A Revelatory Vote

2 11 2020

Her words were important!

Regardless of your thoughts about her husband, Michelle Obama has more kindness, compassion, wisdom, and grace, than most should even dare to expect from a First Lady. And her speech at the 2020 Democratic Convention, while more political than ever, needed to be heard.   

“Being president doesn’t change who you are,” she said, “it reveals who you are. (And . . . ) a presidential election can reveal who WE are too!” 

After four year’s of suffering through the presidency of 45, I am more convinced than ever that tomorrow’s election is more about who we are, than who he is! So what will the results reveal? Who are we? Who am I? Who are you?

My vehement and vocal opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump has little to do with politics. And for the past four years, my concerns have not been about partisan party platforms, nor about anything having to do with what it means to be either a Republican or a Democrat. Rather, my concerns have all been about those things that define the character of our nation and our people. For this is where the 45th President has fallen so egregiously short; and this is one of the reasons tomorrow’s election is so important. Because in the words of Michelle Obama, it will reveal volumes about who exactly we are as Americans!

Are we people who truly believe that all lives manner, which must therefore include the lives of our Black siblings, and our Muslim siblings, and our immigrant siblings; or are their lives not important because they may not look, believe, or think as we do?

Are we a people who know how to support our police officers, while at the same time recognizing the justifiable outrage that comes when innocent Black men continue to be violently killed on the streets of our cities by those who are supposed to protect us?

Are we a people who truly value life; and not just the lives of the pre-born, but the lives of all children, including those on the border and those living in poverty, those with no health care and those struggling with their sexual identity?

Are we a people who seek to treat everyone – women, fallen members of the military, and even our fiercest enemies – with dignity and respect, regardless of whether or not they like us, or always agree with us?

Are we a people who value truth and science, who embrace knowledge and wisdom, and who reject hate-speech and fear-mongering?

Are we a people who remember the lessons we learned in kindergarten – that we don’t call people names, that sometimes we say ‘I’m sorry!’, and that playing nicely and learning to get along is not a sign of weakness?

And are we a people who value those aspects of American life that always have been and that always will be truly great; but who also realize that like every nation, we are far from perfect, and that the American story is no more exceptional than the story of any other people or nation?

Friends, these days, too many of us appear to be living with our eyes wide shut! For generations – from Seneca, to Selma, to Stonewall – Americans have sought to proclaim a vision of what is right and just, and to move our nation in that direction. And while we’ve not always succeeded, we have not given up on that vision. In the words of civil rights icon Ruby Sales, there have always been Americans who have known that our collective future depends not upon our ‘i-sight’, but upon our ‘we-sight’! Sadly, however, many appear to be blind to what has been happening in our nation over the past four years. The common good, as well as our common humanity, have been forgotten; and today, most of us are just exhausted.

Needless to say, the time has come for it all to end!

Our nation is longing for champions of “freedom and justice for ALL.” Our country is begging for patriots dreaming of a nation where people are “judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Where have all the good people gone – the people who are not afraid to be kind, and caring, and compassionate; people who are not fearful of knowledge, education, and wisdom? Where are all the good people who once touted the importance of ‘family values’, and ‘a thousand points of light’? Where is the ‘kinder, gentler nation’ that Republican’s used to talk about; the ‘compassionate conservatism’ that once was the hallmark of the GOP? Could it be that what we actually need today is fewer Americans seeking to make America great again, and more great Americans seeking to make America good again?

Yes, tomorrow’s vote will be one of the most revelatory votes of my lifetime. Who are we America? Once again, it’s time to decide. Please don’t let me down! For the sake of all that is right, and holy, and good, let’s not let one another down . . . again!

Deplorable? Hmmm!

20 10 2020

It was an inappropriate comment! Hillary Clinton’s calling half of Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables” was so much more than a regrettable comment. That kind of language, particularly from a presidential candidate, must always be condemned. If we didn’t learn it in kindergarten, then surely the last four years have taught us that words matter, and that name-calling never enhances communication nor encourages understanding between segments of the population that are at odds with one another. Hillary’s justifiable attempt to call out the racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic portions of the “MAGA” community was lost, all because she did so in such an offensive way.

As a follower of Jesus I believe that no one is deplorable! In the eyes of God no PERSON is ‘deserving of condemnation,’ which is actually what ‘deplorable’ means! But actions? At times actions MUST be condemned. And today, four years after Hillary made that claim against Donald Trump’s supporters, their actions must declared to be nothing less than deplorable. And even that, is putting it mildly!

For almost four years now we have had a president who has done nothing but attempt to monopolize the news-cycle with anything and everything that would draw attention to himself. Fact-checkers of every ilk have revealed a pattern of daily lying, and leaders of both political parties have expressed concerns about his ineptitude. He continues to stoke the worst sides of American culture: White privilege, patriarchy, Islamophobia, homophobia, selfish consumerism and narcissistic consumptionism. And he reveals his lack of character and integrity whenever he opens his mouth! His attitude and behavior are far too often, nothing less than deplorable.

Needless to say, continuing to support this man, after four years of him revealing who many of us have known him to be, is also deplorable! Sacrificing the office of the Presidency by putting such a poor example of what it means to be an American in the White House, because of some naïve attempt to turn back the clock on Roe v. Wade, as if the will of the vast majority of Americans regarding a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body, is deplorable! Continuing to selfishly support a man simply because of a concern for one’s own stock portfolio, or individual IRA or 401K, is also deplorable. And lest anyone reading this might possibly be a subscriber to the nonsense called Qanon, the belief that Donald Trump might be about some kind of grand scheme that could bring about good for anyone but himself is not just ignorant, but it too is deplorable. But most tragically, for anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, refusing to acknowledge the mockery he has made of the Christian faith, and believing that one can, or should, ever overlook a person’s unGodly character, simply because we think they might further our political agendas, is . . . yes, deplorable. It is like getting into bed with the devil, and such action must always be condemned.

Failing to hold Donald Trump accountable for his failure to defend the constitution – with regard to voting rights, freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protests, and standing up to enemies both foreign and domestic — including Russia and White Pseudo-Supremacy — is deplorable.

Refusing to acknowledge his ignorance on the world stage, his marring of America’s reputation in international settings, and his failure to renounce the world’s most abusive and oppressive dictators, is deplorable!

Accepting his manipulative ways when it comes to disingenuous support for the military and military families, for religious freedom, and for the BIPOC community, is both ignorant AND deplorable.

And accepting his inexperienced, inept, and ill-informed leadership, as well as that of so many of his appointees, in so many important areas of American governance, is deplorable.

Over the past four years I have worked hard to try and understand how anyone could have voted for this man. I’ve spoken to his supporters, read countless articles and books, and watched interview after interview with those eager to “make America great again.” Some simply disliked Hillary too much to cast a vote for her. Others rightly thought Trump was the only one who could advance the evangelical part of the conservative agenda. And, like many Democrats who only vote for Democrats, some Republicans were only willing to vote for another Republican. There are all kinds of reasons people voted as they did in 2016, and not all of those reasons were deplorable! Nor were all of the people who voted for Trump.

But if after witnessing this administration’s assault on American life over the past four years, people are still willing to declare an allegiance to Donald Trump, then deplorable is a more than appropriate way to describe the politics of such people. Further, regarding Donald Trump as God’s ambassador, or any kind of Divine gift to America and the world, is nothing short of sin. It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; and like any sin, needs to be acknowledged and confessed.

No! No person is deplorable. But actions are. And this president and his administration have offered up a basket-full of a deplorable actions. As such, is there really any better way to describe any continual and on-going support of him, or his administration? I don’t think so. Deplorable actually sums it up quite well.

Court over Country?

6 10 2020

For four years I’ve listened to many Republicans tell me how much they dislike our current President; and I’ve listened to many Evangelicals make it clear that their support for Donald Trump was not based upon his character, integrity, or Christ-likeness. Many of these people have even embraced with me, as well as with the vast majority of Americans, the belief that Donald Trump was unfit for the presidency; and that his moral, ethical, and character flaws were nothing less than offensive. But these sentiments were always minimized when these people placed them alongside their concern for the future of SCOTUS – the Supreme Court of the United States.

Abortion and immigration laws, freedom of religion and particularly Christian exceptionalism, limited government and free markets – all of these issues are continually making their way to the highest court in our country, and they are issues that rise above any concerns these people may have had about the President’s ignorance and incompetence. Transforming America’s lower courts has been a goal of the Republican Party for years; but now, with a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling the Senate, the opportunity to refashion the Supreme Court was about to become icing on the GOP’s legislative cake.

Well, it now seems as though the Right has succeeded! In a few weeks we will likely have the court they have longed for, and a conservative majority will be established for generations to come. So now, can we please think about something more? Can we now, please, focus on something deeper, something dare I say, even more important? Can we now, please, think about the very nature of our democracy, and the character of country? Please!

First off, we all know that this president is not the brightest bulb in the closet! He doesn’t read, knows little about our constitution or the history of our democracy, and half the time can’t even put together a complete sentence. And while these realities may sound trite to some, he is the President of the United States of America! And there is nothing ‘great’ about ignorance and incompetence.

Second, he has surrounded himself with lawbreakers! No president in our history has had more indictments against advisors and/or friends than Donald Trump. Further, no president in our history has had so many defectors from his ‘team’ than Donald Trump; nor so many defectors who were so quick to write and speak out against him upon their departure. Seeing what they saw, and knowing what they now, has frightened far too many of them . . . so much so that they are now supporting Joe Biden for president.

Third, he and his family are out for no one but themselves. Whether talking about inauguration crowd attendance, portraits of himself that have been purchased for his properties, his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or any of his own bloated accounts of his record as president, Donald Trump is only interested in Donald Trump. Surely you know this, right? And his failure to pay federal income tax, whether through legal means or not, only puts on display for all to see, his disdain for our nation’s goals and our nation’s people!

Fourth, don’t we all also know that the Russians have got to have something on him? There is no way he would continue to coddle Putin unless the threat of personal exposure was being hung over his head. “Golden showers” are likely the least of Donald’s concerns, and his behavior prior to becoming president has compromised his judgement and put American security at risk every single day.

Fifth, and for me most important of all, the character and integrity of this man must be shunned. AND, it forces us to call into question the character and integrity of his supporters. For while deplorable may not be the appropriate word to describe them as a group, it is a more than appropriate word to describe their actions. His vulgar language and misogynistic behavior (including his cheating on all three of his wives!), his blatant racism and refusal to acknowledge the historic racism of our country — they are all signs of a morally bankrupt old man. And the White House is no place for such an individual, and the Cabinet is no place for anyone who would chose to follow him.

Now please notice that I have not even raised any policy issues, for I am well aware that there will never be agreement in this country on so many of the issues that have always divided Republicans and Democrats. But in spite of those differences, we have always been able to come together on issues involving the character of our President and the honor due the office. And sadly, that has not been the case for the past four years because of GOP concerns about the court. And I get that. I even accept that.

But now you’ve got your court. So please, can we return our focus to our country? Can we agree that politics aside, this crude and narcissistic ‘reality TV’ star is in no way deserving of the office he has held for the past four years? Can we at least agree that he certainly not worthy of holding it for another four? Can we put someone in office who will not intentionally stoke division and incivility among the American people, but who will rather work to serve ALL Americans and seek to find common ground upon which we might ALL stand? Can we elect a president who will restore our shattered image around the world, and who can speak and behave in ways that make us proud to call ourselves Americans? Can we please work to ensure that the occupant of the White House knows the difference between strength and arrogance, between compassion and weakness, between convictions and . . . bluster?

You’ve got your court. So please, can we now focus on our country? Because the three-ring circus that has gone on for the past four years has got to end! We’re all tired. And the time has come for all of us, to come together, to build, back, better!

The lynching of Jesus

16 09 2020

“Jesus didn’t so much die FOR the sins of the world, but BECAUSE of the sins of the world!”

I don’t know where I first heard that phrase, but it continues to resonate with my ever-expanding theology of the cross. The life of Jesus was simply too much for the broken system into which he was born, threatening both Rome, as well as the Jewish authorities of his day. His affinity with the poor and his affection for the marginalized were upsetting to an empire that sought to privilege only a select few; and his willingness to expose the hypocrisy of the religious elite was doing harm to the religious nationalism that was central to faith of Israel. His message of love and grace was a threat to the law and order of the Jerusalem power brokers; and his calling out the Scribes and the Pharisees for their hardness of heart was a blasphemous affront to their religious elitism.

All of this put Jesus on the cross. One might even say that each attempt to silence his will and way in this world was a nail that held him there. For that is what sin does. Sin crucifies the Christ: again, and again, and again. Sometimes it does so slowly and subtly, other times more overtly and quite aggressively; but either way, sin always attempts to stop God’s ever-flowing streams of justice and righteousness. It halts, at least temporarily, the bending of the universe’s moral arc, and it hinders the coming of God’s kindom, where God’s will is done “on earth as in heaven.” That is what sin did 2000 years ago when Jesus was physically crucified on a cross, on a hill outside of Jerusalem; and it is what sin continues to do today, in cities and towns all across America!

Every time people of color (who by the way, look far more like Jesus than most White Americans!) are mocked in racist jokes, slandered in racist epitaphs, or belittled in racist slurs, a crown of thorns is placed on the head of Jesus. When young Black men are innocently lynched at the hands of frightened and over-aggressive police officers, or by biased and bigoted vigilantes, nails pierce the hands of Jesus. And every time we White people watch, shake our heads, and wonder why everyone can’t just play by the rules — OUR rules — a nail tears the flesh of Jesus’ feet.

Growing up, this was how I often heard preachers and teachers talk about sin. The sins were very different, but the results were the same. Back then I would be putting a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus if I drank or smoked. The nails were the more serious sins: thinking about sex to much, being promiscuous, or listening to things like Exile’s “I want to kiss you all over.” (One has to wonder if the church’s pre-occupation with sex is why people like Jerry Falwell are so messed up!)

Fortunately, according to this sin narrative, my role in putting Jesus on the cross was minimal. I was a ‘good’ boy! But therein lies the problem. For too long the Church has regarded sin as personal moral failings, and far too often those failings were all about sex — actions, as well as thoughts! And all the while, other failings, particularly those of a more corporate, or systemic nature, were overlooked. People just needed to be ‘good’, and have a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus. And if they did, salvation would be theirs for the taking.

But today, at the risk of overlooking the great variety of sins that plague our world, American racism is crucifying the Christ over and over and over again. Lynching people of color — like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Daniel Prude — perpetuates the lynching of Jesus. And as I rightly learned more than 40 years ago, it’s not just blatant racist acts that crucify Jesus, but racist thoughts as well. Every time we look at a Black person in a hoodie and lock our car doors; and every time we see a group of Black boys coming toward us and cross to the other side of the street; we are crucifying Jesus. Such racist behavior and the attitudes which motivate it, continue to give power to the systemic oppression of people of color, and embolden the purveyors of structures that oppress all those who do not look like me.

All of this is to say that whenever we refuse to embrace the anti-racism of our day: every time we resist the call to name our bias, or fail to use our privilege for those who have been marginalized because of the color of their skin – perhaps even reject our privilege altogether, we participate in the lynching of Jesus. And when we allow the violence of a few protesters to distract us from the cause of the vast majority, who are doing nothing more than peacefully crying out for justice, we pound the nails in to the hands of the Messiah. So the American Church can no longer remain silent on this matter. What we have done to people of color: from the stealing of Native American land, to the internment of the Japanese during WWII, to the systemic oppression of the Black community for 400 plus years, is nothing less than an on-going, continual, and daily lynching of the Christ. And the time has come for it to stop.

Two thousands years ago, on the outskirts of town, Jesus suffered the pain of a cross for three-plus hours. Here in American, from sea to shining sea, people of color have been suffering on the cross of racism for 300-plus years. So when will we White people cry out with the words of Jesus, “it is finished!” “Enough is enough!” “We are not going to do this to our Black siblings any more!”

Naturally, some of us will choose to close our eyes to such sin. Some of us will continue to distract ourselves by denouncing the protesters as dishonoring the flag, or by advancing a form of Christian nationalism that is not willing to push against a brand of ‘law and order’ that only applies to some people. But let’s be clear. When we do, we lynch Jesus again, and again, again! And when the crowds in which we find ourselves cry out that “all lives matter,” we shouldn’t be surprised that those words sound eerily similar to the cry of another crowd.

You remember it! “Crucify him!”

We’re depressed. Here’s why.

3 09 2020

Like many of you, I’ve lived my entire life being quite comfortable with peoples’ differences. My American family has Roman Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Democrats; and my Danish family has Pentecostals and Lutherans, devout Social Democrats and staunch fiscal conservatives. I have friends and colleagues from different countries and backgrounds, all with different tastes in food, music, and clothing. And in the four different churches I have served, I’ve sought to faithfully pastor congregants with differing views on everything from Scripture, to budgets, to the music used in worship.

Many of us have lived lives full of great diversity. And for most, while that diversity has sometimes prompted intense and hard conversations, it has almost always wound up expanding our thinking, broadening our perspective, and enriching our lives. It has made us wiser: more tolerant, more inclusive, and more respectful.

But sadly, four years ago, this all began to change. And that is why today so many of us are so depressed!

Most of us aren’t clinically out of whack (although sometimes it may feel that way!) but there is an ever-present, and at times an all-consuming sadness, that lurks in our souls. And it rises up within us every time we turn on the evening news, read the headlines in the Washington Post and the New York Times, or open our FaceBook newsfeed.

Today, peoples’ differences appear to be greater than ever. But sadly, our differences are not revealing the rich beauty of the world’s diversity. Rather, they are revealing the broken, fearful, and selfish side of humanity; and that reality is destroying our relationships. We see our country being torn apart by a megalomaniac, and that concerns us greatly. But in the midst of his terror, relationships are being destroyed. That is what has counselors and therapists working overtime these days. And that is what has so many of us, so depressed.

Consider some of the differences we’re dealing with today: lies vs. truth, law vs. justice, and politics vs. principle.

First, far too many people we love have chosen to overlook the daily lying of the current administration. They have been willing embrace leaders who don’t just avoid truth-telling, but actually punish truth-tellers. And while every administration plays with the facts, and while both political parties expediently determine what information will or will not be shared with the public, no administration in our lifetime has so boldly lied to the American people the way this administration has. And fact-checkers on both sides of the aisle agree on this. News is not ‘fake’ just because someone in power doesn’t like it. And ‘alternative facts’ are not even a real thing! That such terms have even entered into our vocabulary is depressing.

Second, law and order – a term that was used all the way back in 1962, when Officer Krupke in “West Side Story” sought to deal with the racism of the Jets and the Sharks – continues to distract people from the importance of “liberty and justice for ALL!” So when family and friends, particularly those who claim to be followers of Jesus, cannot spot the INjustice of implicit bias and White privilege, we are rightly concerned. When they are so distracted by what they perceive to be the anarchist and unpatriotic challenging of American values, values that are in fact no way reflective of the nation our Founders sought to establish, we are are rightly disturbed. And all of that is depressing.

And third, when people we care about are so willing to put their political agendas ahead of everything else, including both the very principles that we all believe to be at the heart of this great American experience, values like equity, respect, and the common good; but also the principles lifted up in the Christian Scripture, values like kindness and compassion, goodness and grace – when both of these sets of values are sacrificed for one’s own political agenda, we are stunned and bewildered. One simply cannot overlook the President’s lack of character and integrity solely because we think he has the power to advance our politics. The ends do NOT justify the means; and that so many don’t yet get this, is just depressing.

The current state of American politics is not normal! Lying, not just misinterpreting or misrepresenting facts, but unabashedly lying, is wrong. Always! Ignoring the injustices of this nation that we all love and call home because of some pejorative understanding of law and order, is also wrong. Always! And sacrificing the most basic principles of our democracy and our faith because of some narrow and narcissistic political agenda, is wrong. Always! And when people we love, the people who raised us and the people we thought we knew, embrace such ideologies, depression is actually the least of our concerns.

Never the less, the depression is very real; and that is what so many of us are feeling these days. Depression over relationships strained, relationships tested, and relationships lost.

So to all of you who are depressed, know that you are not alone. I am too! And while at times we may be tempted to think that we simply should have kept our mouths shut . . . remember that silence IS consent. And as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of some, but the silence of others.’ Racist comments, sexist jokes, and religious bigotry, can never be tolerated or accepted; and if we don’t speak out, who will?

You may also be tempted to think that it’s your fault the politics of our day has broken, or perhaps even ended, a relationship. But don’t do that to yourself! Relationships require mutual respect and admiration in order to remain strong. And while they can survive without those two important characteristics, those relationships will never be as strong as when they are present. Losing respect and admiration for another is not your fault. Unfortunately, it’s just life!

Finally, you may also be tempted to think that the burden of restoring the relationship is on you! And it may very well be. But it may not be as well! Remember that just as people change, so too do relationships. And just because we may be grieving what was, doesn’t mean we can, or even should, go back. In fact, when we see people for who they really are, we can never go back. We can continue to love, but we can never go back. And that too is why so many of us are so depressed.

Author and poet Octavia Butler, a wise woman of color who left this world far too soon, at the age of 59 back in 2006, wrote the following: Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

It’s sad when people we don’t know, don’t do this. It’s maddening when people we do know, can’t do this. But it is depressing when people we love, won’t do this!

So hang in there friends. Depression is like grief. It comes, and it goes. We just need to be patient.

Dear Treyvon,

12 08 2020

How does an old White guy like me even begin to write a letter to a young Black teen like you? Eight years ago the worlds in which we lived truly were Black and White, and even if we had an opportunity to meet, our words would have likely been few.

But today my words are many, and I write to apologize. I write to you as a way to lament, to grieve, and to simply let you know how very sorry I am . . . for everything!

Treyvon to this day, it is your murder that continues to motivate so much of my living. You are the reason my life has changed, and the reason I continue to seek to become a better ally to the people of color that God has placed in my life. In loving them, I hope that I am loving you, and even if in just a small way, I pray I am atoning for our nation’s taking of your life. My blindness to your experiences as a Black person in America is the reason you are no longer here. And sadly, that blindness, and the blindness of so many other people like me, has allowed the taking of other Black lives to continue: Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philondo Castille, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the list goes on and on and on.

Your murder, eight and a half years ago this month, on February 26, 2012, came at a point in my life when I had just begun listening to the voices of people who I had long ignored: Black voices, full of pain, anger, frustration, and fear; but at the same time voices full of more kindness, grace, understanding, and even love, than people like me deserve. Those voices helped me begin to explore my blindness, and after your death they forced me to deal with my complicity, and the complicity of my church and my country, in your murder.

I had never been to a protest before, but that night eight years ago, standing on a local college campus, candle burning brightly and tears flowing freely, I remember struggling to make sense of what happened to you. Up until then, my anger had been directed towards your murderer. It was towards a police department that had neglected to take appropriate action and arrest the one who had taken your life; and towards a state that continued to put laws like “stand your ground” on the books, knowing that they would only be used to oppress the already marginalized and oppressed. My anger was towards a nation that allowed guns to be placed in the hands of law-enforcement wannabees with distorted views of ‘law and order’; and towards all those red-necked racists who lived in places like rural Florida.

I couldn’t get your picture out of my mind; and I couldn’t get the words of your mother out of my head. “My son is your son!” she told the world. But while I understood what she was saying, her words weren’t really true for me. They may have been true for other Black parents, but they were never true for White parents like me! My sons were never treated as you were treated. They wore hoodies all the time. Whenever I wanted them to look their best, I would tell them to put on a collared shirt – a demand that they still laugh about today. When they went to school or church I wanted them to look respectable! But that wasn’t because if they didn’t, their lives might be threatened. White people don’t have to worry about those kinds of things. My sons put on hoodies all the time and no one ever thought that made them appear ‘suspicious.’

So I was angry with everyone and everything: people, systems, churches, police departments, politicians, the media, and anyone else I could possibly blame for what happened to you. But looking back, that protest, that vigil that sought to honor your life, began changing things for me. In what I think was less than an hour, all of my anger began to shift. And I now realize that it was being redirected from all those other people and places, to me. I was beginning to see that I was just as responsible for your murder as anyone else; and if anything was ever going to change in this country, I needed to acknowledge that.

I wish I could blame my cluelessness as to what had been happening to Black people in America for so long, on the lack of social media, or even the failure of the news media. But in reality, that wasn’t the problem. I was the problem. I wasn’t paying attention.  I didn’t want to see the racism that was all around me.  I didn’t want to think about the possibility that my own racist thoughts had become so internalize that I couldn’t even recognize them – so natural that I didn’t even know they were there. I thought your death was their fault, not mine.

That’s how bad things were for me. American racism was. . . is . . . so systemic, that I failed to realize that it was in the very air that I was breathing, in the very water that all of us Americans were drinking. My life was saturated with racism and I didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, see it! And while today, eight years later, I’m growing, that doesn’t change the fact that it cost you your life . . . you and millions of other Black men and boys, women and girls. It’s been going on for 400 years, and that reality should haunt every one of us.

So I’m writing to to apologize . . . for everything, but especially for my apathetic indifference to the state of race relations in our country. I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t speak up when someone in my family used inappropriate language when talking about Black people. I’m sorry for all the times I used language born in racist thought and practice, without thinking about what stereotypes I was perpetuating or what inaccuracies I was advancing. I’m sorry I sought an education that was so skewed and biased, so historically inaccurate, and so . . . White. I’m sorry that for so long I ministered in ways that failed to acknowledge America’s original sin, and that I never tackled the subject of racism from the pulpit. And I’m sorry that even now, I still remain unsure of how to either use my privilege to seek change, or appropriately surrender that privilege altogether. I’m so very sorry Treyvon, for all of it.

Rest in peace son. But also, rest in power. Rest in the knowledge that your name is still being spoken, and by people you never knew. Rest in the knowledge that the shortness of your life and the evil of your death have not been forgotten. Rest in the knowledge that whenever I eat a Skittle I am reminded of you, and the life that I need to be pursuing. Rest in both peace and in power, as I and countless other White people, finally being to wake up and learn to better live into the words of Frederick Douglas that your mom shared in the Paramount Network’s documentary on your murder. We’ve all prayed about this stuff long enough. Now it’s time to take action.

In the words of John Lewis, it’s time to seek good trouble!

Your life mattered, Treyvon. Sadly, it mattered more than you will ever know. And this old White guy is grateful for you.

Thank you, and I’m sorry. Love, Bob

America Exposed

4 08 2020

I’m hearing way too many people ask the same frustrating question these days! “If schools in Europe can reopen, why can’t schools in America?”

It’s such an absurd question, born in an arrogant American naivete and exposing a blatant ignorance of how so much of the rest of the world operates. We like to think that the United States is capable of doing whatever any other nation is doing, and probably better! So if Danish schools are capable of reopening, American schools should be as well.

But this is simply not true. And it’s not true because of the saddest part of American exceptionalism: our selfishness! That is what makes America the exception in so many other parts of our world: our selfish individualism. And Donald Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have exposed this embarrassing side of the American persona for all to see.

The great Protestant Work Ethic gave rise to rugged American Individualism long ago; and the Reagan Revolution’s “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality has only modernized and further developed our national identity as a narcissistic and self-centered people. When coupled with American Evangelicalism’s obsession with the personal nature of salvation, we wind up with a populace that is more concerned with me, than us! Individual rights supersede individual responsibilities, and personal liberties transcend the general welfare of everyone. What so much of the world calls civility, we derogatorily call socialism; and while we like to talk about equality, we remain unwilling to have conversations about cultural inequity.

The preamble to our constitution reminds us of the common nature of our national identity. “We” the people, not ‘me’ the people, exalts our commitment to unity and oneness, and seeks to ensconce in the American character a commitment to the safety and security of all people. But under the polarizing leadership of the current administration, and as the corona virus ravages communities around our country, we continue to fall short of this ideal.

Whether talking about everything from the wearing masks and the necessity of vaccines, to calls for ‘law and order’ and a return some distorted sense of American ‘greatness’ — today, we in these United States are anything but united. And we do not want to be. For to be united, truly united, means that we recognize that none of us succeeds unless all of us succeed! It means acknowledging that we ARE our siblings’ keepers. It means that all lives do NOT matter, unless BLACK lives matter. It means that there is no peace if there is no justice. And it means securing the “blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” is for everyone who calls America home, and not just a select, privileged few.

Why can’t we open our schools like they are doing in Europe? Because we’re not Europe! And we have been unwilling to do what most European countries did to keep one another safe. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to wear or where we can go, and we certainly don’t want our lives to be in any way inconvenienced . . . not because of a mere few hundred thousand deaths!

The government has no right to tell us we can’t go to church – because then we’d be forced to deal with the fact that faith is about so much more than ‘going to church,’ and that might require too much of us. The government has no right to give bakers the freedom to tell us we need to wear masks in their bakeries – although it’s perfectly acceptable for those same bakers to tell us they don’t want to serve us if they don’t like the people we marry. And the government definitely has no right to tell us we can’t reopen our schools – because that’s a “justice issue,” and we’re awfully concerned that doing so will too harshly impact the most vulnerable families in our communities . . . the very same families, by the way, whose concerns about living wages, affordable housing, health care have fallen on our deaf ears for years!

This is why we can’t open our schools like they’ve done in Europe! And to selfishly do so, would only be to honor and exalt our selfish motives. Do we really believe that a few more months of home-schooling is going to harm our children’s brains? Do we really believe that our children’s social abilities are going to be thwarted because they are not in school this fall? Even if such nonsense is true, it is selfish to think that the benefits of opening our schools outweigh the risks. Everyone wants schools to open. Everyone wants to get the economy going again. Everyone wants some sense of normalcy to return. But this should only happen safely. COVID-19 it taking peoples’ lives, and dis-proportionally the lives of people of color. So nothing should be more concerting than that!

And yet this is not how we think. We’ve given up on the hard work of “forming a more perfect union.” We offer mere lip-service to our being “ONE nation under God” and fail to understand the meaning of “liberty and justice for ALL!” Our selfish individualism has us thinking only about ourselves: what we want, what is convenience for us, and what will make our individual lives easier.

That’s why we can’t open up our school like they’ve done in Europe. Our national character and identity has been exposed for all the world to see. And we’re selfish. Like our president, we are a selfishly narcissistic and individualistic people.

And it’s as simple as that!

Maligned and Misunderstood Millennials

2 07 2020

Anyone besides me tired of hearing people condemn and criticize millennials?

Every generation has it’s strengths and it’s flaws, and as the father of three millennial children, and the father-in-law to two more, I see a generation that is no better or worse than any other. Never-the-less, while generalizations can be dangerous, when it comes to societal change and the eradication of social ills, I see far more good in the lives of millennials than many people seem willing to admit!

Countless books and articles have been written proclaiming millennials to be the real ‘me’ generation. Among other things, they have been accused of being lazy, entitled, and narcissistic; and I want to challenge all three of those descriptions.

First, there is a difference between being lazy, and simply rejecting most busters’ and boomers’ workaholism and unbridled passion for accumulation and material abundance. All of my children are hard workers, but they also know that they don’t live to work. They work to live! And that realization is an important one. Working hard allows them to play hard, and both are critical to healthy living. As a result, they are enjoying productive, joy-filled, and balanced lives.

Second, I don’t see a sense of entitlement so much as I see a concern for and a commitment to basic human rights. For millennials, it is absurd that in one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on the face of the earth, there is still a debate about whether or not health care should be guaranteed for all people, or whether or not hunger and homelessness are societal evils that need to be eradicated. What some see as entitlement, and still others regard a form of socialism, the millennials I know simply regard so many of the issues being debated today as a matter of basic civility. And the kindness and compassion they seek to display should not be condemned, but rather celebrated! Perhaps it will be the millennials that lift America to that place where our Founders stood, and where so much of the rest of the world already stands: that place of liberty and justice for all.

Finally, and most importantly, millennials appear to be the least narcissistic of the generations that are still around today. More than both boomers and busters, millennials are well able to put themselves in another’s shoes, and to see things from differing perspectives. And this is most evident in the social change that they have been ushering in for the past several years. As the first generation unwilling to place boundaries on who people should be allowed to love and marry, it was the millennials who led the way in changing society’s attitudes towards gay marriage. And while they were certainly standing on the shoulders of several generations of activists that had gone before them, they are the ones who finally led society across the rainbow, into a world that understands “love is love is love!

Further, it appears to be the millennials who are leading society to that place down by the river, where the chariot swings low, and where all people truly shall, overcome! Once again, while people of color have been pursuing justice for 400 years, today that movement is being led by millennials! Perhaps, finally, change is gonna come. And if it does, it will be with millennials leading the way. They appear to have little tolerance for injustice, and are quicker than many of the rest of us, to give up their privilege and power for the sake of others. Almost all of the Black Life Matters organizers are under the age of 40, and they have taken up the mantra and ministry of MLK and the countless other people of color who have gone before them, pursuing a more equitable and just, nation and world.

Millennials have also effectively chipped away at the rigid gender stereotypes that have confined and constrained people for generations; and while gun control appears to be taking a little longer, should common sense restrictions ever be placed upon the Second Amendment, that too will likely be the result of well educated, responsible, and socially active millennials.

So let’s cut our kids some slack! Maybe we’ve done a better job raising them than we think. No, they are not perfect! But the ones I know are more passionate, empathetic, and socially responsible, than some of us will ever be. And maybe, just maybe, they will be able to do for our nation and our world, what we have been unable to do.

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.