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.

Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump

In spite of all of the bad news – morally, economically, and politically – which has come out about Donald Trump from the moment he announced his intention to run for the presidency, nothing has been bad enough for his “base,” – which includes a wide swath of white evangelicals- to desert him. Continue reading “Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump”

Listening for a Silent God

 For a while, I have been listening with interest to the claims by some that God made Donald Trump president of the United States. (https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2019/02/01/sarah-sanders-god-wanted-trump-to-be-president-peter-guthrie)

This week, Mark Lindell, the  “My Pillow” guy, repeated the claim at the CPAC event. (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/mar/1/mike-lindell-my-pillow-founder-says-donald-trump-w/)

The claims make me shudder.

The God that I was taught was not a God who approved of hatred and bigotry; my Sunday School God was one who demanded that we love God with all our hearts, all our minds and all our souls – and our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-34) My Sunday School God said I had to love the white people who were hosing little kids in Birmingham and church deacons who were lynching black people just because they could – lynching them for things like registering people to vote, for example.

My Sunday School God said I had to forgive any and everyone who offended me. No doubt it was that Sunday School God who empowered the survivors of the mass shooting by Dylann Roof of people attending Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Church to say they forgave him.

My Sunday School God wanted all people to be free; my Sunday School God supported liberation and dignity and justice for all humans – and my Sunday School God had no favorites. It would have seemed preposterous for the God who created everything and everyone to hate everything He/She created.

So, I have long been puzzled by the God of white people who seems to support racism and sexism and all of the other “isms.” I have long been troubled that my Sunday School God seemed cut out of the story by some white people, who saw nothing wrong with lynching someone on a Saturday night and going to church on Sunday morning.

I have been puzzled by the silence of my Sunday School God who has allowed so many people to suffer from the oppression – economic, social, cultural, emotional and psychological – levied on some people by another group of people who have decided that they are better than everyone else.

If God put Donald Trump in office, what does that say about who God is, ultimately?

This man and his administration are waging war against the concepts of “liberty and justice for all.” They are practicing selective immigration, calling people of color by horrific names and being willing to spend literally billions of dollars for a border wall on the US southern border, while leaving the northern border virtually alone. It is not a new thing; white people in this country have sought to control the number of people of color coming into this country for hundreds of years, but by virtue of being alive, I am experiencing this latest assault.

This God is allowing policies to be passed which will adversely affect “the least of these” for generations; this God continues to allow unarmed black and brown people to be shot by law enforcement officers and get away with it.

This same God allowed “good, God-fearing Christians” to participate in mass murders of black people without having to answer for it. (https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/tulsa-race-riot) (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/) . This God said and did nothing when black people and white allies tried to integrate churches during the 60s.

And just this week, this God allowed the United Methodist Church to pass a discriminatory judgment against the LGBTQA community. (https://www.npr.org/2019/03/02/699506797/united-methodists-face-fractured-future)

Why is God silent when people hurt and are discriminated against? Why does God apparently support racism and sexism and all of the other “isms” that cause so many people to suffer?

We don’t have answers, or at least I don’t. Black theologians have struggled with this question for the longest time. The late Rev. Dr. James Cone wrote extensively about it in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

The challenge for pastors and preachers is to keep people believing in this silent God, elevating God above the stench of oppression wielded by white supremacy which is practiced all over the world.

Benito Mussolini, an adherent to and believer in white supremacy, said, “God does not exist. Religion in science is an absurdity.” I can’t go to that place; belief in a just God is the only thing that keeps oppressed people sane.

But if God wanted Donald Trump to be president, what does that say to the masses who are being oppressed and denied equality, justice, and fairness?

It would be nice if God would step up and put oppression in its place and exact from all who say they are believers …a command to stop throwing their whiteness around and treat all people with the dignity and respect all of God’s people deserve.

A candid observation …

Politics Aside, Sexual Harassment is Unacceptable

Like many, I have been troubled by the eruption of the political scandal in Virginia, made public by revelations of racist behavior by the state’s governor and attorney general, and of sexist behavior by the lieutenant governor.

While it appears that the revelations were politically driven, the fact remains that what we learned was troubling. To be honest, I leaned toward wanting the public to give Gov. Ralph Northam a pass. White folks have put on blackface ever since I can recall and have kept live their association with the Ku Klux Klan, though they’ve wanted to keep it a secret. The picture in the yearbook was taken over 30 years ago and to be honest, as this government has given so many accusations of egregious behavior a pass, I shrugged it off. From all reports, Gov. Northam has been an exemplary person and has worked for racial justice.

I was glad that he at first admitted that it was him in the picture we all saw. He apologized and I was done with it. But then he changed his story and I also paid more attention to the “when” of the story. I had originally chalked his actions up to youthful foolishness – something of which we are all guilty – but this picture appeared in the governor’s medical school yearbook. Presumably, the governor and his friends were in their mid-20s, too old for such pranks. And I took issue with the fact that a medical school would even publish such offensive images. And so I changed my mind about chalking it up. And while I believe in the Christian mandate to forgive, I wonder what forgiveness looks like in this instance.

I am still wrestling with what I believe should happen. Something should happen, but I am not sure if I believe it is resignation.

That situation was enough to have to absorb, but then we were hit with the accusation of sexual impropriety toward a young woman by Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax. In this era of the #MeToo movement, this type of behavior perpetrated by powerful men has been revealed as being all too common. In spite of how some men have gotten a pass in light of accusations, as was the case with United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many of the men who have been exposed as having been involved in this kind of behavior have lost their jobs, their reputations, and in some cases, their freedom.

I was clear, though sad to feel this way, that Fairfax should resign.

Why am I wrestling with the fate of a white man and resolute on my belief that the black man should resolve? It is partly because with the blackface accusation, I am convinced that many to most white men have a history of racist behavior. It is part of our culture, and I am convinced that many who engaged in such behavior did as they did because of peer pressure. To not join the crowd would set them up to be ostracized from their friends and kids do not handle separation from their friends easily. Even though Northam was older when he allegedly engaged in the prank that was caught on film, it is quite possible he was just trying to “fit in,” and if the Christian mandate to forgive is genuine, we must forgive, not hard to do in light of Northam’s public record of service. Where I shudder is the idea that a medical school, preparing people to take care of all kinds of people, blacks included, would sanction and publish the picture. I would not want to be treated by any doctors from that institution.

But in the case of Fairfax, as much as I want to defend him, I cannot, because sexual aggression toward women has for too long been sanctioned and accepted. Powerful men have for decades abused their power by using sex to intimidate and manipulate women. Their sexist behavior has caused far too many women too much pain, a pain which has been exacerbated by a general tendency in society to disregard the women’s claims of sexual assault. Men have had no reason to curb their impetuous sexual behavior and have taken advantage of the same.

If Fairfax did what he has been accused of, who is to say he would not do it again? In all honesty, there are women who are willing to compromise their bodies and their values for the opportunity to connect with a powerful man, and the men know it. The only way to get men to understand that having male genitals does not give them a pass to do whatever they want is for enough of them to have to face the music and lose something that is important to them. The sex drive is powerful, but it has to be controlled.

I am still offended that Brett Kavanaugh got off and was put onto the US Supreme Court in spite of Christine Blasey Ford’s compelling testimony. Worse, I am still offended that Clarence Thomas was likewise elevated to the nation’s high court in spite of Anita Hill’s accusations against him. Men have for too long gotten away with being sexually arrogant, reckless and impulsive. They have not had to pay the price for damaging so many women (and children as well, both male and female). We have to deal with racism and have always had to; it is systemic and cannot disappear because we want it to. We have to stay on the battlefield and fight against all the ways in which it impacts people of color.

But sexual recklessness, carried out by men, some powerful, some not, needs to be stopped. Men are too willing to give themselves a pass on what they do with their bodies, while they have a little too much to say and opine about what women can and should do with theirs.

As my son would say to his sister when they were little and she was trying to boss him around, “You’re not the boss of me!” so too, we as women, have to be consistent and say to men who disrespect us, “you are not the boss of us!”

A candid observation …