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.

Repeat.

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.

 

 

A Letter to My White Friends Explaining Why Black Lives Matter



Dear White Friends,
Over the years I have watched as more and more of you express fear and concern over the growing movement so aptly named “Black Lives Matter.” I have seen your posts and comments rebutting the movement with the words “All Lives Matter” or “Police Lives Matter.” Most everyone who knows me knows that I stand in solidarity with the BLM movement, so I want to take a few minutes and hopefully clear up some of the misconceptions I see as best I can.  
This is a letter that has been brewing in my mind for a long time, but to be honest I have been hesitant to write it. You see, this is a big risk for me. I don’t want to overstep or run the risk of saying something really stupid and exposing just how ignorant I am when it comes to talking about the feelings of others. At the same time I can no longer stay silent; not for my sake, nor for your sake, because if no one is willing to speak up, then nothing changes. And friends, there are a whole lot of things that simply have to change. There are members in our human family who are hurting, and we do have the power to change that, but it is going to require a change of heart.

I would like to start with the words “Black Lives Matter” because for some reason many hear in those words a contradiction of our common understanding that All Lives Matter. Of course all lives matter; no one disputes that and everyone who is alive will testify to that effect. But despite that understanding, the value of some lives is not upheld as being equal to that of other lives, which places these lives in jeopardy. And now, after centuries of being oppressed into silence, these lives, these black lives, are speaking out and saying: “we matter.” These black lives are drawing attention to their peril; they are trying to open our eyes and make us aware that our indifference is killing them. Why should that be so offensive and threatening? The only reason I can think of is that some of us don’t wish to be jolted; and if that is the case, then the question is why?  

Typically, when one of us is in trouble, we try to get someone’s attention so that we can get some help. If I were drowning, I would wave and yell for someone to throw me a life line because I believe that my life matters and that it is worth saving. What I would not expect is for someone to tell me that I am not really drowning and that all lives are worth saving. That wouldn’t make any sense would it? It would be a devaluation of my humanity, and the message would be that all lives are worth saving except for mine. Well right now Black lives are in trouble, and the words “Black Lives Matter ” are an attempt to get our attention. It is no different than my drowning scenario. So if we respond by saying “all lives matter,” what are we doing? Essentially we are devaluing black lives and sending the message that all lives matter except for black lives. If we cannot bring ourselves to accept that Black Lives Matter, then we don’t really believe that All Lives Matter; because if all lives matter then black lives matter.     

Nor do the words “Black Lives Matter” contradict our common understanding that Police Lives matter. Black Lives Matter is a peaceful movement whose intent is to draw attention to and change, structures and systems that vilify, exploit, and cheapen black lives. One of those structures is law enforcement – at the systemic level. This is something that all lives should be concerned about. The intent behind law enforcement is to make sure that we all follow the laws that exist to keep us safe – not to terrorize and harass any segment of the population. This includes law enforcement officials who need to be held accountable for their unlawful actions both on and off duty. Technology has enabled us to expose certain corrupt acts. It also assists us with quantifying who is being the most affected. Right now black lives are being targeted disproportionately to the rest of the population. This is a fact. The evidence is overwhelming.      

Many of you to whom I am speaking should be able to relate to this in some small measure. I went to high school with a lot of you and do you remember what we called the police back then? We called them “pigs.” We all did; whether we want to remember it or not – we all called them “pigs.” And why did we refer to the police as pigs? Well if you will recall, we grew up during an exceedingly tumultuous time. Young people were being targeted all over the country for long hair, rock and roll, tie-dye skirts, and anything else that deviated from the established “norm.” We lived in an Archie Bunker world where anyone with long hair was profiled as a ” long-haired, hippie-type, pinko fag.” Do you remember that? Do you remember being constantly pulled over and searched by the police for any lame excuse they could come up with? I can sure remember it. So what did we do? We called the police “pigs” and we boo/hissed at them all the time. The difference is, that that is usually as far as it went. We were harassed and greatly inconvenienced, but we were not beaten, tasted, or shot. And eventually we had the luxury of growing out of, and moving past that profile.  

But black lives are always black and there is no respite from the harassment. The BLM movement is not about looting or violence or taking the lives of police officers. It is about drawing attention to the fact that black lives are being unfairly targeted, punished, and even killed without due process. However, as most movements do, The BLM movement has drawn it’s fair share of fringe lunatics who represent BLM no more so than ISIS represents the Islamic religion, or Westboro Baptist Church represents Christianity. These individuals act on their own. BLM does not advocate their actions, and when we fall into the trap of lumping these rogue warriors in with the movement, we are burying our heads in the sand rather than taking the time to ask questions and attempt to discern the truth. This is very much an Archie Bunker type of response.

Life is precious and when any segment of it is in danger, we are called to respond. When Hurricane Katrina hit, what did we do? We all pitched in and helped out in a myriad of ways. Some even went the extra mile and showed up in New Orleans to offer whatever assistance they could. They didn’t go to Minneapolis and say “well Minneapolis lives matter too;” they went to New Orleans where the help was needed. When a particular species is in danger such as the eagle or the polar bears, what do we do? We go to great lengths to preserve the lives of eagles and the polar bears. We don’t say: “all lives matter” and rush to save the iguanas and the tree frogs; we focus on the species that is being threatened. Why should black lives be any different?

The answer as I see it, is that racism is still a very real and very ugly reality in this country, and we don’t want to believe it much less do the work required to eradicate racism once and for all. I get it; truly I do. I sure didn’t want to deal with it for a long time. I thought we had long since moved past those days, and like a lot of people, I claimed that I didn’t even see color because after all, look how many black friends I have! All I was willing to look at was what was on the surface; I never bothered to look beneath the rug where all of the crumbs of an ugly past had been swept. Which meant that I could not see how I benefited from being a member of a majority that oppressed and mistrusted a minority. I could not see the disparity in opportunity or how I tend to gravitate toward neighborhoods that are “safe.” I could not see how I take for granted certain privileges such as the ability to move throughout my daily life without being targeted, or how I have always known that clean drinking water is available to me whenever I want it. I could never fathom a life where my children and grandchildren might not have access to a decent education, or healthcare, and I sure can’t imagine what it’s like to be worried sick every time my child walks out the door. Yet, these things are an every day reality for blacks, because people like me refuse to open their eyes and ears and pay attention to what is really going on around us.   

Today, thanks be to God, I no longer feel that way. Today I am willing to open my eyes and see the ugly truth, painful though it may be. I have an incredibly long way to go in uncovering my own complacency and acquiescence because the roots run deep and can be very stubborn. But I am willing to dig because I care about the fate of our world and all of the lives that inhabit it. Black Lives Matter; black lives are in trouble, and together we need to do something about it.

I hope I have helped in some small way and that you are encouraged to probe into this even further. There are plenty of ways to do this, I recommend starting with the book written by Michelle Alexander entitled “The New Jim Crow.” Another book that I recommend is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World And Me.” The subject of racism is probably the most intimidating thing white Americans are faced with today, but we have to confront it. Racism is killing and dehumanizing all of us and we can no longer afford to ignore it or insist that it doesn’t exist. My prayer is that you will consider what I have said and start listening deeply to what is being said.

Blessings and peace to you all…

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