The Last Great Presidential Speech on Race in America


lyndon-johnson-howard-university-2

We all know there’s been a lot of things written, said, and otherwise expressed on race these past months. As I wrote last week, I’ve been frustrated with White America and their response in this. I’ve been looking for something to encourage me in this. It’s been hard to find it in our present, but I think I may have found a little light from our past.

I recently came across President Lyndon John’s 1965 Commencement Speech for Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. In it he says everything that I feel White America needs to hear. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard a President speak like this–much less a white one. He is blunt, clear, poetic, and offers a vision of hope and real progress in moving forward.

The sad part is that, yes, these words are still just as applicable today as then. The good news, though, is that we can still learn from them. And so, here is video of the speech in its entirety, followed by some of my favorite excerpts. Please listen, read, and reflect. [FULL TEXT] Continue reading

Sins of Our (White) Fathers: We Still Don’t Get It


robert-motherwell-elegy-spanish-republicThis weekend, I finally watched Steve McQueen’s  Twelve Years a Slave. Yes, I’m over-dramatic as a general rule, but I can’t remember the last time I cried like that (actually, it was probably after I saw McQueen’s last movie, Shame).

The brutal reality of the film combined with the knowledge that this wasn’t hypothetical–this was real–broke me. Further, it wasn’t just real for this one man, but for our entire nation. The brokenness, evil, and callousness of it all was staggering.

And we’re still doing it today.

No, I’m not exaggerating. The effects of slavery in this country are still absolutely tangible, apparent, and real. And frankly, too many of us don’t give a damn.

There are still people alive today that knew slaves when they were younger. That’s how recent this whole thing was. And yet, we’ve done to racism what we’ve done to every other thing we should engage with meaningfully but don’t–we’ve privatized and individualized it. We’ve redefined “racism” to mean harboring active, conscious, discriminatory thoughts and feelings towards someone of another race.

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What the Supreme Court on Gay Marriage can tell us about ISIS


isis-flag-iraq

U.S. foreign policy as it pertains to ISIS should reflect the reality of what ISIS is: a social movement for which the best course for absolute defeat is a “bottom-up” approach, rather than just “top-down”.

On Monday, the Supreme Court gave a shocking decision to not rule on gay marriage decisions in five states. Some could see this as a defeat for gay marriage, prolonging the costs and time it takes to move the process forward state-by-state.

On the other hand, though, most commentators and gay marriage proponents saw this as giving tacit approval to gay marriage by the Court. And in fact, this does seem to be the case. Unlike most other Supreme Court decisions, it doesn’t take a majority for the Court to agree to hear a case–it only takes four votes. This means that at least a super-majority of the justices did not feel the need to provide oversight to the decisions.

And this is important to remember. The Supreme Court is not intended to be a court in the usual sense. It is an appeals court. It oversees the federal appeals courts’ decisions and only acts when they think the appeals courts are either contradicting one another or are going in an extremely wrong direction. In other words, they are there to clarify when there’s ambiguity, not create out of thin air.
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On #Ferguson: Why Police & Military Should Be Different [QUOTE]


ferguson-military-policeEver since the police in Ferguson, Missouri brought out their military gear in response to peaceful protests after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, there has been a new conversation about the increasingly blurred lines between the police and the military. I have very good friends that cannot seem to understand why there needs to be any distinction. Force is force, right? Well, in my reading recently, I came across this relevant quote I thought I’d share:

The distinction made here between police and war is not simply a matter of the degree to which the appeal to force, goes, the number of persons killed or killing. It is a structural and profound difference in the sociological meaning of the appeal to force.
In the police function, the violence or threat thereof is applied only to the offending party. The use of violence by the agent of the police is subject to review by higher authorities. The police officer applies power within the limits of a state whose legislation even the criminal knows to be applicable to him. In any orderly police system there are serious safeguards to keep the violence of the police from being applied in a wholesale way against the innocent. The police power generally is great enough to overwhelm that of the individual offender so that any resistance on the offender’s part is pointless.

In all of these respects, war is structurally different. The doctrine of the “just war” is an effort to extend into the realm of war the logic of the limited violence of police authority–but not a very successful one. There is some logic to the “just war” pattern of thought but very little realism.

–John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

In short, you shouldn’t appeal to policing tactics to justify military force, and you shouldn’t use military tactics in policing.

[photo credit: Whitney Curtis for the New York Times]

A Baby Step Against My Latent Racism (And Maybe Yours?)


client-coffee-hands-bwI know, I know. One of the worst types of writing there is in the world is a white person writing about their discovery that they are privileged and this is deeply engrained. I know. This post isn’t that, I promise. Just stay with me for a little bit.

Having worked in social work for a little over five years now, I’ve grown in my understanding that racism is about a whole lot more than individuals feeling an active, conscious dislike of someone just because of their race. It’s structural, cultural, political, economic, and systemic.

(Still, I’ve really missed this at times, and old habits and ways of thinking die hard. I’m really, really sorry for that.)

Recently, I had the honor to speak at one of my church’s ministries for those in homelessness. Afterward, I walked around saying hello to the almost-exclusively black crowd there. As I made eye contact with different people, I would offer a smile to them and give them as warm of a look as I could. I did really feel a genuine warmth and love for this group.

And yet, I started feeling this…thing…within me. As I gave my smiles away to the crowd, I realized that this was a problem. I was giving my smiles to them. Something in me felt as if I, as a privileged white male, was “serving” these people by “granting” or “bestowing” upon them affection. Does this make sense? Do you see the problem?
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A Sermon I Got to Preach on Isaiah 61 [VIDEO]


Believe it or not, I don’t really have much experience at all in preaching. Yeah, I’ve spoken and “preached” at some things, but I’ve still never offered the preached proclamation at a Sunday worship service. It’s an area I’ve wanted to grow in for a while.

To that end, I took a preaching class last semester for my seminary program. It was a powerful course that changed my whole relationship to both the Bible and the act of preaching. Each of us wrote and presented a sermon on an assigned text. The sermons were recorded, and I’m offering mine here today. It opens with some brief words on the context I had in mind when preparing this.

I hope it meets you and speaks to you, wherever you are. The video is above, the text and my manuscript are below. You can also download files for both the audio or the manuscript.

Special thanks also to an old friend, J. Chord Barnes of ASERWorks Media, for fixing some audio issues in the original recording and remastering it for me. Check him out at the link above. Continue reading

Tender words for a terrified father | Mark 5.35-36


While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Mark 5:35-36

Jesus first offers comforting words to this father. He doesn’t put down his lack of faith, as he does with the disciples on the boat in the previous chapter, nor does he brag of his own authority to raise the dead. Instead, Jesus simply gives him a call not to fear, only to trust. What sensitive, heartfelt, loving words these are.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

#Marginalia Weekly Round-Up #6 [Catch-Up]


After a long break, we’re back with this part of the site. Here’s a little catch up list of where we’ve been since we last posted about this.

Marginalia is a section of this blog dedicated to (mostly) short reflections, meditations, questions, and difficulties I have while going through my Bible reading plan. I’m still trying to figure out the best pace at which to post these, so be patient with me. To aid in helping people engage with these posts, every weekend I post a round-up of all of Marginalia posts that appeared during that week. This list is in biblical canonical order.

Job

Job, God, & Satan (Can I get some help from the scholar’s out there?)| Job 1.6-7
God, Social Justice, & Social Welfare | Job 5.15-16
Fragments from a speech by Job| Selections of Job 6 & 7
Job’s Friends are Right! Job’s Friends are Wrong.| Job 8.5-7,20-22
In a sense, God CAN’T favor the righteous| Job 9.1-4

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Righteous Works; Wicked People | Romans 6.20


When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Romans 6.20

those that are not Christians can still do righteousness. But when they do it, it is from a place that is not there essence. I can’t think of an analogy right now. But, they are free to do righteous sings even though they are not considered righteous people. Is that a good way to put it?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

In a sense, God CAN’T favor the righteous| Job 9.1-4


Then Job answered:

“Indeed I know that this is so;
but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?—
Job 9.1-4

It seems here that Job is no longer clinging to his earlier idea that he is indeed righteous and pure. Instead, he is admitting that his friend is correct: he is sinful and has done wrong things. But, he also points out that God is not a God that would insist that every single little sin and wrong-doing be brought to mind and confessed before relating favorably towards someone.

Job is saying that people are too sinful for God to structure the world in such a way that the righteous are related to in one way and the wicked in another, because everyone belongs fully in that latter camp. There can only be two sets of rules if there are two teams playing the game.

He is in effect saying what Paul says in Romans 3, that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, therefore there is no distinction among people. Ironically, then, Job’s defense here is not necessarily the he is righteous, but rather that he is far too messed up for his friends’ version of reality to be right.

Also of note, the rest of this chapter is more or less Job proclaiming the very things that God uses to rebuke him at the end of the book. Job really does seem to know this stuff.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Job’s Friends are Right! Job’s Friends are Wrong.| Job 8.5-7,20-22


If you will seek God
and make supplication to the Almighty,
if you are pure and upright,
surely then he will rouse himself for you
and restore to you your rightful place.
Though your beginning was small,
your latter days will be very great.
Job 8:5-7

We mock Job’s friends, but what this guy says here is exactly what happens at the end of the book! Its practical, prophetic, and foreshadowing the end. We need to cut these guys a break.

“See, God will not reject a blameless person,
nor take the hand of evildoers.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,
and your lips with shouts of joy.
Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
and the tent of the wicked will be no more.”
Job 8.20-22

Okay, though I defended this guy earlier, this here is BS.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Does Paul Not Believe in Original Sin? | Romans 7.9-11


I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Romans 7.9-11

Hmm…is it just me, or does this does seem to go against the idea of Original Sin? It sounds like Paul is saying that he was born in purity and “alive-ness”, and it was only later that the law killed him. He does not seem to be saying here that he thinks he was born in death (yes, yes, I know Ephesians says otherwise, but I’m trying to stick to the text in question!)

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Does St. Paul Believe in a Hell that Saves? | 1 Corinthians 3.10-17


According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3.10-17

Part of the problem with how we talk about Hell is the confusing diversity of images and language used to talk about it in the Bible. This is true here.

I don’t want to read too much into this few words, but at least in the first part, Paul seems to be saying that what gets burned in the fires of judgment are more the works of someone than the person themselves. In fact, it seems that the wicked come out the other side of the fire “saved”, with all their useless works and such having been burned away.

But then, the next section clearly says that God destroys “that person” (not just their works). But because it comes right after the statement of the person being saved by their wicked works being burned away, I wonder if this isn’t Paul saying, “yeah, that refining, restorative, salvific fire I just talked about? God will take each person through that destruction–the one that saves.”

Man, the more I’m on the lookout to see any universalistic statements by Paul, the more I’m starting to see things that could definitely be taken that way.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Should Protestantism Still Be a Thing?


Roger-Smith-cc-rosary-bibleFor years now, I have described my place in the Christian family as a “Protesting Catholic“. I love Catholicism (by the way, Orthodoxy, I’m so sorry you are so frequently left out of these discussions–I’m as guilty of doing this as any). I love the entire Church family, in fact, and I can’t think of a tradition from which I have not benefited greatly from it nuancing, sharpening, refining, or deepening my theological thinking in some way. A friend posted this interview with Stanley Hauerwas, on his new book on the “end times”. It’s a brief interview with some nice quotes and sentiments from the elder public theologian, but this set of lines particularly caught my eye:

My suggestion [that Protestantism may be coming to an end] is meant to be a reminder that Protestantism is a reform movement. When it becomes an end in itself it becomes unintelligible to itself. Protestants who don’t long for Christian unity are not Protestant. There is also the ongoing problem that Catholics have responded to the Protestant critique in a way that the Protestant critique no longer makes much sense. Accordingly, the question is: why do we continue to be kept apart?

I wholeheartedly agree with Hauerwas about the heart of Protestantism and how it should long for unity and, eventually and hopefully, end. So why is Protestantism still a thing I embrace? Why am I not fleeing to Rome, to our Mother Church? Let me offer a few words. Continue reading