(repost) Partners in our Own and Other’s Deliverance

In light of recent occurrences of racialized violence here in the south-land, and the failure of key leaders to speak out clearly about the causes of racism, I thought it would be appropriate to share some old posts related to this issue.

Racism — not just expressed in feelings of the heart but also in systems of racial oppression dating back to slavery itself — is to the original sin not just of the south-land but America.  I hope my old reflections challenge and inspire you.  Please feel welcome to share your thoughts on how you are engaging these issues in your circles of influence.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

lords prayer 5I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles.   In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

 

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

As I continue to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer and our own lives, I am struck again by the prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”.

A key thing I notice this morning as I read through and meditate on these words again is how, as in other parts of the prayer, Jesus asks us not to just pray “God lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil” but instead “lead us not into temptation… deliver us..”

all saints 2I think this important to not because of the way in which we individualize our ideas of holiness, sin, and justice.

Growing up the sense I got was what God required was obeying a set of rules and if I just followed them, I was good. Sin was to break the rules God gave me for living.

When I came to faith myself among evangelicals and charismatics, I learned from them this deep sense of responsibility.   I needed to control my own feelings and thoughts, for sin begins there.   I learned to fight against temptation to lust, to hate, to question.   Particularly any thoughts of sex. Might I say, in retrospect, the fear of sex and sexuality, shame for our bodies, and distrust of my own impulses were things that really did warp relationships for me. Though these were taught by well meaning people and there were some kernels of truth to them – such as developing a rich interior life, the importance of fidelity in relationships, the need to look for what truly will make you happy most not just provide a cheap thrill – I have to say I had to unlearn a huge bulk of that religious programming to have a full life.   To make romantic relationships work I had to make peace with my body, my sexuality, and my heart all as gifts to God. To experience emotional and spiritual peace I had to learn to lay aside a distrust of my own heart which is borne by believing we are born into this world with a sin nature that causes our own heart to betray us if we listen to it.

What I did not understand was the path of holiness personally is about learning to embrace yourself fully so that all of who you are comes alive, not just parts that scream for attention – like our sex drive or our desire to be right (both of which ran rampant in my & other’s hearts, it seems, in my evangelical days). But, what’s more, the strong emphasis on my own inner world and own personal sins lost sight of how true evil – that which, as I spoke about last time, rejects lovingkindness and justice toward self, nature, and others by treating them as expendable and exploitable without intrinsic worth – is embedded in community life.

YouAreNotBroken_b

The old Christian doctrine of original sin, which in the evangelical churches in which I first explored faith became degraded into a false sense of being broken beyond repair and unable to trust my own heart and body, actually was originally a way of talking about this reality.   The idea is that in some way that is hard to account for before we have a say we become swept up in patterns of thinking, acting, and responding which become deeply embedded in our actions and attitudes, yet which are harmful to ourselves, to nature, and to others. The explanation that gets picked up for this later on in Christian history – that there is some way sex transmits a spiritual flaw almost in our genes which makes us all intrinsically faulty – is laughable, or would be if it did not cause so much damage. But the heart of the idea – that we develop in a world where we are caught up in patterns of thought, feeling, and action which shape us deeply, leading us to unconsciously participate in community life in ways that dehumanize ourselves and others, as well as exploiting nature, well there is a lot of truth to that.

Take racism, something almost universally agreed upon to be wrong today.   Well, again and again social scientists do studies in which people who appear to be average folk, no hardened bigots, are given a chance to give their gut response to photos of people of various races. The tests usually include children young enough one would expect them not to have developed many biases.   Every time the test is administered, even today in a society in which in our country we have had a president who was a person of color for two terms, still people react with more fear, anxiety, and distrust toward images of people of color; and more trust, respect, and affection toward pictures of white people.   Many taking this test are not brought up in overtly racist homes and consider themselves tolerant and understanding. What is happening?

privilege

Well, we still live in a society built around privileging straight white cisgender men and marginalizing everyone else. And though we have made things less horrible, there is still this pattern at work. Still children look up and most of the role models of a good life are white straight cisgender males. Most minorities of all stripes are painting in cartoonish ways either as violent predators or buffoons in our films and television, instead of with the complexity that is needed to help cultivate real compassion.

In her book The Will To Change, bell hooks explores the ways in which our patriarchal culture not only harms women but also boys, teaching them to fear their emotions, to embrace violence and not nurturing compassion, to reject creativity and freedom of expression, and how prevalent this messaging is. In her book she gives many examples of even boys brought up in homes that teach an openness to one’s whole self and a freedom to choose your own values who, at the end of the day, end up buying into this messaging because it is so prevalent.

Is it any wonder, Jesus says for us to prayer for all of us to not be led into temptation and for all of us to be delivered from evil?

Ultimately to be a person of faith and spirituality requires being willing to engage yourself in consciousness-raising activities and relationships in which you can confront how you have unknowingly been led toward unconscious biases, how you can work against them, and build alternatives.   I also think this prayer invites us to consider what ways we can change this pattern.

How can we change our messaging? The ways in which we tell the stories of our lives and our communities? The ways in which we relate in friendships, at work? The patterns our churches, our companies, our media, follow?

There are not easy answers. But this is the call of this prayer.

Since it is a prayer we are exploring let us remember included within these words is also the acknowledgment that we cannot do this alone. God is present with us in this journey, the all-embracing presence and energy of life who drives us into deeper community and interconnection with each other across all cultural barriers. With God’s help and each other’s we can begin to transform our selves, our communities, and God’s earth, so that the goodness inherent in us all can shine for, friend, we are not broken. We are instead carriers of the undying Light of the Sacred.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Give God the Blues

In light of recent occurrences of racialized violence here in the south-land, and the failure of key leaders to speak out clearly about the causes of racism, I thought it would be appropriate to share some old posts related to this issue.

Racism — not just expressed in feelings of the heart but also in systems of racial oppression dating back to slavery itself — is to the original sin not just of the south-land but America.  I hope my old reflections challenge and inspire you.  Please feel welcome to share your thoughts on how you are engaging these issues in your circles of influence.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that
Bigger than religion
He’s got a better plan
The sign says God’s gone fishin
For the soul of every man
God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
And God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
(instrumental)
God loves old bartenders
The preachers, the whores, and fools;
And that karaoke singer
Just a-ruinin’ Don’t be cruel
The winners and the losers
The prisoners and the free
All the saints and all the sinners
Even you and even me
God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
And God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
Yeah we all give God the blues

(repost) (repost) Why Starving Brown Skinned Children frighten us

In light of recent occurrences of racialized violence here in the south-land, and the failure of key leaders to speak out clearly about the causes of racism, I thought it would be appropriate to share some old posts related to this issue.

Racism — not just expressed in feelings of the heart but also in systems of racial oppression dating back to slavery itself — is to the original sin not just of the south-land but America.  I hope my old reflections challenge and inspire you.  Please feel welcome to share your thoughts on how you are engaging these issues in your circles of influence.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

unaccompanied immigrant children

It would be hard to have not had immigration and borders on your mind at some time in the last few weeks. With the arrival of a throng of scared, dirty, hungry, and thirsty children at the southern borders of the United States plastered across TV screens, newspapers, and the internet, everyone has been talking about “How should we respond to these children at our borders?”

immigrationOn the one side, we have people saying “they are children, for God’s sake. We cannot turn a blind eye. Let’s welcome them in, harbor them, give them safe passage”. On the other side, we have people saying the law is the law. These children’s parents are irresponsible. They should never have sent them here as it is — what can we do with them but send them back?

Murrieta_ProtestersWorst of all, we have had people screaming “go home” meeting these children on the border with guns and American flags waving who, I think, really don’t express the best motives of those involved on both sides but, instead, the long-running fear of outsiders who are of black and brown skin that have permeated the southern states since their inception. This irrational fear of those of black and brown skin is what led to the Jim Crow laws in the southeast following the American attempt at reconstruction there following the Civil War. It also motivated the horrible mistreatment of Native Americans all over the southern states, on both coasts. It motivated the concentration camps we Americans tossed Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens into in California in the time surrounding World War II. And it is part of why our criminal justice system in the southern states is clogged to capacity with a majority of people of color, while white people commit as many and as heinous crimes on average. The threats and threatening behavior to these poor, scared children is an expression of the collective guilt we southern whites share over our treatment of people of color in slavery, in Jim Crow, and in the forceful theft of Native American lands, which instead of bubbling up in contrition and an attempt at amends instead bubbles up in a hatred and fear of those who we deem as “not American enough” which really means “not white enough”.

Downtown in Lumberton, NC.

I saw this when I lived in Robeson County, North Carolina, while pastoring Painted Skies Christian Ministries, a short lived intentionally multi-racial, multi-cultural welcoming and affirming church. Robeson County is deeply divided along racial lines. I remember while shopping in its old-fashioned downtown district having a resident who was alive in Jim Crow years tell me how when he was a child, he could not even go downtown. Though Robeson County’s population is predominantly Native American, during Jim Crow the local authorities did not allow anyone but white people to even walk through and shop in the downtown district of Lumberton, the county seat, without them being arrested.

A Pow-Wow in Robeson County held by the Lumbee tribe.  Pow-wow's are traditional celebrations of tribal culture for Native American tribes.

Even though Jim Crow had officially ended, while I pastored in Robeson County I saw the community still be very racially divided down as to where people lived, and even who people dated and married. I remember distinctively a young Native American lady I worked with at a non-church job I worked in order to support my ministry, who was encouraged to stay with an abusive boyfriend rather than a very loving and supportive male friend she wanted to date because the one who treated her well was black, and dating him would be “moving down” in status in her family’s eyes due to his race. I also remember when Barack Obama became president a biracial member of our church telling me, with shock and horror, how white members of her family were saying they were frightened Barack Obama would move them onto plantations, make them pick cotton, and have them as mistreated as they and their ancestors had treated people of color.

Though I don’t think most white southerners are so overt in describing their fears about race, or how they bubble up into racist actions and behaviors, it would be unrealistic to say that we are not influenced by this in our dialogue about issues in the south. Do any of us honestly believe that the resistance Barack Obama faced from white southern voters and their representatives in congress would have been nearly as extreme if he were, like Bill Clinton or George Bush before him, a white southerner? To put it another way, if he was white and named “Barry Smith”, how many people would have been flooding Congress with requests to see the president’s birth certificate?

mandelaquoteIn future blog posts, I hope to talk about what Scripture says about our relationship to immigrants is, and about what it says about borders specifically. But before we can discuss the issue of borders and immigration we have to think for a moment about this lingering legacy of racism, which is expressed in southern white culture’s fear of black and brown skinned people as “other”, as ones who pose a threat to white culture, which we like to pretend is “American culture”.

I’d like to recommend as a resource the following website, which includes a series of radio presentations on the continuing legacy of racism not just in the south but throughout the United States:http://bringingdownthenewjimcrow.com/ This series, coming out of Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow, uses real life stories and interviews to illustrate various dimensions of how racism continues to shape not just American culture but policy in ways that structurally harm people of color. A number of programs connect the issues being faced by African American people in the US with those being face by people of Hispanic descent.

As Christians, racism is not OK. More than that, it is a grievous sin.  It is a denial of the promise of Genesis 1 that all people are made in the image of God. Its a denial of Galatians 3 that in Christ neither gender, class, or race ought to define who people are in the sense of how they are treated. This is not color-blindness. Rather it is a recognition that people’s culture is beautiful and a gift of God. Acts 17 tells us that God is at work in the histories of every people. This means instead of fearing people of other cultures and skin colors, we need to learn to work past our fears in order to learn to embrace people different than ourselves in their differences as gifts of God. In each person’s story, in their culture, in their gifts and talents, there is a reflection of who God is that could not be visible to us without them just as they are. This is why Psalm 139 teaches us to praise God we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Yet racism is insidious.

Rev. Curtis May, doing a presentation for "Office of Reconcilation and Mediation", near Los Angeles, CA.

It, like ogres in the above clip, is a multi-layered thing. The Office of Reconciliation and Mediation  defines racism as prejudice put to power; and lists racism as not existing on the conscious level where we are aware of it, but also including unaware racism, cultural Racism, stereotyping, internalized racism, institutionalized racism, and denial of racism.

Confronting our own racism and working to change is a difficult journey. I’d recommend groups such as the ministry I mentioned above, The Southern Poverty Law Center , and the Racial Equity Institute , as beginning places to find resources toward working to confront your own personal racism and also discovering what steps you can take to help share in the task of working to build a less racist society.

If you live in or are willing to make the commute to the Carolinas, I’d invite you to consider taking the anti-racism classes the Racial Equity Institute offers in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area. There are details about these training conferences available at Organizing Against Racism.

dinner-table-l

A final problems is that this racist fear leads us to embrace the idea that there will not be enough. Yet the Biblical call is for us to work to build a world where there is more than enough for everyone.

The prophet Micah, who my parents named me after, spoke of this when he envisioned a day in which “But everyone shall sit under their vine and under their fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4).

This is what the early Christian community lived out in Acts:
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as they had need…All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions were their own, but they shared everything they had… There were no needy persons among them. “ (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-34)

To work for a world in which there are “no needy persons among” us because all have as they need is grounded for Christians in the hope and promise of the Holy Spirit, whom Psalm 104 promises us enlivens the world in such a way that there is always more than enough, if we but choose to redistribute it with justice and compassion:

“God causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of human beings,
That they may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine that makes glad their hearts,
Oil to make their faces shine,
And bread which strengthens their hearts…

The earth is full ..

You may give them their food in due season.

What You give them they gather in;

You open Your hand, they are filled with good...

You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the earth.”

one familyThe lie the lingering slave-holder mentality in the south has taught us is that this is a utopian dream, that the call of the prophets and of Jesus to build a world where there is enough for all is impossible.  Its lie is that God is so callous that the Spirit does not fill the earth with good well enough that, if we share that good with justice and compassion, generously and fairly, there will be enough for all. Instead racism teaches us to believe we must settle for protecting “our own”, having others be in a place of want or powerlessness so people “like us” can thrive.

This in reality is not true.

A 2013 study already shows that, just in the area of nutrition, we already produce enough as a world that no one ought to grow hungry:
“The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day according to the most recent estimate that we could find (FAO 2002, p.9). ”
(Taken fromhttp://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm )
The Holy Spirit is filling the world with good, with more than enough for all.  The problem is not that there is not enough to provide for us and others. The problem is the way in which our society’s methods of distributing money, power, and resources remain wedded to greed, prejudice, and fear in ways that keep the bulk of food, money, and power in the hands of the few.

I think this is at the heart of Jesus’ rarely followed and often explained away teaching “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”” (Mattthew 19:21).  Jesus knows the reason for poverty is not that there is not enough, but that its kept in the hands of just a few.  So Jesus calls us all to reconsider the ways in which we may prop up this status quo with our choices, and invites us to find ways to do our part in leveling our society’s playing field.

To bring real change to this, we need to trust the promise there is more than enough for all of us.  We need to find ways to let go of our fear of others, and begin to open up to share God’s blessing with all.  To change the structures of our society so that wealth and power aren’t hoarded in the hands of a few along largely racial lines requires confronting the specter of racism.  It begins with me.  It begins with you.
When we begin in our own stumbling way to answer this call, we will go a long way to living out the late Vincent Harding’s invitation, included in this clip, to build a better world:

Let’s do it together!
And I’m not just whistling Dixie,
your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

micah pic

 

 

(repost) Rebel Cry

In light of recent occurrences of racialized violence here in the south-land, and the failure of key leaders to speak out clearly about the causes of racism, I thought it would be appropriate to share some old posts related to this issue.

Racism — not just expressed in feelings of the heart but also in systems of racial oppression dating back to slavery itself — is to the original sin not just of the south-land but America.  I hope my old reflections challenge and inspire you.  Please feel welcome to share your thoughts on how you are engaging these issues in your circles of influence.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

Rebel Cry

barns Honeysuckle_2

“The south will rise again”

whispered in winds thick with smells

of honey suckle and jasmine

joining barns, creeks, church bells,

and watermelons

casting a kind of spell

shaping the landscape in

my childhood mind when hells

like slavery, Jim Crow,

and poverty weren’t known.

dinner-table-lwatermelon

I heard “the south will rise”

as a promise of grits,

cornbread, tea, pecan pies,

at tables all can sit

affirming our shared ties,

a re-union as fit

as a sight for sore eyes.

Then, at twelve, I was hit

by news of a black man shot

in the name of the rising south.

hate crime Trayvon Martin

That south which filled my sights

was falling, not rising, then:

falling into hate and fright

based on folk’s shade of skin,

if who they love was deemed “right”,

forgetting that the true sin

is not those whom we fight

but in not letting them in.

With waving flags, guns ablaze,

we plunged b’neath where we can raise.

martin luther kingsit-in-greensboro-record

My heart sank til I heard

a Georgia preacher’s dream:

children unencumbered

by hate of color or creed,

from whom a new south is born.

Now I know that south’s rising,

rising beyond fear and scorn

of those different, with wings

of a new morning for all

without more dividing walls.

Yes, the south will rise,

will rise again

rise with justice

rise with equality

rise with shadows of hate forgotten.

carolina sunrise

(repost) Facing Into Our Collective Failures

In light of recent occurrences of racialized violence here in the south-land, and the failure of key leaders to speak out clearly about the causes of racism, I thought it would be appropriate to share some old posts related to this issue.

Racism — not just expressed in feelings of the heart but also in systems of racial oppression dating back to slavery itself — is to the original sin not just of the south-land but America.  I hope my old reflections challenge and inspire you.  Please feel welcome to share your thoughts on how you are engaging these issues in your circles of influence.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Prayer-Training-Day-picI continue to expand on prayers that have pulled me and others through by exploring the prayer Jesus taught us, the Lord’s Prayer.   The version of this prayer in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship follows:

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

What stands out to me today is the phrase “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”.

As with the prayer for daily bread, I am struck by the fact that Jesus does not teach us to simply pray “Forgive me my sins” but “forgive us”. Growing up as a white straight cisgender boy in the south, I can remember being around folks who proudly flew the Rebel fprivilege 4lag, whistled Dixie, and voted for Jesse Helms in every election. I am embarrassed to admit I remember around the age of 12 or 13, not knowing the scandal around it since, like sex, the scandals surrounding race wasn’t really anything we directly talked about in my home, my parents thinking I believe that my knowing their many friends of color through church and community groups was enough to teach me not to be racist, I grabbed a hat with my allowance money around the age of 12 or 13. I didn’t notice the flag on it but the catchy phrase “American by birth, and Southern by the grace of God”. I can’t remember exactly what momma said when she forbad to wear it with great disapproval, but it was something along the lines of “Don’t wear that fool thing out of my house; it’ll hurt folks’ feelings. And somebody might get the wrong idea about you”.

Now, though I still love me some corn bread, grits, and collard greens and think the south-land here is at times a little slice of heaven, I would not be caught dead with anything on my person that waved a rebel flag, since I know the history behind that image first in promoting slavery and then horrible racist laws.     But the fact I could live 12 to 13 years without really facing up to the racist connotations of that image, without being fully aware of the horrible discrimination faced by neighbors and friends who grew up with a different shade of skin than me, demonstrates the importance of acknowledging not just my own failings but the way in which the communities which rear me also fall short.

Growing up in that environment I distinctively remember every election season, when discussions of race reared their head, hearing folks I had been taught to respect and listen hATE NO FAMILY VALUEto for wisdom, from schoolteachers to uncles to even white leaders in my church (which, thankfully, was a multi-racial church, a rarity in the south), get very defensive. “I don’t know why people think they can hold me accountable for what my ancestors did. For God’s sake, I never owned a slave. I bet my ancestors didn’t either – I’m the grandson of poor white farmers. And you know I didn’t vote for any segregation. Why can’t we just leave well enough alone?”

What is amazing to me as I reflect back on hearing these words early on in my life is that these were not the words of card-carrying bigots. No, these were the words of folks like my parents, good church-going white folk, many of whom worked together with, went to church with, and even had over to their homes and went to the homes of friends of color for dinner. Yet not a person of color I have ever met seems to be able to relate with the sentiment these white patriarchs expressed in my hearing. No, instead, they all seem to acknowledge there is much unfinished business. How could these early role models for me have so clearly missed the ongoing legacy of prejudice and its impact on their very dear friends, neighbors, co-workers, and church-members?

In actual fact, when looked at in a broader context, such comments are actually symptoms of the problem. For not being able to see the pain discriminatory histories, prejudiced traditions, and ongoing systems of discrimination continue to play in the lives of those often quite dear to us – our friends, our neighbors, sometimes our own family, who happen to be a different race, religion, gender, gender identity, or sexuality than us – shows how much we have become swept up in the sin of our own communities of origin.

You see what we are talking about is privilege.   Privilege is an inherited sense of expectation that you or your group are the norm in your society, and that you will be treated fairly.   In http://www.tolerance.org/article/racism-and-white-privilege Teaching Tolerance lists the following aspects of white privilege that I carry with me:

“White skin privilege is not something that white people necessarily do, create or enjoy on purpose. Unlike the more overt individual and institutional manifestations of racism described above, white skin privilege is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society. White skin privilege serves several functions. First, it provides white people with “perks” that we do not earn and that people of color do not enjoy. Second, it creates real advantages for us. White people are immune to a lot of challenges. Finally, white privilege shapes the world in which we live — the way that we navigate and interact with one another and with the world.

privilege 2“White people receive all kinds of perks as a function of their skin privilege. Consider the following:

  • When I cut my finger and go to my school or office’s first aid kit, the flesh-colored band-aid generally matches my skin tone.
  • When I stay in a hotel, the complimentary shampoo generally works with the texture of my hair.
  • When I run to the store to buy pantyhose at the last minute, the ‘nude’ color generally appears nude on my legs.
  • When I buy hair care products in a grocery store or drug store, my shampoos and conditioners are in the aisle and section labeled ‘hair care’ and not in a separate section for ‘ethnic products.’
  • I can purchase travel size bottles of my hair care products at most grocery or drug stores…

section called “hair care.” This is how I experience the world.

 

“These seemingly benign perks also demonstrate a danger on closer examination. Let’s say that I forgot to pack my shampoo for a business trip. When I get to the hotel, I see that the complimentary shampoo is not the standard Suave product to which I am accustomed but rather Pink Oil Lotion for African American hair. I would be surprised and might even think to myself: “Those black folks and all their lobbying … This is so unfair!” I expect these perks. As a white person, I think I am entitled to them…

“Certainly, white privilege is not limited to perks like band aids and hair care products. The second function of white skin privilege is that it creates significant advantages for white people. There are scores of things that I, as a white person, generally do not encounter, have to deal with or even recognize. For example:

  • My skin color does not work against me in terms of how people perceive my financial responsibility, style of dress, public speaking skills, or job performance.
  • People do not assume that I got where I am professionally because of my race (or because of affirmative action programs).
  • Store security personnel or law enforcement officers do not harass me, pull me over or follow me because of my race.

“All of these things are things that I never think about. And when the tables are turned and my white skin is used against me, I am greatly offended (and indignant). The police department in my community, like so many other law enforcement agencies throughout this country, uses policing tactics that target people of color. Two years ago, I was driving down Rosa Parks Boulevard, a street that runs through an all-black and impoverished area of town, at night. I was looking for a house that I had never been to before, so I was driving slowly, stopping and moving as I searched for numbers on residences.

 

privilege“Out of nowhere, this large police van pulled me over, blue lights flashing and sirens blaring, and a handful of well-armed police officers jumped out of the van and surrounded my car. I did as I was told, and got out of my car. (“Hands above your head; move slowly!”) I then succumbed to a quick physical pat-down, as well as a search of my car. The officers had pulled me over — not only because of my erratic driving — but also, because, in the words of one officer, I was “a white woman driving down Rosa Parks after dark.” They thought I was looking to buy drugs.

 

“When I went to the office the next day, I relayed my story to several white colleagues. They shared my sense of violation, of anger, of rage. These co-workers encouraged me to call our legal department and report the incident. I later told the story to a colleague who is black and who lives on Rosa Parks. “You just never have to worry about those things, do you, Jennifer?” she asked and then walked off. In twelve words, she succinctly challenged my sense of privilege.”

What this author describes as privilege for white folks like them and myself also exist for other subgroups that are privileged by our society – such as men, cisgender folks, Christians, straight people, and the list could go on.

A way I heard one speaker describe discovering his own privilege was when he wrote a story for a class on race, and the teacher pointed out that he only described individuals in his life’s race when talking about people of color. “Why do you say ‘my black teacher’ but not point out when someone is ‘white’.” We see this when we discuss marriage, don’t we?   So often the debate is about “gay marriage” when, we don’t say straight marriage in talking about the sort of relationship I had for twelve years with my late wife.   Subtly our privilege leads us to expect our perspective, our experience, is the only true one.   And we other-ize other people’s experience without realizing it.

There is no simple answer to this, and to be clear, most of us carry some form of privilege.

But the inclusion of “us” in this prayer of forgiveness – and invitation to forgive – shows that we cannot deal with the call to personal holiness, personal cleansing, and forgiving without also confronting the ways in which the families, neighborhoods, communities, and societies we are born into, that raise us, and which we must participate in for us to find work, education, basic safety, and healthcare all shape us in distinct ways. We pick up privilege 3cultural messages about skin color, gender, gender identities, sexuality, class, religion which we must own up to. As we raise our awareness through our spirituality so we become mindful of the ways in which we unconsciously have been participating in these structures of oppression and discrimination, we can begin to respond more openly and compassionately. We can make the effort to build relationships with and listen to the experiences of people very different than us. As we do so, we can begin to see the ways in which our society tramples under foot, alienates, and other-izes beautiful, beautiful people who like us bear the Divine image and carry sacred worth.

This might to a highly privileged person sound like just more “political correctedness” and “race (or gender or sexuality) baiting”. But in truth, this is the Christian journey. For does not Jesus tell us in Matthew 25 that it is in the other whom, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will encounter Christ coming among us and that, when we encounter the living Christ face to face, the Christ will say to us “whatever you did or did not do to these, you did or did not do to me?”

Learning to lay aside our fear of shame and guilt, lay aside our cultural assumptions, admit when we have been complicit in continuing practices that create other’s oppression and sustain other’s pain, and encountering in those different from us the Sacred fire and light that burns so bright, is the journey that leads to life. May we embrace it together this day and all our days.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Re-thinking our approach to southern heritage

A friend who is a southerner like myself and out of that, not despite it, a voice for civil rights and progressive values shared the following.  I think it’s words are an important challenge in the wake of Charlottesville. 

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah 
Hey white southerners, let’s talk about our Confederate heritage

/http://www.mattcomer.net/1070/hey-white-southerners-lets-talk-about-our-confederate-heritage/

For many of us — white people born and raised in the South and descended from southern families with long histories in this land — recent conversations resulting from Dylann Roof’s act of fatally racist terrorism in Charleston have been difficult. Specifically, given Roof’s self-admitted affinity for the Confederacy and its symbols, much debate has turned to the Confederate battle flag, other Confederate symbols and the history and meaning of the southern rebellion. The debate has provoked quick responses of defense or middling excuse-making from people like us.
I understand this response. In the past, I’ve had the similar kinds of responses. I know the debates seem personal, eliciting feelings we’re perhaps not used to addressing and causing us to confront emotions and certain uncomfortable facts about our families we’re not accustomed to having questioned.
And, maybe, other people don’t understand why it’s so emotional. Why something that happened so long ago could seem so personal. “The Civil War ended 150 years ago,” you’ll hear others exclaim. “Get over it, already,” they’ll add.
But, still, you have difficulty setting aside personal biases and confronting the truth.
You see, us white southerners, we’re special. If your family is anything like mine, and odds are many of yours are, it goes a little something like this:
You’re born into a big family, with a long history in the South. Your elders — grandparents or great-grandparents or aunts or uncles — fill family reunions and holidays with stories of family members long gone. Family history and genealogy are forefront. Legends and folk stories of family members are passed down from generation to generation. You might be able to trace at least one line of your family prior to the Revolution and at least one ancestor served in the Continental Army. Military service in your family continued into the next century, and one of your forefathers, if not more than one, fought for the Confederacy. You know where they’re buried. You’ve seen their Confederate tombstone. Heck, someone in your family might have even arranged to have a formal Confederate tombstone commissioned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (yes, they still do this).
You’ve been taught your entire life to be proud of your family heritage and history. “Heritage not hate” is more than a Facebook meme; you’ve heard it all your life. All those folk stories and legends told you that your great-grandparents were heroes — gallant knights who rode off to war to defend their families and their homes against an angry invading force during the great “War Between the States.” You grew up whistling “Dixie,” damning Sherman’s March to the Sea and all the great troubles caused by the “War of Northern Aggression,” commemorated in songs like “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down.” You defended the Confederate battle flag and maybe even flew it in your youth.
And, because of this history and your youth and your family and because of all the times you’ve studied your genealogy and read your forefathers’ names and wills and letters and visited their graves, you begin to see yourself in them. You begin to think you know them. That they have some sort of real impact on your life today, as if they’re here with you now.
Then someone comes along and calls them white supremacists, racists, rebels and traitors. Then a tragedy happens and people lose their lives and others compare this terrorist to your ancestors.
And you shut down. Because that’s not the kind of story you heard growing up. That’s not the vision of the valiant hero of the “Lost Cause” you thought you knew. That’s not the “accurate” portrayal of men who simply sought to protect their families, keep them fed and keep them safe, you tell yourself.
But — as hard as it is to hear it, as much as no one wants to see their family heritage turned over into a collective history of hate, treason and violence — every bit of this criticism is true.
Not only is it true, it’s criticism we must embrace. We must throw off our Lost Cause-colored glasses and see our histories for what they are. We must acknowledge and admit the realities of the pain, suffering, death and despair it caused millions of human souls.
A graphic created by distant relatives, depicting my fifth-great-grandfather David Easter with all eight of his sons, among which two, Levi and Michael, are also my third- and fourth-great-grandfathers. Each of the brothers served in the Confederate Army.

A graphic created by distant relatives, depicting my fifth-great-grandfather David Easter with all eight of his sons, among which two, Levi and Michael, are also my third- and fourth-great-grandfathers. Each of the brothers served in the Confederate Army.
My family is not immune. My seventh-great-grandfather Thomas Comer owned more than a dozen slaves at the time of his death in 1793 or 1794 in Halifax County, Va. I share a common ancestor with a second branch of the same family that would eventually produce Braxton Bragg Comer, the Progressive-era governor of Alabama from 1907-1911 and a U.S. senator who supported rabidly racist Redeemer Democrats, exploited black labor in the convict lease system and was connected to some 25 deaths of black convicts working for his economic self-interests. My fifth-great-grandfather in another line of the family produced eight sons — each serving for the Virginia infantry during the Civil War. One died in a Union prison camp, and the other seven, according to family lore documented in an old newspaper, “heard the last gun of the war, were nearly starved at the surrender at Appomattox, heard Lee’s farewell address, turned their faces to their loved Dixie and started their steps homeward.”
These people — these men in my family — they did not fight for freedom and honor. They did not create businesses to benefit the economic spirits of all people. They did not create legal policies or political campaigns that sought equality and reconciliation.
Instead, they fought for slavery. Instead, they created businesses whose very livelihood traded in the very real lives and bodies of other people. Instead, they created legal policies and political campaigns that — after slavery was abolished — enabled “slavery by another name” and denied black citizens their full and equal station among the citizens of this nation and world.
This is the truth. An ugly, uncomfortable one, but truth nonetheless. And if we ever have any hope of moving this nation toward racial reconciliation, white people like me, like you and like so many others will have to acknowledge this past. We’ll have to stop whitewashing reality. We’ll have to quit treating traitors and white supremacists as heroes, even if they’re among our own family trees. We’ll have to look deeply inward and ask ourselves tough questions.
Do we really want to be associated with this history of hate and racism? Is this something we really want to celebrate as pride and heritage?
My answer is a resounding no.
Because we have a choice and though we cannot change history, other choices are before us:
We can cast off old family heroes and choose them anew — heroes like my grandfather, who decried the evils of the Ku Klux Klan instead of encouraging their violence like B.B. Comer is once thought to have done. A hero who had a sense of shame and regret when telling me about distant cousins who were, even nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War, still members of the Ku Klux Klan. A hero who, when integration became the law of the land, taught his daughters to treat all their fellow classmates with respect and began to challenge his own views, remaining loyal lifelong to a Democratic Party increasingly more tolerant, more equal, more steadfastly and firmly committed to the ideals of equality and justice for all.
Additionally, we can choose to take our “Lost Cause” mythology, celebrations of hate and slavery and symbols of treason and violence like the Confederate battle flag and relegate them to history, not the present. Put them in museums. Put them in your family’s historical files. Move Confederate monuments to cemeteries.
But, most importantly, we can choose to turn to our black neighbors and friends — many of them descendants of the very people our families once owned and fought to keep in chains. We can choose to hear their words, their stories, their emotions and feelings and all the things we’ve failed to hear over decades and centuries of making sure we were the ones who had singular, ultimate, God-like control over their lives and minds.
This choice is ours and ours alone. This responsibility lies with us, because people like us — people whose blood flows through our very veins — first set up these systems of slavery, disenfranchisement, convict leasing and other institutional ills under which others have suffered and we have benefited. We’ll have to make this choice and work hand-in-hand with the people our forefathers once sought to silence. Together, we’ll ensure the mistakes our ancestors made are never repeated. Together, we’ll put America on the path upon which we first started when other heroes — people like my seventh-great-grandfather, Michael Easter II, and perhaps someone else in your family — took up their duty to fight for a nation founded on the self-evident truth that all men, including ultimately black men and women and everyone in between, are created equal.
That’s the kind of heritage I want. That’s the kind of heritage we should choose. That’s the kind of heritage we can create for our descendants. Starting today, tomorrow and every day after.

A Prayer to Christ Our Mother

 

I continue to remember the life of my mother and all mothers, in celebrating the Sacred feminine.   Some months ago a read shared the prayer of St. Julian of Norwich, the mystic who celebrated that through God’s love, all shall be well.  I share this prayer as our mother’s day devotional/reflection on Scripture.   I think resting in the knowledge of ourselves as embraced and loved by God not only as Father but also Mother of all living not only is important in grieving the loss of a mother, but also in this time where we are so shaken by fearful prospects each day in the news.  Christ carries you.  Christ holds you up.  Christ will lead you forward in mother love.

To help us enter into this prayer, I share Meg Barnhouse’s beautiful musical reflection on the vision of Sister Julian:

Blessings your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

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Prayer to Christ our Mother

Taken from http://www.oremus.org/liturgy/ccp/canticle.cgi?64

hildegard-encirlced-by-loveRefrain: God is the light and the grace,*

which is all blessèd love.

1 Jesus is our true mother,*

the protector of the love which knows no end.

2 We have our being from Jesus,*

where the foundation of motherhood begins.

3 God revealed that in all things,*

as truly as God is our father

so truly God is our mother.

4 God is the power and goodness of fatherhood;*

God is the wisdom and loving kindness of motherhood.

 

5 God is the Trinity and God is the Unity;*

God is all our life:

nature, mercy and grace.

This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.

6 God is the one who makes us to love,*

and the endless fulfilling of all true desires;

7 For where the soul is highest and noblest,*

then it is humble and lowly.

8 God desired Christ to be our mother,

our brother and our Saviour,*

for God knows us now

and loved us before time began.

9 In nature, Jesus is our true mother

by our first creation,*

and in grace by taking our created nature.

 

10 All the love of offering and sacrifice

of belovèd motherhood,*

are in Christ our Belovèd.

11 For in Jesus we have this godly will,*

both in nature and in grace.

Glory . . .

God is the light and the grace,*

which is all blessèd love.