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A Conversation About Racism and White Privilege

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Because there just hasn’t been enough about politics in the news recently, I’ve been reading up on potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020. I wondered why people identified Senator Kamala Harris as African American, since her heritage is Jamaican and Indian. Although I had a feeling this was a really stupid question, I nevertheless sent my query to the African American Registry.

File:Kamala Harris Delivers Remarks on 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act 11.jpg

Sure enough, a guy named Ben wrote back simply, “Follow the middle passage.” Too late, I remembered my trip to the Museum of African American History and Culture last year and all I had learned (and forgotten) about the early slave trade: the maps outlining slave ship routes from the African continent to the islands, the pictures of the sugar cane plantations, the whips and shackles and chains. In fact, by the time of the American Revolution, there were close to 200,000 African slaves in Jamaica.

Feeling sheepish and frustrated with myself, I wrote back thanking Ben and asking him to forgive “my ignorant white self.” I am always aware and grateful to people of color who take the time to educate me.

Much to my surprise, Ben wrote back and asked if he could interview me. Turns out he is the director of the Registry, and an important part of his work is educating white people. He said he hoped I could help him “understand whiteness.” I told him I certainly couldn’t speak for all white people, but I’d be happy to help if I could.

Understanding Whiteness

Ben has two main questions:

  1. How much does guilt propel whites to try to step outside their comfort zone in the professional world?
  2. What does it look like to consistently give up one’s racial privilege for a lifetime?

These questions have got me thinking, and I’m looking forward to our interview. Understanding my own history of family racism and privilege has been an important part of my personal and spiritual growth, and was also key to my professional development when I worked on cultural competency and dismantling racism at the Sierra Club. Getting beyond my guilt and shame was essential. 

What really interests me, though, is his second question. I’m not sure that white people *can* give up their privilege. It just is. It is a fact. You can’t take off your skin color. I did nothing to get it, it’s just the way other people and society as a whole view me.

I am aware of it now, and do small things like always letting a person of color walk through a door first or get in line ahead of me or speak first in a meeting. Just to purposely step out of my unwarranted position of privilege. And I work towards racial justice and reconciliation and try to make sure that the groups I work with are not led by white people. But I just don’t think that a person can “give it up.” The trick is to become increasingly conscious of it and to decline it or bring it to light whenever possible.

What do you think? I’d be really interested in your thoughts on either of these questions. These are such important conversations as our nation struggles to confront the resurgence of white supremacy in America today.

I wish you a blessed, just, inclusive, and compassionate new year!

— Image of Senator Kamala Harris from Wikimedia Commons

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I Pledge to Use the Freedoms Protected By Our Veterans

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Thank you to the men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation. Thank you for protecting our rights to kneel during the national anthem, to protest publicly in the streets when we see injustice, and to count every vote in every state in every election.

I personally pledge to take full advantage of my rights as an American. I will not be intimidated, frightened, gaslighted, or exhausted by the president’s efforts to suppress votes, stifle the free press, undercut our justice system, and oppress minorities. I will stand up, I will speak out, I will not be afraid. Thank you to our veterans who have made this freedom possible.

 

 

 

The Real Crisis in America (It’s Not What You Think)

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There are many, many things amiss in America today, and I don’t need to get into them. I am on vacation and refuse to write about gun violence, the state-sanctioned kidnapping and caging of brown children, Supreme Court seats being bought and sold, and the president’s vilification of the free press. Not going there.

Because really, we have a much bigger problem in this nation and indeed the world over. I am ashamed to say I was not aware of this hidden crisis, and you may also be ignorant of the threat.

Thank heavens that Elle Magazine’s latest issue has uncovered this menace, creeping across the faces of women everywhere. Some men may also be at risk.

Here, apparently, is the problem: we were all born with the wrong eyebrows and this is ruining our lives!

Not the complete corporate takeover of our economy, nor the militarization of our police forces, nor the prison-profiteering that has resulted in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world, nor the melting ice caps, the rising flood waters, and monster hurricanes.

Nope. What you need to be losing sleep over is right there in front of your face.

Fortunately, word is getting out. Elle informs us that we are in the midst of “an eyebrow revival.”  Wait, not “an” eyebrow revival, THE eyebrow revival! My mistake. This is because we have “finally realized that structured brows act as frames for your face and give your whole face definition.” So all these years we’ve been walking around with undefined faces! 

Eyebrows defining a face

Please don’t panic. Elle’s crisis managers can help you “find the right eyebrows for your face,” and they offer “a super useful guide to eyebrow tinting.” The magazine reveals which celebrity eyebrows are the most-googled and tells us whom to emulate. (Hint: “Meghan Markle’s eyebrow game is strong.”)

In a breathtakingly bold public service, the magazine tells us how to avoid “the most common eyebrow mistakes” and recommends eleven of the best eyebrow pencils for under $13, plus eighteen of the best eyebrow “products.”

So you see, in addition to finding the right eyebrows for your face, you can also contribute to a strong economy and help corporations as they work to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

And a fascinating endnote: Elle declares that if you have thick eyebrows, “You’re probably a narcissist.”

Narcissistic Eyebrows

Swirling Evil and Deeper Truths

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SWIRLING EVIL AND DEEPER TRUTHS

“The surface swirls with events, circumstances, problems, worries. Its tasks seem impossible and overwhelming. In the deeps, something else is taking place.”

This quote from N. Gordon Crosby came across my email this morning, one of three inspirational messages I receive each day and usually don’t get around to reading because when I turn on my computer, I’m assaulted by “events, circumstances, problems, and worries” and rarely take the time for “the deeps.”

This week I’m overwhelmed, trying to prepare a sermon for Sunday, get ready to hit the road for seven weeks, and deal with doctor’s appointments for my bad hip and my two elderly cats with cancer.

Also, my country is stealing thousands of children from their parents, slapping numbers on them, and locking them in cages where nobody is allowed to hold them or comfort them.

I just read several new polls saying that most Americans don’t care for this. Well, bully for them. The same polls show that 55% of self-identified Republicans and 40% of white people think this is just fine.

It is hard to remember the deeper truths when our nation is being overwhelmed with evil.

It is hard to remember that God works all things for good. That the moral arc of the universe eventually bends towards justice, as Dr. King said. That “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” as the fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich said.

God is not working fast enough for my tastes. Neither is Robert Mueller.

 

Photo credit: John Moore

May the Light of Jesus Overcome American “Christianity.” Amen.

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MAY THE LIGHT OF JESUS OVERCOME AMERICAN “CHRISTIANITY.” AMEN.

Reading the news is disheartening to say the least. I think that’s why I’m not blogging much lately. By the time I’ve read about what’s going on in America and the world, the air is taken out of me for the day.

I generally try to write about finding hope and light in dark times. I try to reflect the heart of Jesus, who came to reconcile all things and all people, to unite everyone in love, to set us free from what keeps us from being our most joyful true selves.

It’s hard to occupy that space these days, so it’s hard to write. I’m not seeing much joy or light in America, much less from my fellow Christians. Americans are becoming a mean-spirited people, if our “leaders” are any indication, and many in my religious tradition are held captive by the dark mire of power and money.

Rotten Fruit

Christianity is meant to connect our spirits with Divine Love and thus transform our hearts to care for the poor & marginalized. The fruit of the spirit, the Bible says, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Our scriptures tell us we are meant to bring light and hope to a hurting world, to help people “live life to the full.”

Instead, right-wing Christians seem to be just like the majority of Americans who don’t give a fig about the poor and marginalized. No transformation whatsoever. It’s beyond indifference, it’s disdain. These Christians argue for larger military budgets and cuts to health care for the poor, for tax breaks for billionaires, and for the violent agenda of the NRA and the earth-killing coal barons. And Jesus weeps.

In today’s news, we see Christians rejoicing because the Supreme Court says they don’t have to bake cakes for their marginalized neighbors. Meanwhile, hardly a peep about thousands of Puerto Rican Americans literally dying of neglect because of the actions of the guy those very Christians put into office.

We Should Be Ashamed

We should all be mortified and ashamed by today’s news that U.N. human rights investigators are slamming America for neglecting our poorest people. Forty-one million Americans already live in poverty, and the U.N. says that trump policies will result in “windfall profits” for the rich and large corporations and “severe deprivation” for the economically marginalized.

“If food stamps and access to Medicaid are removed, and housing subsidies cut, then the effect on people living on the margins will be drastic,” says investigator Philip Alston. “The policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned, rather than a right of citizenship.”

“Deliberately designed” to spit in the face of Jesus.

But God forbid gay people should be able to order a wedding cake.

The Light Shines in the Darkness

And yet. And yet … as I write, hundreds of Christians are gathered at the U.S. Capitol in solidarity with the poor. Many are being arrested to draw attention to the abusive policies of this administration. I’d be with them if my aching hip permitted it (though probably not getting arrested; I’m not that brave yet).

Instead, I’m showing my solidarity with the Poor People’s Campaign in D.C. by fanning the tiny flame of hope within my own heart and sharing the light with you. Jesus’s light will not be put out, even by his misguided followers.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

 

 

 

America’s Guardian Genie

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AMERICA’S GUARDIAN GENIE

It’s a lovely spring day here in D.C., and I’m feeling hopeful about our current national upheaval for the first time in a while. As more and more judges overturn or stall the countless egregious policies spewing out of the White House — including trump’s golden boy Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch — I wonder if maybe, just perhaps, our democracy can survive until the current occupant of the Oval Office has departed.

Yes, people are getting sick and dying and being jailed as a result of this administration. But because of the blatant attacks on everyone who isn’t wealthy, white, and/or male, people who have never been involved in politics or activism are stepping up and speaking out.

Look at the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and now all over the nation. Look at the #MeToo movement. Look at the head of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Wait, what?

Yup – in case you missed it, yesterday the head of the Coast Guard said he will completely ignore the White House and continue allowing transgender people to serve until an official policy bans transgender troops.

And Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft did not mince words. “Seems to me this is an invented problem and a waste of time and dollars and military resources by targeting these dedicated service members who’ve proved their fitness and their ability to serve,” he told a House subcommittee.

Yipes. That is stunning when you think about it. Given the rash, vindictive behavior of the president, Zukunft may well be fired for this.

Knowing Love

I wonder if the admiral would have been this courageous if he didn’t have a trans service member in his personal office. It happens so often, even in conservative Christian circles: when you discover that someone you know, love, or respect is LGBTQ, God will surprise you by changing your heart and mind. (Unless you decide that being “right” or “righteous” is more important than loving one another.)

For my friends who still don’t understand, I pray for you a loved one who is brave enough to bear your scorn by telling you they aren’t straight. May hearts be softened and lives changed as people risk their jobs & even their lives by coming out of the closet, and as straight allies speak up for the first time.

For Such a Time as This

In the Book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures, a woman hesitating about risking her life for her people is asked, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” It seems that an increasing number of Americans, including Admiral Zukunft, are risking all to step into their place in history.

I firmly believe that God brings good from bad. As much of a menace as trump is, his shocking disregard for other people and for our democracy may be waking up a complacent America. When we see people marching in our streets carrying Nazi flags, it’s kind of hard not to notice.

Perhaps the growing “resistance” has finally caused enough friction to release America’s guardian genie from her bottle. She is floating over our country calling, “Wake up, wake up, speak up! You are made for such a time as this!”

♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt is genie, which means a “tutelary spirit” and comes from the Latin for tutor — a wise guide and protector.

 

 

“Good” Friday & Stinkin’ Saturday in America

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“GOOD” FRIDAY AND STINKIN’ SATURDAY IN AMERICA

The first “Good” Friday was not a good day. Not at all. That was the day that the “empire” won — the greedy men in power, the violent oppressors, the ones who ruled by fear and hate. You know the ones. They are still around today and seem to be winning again. They talk a lot about winning.

The oppressors murdered Jesus on a Friday, and it was not a good day.

Saturday was godawful, too. All the marginalized people who hoped that Jesus was the guy who would overcome the empire lost that hope on Saturday. They woke up to find that the Friday horror had not been a dream, it had been real. Jesus was dead. Hope was dead.

For all they knew, that was the end of the story.

Easter Always Comes

Today, those of us who follow the way of Jesus know that the crucifixion was not the last word. We never have to lose hope, even when oppression and ugliness and hate seem to be winning. Even when — as was true in Jesus’s time — religious “leaders” are the worst of the worst. Because we know that love wins. Easter Sunday always comes.

The murder of Jesus exposed the extraordinary evil and hatred of which humans are capable. Even so, he died with words of forgiveness on his lips: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’s love swallowed up the hatred. Grace and mercy pulled out a victory.

Sometimes a society has to bottom out, to plumb the depths of darkness before it begins to reach again for the light. Maybe that’s where we are as a nation right now. Maybe it’s Stinkin’ Saturday here in America. Ugliness and greed and hatred has won, and hope is hard to come by. 

We worship guns, we worship money, we worship pride. We fear “the other.” Self-proclaimed Christians argue for higher military budgets and no support for refugees. We are spiraling down into the darkness, dismantling all the protections we have put in place for the poor, minorities, our health, our children, and God’s creation. It looks dark.

But I will take a lesson from Holy Week. You never know what God has up her sleeve.

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