Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Letter to My Church the Day After the 2016 Election

Dear CCCUCC folks,

I don't know about you, but I spent a sleepless night stunned, angry and fearful after watching the election results come in.  Church members whom I have seen today have expressed variations on feelings of sadness and anger regarding the election.  Yet, I suppose that even in our church, not all share the same feelings regarding the election.

I'm very aware that there are plenty of people out there for whom the election results were good news.  I try not to make generalizations about the political leanings of our congregation.  We may be a congregation made up of folks who largely lean leftward politically and religiously, but we do cherish diversity of thought and belief.  Just as there are always political liberals who sit quietly in more conservative churches, so also, I assume there are political conservatives who remain quiet in ours.  So, I want to be mindful of those who do not share my feelings regarding the election.  If that's you, please know of my love for you as your minister.  I recognize that people cast votes for all kinds of different reasons.  The love we share from our God is greater than our differences.

If you, however, share my feelings of sadness, anger and confusion regarding the outcomes of yesterday's election, then I have some thoughts for you.

1.  God is not dead.  That may seem like an obvious thing to say, but sometimes we can lose perspective.  God is bigger than any particular election outcome.  The words of the Psalmist seem ever more true to me today:

God is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
God is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

Even politicians we may vote for will nonetheless disappoint us, but God remains faithful and true.  (For instance, I voted for President Obama twice and respect and admire him and agree with many decisions he has made, but not all.  His administration's policies toward undocumented immigrants have been seriously unjust in my opinion and the huge numbers of deportations that have broken up families--far more than the previous Bush administration--are a stain upon our national conscience.)  All political administrations are imperfect and broken, because the people who make them up are likewise imperfect and broken.  Yet, the purposes of God for justice and equality, peace and wholeness are not vanquished by one party or another.  God is still at work in our society and world.  Whatever our feelings at the moment, we should seek out where God is at work and there we will find hope and peace.  If you and I are open to the work God is doing all around us, then we can claim the words of the prophet Isaiah as our own:

Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for God is my strength and my might;
    God has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to God,
    call on God's name;
make known God's deeds among the nations

2.  There are lessons to be learned from this election.  The level of racism, sexism, nativism, homophobia, transphobia and scapegoating has been alarming during this campaign season and the audacity in which candidates have reveled in blatant demonization of others is more than horrifying.  I believe our new president-elect trafficked especially in this language of oppression.   The leaders of our denomination, The United Church of Christ, said it well in today's pastoral letter:

Mr. Trump was able to win this election in spite of clear evidence from him of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, and Islamaphobia. This was so blatant that many of his own party's leaders could not endorse him. Many who voted for him knew this, and yet their fears about what is happening in their lives overrode their distaste for his bombast.  In their search for a leader not connected to the power base of a government that has been perceived as corrupt, inefficient, and out of touch - his populist rhetoric appealed to them. He must now lead a country where people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled, and an LGBT community all feel the sting and impact of his public speech.

Any who believe we have somehow moved past the evils of yesteryear when it comes to racism and sexism have no excuse any more for keeping their blinders on.  We are a culture awash in white supremacy, patriarchy and heterosexism.  

One church member shared with me today that in his job he talks to people all over the country and for weeks he knew the polls were wrong, because what he was hearing amounted to a victory for our new president-elect.  What I believe he was hearing was a deep cry of pain from many people who feel trapped by economic and political forces which have devastated their lives.  The divide between rich and poor which also amounts to the divide between urban and rural is the unspoken topic of this election season.  (If you don't know what I mean by this, I highly recommend the audio series by the public radio program On the Media "Busted: America's Poverty Myths.")  

When there is deep pain, humans too often look for salvation in the wrong place.  Human history is full of leaders who prey upon the pain of their people.  This pain is real, and unfortunately people in pain choose to scapegoat others--usually those in the minority--as the source of their pain.  This pain must be responded to with love rather than by choices to likewise scapegoat and demonize others.  If those of us who feel hurt by this election respond in kind to those we feel have demonized and attacked us, then we are no better than those we disagree with.  The words of the writer of 1 John are especially true the day after election day:

We love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Jesus is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

3.  Now is especially time to care for the wounded and marginalized, the outsiders and the excluded.  Those who feel distraught because of this election have a choice whether or not to wallow in their feelings of despair or to respond with love.  There are people all around who have felt particularly targeted by the Trump campaign. Many are fearful for their safety and their family's safety today.  I'm thinking particularly of Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people and African Americans.  Whether they will be carried out or not, specific threats have been made towards these communities and they deserve support.  Seek out your friends, neighbors and coworkers who live in fear this day.  Share with them of your care for them and your support of them.  Reassure them they are loved.  Turn your fears into acts of love for others who are afraid.  I often am asked to read these words from Ecclesiastes at weddings, but they should be meditated upon whenever we are called to be friends to one another:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.

4.  Our church is needed now more than ever.  One of the things that has encouraged me this day has been our community of faith at CCCUCC.  

This morning my inbox contained e-mails from church members encouraging one another with poetry and songs and telling of their decisions to do something today that is positive and that gives light and life to others.  

This morning I visited a church member in the hospital recovering from surgery and although she was thankful for my visit, I was the one inspired by her strength and determination.  She expressed her gratitude for her church and the many who have been praying for her.  She has drawn comfort from your support.  

I am remembering the words of Rev. Cynthia Meyer who preached on Sunday.  Even though she has been denied the right to serve as a minister in her denomination because of her sexual orientation, she could preach at our church, because of the freedom and inclusion we practice.  She encouraged us to be "beacons of light" to a world shrouded in shadows of despair and pain.  Her words reminded me of the founders of our congregation who chose to put a star on top of our building, because they wanted our church to be a light to the world.  

When the Religious Right loses in political elections, they do not give up.  They work harder to organize and build their movement to promote a narrow view of God and to see that understanding of God promoted by the state.  I think trying to be a "Religious Left" is a losing game (we are called to a much bigger work of God's peace and justice than merely being a response to those on the religious and political far-right), but I do believe that people who believe in a God of love and welcome and grace must likewise organize and spread an alternative understanding of Christianity.  Similarly, I believe people who believe in a pluralistic society that not only tolerates difference but promotes mutual learning and understanding across religious and cultural boundaries must work harder than ever to create such a society.  People of all faiths and no faith who believe there is room for all in our society must find one another and work together.  I believe our church is uniquely suited to such work and the God we experience together calls us to do it.  The writer of Colossians speaks of God "reconciling all things to God's self" through Christ's example of sacrificial love.  Our world desperately needs a vision of Christianity that believes God is about reconciling all things together rather than one which professes God is out to destroy those whom they say are evil.

4.  Think hard about how you are using your energy and what you are putting into your consciousness and what you are filling your soul with.  If the discomfort you feel does not prompt you to greater acts of love, then God is not in it.  If you find yourself pulling away from others and having no space in your heart to hear the perspective of someone that differs from your own, then you are pulling away from God.  Let your discomfort, anger and sadness motivate you to care for others, demonstrate the love of God to others and create spaces where others find peace and opportunities for wholeness.  With God's help, you can be the one who is generous to others with whom you disagree even if they choose not to be generous to you.  You will find the emptiness you feel inside filled with the joy of being useful for God's work of reconciliation.  

It takes strength of will to resist the siren call of angry rhetoric and self-righteous declarations.  Today I had to make a decision to not get onto social media and not watch or listen to or read the news, because I was in a state where I was in desperate need of input that would give me hope and faith rather than anger and arrogance.  Be attentive to the state of your soul and allow things in which lead you to greater love.  This is what Paul wrote about when he said:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

I awoke this morning thinking of one of my favorite poems, "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry.  The beginning lines seemed to match my feelings: 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be

It's as if he wrote the poem for how I felt after the election.  Yet, he goes on to describe what he does in such moments:

I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I think Berry is on to something that Jesus taught when he urged his followers to "consider the birds of the air. . . and the lilies of the field" in order to live in a state of faith and peace because of God's care for us.  

To sum up, if today you feel attacked, alone or afraid, please know if you are receiving this e-mail you have a church that cares for you and you are loved.  

No matter how you feel about the election, I hope you will take to heart the words of Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of our sister denomination the Disciples of Christ

"To those who are rejoicing, we recall '... but (if I) have not love, I gain nothing.' (I Cor. 13:3.) To those who are fearful this day: 'Perfect love drives out fear.' (I John 4:18)  

May you be moved to greater acts of love and peace trusting in our Creator and Sustainer who is our ultimate source of hope.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I'm an Angry White Man and Here's What I'm Mad About!

Well, it looks like "angry white men" are the "soccer moms" of the 2016 election.  Commentators appear to be using the term "angry white men" to refer to white male blue collar workers who are "frustrated that the social contract they felt entitled to has been broken and that they have been forgotten."  I looked in the mirror this morning and realized that I'm white and male and angry, so I feel like I'm going to put my feelings out there for the world to hear.  I'm an employed minister in Kansas City and not a laid off steel mill worker from Ohio, but dang it, I'm angry too!  (Apologies for the salty language.)  Just because I'm white and male, however doesn't mean I'm angry at immigrants and black people.  Here's what I'm angry about:

1.  I'm Angry at Angry White Men--I get it.  This country was made by white men for white men or at least it was made by rich white men for other rich white men.  We had an understanding that if we were born white and male, then we got to be on top of the social hierarchy.  It's a bummer that we don't get to rule over women and oppress ethnic and sexual minorities anymore.  Well, actually, we still get to do all the oppression stuff, but thanks to the advent of cell phone cameras we just may occasionally be caught doing so nowadays.  To all my fellow angry white men mad because you actually have to share the spotlight with people who aren't white, straight and male, get over it!  Quit your whining.  Isn't 300+ years ruling the roost enough for you?  In the end, the idea that each human being is "created in the image of God" (see Genesis 1:27) has to mean that white men should let somebody else be lineleader.

2.  I'm Angry at Climate Change Deniers--I love being a wasteful American just as much as anybody.  I want to drive what I want, eat what I want, consume what I want and keep buying, more, more more, without having to think about the consequences.  This is getting ridiculous, however.  You've got to really have your aluminum foil hat screwed on tightly to ignore the overwhelming evidence that human consumption of fossil fuels is changing the climate in devastating ways.  It's not like NASA has laid out the evidence for humans causing climate change in an easy to understand web site, right?  Oh wait, they have.  I miss the days when McDonald's would serve me my Big Mac in those Styrofoam containers too--those were good times, but c'mon, enough is enough.  At some point sane people have to admit climate change is real, and if God created our planet and it belongs to God (see Psalm 24:1 and 1 Corinthians 10:26), maybe we shouldn't freaking destroy it!

3.  I'm Angry at People Scapegoating Immigrants--I know, I know, it's so much easier to blame undocumented immigrants for taking our jobs than to blame faceless corporations using lower wage laborers overseas or the steady advance of technology that automates many jobs.  It's just not as satisfying to demonize a robot as it is a guy who fled poverty and violence in his own country to work a low hourly wage to send money back to feed his family all the while  living in fear of being caught and deported.  That guy you can hate on, but hating on a robot or a corporate board just isn't very satisfying.  Scapegoating just feels better, doesn't it?  Nevermind those undocumented workers are held prisoner by the same economic forces that we are or that they pay billions into Social Security which they will never collect.  At some point, however, the feeling of hating on another ethnic group begins to feel a little empty.  Besides, there is all that stuff in the Bible about "caring for the stranger in your land."  (see Deuteronomy 10:17-19 and a whole bunch of other verses)  It kind of takes the fun out of scapegoating immigrants when you consider God may be on their side.

4.  I'm Angry at the Entire Criminal Justice System--I used to sleep well at night knowing that American culture works just like one of those hour-long police procedural TV shows.  Bad guys get caught, tried fairly and sentenced appropriately for their crimes.  Then I came across Michelle Alexander and her book The New Jim Crow, and suddenly the statistics were everywhere about how differently white and black people along with rich and poor people are treated by every part of our criminal justice system--from traffic stops to death penalty sentences.  Thanks a lot criminal justice system!  I would have gladly kept my delusion that everything is fair out there.  I suppose I could just holler "reverse racism" or accuse protesters of "hating white people," but then God does seem to have this thing about "fairness" (see Isaiah 56:1) and "condemning the innocent" (Proverbs 17:15), not to mention that whole thing about when we care for people in prison it's just like we are caring for Jesus.  (see Matthew 25:36).  


5.  I'm Angry at all the Patriots Out There--Hey all you flag wavers out there, I'm with you.  Let's support the troops and respect the flag.  Explain to me again, however, why it's somehow disrespectful to the troops to question our nation's record of using military force in recent decades?  From my view, it's more disrespectful to sing along to Lee Greenwood's "I'm Proud to Be an American" while sending our troops off to fight and potentially get gravely wounded or dead for some misguided foreign policy thought up by lobbyists.  If we really want to care for out troops shouldn't we stop sending them to fight misguided wars that never seem to end?  Why is it more patriotic to unquestioningly support bombing the hell out of some place than to question it?  I know it feels all nice and manly to go to war, but when the Bible speaks of God's ideal for humanity it says, "they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not make war against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."  (see Isaiah 2:4)

6.  I'm Angry at Christians--I'm a Christian and even I assume that when I meet someone new who says they are a Christian that they must think being gay is a sin, vote only for Republicans, anti-science and generally no fun.  Congratulations Christians, you've succeeded in making pretty much everybody understanding the gracious sacrificial love of Jesus as essentially getting to be the playground bully.  I'm not just talking to conservative evangelicals either.  Progressive Christians have sat back and let it happen.  (I should know I am one.)  We've allowed the selfless love of Jesus to be turned into the blessing of  violence and oppression.  Then when some Christians get pushback, they have the nerve to whine that they are being oppressed by heathen secularists.  Cry me a river!   Wouldn't it be great if when people thought of Christians they actually thought of love and grace rather than bullying?  (If you're wondering what that looks like, see Philippians 2:1-11)

Well, that's about as close as I come to doing a Lewis Black imitation.  I feel much better now that I've gotten all my white male anger out of my system--at least for now.  It's a good thing that Jesus said I only have to spout off about things that make me angry instead of letting my anger motivate me to actually make the world a better place.  

Grace and Peace,

Chase


Recommended Reading and Listening 10-7-16 edition

Regularly, if somewhat spasmodically, I share a list of things I'm reading, watching and listening to with my congregation.  If I remember to do so, I also post it here on my blog:

2016 Election
White Privilege
  • Wow, this is really powerful writing by a "light-skinned" black woman who is often perceived to be white about the way she encounters racism depending on what "race" white people perceive her to be.
Black Lives Matter
LGBTQ
  • Interesting interview with a lawyer specializing in LGBTQ relationships that talks about issues such as taxes, social security and other legal issues. Although the law is the same for straight and same gender couples, she is helpful, especially to long-term same gender couples who may have been together for a long time but haven't thought before about the financial and legal dimensions of marriage.
  • Central Baptist Theological Seminary (where our associate minister Bethany Meier is a student) has recently come under fire for its policies of fully accepting LGBTQ people.  Here is CBTS president Molly Marshal's response to the attack
You can find more stuff that I think is worth reading, watching and listening to by following me on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Why Should I Care if a Black Football Player Kneels During the National Anthem?

It's been weeks since San Francisco 49ers back up quarterback, Colin Kapernick, remained seated during the national anthem before an NFL game to protest the treatment of black people by police across our country.  Kapernick explained his refusal to stand for the anthem by saying, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." Since then all kinds of athletes have been kneeling during the national anthem: other NFL players, college football players, a female pro soccer player and even elementary age sports teams.  Even my beloved KC Chiefs held a similar protest by locking arms together with cornerback Marcus Peters raising a black-gloved fist in the air.  

I have to confess feeling more than just a bit cynical  when pro athletes make political statements.  I tend to think celebrities are a little too good at self-promotion to do anything really selfless.  (Also, I confess having more than a little bias against Kapernick, for whom the 49ers dumped the now KC Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.  Now that I think about it, maybe I should thank Kapernick, otherwise the Chiefs could still have Matt Cassell playing QB.)  My cynicism eroded however, when I read about Kapernick's efforts to explain his protest in the face of accusations he was ignorant, unpatriotic and just trying to get attention now that his career is fading.  Many of the threats were racist and violent.  My cynicism was fully wiped away when Kapernick committed to donate $1 million of his salary to aid groups helping people affected by racial inequality and police brutality.

I still wondered why I should care about Kapernick's protest.  After all, it's just football, right?

I began to realize why Kapernick's protest and so many others matter when I was listening to my local sports radio show on 810 AM and they began discussing Black Lives Matter.  I prepared myself to cringe at guys used to making fart jokes and rehashing football games trying to talk about the difficult topics of race and inequality.  Surprisingly, the conversation was thoughtful and radio personalities of different ethnicities began sharing their different experiences with police and the criminal justice system.  I was blown away by their candor and vulnerability.  How many people listening--a huge percentage of them white men--had never had such a discussion?

I had a similar moment of surprise when the black newspaper reporter who covers the Chiefs for the KC Star took time during his podcast to talk about the protests.  He pleaded with his largely white audience to have some empathy for black people's experiences with law enforcement.  He begged them to consider that a white person's experience with the criminal justice system is likely vastly different from a black person's experience.  

 KC Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley has emerged as an articulate voice in our city when it comes to these protests.  Conley's father is career Air Force, and when he asked his father about the protest and whether or not it disrespected him and other veterans, his father replied that whether he likes it or not, he and other veterans fought so people could have the freedom to protest.  Once again, I had to wonder how many people--maybe for the first time--were reading Conley's words and reflecting in a new way about the patriotic rituals before sports games and whether everyone shares the same freedoms to an equal amount.


"As everyone is aware, this past Saturday before the game against Northwestern DaiShon Neal, Mohamed Berry and myself kneeled in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and many other athletes across the country. Those professional and unprofessional who are standing together to use their various platforms to bring awareness about police brutality and the recent deaths of black men and women at the hands of police officers. While the anthem played, I prayed along with DaiShon and Mohamed. We asked God to watch over us and protect us, and to look down on this country with grace and mercy and to look down on all of us with grace and mercy. You see, we are not perfect beings. 2 Corinthians 3:5 says 'Not that we are sufficient in our own selves to claim anything as coming from us but sufficiency is from God.' As we looked at what has been going on in this country the injustice has been taken place primarily against people of color and we all realize there is a systematic problem in America that needs to be addressed. We felt it was our duty to step up and join the chorus of athletes in the NFL, WNBA, college and high school using their platforms to highlight these issues. We did this understanding the implications of these actions, but what we didn't expect was the enormous amount of racially hateful comments we received from friends, peers, fans, members of the media and others about the method of protest. While you may disagree with the method, these reactions to it further underscore the need for this protest and gives us just a small glimpse into the persistent problems of race in this country and the divisive mentality of some Americans. To make it clear, I am not anti-police, anti-military, nor anti-America. I love my country deeply and appreciate the freedoms it professes to afford me. I have travelled outside of the United States, I have seen how people live in other countries with my own eyes. And though I've endured hardships as a kid and didn't grow up with the whole world in the palm of my hands, as a conscious being, I am able to recognize that there are people out there who are in a much worse position than I am. I find it very concerning how some of my fellow Americans cannot do the same when it comes to these issues. Unfortunately, I cannot turn a blind eye to injustice. As Dr. King once said 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict... (an individual) who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.' So therefore, I believe it is my job, first as a man of faith, which teaches me 'for what you do for the least of my brothers, you have done for me. And second brothers, you have done for me.' And second as a young black man, who sees people who look like me being unfairly treated, who do not have the platform to let others know about these injustices that go on every single day. I feel I am obligated to stand up and bring awareness to the social injustices that are not limited to police brutality but also to policies and laws that discriminate and hinder the growth opportunities of people of color, low income people, women, and other marginalized communities. Again, there are issues in this country that need to be addressed. There are issues in this country that can no longer be pushed off onto the backs of another generation. For me, I look at it like this: Do I want my kids to be a part of that and have to endure the same struggles that we do today? No I don't. So, it is my job to work to make this world a better place for the next generation. It is disheartening to see that the same social injustices that the likes of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Ghandi, WEB DuBois, Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall, Maya Angelou, Jackie Robinson and Muhammed Ali amongst others have spoken out about since the birth of this nation. As a young black man, I cannot hide from these realities. As a child of the most high, I cannot hide from my responsibilities to be a voice for those who cannot speak loud enough to reach those who can help change their reality or the voices that continue to be ignored or muted. Those who are continuously told it is their fault that their problems exist, that only if they do better then they will have better. That if you just pull up your pants, etc. you can fulfill your own 'what if' but it's not so simple, it's not so clear. I can say that with confidence because even though I have done better, even though I am a college graduate, even though I am blessed and fortunate to play college football at the highest level and at one of the most prestigious schools in college football, even though I am a healthy being and even though I am fully conscious I have still endured racism. I am still referred to on Facebook and Twitter as a clueless, confused (expletive deleted), who by my former high school classmates, friends, peers, and even Husker fans. Some believe Daishon, Mohamed and myself should be kicked off of the team or suspended, some say we deserve to be lynched or shot just like the other black people that have died recently. Another believed that since we didn't want to stand for the anthem that we should be hung before the anthem for the next game. These are actual statements we received from fans. People assume this is just internet talk but I can tell you from my own experience at this very institution, at various other college campuses within the past four years that racism is still a problem that must be addressed. I can't tell you the numerous amount of times I've heard the "n-word" being shouted at my teammates and I from opposing fans behind our bench. My freshman year I remember going to a frat party and was told '(expletive deleted) weren't allowed in this house.' We were escorted out several minutes later by security officers. People want athletes like Daishon, Mohammad, and myself to remain silent and just play football. However, we cannot ignore what we've lived. We, as black athletes, cannot remain silent. We are fully aware that football consumes only a small part of our lives. As we are often reminded, football will not last forever. These issues are bigger than football. These issues are bigger than me. These issues are bigger than you. These issues are bigger than all of us because it impacts all of us, whether you believe it or not. We must have accountability, we must have understanding, we must have love, but we also must have genuine dialogue that finds genuine solutions and demands genuine action. We must demand that from ourselves, we must demand that from our family members, we must demand that from our friends, we must demand that from our schools, we must demand that from our police officers, we must demand that from everyone in this nation. That is everyone's role as a conscious human being. I believe that we are supposed to look for one another and call out the injustices in this world against the oppressed, even when you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. America is a great place, despite the ugly blemishes. I love that I am able to wake up and worship my God, without fear of persecution. I love that I am able to express my viewpoint and I am protected by Constitution of the United States. This is what makes America great. But I cannot also ignore those things that keep America divided. I believe in the promise of America, that all men are created equal, have the right to liberty, justice and equality but unfortunately America doesn't always live up to these ideals. So in the words of James Baldwin, 'I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.' It is my hope that in taking a knee, the consciousness of the entire nation will be raised and everyone will be challenged to truly come together and work towards fairness, equality and justice for all. We have an important role. We all have this responsibility. God Bless."

Rose-Ivey offers, I believe, the most articulate explanation as to why I should care about the protests of these athletes.  Furthermore, the reaction he received for protesting only further explains why his actions are necessary.  At the same press conference, he went on to describe how he and his teammates who protested received death threats, including ones saying they should be lynched or shot like other black people who have recently been killed or perhaps hung as the national anthem played before the next game.  The hateful attacks on Rose-Ivey and his teammates demonstrate that we have a long way to go as a society and there are a whole lot of us who need to have more conversation about race.

Over the recent weeks I've been reminded that the athletic arena was one of the first visible forums in public life to demonstrate the excellence and abilities of black people.  It has often been used as a platform for black athletes to protest against racism.  Consider the actions of Muhammad Ali as well as the raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos.  Past actions were just as unpopular then as the current protests are now.  Only in a sanitized version of history can we look back and see such actions as anything other than threatening to white people who are well-meaning and those who are not.  Many voices wish to draw a distinction between the racism of the sixties versus our current situation and there is some validity to that point.  Things have no doubt improved in many significant ways, but that is not an excuse for ignoring or erasing the experience of racism black people experience today.

These most recent protests point out the reality that the national story we tell ourselves is both true and untrue at the same time.  The story that we are a great nation and our members of the military are righteous is true in the sense that we do enjoy many blessings of freedom and opportunity absent in other societies and our soldiers and veterans sacrifice greatly on behalf of our nation.  Yet, this national story is also untrue in the sense that freedoms and opportunity are not equally available to all and for all our strengths as a nation we remain at best a work in progress.  Our national story is untrue in the sense that often our displays of patriotism and flag waving and yes, singing of the national anthem are used as tools to shut out voices of dissent and silence the voices of the oppressed.  There is no better way, perhaps, to demonstrate the truth and un-truth of our national story than by the images of the flag waving juxtaposed with black athletes kneeling in protest.  The truth that our nation is great because of the freedoms it promises is just as true as the reality that we often fail to live up to those promises.

As Christians, we especially need to hear these voices of dissent even as we give thanks for the blessings we do have in this country.  The testimony from scripture is clear that God hears the cries of the oppressed and the downtrodden--from the Israelites held in slavery in Egypt to Jesus on the cross to the cries of the Psalms.  God stands with those who are beaten down by the ideologies of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and economic inequality.  If we wish to experience God, we must go where God is speaking.  God is speaking through the actions of the protestors, and yes that includes Colin Kapernick.

So I guess that I, as a white guy who just wants to watch some football, really should care why black athletes are protesting during the national anthem.  Along with our rallying cry, "Are you ready for some football?" maybe we should also cry, "Are you ready for some social justice?"   

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Recommended Reading and Listening 10-1-16 edition

A Great Blog Post by CCCUCC Associate Minister Bethany Meier
  • This is a great post on the blog of Central Baptist Theological Seminary by Bethany about her faith journey as a gay Christian and what her seminary journey and her experience in the United Church of Christ have meant to her.
White Privilege
Black Lives Matter
Sexism and Patriarchy
  • "How Pop Culture Tells Women to Shut Up"--If I had a daughter, I would study this article carefully. Even though I don't have a daughter, because I care about girls and women, I also study this article carefully.
LGBTQ
  • "I'm the gay son of a preacher man. When I came out to Dad, he was perfect"--In my ministry I get to hear a lot of sad and painful stories of LGBTQ folks coming out to their parents. When parents reject their LGBTQ kids, religion--specifically Christianity--seems like the dominant factor. It's nice to read a story where a parent (who happens to be a minister) demonstrates love and grace to his own child.
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool
You can find more stuff that I think is worth reading, watching and listening to by following me on Facebook and Twitter.

Recommended Reading and Listening 9-16-16 edition

United Church of Christ News
Religion in America
Economic Justice When It Comes to Development in KCMO
Refugees
9-11 Fifteen Years Later
Election
Racism
Gun Violence
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool
You can find more stuff that I think is worth reading, watching and listening to by following me on Facebook and Twitter.