Struggling in the Presence of Hate

         Sometimes, I find myself apologizing to God.

My mother drilled into us that Jesus said  we are supposed to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” She was being Biblical. We all know the Great Commandment that appears in both the Hebrew scriptures and is quoted by Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            It is one of what I call the “ridiculous” and distasteful commands we are supposed to know and follow. It is as problematic for human beings as is the command to forgive. If we do not forgive those who hurt us, God will not forgive us, we are told, but everyone knows that forgiving those who have caused our souls mortal pain is not only distasteful but extremely difficult.

            The first theologian in my life, my mother, was the one who drilled into me and my siblings “what Jesus said” to do. She said it as we watched images on television of firemen spray children and women with their firehoses and police officers used dogs to attack people who were peacefully protesting against the practice of segregation. “Jesus said you have to love them and forgive them!” my mother called out to us from the kitchen.

            Even as a child I wrestled with what my mother said Jesus commanded, and I wondered if the white folks who were putting vicious dogs on innocent people had to forgive and love everyone, too? As I got older and began to study the history of racism in this country, I wondered even more.

            And I still do.

            Because white people are desperate to hold onto their whiteness, they are acting in desperation, doing all they can to “preserve” the status of their race because they are afraid of this country becoming too brown. The reports that indicate that by 2034 white people will no longer be the majority in this country has them mortified, and so they are working as hard as they can to establish a minority-run government – a government not like that of South Africa. 

            They believe in apartheid. 

            There are people who, no doubt, would say that I am being hyperbolic, but I am not concerned about their rants. What I am concerned about is my own struggle to do what Jesus said for us to do as I watch them run roughshod over this country that Black, brown, Asian, poor, and Native American people built. 

            They have always done that. There are a fair amount of white people who will openly admit that they believe that this country was “built for white people by white people,” and others who gasp and protest at such a suggestion.

            But it is true, and it is also true that far too many white people, even while they are declaring that they are not racist, live in the comfort of being white and do not think much about how white supremacy has poisoned the world. Kehinde Andrews, in his book The New Age of Empire, says that this country “is the most extreme expression of the racist world order.” He also says that America’s “entire existence is based on the logic of Western empire,” and that it became “a Garden of Eden for Europeans looking for wealth and opportunity.” Finally, he says this country “likes to present itself as a victim of British colonialism which freed itself from tyranny and now looks to do the same for the rest of the world.” This, he says, “is a delusional fantasy.”

            But because America lives in the myth of its own moral superiority, it cannot, has not, and will not admit its racism. The powers that be continue to try to keep the truth of this country’s heinous history of racism away from white children, who grow up to unaware white adults.

            And as they continue to walk over Black, brown, Asian, Native American, Muslims…and so many other groups, they perpetrate and engage in behaviors and make policies that hurt and hold back people whom they do not believe are fully human and thus worthy of being treated as such.

            Those are the people we are supposed to love and forgive, even as they refuse to love us back. If they must think of forgiving us, I suppose they would think that they have to forgive us for encroaching upon their privilege.

            Here is the struggle, though. I don’t want to love them. And I am struggling to forgive them for all of the pain they have caused so many. I am angry at them for their lack of concern at what they do to non-white people, and for their arrogance that comes from knowing they can do pretty much what they want to non-white people and get away with it. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who participated in the January 6 insurrection. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who have made wearing a mask to help keep other people from getting COVID-19 a political issue. I don’t want to love and forgive lawmakers who have shown they have no spine or strength, and who are helping to usher this country ruination. I just don’t want to do it.

            The human part of all of us wants “justice.” When we are wronged we want the wronged person to “get his” or “hers.” We want them to suffer as they have made us suffer. If we try to follow the dictates of the Bible, we know that we are supposed to let God do the “getting.” 

            But God moves too slowly. And too often, God seems to be on the side of the oppressor. God has allowed white people to oppress people in this country for over 400 years, and has allowed them to attack Black and brown people for literally generations. In the name of God, white Christians have massacred people of color and taken their land from them here and globally. In this country, they slaughtered Native Americans and took their land, unafraid of divine repercussions because they believed God had commissioned them to do so.

            White people, filled with hate and their God, have committed acts of violence against people in this country from the beginning. Sam Bowers, once the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was convicted of murdering Vernon Dahmer because he dared help register Black people to vote,, believed that he had been called by God to save white people and white supremacy. He would lead his “soldiers” in fasting and praying before they went out to terrorize and slaughter Black people. White preachers and pastors have taught that racism is of and from God.

            We are supposed to love and forgive people who have been absolutely evil in our lives, and I, for one, struggle with that. I struggle because it’s difficult and I also struggle because I wonder what good it does in the end. I struggle because I am fairly sure that those who would kill and terrorize others don’t give loving and forgiving others a milli-second of thought. These people will never change.

            Years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Forgive Who? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command. I think I need to do a second edition. Maybe, through writing out my frustrations with God I can move from frustration to freedom from my frustration and do what God commands, even as I continue to push for the freedom, justice, and dignity for all people, even those who flout their racially-based hatred and work for the demise of me and people like me who they have decided are not fully human and therefore not worthy of equity.

            It is most distasteful, and a horrific struggle …

            A candid observation…

On Pseudo-Christianity

I have long said that if a person cannot, will not, or does not follow the words of Jesus, then that person cannot call oneself a Christian. As Christians, we are called to imitate the way Jesus lived and to follow his words. Short of doing that, a “religious” person who attends a Christian church cannot claim to be a Christian. At best, he or she is a church-goer.

The president this week “disagreed” with Jesus’ lesson to us to “love our enemies,” and he doubted the faith of those who say they pray for their enemies. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-politicization-of-the-national-prayer-breakfast-is-unholy-and-immoral/2020/02/06/529518e4-4931-11ea-bdbf-1dfb23249293_story.html) Jesus said for us to do that, most starkly in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, the president rejected the words and teaching of Jesus as his “enemies” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Mitt Romney listened,

It has been interesting to listen to people marvel at African Americans voice forgiveness for the persons who have killed their loved ones. The most recent example of a black person forgiving someone was Brandt Jean, who publicly forgave the white police officer who shot and killed his brother as he sat in his own apartment. (https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi) His act did not endear him to many; in fact, many Christians – black especially but others as well – have scoffed at Jesus’ directives to forgive, to “turn the other cheek,” and to treat enemies with respect.

But if the truth be told, had not the words of Jesus been pounded into the psyches of black people, we as a people would have been long gone. We did not have any support for our lives and our rights – not from white people, not from the system, including Congress and the US Supreme Court, and we did not have the same access to weapons as did white people. Nonviolence saved protesters on the street; struggling to “do” the words of Jesus saved the souls and spirits of protesters as they continued to fight their enemies on a daily basis.

In a book I wrote some years ago, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command, I examined this directive given to us by Jesus. It is as distasteful as it is difficult. It makes one feel weak because the natural human inclination is to fight stones with stones, and yet when the playing field is so uneven, it is a given that the powerful have more stones they can access, and therefore to wipe out their opposition.

The power of Jesus’ words is their ability to empower and strengthen people, who show a weird love – the love of God – and stand in front of their oppressors in spite of their pain and anger. It is doubtful that anyone “forgives” his or her enemies right away; that seems humanly impossible, but the words of Jesus become seeds in bruised souls and begin to sprout even as the victim of evil works to breathe through their pain. The act of forgiving first helps the one who has suffered an attack or affront from any number of sources. It is the highest, most supreme show of strength one can exhibit.

Those who do not, cannot, or will not forgive display what hatred and anger and resentment does to one’s spirit. The president is an example. He only wants revenge; the desire is eating at him, so intense that even in a “prayer breakfast,” where supposedly devout Christians have gathered to honor God, he cannot hold his pain within him, and he openly disavowed the words of Jesus the Christ.

And the Christians-in-name-only applauded him and laughed, which says at least to me that something is awry in their souls as well.

There is much confusion about forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t mean you become best friends with the one who hurt you (no need to set up a time for “tea and crumpets), but it does mean that you lose the visceral reaction you experience when you even think of what the person has done to you. It frees you even as your abuser drowns in bitterness and anger.

What we have seen this week in this president and in the religious nationalists is a love of power, not of Jesus. We have heard – and will continue to hear and see – his words of anger and contempt for those who he deems as being his enemies, and he will spew his venom all over this country and everything he touches.

He and others might claim to be “Christian,” but they cannot be. They adhere to something that can only be called “pseudo Christianity,” something which has no foundation and teaches nothing about how to be one’s best self in the face of abject evil and attacks.

Those who fight with fists claim that they are strong. Dictators, who cannot stand to be criticized or challenged, and who kill and/or destroy anyone who does either, also claim to be strong,  But their quest for absolute power, and their willingness to put God and the instructions for life given by Jesus the Christ on the periphery of their lives, makes them the weakest people of all.

A  candid observation.

Trump, God and White Anger

White people are mad.

A significant swath of white Americans have been angry since Barack Obama won the White House. Winning it once ws bad enough; winning it  second time was a brutal kick in teeth.

The anger of this so-called “silent majority” has been and is consistently honored on Fox News, but politicians in major elections have voiced this anger in different venues. Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann drew pretty significant support in their political aspirations largely because they voiced the passion and the pain of white Americans who believed then and still believe that America was created for white people. Rand Paul, running in this 2016 race, said unashamedly as be began the  trek toward the presidency, “We’ve come to take our country back.” His statement drew wild applause. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/04/07/rand-paul-set-to-announce-presidential-run/).  He then gave a nice political ditty, outlining all the ways in which he believes America lost her way, but the passion is in the undercurrent, the things nobody really wants to say: many white Americans think too many people of color – beginning with black people and now being compounded by the immigrants coming to America in droves …are in this land compromising and changing not only the character and flavor of the land but in fact its very purpose –  and they are mad.

Donald Trump is gaining in the polls because he is saying publicly what so many white people say in private. The legacy of America – which is not democracy and egalitarianism, but which is, instead, oligarchy and inequality – is being tampered with. The Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Majority Movement in North Carolina, says America doesn’t have a Republican or Democrat problem, it doesn’t have a Liberal or Conservative problem…but it has, instead, a “heart problem.” And the heart of America, in spite of those who might argue against it, is one of white supremacy.

Perhaps the depth of this anger – this unspoken, for the most part – is illustrated by the fact that some Evangelicals are speaking support for Trump in spite of the fact that he has said publicly that he has never sought forgiveness  from God. He said when he does something wrong he just tries to do something good or right. ( http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/)  Fair enough, but this nation has made a big deal out of being Christian, and one of the central tenets of Christianity is seeking and giving forgiveness. What does that say about the religion of Conservatives? Have they somehow compromised the requirements of God and Jesus the Christ? Can you trust, theologically and religiously, anyone who blatantly and arrogantly says he purposely ignores the commands of the Christ?

White anger is not new. That anger rose up after Reconstruction when whites fought to undo every gain that was made during that period of time. Whites fought a “new civil war,” determined to win, not with guns, but with government. They pushed blacks out of political office, compromised and/or took away their right to vote, created policies which in effect created ghettos, and kept blacks basically subservient to whites in all the ways they could. They were angry that they lost the war; they were angry that new policies made the ground between blacks and whites more level, and they were not going to have it. The creation of Jim Crow made it virtually impossible for blacks to be treated as equal human beings, but tht wsa the plan. Whites wanted their country back, and that country did not include black people doing what they felt was saved and relegated for whites only.

Donald Trump knows that sentiment; he obviously feels it and it is clear that many, many Americans feel it, too. Whites are angry that Barack Obama won the White House – twice. They are mad that laws have been created to protect the LGBT community, going so far as to allow same sex couples to marry. They are angry that illegal immigrants – many of whom they use to keep their lawns kept up and their houses clean – keep coming into this nation. They are fighting to take America back to the “good old days” when white people operated and protected a land which did not provide “liberty and justice for all,” but instead kept folks under control, using the law and the courts. Their idea of democracy was a land where whites were in control and everyone else was under their thumb.

It feels like Trump and this “silent majority” are acting rather like spoiled children. They cannot get their way as easily as they once could, and they are angry about it. It feels like they will do all they can, in whatever way they can, to get things “back to normal.” When even the Evangelicals are willing to give a presidential a pass when he has said publicly that he ignores the command of God the Father and Jesus the Christ to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, you know that the anger is real.

It is very real. And it is very dangerous…

A candid observation …

On Forgiveness

It seemed that those covering the horrific murders of nine innocent people last week in Charleston, South Carolina, breathed a collective sigh of relief when surviving members of the families of the slain said, “I forgive” the man responsible for their pain.

It was noble for them to say that, but I don’t for a moment believe it.

It’s too soon. They are in the throes of the deepest pain ever. They are aching and are in shock. The reality and the full implications of how their lives have been forever changed because of this tragedy has not yet set in.

Whenever a person dies, there is a period where the survivors just get into work mode: they have to work to deal with the funeral home and the funeral/memorial service. They have to pick out caskets and decide what their loved one will wear. Some have to scuffle to find money to bury their loved ones. The time immediately after the loss of a loved one is probably the easiest, because those left behind are just too busy to deal with their pain.

But after everyone goes home, after there are no more donations of food, after the arrangements have been done and the funeral and burial are done, the real work of grief begins.

It is not easy.

And forgiveness, if it is to come, does not come immediately.

Forgiveness is a process. Sometimes it takes years for people to get to the place where it “kicks in.” Before that moment, though, the emotional pain pushes against even the thought of forgiveness. Christians are confounded (some of them) and pressured by the commandment of Jesus that we should forgive “not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  It seems dastardly and grossly unfair that the survivors of extreme circumstances that resulted in the death of their loved ones are supposed to forgive, and Christians struggle with that. We are reminded that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We reject Jesus’ own words and the theology Jesus gives us. We are angry and hurt and resentful and we hurt. Some of us simply do not win the struggle.

Black people have struggled with having to forgive white people for all the atrocities that have been done over the years. I daresay that there has been some forgiveness or else black people as a cultural group in this nation would not have survived to the present day. It was slavery, yes, but it has also been Jim Crow and lynching and injustice via the justice system and discrimination in education and housing and employment. In spite of it, black people have not been eradicated, either physically or spiritually. Forgiveness has to be credited with the survival of black people because forgiveness is for the one who forgives, not for the one being forgiven.

But it has been and continues to be a struggle. Forgiveness is a process.

Only time will tell how and if the survivors of those slain in Charleston will be able to forgive Dylann Roof; only time will tell if the African-American community will be able to forgive yet one more assault on our collective presence in this nation.

But this much is a sure thing: forgiveness for these horrific murders has not come to be yet. We need all be in prayer for those who are working to put their Christian faith into action. The words and commands of Jesus are not easy. Those confronted with this kind of pain know that all too well.

A candid observation …

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Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest frustrations I have about being a Christian and using the Bible as my text of reference is that there is no ONE interpretation of the words written in our sacred book.

Peter Gomes, the late chaplain of Harvard University, writes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Head and Heart, writes: One of the greatest ironies available to people who take the Bible seriously is that they may be tempted to take it, and themselves, so seriously that God and the truths of God to which the Bible points may be obscured, perverted, or lost entirely.” (p. 35)

He continues by saying that there is a temptation to see, in the Bible, no further understanding of what we see which leads to an “idolatry of scripture.

I thought about that as I read an article this morning on the CNN Belief blog about the religion of President Barack Obama. It seems that there are a fair number of people “out there” who do not think he is a real Christian. They are troubled by what he has said and done and by what he has not said and done. Author John Blake says in the article that many say that the president is the “wrong kind” of Christian.

Talk like that drives me nuts, because I don’t understand what the “right kind” of Christian is. Is the “right” kind of Christian the one who believes that the poor should pull themselves up by their bootstraps even if they have no boots?

Blake says that the president is a “religious pioneer,” who is “challenging the Religious Right‘s “domination of the national stage.” (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/21/to-some-obama-is-the-wrong-kind-of-christian/?hpt=hp_c1)  The president is called a “progressive,” but according to clerics quoted in Blake’s piece, many believe that one cannot be Progressive and be a Christian.

The president apparently interprets the scriptures to mean that believers in Jesus are proponents of the social gospel, which compels the  “haves” to assist “the least of these.” But many from the Religious Right think that such a stand is not supported by the Bible and say that interpreting the Gospel to mean that government should help the poor smacks of socialism.

It is mind-boggling to me that all of us who read the Bible can and do walk away with such different and diverse interpretations of the words written, but that’s because I believe that since there’s one God, there is one way of doing things. Since God is love and God has no favorites, then this God would want those who have to help the least of these. That’s social gospel talking, through and through …but it is my interpretation. The Bible is not a mathematical formula; there is no quaint equation that mandates that everyone believe and interpret the same way.

That, for me, is a problem. How can there be one God and so many different ways of interpreting what God requires? And, even bigger than that, why doesn’t God step in and do something so that all the different interpretations will fall to the wayside?

For me, the way the Religious Right has tended to interpret the Bible is not acceptable. The Religious Right’s interpretation of scripture has left too many people out, left too many people marginalized.  That cannot be my conception of God; I could not worship a God who condoned racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism …God has to be better than that, has to demand better than that.

The CNN article says that the president’s article focuses more on community betterment than individual attainment. That, to me, sounds about right, but the people quoted in the article disagree. The attention paid to community and, more specifically, the “beloved community” talked about by Martin Luther King, has a socialist slant.

At the end of the day, though the president has a concern for the masses, and the communities of God’s people, he is still criticized by even those who believe more in the social gospel than in the fundamentalist way of the Religious Right. Many have criticized him for not doing enough for African-Americans, though he would argue that the Affordable Care Act really does address the needs of that community and other marginalized communities by providing them a way to get health care.

Some who have criticized the president for being the “wrong” kind of Christian say that they haven’t heard him say important things, like, for instance, that he was “born again.” They are suspicious of his Christianity because it is informed and influenced by all of the different religions to which he has been exposed.

But I shake my head. The “right” kind of Christian does and says what? The evangelicals I’ve read have not been very kind, not very merciful and certainly not very inclusive. The God I find in the Bible is all of that, and more.

At the heart of the discontent about the president’s religion, again, is the Bible, that marvelous yet troubling text which leaves so much open to individual interpretation. Gomes says in his book that people say “the Bible says what it means and means what it says.”  He quotes Matthew 8:12, where it says the wicked will be cast into outer darkness where “men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” Writes Gomes: “A toothless reprobate asked his hellfire-preaching pastor what would happen to those who had no teeth to gnash: ‘Teeth will be provided,'” was the answer.

The problem is that all of us put our own human, individual interpretations on words that I wish left no room for variable takes. Those who criticize the president for his take on the Bible have their take too. So, who decides who is “right” and who is “wrong?”

There is no answer…there never has been …and there will never be. But I think it’s wrong for any of us to make a judgment call on who is right and who is wrong. At the end of the day, none of us really know.  We can all think we are “right,” but at the end of the day, I have to believe that the God of the Bible is a God of love, mercy, forgiveness, inclusion and kindness, in addition to being an exacting God who demands that we do as S/He has asked us to do.

Just saying ….

A candid observation