Category Archives: Racism

Divine Design

In college I spent a lot of time with my best friend’s family, so when her father died a few weeks ago, that was the loss of a family member for me. Death makes me think about fate, hard as I try not to. Was it ‘his time’ as we often say? His spouse suffered most through his Alzheimer’s, for many years. No one would have wished him a hasty exit, but I think any of us would have wished for less lingering, once it seemed all awareness had vanished.

I have long refused to accept our lives are scripted. I reject any theological language referring to ‘God’s will.’ But when experiencing these life and death events it is hard not to question our destiny. Even if not scripted, it seems at least there are situations we are drawn to, and without question, external events that influence the choices we make.

Historical fiction is a beloved escape for me. I am often reading/listening-to a period in webRNS-God-Sistine-042518time when many Europeans, there and in the New World, believed hell was a real place and god resembled the Old Testament guy who was long on judgement and anger. This way of thinking produces narrow-mindedness. It is the perspective where Evangelical Christians, and some Muslim sects, are stuck. They live in the long-ago past, when the simple answer to every conundrum was: god’s will. These are immature, under-developed religions. Theirs is the Christianity of the Crusades.

When people of that way of thinking turn to politics and public policy, they again want simple answers to complex problems. For one, example, they forget their own ancestors were immigrants and feel entirely justified railing against those ‘illegals.’ And then there’s the women. In this country we are forced into to psychological burqas, by paying us less, restricting our access to healthcare, and the many other ways we are marginalized. Hell, they have us turning on each other. ‘No one is harder on women than women’ – I know you’ve heard that one, just as I know I’ve said it.

I was called a racist on Twitter a few days ago. I made a comment that I thought was carefully inclusive and said (paraphrasing here – I deleted the thread) something like, we have all been marginalized. The respondent said the big problem is entitled white women who don’t understand what it’s like [for black women]. Really? It’s all the fault of women? Over-simplified and inaccurate. What I will grant is that there is a shocking percent of women (not just white) who accept our marginalized status and vote to sustain it, or worse, say it’s god’s will. I will certainly grant that a shocking percent of white women helped elect the president who openly admitted he assaulted women. That should have been a deal-breaker for every single female voter. There’s some simplicity for you. If you think it’s funny to assault women, you can’t be president.  Except you can. Even when we could have expected to be on the same side in this culture of everyone choosing sides, we still can’t manage civil discourse. Anger perpetuates anger.

In my reading, writing, and thinking about religion, I distinguish between the dogma and practice that comes from theology, and the emotional/psychological experience of spirituality. Though distinct, they influence each other. The person who has a theological belief in god’s will, nurtures a psychology that foregoes personal responsibility, and even an emotional response that others are wrong. They aren’t bound to social compassion because if someone is born into poverty, it’s just god’s will. And isn’t it god’s will for women to be breeders? All other human activities are subservient to this biological divine imperative. This is why they focus on abortion and not living children. After all, childcare is a just women’s work, but an abortion is saying no to the divine order of patriarchy. Giving birth, even if raped, is a god-ordained event and no women have the right to make a choice in this area. Men, do of course, because they can just leave. Patriarchy is the ultimate in divine design for these folks. And it is the systematic over-arching oppression of women of all races. Patriarchy depends on oppressing others and absent patriarchy, slavery itself could not have flourished.

Though I reject my fate is destined or scripted, I still find themes in my life, and jacqui1stgrade_edited-1recognize how much in life is out of my control. In this I choose a spiritual interpretation. I believe there are lessons available to me for this life that I did not master in my previous lives. The lessons are all the more crucial in times of pain and transition. I think back on the life of my friend’s father. I think I can see some of the pain he lived with and how it both drove him and haunted him. An Episcopal bishop once said, “Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.” I saw evidence of both in the time I knew him. I also see evidence in the emotional legacy he passed-on to his daughters. Exactly like my birth family, the daughters did not enjoy the same benefits as the son, materially or psychologically. So the family mimics society, and society mimics the family; but that doesn’t change my desire to be treated more fairly by my father, my church, my country. I accept I will never be my father’s son. I do not accept the bad choices of others to treat me as less because of it. I can’t change their choices or the outcomes of those choices, but I will not embrace them as fate and certainly not divine design. -J.B.

 

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Of Race and Men

Since Heather Heyer was run down and murdered by a racist while she was protesting Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, there have been more offenses to decency and democracy. It’s difficult to keep track. Like these three who were in Gainesville, Florida, stirring-up violence to show their support for white supremacist, Richard Spencer, who was also previously in Charlottesville.

I wonder if you see the pattern I see? When I watched HBO’s “VICE News Tonight” story on the spectacle and violence in Charlottesville, I was not surprised that the agitators were mostly young, white males. Let’s be honest: they weren’t protestors or free speech advocates, they were a heavily-armed militia. They want to overthrow civility and civil rights, which is essentially democracy. Their march was an exercise by radicals committed to intimidating anyone unlike themselves, or anyone even disagreeing with their self-serving, hateful ideology. Even the word ideology is a flattering description because it implies thought-out ideas, rather than the narcissistic trash talk it is. Their attempt to elevate white male supremacy to a political platform would be laughable, if it weren’t so dangerous. These are playground bullies, grown-up and armed, wearing their whiteness like a divine right.

 

I really can’t figure out why they are so perpetually pissed-off. From where I’m sitting, white males still have it easier than anyone else. But how we have de-evolved? Remember the good old days when it was frustrating to try and talk or work with men thinking with their dicks? Ah, simpler times…Now they’re thinking with their guns.

After Charlottesville, I watched cable news and listened to NPR podcasts. I read online stories and even had a complete stranger at the train station talk to me about the state of our country. Usually everyone on the train platform has their head-down with eyes and thumbs on their mobile device. I guess she was reading some news and just had to say something to someone. That is a feeling I understand. For me, it’s the additional confusion of disagreeing with the nothing less than the ACLU, which is quite rare for me. I send them checks. I consider them one of the organizations with the ability to impact some of the countless shames of the current president and his regime. However, they’re getting this one wrong. Very wrong.

These are not the good-old-days of street protests. Free speech is not relevant when there is an action by an armed militia. Make no mistake that Charlottesville was a coup rehearsal. The ACLU is trying to conduct business in a civil democracy that is currently operating like a Banana Republic. Stop being naïve. It’s not hip or enlightened to sanction a platform in order to give voice to violent radicals who intend to overthrow the very system that is allowing them this opportunity. And by the way, violence often starts with rhetoric. I wouldn’t fault the ACLU if they hosted a panel in the local school auditorium with speeches from both sides. Invite the damn Nazis to that. But you better have security at the door because these are the domestic terrorists with whom we now live. They are exploiting our commitment to free speech and an open society, in order to advance their mission to destroy our foundational values and democracy itself.

ACLU internal tensions

The article link that follows is about white supremacist, Richard Spencer, speaking in Florida. The University, the municipality, and the state spent lots of money to make the community safe from everyone his hate talk attracted. Yes, the same guy (one of them) who fomented violence in Charlottesville. Again, this is not free speech. This is allowing a forum for anarchy and oppression. Free speech does not mean we have to allow every thought into the public square. The photo below is Spencer in Charlottesville, and we know how that turned out.

Gainesville shooting and Spencer

Gainesville state of emergency

With all this news, things seem hopeless. I went to the Women’s March on Washington, and it was one of the best days of my life, but I don’t think I would have had the courage to go to Charlottesville. I am sad to say that since that immediately after Charlottesville, I heard a few white people try and rationalize by saying, well, there were actions on ‘both sides.’ (I don’t mean the racist president. I mean regular people.) Only white people would say something that outrageous. When you have an angry, armed militia of white men from all over the country invade a small town, then why is anyone surprised that some of the people protesting their presence would get upset? I ask you, who died? This is just about blaming the victim so white folks can excuse themselves from speaking-up.

I have been reading a Joan Chittister book from 1998, Heart of Flesh: Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men. Though I expected it to be dated, I found it sad how little things have changed. In writing about patriarchy and spirituality, Chittister said, “The patriarchal society, agreeable as it may be, is an essentially violent thing (p.24)…Patriarchy is built on the backs of the powerless by the powerful, who take all power to themselves, public, intellectual, and religious,” (p.27). I can’t do Chittister justice here, but bear with me while I try to provide a glimpse of all 175 impeccably written and researched pages here.

Chittister could not have imagined the current president (who could?) in the nineties. She wrote about narcissism (p.96-97). She said it was named as a disorder by the American Psychological Association in 1980. Then she gives us context when she describes narcissists, “They are the beginning and end of what is important to them; they can’t possibly be sensitive to, aware of, or concerned about someone else…it is also surely a by-product of a system that demands competition, ambition, self-aggrandizement, and superiority as a matter of course…Narcissism is a patriarchal disease.” And there we have it. This puts our angry, white males in context. They have drawn faulty entitlement conclusions and when the world is not indeed their oyster it pisses them off. And then they need someone to blame.

Chittister recommends a “feminine” approach to spirituality. She is smarter than me and I do get her point, though I am uncomfortable with defining feminine in traditional terms. I don’t see how improvement is possible until at our cultural core, we are willing to finally address the immorality of patriarchy. I have written of this before, so I hope you don’t find it tedious. But we live in a Christian-dominant culture and I challenge you to find a Christian church which isn’t praying to a god-the-father every Sunday.

“Women are subsumed, excised, erased by male pronouns, by male terminology, by male prayers about brotherhood and brethren, even and always by exclusively male images of God,” (p.116). So if we can’t count on the church for fairness and inclusion, where can we go? I don’t believe my fear of white men is irrational nor my concerns strictly anecdotal. I agree with Chittister that patriarchy is the root evil (my word, not hers). And if we don’t address the root evil, more people will die – which doesn’t excuse the everyday oppression. This white male entitlement is the biggest threat to our safety and society. Supposed Islamic terrorists are insignificant in comparison. And as one aside, why isn’t anyone asking about the religion of the latest white male domestic terrorists?

Mother God, please have mercy on us. -J.B.

So many guns, so much time

Ralphie is about 12 years-old, a rescue cat from my local shelter. He’s been with me four years and has established himself as the boss. He was astounded that I apparently went somewhat insane and adopted a dog. Charlie is about 10 pounds, so Ralphie outweighs him even though they are about the same height. I have integrated numerous animals as a family over the years, so I am optimistic. What amazes me is that they manage to posture with each other, hissing and yipping, without anyone drawing blood. I don’t allow them firearms, so we have that going for us.

At the time of this writing, the latest mass shooting was of police officers in Dallas, TX on 1468100638-open-carryJuly seventh. (It’s even likely that before I’m finished editing there will be another.) Texas is considered an “open carry” state allowing citizens to walk around in public with a visible gun. When I was in Texas in December, more than one restaurant had a sign that they didn’t allow guns. I didn’t feel better. That they needed such a sign was upsetting. On July ninth, Dallas mayor was quoted in the Dallas Morning News saying: “It’s logical to say that in a shooting situation, open carry can be detrimental to the safety of individuals.” Oh really? I have to ask, how’s that open-carry working out, Texas?

Dallas Morning News

Back in January, BBC News online reported that way back in 2012 in the US (the most recent comparable data available), “the number of gun murders per capita was nearly 30 times the UK.” In 2015 alone, there were 64 school shootings, including incidents with shootings that did not include murder. I hope we are not so de-sensitized that we can’t see how outrageous school shootings are.  Here’s another nugget from the BBC: So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the US. In that same article the BBC reported that the National Rifle Association boasted that after the Sandy Hook shooting (elementary school), its membership surged to five million.

BBC gun statistics

These statistics (and there are more) demonstrate that Congress has failed, capitalism without any regard to the common good has failed, and we voters (especially non-voters) have all failed miserably. It is time to not let another day go by without writing to your federal senators and representatives and let them know that if they don’t pass gun control legislation, you will work to fire them by campaigning against their re-election. Write an e-mail. Write a letter. Write it now.

And you know who should be leading the charge? Clergy. For those who speak to their congregants weekly, there is the consideration of whether to offer empathy (pastoral care and support), or whether to challenge the listeners to be better human beings (or more devout, if you are more comfortable with that word). And many, many, clergy simply enjoy the sound of their own voice. I worked at a seminary once and I can tell you that there are many different reasons individuals pursue religious leadership – and not all of those reasons are good ones.

There are very few churches showing strong leadership, but I would especially challenge Roman Catholics. I drove past a parish last week that had a sign in the front yard about how many abortions there were last year. I’m sure they used the word murder somewhere on that sign. I can’t find a way to understand why they are so passionate about their perception of “murdered” fetuses and so very mute about everyday gun murders of walking around realized human beings.

After the previous recent shooting in Orlando (one actually loses track), the Episcopal bishop of Philadelphia did call for gun control. I also read a Tweet about a Kansas bishops requiring that no guns are allowed in Episcopal churches, though I remain astounded that anyone has to make that a policy.

Message from Philadelphia Episcopal bishop

Kansas bishops ban guns from churches

Why are the religious zealots so noisy about policies and laws on women’s health and sex but so very quiet about gun control? I’m not saying there are no voices, kudos to the Quakers, I’m saying that if the majority of religious people got as activist as what we saw in civil rights movement, things would change. And I am not the first person to say that they are indeed related.

I read a Facebook post super-imposed over a white model that said: “How about all lives matter. Not black lives, not white lives, get over yourself no one’s life is more important than the next. Put your race card away and grow up.” These kind of comments can only come from white privilege, insensitivity, and ignorance. Look at who has been killed, who has been doing the killing, and who is in jail. The following link is a very in-depth story about the social conditions that have contributed to not only gross incarceration, but also the disproportionate incarceration of minority males. This is not white liberal guilt speaking, it is data. From the article: “The United States now accounts for less than five percent of the world’s inhabitants – and about 25 percent of its incarcerated inhabitants.

The Atlantic on mass incarceration – a must read

Not only do “Black Lives Matter,” there needs to be a whole lot more conversation on white privilege and classism across all races, because ain’t nobody likes being poor. Very often the fear of poverty is acted out in disdain for the poor. And clearly, for many people in this under-educated, unenlightened country, the response to mass incarceration is taking up arms, instead of considering root causes and social failures. Stop the madness.

I’m tired of reading these stories and more so of watching them online and TV. I especially hate writing about this. But I consider it my moral responsibility to challenge myself and you to write some damn e-mails, at the very least. I vote consistently and frequently campaign for a variety of candidates, and I will do more. But it’s not enough because systematic injustice is inevitable when capitalism is absent morality. Democracy without grassroots active involvement becomes oligarchy, which is pretty much where we have arrived. Religious organizations that are mute on social pathology, well that’s pre-World War II Germany when the Christians were silent while Jews were marginalized, persecuted, then murdered. I really didn’t want to mention The Donald here, but when a leading presidential candidate becomes more popular by spewing hatred against Mexicans and Muslims, we really are living in pre-WWII Germany. The front page of Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer said, “This is not who we are.” Really? Apparently it is.

I am left asking the same question so many others have asked: how many more shootings? How does that photo above not look both preposterous and terrifying? There are so many guns and it seems no urgency to change that. No urgency. Why? How many more shootings? How many more deaths? I’m calling all clergy (well, truthfully, I doubt they will read this, but you can tell them) to talk about gun control and keep talking about it until we have it. -J.B.

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Jesus the Socialist

In a prior career, I was in advertising where I learned that seven words or less make the best billboard copy.  I always liked that method of getting to the point, but I would not confuse billboards with literature.  Not everyone would agree with me.

While I was sitting in a hospital waiting room the size of a walk-in closet, I had the unavoidable misfortune to overhear two local pundits discussing Obama as a Socialist.  I don’t want to sound like a snob, but I was pretty sure neither of these geniuses had ever heard of Friedrich Engels or Karl Marx, unless someone at their church had the same name.  I fixed one of those glares on them that my mother used to use on me and that was enough to provoke a response.  He said something brilliant like, “Looks like somebody doesn’t like what we saying.”  I simply replied, “It’s such a shame you don’t read much.”  That was less than I wanted to say because you see both of these inspired philosophers were carrying Bibles.  Then Intellectual Number One said, “I do read.  There is a billboard in Texas that says Obama is a Socialist.”  I’m not sure which was more disconcerting, that he considered reading a billboard really reading, or that he believed what he read on a billboard was absolute truth.

It’s a pretty safe bet that the intellectuals mentioned here can’t master a Google search, but I can dream that they have a dictionary.  A simple dictionary look-up offers a few manageable sentences to help understand the actual meaning of the word being tossed about.  Dictionary.com defines socialism as a system of community ownership.  Utopian socialism is even more interesting and is defined as, “an economic system based on the premise that if capital voluntarily surrendered its ownership of the means of production to the state or the workers, unemployment and poverty would be abolished,” (the same source).

From where I’m sitting, a system without unemployment and poverty deserves consideration.  Now, don’t overreact.  I’m not promoting socialism.  I’m just suggesting that unregulated capitalism has led to runaway greed, and as a result record unemployment.  In a capitalistic society, losing your job is economic cancer.  The social toxin more potent than racism is classism.  All races, more than anything else, don’t want live in poverty, and the lucky hope the poor did something to deserve it, so it doesn’t happen to them.

Since I outed myself in the last column as having more familiarity with Christianity than other religions, and since it is the majority religion in this country, I am comfortable addressing Jesus and socialism – a column topic recommended by my friend Kathleen.  Jesus was not a big proponent of social systems, though he was comfortable challenging them.  Challenging the status quo was something he had in common with Marx, Engels, and Max Weber.  He was also a big fan of the poor.  He spent most of his time with social outcasts.  In today’s world, I would suggest that to be AIDS patients (lepers), victims of domestic abuse (adulterous woman about to be stoned), blue collar neighborhoods (fishermen), and the like.

When most people today use the term “socialist,” it is to obtain emotional responses from the uninformed.  It is intended to evoke a similar reaction to the old Cold War era fear of communism.  Labeling Obama a socialist gives folks a way to name-call without being accused of racism.  You are free to criticize his policies or how they are implemented, but if caring about the poor, the unemployed and the uninsured is socialism, then we need some more of it.

Concern for the greater good and the welfare of millions of disadvantaged people is not socialism, it’s being a decent human being.  It’s about time some leader of this country tried to help those who cannot help themselves.  All the hunting in the world will not makes jobs available for everyone who needs one.  Obama is the one who told us in the campaign that we can’t expect folks to pick themselves up by their bootstraps if they don’t have shoes.  I don’t care if he has all the answers or perfect policies.  I am grateful that someone in leadership is even talking about helping others.  Jesus is the one that said if you do it for the least of these, you’re doing it for me.  Bring on the Socialist Jesus because this is one greedy, troubled country.  Hiding your racism behind inflammatory labels on the president does not help the disadvantaged.  If you carry a Christian Bible, then you are signing up to care about others.  Here’s my billboard: “If you’re racist, you’re not Christian. Choose.”  How about those seven words?

Does God care about Confederate History Month?

Every time politics and religion collide or collude, life gets interesting – and frequently dangerous.  I just returned from three days in Gettysburg, PA, immersed in history.  While the fighting only lasted three-days in the four years of Civil War (1861-1865), it represented a turning point in favor of the Union.  I have long avoided any extensive consideration of Gettysburg prior to now but with the Virginia governor declaring April “Confederate History Month,” I have been asking myself what about religion and the Civil War.

Like many prior wars, both sides thought they had God on their side.  The Confederate soldiers were all white, largely Protestant volunteers.  The Union army had ethnic and religious diversity and more professional soldiers, along with militia groups of temporary recruits.  Any reading of soldier or officer letters or dairies will include frequent and easy references to God.  Some thought fighting in this war was their duty to God and many prayed to God for victory, approval, support, survival, blessing – you name it.  And both sides had similar expressions.

If there is a personal God, I don’t think he/she cares about Confederate History Month, nor do I think God is taking sides in human wars.  An argument could be made for God having a preference regarding the underlying issues, like slavery, of course.  What I hope people of conscience – secular and religious – do care about is the willingness of a governor to celebrate a sad, gruesome and divisive part of this country’s history.  I guess Virginia is not for lovers but racists.  This takes us back to when Southern churches used their pulpits to defend slavery.

Somebody blog Governor Bob and remind him that no matter what the Virginia Confederate soldiers contributed to the Civil War, they still lost, and the majority of us are grateful.  It seems he is waxing sentimental about a dark part of this country’s history.   Even though his proclamation denounced slavery as evil and said that it deprived people of their “God-given inalienable rights,” I am not convinced of his sincerity.  Governor Bubba, do you really want to go backwards in time?

What do you think?  -J.B. Good