Growing up racist #5…or I never knew that

I’ve been reading the very good, but very uncomfortable to read book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” It’s been a slow read for me, but from an historical perspective I am finally to the 60s, thus to when I was born. One paragraph struck me today because it is such an example of how language perpetuates ideas without our even being aware of it…the topic is language symbolism. Coincidentally I read of this very concept when reading a commentary on Mark’s gospel today. Both are food for thought for Sunday’s sermon. Here is the long quote:

Language symbolism and a conference on race and color in Copenhagen in 1965:

Scholars pointed out everyday phrases like “black sheep,” “blackballing,” and “blacklisting,” among others, that had long associated Blackness and negativity.

The language symbolism was no less striking in two new American identifiers: “minority” and “ghetto.” For centuries, racists had construed Black folk as minors to White majors, and that history could be easily loaded into their latest identifier of the supposed lesser peoples: minorities. The appellation only made sense as a numerical term, and as a numerical term, it only made sense indicating national population or power dynamics. But it quickly became a racial identifier of African Americans (and other non-Whites) – even in discussions that had nothing to do with national issues. It made no sense as another name for Black people, since most Black people lived, schooled, worked, socialized, and died in majority-Black spaces. The term only made sense from the viewpoint of Whites, who commonly related to Black people as the numerical minority in their majority-White spaces, and elite Blacks, who were more likely to exist as the numerical minority in majority-White spaces. And so, class racism – downgrading the lives of Black commoners in majority Black spaces – became wrapped up in the term “minority,” not unlike a term that psychologist Kenneth Clark had popularized after putting aside brown and light dolls.

In 1965, Clark published his seminal text, Dark Ghetto. The term “ghetto” was known as an identifier of the ruthlessly segregated Jewish communities in Nazi Germany. Though social scientists like Clark hoped the term would broadcast the ruthless segregation and poverty that urban Blacks faced, the word quickly assumed a racist life of its own. (364)

Interestingly (sadly) many whites are now afraid of becoming a numerical minority…maybe some of the angst is because of the idea (even if its subliminal) that minority equals “not good.”

I’m sure I’ll read about more but until then, I wonder how many other words are still in our lexicon?

Growing up racist – #4

This is not so much a memory of a racist policy but rather an example of the heartbreaking divisions that can hit us at a young age.

I was in 7th grade at Hamilton Jr. High in North Long Beach. We were a mixed race school but I don’t remember having any black friends. I actually don’t really remember having any friends. I was/am an introvert, and a painfully shy one at that. Because of moving around as a child this was already my 5th school. I wouldn’t be here long because we’d be moving again.

Physical education. These were the days we had to wear silly looking PE uniforms, with snap front blouses and elastic leg bloomers. Because of these we also had to use a locker room to change. Once dismissed from class there was usually a big rush to go change.

One day we were all sitting on the ground when this dismissal came. Lots of girls (I think we were an all girl class) started running. I was not one of them. Instead I slowly began to stand. But before I pulled my legs in another girl tripped over me. She’d been running and was now sprawled out on the ground. She was also incredibly angry because she insisted that I purposely tripped her. I apologized while also insisting that I hadn’t seen her. She didn’t believe me. She continued to insist I tripped her. She thought I did so because she was black and I was racist. I didn’t have skill to deal with this and still remember just wanting to crawl into a hole.

This incident almost led to a campus fight between black and white. I was afraid and I felt awful.

Whenever I think of this I still feel awful about it. Not just for me but for that other girl. The one who had, at her tender age, already experienced enough racist aggression that she was absolutely sure that I’d attacked her. I wonder where she is and how she is doing. I pray for her as I pray for the day when our world will be one where precious children of God are not attacked and disrespected solely for the color of their skin. And I hope that when that day comes, accidents such as the one that happened on a schoolyard so many years ago would just be experienced as accidents.

My Post-Ferguson Sermon, 2014

As I prepare to preach on the painful topic of racism I re-read a sermon from 3 years ago. The events of yesterday are proof that we (white people) must get out of our comfort zones and confront this evil in all its manifestations.

I wrote my sermon last Wednesday… at least I thought I had. When I think back to last Wednesday I was pretty angry… or maybe I could say righteous indignation. But then unless you’re Jesus cleaning out the temple righteous indignation looks a lot like self-righteousness and that never looks good.

But thankfully I still listen to those nudges from the Holy Spirit and thought, I need to send this to Brian Eklund for his opinion. So I did and then set out to translate this sermon into Spanish in time for my lesson at 2pm. After the class I went for a much needed run… and while I was doing a cool down walk I heard from Brian. He was very nice in saying that this was not a good sermon and it would not be effective.

As I think about it, that sermon was more like the letter that you write in anger and then through away. Thank you Pastor Brian! Unfortunately, in this Facebook and instant email world, the angry letters sometimes get out! Anyway, I’m less angry now, but still concerned.

Maybe you too have been feeling it, because except for Thanksgiving, last week was not a good one. I was brokenhearted over the shooting death of a 12 year old boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park. And then, we had the events in Ferguson. The subsequent dialog on Facebook and Twitter wasn’t easy to watch or to participate in. In retrospect though, by Friday, I had actually read some very helpful comments and shared stories. They are not always easy, but then neither is life.

I think that we can also look at the chaos of the last week (heck the last year worldwide) and then read today’s gospel and say to ourselves, “it sure looks like all the signs are there for Jesus’ return.” But then the gospel reading also says that we won’t know… that the day of Jesus’ return will be a surprise. We aren’t to figure out when we will see Jesus return… instead we are to be alert to the signs of his coming.

In his commentary on this passage David Garland describes a cartoon by Jules Feiffer. It shows a man,

“looking up in the sky when another asks him what he is doing. He responds, “I am waiting for him to come back, that’s what I’m doing.” The other responds, “But that’s silly he won’t come back from up there.” “You can find him in ordinary life – in loving your neighbor, doing good to those who hate you, in suffering for the truth.” The man replies, “Did you say suffering for the truth?” The last panel shows them both looking up into the sky, and the first man says, “I find this position more comfortable.”

 

I tried to find this cartoon but was unsuccessful. I like the “you can find him in ordinary life – in loving your neighbor, doing good to those who hate you, in suffering for the truth.”

The good news is that as this cartoon so aptly illustrates, being alert to Jesus’ coming is not to sit and stare at the sky… but to rather go out into the world… in all its messiness… in all its ugliness… and to live the truth.

What is that truth? Well, we could debate it and come to all sorts of conclusions, but the un-debatable truth is that Jesus’ coming the first time was because of the great love that God has for each of us… that’s the truth. And this is the truth:

  • God loves Michael Brown… he is now in God’s care
  • God loves little 12 year old Tamir Rice… he too is now resting in God’s care.
  • God loves Darren Wilson… and whatever I and others may think I doubt it if he woke up the morning of August 9th knowing how that day would transpire.
  • God loves all the protestors… even those whose rage results in riots.
  • God loves us… black, white, and every color in between. Even… or rather especially when we have trouble loving one another.

This is truth. Sometimes suffering for this truth is experience in having to recognize the vastness of God’s love. I’m mindful of a verse from our Isaiah reading this week. It says (64:8), “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (It so happens that this verse is the basis for the most popular song that we are singing in our Wednesday children’s program, JOLT. )

Pottery is a wonderful metaphor. Pottery is a work of art… useful… varied… comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Pottery is durable, so that clay pots can be found that are centuries old. At the same time, pottery is fragile… drop it or throw it and it can shatter. And if broken, it is possible to glue it back together but the scars will always last.

God has made each of us and each of us is a beautiful work of art… useful… varied… and we come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. And each of us carries the scars of being broken and put back together. Maybe some of the pain we feel is like stepping on the broken shards of that shattered pottery.

But it is in being willing to step into one another’s pain that we have the opportunity to experience Jesus, who (Surprise!) never really left. Friday I saw two stories that are related to Ferguson and which brought tears… not of sadness, but of hope.

I saw the first story on the morning news. I thought to myself, “I should share that.” Then I looked down at the newspaper and there it was… “Ferguson activists find unity at the table.” A woman, Cat Daniels or better known as “Momma Cat”, has been cooking a Sunday meal for those who have been seeking change in Ferguson. Why cook, because according to Momma Cat, “food has a healing power… food can heal your soul.” The interviewer asked her about the police across the street… she said that if anyone with a badge and a gun joins the buffet line “she’ll gladly fix them a plate.” There is hope in eating together… welcoming one another.

The other story is one that took place in Oregon on Friday. There was a protest of the events in Ferguson. And as with most protests, the police were present. Maybe you’ve seen the photo. Another 12 year old boy… African American as well, was at the protest and was holding a sign that said “free hugs.” A police officer began talking to the boy. At the end of their conversation, the police officer pointed to the sign and asked, “Do I get one of those?” He did, and the photo is of this police officer and the boy hugging, with the boys eyes filled with tears.

And… you know what dear brothers and sisters? I’m pretty sure that we saw Jesus.

 

Amen

 

No, that is not ok

This morning and last night white supremacists demonstrated in Charlottesville Virginia. That is a very long way from Oxnard California, but both cities are in the United States. For this reason what happens there is important here and everywhere else. As a white middle class woman I denounce the racism of white supremacy. It is not the responsibility of my brothers and sisters of color to denounce racism. They have enough to do in living the effects of racism. I call on all white people who hear the command of Jesus, to love God and to love neighbor, to come to the defense of their non-white neighbors and denounce racism in all it’s forms. This is our call for these times.

Untied and United

The other day I posted a sermon (Sermon on Romans 6:1-11) which to my embarrassment I did not carefully proofread. It had way more typos than I care to admit. I remember sitting in my office, reading the post and having a verbal reaction that caused a church member to ask, “if everything ok?” “Sure” I responded, “I just can’t type!”

The particular typo was one in which I had replaced the word, “united” with the word, “untied.” Nothing like putting in the opposite!

But then I thought about it… and one of the messages of my sermon was that Black Lives Matter and I realized that we’ll never be united until we are untied.

Untied from our fear of our neighbor… especially those who are different (race, religion, language, and nationality).

Untied from our apathy… If I believe that my life is just fine, thus I don’t need to care for my neighbor then I am deceiving myself and not really living.

Untied from our fear of what others may think… some try to say that being an ally of Black Lives Matter means being an enemy of the police. This is absurd and we all benefit from better police training. Let’s not allow the loud voices defending the status quo silence us.

As long as we are bound by fear and apathy we will never experience the life giving, life enhancing unity that is before us. It is only when we are untied that we are free to truly see our brothers and sisters are beloved, as created in God’s image, and a true brother or sister. I don’t think we can experience unity, or be united, until we are untied.

What else do we need to be untied from?

Today’s Sermon (Romans 6:1-11)

Lately I haven’t been writing out my sermons…usually just notes. This message was/is difficult for me and so I had to write it all out. I’m not sure how much will change in the preaching, because I never stay exactly with what I’ve written, but I decided to share this one.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)

“A death like his.” I wonder…what comes to mind when we hear those words? “A death like his.”

A death in which Jesus is sacrificed in order to please an angry God?

A death so that I can have forgiveness?

A death that happened to an innocent man? A murder?

I once thought, had been taught, that Jesus death was solely to pay the price for my own personal sin. This death was to replace the ancient sacrificial system that had been so abused as to become meaningless as well as oppressive to the poor. For who could afford to buy a sacrificial animal but the wealthy? The emphasis was less on the issues of justice and instead on atonement. That idea that Jesus paid for mine, and your, sins. But, and this is a big but… we had to repent of those sins, we had to ask for forgiveness.

The more I’ve learned, of Jesus, of grace, of the life of faith, the more I see the truth of so much more going on than Jesus giving himself so that I personally would get that free ticket to heaven.

But this is a tricky topic…it always is when someone starts messing with cherished beliefs. So maybe I’ll just say here that my intent is not to change beliefs so much as it is to amplify them and to understand Jesus’ work in today’s context.

“A death like his.” Jesus was murdered for political reasons. Specifically he was murdered because he cast judgment on an unjust system. His attaching the moneychangers and animal vendors in the temple was not so that we could later say that we shouldn’t ever hold a fundraiser at the church (while we should still have a very good reason for doing so). No, he attacked the moneychangers and animal vendors in the temple because they were indicative of the oppression that was the daily life of every day people. The wealthy and powerful, or better said, those who were profiting off this system were angry at the disruption. Jesus was dead less than a week later.

Of course cleaning out the temple wasn’t Jesus’ only offense.

  • He…horrors…talked to women, ate with women, allowed women to learn along with the men… and this was unacceptable.
  • He talked to foreigners…although not too much.
  • He touched dead people…he touched sick people, and in doing so gave them back their dignity.
  • He healed on the Sabbath…in essence he was a breaker of the law.

From a purely legal, historical perspective, Jesus was not murdered, but received the death penalty…legally. He was “justifiably” killed for breaking the law. It was not justice. His death on the cross was a form of torture, the purpose of which was to deter others from following in his footsteps… all to support a system of oppression.

“A death like his.” I’m not sure that I want to be united with Jesus in this sort of death. I’m comfortable living my middle class life, in a middle class neighborhood, pastoring a middle class church. None of us has reason to fear the state…however, in our own political climate we see many in our own neighborhoods whose status as “undocumented” has them in fear of arrest and deportation each day. It’s not right, but it is legal. These brothers and sisters of our can probably relate to the words, “a death like his” far better than can I.

This week I’ve pondered the tragic case of Philando Castile. I remember when he was first killed. His girlfriend filming immediately after the shooting, “You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”

These words speak so much. That she continued to use the word, “sir” as maybe an attempt at de-escalation…to save her own life and that of her daughter. Late last week the officer was acquitted…as most are.

A couple years ago (I think), after the events in Ferguson, when another black man was shot and killed by police, I preached a sermon on the reason for the Black Lives Matter movement and on why we should support it. People said that Mike Brown was a criminal, disrespectful to the police officer…as if he deserved to then be shot. Even if one were to believe this, the opposite was true for Mr. Castile, he was respectful and calmly told the officer he was legally carrying a gun. What is a black person to do?

This past week, there was a call from many within our denomination to get behind the movement for Black Lives Matter…the movement for justice. Why now? First, there is the reminder that 9 members of Mother Emmanual AME church in Charlston were murdered two years ago. Their killer? A member of an ELCA congregation. Second, the killing of Philando Castile took place in the heart of Lutheran land. The shooting was only a few blocks from Luther Seminary.

This is a Lutheran issue…it’s a Christian issue and sadly recent studies show that the majority of white Christians don’t think that racism exists. We can do better.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Maybe in this context our being united with Jesus is to truly see our black brothers and sisters as precious children of God and in seeing them to advocate for their lives…because they do indeed matter.

In this week’s gospel lesson Jesus is reported to have said,

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32)

I usually see this verse on Facebook with the challenge to share it…as if that were the acknowledging that Jesus is requesting. I never share it…actually never share anything that comes to me with the instructions, “share this…” to show you’re Christian. Words on Facebook matter little.

How we live matters a lot. Acknowledging Jesus before others is to also in some mysterious way be united with Jesus in his death…they are linked…and they remind us that living as a disciple is not always easy…sometimes we are called to step out of our safe spaces.

As difficult as this is, it is not bad news. Following Jesus includes the promise of resurrection. This is life…glorious, sometimes scary beautiful life. The promise that we read of in Romans is that we receive this wonderful gift of God’s grace…completely free. As I say over and over that we don’t have to do anything to earn it. This free gift of grace comes with an invitation, a call, to live as a disciple…to follow Jesus into the painful places… and in so doing to discover life…resurrected life…life lived for each other.