Racism and The Star Spangled Banner

A great deal has been made in the last year or so of NFL’er Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem.  I thought it might be useful to understand some of the reasons why he does so.

For one, Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner’s lyrics, was a slaveowner.

For another, read the original verses of the song for yourself, particularly the third and fourth verses…

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Misogyny in the IT World: a Rebuttal

The furor that erupted in the media this week in response to a Google employee’s manifesto that claimed women aren’t biologically suited for high tech careers got me to thinking, and reflecting, on my own 25+ years in the high tech world.

I began working on this post by trying to list all the female superiors, mentors, co-workers and subordinates I’ve had over the years who have had a positive impact on my own career.  But, that list quickly became quite long; and so I quickly set aside that effort.

Besides, while recalling my old friends and co-workers brings back many fond memories for me, it would be meaningless to you, the reader.  I also did not want to risk missing someone, and wasn’t sure how some of my long ago co-workers would feel to see their name popping up here without warning (or permission).  So, I’ll just say that I could not have been who I was in the IT world, and the man I am now, if it hadn’t been for them.  To each and every one of of them I give a deep and heartfelt (though anonymous) “Thanks.”

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The UCC’s Letter to Talladega College

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Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, President of Talladega College

Yesterday while I was leading my Church’s Worship Service, a member of our congregation asked me (during our “announcements time”) what I thought of the UCC’s recent letter to Talladega College, a historically Black College in Alabama that has been rebuilding itself after nearly failing a few years ago.  This letter challenges the school’s decision to allow their marching band appear in the Inauguration Parade in Washington DC on January 20th.  It seemed fitting to publish my thoughts here; expanding on the response I gave to her question.

Now, clearly the school’s decision is very controversial, given the incoming administration’s abysmal track record (to date) when it comes to social justice issues and policies.  However, Talladega College’s President, Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, defended the school’s decision saying: “We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade, … As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”

In response to the college’s announcement, the leadership of the United Church of Christ, my own denomination, and which has been a supporter of Talladega College, sent a letter to the school questioning this decision and asking that they reconsider.  Several alumni of the school have expressed similar concerns.

This is an old, old argument: a new phase in the long battle between those in the Black Community who advocate a more accommodating approach in confronting racism and injustice in this country; and those who favor a more confrontive approach.  Both approaches are valid, and are part of a toolkit that encompasses a wide range of possible responses to racism and injustice that can (and should) be deployed.  (Though which is most appropriate depends upon the particular situation.)

I cannot speak to the specifics of this situation: I was not party to the decision process at Talladega, and have not seen the text of the UCC’s letter to the school.  However, I am deeply concerned by the UCC’s actions here.  What I do know is that Dr. Hawkins is no lightweight, and no stranger to tough challenges; and that we cannot dismiss his school’s decision, or reasoning, lightly.

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Sermon: Hope Amidst the Darkness

Christ calls us to see the unseen, and right now the unseen include many who are rejecting the wisdom that we hold dear. They reject it because they see nothing in it for them, and nothing in it that respects who they are or what they need. And, until that changes, nothing we do will have a lasting impact, no matter how well intentioned we are. …And that’s a hard truth to face.

I’m starting today’s message with a slideshow. Each and every quote and image you’ll be seeing in these slides was said or written by someone I know well, or by a friend of someone I know well; and many of the locations shown in these slides (except for the very last one) are probably places you know of and may well have been to, or at least near… So, these are all people and locations with a relatively close connection to me.

These quotes and images demonstrate how this election has caused fear to overwhelm so many people that we know. This is not a criticism of whoever ran. It is trying to help us understand that there are a lot of scared and hurting people out there. People close to us, living in places close to us. I’m hoping they help us see how these reports of terror, bullying, and oppression are not just something from a newscast about a distant place, but are happening to our neighbors and friends and relatives right here, and right now.

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Blame

You know – with regards to the recent massacre in Orlando, we are sliding back into the same old same old set of accusations and counter-accusations we see every time: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?

The Gays?

Bigots?

Obama?

The GOP?

The NRA? (Well …)

Trump?

Blaming is an old game: based on the idea that we must have winners and losers. And yet, nobody ever wins.

How long must we keep up this mindless charade?

And then we have the next layer of this old game, that of hitching one’s own cause (and/or -ism) to the issue…

Gun Control

Lifting the ban on allowing Gays to donate blood

Immigration

Racism

All of these causes are important and worthwhile, and many of them do intersect with what happened in Orlando this past weekend.  But, by linking a cause dear to us with the terror in Orlando, are we obscuring what happened?  …Obscuring what happened by insisting the event be viewed only through a lens of our choosing?

Look: 50 people died, and and another 53 were physically injured.  Uncounted others have lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their own lives with the trauma they experienced that night, and others will spend a lifetime caring for those who have been forever scarred by this attack.

And, we see pain erupting from many in the LGBTQ community because of this, and you can understand why: clubs such as Pulse were a refuge from the judgment and pain they experienced in the outside world.  Those refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when the laws and society here in the U.S. finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.  The newly blossoming reality of being able to live their lives unmolested and free from fear has been taken away from them, perhaps forever.  For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their very existence, carried out against them purely because of who they are.  I can’t imagine feeling like I’m living with a target painted on my back, but I’m sure many in the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people have died.  Hundreds if not thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

As a Christian, I see the Bible, particularly Jesus own teachings in the Gospels, as making it very, very, clear that we must take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes, and not seek to escape such responsibility.  Laying blame on others is exactly that: an attempt to say “it’s somebody else’s problem, not mine.”

So, instead of trying to figure out who to blame, ask instead “What have I not done that I should be doing, to keep such things from happening?”  Because, our own attitudes and prejudices and fears definitely played a part – however small – in causing this to happen.

And, instead of hitching one’s own cause to the pain of others, respect the pain and loss that has occurred.  Embrace those who have lost loved ones.  Walk at the side of those who cannot stop the pain of this trauma from leaking out of their souls.  We cannot directly feel their pain, nor can we (nor should we) try to minimize it.  Instead, we must allow them to work through their pain – and be there for them when they need help, or need someone to listen to what they have to say.

Jesus’  taught that we must love God without limit, and love one another in the same way.

The world can be a cruel, hard place.  Bad things will happen.  As Christians, we are called not to judge, but to heal.  So in the end, ask how you can help bring healing.  Ask how you must change in response to what has happened.

Love is the answer, not blame.

Amen.

 

Is It Justice When We Do It Too?

Is the use of another’s history of oppression and dispossession as a means of promoting a cause we hold dear, in opposition to the clearly unjust and hurtful stance of those we see as opposing us, just? Do two wrongs make a right?

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This meme makes a valid point, but the map itself inflates the facts quite a bit, and is problematic in other ways…
Large portions of the area shown here were never part of Mexico, and most were actually administered remotely with no actual Imperial Spanish (and in some places/times French) presence “on the ground,” and were ceded to the U.S. in the first few decades of the 19th century.
Even so, it is true that the Texas Revolution, the war of 1845, and the Gadsden purchase reduced the land area the nation of Mexico to less than half of the size it had at the time Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1808.

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A Message for All Ages: “Blue”

In this message, I showed this two minute video: “Blue” by Tech Insider.

The video shows us that a word for the color “Blue” usually develops much later in most languages than do words for “Black,” “White,” “Red,” “Green” or “Yellow.”  So, the question is “Can people without a word for ‘Blue’ in their language actually see the color we know as ‘Blue’?”  The video answers this question by presenting convincing evidence that people have great difficulty in distinguishing Blue from other colors when they have no word for Blue in their language.

This suggests several things – any one of which would be sufficient for a brief “Message for All Ages” – pick the one that suits your situation best…

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Blaming The Victim

Claiming that our Christian faith is strong is a lie unless we put into action our belief that this nation must embody Christian principles in the governance of its people. Providing subsidies to help those who do not have the resources to begin building a good life for themselves on their own is a good place to start. Likewise, those who claim that this is a “Christian Nation” are deluding themselves if they allow our leaders to ignore and even demonize those in need.

21sun1-superjumboIn a recent Op-Ed piece entitled “The Crisis of Minority Employment,” the New York Times Editors make it clear that  Congress’s abandonment of subsidized work programs for minorities is not only a threat to the economic viability of our cities, but is also shortsighted – sacrificing the long term economic and social wellbeing of a large segments of our population with the excuse that we can’t afford it.  “…Getting jobless young people into the world of work is valuable in itself. Work reduces alienation, gives people a stake in society and allows children in poor communities to absorb the ethic they need to be successful.”

And they are correct: by shutting down such programs, Congress is abandoning its responsibility to provide for the common good – of all, not just for some.

The common complaint we hear from many – both in and out of Congress – who reject the idea of providing help to the poor in any form is that all “they” want is a handout.  The thinking is that somehow (because of the stereotype we have created in our own minds that they are uneducated druggies and street criminals) minority youth do not deserve our help.

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“Listen” (A Meditation on Anger and #BlackLivesMatter)

#BlackLivesMatter helps us see a universal truth: that unless we start treating all people as human beings, we will all loose our humanity. We may not die, but we will no longer live. … We must invest in each other if we are to succeed. Defeating those who oppose us only means we’ve defeated ourselves. The battle is within us, not against us, and not against them. To overcome the challenges we all face requires that we all change.

Bonito - MS - Foto: Pedro Serra - Leia mais em www.blogsemdestino.com
Statue of Michael Jackson in the favela of Santa Marta, on the outskirts of Rio De Janeiro; where Michael filmed the video for “They Don’t Care About Us” (directed by Spike Lee) in 1996.

There was anger in our Centering Music this morning (“They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson), a lot of anger.

Michael Jackson filmed that video in the slums surrounding Rio De Janiero; communities of the extreme poor, trapped there for generations with nowhere to go, no escape.

For decades the Brazilian government refused to extend utilities, sanitation, roads or even law enforcement into these slums. Ultimately, they moved their Capitol elsewhere, escaping the angry vigilance of the poor looking down upon them from the hills above. They are still there: filled with suffering and the anger of a people left behind, cast aside as worthless. We see in the video that their anger is powerful.

At this point in time, Michael Jackson was the object of tabloid ridicule and accusations of child molestation, strange behavior and weird habits. He’d been sued; arrested; strip searched. I am sure he identified with the people in these slums because he felt abandoned and alone, he was struggling to not die, just like them. But, not dying is not the same thing as living. Life is more than merely existence continued.

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Kim Davis and George Wallace

12002911_10153667860574255_5030704171055636376_nThe comparison made here to Jeffrey Dahmer is inappropriate and inflammatory in my mind, but one commenter on The Daily KOS’s Facebook post of this meme suggests that Davis is more like James Blake: the man who refused to drive the bus if Rosa Parks did not move- and who said of that event years later: “I wasn’t trying to do anything to that Parks woman except do my job. She was in violation of the city codes, so what was I supposed to do? That damn bus was full and she wouldn’t move back. I had my orders.”  He never repented, apparently.

According to the Wikipedia Bio of Gov. Wallace, what’s really interesting is that years later Wallace apologized to the Black Community, saying he was wrong to stand in that doorway to fight for segregation – that it had been born out of his lust for political power and influence, and that because of his conversion to Born Again Christianity later on (in the late 70’s), he now saw how wrong segregation is.

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#BlackLivesMatter and The Legacy of Slavery

Much of what the “Black Lives Matter” movement is doing makes us uncomfortable, particularly those of us who are white. This is as it should be. If we’re comfortable where we are “at”, we won’t move, we won’t improve, we won’t change. If the injustices that exist are to be righted, we must be made uncomfortable. We must be made to see those things which are invisible to us because they’ve “always been that way” – working well for us, and so we ignore them or are unaware that they operate in our favor: that’s the very definition of “structural racism.” Yet, these same structural prejudices that are so deeply intertwined within our society and legal system do not work so favorably for others.

The first slaves arrive in Massachusetts on board the Desire, December 12, 1638.
The first slaves arrive in Massachusetts on board the Desire, December 12, 1638.

We often forget that slavery was everywhere in the US until the early 1800’s, and it was no prettier in Massachusetts, New York, or New Hampshire than it was in Texas, Delaware, or Virginia.

Some of the best known Blacks in U.S. History – such as Sojourner Truth, William Still, and Lucy Terry Prince – were born into slavery in the North, or were transported here as slaves from Africa.  Many of our most famous native sons here in New England (such as John Winthrop, founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) sanctioned slavery.  Many of the wealthiest families of New England and New York in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries built their fortunes upon the slave trade.  And, we forget that slavery was very much present in places like Massachusetts for over 150 years.  In fact, with the sole exception of Vermont, slavery was not abolished in any Northern State until after the American Revolution, and was not fully abolished from all Northern States until 1865.

Another aspect of oppressive systems, such as slavery – and like any institution or behavior deeply embedded in any society or organization – is that its effects persist long after people even remember that it was there. You see this in how some churches keep on “chewing up” new Ministers, in how corruption keeps on toppling one political figure after another in certain communities, or in why we here in America drive on the right hand side of the road, or why we set the table with the fork on the left.

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Sermon: Forgiveness

Our God is a God of second chances, a God of Healing not just for us, but also for those who hurt us. We cannot deny the pain they cause, nor should we, but we can receive God’s healing. We begin this process for ourselves, and those who sin against us, through forgiveness. Forgiveness is God’s love in action.

The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773) by Pompeo Batoni
The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773) by Pompeo Batoni

With the recent mass shooting in Charleston and the death sentence for the Boston Marathon Bomber we are once again witnessing the spectacle of one who is a purveyor of hate being confronted by those who have survived their brutality and evil. Some say such monstrosity can never be forgiven.  Others say that while justice must be done, it is wrong to answer evil with evil.  Both are correct.

We’ve seen the survivors in Charleston confronting the unrepentant murderer, and forgiving him. They’ve been lauded as an example of what Christian forgiveness is really all about. But is that true? Doesn’t their forgiveness seem too soon, perhaps even forced?

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