Dear Pastor III

Dear Pastor,

As much as I appreciated the Monopoly comparison, it fell a bit short for me. First, slavery was only for 200 years in the United States, not four hundred as you seemed to imply. Second, we have moved beyond the racism of slavery and Jim Crow laws. Under the law all people are supposed to be treated equally. I know that does not always happen, but it is the ideal we aspire to. I am disheartened at seeing a resurgence of racism in our country, but those seem like isolated acts. Yes there are some bad cops out there, and some people who are just overtly racist, but surely we have come a long since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In many places there is a thriving Black middle class, and an increase in Black owned businesses in America. Black owned businesses in the United States increased 34.5% between 2007 and 2012 totaling 2.6 million Black firms. (https://blackdemographics.com/economics/black-owned-businesses/)

I work with a lot of people, and none ever use the N-word, and I cannot imagine they ever would. My parents taught me to treat all people equally, and I do. I am colorblind. I don’t look at a person’s race, I try, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr, to judge them by “the content of their character.” I think that is the only thing we can really do to help Black people in America. As long as we go around sticking people into racial categories we will see racism, on all sides.

I am not a racist, nor do I believe our country is racist. Most of our problems are caused by the bad actors on both sides.

Anyway, that is my two cents. I look forward to hearing your reply.

Yours in Christ,

Randy

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Dear Randy 3

Randy,

I appreciate you staying with this conversation. These are very difficult questions, and I don’t think anyone has “The Answer,” but I believe that if we can have meaningful discussion on these issues, we can actually get somewhere.

While things are certainly better than they were in 1864, or 1934, or 1964. But that is all relative. If I am on fire, it is better to have the fire put out, but that does not mean I am all hunky-dory once the fire is out.

For example you mentioned the increase in Black-owned businesses. I notice that you did not cite the other statistics. “More than 95% of these businesses are mostly sole proprietorship or partnerships which have no paid employees.” It is good that there are more Black-owned businesses but it would be even better if the majority were able to provide jobs or other people.

A 1997 report showed that while minority-owned firms make up 15 percent of the nation’s businesses, they only generated 3 percent of all receipts. (https://www.mbda.gov/page/state-minority-business-enterprise-smobe-data-state)

You mentioned racism, and I want to respond to that. The problem with the word “racist” is that it brings to mind someone wearing a hood and burning a cross, or a neo-Nazi, or someone who uses racial slurs to describe people of color. If only that were the case! Not all racists are mean people. There is a benign racism, where people keep it to themselves, yet act in subtle ways that belie the notion of a color blind society.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine Trayvan Martin is walking home, eating Skittles in his hoodie, through an upscale neighborhood. George Zimmerman, a resident of the neighborhood sees him, and thinks he is up to no good. He stops Martin, and demands to know why he is in “our” neighborhood. He threatens to call the p0lice, and have Martin arrested. So Martin pulls a gun from the pocket of his hoodie, shoots and kills Zimmerman.

Do you think Martin would be treated the same way Zimmerman was? Remember, he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. Would Martin be able to say, “I was standing my ground,” and get off, like Zimmerman did?

I cannot imagine a court where he would walk away scot-free if he shot Zimmerman.  A study was done on the Stand Your Ground defense, and the researcher discovered that:

In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent. (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/is-there-racial-bias-in-stand-your-ground-laws/)

It is clear that when it comes to shootings, our system is biased against Black males. That is just one way it is biased.

I’m going to surprise you here. I am a racist. No, I don’t wear a hood or a swastika, I never knowingly use racial slurs. I am not mean to people of color. So what makes me a racist?

As you know I am a voracious reader. I probably have a thousand or so books. I have novels by American, German, Russian, English, Latin American, French, Italian, and Indian authors. I am probably leaving out some nationalities. But I have exactly one novel by a Black writer. One.

I have books on theology written by German, English, American, Australian and Latin American authors.  I have, maybe two books written by Black theologians. Why do I have this gap in my library? While it is true there are fewer Black theologians than White theologians, there are more than few excellent theologians, one of whom I took classes with at when I was at Duke. I actually had to google Black theologians to come up with some names. That is a whole segment of the American Theological experience that I am willfully ignorant of.

Again I have to ask, why this gap in my library? It is because somewhere deep inside of me, I must have thought that books by Black theologians are not worth reading. I never voiced that openly, but it is true. (My wife pointed that out to me, by the way, and I am slowly remedying that situation.)

I don’t like to think of myself as a racist, but in some really important ways, I am.

I’ll tell you another story, one I am deeply ashamed of. When I was in seminary, I was assigned to do a presentation with a Black classmate. We were doing a report to the class on a book. I remember thinking, “I may have to carry this discussion, so I better be prepared to talk about both my part and his.” I volunteered to do the first part of the book, thinking that if he bombed, I could pick up the slack at the onset.

He blew me out of the water. I worked really hard on my section, and was prepared to talk about his, but once he opened his mouth, I realized that he knew and could discuss the book at a much higher level than I could. He knew the material better than I did, and could relate it to other theologies better than I could. I was humbled and ashamed of my attitude toward his intellect.

You see, when we only think of racists as being really bad people, we ignore the things good peopled do that are racist. We make the idea of being a racist so evil, that no one, even died in the wool Klansmen and White supremacist, will admit their racism. I am a good person, we tell ourselves. I can’t be racist. No one will admit to being racist because racist are clearly the bottom feeders of life. And because we don’t use the N-word, we congratulate ourselves on how enlightened we are when it comes to race.

And we miss what is really going on in the world.

I just realized this email has turned out to be a sermon. Sorry for that! Occupational hazard, I guess.

Anyway I am looking forward to your reaction to all this.

Yours in Christ

Pastor Murray

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Dear Pastor II

Another is the series of fictitious emails between me and an imaginary parishioner.  

email

Dear Pastor,
I have to say your last email challenged me a little. I never thought of Jesus as having a different love for different people. To be honest, I am not sure I buy into your interpretation of the parable of the lost sheep. I think Jesus loves all people equally, and is not a respecter of individual persons. The relationship with my wife made more sense to me. I can only imagine how she would react if I told her that I love all people when she wants to know if I love her. I think your example would be stronger if instead of saying, “I love all people,” the husband says, “I love all women!” If I said that I would be lucky to be sleeping on the sofa!

But that raises another question. Are you saying that all African-Americans are lost sheep? That seems a little derogatory to me. I know the history of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow laws, but we should be far past that now. That was all in the past. Today things are very different for African-American people. We even had an African-American president! We have had civil rights acts and voting rights acts, and school desegregation and affirmative action. Isn’t time for people to stand on their own two feet?

I worked hard to get to where I am today. I hate to say this, but I don’t think it is fair to give an advantage to any group. I think we have to meet on an equal playing field.
Yours in Christ,
Randy

Dear Randy, 

Thanks again for your email. I am glad to see that you are wrestling with these issues! Sometimes I wish life was easy, and all the answers were easy answers. We are both trying to dive into things that are really complicating and challenging. These last few weeks, people have really trying to become educated about BIPOC issues. (That stands for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, by the way.)
You raised two significant issues in your email, and I want to try to respond to both of them. The first was about Jesus and how he treats all people equally. Another parishioner recently shared this with me:

Blessed are the poor

Jesus said much more that leads us to think he did not see all people equally. He was accused of hanging out with sinners, and he plead guilty to that charge. He says he came to save sinners, he came to help sick people. Latin American theologians talk about “God’s preferential option for the poor.” That stems from the passage in Luke where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor.” (Luke does not add, “in spirit.”) At the beginning of Luke, when Mary is told that she will bear the Savior of the World, she says:
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:50-53)
The “he” she is referring to is Jesus, of course. This text was banned for while in Argentina and El Salvador, by the way. Reading it in church could land you in prison, or worse. Clearly here Mary is saying that Jesus does not see all people equally. The rich, the proud, the rulers are on Jesus’ naughty list, and the humble, the poor, lepers, the blind and the lame, and all manner of sinners are accepted by Jesus. (I am going to use shorthand here, and refer these groups of people as the marginalized.)
This is not just true of Jesus. We see this throughout all of scripture. In Psalm 72, the psalmist is praying for the king. He prays the King would be powerful and mighty, and that all the nations will bow down to him. What is it that makes him great?

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
(Psalm 72:12-14)

I know that we like to think that all people were created equal, just like our Declaration of Independence says. (Actually it says all men are created equal. It took a while for women to be included, and within a few years they would define Blacks as three fifths of a person. Hardly equal!) I think we do better talking about equity, not equality. Our system assumes that from the get go, everyone is equal. Well to be honest, the Founding Fathers wrote great things about what America could be. Living up to that ideal has proven to be a challenge, even for the people who wrote them.

Finally I want to address your concerns about whether I am being derogatory when I refer to all Blacks as lost sheep. Clearly not every black person is lost. I did not mean that as a derogatory statement. But the fact is, racism has played such a large role in our nation, from its founding to today, that I think it is fair to say that many, most people of color are lost in the wilderness of America that racism created.

Think of this way.

Imagine you’re playing a game of monopoly. For the first 400 moves, your opponent gets everything. When you pass go, he gets $200. If you win a beauty contest, he gets the $25. You are not allowed to buy properties, and you are not allowed to get any money. If you get the card that says, “Advance to Boardwalk,” you cannot use it because you are not allowed in that area of the board. If you go to Boardwalk, you will be thrown in jail. Those are the rules for the first 400 moves. (Just to be clear, those are the years of slavery in the United States.)

Finally the rules change. For the next 100 moves you are allowed to buy properties, if you can ever manage to scrap up some money. But you can only buy Mediterranean and Baltic avenues. Maybe on Oriental, if the bank feels generous. And you still can’t land on any properties other than utilities and railroads on the rest of the board. If the dice don’t take you there, you can’t move. Oh, and your opponent is allowed three rolls of the dice for your every move. To top it all off, if you do something your opponent does not like, he can take or burn all your money. That corresponds to the years of Jim Crow laws.

The rules change once again. You are allowed onto all the properties, but if you want to buy any, you have to buy them from your opponent. He gets to control all the deeds, and can give the deeds he wants you to have, not necessarily the ones you can afford. Oh, and you have your own Chance and Community Chest cards, and every third card is a “Go to Jail” card. “Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.” And there are no get out of jail cards. That goes on for fifty moves.

Finally your opponent says, “You know, you may have had some disadvantages in the last few rounds. From now on we will be playing by the same rules. Oh, don’t think I am going to let you have any of my properties or money. You are on your own, just as I was. You have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, just like I did.” Then he has the gall to say, “From now on, we will play as equals.”

Is that what equality is about? I don’t think so. We don’t need equality, we need equity. I’m going to end this with a drawing that shows the difference between equality and equity.

EquityVsEquality

I don’t think Jesus has a problem with the small kid having two boxes, and the tall kid having none.

Again, thanks for hanging in there with me.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Murray

 

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Dear Pastor

email

This is a series of fictitious emails between an imaginary parishioner and myself. This is the first in the series.   

Dear Pastor,

This is a hard email to write, because I respect you, and I think your ministry here has been very effective. I don’t always agree with what you say, but I know you are a man of God. But this has really shaken me.

I saw your picture in the paper marching at a Black Lives Matter protest, and I was very disturbed by that. Aside from the fact that I don’t think clergy should be marching in the streets for anything, I am particularly distressed at your being at a Black Live Matter rally.

As a Christian, I believe that God values all lives. To pick out one race and say their lives matter more than anyone else’s just seems plain wrong to me. In Galatians 3:28 the Apostle Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

How can we all be one in Jesus Christ if we think one group is better than another? I have heard you preach this, and I remember many times when you did speak out against racism saying we must treat all people equally. Yet I see you on the streets carrying a sign that says, “Black Live Matter.” I just don’t think it is appropriate for any Christian to march in a Black Lives Matter march, much less a pastor, who is a minister of the Gospel.

I am not going to leave the church or anything, not yet, but I wish you would reconsider your position on this. And I know that I am not the only person who thinks this way.

Yours in Christ,
Randy

Dear Randy,
First let me thank you for your email. I am glad you took your concerns to me, instead of just holding them in. I know you are a man of God, and you are doing your best to follow Jesus Christ, and I want you to know that I hear and value your concerns. Since you wrote your concerns to me, I assume you want me to explain why I did what did. Your email was thoughtful and respectful, and I hope my response is as well.
I thought long and hard before I attended the rally. I knew it might ruffle some feathers, but I felt it was important for me to be there. I want to explain to you why I attended the rally.
You said that you did not think any Christian should attend a rally that singles out one race for support. Would you be surprised to know that I went because I am a Christian? Yes, I believe we are all one in Jesus Christ, and I certainly affirm Paul’s words in Galatians. But I still support the Black Lives Matter movement. How can I do that?

First, I think what Black Lives Matter stands for is biblical. When Paul says there is no Jew or Greek, he is not saying that Jews and Greeks are equal. He says that because there is a conflict. Various churches in Asia Minor, where Paul did most of his missionary work, were a mixture of Jewish and Greek Christians. And that caused some real problems, and not just at potlucks! There were a variety of ways the two cultures were in conflict. The book Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice by Sylvia Keesmaat & Brian Walsh does a very good job of showing what those conflicts were. I highly recommend it. The two groups often clashed in the early church.
One example of that we find in the Bible is the incident of the widows in Acts 6. The church in Jerusalem had Jews who were born and bred in the Holy Land, as well as Jews from the Greek speaking world. The church had a meal program for widows and the Greek widows complained they were not getting as much food as the Hebrew speaking widows. The apostles decided to appoint a committee to deal with the problem. (This was the first board of deacons, by the way.)

They appointed “Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. (Acts 6:5) what is interesting about this list is that every name is a Greek name! It was the Greeks who had the problem, and the apostles acted in a way that said, Greek Lives Matter.
And then there Jesus. Remember the story of the lost sheep? There are a hundred sheep, but one gets lost. What does the shepherd do? He goes in search of the one lost sheep. Apparently to Jesus Lost Sheep Matter.
You see, Black Lives Matter makes a great slogan, but often slogans need to be explained. When people say Black Lives Matter, they don’t mean that Black lives are the only lives that matter. They are saying that, given the inherent, systemic racism in America, it seems like Black lives do not matter.
Imagine this. Your wife is feeling down one day, and she needs some encouragement. She says to you, “Do you love me?” And you reply, “I love everyone.” How would that make her feel? When people who encounter Black Lives Matter say “All Lives Matter,” that is like you telling your wife that you love everyone Your wife needs to hear that you love HER.

I don’t know if this answers your concerns. I hope it comes close.
Yours in Christ
Pastor Murray

 

 

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Before we get into today’s post, I want you to watch this video:

 

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Did you see the gorilla?

I heard about this before I actually saw the video, so it was obvious to me. But I showed this to my congregation, and only about a tenth of the people saw it. They were amazed when they were looking for it, yet there it was, big as day!

We tend to see what we are looking for. We tend to miss things that may be right in front of our eyes, but are not on our radar.

I read through the Bible for years before I could really see all the verses that deal with the Christian community’s relationship to the poor. But once I started looking for it, I saw it was all over the Bible. How could I miss it when it was right in front of my eyes, but then, how can so many people miss seeing the gorilla. We aren’t looking for it. So it becomes invisible.

I have been aware of racial issues all my life. But in these last two weeks, I started seeing things I never saw before. For example, I never thought of myself as having White Privilege. But when I started listening, and I mean really listening to BIPOC (and for the record, that stands for Black, Indigenous People of Color, and yes, I had to ask when I first saw it) it started to become really clear to me.

For example, the neighborhood where I live is fairly multicultural–at least for Medford, Oregon. But I never had a fear that any of my neighbors would not accept me. It never occurred to that someone would be angry about my presence just because of my race. But that is not the case for a lot of people in my community. There have been times when I was looking for a job, but while I worried a little about it, it never occurred to me that I might never find a job. Being a college educated white male, I was a hot commodity. Part of me knew that, but I did not want to admit that as any sort of special privilege. But with Black unemployment at increasingly high rates, I have to question the fairness of the system. The country recently good some good job numbers, at least for some people. While unemployment among white workers fell to 12.4%, unemployment for black workers rose to 16.8%.

The fact is, sometimes it has nothing to do with selective vision. Sometimes I just willfully do not see certain things, because if I admitted I saw it, I would have either willfully ignore it or do something about it. And that is scary.

I know that my eyes need to be more open. What else am I not seeing?

 

Posted in Bias, BIPOC, Black Lives Matter, BLM, Community, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Eight Minutes and Forty-Six Seconds

derek chauvin

Eight minutes and forty-six seconds is a long time.

In grand scheme of things, it is not that long. But eight minutes and forty-six seconds is a long time if you are kneeling silently in prayer in the hot sun.

Most people are not used to long periods of silence, and eight minutes and forty-six seconds of it can be really uncomfortable. Imagine if the pastor at your church called for eight minutes and forty-six of silence during worship. If I go longer than a minute people start to think that I fell asleep.

But at a Black Lives Matter rally in my hometown of Medford, Oregon, we were asked to kneel in silence for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. That was how long Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

And now I am kneeling for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. It was a long eight minutes and forty-six seconds, and, having spent a few years worship at a silent Quaker meeting, I am used to long periods of silence. But this felt extremely long. Usually when I have long periods of planned silence, I am sitting comfortably, usually inside, in a chair. This time I was kneeling, and my 62 year-old body was starting to revolt. My hands were palms together in prayer, and that put a bit of a strain on my already bad back. The hot sun beat down on me.

I was praying, but my prayers were troubled. In my prayers I was thinking about Ahmaud Arbery, and what he must have felt when he realized he was about to be lynched. I could feel the panic that must have arisen in him, as he experienced the last few minutes of his life. I tried to imagine what it was like for him to be running for his life, and when that was not working, to be fighting for his life. I wondered what was going through his head the first time he was shot. And tears started to flow from my eyes.

I thought about George Floyd. I thought about what those eight minutes and forty-six seconds were like for him. I thought, I know when my eight minutes and forty-six seconds will end.  I will be able to get up, stretch my legs, and start marching again. He had no idea who long he would be down. He had no idea how long the knee would be on his neck. But at some moment he must have known it would be for the rest of life, because at the end of eight minutes and forty-six seconds, he was dead.

There is no way I can really know what those moments were like for Ahmaud Arbery or for George Floyd. My imagination is not big enough, and their experience in no way compares to mine. By comparison, my eight minutes and forty-six second was luxurious. For them, it was last eight minutes and forty-six seconds of their lives.

Now you and I have the rest of our lives, to make sure that those eight minutes and forty-six seconds are never repeated. Never again.

Posted in Ahmaud Arbery, Black Lives Matter, BLM, Compassion, George Forbes, Justice, Racism, religion and politics, Social Justice, Social Ministry, Spiritual Growth | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What You Can Do

Have you been watching the events of this week, wondering what you can do? Here is one small, but important way you can make a difference.

I saw this in an email from the journal Image. They ran a piece on one of James Baldwin’s book No Name in the Streets, and then gave you a list of Black-owned bookstores where you can buy it.

I know that a good start on getting a handle on racism I. America is to read books by Black authors. Long ago I started weaning myself from Amazon, so this was a very welcome suggestion. I can find important books to read and support Black businesses.

So I found a bookshop in D.C. and ordered the Library of America’s anthology of Baldwin’s essays.

If you are expanding your horizons by read literature by People of Color, then here is the link for you to find and support a Black business!

You can order today from these black-owned independent bookstores.

Enjoy!

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A Tidal Wave of Hope

Tsunami-Tidal-Wave-Public-Domain-460x345

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BLM

BLM-Web2_img

When I first saw the signs, I was a little puzzled. BLM. Why were people carrying Bureau of Land Management signs at a protest rally?

Then I had the “doh” moment. Being from Alaska, I saw the initials BLM a lot. But outside of Alaska, at this time in our history, BLM means something entirely different. Black Lives Matter.

I have written in other posts that for years when I heard Black Lives Matter, internally I thought to myself, All lives matter. Living in Medford, where Blacks make up a minuscule part of the population, I didn’t think about Black Lives a lot. I thought about the people in my congregation, and the various unhoused people we serve. I thought about friends and acquaintances.

I believed, deep in my heart, that all people did matter, and to single out one group created a partiality that did not need to exist. I did not embrace Black Lives Matter because I felt, as Dr. King stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and Black Lives Matter seemed to focus just on injustice in one place. God loved all people and wants justice for all people, and injustice is not just a Black issue.

Then came the murder of George Forbes, and somehow all those arguments began to look like a justification for ignoring an incredible injustice in our country. Suddenly I realized Black Lives Matter.

Diner Theology

I say “suddenly” but in fact this had been brewing in my head for a while. It started with Rick’s death.

Rick was one of the unhoused people who were attached to our church. He did not attend services, but I was his pastor. I visited him when he was in rehab, I gave him money for smokes,I took him to the hospital when he had a bad encounter with his neighbors or with the police, and I considered him to be a friend. He was getting ready to try rehab again, when he was found dead on the street.

We insisting on doing his funeral right. We got an organist (our church is known for its wonderful organ) instead of getting a cheaper piano player. I dressed up as I would for any funeral. I wanted the people who would attend, most of them unhoused, to feel like we were throwing out the red carpet for him.

And in my remarks, I wanted the people attending to know that God had a special love for them. But there was a problem. Along with the people from the streets, many of my parishioners would be attending as well. And I did not want them thinking that God did not love them. I was going to talk about God’s preferential option for the poor, but I would be preaching that message to some of my parishioners, who were fairly well off.  I did not want to upset them. (Yes, pastors do think about such things.)

And I came up with a way to do it. I talked about Diner Theology. If you have ever been to a diner, you know what this is. The waitress comes around, and if your coffee cup is empty, they will fill it for you. (The best one’s will say, “Can I freshen that up for you, hon?”) Now imagine a diner where the waitress went around ignoring the empty cups, and filling those that were already full. One person at the table has coffee cups that overfloweth, and some have perpetually empty cups. And I told the people assembled for the service, “When your cup is empty, God comes around and says, “Can I freshen that up for you, hon?” God does fill full cups, nor does God ignore empty cups. And I listed how many people there had empty cups. Living on the streets, struggling to cut out a patch of turf that was safe from the police, and safe from predators. Having a mental health system that totally failed them. Not having a decent place to use the bathroom. Being ignored by the people who walk past you. God fills that empty cup with love.

I don’t know why I didn’t see it at the time, but that is exactly the rational for Black Lives Matter

 

Black Lives Matter

I wanted to say, “All lives matter,” but the hard truth was that statement is a lie.

My life matters. I knew that from my birth. I mattered to my parents, to my teachers, and to the various churches that hired me over the years. No one has to tell me that my life matters. I was born with that knowledge and almost every encounter I had reinforced that in my life. I walk into room after room of people who dress like me,   speak like me, who are educated like me, and who share many of the experiences I have. Even some of my unhoused friends call me “sir.” When I pay attention to them, it means something because I matter. Very few times in my life have I ever encountered the kind of situation that made me feel like I didn’t matter. Very few. When I get pulled over by the police, they call me “sir.” When I shop in a store, I am always treated as someone who matters.

But I know this is not so for Black people in America. While respect is freely given to me, they often have to fight for it. Or worse yet, learn to live without it. White people need to say “Black Lives Matter,” because it needs to be heard, and because we need to say it. We need to say those words, thoughtfully and deliberately. We need to understand the point of privilege we have, as well as the price of that privilege. We need to hear the stories that too often go unheard, the stories about what it is like to be Black in America.We need to let people know that their stories matter because their lives matter. I am a minister and stories are my lifeblood. The stories of Abraham, and Moses, and David and Daniel, and Jesus, and Peter, and Paul. The stories of my parishioners, stories about their joys and their concerns. My sermons are full of stories.

But my well is impoverished if I do not also include the stories of oppression that goes on, unseen, around me every day. My well of stories is tainted if it only includes stories of privilege and not the stories of the people who have fight to be seen, who have to fight for the right to matter.

The fact is, the stories I have were almost all written by white people. Even my understanding of the Bible was formed by white interpretors who were writing for an audience that is almost all white. Where are the stories of Asia, Africa, and Latin America? Where were the stories of the oppressed people who live in my own city?  I went through my bookshelves, looking for works by people of color. Excepting works of Buddhism, most of which were written by Americans, I have very, very few. (For perspective, I have more than a thousand books.) I have exactly three books written by Black theologians or social commentators.

And I never noticed that. I tend to buy books that confirm my own biases, and that make me more secure in the world I inhabit. Breaking out of that is very hard to do, and I am thankful for the people who lovingly pointed that out to me, and who challenged me to broaden my horizons. If you at my book shelf you can see that I don’t think that Black writers matter.

Slowly my world is getting bigger.

Coming out of the closet

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” I have to admit that my understanding of Black issues is pretty shallow. How can I say that God loves all people when I am ignorant of many of the people God loves? How can I preach the Gospel, Good News, if I am unaware of what kind of Good News the Black community needs to hear and to experience?

So I am coming out of the closet.

Black Lives Matter.

Posted in Black Lives Matter, BLM, Current Events, George Forbes, Injustice, Racism, religion and politics, Social Justice, Social Ministry, Spiritual Growth | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time to Stop Watching

tou-thao-1

Tou Thao, Minneapolis Police Department

 

I have been thinking a lot of Tou Thao lately.

He was one of the four cops involved in George Floyd’s arrest. He did not have a knee on his neck, or on his back like the three other policemen. As far as I know, he never touched George Floyd. He just stood and watched it all. People came up to him, and tried to tell him that Floyd was in distress, and he just ignored them. All he did was watch.

He didn’t beat George Floyd,he didn’t kneel on him, he didn’t choke him–he didn’t do anything but watch.

He watched as one of brother policeman slowly strangled Floyd with his knee. He didn’t try to stop it. He did not speak up. He did not say, “Guys, maybe you are going too far.” He just watched as George Floyd died.

I think about Tou Thao, because I am a lot like him. How many unarmed Black people have I seen die at the hand of the police? Too many to count. Of course I was never there in person. I was never in a place where I could have stopped anything. In that sense my hands are clean. Like Pilot, I have washed my hands, again and again, of any complicity I might have in the murder of unarmed Black men and women by law enforcement officers. Like Tou Thao, I just watched. Like him, I have been mostly silent about the grinding oppression which has taken the lives of unarmed Black men and women over the last five years.

I heard the words, Black Lives Matter, and while I never said it out loud, I thought to myself, All Lives Matter. I work with homeless people on a daily basis, most of whom are white. Their lives matter, I could tell myself, and I did my best to make sure their lives mattered. The lives of the people in my congregation mattered, and most of them were white. And frankly, I live in one of the whitest places in American. Fairbanks, Alaska has more diversity than Medford, Oregon. So it has been very easy for me to sit and watch the oppression of Black people, telling myself that I was not racist, these events were far from me, and there was nothing I could do.

And like Tou Thao, I just watched. I watched the protests in Ferguson, in Charlotte, in countless other cities. I just silently watched.

And my silence made me complicit in the violence.

The Rally

Watching Tou Thao made me realize that I am no better than he is. I realized that my voice needed to be heard. I can no longer remain silent.

So on June 1, 2020 I went to my first Black Live Matter rally. I wore my collar, so that people would know I represented a Christian Community. And I spoke up. I did not did use my own words. I simply read the names of 25 men and women, people of color who were killed, most by law enforcement officers. One of the chants at the rally was “SAY HIS NAME!” and people would respond with the names of people died because of their race. It was important to name the injustices done and to name the people who were the victims of that injustice. I remembered back to my Black Church History course in divinity school. Much of the lectures consisted of the names of the people who started the early AME and AME Zion churches. Most of us students heard those names in terror because we thought we had to memorize them. We were furiously writing down the names, hoping a few would stick in our memories.

But we were not tested on the names. We finally realized that these names needed to be said, so these people would never be forgotten. They were the names of marginalized people, who were not a part of the history we normally learned. Yet they were as important as the names of Martin Luther and John Calvin.

So I read names that should never be forgotten.And I want to share them here, so they will not be forgotten.

TRAYVON MARTIN (Walking home with iced tea and Skittles. Shot by George Zinneman, who was found not guilty.)

KEITH SCOTT (Sitting in car, reading. Shot by police officer, who was not charged.)

ATATIANA JEFFERSON (Looking out her window, shot by police officer, who is still under indictment for murder.)

JONATHAN FERRELL (Asking for help after auto accident. Shot twelve times by police, case ended in mistrial.)

JORDAN EDWARDS (Riding in a car. Shot in the back of the head by police officer, who was found guilty of murder.)

STEPHON CLARK (Holdng a cel phone. Shot 8 times, 6 in the back. Officers not charged.)

AMADOU DIALLO (While taking out wallet, officers fired 41 shots by four officers, who were all acquitted.)

RENISHA MCBRIDE (Auto accident, knocked on door for help. Homeowner was found guilty of second-degree murder.)

TAMIR RICE (Playing with toy gun, shot by police officer arriving on scene. Officer was not charged.

SEAN BELL (Hosting a bachelor party, 50 rounds fired by police officers, who were found not guilty of charges.)

WALTER SCOTT (Pulled over for brake light, shot in the back by police officer, who pleaded guilty to civil rights violations.)

PHILANDO CASTILE (Pulled over in car, told officer he had a legally registered weapon in car. Officer acquitted of all charges.)

AIYANA JONES (Sleeping, accidentally shot by officer in a raid on wrong apartment. Officer cleared of all charges.)

TERRENCE CRUTCHER (Disabled vehicle, shot by police officer, who was found not guilty of manslaughter.)

ALTON STERLING (Selling CDs, shot at close range while being arrested. No charges filed.)

FREDDIE GRAY (Beaten to death by officers while being transported in police van. All officers involved were acquitted.)

JOHN CRAWFORD (Shopping at WalMart, holding a BB gun on sale, police officer was not charged.)

MICHAEL BROWN (Shot by twelve times by officer, including in the back. No charges filed.)

JORDAN DAVIS (Killed because he was playing loud music. Shooter found guilty of first-degree murder.)

SANDRA BLAND (Pulled over for traffic ticket, tasered and arrested. Suspicious “suicide” while in jail. No charges.)

BOTHAM JEAN (Shot at home, which police officer mistook for her own. Officer found guilty of murder.)

OSCAR GRANT (Handcuffed and face-down, officer shot him in the back. Officer found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.)

COREY JONES (Waiting by his disabled vehicle, was shot three times by police officer, who was found guilty of murder.)

AHMAUD AUBREY (Jogging, shot by two men who claimed they suspected him of burglaries. Both men charged with murder and aggravated assault” Chyna Smith

GEORGE FLOYD.

I found my voice by giving it others during that rally.

I was able to stand beside people of all colors, and chant with them.

I will no longer be like Tou Thao. I will no longer stand by and watch. I don’t know where this will take me, but as a minister, I am sure this take me deeper into the heart of Jesus.

Posted in Black Lives Matter, George Forbes, Injustice, Justice, Minneapolis, Racism, Social Justice, Social Ministry | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where is God in Minneapolis?

Forbes

 One night, around 1 am, my doorbell rang. Even in the Alaskan summer, when it is still light at that time, and people tend to stay up late hours, that was unusual. I opened the door and found my son standing there with a police officer. He had been spending the night with a friend. Steven looked very afraid, and said, “I didn’t do anything,” and rushed past me into the house.

The police officer smiled, and said, “I saw your son with a couple of other boys out past curfew. I wouldn’t have done anything, but when they saw me, they ran, so I had to see if they were up to anything. They weren’t, but I thought I should bring your boy home.”

For me that night, it was a minor inconvenience, and for Steven, a life lesson. But many parents are not that fortunate. It is with great sadness that I write these words. If my son had been black, and met the wrong cop, he would have been shot.

For those of you who know Steven, imagine what life would be like without him. Imagine what I would be like, if that night, instead of receiving a friendly life lesson, my son was killed.

I don’t know about you, but I watched with horror the incident between George Floyd and the police. I watched as he was laying on the ground, a police officer’s knee on this neck, moaning and saying that he could not breathe. I watched as bystanders, one of them an EMT, tried to tell the police they were killing Forbes. And I watched as they dragged his lifeless body to the ambulance, after eight minutes of having officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressing on his carotid artery.

The names of unarmed black man and women who have died at the hands of law enforcement officers is long, and depressing to see. I know that law enforcement can be dangerous. I know the police have a tough job. But why is it that we rarely if ever see cased of officers shooting unarmed white men.

And then last night, I watched as an angry mob burned down station house #3 in Minneapolis. I cannot imagine their anger, because when my son ran from a police officer, he was just kindly escorted home, not shot and killed.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

–Romans 8:22-25

I want to put this in biblical perspective. It would be too easy to condemn the protesters. Very few of us really understand their rage. Few of us have endured the injustices they endured. We can all look at these events and know that the world is pretty messed up. Justice, a very biblical virtue, is so often perverted, or ignored. What does it mean for the family of George Forbes to receive justice? What does it mean for a black father to have “the talk” with his kids, where he tells them the way the world is. “If you get stopped by a policemen, you could get killed.”

Paul tells us that all creation is groaning. It groans with injustice. It groans with hatred, with prejudice, and with violence. It groans with grinding poverty that dehumanizes people, and, in the eyes of Latin American theologian Jon Sobrino, is in fact an act of violence against the poor. It groans with the divisions between people.

If you watched the news last night, you saw creation groaning. Groaning is rarely pretty or easy to watch. The anger of a community who knows the system is stacked against them has exploded with groaning. In the midst of all this we have learned that Blacks are more prone to die of COVID-19 than other groups, because of limited access to health care. And the sad truth is, we know that George Forbes will not be the last unarmed black man to die at the hands of law enforcement.

It would be easy to rush in with judgments right now. But first must come a time of prayer. But how do we pray? What is our prayer in the face of the injustices we are witnessing?

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

—Romans 8:26-27

The spirit groans with creation, and with our inability to even form the right prayers for the situation. This is the kind of prayer where we look up to heaven and ask, “Why?” Where we groan, “How long?” This is the kind of prayer that cannot be expressed in words. The is the prayer that arises from a deep place inside of us, the kind of prayer that emerges from our gut as we stand beside the hospital bed of someone we love, as we wrestle with our own inner demons, as we watch the world burn. This is the prayer of someone who has been struck down by injustice, and who can only groan with agony.

That is the kind of prayer we need to engage in before we make any judgments about the right or wrongs of actions and reactions.

We might ask “Where was God during all this?” God was laying on the ground, with a knee on his neck. God was standing in the midst of the inferno of station house #3. God is in the tears of family members and friends who mourn. That may sound strange, but God cannot redeem creation from a distance. God must be in the middle of the mess, and only then can we really see the redemptive power of the almighty.

Kind of like Jesus on the cross.

 

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30

Romans 8:28 is one of the most comforting passages in all of Scripture, but also one of the most misquoted. Too often when people quote it, what the mean is, “Nothing bad can really happen to you.” That is far from the truth.

When Paul says, “All things work together for good,” he did not mean, “all good things.” He meant all things. He meant that the justice will meet injustice, and the injustices will be real, but God’s justice is stronger. He meant that love will encounter hate, but hate will not win. He meant that our unity in Christ will encounter divisions, but in the end, unity will win. He meant that Truth will encounter lies, but it is the Truth that will set us free.

We may not see the culmination in our lifetime. We may possibly view it from the other side of eternity. We may encounter injustices in our lives, we may encounter hate, we may encounter divisions, but those are, in the grand scheme of God, only momentary diversions.

In the meantime we do what we can to fight injustice. My wife just opened up a bank account with a Black bank, to help transfer money into Black communities where it is badly needed. I am learning Spanish, so we can do something to overcome the barriers between the Anglo and Hispanic communities in Medford. These are small acts, but we give them to God, who then takes and magnifies what we do.

What can you do?

 

Posted in Black Lives Matter, Evil, George Forbes, Injustice, Jesus, Justice, Minneapolis, Pastoral Prayer, Racism, Romans 8, Romans 8:28, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment