“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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To the Guy Flying a Confederate Flag in Exeter, New Hampshire

Rev. Heath is Absolutely right…

Emily C. Heath

I saw your truck parked in front of the Rite-Aid, right by the Dunkin Donuts. Two large Confederate flags were attached to the back of it, waving in the wind. The American flag was, incongruously (and in violation of the flag code), in the center. And, I have to confess, I don’t get it.

Part of me wanted to ask obvious questions: You know you are in New Hampshire, right? And, you know New Hampshire was not a part of the Confederacy?

11709431_400316456841007_5791455240479926301_nI ask this because I’m not so sure you do. Here we are in a northern town, a place that gave her sons up to the Union Army and lost them on the battlefields of the Civil War. A place where locals organized early against slavery and led the charge against it across the country. A place where 150 years ago that flag would have been seen as…

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Not White Enough, Not Black Enough

Rachel Dolezal

You’ve probably heard the story of Rachel Dolezal in the news: a young woman who is (apparently) “White,” but who some now claim has been masquerading as “Black” for most of her adult life.  She is also the [now former] President of the NAACP chapter in her community of Spokane, Washington; and a professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University.

The concern of many is that she is not a “real Black” even though she claims to be.  But, what is a “Real Black” – or, for that matter, a “Real White”?  And, is all this controversy over her perceived racial makeup relevant in any case?

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Sermon: Making Room

…when we walk out of this church, the question of whether we are going to face the issue of racism and race-based injustice is a choice we can make, because we are all white. And, unlike our black brethren, we can choose to forget about it. … King said “the time is always ripe to do right.” And so I say “yes, the time is always ripe; but are we willing to do right all the time?”

martin_luther_king_cover.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoMy self-image as a strong supporter of Civil Rights crashed in ruin one Sunday morning, in the Spring of 1996. At the time, I was a member of an African American church in Virginia, and their sound technician. (…But please don’t tell our worship team that!) That morning, as I was setting up, a young woman, maybe 16 years of age, came in with her friends, and sat down in front of me and my sound board. She then leaned forward in her chair, so that I could not miss what was printed on the back of her orange t-shirt in big block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL”.

I must apologize for even hinting at such language here. But it is important for this morning’s message to give you a good sense of what that moment was like.

Obviously, this is not one of my lighter sermons. So, let’s take a moment to pray…

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Risky Business

The Third Slave recovers his buried talent.
The Third Slave recovers his buried talent.

Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, November 16, 2014.

Matthew 25:14-30 The Parable of the Talents (The Voice Bible)

The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 has always left me a little uneasy. For one thing, parables, by intent, are meant to end with a question mark: leaving their audience with an anxious and counterintuitive decision that they would rather not face and can’t quite pin down. And yet, in this parable, the answer seems pretty clear – “Put our God-given talents to use.” In fact, this is so widely accepted that the word “Talent” itself came to be used in the English language as a reference to our God-given gifts because of this parable; transformed from its ancient use as a word for a standard measure of great wealth.

So, from that point alone, I am curious as to whether the traditional interpretation that we’ve probably all heard in many sermons is actually in line with the intent of Matthew’s Gospel, or Jesus’ intent, for that matter.

Increasing my unease is this: Jesus is the Social Revolutionary, constantly campaigning against the evils of privilege and position and power.  And yet, in this story, the person who already holds position and power seems to be eager to acquire even more through the efforts of others, and engages with his servants in ways that would have been perceived by the original audience as unfair and dishonest.

But first, let’s look at the setting for this parable… It is part of a very clear and intentional sequence of events and teachings in Matthew’s narrative, all of which focus on the issue of the return of Christ.

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All Too Silent a Witness

The irony of the watching the famous slow motion chase of OJ Simpson as I stood next to Ben Kinchlow alone in that room struck me as I stood there, and is one I still think of from time to time even now, 20 years later: There I was, a theologically progressive Christian working for a conservative Christian organization, standing next to a man who had once been a black nationalist, heavily influenced by Malcom X; then ordained as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church and who was founder of an organization dedicated to helping underprivileged African American kids and a man who for many years had been a prominent member of CBN’s leadership.

OJ and the Slow Chase

NB: A recent CNN opinion piece by Dorothy A. Brown entitled “Why Holder Remark Made White People Mad” has a lot to say that is right in line with what I say here.

You know, 20 years is a long time, and yet not so long…

Late in the evening of Friday June 17, 1994, I was in the lobby of The Founder’s Inn in Virginia Beach, VA watching the news on a television there while waiting for my (first) wife to finish up her work for the evening at the hotel’s bookstore and gift shop.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the conservative Christian universe, The Founder’s Inn is on the campus of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), the headquarters for Pat Robertson’s television ministry. I had only recently been hired there, to manage a software development department in their IT Division.

As I stood there, up on the screen came a “news alert” followed by a live telecast via helicopter of the famous “slow motion chase” by police down Interstate 405 in Los Angeles of a white Ford Bronco carrying O. J. Simpson, who was sitting in the back seat of the vehicle, pointing a gun at his own head.   At the time, he was the prime suspect in the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Standing next to me watching that broadcast was a gentleman I barely knew, but whom I heard a great deal about and admired: Ben Kinchlow, a prominent Black evangelist and activist, and (at the time) co-host of Pat Robertson’s daily “700 Club” broadcast.

We stood side by side, wordlessly watching the spectacle unfolding before us for around 20 minutes before we both went our separate ways.

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It’s not about Wingnuts and the “N” word

Racism is far from merely being about wingnuts using offensive language or people oblivious to the issue admitting they once spoke in that way. Racism has changed in some ways, but the basic mechanisms and patterns of it have not. What has changed is that people have gotten better at hiding their racist attitudes from others and even from themselves. The way we express our racism may have changed, but the basic issue still exists, and is a pervasive cancer in our politics and society. The real (and far more dangerous and despicable) racists are those who seek to exclude specific groups from participation in the political process when those groups are seen as not supporting the political party that is already in power. The biggest obstacle to change is that racists assume they are faultless.

Let’s begin by saying that the “N” word is an offensive, ugly word, and one I never willingly use. Racism is a topic that I feel deeply about, and am absolutely committed to confronting whenever (and wherever) it rears its ugly head.

So – when Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy makes racist comments, when celebrity chef Paula Deen admits to using that ugly word, or when LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling is accused of making racist remarks – yes, I’m angered; and I will speak up.

But, I’ve done (and said) racist things, too.

In my early 20’s, I worked in a retail store.  One day, when I was the only sales clerk on duty, an elderly black man came in to ask for help with a particular item. Right then I was waiting on another customer, a woman, and so ignored him for the moment – in fact, I hardly noticed him. He waited patiently at the counter, since he saw that I was almost done with her.

In the meantime, another person came in – a white male – who walked around the first man and came over to where I was, at the other end of the sales counter.  When the woman left, this second man immediately began talking and I allowed my attention to focus on him, rather than turning to the man who had been waiting.

The first man immediately spoke up, saying (and I quote, as it is burned into my memory!), “Hey, I’m a customer too!  Or, is it that you don’t like to wait on n—-rs?

I was mortified, as you might imagine, and immediately turned to help him.

Was I racist, or acting in a racist way?  Well, I didn’t think so. I had long prided myself in being “open minded” and respectful of others, no matter who (or what) they were. But I was being racist because the one who determines whether we are racist (or not) is not us, but those who are impacted by our attitudes and actions. The elderly gentleman was right: I was acting in a racist way, even if unintentionally.

Racism is far from merely being about wingnuts using offensive language or people oblivious to the issue admitting they once spoke in that way. Racism, as the columnist LZ Granderson points out, has changed. Or, to put it another way, the basic mechanisms and patterns of racism have not changed. What has changed is that people have gotten better at hiding their racist attitudes from others and even from themselves. The way we express our racism has changed, but the basic issue still exists, and is a pervasive cancer in our politics and society.

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Leaping the Gap

I was sitting at my soundboard one day, running sound checks and preparing for worship, when a young woman, perhaps 16 years old, came in with her friends and sat down right in front me, such that I could plainly see what was printed on the back of her shirt in large white block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL.” I was a bit shocked, as you might guess…

I’ve always been a strong proponent of equal rights and justice for all, but how that has been expressed changed radically one day in the fall of 1995, as a result of an encounter in an all-black church I was a member of at the time, and where I was the chief sound technician for the church’s worship services. …It was (and still is) a transformative moment for me…

I was sitting at my soundboard that morning, running sound checks and preparing for worship, when a young woman, perhaps 16 years old, came in with her friends and sat down right in front of my position in the church’s sanctuary, such that I could plainly see what was printed on the back of her shirt in large white block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL.”  (Well, OK – I added the asterisks!)

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A Moderate Political Manifesto

I recently heard a Republican voter state in a radio interview that her primary goal is to “get rid of Obama”.  This same statement can be heard out of the mouths of many other Republicans – voters, candidates and power brokers alike.

Yet,  there seems to be a strong move within the Republican Party based on the premise that ideological purity is what is needed to carry the day and put America back on the right track.  An approach identical to that which the Republican Party adopted in 1964 when they nominated Barry Goldwater to oppose Lyndon Johnson, and which worked so well for them.

It would seem to me that our Republican friends, if they are serious about making Obama a one term president, would be seriously considering a middle of the road candidate, one who would appeal to independent and moderate voters.  Yet, candidates who might appeal to moderate voters – such as Jon Huntsman and perhaps Mitt Romney – are gaining little traction with those likely to vote in the primaries.  Perhaps this is why there has been so much interest by Republican power brokers to find another candidate, such as Gov. Chris Christie.

Personally, I am totally fed up with the politics in Washington.  While I think Obama had (and has) a lot of promise, he has shown himself to be ineffective as a leader, and has made some unforgivably huge gaffes, such as the recent tiff with John Boehner over when to schedule a Obama’s presidential address announcing the latest jobs bill.  A simple phone call would have gone a long way towards preventing such an embarrassing incident, and would have also at least provided some hope that the bill would be seriously considered by the Republican leadership in the House.

So, you’d think that the Republican Party would recognize that they have an opportunity to capture those many voters who are as disenchanted as I am.  It seems not.  Candidates like Herman Cain, and the antics of the Republican leadership in both the House and Senate over the last couple of years, lead one to wonder whether the Republican Party will focus so much on ideological purity that the concerns of the majority of Americans will simply be ignored.  — It seems they believe that their way is “right” and competing views are to be given no credence at all – I won’t draw parallels between this and the way other regimes have governed, but one can say in general that those who govern with such attitudes are not remembered with fondness, nor are their administrations considered successful.

So, will I support the Democratic Party in 2012?  No.  The Democrats are as bad as the Republicans – think of how Nancy Pelosi handled the House when she was Speaker.  But, I won’t be supporting the Republicans, either.  Instead, I’ll be looking for someone who really cares about the “little guy” and who knows that those who are unemployed, have seen their standard of living decline over the past decade, have huge medical and insurance bills, are facing losing their home, have burdensome college debt, are seeing their business or jobs threatened due to unfair competition from foreign manufacturers or unreasonable government regulations, face an an unfair tax burden, or have their kids attending failing schools, need to be heard.  We need a candidate who is pragmatic and doesn’t adopt extreme (climate change is a fantasy!!) inflexible (no new taxes!!) or ill-considered (don’t infringe on people’s right to carry automatic weapons!!) positions.  We need someone who understands that they and their party do not have all the answers, probably don’t even ask all the right questions, and believes it is critical to put the best interests of the nation ahead of ideological purity and political advantage.

So, who will I support and send donations to this coming year?  Not any of the national political organizations, nor any special interest group campaigning on a single issue.  — And I am boycotting companies and organizations that do.  Instead, I’ll put my money, and my votes, behind those who have shown they are committed to the principles I state here, and who do not have a vested interest in maintaining the combative and dysfunctional environment in Washington (and in many state governments as well).


Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).