Tonight, my church is holding a timely lecture on “The Gospel, Race, and Wealth Inequality” at our Center City Philadelphia Campus (17th and Sansom St). The talk will be given by University of Pennsylvania Professor of Social Work Dr. Amy Castro-Baker.
The event was planned months ago, but one would be hard-pressed to imagine a more appropriate week in which to explore this topic. With the events in Charlottesville this weekend, and the President’s response(s), it’s important to talk about not just the moral and spiritual roots of such division and racism, but to explore its structural rootedness in the very way we structure society and economies.
I don’t know the specific of the talk, or its general direction, but I know Dr. Castro Baker enough to trust her and to know this evening will be challenging, hard, but beneficial to us all. Join us if you can. Here’s the event description: Continue reading
This is a beautiful piece by a friend of mine, Aisha Monique, from my previous church. She is a wonderful spoken word artist who wrote and performed this a couple of months ago as a way of prophetically processing the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, and hwo they fit into the broader narrative of the Black experience in America. I recently found myself watching it again, and I thought I would share.
Like the biblical book of Lamentations, this is a raw cry from the heart wrapped within the rhythm and boundedness of poetry. So grab some coffee and a quiet place and watch this. Let it sink in and sit with it. And most importantly, especially if you are part of the majority culture, just listen.
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion & the Problem of Race in America
by Michael Emerson & Christian Smith
Last night’s book discussion went really well, and it makes me even more excited for this month’s meeting.
For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, I’m excited to have us read an especially timely and important book, Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. The opening lines of the Preface summarize their purpose beautifully:
To learn more about American life, this book examines the role of white evangelicalism in black-white relations. Our argument is that evangelicals desire to end racial division and inequality, and attempt to think and act accordingly. But, in the process, they likely do more to perpetuate the racial divide than they do to tear it down.
In America, we have a problem with race. White Christians, I think, genuinely act in good faith to play a positive role in race relations in America. And yet, they often end up unintentionally exacerbating some of the broader cultural problems that feed into racial injustice.
Last week I led a prayer service of lament at my church for the racial injustice and violence experienced in our country. I put together the below order for the prayer service and it ended up being a helpful expression for us. I wanted to share this with anyone else interested in using it in their own contexts.
Another benefit of this service is that the contemporary prayers below are not mine or any other white males, but were written by women of color and slightly modified for our context. I hope this acts as a helpful outlet to give voice to our hearts as brothers and sisters.
Encourage other voices that are not typically heard at your church to read the Scripture sections. In the times of silence, encourage open prayer from those sitting in the pews. Allow space for up to 5-10 minutes of silence, and be sure to let people know beforehand to expect such long silence.
The past few weeks (heck, the past several years) have exposed so many fissures in the fabric of American society. It has shown how power, politics, and the invisible structures and systems around us have attempted to paper over real divisions that still remain. Last week, especially, showed us how these divisions can overflow into violence and cut to the core of the American psyche.
And the Christian Church ought to be there to give voice to this pain.
Tonight at 7p at Liberti Church‘s Center City Campus (17th and Sansom St), I will be leading a service of lament for our country, our cities, and our hurting black communities experiencing injustice. There will be time to hear Scripture, reflect, sit in silence, and also offer prayer from those in the pews. We will ask hard questions, sit in the pain, and not settle for easy answers. It is open to the public and all are welcome, no matter your religion, political persuasion, or personal opinion in this national discussion. I hope to see you there.
[image credit: photo from the Intersect Blog]
“I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you’re anything like me, your social media feed is overwhelmed by chatter about Baltimore and the ensuing unrest after the death of yet another unarmed black man, Freddie Gray, at the hands of police. I have my own thoughts, emotions, and passions in all of this (some of which I’ve talked about before), but at the end of the day I’m still a white man–there’s only so much I can speak to these issues.
With that in mind, I want to offer the voices of others in some of the most thought-provoking pieces I’ve read the past few days (in both good and bad ways). I hope this offers context, understanding, and perspective, stretching our minds and getting us thinking (and hopefully talking) in ways we perhaps have not been. Add links to any of your favorite pieces in the comments below.
“Nonviolence as Compliance” | The Atlantic
“When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself…. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”
“David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish” | The Marshall Project
“[How to fix Baltimore?] We end the drug war. I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the fucking drug war [that’s destroying] police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community…”
(This is the best summary I’ve read on the context of what’s going on. But it’s long. If it’s too long for you, The Washington Post has a brief summary.)
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
When my phone started blowing up with notifications about the Ferguson grand jury decision, I was in a daze. I grabbed my pipe, poured the biggest single glass of whiskey I’ve ever had, and sat in my backyard in tears, alternating between retweeting others’ comments on the case and just staring at the sky. I watched and heard the helicopters above as they watched the Philadelphia protests below, mere blocks from my house.
I think part of my response was because of where my mind had been in the days leading up to the decision.
I recently pored over Cornel West’s biography and watched 12 Years a Slave. As the weather has gotten colder, the city’s marginalized and homeless have become more noticeable. An organization whose heart is in the right place, and who I otherwise love, put out some promotional materials that unintentionally showcased the degree to which racism and power structures are so ingrained and so unconscious. Last Sunday, I watched as Rudy Giuliani went shockingly racist on Meet The Press (what he said is wrong, by the way). For school, I watched a presentation on the Civil Right’s movement, and also read King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
And then the grand jury came back. No indictment.
This 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.
If you know who Cornel West is, I’m pretty confident in saying that what you think you know about him is probably wrong, or at best, dramatically incomplete. If you don’t know who he is, then you should.
For my current class on Leadership, I had to pick an autobiography of a leader whose perspective on faith and life is probably dramatically different than my own. The book I chose was Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud.
My own anxiety and compulsivity make it difficult for me to read for long stretches of time. I can usually only read one thing for ten or fifteen minutes before having to bounce my mind to something else or change up what I’m reading. But, due to my own procrastination and inefficiency with time, I came to the day before my paper was due not having opened up the nearly-300-page tome.
And so I did what needed to be done. I left my electronics at home and brought nothing but the book to a nearby Starbucks. I got a cup of coffee, turned on a Jazz radio station on my phone, settled into a couch, and read the entire thing.
I 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?
Donald Miller put up another post sort of talking more about his church attendance thoughts, this time talking about how the doctrine of the “priesthood of believers” means he does sacraments on his own and whenever he wants because God has given us all “agency” in this world to do that kind of stuff. He longs that pastors would empower their people to feel free to do these sort of things as well.
I made my thoughts clear last week about how wrong I think he is on this stuff (especially so with the sacraments. He even says he does baptisms for other people even though he himself has never been baptized). I won’t rehash that here. I did want to bring up one thing I noticed in his other posts that was more explicit in this last post. He writes:
To be fair, I’m wired a bit differently. I’m creative and I’m a risk taker. I realize a mistake I often make in my writing is assuming people are wired the way I’m wired. They aren’t. Most people are looking to “do it right” and play by the rules. This saves them from the trouble I often find myself in.
I can’t get past the the feeling here that Miller is saying that “most people” (read: “those that go to church”) at least primarily go to church because they want to “do it right” and “play by the rules”; that not going to church is an act of freedom, while those that still go are bound by something Miller thinks he has freed himself from. It’s not that he necessarily thinks he’s “better” than others, but I fear he makes a dangerous division within the Body of Christ between himself and “most people”.