My Thoughts – BlackkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman Movie PosterI’m not a movie critic. Sometimes when I read what others have written about movies, my own thoughts seem to be so inadequate. Maybe if I saw more movies, and then chose to review them I’d get better at it. But then, life as a movie critic is not my job.

My current job is both a job and a title, Pastor. Specifically, pastor in a Lutheran Church that is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We are one of the (if not the most) whitest denominations in America. The synod of which I am a part (Los Angeles and surrounding counties) is the most diverse, something to be proud of. But my congregation is not one of those diverse congregations I am sad to say. I am a white pastor in a majority Mexican immigrant city. I speak some Spanish and am continually working at it. But so far, my efforts to lead us to being a more diverse church have had limited success. This is just a bit of my context.

Today, for Labor Day, I went to see BlackkKlansman. It was a powerful movie. It bridges the past and the present in such a way that it is impossible to close our eyes to the ongoing evil of white supremacy in our nation.

I don’t use the word “evil” lightly. It was evil to kidnap and subsequently enslave people. It was evil to keep their children as slaves. It was a most horrible evil to sometimes rip children from the arms of their parents so that they could be sold again. Slavery in this nation was done under the guise of Christianity, my religion. This was evil.

This was not the subject of the movie. But I couldn’t help to think of it because this sin of slavery is at the heart of the racism that we continue to live with today.

BlackkKlansman is a story that is based on a memoir. I don’t know what of it is true memoir and what is added story telling.

An uncomfortable, for me, aspect of this story was the juxtaposition of scenes depicting calls for white power alongside demonstrations with calls for black power. I am uncomfortable because I often wonder how we will ever progress. The story also almost allows us (white people) to tell ourselves that we aren’t part of the KKK and thus we are not racist. It touches on the institutional aspects of racism but even there, it depicts a racist police officer rather than a system that is biased against people of color. Alas, there is too much to cover in a single movie.

As a pastor, I continually preach that we are allcreated in God’s image and that means us all people. I also lament the fact that too many of my fellow (white) Christians don’t seem to be able to see this beauty in all of God’s creation. I often wonder about my place among Christianity, because it seems as if the most vocal proponents of my faith are also vocal proponents of white supremacy. Even if they don’t use those words.

I’ve heard arguments along the lines of, “no, that is not us, but we just want everyone to get along.” But then the next line of the conversation is to attack Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization. I don’t know how many times I have tried to explain the reason the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary.

I once had a very long dialog with a distant family member. He is an evangelical Christian and he had no desire to learn about why people are protesting. It was easier for his to condemn the protestors as members of a hate group. I went so far as to try and find people in his city for him to meet and to learn from. But once I made this step, it became clear that he wasn’t interested in learning. It turns out that he was just trying to figure out how “unchristian” I am because of my “liberal” positions. The conversation ended with his telling me that he’s learned a bit about ELCA Lutherans and it appears that I am where I belong (not a compliment from his perspective), and that he would pray for me. I wanted to scream that I don’t want these prayers. I didn’t scream, but I did say that instead of praying for me, maybe he could pray to see.

I’m tired and I’m white and I’m privileged and I’ve not done enough and I’m not doing enough and I’m tired.

Stamped from the BeginningI cannot imagine how exhausted my Black sisters and brothers must be in living with the structural racism that is so much a part of our culture. It is like the air we breathe. Don’t believe me? I suggest you read, starting with “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi. If anyone reading this would like to read this book as a group – in person gatherings or online, please let me know. I think we could learn a lot together.

Our learning the history of slavery, segregation, and racism from times past until now is necessary for us to be able to see the truth that is all around us. We need to learn so that we can see and so that we can work for a better today and a better tomorrow. I don’t believe that it should be the responsibility of our Black citizens to get us white people to change. It should be up to us! It is our continued collective sin in burying our heads as we try to say, “that’s not me” or “that’s not us.”

Letter From Birmingham Jail is included in this book
As I think of this I am reminded of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” I’ve often said that if I could, I would add this letter to the canon of scripture. I don’t’ have that ability, but I can still use it in matters of faith. And as I think about this movie, and the state of affairs in our country today I am reminded of his calling to account of the “white moderate.” For Rev. King, the moderate was in many ways worse than the overt racist because the moderate just went along with the status quo. This was not helpful then and it is not helpful now.

Well my friends, this was definitely not a review of the movie! Please see it. Please read what our sibling of color are writing. And please know that the God that I know is a gracious God. This God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. All our neighbors. It’s not easy to do but it starts with opening our eyes to see.

This pastor hopes and prays that we will.

Traumatizing the Children

Each week, in our Sunday worship service, we have a time for a Children’s Chat. Yesterday, we didn’t have any children. For our small congregation this occurs about once a month (last week we had 10 children, which is also a monthly occurrence). Anyway, I often will just skip this time with the children. But yesterday I opted to talk about the children. Other children. Children who are being traumatized. I didn’t write down my comments, so I don’t know exactly what I said, and how, but here is what I was thinking.

We have a crisis at our border today. Our government has decided to take children away from their parents, as a “deterrent” to other migrants (many seeking asylum) who might try to make their way to our country. We’ve been praying about this for a few weeks. But now we must act. I urge each of you to speak up. Write to our representatives. Voice your concerns at all levels. We cannot be silent on this.

This morning, as I drove to join a group run, I listened to the news and heard a pediatrician speaking about the trauma that is being visited upon these children (and their parents). This trauma has the very real potential to cause life-long problems for these children. Trauma actually affects developing brains. To make matters worse, we are hearing stories of little children taken from their parents and being placed in strange surroundings, sometimes in cages. These children may be provided food and shelter, but they are not receiving nurture. Apparently there is a policy that “shelter” (more like prison) employees are not allowed to touch the children. Being deprived of comforting touch is heaping additional abuse onto these traumatized children.

As I listened to this, I visualized the scene at our preschool on those first days of school each year. This is when little ones are oftentimes separated from their parents for the first time in their lives. It’s an important developmental step, but it is hard. So, the sound that often comes from the school those first few days is of children crying. Not all children cry, but once in awhile one child crying will cause them all to cry. Sometimes the parents cry too…and the teachers often have to encourage the parent to leave.

Not much formalmteaching happens those first few days. But there is a lot of comforting. (I think the teaching here is to learn that mom or dad will indeed return and that all will be well.)

At this point in my talk, a retired preschool teacher interrupted me with the question:

“And do you know what we tell those children?”

“What?” I respond.

“We tell them that mommy or daddy will return very soon.”

She was emotional as she shared this.

The children who are being taken from their parents have no idea when or if they will be reunited with the parents. Can you imagine this?

This policy of separating children from their parents is evil. Yesterday, I was at a loss of words beyond this recognition of the evil of these actions.

As people of faith, we are called to love our neighbor. We are called to welcome the stranger. We are called to care for the children (in fact Jesus gives dire warning against those who would harm children). We are called to all of this by a God who loves us immensely. It is this love that should, and indeed can give us the power to use our collective voice in opposition to what is happening.

Please speak up.

This was in regards pastors in my neighborhood who were deported. Now it’s happening to a pastor in my denomination so I share again. We Shall…

Someone made signs for us to hold. You can see the places where the raindrops hit the sign. I think of the spots as God’s tears.

I started my day today joining other pastors and community members at our local ICE office. The office is located in a nondescript strip mall in Camarillo. There is no room for anyone to gather inside the office, so we gathered outside, in the rain.

We shall overcome…

Our gathering was not one of silence, but of prayer and song. From many backgrounds, some religious, some not, we were the church in the world as we sang (songs of faith and songs borrowed from the civil rights movement), we read scripture, and we prayed.

Why were we there? Because the stories that we see in the news each day…stories of regular people being deported…are not stories of strangers. They are not stories of people that we don’t know. They are stories of our neighbors. We may think we don’t know anyone affected or possibly affected, be if we know our neighbors, then we know someone affected.

Today the neighbors we were supporting were a couple who serve as pastors in a church here in Oxnard. I cannot at this time share their names or the name of their church, but I can share their story:

My neighbors, our neighbors, came to the United States 24 years ago. Four years later they tried to legalize their status, but had very poor legal representation. Tragically this effort resulted in a deportation order. They’ve been fighting that for the last 20 years.

As part of that fight, they’ve been allowed to obtain a “stay of removal.” When you get one of these you can also obtain a work permit (for an extra fee of course!). Our neighbors have been doing this for many years. They usually receive stays that last a year. Until recently. In October 2017, their “stay of removal” was for only 3 months (same cost for stay and work permit however). In January they were told they would get no more stays and would have to leave the country in March.

When they (with their lawyer) went to a meeting at the local ICE office to try and get another stay about 20 people went with them. Some were church members, some were community members and some were pastors from various churches. The support group stayed outside, but gathered to pray and sing. ICE responded in two ways. First, officers showed up in riot gear. Second, they told the couple to come back in two weeks. I was not present this day.

We shall overcome…someday

Today, March 21, 2018, this couple, pastors who serve a church in Oxnard, pillars of the community, returned to the ICE office. Today the government refused to give them another stay. They have been ordered to leave April 6th. They have been ordered to leave their son and his wife. They have been ordered to leave their grandchildren. They have been ordered to leave their church.

I cannot imagine how they are feeling right now. I am angry. I am sad. I am embarrassed. I am ashamed. As all these feeling swirl around in my head, I can’t help asking,

How does deporting our neighbors make America great?

The other thoughts that swirl are the recognition that so much is wrong right now in our country. There is so much to protest. There is so much to resist. And among all this that needs the resisting is the shame that white Christians are largely responsible for electing this government. As a pastor I continue to struggle with this reality. (Quit when it’s hard? No Way!)

Deep in my heart, I do believe…

But I also know that my call from God is not a call to stand on the sidelines. It is not a call to stay silent. As I write this, I don’t know what I can do for this couple or for any of the others who are being torn from their homes. Alone I can do nothing. But I am not alone. Thankfully my neighbors are not alone either. We are right now trying to think of other ways we can help. I know that as we all work together we can defeat the meanness, vindictiveness, and evil that has ripped families apart. We will overcome.

We will overcome someday.

Let’s make that day today. Please get off the sidelines and make your voice heard.

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

Tears and Gratitude

A few years ago our church had a series during Lent with the theme of “who are our neighbors?” We invited various people from the community to come and speak. The goal was to help our members begin to understand neighbors that they may not know.

One of these weeks we invited two young women who were recent recipients of work permits (and ease of mind against deportation) through DACA. They were excited to come and share their stories. I was happy to hear their stories.

When it came time to talk, both girls looked out at the faces of our church members and began weeping. This emotional response was more powerful than any words. The rescinding of DACA today was a direct attack on these two young women plus the other 800,000 young people living, working, going to school, and contributing to our country.

I am proud to be an American but I am not proud of my country today.

Today I am personally thankful for: my grandparents and great-grandparents who were immigrants; the great cultural diversity that we have in our country; and the immigrants, with documentation and without, who contribute greatly to our community.

Growing up Racist #2

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10

What is godly grief? I think of it as the regret, or better, the shame that comes with recognizing the sinfulness of past (& current) behavior. Godly grief comes when we can begin to see differently. Godly grief leads to repentance…which is another way of saying that it leads to us changing our minds and changing our direction.

We are in dire need of godly grief in our nation. We, and I am speaking to white Christians, need to recognize and repent of the systemic racism that continues to define life for our brothers and sisters of color. Often, though, we become defensive and resist seeing, pretending that the problem is for another time and for other people. As part of my own confession and repentance I am remembering the racism that I’ve been a participant. Today’s story could be thought of as “casual racism” and I’m sure that some would defend it as, ‘no big deal.” But it is.

Right out of high school I went to Long Beach City College. While there I joined a “wanna-be” sorority. It was fun, but it was also a time when I engaged in some of my worst behavior (wild living). This club, like others, had to raise money for various activities and in my time there they had one large event fundraiser. A slave sale.

That’s right a slave sale. This was a night when we (female club members) would auction ourselves off…to guys. Following would be dates, or washing a car, or baking cookies, or something. As I think back on it now I’m appalled that I participated and that I did not have the maturity to recognize the casual racism and sexism that were at the heart of this fundraiser. This was truly despicable.

I am grateful for becoming a woman of faith who can say, “no, that was not ok.” I am thankful for the forgiveness God offers me. I don’t presume to think that I can receive forgiveness from those who have been hurt by casual racism and sexism.

What about you? What do you remember from your past?

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?

Having Your Back

Says Jesus (as recorded by John):

15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. -John 14:15-17

They, and we, will have an advocate. I like that word, “advocate.” With this word I think of: someone who goes to the defense of someone else; someone you can depend on; or a great helper in times of struggle. Or better:

Someone who “has your back”

The tragedy of our world is that true advocates are so hard to find. How many people can we count on when we truly need them? How good are we at being available for those who need our support? As I think about it, I can think of people in each category…actually it is the same people in each category.

As a pastor I like to think that I am available for people when they need me. Sometimes I feel frustrated when I don’t really know what’s happening and thus can’t help. I also have to then confess that I’m not always as available as I should be. Having one another’s backs is not always easy!

I wonder if some of the problems in our nation (even world) are because we sometimes get so focussed upon what is happening in our own lives that we miss the opportunity to be advocates for others. Sometimes it’s easier to get caught up in the drama of social media than it is to really see & hear what is happening with those we care about. And then sometimes, it is through social media that we learn that maybe we can step up our advocacy.

A few weeks ago I was involved in a FB conversation…actually it was a let’s just yell at one another conversation. I started the conversation from a place of feeling offended and it devolved from there, until I listened to my own inner voice which told me nothing good could come from continuing the conversation. That inner voice in my advocate and once I left the conversation it let me to reflect on how I can move from defensiveness to advocacy.

The particular issue is very painful and all too familiar, sexual assault. This time in the military. The victim of this assault was voicing her frustration with the treatment that she received after the assault. Having heard pieces of the story over the past couple years I can’t help but think of the continued assault women (and men) must experience in the aftermath of the first assault. We seem to be seriously short of advocates…or at least enough advocates to be effective.

So what can be done? First we must continue to fight a culture in which rape is excused, tolerated, and ignored. We must teach our children (and all ages) to respect one another. We must emphasize over and over again that consent to any activity (especially sexual) cannot be given when one is under the influence of anything (or anyone). I feel as if we’ve been talking about this my entire life…and indeed the conversation, the advocacy has been going on much longer. I believe we’ve made some progress but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a long long way to go.

We must be advocates for those who have been sexually assaulted. And here dear friends is where I’ve failed. I’ve been available to listen and to pray… and there is some value here. But what is also needed is for me (and others) to publicly advocate for change, especially when our government is failing in protecting those who serve.

PS: the text tells us that Jesus gives us the advocate…so we have the power within us to have one another’s backs.