Virtue Signaling?

17 06 2020

Most people who know me well know that I hate attention! In spite of my job — standing before a crowd of people in worship, week after week, daring to think that I have something worthwhile to share — I do not like being the center of attention. It makes me extremely uncomfortable, and I am usually quick to try and deflect the stares.

But when it comes to racism, and issues of White supremacy and fragility, one of the best things we White people can do is point to ourselves. We need to learn to tell our stories; and not for attention, or to point out how virtuous we are, but so that we might begin to take a critical look at our lives in order to do a better job of recognizing our UN-anti-racist ways.

So, here’s the most recent story from my own life.

I live in a wonderful townhouse community in Northern Virginia, and outside our front door is a small, woody area with way too many trees! It was probably beautiful when the neighborhood was first landscaped 13 years ago, but today everything is too big and overgrown. So I decided to do something about it. My wife asked the president of our Home Owners’ Association if I could remove some of the dead branches on the bottoms of the trees, and he was quick to say “Sure! Go for it! It’s nice to know that someone is interested in the appearance of our property!”

So early one Saturday morning, I grabbed my retractable saw and hedge clippers, put on my Crocs, and began pruning! There were a total of 9 trees, and I trimmed up about 8 feet on 7 of them and removed 2 dead ones altogether. I love working outdoors, and I miss the landscaping that I always did when my wife and I owned our own home. So the work was enjoyable, and I went about it with great enthusiasm.

But as I chopped away, I realized how suspicious I probably looked. I was still in the shorts and t-shirt that I had slept in, and it was clear I had not been hired to do this job. So what would my neighbors think if they saw me?

But then I realized that most likely, none of my neighbors would ever dare to say anything to me about what I was doing. Why? Because I’m a White man! And as a White man in a relatively diverse community, I have the ‘privilege’ of being able to do just about whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. Chances are pretty good that no one would ever question or challenge me. That, in fact, is what White privilege is all about! It’s the ability to do almost anything, without giving it a second thought, knowing that non-White people aren’t going to challenge us, simply because . . . we’re White.

So for the 90 minutes that I was out there, I reflected on this realization, and was actually quite proud of myself for being so . . . woke! All of my reading and reflecting were paying off. I had spotted my privilege and now was well on my way toward becoming a true ally and a real ‘anti-racist.’ And, for the past three weeks, as protests have taken place around our nation’s capital, I’ve put on my clerical collar, marched with my “Black Lives Matter” sign, and patted myself on the back as I’ve engaged with other protesters, and talked with the news media about Christ-followers needing to stand up for and with people of color.

But last week, on my way to work, I came to another realization. And that realization is still saddening me today. For some reason I was once again reflecting on my experience with the trees, and I began wondering what I would have done if I had seen the young Black man who lives across from me, outside, early one Saturday morning, in his crocs and pajamas, chopping down the trees in front of my townhouse?

Unfortunately, I didn’t have to think too long about my response to that question. I have never been afraid to speak up when I need to; and writing letters and sending emails that hold others accountable to MY standards and expectations are things that come relatively easy to me. So there is no doubt how I would have responded to a person of color cutting down MY trees! And my response broke my heart!

Like so many people today, my heart has been heavy for weeks now. But this time, it was not because of what so many of my White siblings are doing to my Black siblings. No! This time my heart was breaking because of what I know that I am doing to my Black siblings . . . way too often, and often without even knowing it. And as this realization settled in, it brought lament to my soul, and repentance to my heart.

Now why do I share all of this? Because again, we White people MUST tell our stories — disturbing though they may be. And we do so not looking for sympathy from our Black friends. We know you are dealing with enough these days; and the tears that we cry cannot even begin to compare to the rivers that you have cried over the past 401 years. Rather, we tell these stories as a form of confession, as a sign of our commitment to learning, and growing, and changing! And we tell them to let our White friends know that we all struggle with the implicit bias that comes with American racism, and that we all need to wake up to it. Because until we learn to spot it, and name it, we will never overcome it, and we will never change it.

In the end, being the change we wish to see in the world today really does begin with us. It begins with me. So now, whenever I look at the pruned trees outside my living room windows, I need to be reminded of my racist ways; and I need to allow my love for my Black and Brown neighbors to force me to reject any sense of supremacy that may lurk in my heart, and to use my privilege to help build a more equitable and just world for all of us.

And we who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ don’t do this because we want to draw attention to ourselves, or because we want to in any way signal our virtue. We do this because we are members of the human race – the only race that matters . . . the only race there really is.

No More Apologies

11 06 2020

Ok, it’s confession time.

I am NOT sorry that you’re tired of hearing about racism from the pulpit. I am NOT sorry that you think that race is too political for the Church; and I am NOT sorry that your privileged ego makes it difficult for you to see a relationship between America’s racist ways and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m not even sorry that you are offended by the subject of White Supremacy, or that talking about White Privilege hurts your feelings.

I’m not sorry for any of those things. Because every time we pastors apologize for our attempts to make racism one of the Church’s most important talking points, we are not so subtly condoning the belief that dealing with race in the faith community is optional. It is as though we are giving people permission to choose NOT to address this evil that has been plaguing our nation for the past 401 years. And we imply that peoples’ fragile feelings have the power to dictate what is or is not addressed by Christ’s body in the world today. And none of that is right, or helpful.

We in the Church can debate the various theories of the atonement or the efficacy of prayer for as long as we want. But when it comes to the Church’s complicity in American racism, and the intersectionality of race and faith, there is nothing to debate. Christians have used a warped understanding of evangelism and mission to justify the colonization of nations and people for generations. We have misused Scripture to support the institution of slavery and the separation of the races; and to this very day, many in the American Church continue to embrace a form of Christian nationalism that regards America as not just a ‘city on a hill’, but a gleaming WHITE city on a hill. Black and Brown people may be tolerated, perhaps accommodated, but they never embraced or included as siblings in the great human family.

So no, I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry that church small groups are being encouraged to read “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” and that parents are reading “Raising White Kids: Bringing up children in a racially unjust America.” I’m not sorry Adult Sunday School classes are studying the Belhar Confession in an attempt to grow their understanding of racism in the Church and around the world. And I’m not sorry that youth groups are watching “The Hate U Give” or “Dear White People.” Churches need to be doing all of this and more, and we do not need to apologize for any of it.

If your church is doing any of these things, and your pastor is preaching about any of these things, sit down and listen. And stop complaining! You are right where you need to be, hearing what you need to hear, and being called to the life to which we all need to be called.

If your church is NOT doing these things, and your pastor is NOT preaching these things, then you need to get up and find a new church. Find a place that is not afraid to tackle these challenging and difficult issues, and then get involved. Read, study, listen, learn, and then discover how to best become an agent of change.

The message of that dark-skinned man, lynched on a cross 2000 years ago, is still today, calling us to boldly proclaim that Black Lives Matter, and that where there is no justice there will be no peace . . . not in the world, and not in the Church. So pastors, if that’s what you’re doing, stop apologizing. It’s what we’ve been called to do, and no apologies are needed.

Leadership Matters

1 06 2020

Today, America needs some leadership!  

As our world continues to address the the COVID-19 pandemic, and our nation struggles with the consequences of racism and White supremacy, the American people are longing for leadership.  Foreign policy issues may have a role in issues related to the coronavirus, and economic disparity may be one of the factors behind the race riots taking place in cities from New York, to Minneapolis, to Los Angeles; but today, America does not need a diplomat, nor a businessperson.  America needs a leader.  

Today, no one is thinking about the make-up of the Supreme Court. No one’s really interested the Stock Market or the Dow Jones.  And for week’s now, I haven’t heard any talk about abortion rights or America’s immigration problem.  

Today, these issues are all secondary; because American greatness is being overshadowed by anger and violence, rioting and looting, chaos and anarchy.  And why?  Because we do not have a leader.  America does not have a knowledgeable, informed, articulate, leader sitting in the White House; and anyone who has not felt the effects of that absence for the past 3 1/2 years, surely, is feeling it today!

Is the current state of affairs in America the fault of Donald Trump? 

Does it really matter?

Anyone worthy of the presidency should be able to offer the American people at least a modicum of hope in difficult days.  But Donald Trump is not a leader.  He never has been, and he never will be. 

So take note America! This is why character matters.  This is why integrity matters. This is why intelligence, wisdom, truthfulness, humility, kindness, and compassion matter.  We do not need a president who sits in a bunker in the White House, Tweeting away incendiary, divisive, and childish nonsense. We need a president who can lead. We need a president who can motive us to our better selves, and who can inspire us to continue to build a nation where “liberty and justice for all” is not just a nationalistic reelection slogan, but a goal to which we are all seeking to aspire. We need a president who reads, and who is continually seeking to learn, and grow, and who longs to be more than a mere figure-head who is blindly worshipped.

America needs a president who can lead; and who is seeking to lead all of us. So remember that in November. Leadership matters. And Donald Trump is not a leader. He is not the kind of president America deserves. And he is certainly not the kind president America needs . . . not today . . . not ever!