Show Up, Point, Talk Gospel, and Love

Pine Ridge-1

Tombstone of Chief Red Cloud

The NAACP has just issued its first statewide travel advisory, for Missouri, my home state, saying:

“Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION,” the advisory warns. “Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri.”

In the year 2017, the dozing beast of in-your-face racism has been roughly prodded awake, and the beast is starving and angry.

For over a week, I have been wallowing around in the afterglow of my road-trip vacation.  Nearly three-thousand miles, alone, just so I could rest, re-create, and take photos of our North American landscape.  It was a huge adventure, and definitely more risky than it was when I was younger, but I never lost my agency.  I never expected to lose my agency.  And believe me, I was and am, profoundly aware of how many in this country there are who do not have that same luxury.

How did we get to this place?

Have we really been here all along?

Have I really been that blind?

One of my stops was the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  For over two-thirds of my life I have wanted to go there and see the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre.  I knew it would be bad – the poverty, the isolation, the corruption – I’ve kept track enough to know – but when you’re there, and life suddenly steps out of the painting, it’s so much more.

I wanted to go and see the people who were shoved aside to make room for my people – you know, the real illegal immigrants.

I didn’t know what I could do beyond pay my respects, and so I did, but I wanted to look at and know and acknowledge for at least a moment, who was really paying my rent – who was picking up the tab on my comfortable, privileged, lifestyle.

I can move freely between states; I can visit breathtaking sites; eat in local restaurants; stay in local hotels, and know that I’m probably not going to be exploited, harassed, or abused in any way.  I take it for granted; it is how I experience my culture and my world, but what gets swept under the rug is how this American culture is built on a flimsy foundation of hatred, insecurity and the highest percentage of juvenile pettiness recorded so far.

I read a story today written by a black woman who was describing her own recent cross-country road trip.  She had her kids with her and decided to stop at a Cracker Barrel in Texas for lunch.  Well, it kind of scared the hell out of her, so she tweeted something that crossed the radar of the wrong person and it went completely south in no time. (Story here)

As I traveled, I knew that the color of my hide granted me gold card access to wherever I wanted to go.  Yes, I’m a woman; yes I’m older, and yes, there is a whole set of issues embedded in that, but for the most part I can move around unmolested.  I cannot imagine looking over my shoulder everywhere I go, terrified of who I might encounter.  I cannot imagine feeling like a moving target.  My problems are not these problems, and truth be told, I learned how to navigate my own challenges a long time ago – because I have that luxury.

It is spiraling out of control again – racism – and I am ashamed.  I am ashamed that it is members of my tribe who cause these problems, and I am ashamed that I am safe because of it.  I am ashamed of the insatiable greedy beast that my tribe has become, stealing land, stealing bodies, and ravaging souls.  I am ashamed of the blind eyes, and the propagandist narrative about bygone days when everything was “baseball, hotdogs, apple-pie, and Chevrolet.”

And I am VERY ashamed of our false nostalgia.

But I don’t have a fix for it – any of it.

I just have my voice.

I have my voice and I have my heart, and I have a seminary education that helped me see the difference between the way of Jesus, and the way of white Christian America.

Show up, point, talk gospel, and love.


What if I screw up?

I have.  And I will again.

I have been fed the intravenous fluids of privilege my entire life.

But it’s the only way to get through.

Show up, point, talk gospel, and love….then repeat.




Finding Love in Ferguson

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. – 1 John 4:18

 Michael Brown, a young man on the cusp of adulthood, was brutally murdered in broad daylight by an officer of the law for no apparent reason other than the color of his skin.  Even the cooler heads who advocated reserving judgment until more facts were revealed, are no longer able to deny the ugly truth as witnesses are finally heard, and cover up and denial have become the order of the day for those sworn to protect and serve.  We are surrounded by fear like the noxious vapor from the tear gas canisters fired by police on innocent protestors.  Reporters, elected officials, even senators have been bullied, harassed and jailed by policemen encased from head to toe in body armor.  Our personal fears have morphed into communal fears, and hatred and mistrust ooze from the pores of both the oppressor and the oppressed alike.  The strong crush the weak, and the toll of injustice escalates as harsh light is cast on who is really weak and who is really strong. 

There is an epidemic in this country and its victims are black men. Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford… – murders like these happen all the time, and more often than not they go unnoticed.  No one ever wants to believe that these are not isolated incidents because to do so would mean waking the sleeping giant of our own culpability in the matter.  Racism is alive and well in this part of the world – it is not a thing of the past as we have so conveniently convinced ourselves that it is.  All it has done is assume a more deceptive and dangerous mask.  Instead of parading itself in bed sheets, it now skulks in the halls of the criminal justice system.  Today, a person can be incarcerated just for the crime of being black, and more often than not, we give our consent because we are brain-washed every day by images of young black men suspected of committing crimes.  We don’t even question the nightly news as a parade of black suspects march before our eyes.  And when one is killed we just assume that they got what they deserved.

Racism is a cancer that is deeply embedded in American history, although it is a relatively new concept in human history.  Early American history shows that racism was a tool, developed by those whose economic interests depended upon it.  Before the development of racism, alliances were being formed between the poor white indentured servants and the black slaves, which led to rebellions against the dominance and oppression of the ruling class.  In a strategic maneuver to protect their interests, the elite gave the poor whites a false sense of superiority over black slaves by granting special privileges.  A wedge was driven between the two groups; white supremacy was born, and the idea of racial difference took on a momentum of its own.   Our founding document was created in the spirit of equal opportunity for all humans with only one small caveat to the definition of humanity which limited it to white males of European descent.  White skin was the best, and maybe even the only currency some people possessed, and so a high premium was placed on it.

Today our fear of each other is still used by those whose economic interests depend on it.  Because we are so suspicious of each other we are too preoccupied to notice the mergers, acquisitions and takeover of all of our resources by a handful of very powerful and very real criminals.  We have grown accustomed to believing that the young black woman on welfare is the one who is robbing us of everything we worked so hard to for, and while we are busy nailing her on the cross, the real criminals sit in their boardrooms gambling with our mortgages, our jobs and our retirement accounts.  This system has worked pretty well for a long time; and we have seemed pretty comfortable walking around with wool covering our eyes.  But the other day, someone went too far.  Someone pulled the trigger too many times.  Someone forgot to don the disguise of legality and failed to convince us of the criminal nature of the young black man.  Someone left him lying in the street too long, and the longer he lay there, the greater the awareness and the rage became.

One can never condone violence.   Violence doesn’t lead to justice. When violence is present the focus shifts from the injustice to the violence. The perpetrator becomes justified by the violent reaction and the original injustice is quickly forgotten.  But at the same time, we can no longer afford to pretend to sleep as the monster of injustice comes slithering out from under our beds.  The monster is exposed, and it is us – all of us – who have allowed the lies to sing lullabies to us as we ease back into our troubled sleep. 

The shooting of Michael Brown belongs to each and every one of us in one way or another.  Many in the black community are filled with rage because they are sick and tired of being dismissed, denied, ignored, imprisoned and then chastised for playing the so-called “race card.”  Many in the white community are filled with rage because we can no longer hide behind the lies of white victimization.  But now is the time for some real soul searching.  Now is the time to start talking, comparing notes and reforming old alliances so that we can begin to uncover who the real criminals are.  As long as we continue to fight amongst ourselves we are allowing fear and death to dictate and control our lives; when we begin to reconcile, we place ourselves under the jurisdiction of love and truth. 

When the Roman Empire was out of control Jesus raised his hands and said “don’t shoot.”  They shot him anyway, and in so doing made way for God’s perfect justice as Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  Through Jesus we learned that we need not fear death – that we need not comply with the empire, and that through the love and care of each other we too are resurrected into new life.  When we live for the sake of love, we finally begin to truly live.  When we live in truth and justice the oppressors begin lose their grip on us.  And when the oppressors lose their grip, they become weak and eventually, wither up and die. 

Michael’s murder was a horrible thing, but we have an opportunity here.  He need not have died in vain; that is a choice that is ours to make.  Michael can be the bridge that spans the river of mistrust.  Michael can be the common ground on which we all meet to begin a new conversation.  Do we dare to take the first steps and cross that bridge?  Do we dare to talk to one another instead of screaming insults back and forth?  Do we dare to love?  At the heart of the gospel beats the pure rhythm of love.  Let us reach toward our perfection in that love.  Amen