.

Confronting our privilege is listening to our kindred who do not possess as many of the characteristics as we possess. It is to believe the stories of our human kindred who suffer the flip side of our privilege. When we earnestly confront our privilege, we will taste the pain of our earthly peers. To confront our privilege is not easy but it is the loving thing to do.

For those of us who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, to listen, believe, and work for systemic change is to give our faith healing arms and legs. When we confront our privilege, we journey with Jesus to the margins of our society.

___

Related 

Condon & Ferguson: A Response

Quick to Listen

Quick to Listen

The first major decision I made was racist.

A young white man in his twenties, I was going to change the world. The new director of an urban early childhood program dedicated to providing services within a multiracial, multicultural, mixed-economic setting, I was passionate about the mission. Giving my confession of faith in a storefront church with a strong emphasis on inclusiveness and educated in the St. Louis city and Ferguson-Florissant school districts, I was not a novice to racial tensions.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

When you’re white you journey through life assumed by our culture to be a worthy human being. My experiences with racial conflict in the late sixties and seventies, while upsetting and confusing for me, were still experienced through the lens of a white child. In my church I was blessed to have an African-American man, whose weekday ministry was about healing racial strife,  mentor and help me to process and understand race during that turbulent era. Looking back more than four decades later, I see the divine breath moving in our weekly conversations.

The pie is big enough for all peoples. It is time for those of us who are white to  respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security. Photo by Tim Graves
The pie is big enough for all peoples. It is time for those of us who are white to respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security. Photo by Tim Graves

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

Part of the problem is that I still understood racism in personal terms. I made a racist decision, not because I intended to favor a white employee at the expense of black employees, but because my white lens filtered out the experience of my African-American staff. Personal prejudice did not cause me to make a racist decision. Not understanding the systemic and institutional nature of racism, caused me to make a bigoted decision. The inability to perceive the whole picture particularly the role of power and privilege within which I was operating, caused me to make a racist decision.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

I’d like to be able to report that I was able to effectively and quickly fix my mistake. I cannot. The damage was done. I had stepped in the proverbial doo doo and early in my tenure I lost some credibility.

I was fortunate, however, to have a United Way representative — who herself was African American — help me to understand the significance of the mistake I made. I also was able to seek out an African American colleague, the director of a sibling early childhood program, a former professor specializing in racism, and several of my staff members. All were extremely patient with me. I am grateful for their help; they were under no obligation to teach me.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

As a result of that decision and other experiences I grew in my understanding and awareness of racism. I learned to accept the racist thoughts and impulses within me that are a part of growing up white in America. (Awareness of my shadow feelings, helps me to guard against acting upon them.) I made better, though imperfect, decisions after that day. I continue to learn about the insidious character of racism.

***

More than four decades later, I am no longer an active early childhood educator. I am the pastor of a small church in a tiny frontier town in eastern Oregon. By my count, we have no people of color within the membership of the church and less than a handful of African Americans among the 650 souls who live in our town.

During my nineteen months serving this progressive church, I have preached only twice about the injustice of racism. (This is a luxury that white pastors in white settings have which pastors of color do not.)  The first time followed the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case and the second was in response to the shooting of Michael Brown by a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

Two weeks ago when I preached about the sin of racism, a couple of individuals pushed back against my words with examples of individual African Americans acting in prejudicial ways. This is not an unusual response among whites. It reflects a personalizing of racism (which is really about power and systems) and a failure to hear the voices of our oppressed sisters and brothers.

A recent tweet that crossed my feed implied that Progressive Christians are all talk and no action regarding racism. Sadly, I think there is too much truth in this perspective. In my case, I’ve talked about racism only twice in nineteen months. No actions have been forthcoming from my community of Christians.

It is time for substantive action to end the institutional racism that results in the shooting of young black men. Those in the African American community cannot be expected to wait one moment longer for change.

Nonetheless, as a white pastor in a white community, I know that until whites admit that racism is real, they will not be a part of a solution. In ignorance, we will continue to make racist decisions until we listen and believe the lived experiences of our sisters and brothers. We must pay attention to the teachings and modeled life of Jesus: we must hear the cries of the marginalized and oppressed! Then, we must confess our past sins, personal and collective. When that happens, I am convinced that we will respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security.

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen [and] slow to speak…
James 1:19 CEB

____

Related Posts

One Way or Another
Here Comes Trouble

 

 

One Way or Another

One Way or Another

I’ve seen images this week of my old teenage stomping grounds under siege. I’ve seen the area where I began raising my own children torn apart when a young man was shot dead by a police officer.

michael_brown_portrait_brother600

I graduated from McCluer High School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District in Missouri. My best friend in high school, who was later the best man at my wedding, lived in Ferguson.

After college and a brief stint in another city, Maggie and I began to raise our family in St. Louis. We bought a house that is only 4-1/2 miles from the QuikTrip that was burned Sunday night.

My Dad passed that very convenience store twice last Sunday as he gave someone a ride to church and back home.

My dad lives 2-1/2 miles from where some of the looting took place. When our kids were small, my folks, my sister and brother and their families, and Maggie and I with our own kids would gather at a restaurant in that shopping plaza.

When I talked to my Dad on the phone this week, the man who is rarely rattled, seemed unnerved by the events in his own backyard. He told me stories of my nephew Jacob and his friends (all young men of color) being harassed by police.

And, so, this is personal.

My emotions are invested in this national story because people I love are a part of it.  I have heard on-the-ground reports from my former church youth group leader, a former employee, and my other nephew Bryan. 

But even if this weren’t personal, as a Christian I should be appalled: an unarmed 18-year-old boy was shot dead on the street.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine the grief of that mother and father? Can you? I’ve tried but somehow I can’t quite put myself in their place. Maybe that’s because I’m white. Maybe that’s because the mental picture is too horrifying and my psyche is protecting me.

When I was in my teen years, my friends and I did some stupid things in that area of St. Louis. Once, for example, I was stopped by the cops for a, um, questionable driving maneuver. My biggest fear was getting a ticket and having to tell my parents. I got off with a stern warning and I didn’t tell my parents.

It never even occurred to me that my life might be at risk. It never occurred to me that I should put my hands on the outside of the car door as actor Levar Burton does to assure he’s not shot by a nervous police officer because of the color of his skin.

It is within this context that Michael Brown was shot. I don’t know the circumstances of the shooting anymore than any one of you does. What I do know is that we have a race problem in this country and we refuse to talk about it in a productive way.

Those of us who have light skin, may not be actively racist but we all have racist imperfections having been raised within our culture. We may not be actively or verbally racist but we still benefit from the color of our skin because of systemic racism that views us as the norm. We benefit from things within our institutions and culture simply because of the color of our skin.

Talking about race is hard. It is messy. It is uncomfortable. It can be painful!

It’s also easy to ignore when you’re white.

But avoidance doesn’t work. When we fail to talk about racism the problems don’t go away. They just come out in unhealthy ways. We don’t grow as a human family…we just stagnate and learn to mistrust our sisters and brothers. When we don’t talk about race, when we ignore the problem we find ourselves drawing circles of insiders and outsiders.

***

Our human inclination to define boundaries of worthiness between ourselves and others is not new to our age. Our desire to  claim God’s love for ourselves, and those like us, while excluding folks who are different has been going on for a very long time.

In our scripture lesson from the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul addresses the drawing of circles that exclude others from God.

Early in the history of the church, the gentile Romans to whom he writes had already drawn a circle that excluded those Jews who did not view Jesus as the messiah. They thought that because some Jews did not accept Jesus as Christ that they were outside God’s love.

Paul reminds the Gentiles that he himself is a Jew when he writes,

I’m an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. Romans 11:1b CEB

He reminds them that God made a covenant with Abraham and God doesn’t break promises. Paul reminds them that,

God hasn’t rejected [God’s] people, whom he knew in advance…God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back. Romans 11:2:a, 29 CEB

God’s love is not conditional. God created each human being in the divine image, God’s hopes and dreams for each of us is endless. As Paul wrote earlier in his letter to Rome, “nothing can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38 CEB).

And, so, when we draw circles that exclude others from our love and from God’s love, we sin. When we participate in racism, a hateful and extreme form of exclusion, we participate in sinfulness.

When we fail to recognize that racism is real because, well, we’re white and we have that option…

We sin.

When we fail to see racism because we have a black president and that means racism is over…

We sin.

When we fail to speak out when a friend begins a sentence with, “those blacks”…

We sin.

When four unarmed black men have been shot by police this month alone and we fail to ask why (1)…We sin.

When our inactions & indifference tell our sisters and brothers of color that their boys are outside of our circle of concern and God’s circle of love…

We sin.

***

The Good News is that God’s plans for humanity are,

plans for peace, not disaster, to give [us] a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11b CEB

It is time to take our heads out of the sand about racism and strive to be a part of God’s plan for love, for peace, and for hope for all peoples.

We can do that by opening our minds and our hearts. We can do that by listening to the mothers and fathers who fear for the lives of their boys <> on August 12, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.and to those who have already lost their sons.

As followers of the One who endured ridicule, torture, and who overcame death we are each called to love. We’re called to love,

God with all [our] heart, with all [our] being, with all [our] mind, and with all [our] strength…[and] love [our] neighbor as ourselves. Mark 12:30-31

The Apostle Paul says God’s call is irrevocable. Open your hearts and minds to our neighbors who suffer under the scourge of racism. Face the challenges and messiness of racism and work for justice.

One way or another, God’s love will prevail. Choose to be a part of it. Live your calling so that one day humanity can say,

Look at how good and pleasing it is when families live together as one (Psalm 133:1 CEB)

Amen.

___

This sermon was preached at Condon United Church of Christ on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Condon is a tiny town in rural, eastern Oregon. The church community, reflecting the larger community, is nearly all white.

(1) (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/3-unarmed-black-african-american-men-killed-police)

Here Comes Trouble!

After several sermons in a row in which I challenged the congregation, I was ready for a lighter sermon last week. It was not to be. Through Luke 12: 49-56, the Holy Spirit seemed to push me to address white privilege with even more vigor than I had just after the verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Click below to hear the words that crossed my lips.

If you prefer, download the file here or read the prepared (not delivered) text of the sermon below.

___

Where does Jesus get off? Where does he get off calling us hypocrites? It’s not like he’s Mister Perfectly Consistent!

First, we get all this lovey-dovey “love your neighbor as yourself” crap and then he starts into this “I’ve come to divide.” Then he has the gall to call us hypocrites!

If he wanted trouble, he’s got it. Consider:

The prince of peace that we were so excited about at Christmas is all grown up but something must’ve gone wrong because he says,

 “I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze!” (Luke 12:49 CEB)

Oh, yeah. That’s peaceful! That’s kind. That’s loving. Mister Consistent Peace-man wishes the earth was blazing in fire.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled! (Hark, the Herald Angels Sing)

 Reconciled? Reconciliation? Then why does the all-grown up Jesus say:

 “Father will square off against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:53 CEB)

That. That doesn’t sound like reconciliation to me.

<SIGH>

I don’t mean to diss Mary. She was a cool enough Mom. She was young and I’m sure she did her best.

And from what we can tell Joseph — who by the way didn’t even have to be there — it wasn’t his kid — did the best he could. He took that poor fatherless child in, raised him as his own.

But sometimes, no matter what you do your kid makes some serious wrong turns. Your child doesn’t turn out like you expected.

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord. (O Come, All Ye Faithful)

I was right there with y’all last Christmas. I was right there adoring the baby as he slept in heavenly peace. But I’m done.

I’m done with this savior gone wrong.

I suppose I’d feel more empathy for adult Jesus if he was trying to be a peacemaker. He’s unapologetic about how he’s turned out.

He seems, well, almost like he’s proud of being a troublemaker. Did you hear what he said? This cocky, unapologetic Jesus says,

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division.” (Luke 12:51 CEB)

***

[PAUSE]

On its face, today’s gospel reading from Luke seems extremely inconsistent with everything we know about Jesus from our holy scriptures. But what Jesus is really saying is not that he wants division but that — as a result of his ministry — “Here comes trouble!”

Writes scholar Audrey West,

…It is not Jesus’ purpose to set children against their parents, or parents against their children, but this sort of rupture can be the result of the changes engendered by Christ’s work. (FOTW, Year C, Vol. 3, location #13026)

In other words people may resist. People may divide themselves.

In the modern church, we’ve forgotten that to follow Jesus means that things will get stirred up. But we like the status quo and the status quo doesn’t like to be bothered. The status quo defines peace as, well, as things staying the same.

In the modern church of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries we want things to be happy. We want peace without conflict. We want joy without pain.

We want growth without growing pains.

But as scholar Richard Carlson writes,

“Jesus has not come to validate the social realities and values we have constructed. Such social realities and values have a propensity to seek a harmony that favors those who hold positions of power at the expense of those who are powerless and expendable. Jesus’ missional agenda of compassion, mercy, and justice shatters such a status quo.” (FOTW, Year C, Vol. 3, location #13138)

***

Let me tell you a story. This is a human story. It takes place within the democratic education community in the United States but it is happening within other groups in other places as well including churches. This is a story among the folks at the US version of the international conference at which I recently spent a week.

About four-years ago I noticed that the old-guard, the folks who I affectionately called “old hippies” were feeling threatened by the younger teachers and leaders coming up within democratic education.

At the annual conference, which, incidentally, my son incidentally, a young African American man from Chicago, Matthew, was the keynote speaker. Some folks got very upset when Matthew suggested in his keynote talk that many democratic education schools were elitist in the sense that not just anyone could attend.

“Well, we don’t keep anyone out!” was the protest.

“Yes, you do,” Matthew replied. “Those of you who are private schools keep most brown and black people out because of money.

You need to do more if you want to be truly democratic.”

His point? Democratic education is not accessible to all. It is not democratic in its availability.  It is largely a white, upper middle-class phenomenon. When those who support democratic education abandon the public schools to create their own system, they are abandoning the poor, people of color, and other marginalized children.

A big brouhaha broke out in the ballroom with folks lining up for their turn to speak at the mic. I would summarize the message of many of the “old hippies” this way:  “I’m not a racist.”

Matthew could have described his role at the conference in the words of Jesus:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division. (Luke 12:51 CEB)

Matthew challenged the systems of racism that allowed many white, middle class children to participate in democratic education while brown and black children were left behind in public schools.

He suggested that the well-intentioned “old hippies” were part of the problem when they abandoned the public schools.

[pause]

The trouble with racism is, it’s not just about personal racism. It is about a culture that privileges some people over other people.

I consider myself a fairly enlightened guy but I have benefited because of the color of my skin. You have as well. You didn’t ask for it. I didn’t ask for it. We didn’t ask for that privilege but it’s real.

This is the kind of thing — though not specifically racism — that Jesus is talking about in today’s reading when he calls the people hypocrites. I think Jesus might have been feeling a little frustrated at the willful ignorance of the people.

Jesus also said to the crowds,

“When you see a cloud forming in the west, you immediately say, ‘It’s going to rain.’ And indeed it does. And when a south wind blows, you say, ‘A heat wave is coming.’ And it does. Luke 12:54-55 CEB

I can imagine people listening shaking their heads saying to themselves,

“Yeah, we can tell when a storm is coming in.” Then, as they’re shaking their heads feeling pretty good about themselves, Jesus shouts:

“Hypocrites!” (Luke 12:56a CEB)

Are you blind to what else is going on? If he was talking to us he might say, do you not see that a few powerful people control the economics of this country?

Do you not see that brown and black people do not share in the privileges that you have? Even those of you who are less well off have advantages not afforded most brown and black people?

For those of us who are white and those of us who are relatively well off — some in this room do struggle financially by the way — but as long as we’re white, we can ignore the problems of race and class in this country and world.

We can take the easy path and ignore what the racial profiling of people means. We can ignore what Hal, an African American man who works in a state level job in Vermont told me. Hal told me that the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case has the resonance of a Challenger explosion or the Newtown shooting within the African American community.

Within that community it is another example of the dehumanization of their young men. It is another example of our culture considering their children as expendable.

And in Condon and other white communities across the nation we had our opinions about it. We may have even talked about it for a week or so but then we began the “forgetting about it” process.

We looked the other way and suggested it was an aberration, a tragedy that doesn’t happen every day.

Unfortunately, it does.

Unfortunately, while we’re looking at the sky, interpreting dark clouds as meaning rain is on its way, we fail to interpret other signs around us.

According to Bible scholar David Schlafer, our ancient kindred, those Jesus was talking to, failed to take responsibility,

“for learning from the rich and readily available tradition of Law and Prophets that would enable them to identify commonwealth resource mismanagement  — what we’d call economic injustice — and its inevitable negative repercussions in God’s economy.” (FOTW, Year C, Vol. 3, location #13138)

We fail to take the responsibility to learn from social science, from our history, from a little ol’ thing called the Bible, and from the experiences of our contemporary sisters and brothers.

We fail to learn about and work to eradicate the racial, economic, and class injustices in our country and world.

In terms of race, we say we want Martin Luther King’s dream but we don’t know what to do or…OR…we’re not willing to do the hard work it will take to finally reach it.

And, so, like those Jesus calls hypocrites, we know how to interpret weather conditions but somehow we’re oblivious to racial and economic injustice.

We are the twenty-first century version of the hypocrites Jesus is calling out in the twelfth chapter of Luke.

***

The Good News is God created each of us as growing and learning human beings. The Divine’s loving, creative power does not give up on us. We have a choice.

The extravagant and relentless love that overcame death at the cross, forgives us and keeps calling to us to be a part of the unfolding realm of God on earth.

The unfolding realm of God’s abundant, beloved community is an expanding circle of burning love for one another.

The Good News is that the fire Jesus came to cast upon the earth has begun to burn within our hearts.

It is a fire that cleanses without incinerating, and drives us to be God’s loving hands and feet of justice in a wounded world. It is a fire that will unite the oppressed, the marginalized, and even the oppressors together as one human family.

May we be the people God created us to be. May we actively listen to God and expand the circle of love and justice outward until all are truly welcome in this place.

May we give up hypocrisy, pull our heads out of the sand, for the good of others.

Amen.

Removing the Log of Racism from Our Eyes

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s chief federal judge said Wednesday that he forwarded an email that contained a joke involving bestiality and President Barack Obama’s mother, but he did so because he dislikes the president and not because he’s racist. (Click here to read the full Associated Press, March 1, 2012 article.)

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. (Luke 6: 35a NRSV Click here to see this passage in context.)

Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? (Luke 6:41 NRSV Click here to see this passage in context.)

***

Judge Richard Cebull

According to the Associated Press, “The judge apologized and acknowledged that the content of the email was racist but said he does not consider himself racist…” 

Judge Richard Cebull’s response is problematic because it ignores that to grow up a white person in this country is to have internalized some racism. To grow up white in this country is to have benefited in multiple, often unnoticed ways, from a culture that systematically overvalues those of European especially Anglo backgrounds while undervaluing those of color.

This Montana judge needs to remove the log from his eye, and admit that he has some racist attitudes. Until Judge Cebull does, he doesn’t have a chance of monitoring his own latent or not-so-latent attitudes and behaviors enough to treat others fairly in the courtroom. The email he sent – and admits is racist – is an example of his lack of self-awareness. 

The distaste for the President is not the question here. Most Americans have had strong dislike for politicians at one time or another. Yet, those who are self-aware do not resort to racist jokes about other human beings. 

When we lack awareness of our racist or other culturally-ingrained sinfulness, we give them power. The log in our eye prevents us from seeing the Divine in others and makes it impossible to love those with whom we are politically “enemies”. It prevents us from criticizing policies that we disagree with in constructive ways that might very well improve the lot of humanity. 

God calls us to love others…even our enemies. The arc of the biblical text is one of an ever-widening hospitality to those who are not like us. It is a story of the ancient peoples learning to love as the One would have us love.

We must strive to remove the log of racism from our own eyes. The first step is to admit it is there. Only then are we choosing to be a part of the unfolding of the loving, welcoming Realm of God

God of Open, Loving Arms;

Help us to see our failings,

   not so that we feel bad about ourselves,

      but so that we might overcome them with your guidance.


Tickle us to forgive one another,

   not only our beloveds,

      friends, family, and lovers

         but those we dislike.


Open our hearts that,

   your image is apparent within us,

      and that we can perceive your image in others.


Continue encouraging us to open our circles wider,

   and wider.

Amen.


***


Related Posts

God Met Me on the Bus Today (January 10, 2012)

Respond or Ignore? Racism (April 28, 2011) 

Respond or Ignore? Racism

Yesterday, I sent out the following tweet, “Bottom line. No other President has had to release a long form birth cert. This is fueled by xenophobia, racism, & bigotry.” It has been retweeted multiple times which is a record for me. I was prompted to send the tweet by a deep sense that we are not discussing an essential ingredient in our current political discourse. That is, of course, racism. Racism didn’t disappear because Barack Obama was elected any more than a toddler is a proficient walker the day she takes the first step. One of the weaknesses in American political discourse is we tend to live in the “right now” rather than understanding how the arc of history influences and informs us. We are subtly effected by our corporate and individual past whether we are aware of it or not.

I came across this video last evening. The language (spurred by passion) may offend some but he rightly places the events of yesterday within its historical and cultural context. He was responding to Donald Trump’s immediate response following the President’s short statement and release of his long form birth certificate. (That video can be found here.)

Please take the time to watch this video. Consider after watching it what the response of people of faith ought to be. Are we willing to discuss the sin of racism in our society or will we continue to pretend it doesn’t exist? http://youtu.be/vX5ueEKsSWc

An Open Letter to Senator Hillary Clinton

I lived in upstate New York for ten years and I voted for you when you first ran for Senate. Until now, I never regretted that vote.
I am feeling very disheartened this morning. I am disheartened because I suspected and the New York Times confirmed that “two in ten white West Virginia voters said that race was an important factor in their vote, and more than 8 in 10 of them backed Mrs. Clinton.”

My wife and I moved to West Virginia four years ago and have been impressed by the warmth and goodness of the people of this state. I have personally felt like I have come home having been raised by parents born of Appalachia, my mother having been born in Logan county, West Virginia and my father from Estill county, Kentucky. West Virginians are a proud people for good reasons.

West Virginians also have a long history of being used and being oppressed. From 1921 when President Roosevelt called in federal troops to put down West Virginians standing up for themselves against exploitive mine owners to the present day when the mountaintops are removed and the wealth from that heinous form of mining are sent to out-of-state corporations, this state has been taken advantage of by outsiders. Understandably so, one of the results of this is that the culture has developed a suspiciousness of outsiders and those who are different.

And you, Senator Clinton used that for your own gain! Instead of appealing to the better nature of West Virginians, you used our fears against us. You fanned the flames of racism in a state that has been historically isolated and a people who are rightfully suspicious of others.

Do you really care about the needs of hard-working West Virginians? Seems to me you used us for your own personal gain. I once respected you. I once voted for you. I once thought you were a leader but a leader is someone who helps people realize their better natures and their hopes.

Shame on you, Senator Clinton.