Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Truth is Out There

Yesterday, I woke up to the news that another black church had burned in Greeleyville, South Carolina. I read multiple posts in my feed about how this was the seventh black church that had burned since June 17th, the day that nine African American children of God were murdered by a white supremacist in the basement of their Church, Emanuel AME. I felt the need to post something about this on my own page. By the end of the day, on my own post, and in my feed, I saw responses to this latest church fire like these:

“Investigators say that it was caused by a lightning strike.”
“White churches were burned, too.”

And then came the lists:
June 8 Experience Community Church, Murfreesboro TN - Believed to be arson, donation box set on fire which spread to church building
June 14 Lake Lindsey United Methodist Church, Brooksville FL - Believed to be arson, fire was set before a wedding and the suspect is believed to have had anger against bride side of family, has history of bomb threats
June 21 College Hill Seventh Day Adventist, Knoxville TN - Hay bales outside set on fire. Ruled arson / vandalism but not a hate crime
June 23 Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Queens, Queens NY - Lightening is suspected
June 23 Fruitland Presbyterian Church, Fruitland TN - Lightening is suspected
June 23 God’s Power Church of Christ, Macon GA - Under investigation as arson but FBI has not ruled a hate crime. Church was recently burglarized and a sound system was stolen.
June 24 Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, Charlotte NC - Intentionally set by vandals, under investigation but FBI has not rule as a hate crime
June 26 Glover Grove Baptist Church, Warrenville SC - No cause for the fire determined, investigators have found no indication of criminal intent
June 26 Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church, Tallahassee FL - Electrical wires exposed when tree fell causing electrical arc
June 27 Northside Community Church (Church parsonage), CHATTANOOGA TN - Still under investigation
June 27 College Heights Baptist Church, Elyria OH - Cause unknown, not suspected to be intentional but still under investigation
June 29 Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church Parish Center, Queens NY - Appears intentional, still under investigation
June 29 Disciples of Christ Ministries, Jackson MS - Electrical box faulty and believed to have sparked the fire
June 30 Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, Greeleyville SC - Lightning is suspected as cause. This church was set on fire by KKK in 1995 (20 years ago).

And then there are these statements:
“Let’s be more responsible about what we post on Facebook, so we don’t create more problems.”
And my favorite,
“Don’t fall prey to click-bait. Do your research.”

I recently heard my friend and colleague Alisha Gordon compare racism in this country to the Matrix. It’s always there, but you can’t see it until someone shows it to you, or by some circumstance you discover it’s there by yourself.  And in much the same way, too, once we come to know there is a Matrix, we have a choice.  We can take the red pill or the blue pill. The choice is between embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red pill) and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue pill). There are many white Americans who continue to opt for the blue pill.

“I’m not a racist.  I have a black friend.” Or “I’m not a racist. I don’t make racial slurs.” And in relation to the burning of black churches, “Investigators say that these church burnings are not arson”, or “not hate crimes,” or “are arson, but not connected to hate crimes.”
And my favorite justification, “Well, white churches burned, too.” As if somehow the fact that white people are experiencing this pain means black people should just get over it, or in some way come to believe that because white people are oppressed as well, the oppression and racism that people of color face isn’t really that bad.

So, to all the list makers and anti-click bait decriers, I’d like to introduce to my friend Fox Mulder. 
Yes, that Fox Mulder (X-files, anyone?).  The same guy whose motto was,“The truth is out there.”
He’s also the guy who said one of my favorite quotes…ever… “If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?”

Thus, in the spirit of Truth and contrived coincidences, I would like remind us all of a few names from a different list:

January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant III, Oakland, California
Shot by BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle. Initially Grant had struggled with officers, but was shot while being restrained and unarmed. The officers were responding to a call of a fight on a train. Mehserle, who maintained that he accidentally used his handgun when he meant to use his Taser, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and received a sentence of two years in jail.*

May 16, 2010, Aiyana Jones, Detroit, Michigan   
Shot by policeman Joseph Weekley during a house raid. Weekley was ultimately cleared of all charges after multiple mistrials.

November 19, 2011, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., White Plains, New York
Shot by policeman Anthony Carelli in Chamberlain's home. No criminal charges filed. Emergency services were drawn to Chamberlain's home after his medical alert device activated. Chamberlain refused to let them in, with police breaking down the door to enter.

February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, Sanford, Florida        
Trayvon Martin was shot outdoors by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman, who was later charged and acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

March 2012, Rekia Boyd, Chicago, Illinois              
Shot by policeman Dante Servin after Servin confronted a group of people in a local park. A directed verdict found Servin not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

November 23, 2012, Jordan Davis, Jacksonville, Florida  
Shot by software developer Michael David Dunn over an argument over loud music. Dunn was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.*

November 29, 2012, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, Cleveland, Ohio
Both were shot during a car chase, each being hit more than 20 times. 13 policemen fired 137 shots into the car; the car chase stemmed from police thinking they were being shot at by the car's occupants, but no gun was found in the car and the sound was later determined to be due to the back-fire of the Chevrolet Malibu. Policeman Michael Brelo was charged with voluntary manslaughter, but was cleared in 2014. The judge found that because other policemen had also fired, it was not beyond reasonable doubt Brelo was responsible for killing the duo.

April 30, 2014, Dontre Hamilton, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
Shot by policeman Christopher Manney, when a fight broke out when Manney attempted to frisk Hamilton. Although he did not face criminal charges, Manney was fired from the police.

April 30, 2014, Eric Garner, New York City, New York       
Died from a chokehold by policeman Daniel Pantaleo as well as the police's compression of Garner's chest. Garner was being arrested on the suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. A Grand Jury declined to indict Pantaleo for Garner's death.

August 5, 2014   John Crawford III, Dayton, Ohio
Shot by policeman Sean Williams when police answered a 911 call alleging a man waving a gun in a Walmart store. Crawford was holding a pellet/BB gun being sold in the store itself. A grand jury declined to indict any policemen, but the United States Department of Justice is investigating.

August 5, 2014, Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri        
Shot by policeman Darren Wilson on a street. Wilson confronted Brown from his cruiser as Brown was suspected of committing robbery minutes earlier. They struggled through the window of the police vehicle, where Wilson shot Brown, who fled with Wilson pursuing. When Brown turned around, Wilson shot him multiple times in the front. Both a St. Louis County grand jury and the United States Department of Justice decided not to charge Wilson.

 August 11, 2014, Ezell Ford, Florence, Los Angeles          
Shot by policemen Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, who confronted Ford as part of an "investigative stop". While one officer was in "violation" of LAPD policy, charges have not been filed.

 November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice, Cleveland, Ohio             
Shot in a city park while playing with a toy pistol, by policeman Timothy Loehmann. A grand jury will decide whether either Loehmann or his partner Garmback will be indicted.

 April 4, 2015 Walter Scott, North Charleston, South Carolina       
Shot by police officer Michael Slager during a traffic stop. Slager was charged with murder*after a video surfaced showing him shooting Scott multiple times from behind while Scott was fleeing.

April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray, Baltimore, Maryland            
Fell into a coma while being transported by police after they arrested him. Gray died a week later of injuries to his spinal cord. Charges have been filed against 6 policemen after a medical examiner’s report that ruled Gray's death a homicide.*

Police investigators say a lot of things. 
“The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up.” Darren Wilson

“Shots fired, male down. Black male, maybe 20, black revolver, black handgun by him. Send E.M.S. this way, and a roadblock.” An officer in Cleveland, Ohio after 12 year old, Tamir Rice, was shot for playing with a toy pistol in a public park.

“A statement released by North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said a man ran on foot from the traffic stop and an officer deployed his department-issued Taser in an attempt to stop him. That did not work, police said, and an altercation ensued as the men struggled over the device. Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer. The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him, police alleged.” This is what came of an investigator’s report after the death of Walter Scott before the video surfaced that showed Spencer Pryor shooting Scott. Walter Scott, who was unarmed and fleeing, was shot in the back from a distance of at least 15 feet. After Scott was fatally shot, the video appears to capture Slager planting an object next to the dead man’s body.

Indeed, some investigations are being carried out with integrity. But what I ask us all to consider is that some, maybe even many, are not.

We can no longer continue to take the blue pill.  We can no longer choose to continue to live in willful ignorance regarding the racism and unjust Systems that exist in this country and across the world. We must take the red pill.  We must seek the truth. We must refuse to look the other when we see injustice.  And really, we need to get over our white fragility. When Neo realized that he lived in the Matrix, and that he had been born into an oppressive System he wasn’t defensive.  He did not come up with reasons as to how he was not part of the problem. Instead, he accepted the reality and became involved in the epic struggle to change it.

So, Speak up! Protest! Tweet, Blog, Keep Facebook feeds filled with stories of why #BlackLivesMatter! Continue to challenge inaccurate and false information coming from investigators and news pundits – the same news pundits who covered the burning of one CVS during the Baltimore riots for a solid week, but report the burning of seven black churches as coincidence. Let's take the spin and spin it back in the direction of truth. Let's hold each other accountable for complacency. Let us seek to understand.  Let us seek ways to be a part of this epic struggle. The truth is out there - if you're willing to see it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Is it Finished?

Below is the text from Good Friday 2015 in which I participated in the Seven Last Words Sermon at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, Georgia.

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

It is finished.

What did these words mean to the friends and family of Jesus who were standing at the foot of his cross, witnessing his execution? Were the words comforting? Or were they confusing?
These were the last words of the man who said that he came to bring them life, yet he was dying.

It is finished.

All these many years later, these words of Jesus have become overly familiar to us.
We hear them every year as we walk through Holy Week. On Good Friday we remember an equivocal act of love, but on this day that we call good, there is also a tension with which we are called to wrestle or at the very least recognize:
I have been reading and re-reading these words .

It is finished.
It is finished.

But over these past few weeks, when I hear these words, I don’t hear them as a declaration, or a statement of affirmation.
I hear a question.
Is it finished?
Is it finished?

When we stigmatize mental health issues making people who live with mental illness and disabilities invisible, is it finished?

When the planet that humanity was given by the Creator to care for is in rapid degradation because our roles as caregivers are secondary to our roles as consumers, is it finished?

When children of God, freeze to death sleeping on the steps outside of a church because they weren't permitted inside, is it finished?

When violence is glorified in the name of rights, is it finished?

When we refer to people of other cultures, colors, religions, creeds, political persuasion, and sexual identities as those people, is it finished?

When Children of God fleeing war torn countries, or abject poverty, are labeled as illegal because they have the audacity to cross our borders and want what we all want for those that we love, is it finished?

When a nation whose people and leaders claim to worship the Prince of Peace wage war in the name of an Empire, is it finished?

When citizenship in an Empire is valued over citizenship in the Kingdom of God, is it finished?

When we justify our mistreatment and neglect of our neighbors by cherry picking scripture or by turning on the “news channel” of our choice thus allowing vitriol to sooth our collective consciousness, is it finished?

When young black men and women die at the hands of those meant to protect and serve, and those who protect and serve are demonized because they are all victims of a System that functions as if some human lives are more valuable than others, is it finished?

When slavery is as prevalent as it ever was... not only are children of god trafficked in the sex trade, but in this country there is a for profit prison industry that currently has 2 million individuals, mostly men of color, living behind bars, is it finished?

When lawmakers would make laws that allow for discrimination for and the legalization hate in the name of religious freedom and restoration? Is it finished?

When we make politics prophetic and ignore the words of  the prophets?
Word like those from the prophet Ezekiel:
This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Or the words of Jesus from the book of Matthew:
'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Or the words of Martin Luther from the Small Catechism as he explained the 5th commandment: Thou shalt not kill:
We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need [in every need and danger of life and body].

Is it finished?

We have come together to remember a man who was executed by the state. Yet, today, men and women are still executed by the state.  Their bodies are strapped to a table so the poison can be  pumped through their bodies until they are dead in the name of justice. I ask you...
Is it finished?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hey Church: You Do You

I am not a millennial, but I do know a few of them. 
As I am about graduate from seminary, and I am a minister to young adults at the church where I serve, many of the relationships that I have formed over the past few years are with millennials. And I have to tell you that none of the millennials that I know - not even in passing conversation - have ever mentioned that any of the blogs that have been written about them and why they are leaving the Church hold any influence on them whatsoever.
So, we should probably stop talking about millennials like they're not in the room. It's like when you spell something in front of a toddler who you think doesn't know what you're saying, but they do. Guess what, y'all... Millennials can read and they're super savvy with social media. They’re on The Facebook, and they're on The Twitter, and all of those other Instagramy things, and point is they can hear you! Perhaps we should talk to millennials instead of about them.

But what if the fact that millennials are leaving the Church is nothing that we can actually control? What if there is a new Reformation happening? I mean if you read Phyllis Tickles’ book The Great Emergence, apparently God has a garage sale about every 500 years. The last one that happened was THE Reformation (which happened 500 years ago, so we’re due) and the Church ended up looking a whole hell of a lot different than it had in the previous 500 years. And what if the Holy Spirit actually knows what's up and the Church is changing and instead of digging in our heels we could, I don't know, just go with it? So what if we don't have 5000 members, or 500, members in our churches anymore? What would it look like if we stopped making our church buildings, and the way we do worship, idols? What if the fact that millennials aren't going to church because it's just like the way that it has always been? Don’t most college aged people lag in attendance during their 20s? And what about the church being eternal and that whole thing about the Kingdom of God being forever and the gates of Hell not prevailing against it? ( I read that somewhere) No amount of ridiculous blogging is going to affect that in any way shape or form.

So please, for the love of the baby Jesus and all that is holy, stop with the incessant blogging about millennials! Because the truth is, people in every age demographic are finding the Church irrelevant and leaving.

So, Church I have some advice: It's like our mothers used to tell us, people will like you for who you are, or they won't. And that's ok. Just be yourself. So, let's continue to do what it is that God has called us to do. Let's stop trying to be cool, or not cool, or touting high church, or criticizing low church, or whatever for the sake of how we think it will FINALLY make millenials like us and want to be our best friends. And while we're at it, let's stop acting like we actually give a shit about millennials when what we really care about is our own job security (ahem, clergy) and maintaining the kind of church that we like.

We're running around like our hair is on fire, screaming DECLINE! Decline! Decline! Yet no one wants to do anything about decline as we seem more content to write articles about what's wrong with the Church...or more specifically what's wrong with the way someone else does church... or the way to get millennials to come to your church rather than actually engaging this demographic we feel is so crucial to the survival of the Church. Here's the truth: we don't want to change anything, so we'd rather point out what's wrong with millennials than look at our own stuff.

Maybe we could see what it is that the communities around our churches need that our churches can provide. And maybe, just maybe, that has nothing to do with millennials as much as it has to do with loving people for who they are. And maybe we should not just love millennials, but we should love Gen-Xers and we should love Baby Boomers, too. We should love octogenarians, and we should love babies. Maybe we should love our enemies, and we should love everybody with no strings attached instead of worrying about how to get people to come to our churches because that's not love... that's a mindset that that is all about preserving the museum...that's perpetuating a mindset that is all about us.