racism

Love Means Attending to What is Urgent: How the “Black Lives Matter” Movement Proclaims the Gospel of Jesus.

Everyone can probably agree that the heart of the gospel is about God’s love for creation, which overflows in us loving others. Love everyone, Jesus says: friends and enemies, rich and poor, people of all races, people of all sexual identities, immigrants and natural born, people of all religions, etc. We may not agree on what that looks like or how best to do that, but most would agree that love is at the heart of the gospel message.

One of our mistakes is assuming that love for one looks the same as love for all. Obviously this isn’t true. We are at different places and that must be taken into account. If your house is on fire, love dictates that it is more urgent to get firefighters to your house than to mine. That’s not saying my house is less important than yours, just that your situation is more urgent. Showing love for those with full stomachs may not mean giving them food. Yet for someone who is hungry, love requires providing them food. Love means attending to what is urgent.

Jesus makes this clear in (among many others) the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). All are given a day’s wage regardless of how long they worked. It’s not that those who worked all day are less important, it’s just that others need to eat today also. A day’s wage allows all to eat today. Those who worked all day complained because they believed they deserved more for working longer hours. And they actually do have a point. This pay scale isn’t “fair,” because it is favoring those who worked less. But the point Jesus makes is that love means attending to what is urgent.

Systemic racism in our culture reveals an urgent situation. Blacks in the US start at a different place than whites. Some might complain that the BLM movement isn’t “fair” because, they say, blacks deserve equal-to-but-not-more-than whites. But the house of African Americans is on fire. Love dictates that it is more urgent to get firefighters there. Love means attending to what is urgent. The situation of racism is urgent.

When parents of African American boys are forced to have “the conversation” in order to provide the best chance of safety when (not if) their sons are pulled over by police, the situation is urgent (see the NY Times op-doc, http://www.theconversationseries.org/).

When 80% of police stops in NYC were of blacks and Latinos and only 10% were of whites, the situation is urgent (this and the following statistics are cited and referenced at http://www.jbwtucker.com/ultimate-white-privilege-statistics/).

When blacks are 127% more likely to be frisked than whites in Los Angeles, even though they are 42% less likely to be found with a weapon, the situation is urgent.

When blacks aged 18-25 are less likely than whites to have use marijuana in the last 12 months, but are arrested at an astronomically higher rate than whites of the same age for possession, the situation is urgent.

When African American juveniles are 16% of the US population but are 28% of juvenile arrests, the situation is urgent.

When black men are nearly twice as likely to be arraigned on charges that carry a mandatory minimum, and are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison that whites (and receive sentences 10% longer than whites for the same crimes), the situation is urgent.

When whites are 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as equally qualified people of color, the situation is urgent.

When black students are 3.5 times more likely to be expelled from school than their white peers, the situation is urgent.

When a white male with a criminal record is 5% more likely to get a job than an equally qualified person of color with a clean record, the situation is urgent.

When a college-educated white American has an average net worth of $75,000 while a college-educated black American has an average net worth of less than $17,500, the situation is urgent.

When a black man makes $0.72 for every dollar a white man makes (which, by the way, is $0.06 less than a white woman makes), the situation is urgent.

When voter ID laws disenfranchise millions of blacks and Latinos while purportedly preventing a kind of voter fraud that does not even exist, the situation is urgent.

Contrary to much white privilege thinking, BLM isn’t saying “only” black lives matter, but that love means attending to what is urgent. There is an urgency in recognizing the evidence that (whether we want to admit it or not) black lives actually do not matter as much as white lives in our culture. There is an urgency in giving priority to the house that is on fire; love means attending to what is urgent. Just as we would proclaim the priority that the hungry be fed and that the homeless be sheltered, Jesus’ gospel teaching on love declares that black lives matter.

The BLM movement is loudly declaring the urgency of the racism situation in our culture. When the situation is urgent, love means attending to what is urgent. In Denver, Colorado, the Black Lives Matter 5280 chapter states their mission in part,

Black Lives Matter 5280 assists in building more loving and united Black communities while eliminating anti-Black violence and racism. . . . Our work is to cultivate communities of abundant joy where all Black people are emboldened and empowered to lead, love, heal, and thrive.   http://www.blacklivesmatter5280.com/

Love means attending to what is urgent. That’s how the wolf and the lamb can lie down together. That’s how the rough places are made smooth. That’s how all earn enough to eat today. As Jesus taught, this is the gospel. And it is good news. Black Lives Matter.

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Categories: american christianity, Black Lives Matter, Church in Context, missional church, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Confessions of a Violent Person

   I regret to inform the reader that I am a violent person. Let me be clear on this; I don’t hit anyone. I don’t own (and have rarely used) a gun or any other physical weapon. I haven’t been in a fist fight since 7th grade (which I lost most grievously). I am pretty much a pacifist in theory, though I’m the first to admit I’ve never been strongly tested on that. If it were up to me, I’d repeal the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the right to bear arms. And I am sickened by the ongoing shootings, stabbings, bombings and more that are so prevalent in our local and national news.
   And yet I am violent. Even deadly.
   As a participant in U.S. culture and society, I am also a participant in a culture of violence. My own non-violent actions and intentions cannot overcome the reality of my passive support of rampant violence in this country. Because I am part of a culture of violence, I am guilty of it by default.
   My cousin Mary, who is a vehement defender of gun ownership, reminds me that guns aren’t the problem, people who misuse them are. And she is right. Therefore the problem goes well beyond gun rights or gun legislation. It is deeper, and more deadly than that. You see, the problem is that we have normalized violence to the point that we simply accept it as part of our culture, even as part of our humanity.
   When two twelve-year-olds can stab a classmate 19 times and leave her for dead, when yet another college campus can be devastated by a troubled person with an assault rifle, when the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan can continue to claim victims, and we are no longer made physically ill, something very deep is broken. When the highest grossing video games include very realistic gunplay and slaughter, when among the highest acclaimed movies celebrate the violent vengeance of the righteous, and we shrug our shoulders and watch ourselves become more deeply immersed in them, our very souls are endangered. Our most popular professional sport, football, is based to some degree on violence–to the point that professional players often suffer long-term physical and mental health issues. And still many of us rearrange our Sunday lives to watch our glamorized, violent heroes on TV. Something is very, very wrong among us.
   Turning the TV to the Hallmark channel on Sunday mornings isn’t a solution. Nor is boycotting video games and violent movies. Putting metal detectors on college and high school campuses will not change our violent hearts. And gun control measures cannot curb our cultural acceptance of violence. Teen suicide rates continue to climb, weapons present in schools continue to be an issue, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and bullying continue to keep too many perpetually unsafe. We reap what we sow. In a violent culture, violence is considered to be a normal response to anxiety, anger, depression, and frustration.
The few who are outraged are quickly painted as being outside the mainstream–radicals, socialists, or extremists to be discounted and ignored. Yet we are all guilty. Just as surely as our tax money provides for capital punishment, we are all perpetrators of violence.
   I feel helpless even to expose the evil, much less combat it (see? Even talking about an alternative to violence takes on violent terminology). I cannot change this, partly because I cannot live apart from it. Though reigning in expressions of violence (by various means–including legislation), won’t change our hearts and souls, they are necessary. Just as reigning in expressions of racism call to the fore our deep-seated cultural racism, so calling out violence reveals our normalization of violence. These alone don’t solve the problem, merely expose it. Scratching surface, the tip of the iceberg.
   So, powerless as we are, do we simply sit back and watch our children descend further into this brokenness and evil? Hell no. We face it. We acknowledge it. We admit our guilt. And we live differently.
   My own model for this, my inspiration, starts with Jesus. I’m not talking about a belief system or a set of doctrines, but a life. This is one who caught a vision of a new way of being human, a different view of how we live and relate together. Many others have been inspired over the centuries to see the same vision and live differently in the face of broken cultures. Ghandi, MLK, Mandela, and Malala Yousafzai to name a very few.
   I cannot change a culture that normalizes, even glamorizes violence. But I can live differently in the face of that culture. Some will be angry when I show up at a Gay Pride Festival, some will shout loudly when I advocate for the helpless poor among us, and others will roll their eyes and dismiss me when I stand with adherents of other religions and philosophies. I cannot alter my culture. I cannot control those around me who may respond to me violently. But I can strive to live differently. I can attempt to reveal something other than a normative attitude toward violence. Moving toward a non-violent culture won’t happen by making changes around me; only through changes within me.

Categories: american christianity, Church in Transition, faith practices, kingdom of God, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Kingdom of God Breaks Into Our Lives In Ordinary Ways

3rd Sunday of Epiphany (B)

1 Cor 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

 And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It was an ordinary day. I was in my office just finishing up a sermon, Bible study, Confirmation class plan, council report, or maybe something really important. Linda, our office manager, comes back and says someone wants to talk with me. Nothing unusual, this happens every day. So I go out in the hall and meet “Luke,” a man I’ve never met before. He’s African American, wearing clothes indicating he was probably used to working outdoors. I introduce myself, invite him in to the office, and he begins to tell me why he needs money to feed his two children. Again, this isn’t so unusual, it can happen several times a week.

Usually in this situation, I struggle to balance someone needing help vs. me being conned. There are almost always elements of both. As I generally do, I invited “Luke” to share his story. I ask questions in order to figure out what’s really going on and if we really can help. I’m asking questions and Luke is answering them. This goes on for several minutes until he stop me.

“I don’t mean any disrespect, Pastor Moss, but as hard as it is for me to come here and ask for help, it’s even harder for me as a black man to come to a white church, and to put the fate of my family into the hands of a white man.”

This isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve heard all kinds of approaches. I figured I’d push back a little and see where this went. “Luke, I’m wondering if you’re playing the race card on me here. Here’s my concern; if I don’t provide you with the help you want, you’ll chalk it up as one more white racist holding power over black people.”

He was quiet for a few moments, then said, “Well, to be honest pastor, yeah, that’s probably what I’ll think.”

We spent the next 45 minutes sharing our experiences as two human beings who happened to be different colors. We gained deeper understanding of one another. Now, I consider myself relatively aware racially, but I realized during this conversation that in ways I either forgotten or never knew, I am quite content to reap the benefits of being white in a white-power culture. I have continued doing that without questioning it or challenging it; in so doing I have been contributing to a racist society. Now it’s not all my fault, but I haven’t put any effort into reconciliation either. If the Bible is clear about anything, it’s that God is about the business of reconciliation, of peace, or repairing that which is torn.

Luke, sitting there in my office had brought an opportunity for a small piece of reconciliation. Here was an opportunity to take part in what God was doing right in front of me. The kingdom of God broke in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. I was being offered a chance to repent, to believe in good news of reconciliation. Jesus was here, and was inviting me to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It was an ordinary day for James and John, in their boats on the shore of the Sea of Galilee fixing the tears in their fishing nets. A man walks by and shouts at them. Well, people do that all the time, giving advice on how to fish and where to fish—as if James and John hadn’t been doing this all their lives. Amazing how everyone believes they can do your job better than you.

The shouting man kept coming, and they saw fellow fishermen Simon and Andrew right behind him. The man came right up to them, looked first at James, then at John, and said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

They looked at each other, this didn’t really make a lot of sense to them. But they realized, that in ways they weren’t even aware of, that their lives were going to go in a completely different direction. The kingdom of God had broken in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. They were being offered a chance to change direction, to believe the good news that God was making a difference in the world. Jesus was there, and was inviting them to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It’s an ordinary day at Lutheran Church of the Master. The kingdom of God breaks in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. We are being offered a chance to change direction, to believe the good news that God is making a difference in the world. Jesus is here, and is inviting us to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Lakewood, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . Follow me.”

Categories: Church in Context, faith practices, hospitality, kingdom of God, racism, Sermon, suburban church | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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