Memorials for Peace and Justice

I hope you will support, look forward to, participate in, and otherwise join this effort to help our country heal. This is wonderful work from the folks of the Equal Justice Initiative.

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“While We Are Still Making Progress”

by Malte BaumanI was gifted with the opportunity to read Racial Realities and Post-Racial Dreams when Dr. Julius Bailey asked me to review his book. It was a kind invitation, one that I am grateful to get.

This book is many things. Primarily a historical, political, and philosophical treatment of this country’s ethic, it explains the moving parts of politics, justice, civil rights, and philosophical discourse as they gather together and furnish this democracy with promise or poison. The book is history and also a glimpse into the future. Bailey writes as a concerned and prophetic scholar.

As I prepare this review, I think of the ways prophets were known in the first testament of the Bible. Prophets told the truth. They spoke forth what the community knew and what the community didn’t know. Prophets talked history and what the people of God already understood as God’s word which had been delivered through the vessels of graced hands and blessed mouths. And prophets also talked about the future and pushed the people to see a new, unknown tomorrow which was, always, a work of faith.

Prophetic work is faith work. Dr. Bailey works at his faith in that sense as he writes a compelling, interesting, and informative book about the history and future of the United States of America. He pulls up a chair for us and walks us through the perennial questions about our country and its unfulfilled promises, its strain to be an exceptional nation, and its insecure moral footing. He invites us to careful examination of those things said most loudly (which are usually the least true) relative to our country’s moral arc that has bent back from justice.

“While we are still making progress, we have lost the path (and especially the togetherness that characterized our first steps on it), and we have become more and more lost, unsure of the future.” Despite the troubling material he serves us, Bailey still has hope. And he offers his plan for locating and electing leaders with hope, with ethical strength, with generosity, and with moral courage.

He mines the current political and legal realities in Black and non-Black communities, holding out a convincing application of social-psychological theory and the clear ways our frames of reference are developed so as to prevent us from seeing. He moves through the double standards of politics and civil discourse. He talks fundamental attribution error and its relation to racism and white privilege.

He writes swiftly and clearly, “White privilege blinds those who would claim that Black America is its own worst enemy.” He continues, knowing that his truth is the truth and installs his rendition of the rise of President Barack Obama, contextualizing Mr. Obama’s campaign and victories, and noting the key agreements between those political achievements and the longer narrative of all those earlier (and all those future) acts of reclamation and recovery in previous times.

His book is a reflection of the exact and ever-present power of white privilege, the absence of non-white privilege, and the corresponding injustice that results. His book addresses these things in the slow, careful way a good teacher would and with the loving embrace of a brother and friend. He serves to us an explanation of the fear in us as a collective people and how religious views contribute since religion is a hot, undeniable area where change is most needed and most difficult. Early on he says what feels like a summary and an echo of his spirit throughout:

“Until an essential humanness replaces the hierarchized core of our racial discourse, we will continue to dehumanize the dark-skinned in both word and deed. Until the roots of structural racism are uprooted and an egalitarian worldview is planted in its place, the financial poverty of America’s inner cities will remain a reflection of the moral poverty in our nation.”

by Trent YarnellAnd he states such things carefully while, at the same time, challenging us to hold a “horizontal integration of the mission.” Bailey sounds like a pastor and professor, activist and contemplative. He sounds concerned and moved by love. He was hard to read–because his truths were, simply, true–and completely invitational at the same time.

The four central chapters cover in deft, artful ways topics that anyone interested in justice should sit with, including racism, xenophobia, poverty, and income inequality. Bailey speaks to the spirit while illuminating the mind. He teaches through his writing.

Tracing Civil Rights and Jim Crow, he explains what the Voting Rights Act was and how it was done true damage by the recent rule of the US Supreme Court. He takes you to school without making you feel like you missed out on the previous week’s homework.

He inspires you, hurts you, and challenges you. He tells it the way it should be told: decide what you believe about freedom and determine if those things should be offered to others.

That is the spirit of his invitation around economics and income, work and jobs. I get the sense that Bailey is dancing to the music of economics and political theory and history and morality. Of course morality is the cooler, distant term for spirituality.

There is a bottom to Dr. Bailey and though I read of portions of it, I can tell that his center is on display as he highlights moral decline in the United States. He writes of our need for a spiritual revolution even if it is not religiously based. It is a challenge and a call. It is necessary and for our own good, as well as a road we have often missed.

“But, so often, those who cause the most hurt are those who are meant to represent love, caring, and respect for the wholeness of persons. Churches and schools are beacons of light in communities, yet our churches denounce gay, transgendered, and queer parishioners in favor of pedantic adherence to an old exegesis of scripture, while our inner-city schools arrest students before counseling them, remove them before reviving them.”

His tone is not one that is easily dismissed. Even if your theory differs from him; even where your reading of the same historical moments generate a different conclusion; even if your political vision diverges from the biblical images he calls upon to color his perspective; you cannot dismiss his enduring sentiment and its corresponding energy. You have to contend with Julius Bailey’s love. And any good teacher would be pleased with that contention.

Siblings by Choice

by Pierre Bouillot.jpg

Photo Thanks by Pierre Bouillot

I finished Archie Smith, Jr. and Ursula Riedel-Pfaefflin’s book, Siblings by Choice: Race, Gender, and Violence. I read one of Professor Smith’s books in seminary (Navigating the Deep River: Spirituality in African American Families) and have found in him a deep well for my own thinking and practicing of pastoral care. When I saw this book, I had been developing my reading list for my supervisory education training, and I put this on it.

The book is about their studied suggestion in how women, men, and children from different cultural and spiritual backgrounds can, together, struggle against oppression. They write about how we can choose to become siblings as we form relationships of resistance, safety, trust, and accountability.

“When people are thrown together by external circumstances, they may discover themselves as siblings in a common struggle against whatever it is that oppresses them. They are siblings in struggle, perhaps, but not yet siblings by conscious choice” (pg. 8). The book highlights the intentionally taken paths toward becoming siblings by choice.

My reading was first in the context of my current training. I’m studying to become a supervisor of pastors, an educator of chaplains, and a caregiver to folks in a myriad of crises, likely but not exclusively in the medical setting. But my inherent reading experience is shaped by my right now work as a pastor in an urban multiethnic congregation and as a teacher in two distinct denominational seminaries. There is much to learn and enrich me in the book for all of my work settings.

I say this for a couple reasons that are worth repeating to myself. First, violence has been a historical reality for people I know, and the book does a great job in thoroughly summarizing several peopled experiences of violence. Note that oppression is one form that violence takes.

Second, gender and race are two words which are of continued appeal to me, especially by these two writers—one a black man and the other a white woman—who were working together out of their shared, abiding interest. In the book they are using their experiences as racial and gendered people to point to paths they’ve taken as colleagues so as to offer us a good read of reconciliation.

Third, I’d love to see churches who are trying to reach people from different social, cultural, and experiential spheres use this book’s treasure. Churches are experiments in multiculturalism even if they don’t make explicit their concerted efforts to embrace that multicultural attribute. People are different, especially when skin color shows off that difference. But churches need real and constructive resources which are thoughtfully prepared and easily adaptable for their own local church processes. This is such a resource. And I’m a pastor and will be a pastor so material like this is enlivening.

Finally, I’m a reconciling, contrarian who finds delight in starting illuminating, educational, and interior fights for the purpose of healing and growth. This book and books like it help me become clearer about my role in the world in that respect. I’ve taken to telling people that a part of practice is in graciously initiating fights and then seeing what happens. I instigate. I do this better now because of readings like Siblings by Choice.

The material helped me think through the authors’ primary conceptual vehicles of narrative agency, systemic thinking, and intercultural realities, words they define well throughout the book. Here is a quick summary from their text:

Narrative agency is the meaning that people make of their lives over time—gifts of love, activities, beliefs, hopes, anxieties and doubts, fears and courage.

Systemic thinking is based on the principle of linkage, in which everything is actually or potentially linked to everything else, either directly or indirectly.

Intercultural realities are the coming together of influences from many different streams of cultures and systems of meaning.

If these definitions leave you interested, spark a question, or light you up, take a look at the book. The three pieces above become their primary means of investigating public morality, gender, and cultural traditions. Their wedding of Mark 10:28-30 with these three avenues brings an echo of biblical and theological reflection to the book so that you keep with the reminder that you’re reading a work that is pastoral-theological.

We read of life from the African-American experience of man who is of the Baptist tradition and life of a white feminist who is of Lutheran and Catholic heritage. They intend to push by boundaries which impede community, and they give real, helpful exercises to pursue community. I find that inclusion to make this book extremely useable. Using vignettes, literature, and examples from current life, a theoretical work is immediately made practical.

The authors also have a lot of good stuff about reflexivity and experience, and the book is worth buying for the individual and group exercises they develop in order to show how pastoral people can work these concepts into practice. They use literature, historical events, and personal experiences to highlight how vital race, gender, and embodiedness are when it comes to addressing the varied expressions of violence in the world.

They are counselors and theorists in pastoral care. They are basically talking to people who care about some of the same things, and if those areas are yours, you’ll want to locate this book. Bending toward clinical applications, they discuss the ways life these days is connected to life in past:

We create the future through our behavior, and whether recognized or not, we reproduce certain established patterns from the past. Our current activity is guided by maps in the mind or certain enduring ways of thinking and being in the world. (pg. 89).

They encourage the reader to “become aware of the history that has shaped” them in order to “self-consciously work for the good, confess our limitations, stay alert to every new and emerging form of evil, and challenge our students, colleagues, family members, individuals, and groups to develop their own practices and traditions of care, prayer, and work for spiritual discernment” (pg. 71).

History is not our only influence. “We are also shaped by ignorance.” We are impacted by what we don’t know and what we choose not to know. I’m particularly aware of this as I sit through and live through the nasty, vitriolic presentations of people claiming to be Christian in the political realm. As the authors recount stories from their own lives and from their people’s lives, you hold the strong reminder that such stories are hard to hold, heavy.

And this book is encouraging for the witness who, in their words, “hears the story of the traumatized ones, acknowledges their demoralization, helps to give voice to their trauma, and enables them to face the depths of their experiences” (pg. 135). We don’t witness alone. Remember that, whether you read this book or not: we don’t witness alone.

The Trouble & Beauty of Wheaton College

MlecezekI’ve been reading occasional media reports for two months as one of my alma mater’s has been in the news. Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian college, in a western Chicago suburb, has been on screen as some administrators and board members have tried to remove from the faculty Professor Larycia Hawkins, the school’s first tenured female African American scholar. She is a political science scholar who wore a hijab in an expression of solidarity with Muslims being persecuted in the political sphere. She also wrote on her Facebook wall sentiments about standing as a Christian with other people of the book, Muslims in this case.

The administration’s initial response, putting Dr. Hawkins on a forced leave, was on theological grounds. They quibbled with her theological articulation which included a quote from Pope Francis about who God is. Very recently faculty members responded by questioning those grounds, Bible and Theology faculty included. The faculty voted unanimously for the administration to revoke the leave and restore Dr. Hawkins. More information can be read here, here, and here.

There is trouble and beauty in what Wheaton’s done. As an institution, the place where I did my first master’s degree, has singled-out a sister scholar and chastised her for publicly showcasing the thing the college stands for: Christ and his Kingdom. They didn’t like the way she did it, of course. And they unfairly chose to punish Dr. Hawkins and not follow a similar course for other faculty members who made similar testimony of faith in relationship to political issues (i.e., theologically informed ethics in society).

Do something a black sister scholar, tenured mind you, and there’s theological and historical refuge. Overlook the white sisters and brothers doing the same, and it’s something else altogether. There’s trouble. I’m ashamed of Wheaton’s administration.

But there is beauty too. Students and teachers have reacted in Christian ways to an administration that in its hyper-evangelical consciousness lost hold to the message of evangelicalism. And I saw the name of the scholar who taught me principles of hermeneutics, which a class about how to read and apply the Bible. And what he said was freeing, moved me to actually write a quick blog.

Dr. Greene called Professor Hawkins’s gesture(s) beautiful. And he wasn’t alone. A unanimous faculty, in its own way and for its own collective reason, joined together to underline the beauty of Wheaton. If they hadn’t done so, I’d have a whole load more of trouble with Wheaton. And I do have stirrings for the school for sure.

Nonetheless, I pray for Dr. Hawkins, that her faith would not fail, that it would flourish. I pray for Wheaton, that the entire community would live deeply into the values and acts of the person of Jesus.

Ministry in the Shadow of Violence

Me and my friend David Swanson talked together as part of an interview with our denomination’s communications department. I had originally written a piece and submitted it, and that piece turned into an occasion to talk with a friend and brother about people we deeply care for and issues we’re drawn to address.

Read the post here at Covenant Companion.

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

“Concerted Effort By All Churches”

When it comes to racism in America, and specifically acts of violence against black Christians and black churches, the past is not even the past—it is a very present danger. While academics might argue about the death of the black church, racists know the history of the black church in America is a threat to white supremacy.

The current efforts to take down the Confederate flag across America, battle police violence, and improve black lives are also under attack. clergy and their church communities are spearheading much of this work.

The practicalities of protecting black houses of worship, however, are very much of this world. Many may not remember that during the years of 1995-1998, 670 churches burned, according to the Community Relations Service, and in 1996, the Church Arson Prevention Act was signed by then-President Clinton.

In light of the shooting at Emanuel AME and the church burnings, the White House, FEMA and Homeland Security recently held a conference call to help clergy members protect their churches and acquaint them with various governmental resources that churches can use to be “at the ready” in case of active shooter attacks, acts of arson, and other types of events that pose threats to buildings of worship.

While this is important, it focuses on prevention—not cure or eradication of racism or religion-based hate crimes.

These actions are a start, but they do not get to the root causes of racism and violence against black churches. Good white supremacists—some of them confessional Christians—fail to understand that the racial history of America has them captive. Some may have even come to their racist beliefs through biblical interpretations of the supposed inferiority of people of African descent.

What needs to happen is a concerted effort by all churches, black and white alike, to confront the issue of racism in America with fervor.

Read the full piece by Dr. Butler at RD here.

“Uncomplicated Conditioning and Deep-Down Knowing”

Perhaps I am a cynic, but my uncomplicated conditioning and my deep-down knowing about the ubiquity of racism remind me that the invisibility of a symbol is not the same as the absence of racist hate.  I have had numerous interactions with white folk in nice suits, who would turn their nose up at a “redneck” racist, who share the same views but don’t literally wear it like an ornament around their neck.  It’s 2015, it is not okay to wear your racism on your sleeve (or your t-shirt), but that doesn’t mean it is not still carried around.  And that is what worries me.  Deep-seated, hidden, structural, institutionalized racism is just as (if not more) dangerous as out in the open racism because we don’t always recognize it or see it coming.

…In a moment when some faith seems to dictate that some black folk need to forgive (and forget) while some white folk stubbornly hold on to a flag and revisionist version of history that condones their racism and insistence for white supremacy, we have a lot more to worry about than whether or not the rebel flag will live on.  What we know for sure is that nine churchgoers who went to study the bible last week won’t.

Racial oppression doesn’t occur in a vacuum so it cannot be neatly or conveniently taken down (or away) without the residue, implications, consequences and permanent scars of its existence, and neither can the confederate flag.

Go read the rest here.

Thank you, my sister, scholar, teacher, proclaimer of truth, Dr. Robin Boylorn.