Friday, July 22, 2016

Seeking Peace in a Violent World

I didn't watch very much of the Republican National Convention this week.  I was already somehow both emotionally numb and emotionally raw from the shootings of black men by police and the shootings of police, as well as the news of terrorist attacks in Europe, etc. etc. etc. (As I write this, news is breaking of yet another terrorist attack in western Europe.)  I didn't have the stomach for the speeches spewing fear and at times hate at the RNC.  

I wish I could say that I thought things would be much better at the Democratic National Convention next week, but I think there will be plenty of fear talk there too.  There may be a difference in kind and/or extreme--I'm not trying to create a false equivalency, my own personal beliefs say there are real differences--but let's face it, fear works in American politics, so does demonizing your enemy and so do promises of security.  Both parties peddle the stuff; neither can be absolved from appealing to our society's worst instincts.

I've been thinking dark thoughts this week.  

This week I reached a new level of realization regarding the fact that the white privilege I enjoy will not protect my sons from the effects of systemic racism in my culture.  Within my family, my sons are just Julian and Jameson and I forget the color of my son's skin is different from mine, but outside our family the culture will not let me forget.  When asked I've always explained that my adopted sons are bi-racial (African American and Caucasian), but I've realized maybe that's wasted breath, because the world will see them as black and treat them accordingly.

I've felt weary lately thinking about the world my sons will inherit.  Not only does racism burden my thoughts, but also the violent nature of our current politics, our indifference to climate change, economic inequality, sexism, homophobia/transphobia, etc. etc. etc.

I'm telling you I've had dark thoughts this week.  

I haven't been much fun to be around.  I've had to apologize to a few folks to whom I've sent an e-mail reply too quickly without thinking through my words or to whom I've posted a particularly uncharitable comment on social media.  Instant communication is not my friend when I'm thinking this way.  Clearly I need to go back to handwriting snail mail.  By the time the letter is finished, I will have cooled down and can throw it away.

Like I said, dark thoughts.

I suppose these thoughts about the world around me relate to how I'm thinking about the world within me.  My fears for my sons have a lot to do with my own feelings of inadequacy re: being a white man trying to prepare my black sons for the world.  For that matter, my fears about the world, have a lot to do with my fears about how I'm doing as a parent in general.  I knew parenting would be difficult, but I never thought it would be this hard.  My discouragement about the violence in our world and in our politics has a lot to do with my fears about my own faith journey. Do my own faith practices actually reveal that I'm following Jesus or am I just another consumer of shallow religion that offers no real benefit to the world?  For that matter, in my role as a minister, which kind of religion am I really offering?

Dark thoughts.  Fearful thoughts.  (I'm pretty sure there's something in the Bible about  "there is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear."Hmmm. . . maybe I should look that up.)

I've been looking for inner peace this week just as I've been searching for outer peace in our world.  The thing is, of course, it's pretty hard to see anything but turmoil in the world when there is turmoil inside oneself.  There is always beauty, always hope, always joy to be found if one has enough inner peace to see them--even in the midst of a violent world.  

I'm not there yet this week, but I thought I'd share a few things that helped me, both of which are worth listening to.
  1. The first was this week's episode of "Into the Mystic" by UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer.  It's titled "Peace on Earth" and in it he uses the chaos happening at the RNC just outside the national UCC offices in Cleveland as a stepping off point to talk about the need for people in the world who are instruments of God's peace.  You can listen to it on the UCC web site or on ITunes.  I subscribe to the podcast and I'm always glad I listen to it each week.  It's five minutes in length usually, but it makes a difference in me.
  2. The second was an interview with Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize winner Thick Nat Hanh on the public radio program "On Being."  The monk talks about the difference one makes in the world in terms of peace when one is at peace inside.  We either cause suffering or ease suffering depending on our inner state.  The program also has interviews with people who have been helped by his teachings, including a police officer who uses his wisdom in her training of fellow officers.
I'm not sure how you filter the onslaught of daily news of violence in our world or how you find peace inside yourself, but I'm interested in hearing about it.  

God knows I can always use the help.

Grace and Peace,


P.S. In recent sermons I have shared about presentations on white privilege I have heard which are given by the UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer.  You can listen to one I attended in Charleston, SC on the anniversary of the killings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church.  It is well worth listening to and he offers one of the best explanations of white privilege I have ever heard.  He does so by beginning with his own experience of being taught racism in his own family.  

Recommended Read and Listening 7-22-16 Edition

On a more or less regular basis, I share my thoughts with the congregation I serve including a list of links to stuff I think are worth reading, watching and listening to.  Here's the latest list:

United Church of Christ News
Responses to Killings of Police Officers and the killings of black men by police
Racism and White Privilege

"Losing My Religion for Equality"--Jimmy Carter tells about why he left the Southern Baptist Convention over it's treatment of women

Gun Violence
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool
  • Perhaps the best thing about my seminary education was getting to take courses on spirituality with Glenn Hinson. I (like so many others) am grateful he has been a part of my journey. This is a wonderful interview with him.
  • "Stopping Traffic"--As a minister I get to be in a lot of funeral processions. I'm always grateful for drivers who pull over to show respect. This blog post eloquently describes how I feel about those who don't.
  • "Eight Warning Signs of a Bully Church Member"--spot on in my experience, especially numbers one and eight

Recent Sermons

  • You can click here to listen to my sermon from July 10: "Don't Be Like the Good Samaritan"  If you missed it, here's what it's about:
The story told in Luke 10:25-37 is most often called the "Parable of the Good Samaritan," but nowhere in the story does it say the Samaritan was good.  Often our idea of a good person amounts to little more than cultural respectability rather than God's idea of righteousness.  Rather than only thinking of ourselves as the Samaritan, we should think of ourselves as both the wounded man left to die and the passersby who do not stop to help.  Jesus calls us to be the Samaritan, but we are too wounded or too busy to fulfill that role.  As white people become more and more aware of the ever-present racism in our culture, we are called to examine our own wounds and why we too often pass on by.
  • You can click here to listen to my sermon from Sunday, July 17: "Subversive Religion"  If you missed it, here's what it's about:
The hymn the apostle Paul uses in Colossians chapter 1 describes Christ in cosmic terms.  This description of Christ as pre-existent, active in the process of God's creation and the one who reconciles all things offers us a subversive way to understand the Christian religion.  This Christ subverts our understanding of power and political allegiance.  It subverts our cultural divisions.  It subverts our own limitations and the limitations we place upon others.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Either Black Lives Matter or the Police: It's Not That Simple

I stayed up late watching news of the killings of five Dallas police officers (Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa), just as I had stayed up late earlier in the week watching the coverage of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille.   As soon as news broke of the killings of police officers, I knew what would happen.  Sure enough, when I awoke, cable news was awash with politicians and pundits declaring the killings were the fault of the Black Lives Matter movement.  One US Congressman declared that saying "Black Lives Matter" is a betrayal of MLK, Jr.'s dream of a color blind society and anything other than "All Lives Matter" was un-American.
Pundits, members of the media and maybe all of us seem to need to distill the complicated issues of race, violence and law enforcement down to a single simple narrative.  Either you are on the side of black people or you are on the side of police.  To grieve the senseless death of police officers means one must reject the claims of Black Lives Matter activists.  To react with horror at the numerous killings of black men by police officers means one must view all police officers as enemies. 
I reject this kind of either/or thinking.
Reasonable people may think, "Of course we can care about black lives and police lives," but we are not living in reasonable times.  In our current culture of daily violence beamed to our smart phones, there is little time for reflection or resisting the allure of simplistic political and media narratives.  The social pressure to demonize one side or the other is immense.  God calls us to resist the temptation to choose either one point of view or the other.
My heart can be broken for black men killed by police AND for police officers killed.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can declare "Black Lives Matter" AND declare "Police Lives Matter" without one cancelling the other out.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can validate the experience of black people mistreated by police AND validate the experience of police who feel unappreciated and unfairly judged.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can protest systemic racism in law enforcement AND express gratitude for the many members of law enforcement working to deconstruct that same racism.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
I can hold police who are given the power of life and death to high standards of accountability AND I can acknowledge the difficulty police officers have when making split second decisions regarding the use of force.  I do not have to choose either one or the other.
On my better days, I follow Jesus Christ who condemned systems of violence and oppression AND loved the people caught in those systems.  He teaches us we do not have to choose either one or the other.
Grace and Peace,


P.S. After I wrote this, I found a clip of Trevor Noah on the Daily Show saying basically the same thing.

Recommended Reading and Listening: 7-8-16 Edition

On a more or less regular basis, I share my thoughts with the congregation I serve including a list of links to stuff I think are worth reading, watching and listening to.  Here's the latest list:

Responses to Killings of Dallas Police Officers and the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
The Anniversary of the Killings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church
Presidential Election and Religion
  • The Theology of Donald Trump--Written by a Republican who has served in the last three Republican presidential administrations, so I was a bit surprised to read it and discover I agreed with every single word of it. An incredible and articulate piece of writing.
America and Violence
Hunger and Food Deserts
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.