Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Thoughts from a White Man who Watched Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley Fail on#BlackLivesMatter

[Originally published on Medium - please give that version a rec and a share!]

You may have heard about the Sanders/O’Malley/Vargas presidential town hall last week that was interrupted by #BlackLivesMatter protestors. I was there, and now that I’m back on an actual computer instead of mobile, I’d like to share my thoughts.

[I had just finished writing this when a friend shared this article from Tia Oso, whose voice is far more important than mine here and you should read it first: “I Am the Black Woman Who Interrupted the Netroots Presidential Town Hall, and This Is Why.”]

On the one hand, one could definitely criticize the protestors’ tactics, as many have done. You can say that interrupting is rude and that discourse should be more respectful, that O’Malley and Sanders are allies of the movement and it’s counterproductive to embarrass them, or that they should have made their point and then sat down so that the audience could hear a rare event they were excited for.

All good points — and all incorrect, for three reasons.

1) I am a straight, cis, well-educated white man, as are many of the others who have criticized these protestors. I have more privilege than almost anyone in the history of the planet. That doesn’t mean my life is easy or that I don’t face real challenges and experience true pain — but it does mean that the system is stacked in my favor. I’m not 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police or twice as likely to be denied a mortgage; there will be generational transfer of wealth; I’m on the healthy side of the pay gap. So here’s the thing — who the hell am I to tell the oppressed, the families of people literally dying in the streets at the hands of the state, how they can and can’t speak out?  
Yes, their tactics could have been better, but to focus on that misses the point entirely. I don’t get to tell them how they can respond to their pain.

2) For voices on the outside, being loud is the only thing that works. People who lead movements with inside-voices rarely effect change. White politicians can demand that all activists, including the black and brown ones, speak to them quietly, but the few don’t get heard by the many if they don’t speak up over the din. That’s why we’ve seen only small progress over the past few decades, and if the oppressed don’t speak out, they’ll continue to suffer without the progress they need.

When we say “Don’t interrupt! Be civil!” We’re saying “Keep doing what you’ve always done,” which means keep getting the same results. No, sitting at a lunch counter and denying that small-business owner the revenue from a white customer, even though that’s illegal, is what gets noticed and starts to shift the culture.

3) Most importantly, the protest WORKED. People are still talking about this event days after the fact. Hillary Clinton put out a forceful statement on black lives matter, which she wouldn’t have otherwise had to do, and we learned things about O’Malley and Sanders that we wouldn’t have from a normal interview.

When asked about systemic racism and black, O’Malley’s reply included “white lives matter.” That told me more about him than answers to ten more questions from Vargas could have possibly done. The Sanders, when asked about an issue he doesn’t usually address, refused to deviate from a limited set of talking points about job creation and free tuition. He sounded like a Bush-era Republican screaming “TAX CUTS!” no matter what the question — never mind that without paying attention to systemic racism, new policies almost inevitably benefit the majority more.

Initially I thought O’Malley’s remarks were worse, but at least he did listen to the protestors while Sanders fumed at them. Then Sanders kept digging his hole deeper by cancelling all meetings for the rest of the day, while O’Malley kept his plans to go on a black radio show and sat through a dressing down, which is not easy to do, and later apologized. You can say he didn’t have a choice, but contrast it to Sanders who took his ball and went home, showing a thin skin, giant ego, and limited issue profile.

You can say the protestors failed in their tactics, but O’Malley and Sanders failed even more. Had the activists not stormed the proceedings, we would have heard Sanders continue to repeat the same talking points over and over no matter what he was asked, we would have continued to hear O’Malley drone on more about his record than his vision, and Clinton would have ignored the event. Oppressed voices were heard.

I don’t have a choice — no matter what I might otherwise think of the tactics, I have to support Tia Oso, Patrisse Cullors, and the voices of #BlackLivesMatter.

Three more articles worth reading about the town hall:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Episcopal Church Embraces Marriage Equality and ALL God's children!

On a vote of 129-26, the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church has approved liturgies for same-sex marriage ceremonies! No blessings - MARRIAGE, the full-on sacrament.

This is WONDERFUL news and I am so proud to be an Episcopalian! The Archbishop of Canterbury in London, who is the titular head of the full Anglican Communion, released this statement:
"At a time of such suffering around the world, he stated that this was a moment for the church to be looking outwards."
I completely agree! Let's look out beyond the pews - to everyone the church has hurt in the past - and do what we can to apologize, heal the wounds, and fight for justice.

Wait, what? That's not what he meant?
"Archbishop Justin Welby said that [the Episcopal Church's decision to recognize marriage equality] will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole."
And what about the refusal to recognize the dignity of ALL God's children? The refusal to treat our brothers and sisters as equals? The bloody violence that leads to against LGBT people in Nigeria, Uganda, and yes, even here on a smaller scale in the United States? Does that all not cause distress for some with ramifications for all, as well?

When the ABC said this: "We continue to mourn with all those who are grieving loved ones and caring for the injured from the terrorist attacks in Sousse, Kuwait and Lyons, and from the racist attacks in Charleston." What about the 1,572 Americans who the FBI says were victims of sexual-orientation hate crimes in 2011? Or the fact that though transgendered people are just 1% of immigration detainees, they are 20% of that population's sexual assault victims? And what about the millions more who simply want - need - to be told they are human too? Should we not mourn, care for, and stand with them, too?

This is not the first time Justin Welby has said such things, and I'm starting to feel a little ashamed to have him as Archbishop of Canterbury. He proclaims the need for unity, yet takes sides in the process - and the side of injustice, at that. But I'm proud of my church. We welcome, include, and love ALL of God's children. God loves YOU!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Sermon on Father's Day, My White Privilege, Charleston, and Racism in America

Delivered at Christ Church Washington (Episcopal) Parish; Washington, DC; 06-21-15. Year B, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Job 38:1-11 • Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41. Audio coming soon to CCWP website.

Happy Father’s Day! Dads, I hope you’ve got a wonderful day planned with the kids, or better yet, that you’ll be rewarded with a rare day alone in your recliner with some of our Brew Crew beer.

It’s also a special day for those of us who are adult children. There can be something very meaningful in sharing old memories with Dad that he didn’t know we had – and it’s great to actually be able pick up the check for once. I like Father’s Day.

But just like Mother’s Day, it can also be hard for some: for those who don’t know their dads, or who might have complicated relationships with them. For those who are having their first Father’s Day without their father or grandfather. Or worst of all, for fathers who have lost their children.

That kind of pain is actually the place where this day has its roots. The very first Father’s Day was in 1908, four hours from here in Fairmont, West Virginia. A terrible coal-mine explosion killed 360 miners and left more than 1,000 children without fathers, so the local Methodist church held a service in honor of fatherhood.

If there is anyone here who feels a twinge of sadness today, you are not alone; this holiday is for you as much as it is for anyone. We all honor your loss and its meaning. I am very sorry.


Unfortunately, there are quite a few people experiencing a Father’s Day like that for the first time today in Charleston, SC.

Eliana and Malana Pinckney have lost their father, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Tywanza Sanders’ joyous reunion with his father and mother following his college graduation was cut tragically short, and they now mourn their baby.

And all over this country, black fathers and mothers have to explain to their children today why they don’t feel safe at church the way I feel safe here now, the way they already don’t feel safe on the playground like Tamir Rice, or walking home from the convenience store like Trayvon Martin.

I’m lucky. That is not the Father’s Day phone call John Empsall and I will have this afternoon. That is my privilege – everyone has troubles, grief, and challenges, but it cannot be denied that white families like mine and black families like the Pinckneys and Sanders face very different challenges, fears, and even realities in today’s America.

And we as Episcopalians who take Baptismal vows to strive for justice and peace and to persevere in resisting evil, we as Christians whose savior was a person of color executed by the state, must respond.

As a country - and as a church - we need to talk about the need for new gun laws and mental health options. But as we discuss those topics, we cannot let them distract us from this one horrible fact: Systemic racism is and has always been alive and well in the United States, and to this day, it has devastating consequences for millions of our brothers and sisters.

The Charleston shooting was a racist hate crime and an act of terror. It brings to mind nothing so much as the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, and comes in a nation where both the media and the state treat white criminals, and white victims, very differently than black criminals and black victims.

I think most of us here already know the data – statistics like, black families are twice as likely to be denied a mortgage, and young white men like me are 21 times less likely to be shot by police than our black counterparts. So I won’t patronize anyone by laying out that case, but I would like to read an extended passage Joshua DuBois wrote this week. DuBois is a black man, a Pentecostal minister, and a former adviser to President Obama. He writes,
"One of [the next] steps [in combating the sickness of unacknowledged bias and white supremacy] has to be White Americans having an honest conversation about White culture. Yes, White culture.

"If that sounds shocking, think about this: how many times have we explicitly asked Black folks to address the ‘problems’ of Black culture, from fatherlessness to violent music to shootings in Chicago? African Americans engage in these conversations regularly. Now it’s time for my White brothers and sisters [to] lead their own conversations as well.
"We need dinner table conversations about how some White children grow up without a racist bone in their body, but others are predisposed to sing songs about [n-words] on a fraternity bus. How does that happen? What is the cause, and what is the solution? White Americans need to drive this dialogue."
This is not the sermon I was expecting to give even just yesterday morning. But DuBois is right – today, every predominately black church in the country is talking about Charleston and racism, every single one, and so every predominantly white church must do the same.

That is especially true for us as Episcopalians. Our denomination, though I love it dearly and it is my identity, has a very flawed racial history – for example, we never actually opposed slavery, and didn’t apologize for that until the 1990s. That makes it all the more imperative that we step up every single time this happens. We cannot claim to be filling our vow to strive for justice if we do not speak of injustice.

Today’s Gospel is an appropriate one for the occasion. All of us have storms in our individual lives – divorce, breakups, the death of a loved one, bad jobs, lay-offs, uncertainty. Collectively, we are also all going through the storm of racism. There is work for us to do – as a church, as individuals – but it begins by acknowledging God’s presence with us in the boat.

To that end, one of my favorite quotes is from a Mississippi theologian and preacher, Tex Sample: “Trouble is the infallible sign of God’s presence. Not because God loves trouble, but because God loves us. So where there is trouble, God comes to be present.”

So the question facing us is, how do we help others find God’s presence during their troubles? How can we be active Christian allies in the ongoing struggles against racism and violence?

I hate to bring up questions and not answers, so I will at least throw out three little ideas.

First, and most simply, go online to http://emanuelamechurch.org/, and if you can, hit the Donate button. $5, $200, whatever.

Second, make that solidarity visible. Find out when DC Ferguson or other organizations are protesting – and if you’re able, go. (In fact, there’s a silent march tonight at 6pm at the African American Civil War Memorial, by the U Street Metro.) And, whether it’s tonight’s march or a future event, if you’re a parent, happy Father’s Day, consider taking your child. I’ve been to a lot of these protests, and I can say that these are safe events – everything is out in public, justice is on everybody’s minds, and at least in downtown DC, the police are used to it. So I’m always happy to see small children there, holding mommy or daddy’s hand and learning. Please, come.

Finally, the most important thing we as mostly white Christians can do is to heed DuBois’ call - to have this conversation, and to have it in public. At coffee hour, at our grill and chills, at work, on Facebook. I know that a recent poll showed 57% of white Americans think we already talk too much about race – but only 18% of black Americans said that, and as the ones who bear the brunt of racism and prejudice, they’re the experts here. If most black Americans under fire say we don’t talk enough about race, I don’t GET to disagree.

That conversation begins by listening to those Black voices who have the lived experience. We must pay attention to faith leaders like Moral Mondays founder Rev. William Barber and Ferguson Pastor Traci Blackmon, and to activists like the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. And without tokenizing them or putting them on the spot, we should definitely listen to the people in our own lives whose days are different than ours when they choose to speak out.

Then, though it’s painful and it’s uncomfortable, we need to ask ourselves how we – I need to ask myself how I – might be advancing a culture of racism without even realizing it. I need to ask, what is white culture, and is the culture at work a mostly white culture? Am I, are we, open to those who are different, and what questions do I ask of which colleagues? What about the culture at church? This is a denomination that is 80% white in a country that certainly isn’t.

I don’t have answers to these questions, but asking them in and of itself is a powerful step we can all take.

More personally – and this is something I failed at just last night – we need to call out friends and loved ones if and when we hear them dehumanize the poor with language like “they’re lazy” or reflexively respond to news stories by calling unarmed victims of police violence “thugs.” Even if we can’t change our friends’ minds, it matters that observers see those words rebutted by Christians like us, especially white Christians who don’t have to speak out.

Pushing back against those sentiments isn’t being political – it is asserting an active, Godly love for the victims of racism by fighting just some of the prejudice they receive from people who look like me - and like most of us.

Like in the Gospel, there is a storm in our lives. We need to follow Christ and proclaim His presence, but that doesn’t mean we can throw up our hands and say He’ll do the hard work for us. It’s up to us to exercise our privilege, join Black Americans in their storm, and show the haters that Jesus is sitting in the storm too.

I probably haven’t said anything new or that you don’t already know, but we each need to be able to tell people that this is the conversation we had in our church had today. It starts with love and respect for those who tell us they are suffering, it continues with dialogue and with listening, and it must culminate with our Godly action.

My bishop in Spokane, my sponsoring bishop for seminary, asked all of us in that diocese to pray the words of St. Francis today, so I'll conclude by saying, let us pray:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we [and the nine in Charleston] are born to eternal life.   

Amen.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Marcus Borg on science and the modern worldview

I was incredibly saddened earlier this week to learn that Marcus Borg has passed away. I met Borg, a great theologian, as an eager high schooler years ago during a weekend of lectures in Spokane, and then his wife preached at my mother's ordination last year. I was more or less a fundamentalist in high school, but it was Borg that put me on a more progressive path after my mom introduced me to his work. That would have eventually happened anyways, but timing and style matter, and I will always be grateful to Marcus Borg. Prayers for his family. Rest in peace, sir, and thank you. You impacted and continue to impact my soul's relationship with the divine in deep and positive ways.
 
One of my own favorite things about Borg is the way he challenged everyone to expand their worldview. He is best known as a scholar of the historic Jesus, which is an approach that can undermine Christian fundamentalism. However, he also challenged those who rely ONLY on history and science. He did not want to detract from those approaches or their findings, only to point out that alone, they are insufficient. They may reveal more truths than any other methods we have, but some truths remain that they cannot reveal. None of us should limit our worldview, for when we do, we limit how much of our own existence we can truly experience or comprehend. Religious of all stripes and secular of a;; stripe, we would all do well to stay open-minded and hold our truths lightly. We need both science and spirituality.

Many of my friends have shared favorite Borg quotes this week; here’s one of mine. It's from one of his chapters in a book he co-wrote with the Rt. Rev. N.T. Wright:

Modernity is dominated by a secular worldview [that] began to emerge…with the birth of modern science. … It sees what is real as the world of matter and energy, space and time; and it sees the universe as a closed system of cause and effect, operating in accord with natural laws. … It reduces truth to factuality, either scientifically verifiable or historically reliable facts. It raises serious doubts about anything that cannot be accommodated within its framework, including common religious phenomena such as prayer…

In my thirties, I became aware of how uncritically, unconsciously, and completely I had accepted the modern worldview. I saw that most cultures throughout human history have seen things differently. I realized that there are well-authenticated experiences that radically transcend what the modern worldview can accommodate. I became aware that the modern worldview is itself a relative cultural construction, the product of a particular era in human intellectual history. Though it is still dominant in Western culture, I am confident that the time is soon coming when it will seem as archaic and quaint… The change in my worldview has made it possible for me once again to take God seriously. I am convinced that the sacred is real. I see reality as far more mysterious than the modern worldview (or any worldview) affirms. I do not know the limits of what is possible with any precision. To be sure, I am reasonably confident that some things never happen, but I am convinced that the modern draws those limits far too narrowly.