Tuesday Meditation: Doing the Work of Justice When You are Enraged

Note: I don’t normally share my Tuesday meditations on this blog but the emotion and pain that the president’s insensitive statement comparing what is happening to him to a lynching prompted me to share this meditation today.

Abraham Heschel wrote that “prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.”) (italics mine)

Our reading of the prophets suggests that God rages a lot. The lack of the capacity of the children created by Her to align themselves with Her and with Her will takes holy breath out of God. God doesn’t agonize over academic ideals; God agonizes over the depravity of the human spirit, a depravity that causes those whom God created to treat each other poorly. Though men and women are rebellious, Heschel notes, God’s love and compassion for them never wavers. But neither does the divine rage at what God is seeing.

Those who work for justice are prophets; they carry the word and the will of God into their daily attempts to get God’s people to align themselves with what they believe is right, but there are times when their own rage is so powerful, rising within them like water which has bubbled and boiled so much that it is about to spill over. What is it that should be done at times like that?

There have been moments within the past week and including today that have caused that type of rage. A person from the religious right said that God caused Rep. Elijah Cummings to die because Cummings had dared take on the president, and today, the president compared the quest to reveal his abuses of power – and more – to a lynching.

The rage bubbles.

The late James Cone concluded, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that the lynching tree was America’s cross. Black people survived the lynching terror because of faith in God and a determination to keep pushing against the system which saw no issue, no problem, in lynching them at will, with no fear of retribution or accountability. Lynching reminded black people to stay in their place, to shut up and go along to get along. There was no angst about what the lynching did to families or to the very spirits of black people who lived under constant cognizance that they or someone they loved could be “next.”

To be honest, lynching is still something that black people, brown and Native American people, and Muslims fight against to this day. The very humanity and dignity of these groups of people, and more, are spat upon every day, and still, we move, we work, we pray, we push for justice. We work in spite of the deep pain we carry, as well as the realization that the lynching tree takes different forms, like mass incarceration, economic injustice, climate change, sexism and racism, gender and sexuality issues, and so much more.

This man who claims that what he is going through is like a lynching, then, is stepping – again – on the very souls of people who live with the threat of lynching every day. Contrary to what he is going through, people who are lynched rarely have the money to seek justice; they are accused and imprisoned or killed without much of a stir. This president is crying because there is an active attempt to expose his crimes and abuses of power. There is justice in that process that people who are lynched have rarely received.

What, though, does one do? The rage bubbles; the audacity of one to use a term that has so much history and pain is beyond the capacity of many to understand. Being put on a lynching tree and yet not being totally exterminated as a people supports Cone’s belief that the cross/lynching tree is for black people a symbol of power; we resurrect, though this system has sought to bury us. That same lynching tree for people like the president continues Cone, is and has been an instrument of terror. Those who have used lynching as a tool of domestic terror do not now get to claim it as now being accessory to their suffering.

One then must exhale and inhale the spirits of the ancestors who endured the lynching tree and yet stayed on earth long enough to pass on the need for us to pray and not faint. One must inhale the power that yet sprinkles down from our ancestors, a power that reminds us to “be still and know” that God is here. Attacking ignorance with raw anger will not help us; like those before us who learned to incline their ears toward heaven so as to stay alive and continue the work, we must do the same – in spite of the bubbling rage.

Amen and amen.

The Never-Ending Anger of White People

It seems that the anger of white people in this country has been an issue for almost as long as this country has been in existence.

That, in spite of the fact that their very whiteness has provided them free reign to commit crimes against black people and also has provided them protection against being called into accountability for their crimes. Black people, because of angry white people and a pliant political and judicial system, have never been able to get justice, something which all human beings desire and deserve. And yet, it is the white people who are always angry.

The eruption of white anger is never far from us. It was present in Charlottesville, Virginia when whites marched through the streets voicing their determination that they would not be “replaced.” Their anger resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, run down by a car driven by an angry white man. Their anger erupted after the Civil War when black people were given the right to live like human beings; their anger led and inspired them to lynch literally thousands of black people just because they could and get away with it.

Their anger erupted when black servicemen and women returned to this country after fighting in wars to preserve this nation’s democracy. Had blacks refused to fight they would have been castigated and probably arrested or worse, but their fighting did not make whites like them or respect them any more. If anything, it made them more angry because whites perceived that blacks had become “uppity.” Whites killed many blacks while they were still in uniform. (https://eji.org/reports/online/lynching-in-america-targeting-black-veterans)

White anger erupted when black people, in spite of all that was done to try to keep them “in their place” went ahead and prospered in spite of those barriers. The infamous massacre of black people by angry whites in Tulsa, Oklahoma is an episode of American history hardly even whispered about. (https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/21/us/tulsa-race-riot-black-wall-street-watchmen-trnd/index.html) Whenever and wherever blacks fought for economic justice, they were often opposed and too often murdered because they dared fight for what was rightfully theirs. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/)

Whites have always been angry about black people being in this country, though it was white people who brought us here. White people tolerated black people as they built this country and once their usefulness was no longer needed, many just wanted us to go away.

There has been no single entity that has protected black people or insured that they get justice. The fact that the police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his own house only received a sentence of 10 years in prison, while a young man who missed jury duty got 10 days in jail plus a host of other punitive actions still causes the soreness caused by ongoing racism to smart all the more. In history, not even the United States Supreme Court could be counted on to make sure that black people got justice. (https://www.npr.org/2011/02/24/133960082/the-supreme-courts-failure-to-protect-civil-rights).

But in spite of black people being violated, challenged, discriminated against, and killed by people who killed them just because they could, it is white people who are always angry. Black people are expected to be quiet and not be angry at all while this system walks over them and causes them undue pain and misery, even while denying them justice and a level playing field. From those who were angry at the murder of Emmett Till to those who are insulted that Colin Kaepernick would dare “take a knee” to protest police brutality against black people, blacks who express anger are criticized and mocked. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587097707/laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shutup-and-dribble-he-went-to-the-hoop).

To make matters worse, too many white people have relied on their religion – their version of Christianity – to justify their treatment of not only blacks, but poor whites, people with HIV/AIDS, and Muslims, for starters. As the country has had to absorb the painful loss of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore), one white religious talk show is saying that Mr. Cummings’ death was (is) “God’s revenge for taking on Trump.” (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/we-know-the-bible-far-right-conspiracy-theorist-says-elijah-cummings-death-was-gods-revenge-for-taking-on-trump).

White anger is irrational. It is disgusting. And it is misplaced.

But it is a mainstay of America. And it is eroding whatever capacity for decency this country has ever had. In spite of this irrational and ongoing anger, black people in this country have been able to endure and prosper, but every now and then, the souls of black folk rise up, asking God, in the words found in the Bible, read by black people and by angry whites alike, a book they claim to love, “How long, Lord?”

It seems that that answer is yet to be cemented in the fabric of America. White anger is a pandemic, and going untreated and ignored, is only getting worse.

Biden, Harris and the Issue of Busing

Sometimes, in spite of the best intentions, relationships just do not work out. The two parties involved cannot see eye to eye on at least one issue important to them both; sometimes, there are more. The two try to “talk it out,” but they remain entrenched in their own positions. Continue reading “Biden, Harris and the Issue of Busing”

The Slave Bible: The Unfortunate Reality of Competing Theologies

             As a “person of faith,” I have long struggled with trying to understand why racism persists and why God, whom I call “good,” allows it. I am angry at those who adhere to, believe in and practice white supremacy. I find myself angry when I walk around and see white people who don’t have to worry about their safety just because of their color; I envy the white mothers who do not have to worry about their sons being shot by police officers who shoot first and ask questions later. I am angry that white supremacy includes discrimination not only against blacks, but for all people of color, women, and people of different sexualities. I am angry that the outrage from this president was very subdued following the mass murder at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and that he said nothing at all about the two black people, one man, one woman, shot and killed by a crazed white man, who had such disregard for black people that he thought nothing of killing the man in front of his 12-year-old grandson. I am angry that so many white people don’t have a clue as to what people of color have to think about on a daily basis.

In my anger, I still struggle. I think it shows the insensitivity of white people when they say things that are offensive to black people and immediately scoff at the notion that they might be racist, and call their statements a “joke.” What they say is not funny, and worse, they know exactly what they are doing and saying. (https://www.nbcnews.com/video/hyde-smith-defends-public-hanging-comment-in-mississippi-senate-debate-1376441923880?v=raila&) I am offended that the Brian Kemp, the newly-elected governor of Georgia, won through a calculated strategy of voter suppression, and I am angry that not only is he not repentant about it but that few members of the GOP spoke against what he was doing. He says he’s “moving on,” which can’t be hard to do in that he accomplished his goal of basically manipulating the governorship from Stacey Abrams by using his power as the Georgia Secretary of State.

I am angry that African American people continue to bear the brunt of unequal treatment; I am angry that the bulk of people in prison are African American, largely because of the “war on drugs,” and I am angry that so many white people are “afraid” of who they believe to be “bad” people while concurrently are supportive of whites who now have permission to sell marijuana, the “crime” for which so many African Americans wound up in prison.

There’s more …but my point is that I have struggled with trying to find God in all of this. I wonder why God allows evil to exist, yes, but I especially wonder why God has allowed white supremacy to linger as a force in this world. I wonder why God does not and has not shut this ideology down, which is a travesty to the cause of the “beloved community.” Oppressed people all over the world wonder about God and suffering; I remember a little girl who, when Pope Francis visited her country, cried as she asked the pope why God allowed children to suffer? (http://www.catholicdigest.com/from-the-magazine/ask-father/201611-07why-does-god-permit-innocent-children-to-suffer/)

I struggle because there is a Bible which supposedly we all use – but I learned last week that in the 1800s, white slaveowners developed what they called “The Slave Bible.” (https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2018/february/freedom-in-christ-how-this-bible-was-used-to-manipulate) It was brought to the attention of a group of us sitting in a session of a conference on poverty, led by Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the co-chair of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival. It was she who pointed out that this Bible, on display at the National Bible Museum in Washington, D.C., was carefully constructed by whites who wanted enslaved blacks to remain “in their place.” This bible omits the story of the Exodus. It eliminates many of the prophets and in the book of Revelation, it has no mention of freedom or a “new heaven and new earth.” Their object, said Theoharis, was to make sure black people didn’t get the notion that God was on their side, that God was a supporter of freedom for all.

There were a couple of issues for me. First, I felt betrayed for some reason. The Bible, I was taught, was a holy book. I have often said that it would never happen that the Bible could be re-written, because of its holiness – but clearly, that was not the case. White supremacists, for all of their twisted beliefs in what God allows, are very insecure and will do (and have done) all they could to maintain their power. But to learn that they changed the Bible to support their ideology was a shock, and I don’t really know why.

This new nugget of knowledge made me disrespect even more the white evangelical subset of this society. As they have ostensible ignored their so-called commitment to “family values” in supporting a president who lies, who disrespects women and the Constitution of this country, I have been bothered and troubled. I have long wondered how they and anyone who oppresses others can justify their actions in that we (I thought) have one Bible with one set of rules and laws for us all. But that has not historically been the case, and those who were taught from the Slave Bible learned “scriptures” in a different way than I could ever have imagined. The bible of the slaveowners was meant for enslaved Africans, but clearly, it was familiar to white people and used by them as well. Enslaved Africans, it should be noted, rejected what this bible taught them as they 1) heard sermons delivered by abolitionists who preached that God was good, that he believed in freedom for all, and that slavery was wrong, and 2) enslaved Africans learned to read, and they were able to learn themselves what was in the untampered “holy book.”

We are all products of our upbringing and whites who believe in white supremacy were raised to believe that way. They have not disappeared and will not any time soon, but wouldn’t it be great if God would just put a holy hand on the earth and push this horrendous ideology out of existence?

Competing theologies have contributed to the national and international disgrace called white supremacy. The people who believe in and practice white supremacy believe they are right and they believe that God ordains and sanctions their actions. Apparently, the Slave Bible helped them get to where they are, and that is troubling.

A candid observation …

On Terrorism and White Men

CNN anchor Don Lemon is taking some heat today because he said that white men are the biggest terror threat to this country. (https://www.businessinsider.com/don-lemon-says-on-cnn-the-biggest-terror-threat-to-the-us-is-white-men-2018-10) This he said as a Jewish community in Pittsburgh reels from the actions of an angry white man who killed 11 people who were worshiping in their synagogue, and as families of two black people grieved the murders of their loved ones by a white man who is said to have said to another white man who tried to stop him, “whites don’t kill whites.”

Don Lemon

In spite of the pushback, what Lemon said is true. According to data compiled in a February 2018 article which appeared in Mother Jones, (54 percent of 97 mass murders committed since 1980 were committed by white men.)

Entire cities inhabited by black people were destroyed by mobs of angry white men, including the Greenwood community of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Elaine, Arkansas. While some of the attacked cities managed to survive the attacks, the fact is that many blacks were killed in cities including Rosewood, Florida (https://timeline.com/all-black-town-rosewood-wiped-off-the-map-by-white-mob-73ca6630802b) and East St. Louis, Missouri.

Angry white men murdered African Americans, many still in uniform, when they returned home after their tours of service. The horrific beating of Isaac Woodard is one of the best-known attacks which fall into this category. He was beaten by a mob which included law enforcement officers because he dared ask a bus driver to stop so that he could go to the bathroom. In Elaine, Arkansas, an African American soldier, Leroy Johnston, who had spent nine months in a hospital recovering from wounds he received in the war, was pulled from a train and shot to death by angry white men. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/)

White men lynched black men (and women as well) with impunity, knowing they would most likely never be held accountable. White men lynched a young teen named Emmett Till, who reportedly whistled at a white woman. Thousands of black men were killed by mobs of white men. (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/emmett-lynching-america/)

Records show that nearly 4000 blacks were lynched in the South from 1877 to 1950 (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/10/us/history-of-lynchings-in-the-south-documents-nearly-4000-names.html). White men attacked the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Between 1982 and 2018, 59 of 104 mass killings, which I consider to be acts of domestic terrorism, were committed by white men. (https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/). The targets were not always black people, but the facts show that it has been white men who have been the primary assailants in mass killings.

It is disingenuous for anyone to raise an eyebrow at what Don Lemon said, given the available history. White men were known to lynch black people at will, for “crimes” including registering people to vote or being out too late at night. These are not made up stories; they are recorded history.

It is baffling as to why white men in this country have been so angry for so long. The world is at their fingertips, or so it seems, but maybe the anger comes because “the American dream” eludes so many Americans, including white men. Maybe they are angry because they have not been able to benefit from what they believe is their right as white men. Again, it is notable that they have not always targeted people of color; they have killed many of “their own” as they have expressed their rage through mass killings.

As bitter a pill as it may be to swallow, Don Lemon was correct. In these days of heightened racist and hateful rhetoric, it is very possible that this country will so more white men lashing out.

Our society has basically looked the other way when it has come to acknowledging how radicalized white men have terrorized and killed so many people. It is and has been domestic terrorism. Rather than criticize Lemon, perhaps we should all do a careful study of history and work to understand why what he said is true.

A candid observation …