God, Waiting

In spite of the vitriol of the president-elect, and the bubbling anger and rage that can be felt in our land, it is a fact that we as people are not wired to hate.

We are wired to care for others; we are wired for compassion; we are wired to be in community with each other.

Inside all of us is a place I call the “God-spot.” It is that place where we love each other, where we lose hatred and the desire for vengeance. It is that place that God put in all of us.

The problem is, we hide it and run from it. In our society, there is pressure to give into hatred and prejudice in the quest for power and popularity. We see it early, as in elementary schools, bullies taunt classmates and too many people remain bystanders, in agony over what they are seeing, but afraid to say anything, because they want to belong.

I said in a presentation that I gave recently that I was appalled not at Donald Trump; he has shown us who he is and that is just the reality.

What has bothered me is that so many people have gravitated toward him, even those who are embarrassed and bothered by what he has said. Politicians have lost all semblance of honesty and morals and self-respect because they want to “belong.”

As much as that bothers me, I still think that God has wired us all to care for each other. The “God-spot” can move people from hatred to agape love, from racism and sexism to a spirit of inclusion. The “God-spot” is a power within us that few acknowledge or perhaps even know is there, and it is a power that we stifle because it is frightening.

It is frightening because acknowledging and employing the “God-spot” sets us up to attacks from those who would rather sit in hatred, bigotry and worse. It sets us up to be called “weak,” and “loser,” and worse.

In a seminary where I spoke last week, a woman said that the election of Donald Trump might be good for the country. Perhaps. If he gets people jobs, that will be good for the country.

The issue is that he has moved people so far from the “God-spot,” including and especially Christian Evangelicals, who seemingly rejected the principles of God and chose instead to act on …other feelings.

I leave you, the reader, to define and examine and admit what those “feelings” are and were.

But in the midst of this turbulent time, a time when racists and sexists are coming out boldly to “make America great again,” something special is being ignored.

It is that “God-spot,” being replaced and pushed back by anger based on race, sex, class and economics.

America is in for some rough times, as people rely on their ideologies and leave the theology of a God who seeks justice behind.

But sooner or later, my hope is that those who acknowledge the “God-spot” within themselves, weeping as God’s people tear each other apart, will step forward and desire to “belong” to a beloved community, rather than a community so fractured that it threatens to implode before our very eyes.

God is waiting, I think.

A candid observation …

The Reality of Two Gods, One Black, One White

I have long been troubled by the way white and black people interpret the same Bible. There is one Bible, one God, one Jesus …and yet white and black people interpret that book in entirely different ways.

Charles Marsh writes, in his book God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights,: “Of the images coming in the civil rights movement, none seems more replete with contradiction than that of white mainline Protestantism. In most cases, the Southern white Protestant adheres to an evangelical belief, the heart of which is the confession of a “personal Lord and Savior,” who has atoned for the sins of humanity. Yet in most cases, the confession remains disconnected from race relations …” (p. 6)  He further writes that “in the final analysis, concern for black suffering has nothing to do with following Jesus.”

The Rev. C.T. Vivian, who was a fixture in the Civil Rights Movement, said outright, “You cannot be racist and be Christian!”, something which I firmly believe. But for white people, that proclamation would draw sharp criticism. Writes Marsh, “If people took seriously their identities as Christians, they had no choice but to also give up the practices of white supremacy – and not only white supremacy, but also class privilege, resentment, the concession to violence, anything that kept one from sacrificing all for the beloved community…”

White people, for the most part, seem uninterested in having, helping form, or living in …a beloved community.

The so-called “attack on Christianity” is coming primarily from white Christians who, while they hate abortion and gay rights, including gay marriage, ignore the reality of racism and white supremacy. They seem incapable of feeling even a modicum of the outrage they feel about aborted violence for the already alive black children living in abject poverty and living on the outskirts of society. They seem disinterested in the fact that already alive children suffer horribly in this nation, from bad schools to inadequate health care. They seem all too willing to blame the children for their lot in life.

And yet they call themselves Christian.

Marsh writes that “white Christian conservatives …(remain) largely indifferent to black suffering, preoccupied instead with evangelism and church growth, and with personal vices like drinking, dancing and heavy petting.” In their religious practice, God, and God’s son Jesus, is all right with their blatant disregard for the plight of people of color.

While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. relied on the presence of God for his work in the Civil Rights Movement, white supremacists called upon that same God to justify their actions. Sam Bowers, head of the Ku Klux Klan, saw as his godly mission the need to slaughter black people and those whites who worked for civil rights for black people. In his mind, those who worked for freedom and justice for black people had betrayed the Lord Jesus.  He wrote and posted publicly a manifesto that said outright that “if you are a Christian, American Anglo Saxon, who can understand” the practices of trying to purge the religion and the country of black and brown people, Catholics and Jews, then “you belong in the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi.”  He was dedicated to ridding his beloved America of the impostors who, in his mind, were an affront to God – who, we might assume if we read the scriptures, created us all.

The issue and the problem of this “two-God dilemma” of the United States is that it creates a group of people who are as religiously fanatic in their religious and ideological beliefs as are the hated Islamic radicals. They, too, think they are on assignment from God to destroy Americans. If and when God is in the center of a fight, it is hard to stop that fight before it does irreparable harm.

Of course, having God at the center of a fight can bring about good, too. Ironically, the same zeal that fuels hatred in the name of God fuels the desire for justice and mercy …in the name of God. The results of the Civil Rights Movement is testament to that fact.

Donald Trump is feeding into the “white God” group, a group which is adamant about there being an attack on Christianity, even as they attack radical Islam. It feels like a bomb ready to detonate. The white God, they would say, is on their side, while radical Islamists would say Allah is on their side.

The question for me is and has been for some time, “Why doesn’t the one God step in and stop this foolishness? God’s silence and inaction in shutting down forces of evil and hatred have perplexed me for the longest time. The other issue is, though, that the presence in this country of there being “two Gods, one black, one white” means that racism will never end. The religious fervor which uses God to justify racism and white supremacy is not about to wane. The white God is a God of Empire; the black God is a God of liberation …and those two Gods are never going to meet in the middle and merge into one.

That being the case, I don’t exactly know how we as a nation move forward. White Christians turn a deaf ear and a hardened heart toward the masses of black people who suffer because of white supremacy, while they wage war about the plight og unborn fetuses. Black lives do not matter to them, and really, never have.

And that is a troubling reality.

A candid observation …

God, Black People, and Katrina

It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, and parts of Mississippi. Katrina was vicious, surely, an unwanted and uninvited visitor to an area of the country used to unwanted guests, but she was much more rude and imposing. Her winds and her rain devastated parts of Mississippi, and her power caused storm surges and broke levees in New Orleans, in effect murdering innocent people caught in the firestorm.

One could not look at the images on television of people, mostly black and poor, standing on roofs for days, waiting to be rescued. It was hard to shut out the images of people walking in the hot, blazing New Orleans sun, across the Danzinger Bridge, looking to get away from the flood waters that were swallowing their homes. My heart was broken as I saw pictures of dead people on that bridge, waiting to be picked up. The one picture that sticks in my mind is that of an old woman, in a wheelchair on the bridge, dead.

It didn’t help to hear the stories of people in the convention center, even though Katrina’s wind and rain had caused a hole in the center’s roof. The people were there, sitting in seats normally inhabited by people enjoying entertainment of some sort. Now, those seats were filled with desperate people, in a facility where there was reportedly no air conditioning, no electricity, no running water …The images even now haunt me.

I sat in Columbus, Ohio, a pastor of a church wanting to do “what Jesus said.” I have always wanted that. The people down South were suffering. We had to do something. So, we organized a campaign to collect needed items to take to the people. Health supplies. Bleach. Diapers, Food for babies and adults. Water. Clothing …you name it, we collected it. People from all over the city and outlying suburbs came over to Advent United Church of Christ, bringing supplies and by extension, love, for the people who were suffering. We were able to get an 18-wheel truck and we filled it  …and we drove to New Orleans. The truck with supplies, and us in our cars, with the determination to help “the least of these.”

In my mind, “the least of these” were primarily the black people. Those were the people whom I saw on roofs, crying for help. Those were the people who were on that bridge and in the convention center. They were the ones who had been, in large part, unable to get out of New Orleans before the levee broke, causing that dastardly flood. I considered them to be “the least of these.” We were going down there to help my people.

But God.

I have to admit, I am angry at God a lot, because I blame God for allowing racism to flourish. I blame God for not changing the hearts of white people who are filled with hatred and a sense of superiority and entitlement. I truly believe white Christianity, for the most part, has failed when it comes to racism. The white Church has allowed racism to flourish; it has advocated for segregation in its congregations; it has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the cries of African-Americans who have been deemed to be the scourge of not only the United States but, it seems, the world. The god of white people has not insisted on agape love, not insisted on justice for “the least of these,” and has not pushed for mercy.

The god of the black church has been different, created out of what I call a “crazy faith” that has been the fuel for hope in spite of the injustice meted out by the government and the church. Author James Baldwin called the faith and subsequent hope of black people in America an “ironic tenacity.” Black people had to develop and embrace a faith that said trouble would not always be. Ida B. Wells, who fought against lynching in this nation, talked about her faith that was defined in large part, said James Cone in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree,  to “black cultural resistance to white supremacy.”

As we traveled to New Orleans 10 years ago, I fully expected to be able to get to the suffering black people.

But God.

We were stopped in Mississippi before we were able to get to New Orleans. I think the reason why was that there were so many people traveling there to help. We looked around; the place where we were stopped was completely devastated. We were in Pass Christian. There was nothing …We drove through deserted streets and saw homes and business flattened. There was no electricity. The houses that remained had marks on them to indicate that dead people had been found inside. On one street, there was a lonely dog walking, looking lost and forgotten. We fed him and I wondered how long it would be before he was rescued.

Anyway …we had this truck, full of supplies, and in our meandering, we came upon a church. There was life there; we could see people. We were excited and we drove as close to the door as we could. We were there! We were going to help “the least of these.”

There was one problem. All of the people …were white.

Damn. I wanted to leave. I had wanted to help the black people, and here we were, in this deserted, God-forsaken place called Mississippi, where I was sure many of my ancestors had been lynched and discriminated against. Mississippi???? God! Are You kidding me?

We began unloading stuff, things that these people needed. After a while, one of the people from Columbus came to me and asked, “When are we going to help the black people?” I just muttered and said, “soon.” In our group, we had black and white people, Jewish people as well as Christian, but for me, this wasn’t their trip, not as far as the ultimate goal was concerned. I wanted to help black people, and here we were, stuck in Mississippi, helping white people whose ancestors, at least, had surely caused misery for the very people we wanted to help and who were still in misery because of Katrina.

After we had unloaded much of what these people needed, I was jumping down from the truck, and this little old white lady, with white, fuzzy hair, came up to me, with giant, crocodile tears in her eyes. She hugged me. And then she just said, “Thank you. Thank you.”

I have never forgotten that day. I still have feelings about how that day worked out, how we ended up helping people whom I no intention of helping. I have grown too cynical to believe that our stop in Pass Christian that day made a difference in the hearts of white supremacists in that group. I blame God, like I said, for not doing a sweep of hatred in the hearts of people.

But the one thing I know is that God taught me a lesson that day, about what God and religion are supposed to be about. I am not sure I appreciate the lesson, but in spite of myself, I did learn.

Who can understand the ways of God? Surely, not me.

The Comfortable and the Disinherited

I struggle with wondering if the races, white and black, can be reconciled in America.

If, or since I believe in an all-good and all-powerful God, I have to believe that it is possible. And …since I believe in crazy faith, I have to believe again that it’s possible.

But the rift between “the comfortable” and the “disinherited” is a big one…and it has been there from the beginning of our history. “The comfortable” seem to think that the cries of “the disinherited” are a lot of noise. “The comfortable” will say that since there is a black man in the White House, then all is well. “The disinherited” ought to be quiet.

But the fact is that “the comfortable” really do not know or care about “the disinherited.” Though many people, black and white, are “pro-life,” “the comfortable” have no idea of what life is for “the disinherited.”  They don’t know about the horrible schools that the children of “the disinherited” have to attend, while they know that “the comfortable” have wonderful, well-equipped schools just minutes away. They don’t know, or don’t care, that even now, urban schools often have the worst teachers, the most outdated books, few if any computers, no air conditioning and/or inadequate heat. They don’t know about how the children of “the disinherited” often do not have coats and gloves and hats and boots in the winter …or if they do know, they don’t care. They do not know, and therefore cannot care, what these horrific schools must do to the psyches of the children of “the disinherited.” In one of Jonathan Kozol’s books, Savage Inequalities,” he writes about a public school in East St. Louis where sewage overflowed into the kitchen. “The school had to be shut down because sewage flowed into the basement, through the floor, then up into the kitchen and into the students’ bathrooms. The backup occurred in food preparation areas.” (p. 23)  Can you imagine what that smelled like? Can you imagine the horror the children of “the disinherited felt? Too many of “the comfortable” cannot. They blame the parents for the plight of the children and they turn their heads.

They don’t know about the concerted efforts today to dismantle the voting rights of “the disinherited,” trying to make it as impossible now for black people to vote as it was 50 years ago, or worse. They do not care that the legacy of law enforcement in this country is that far too often, law enforcement officers took part in lynching, and that the “justice system” was never just for black people. They do not know that for “the disinherited,” there was no such thing as a jury of one’s peers, because black people have been historically tried by all-white juries. They don’t know about the traveling electric chair that was used to execute people in the early 20th century, or about how when one young black man’s execution didn’t work, (there was something wrong with the chair), they put him back in jail and then took him back to that chair after the kinks were worked out. So much for not believing in “cruel and unusual punishment.” (Read The Execution of Willie Francis by Gilbert King)

They don’t know how America’s legacy of slavery and white supremacy has absolutely tarnished the quality of life for black people, even in this, the 21s century. “The comfortable” don’t know about being kept from getting a job until “every white person has a job.” (Read about it in Timothy Egan’s book, The Worst Hard Time). “The comfortable” don’t know about being afraid to look at white people or being accused of doing the same. They do not know about being afraid to change lanes today without using one’s signal (Sandra Bland) or to be stopped for a routine traffic stop (Sam Dubose) or being afraid to carry a toy weapon in an open carry state (John Crawford). They do not know what it is like to know that all an officer has to say is, “I was in fear for my life” to be deemed justified in using lethal force against another human being who…most often …is one of those dang “disinherited.”

The ways of life of “the comfortable” and “the disinherited” are so very different. Can the chasm be crossed, so that “the comfortable” see the plight of “the disinherited?” And, if they see, can anything be done to “tenderize their hearts” so that the lives of “the disinherited” are less traumatic?

One of my friends told me that the term “white supremacy” is insulting. To use it, he said, was insulting. There is no such thing …Another one of my friends said there is no such thing as evil. I said that lynching was evil, and she disagreed. I think she gave me her reason, but I did not hear. I could not hear…

With that kind of separation between these two races can there be racial reconciliation?

If I believe in a good God, and if I believe in crazy faith, then my answer has to be “yes.”

But I am struggling on this one. “The comfortable” will not willingly look and see “the disinherited,” not without something major and traumatic happening to them.

A candid observation …

A Short Conversation with God

God, what were you thinking?

You are the creator of all of us humans. YOU created us. Black and white, Native American, African and Irish, Palestinian, Jewish and Christian and Muslim and Buddhist, male and female.

And I presume that You made us on purpose; I presume you assumed we would get along and make this earth, this world a better place in which to live. I presume that you thought we would help “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” our reality.

Well, you were wrong.

We don’t get along, not any of us.

How in the world did you create a people who would and could be sexist, racist, imperialistic, materialistic, homophobic. What did you put into the creative process that made us critters with sorely schizophrenic spirits – saying we love You in one breath and hating everything and everyone You created with another?

What were You thinking when you wired us such that we could kill each other because we just could and because we didn’t like who You made someone else to be? Why is it that you made it easy for white people to kill black people physically, spiritually and emotionally …not just in the United States, but all over the world? Why is it that You made us so that we actually work to extinguish each other. The Turks joined with the Kurds to get rid of the Armenians. Jews have been “cleansed” from Spain, France, Lithuania, Hungary, Cracow, Portugal and England, for starters. Protestants have sought to get rid of Catholics, Christians have sought to get rid of Muslims and visa versa, the Tutsis sought to exterminate the Hutus …

We don’t get along.

If the Bible is to believed, the ethnic cleansing …the extreme of not getting along – went on even “back in the day” when people were closer to You in terms of the time of Creation. Tiglath –  Pileser III, an Assyrian leader we read about in the Bible, practiced ethnic cleansing ; he made forced resettlement a state policy. Why in the world did You allow that? And why do You allow us to carry on as we do today?

I am writing this because I am sad. I don’t think racism is going to go away. Have You listened to Bill O’Reilly or David Duke or Rush Limbaugh?  Have You seen the racial injustice that has been the norm in this country …from our beginning? Do You hear the racially coded language politicians use on a regular basis? Do You hear people plotting against each other, ready and eager to take the other “out?”

During the Christmas season, all of the lovely songs say that Jesus came to bring peace to the world. I don’t know what lovely lyrics Jewish and Muslim and other religions use …but I would bet that almost all of the religions intimate that You …want peace and harmony in this world?

So, why did You make us apparently unable to bring peace and harmony in this world?

I am deeply bothered. I keep asking myself what You were thinking when You put us in this world. Why would you ask us to pray for “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” when humans, as you have made us, seem completely unable (or unwilling) to do that?

What were You thinking? Something is very, very wrong.

A candid observation …