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.

On Being Safe in America

             The current administration is pushing for billions of dollars to build a wall on the Southern border of this country because he says the country is being “invaded” by what are being  called “bad people.”

In his push for this wall, the president has fed fear into the minds of those inclined to believe everything he says. Nobody will forget how he said, in his bid for the presidency, how Mexico was sending its worst people. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/08/donald-trumps-false-comments-connecting-mexican-immigrants-and-crime/?utm_term=.c7f42d7cfd86) According to him, all that is bad, or much of what is bad about America is because of the “bad” people coming over the Southern border. Because of them, he says, Americans are not safe.

At the same time, to justify his ban on people coming here from Muslim countries, the president is quick to connect terrorism with anyone who is Muslim. He uses the few times in this country that a crime has been carried out by a Muslim as proof for his claim that America must keep all Muslims out.

He is strangely quiet, however, about the young white men in this country who have been radicalized by white supremacist ideology, and he gives little to no attention or verbiage that mass murders in this country are being carried out by these American citizens.

We don’t need to belabor that truth, but what we really do need to pay attention to is the fact that so many non-white people in this country are afraid. We are afraid of these thugs who carry guns and drink beer, ready to attack and kill people of color on a whim, knowing they can do it and get away with it. We are watching white people, filled with hate, spewing the worst of verbal attacks against non-white people, some as young as middle school age. (https://www.ktnv.com/news/parents-demand-more-communication-after-racist-threats-at-las-vegas-high-school) Synagogues and mosques are under attack,  (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html) as well as individual members of the Muslim community. (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/15/assaults-against-muslims-in-u-s-surpass-2001-level/). Dylann Roof, who walked into a black church and killed nine people who had welcomed him to their Bible study, was treated with respect after his mass murder, being taken to a Burger King by police who apprehended him before being taken into custody. Everyone knew he was a murderer who had a gun, and yet he lived; black people are shot in the back when police officers say that they thought the person they killed had a gun. They say and do that over and over – and nobody cares.

Stephon Clark was shot in the back in his backyard by police officers who said they thought he had a gun. He didn’t, but the officers got off and will face no charges. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/02/us/stephon-clark-police-shooting-sacramento.html) Years ago, Amadou Diallo was shot in excess of 41 times by police officers who said they thought he had a gun. (https://www.nytimes.com/1999/02/05/nyregion/officers-in-bronx-fire-41-shots-and-an-unarmed-man-is-killed.html) (https://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html)

This week I had an interesting conversation with my son. He hates guns. When he was a child, he would pray every night that all the guns be destroyed. He is now 30 years old and he said to me, as he said he was considering getting a gun, “Ma, I’m afraid of these white folks.”

Many of us are. Non-white people are walking targets in this country; we cannot count on either the police or the justice system for protection or for justice. While the world is upset about Jussie Smollett, few people are concerned that unarmed black people continue to get shot and killed by law enforcement officers, who are never held accountable.

The history of being targeted by racist and hate-filled people is one known well by black people. From Emmett Till, who was murdered by two white men who were acquitted to Trayvon Martin, who was murdered by George Zimmerman, also acquitted, we know what it is to walk with trepidation.

Black, brown, transgender, Muslim, and who knows what other groups are targeted by radicalized white people who know they can kill us and get away with it. We are not safe. The Southern border and who comes here that way has nothing on the breeding and nurturing of white supremacist terrorists in this country.

My son said he is afraid of “these white folks.” I am, too.

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 …

American Terrorism, Again

Last week, President Obama created quite a stir in some communities when he said that ISIS is not the only religious group which has done horrible and brutal things in the name of religion. He mentioned the Crusades and the Inquisition and…Jim Crow, here in the United States. He said that America ought not get on its high horse, given the history of violence meted out against black people, much of it justified by religious beliefs.

I listened to the complaints leveled against the president, and was bothered by the fact that much of white America does not and will not “own” this country’s horrible record, its terrorism, which went on for far too long. Some criticized the president for going so far back in history to mention the Crusades …but the violence that came from white supremacy was not – and is not – all that long ago. While everyone is celebrating the movie “Selma,” it is important to note that in Dallas County, Alabama, the county in which Selma sits, there were 19 recorded lynchings between 1892 and 1913. So many African-Americans, still alive and talking, recall stories of having been terrorized by white people, with crosses being burned on their front lawns, their windows blown out in the middle of the night, and worse. And yes, much of this violence was done in the name of Jesus, in the name of Christianity.

I thought about that as the sister of the young Muslim man shot to death this week by an angry white man who professed to be an atheist, did an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN. In a soft and trembling voice, the young woman spoke of her brother and the two young women now gone. “If it had been reversed,” she said, “if it had been a person of Arab descent who had shot three white people, it would have been called terrorism. I haven’t heard that term used,” she said, “but it was terrorism, and you ought to name it for what it is.”

Craig Hicks, 46, shot the three students, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, on Tuesday at the Finely Forest condominiums in Chapel Hill. His attorney is saying it was not a hate crime …but it looks like one …and it smells like one, so much so that the FBI is launching an investigation into the murders to determine if they were in fact, hate crimes.

Advocates for Hicks say that the murders happened because of a dispute over a parking space. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the slain sisters, told reporters that the three students had run-ins with Hicks in the past, and the sister of the Deah Barakat said that the parking space in question had been deemed by apartment management to be free and open to anyone who wanted to use it. This was, the grieving father said, a hate crime.

The families of the slain students, and Muslim groups, not only here but all over the world are resolute as well in their belief that the crime was one of hate. They believe it was an act of hatred, part of the overall spirit of dislike for Muslims that is spreading all over the world like blue-black ink.

America is so hesitant to admit that it has a problem with terrorizing people who are not white and Protestant, and has always had that problem. America will not admit that too many of her citizens live in hatred and that our own government has been complicit in these acts of terror, with “law enforcement” sometimes …too many times …being right in the mix instead of trying to protect those being targeted because of their race, color, religion, sexual orientation or even, in the past, because of their being infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.

President Obama has weighed in on the murders of the three students, and Arabs from all over the world are demanding an investigation.  Will those investigating have the chutzpah and morality to admit that it was, in fact, an act of terror based on hatred of Muslims?

It’s not a guarantee. America has a track record of supporting or at least ignoring, acts of domestic terrorism.

America’s white supremacy, and the tendency, or worse, need, of so many to make another group, religious, racial or otherwise, the “bad guy” is going to come back to haunt her. Truth, crushed to the ground, will rise, and the truth is that domestic terrorism has been a problem in this country for a long, long time.

When the terror has been levied against black or gay or poor people in this country, nobody has wanted to hear, and people have in fact rejected even the suggestion that what was done was terrorism. Now, though, the act of terror has been committed against three young people who have support – strong support – from all over the world. America is on the hot seat.

Terrorism is terrorism. What was done to those three students was barbaric, just as what has been done to black people and Jewish people and any number of other people in this nation has been barbaric as well. America really cannot point a finger at what is being done by ISIS, horrible as it is, or we should not, because we as a nation have never owned our own terror tactics. Our cry of outrage appears to be hypocritical.

Terrorism is terrorism.

A candid observation…

 

Lynching as a Biblical Practice

Sometimes, things hit like a ton of bricks.

I have been reading about lynching in these United States. I just finished a magnificent book, Devil in the Grove, by Gilbert King and am currently reading Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America by Laura Wexler. The fact that such brutal murders occurred, with the consent, basically, of the government, is at once troubling and insulting. The government which was created to protect the rights of the people turns out to have been disingenuous in its founding creeds; this government only wanted to protect the rights of some of the people, and in fact either contributed, turned a blind eye or both, to the plight of those who were not white, male landowners. In the case of lynching, those most affected by the crime and ignored by the government were black people.

By the way, the definition of lynching is: to  kill someone, especially by hanging, for an alleged offense with or without a legal trial.

Lynching was a form of domestic terrorism. After what can only be called “mock trials,”  black people were lynched and often left hanging for a while (if they were hung; not all lynching involves being hung) to let other people see what happened to those who “got out of their lanes,” so to speak. Black people were supposed to know their place and if they crossed a line – which was forever changing, it seems – they could get legally killed and those who killed them could and would walk free.

George Zimmerman walked free. Michael Dunn was not convicted of lynching Jordan Davis …

Well, imagine how it hit me when, as I am reading Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism I recognized what can only be said to be lynching. Crucifixion …was lynching. Jesus the Christ …was lynched. He was perhaps the most famous person ever lynched…and he was lynched by political and religious institutions which felt threatened by his presence and his work.

Lynching – modern-day or the lynching that took place in Jesus’ time – is a tool of control used by governments and organizations to maintain control. According to Allan Boesak and Curtiss Paul DeYoung, ancient lynching – which for purposes of this essay includes  crucifixion –  was used by the Roman Empire to “enforce and maintain domination of subject peoples. In the everyday working of an empire, the effort to maintain control was done by economic oppression, military might and ideological belief systems. DeYoung and Boesak say that “crucifixion was used to terrorize subject peoples; it was a “constant symbol of Roman rule, as thousands of Judeans were executed on crosses.” (loc. 275 of 3581, Kindle edition).

They were not only crucified but according to Biblical scholar Richard Horsley: “Many of the victims were never buried  but simply left on the crosses as carrion for wild beasts and beasts of prey. As with other forms of terrorism, crucifixions were displayed in prominent places for their ‘demonstration effect’ on the rest of the population…Seeing their relatives, friends and other fellow villagers suffering such agonizing death would presumably intimidate the surviving populace into acquiescence in the re-established Roman imperial order.” (loc. 288 of 3581, Kindle edition)

Jesus was not part of the “in crowd.” In fact, he was raised by a single mother. He was a Jew, and he, as a Jew, was treated much like blacks and browns are treated in the United States, and if what I have read is true, how Palestinians are treated in Israel. Colonized people back then were treated as second-class citizens, as, clearly, blacks have been treated in the United States. Jesus had no intrinsic value to the Empire; he, as a colonized Jew had no standing, but his message was threatening to the Roman power base, as threatening as it was to the religious power base. Thus, church and state banded together and crucified him. Lynched him. And they all got away with it.

As I am reading the accounts of lynching in our American history, I am seeing the same tendency to use these legal murders as a “warning” to black people (and anyone who would help them) to stay in line. Often, lynched bodies would be left hanging as people came by and cut off appendages and genitals, and the bones of lynched people would line the banks of rivers where their bodies had lain after being murdered – to leave a message to anyone in the vicinity.  In Fire in a Canebrake, the author describes the lynching of four black people in an attack which was fully sanctioned by the local government. They were killed at Moore’s Ford Bridge in Georgia, and one of the four people killed had stabbed a white man. He lived, but to stab a white man was an attack against the white supremacist system. The stabber had to be taught a lesson; the people with him happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and had to be sacrificed as well. The state participated in and often initiated lynching; the church often ignored and supported lynching. As in Jesus’ time, church and state united for the common goal: to protect the empire.

What is painfully clear is that the lynching model was described and carried out in the Bible – hence, my calling lynching a Biblical practice. While I have not heard anyone say that, the parallels are clear. I don’t guess anyone would dare say out loud that Jesus was lynched, or dare justify lynching because it was done in the Bible, but I would bet someone HAS said it.

Jesus, our beloved savior, was a colonized Jew, raised by a single mother, was a convicted felon who was arrested on trumped up charges and was sentenced to death via crucifixion. He was lynched.

Oh, my goodness.

That IS a candid observation…