Dealing with the Butchery of our Consciences

There is too much going on to allow any of us to feel comfortable or safe for more than a few minutes.

There is this ridiculous fight going on in the federal government over funding for a wall on the southern border of the United States. While the fight feels like nothing more or less than a political stunt, it is troubling on many levels, but one of those levels particularly troubling to me is there is no such passion for working to allocate billions of dollars to help Americans who are living in poverty or near poverty.

It is ironic that so many Christians tout the name of Jesus, claiming him and the religious he spawned, as their own. It is as though they have remade him in their image; that, or what we have all read and studied our whole lives is incorrect. They have made him – and therefore Christianity – into a well-to-do white male, the manger story of his birth notwithstanding. Jesus’ family was homeless; he was born into poverty. He was a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, which thus makes the anti-Semitism of so many Christians so difficult to understand. Were Jesus alive today, he and his family would be in danger of being attacked by angry white “Christian” men.

He was poor and was an advocate for the poor, leading and encouraging the poor to speak up for themselves to demand justice. He practiced free speech, so he believed in it which would have set him up for criticism today. He challenged the system – again something which would have drawn criticism today. I don’t really know what “Conservative” means, but from my reading of the Christian Bible, it does not seem that he identified as the same. He was targeted by law enforcement, scorned because he challenged their authority. He was scorned by members of his own family, which means they probably didn’t have peaceful family gatherings during the Jewish holy days.

He was accused of doing wrong, had what amounted to as a mock trial with a biased judge, was sentenced to death and executed – which means that the person whose birth we celebrate was a convicted felon, someone who would not have been eligible to enter the United States under the current immigration laws and policies.

The irony of the fact that, were he alive today, Jesus would most probably be rejected by the very ones who profess to be Christian is not lost to me. He would not be welcomed or respected by the Congress or by many evangelicals. Wrong religion. Wrong ethnicity. Wrong socio-economic class. And wrong political belief system. He might be called a socialist because of his work for the poor. He would be rejected by most of today’s devout Christians, I am fairly certain.

And yet, modern-day Christians, people who believe in and practice racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia and more – brag about their religious affiliation. People who think nothing of ignoring the poor, or of murdering members of the gay community or the Jewish community or the African American community – brag about following one who advocated that we should build community with each other, not walls between us.

Is it possible to proclaim/profess of being a Christian and yet be so unaligned with what the Jesus of the Christian Bible taught? Does it represent a particularly heinous type of hypocrisy to claim a man who taught what many of us are unwilling to do?

In 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was making its way out of the womb of Congress, there was much resistance – by Christians as well as by other religious groups. Christians participated in much of the violence perpetrated against African Americans who wanted to register to vote and then …vote; their hatred was leveled against white allies as well. At one point, as the violence reached a tragic peak in Selma, Alabama as would-be voters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then attorney-general Nicholas Katzenbach tried to get Dr. Martin Luther King to cancel a second planned march. Dr. King responded, “I would rather die on the highways of Alabama than to make a butchery of my own conscience.”

With the blatant hypocrisy that exists between the practice of identity politics and Christianity, I wonder if there are many people who see the chasm between what Jesus taught and what they/we practice, and if so if their consciences are bothered, “butchered,” as Dr. King phrased it? Is anyone sitting in remorse and shame for treating people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, religions as objects and not as human beings worthy of being treated with dignity?

Somehow, I don’t think there is much of that; the religion of the “newborn king” has been bastardized by many – of all ethnicities. That being the case, what is our celebration of Christmas really about?

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 …

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 …

 

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…

 

 

 

Two Americas

“If profit is your only metric, man, where …do people stand?”

David Simon, a reporter, author and television producer, asked that, and says that in America there was a class war between the working class and the rich …and that the working class lost.

His words stunned me. There is something about hearing stark truth spoken out loud. If you don’t hear the words, you can pretend that things are not as bad as they are. If you’re in a relationship that’s over, you tend to do better, feel better, pretending that things are not as bad as they are until your significant other says, “I don’t love you anymore.”

Once that’s said, pretense is shattered.

That’s what Simon’s words did to me – jostled me into an uncomfortable reality. In America, something has gone horribly wrong, and much of it is because of our economic system which has pushed too many people to the brink of despair.

Simon says that democracy was supposed to be, or is supposed to be, about sharing. Yet, in the grip of capitalism, the notion of sharing has gone missing. If one talks too much about income inequality, or people needing to make a living wage, cries of protest – yelling out “socialism,”   “communism” or worse are heard in full force.

If you keep on and push the argument further, suggesting that Jesus believed in sharing, (some have suggested that Jesus was a socialist in his world view) then you will surely be shot down as a heretic.

And yet, it is clear that something horribly wrong has happened. The Congress, points out Simon, is full of people with good wages and health care; they have lost touch and do not care about – cannot, in fact, relate to – those who work hard and still cannot support themselves and their families …and who do not have health care. They cannot hear the cries of the growing underclass because their quest for more comfort for themselves and their families takes front and center.

Was capitalism supposed to turn out this way?  Conservatives like to quote the Constitution as the reason for all of their beliefs …but do they understand the spirit of that document …or, for that matter, do I? Did I get it wrong? Wasn’t “democracy” supposed to be a form of government that insured some type of equality for all its people?

If I listen to Conservatives or Libertarians, the answer would be a resounding “no.” All of us who have interpreted the Constitution as a document of, for and about economic parity and  “fair chance” of all people would be criticized as being constitutionally ignorant.

Simon says America’s government is a “purchase government.”  Capitalism worked, he says, when more people were, in fact, able to “purchase.” That is not the case anymore; too many people can purchase little to nothing …and from what I’ve learned from listening to economists, our economy cannot be at its best unless large numbers of people can purchase things that they need and some things that they want.

Big money, notes Simon, has purchased much of government. Consider Art Pope, who is said to have purchased much of the government of North Carolina and the result is that the poor, the almost poor …and the “gonna be poor” are suffering and struggling like never before. Simon says there are “two Americas.” Damn if he isn’t spot on. One only has to open one’s eyes to see it. The poor are getting more and more numerous. It’s not just people of color, either. Plenty of white people are in the “poor” category.

I am just beginning to deal with this on a gut level. And it hurts…I think I wanted my government to be better than all governments. I liked living in the myth that justice and the tenets of the Constitution would ultimately prevail.

Apparently, that is not so.

A candid observation …