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.

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”

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.

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 …

White Supremacy Robs Country of Moral Agency

This week I was listening again to an interview of author Adam Cohen by Terri Gross of NPR’s “Here and Now” and was reminded again of how white supremacy has robbed the world of the capacity it had to honor God’s command that we “love our neighbors as ourselves.” (https://www.npr.org/2017/03/24/521360544/the-supreme-court-ruling-that-led-to-70-000-forced-sterilizations)

Cohen is the author of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. The book is a fascinating account of how this nation is white supremacist at its core – having a mindset that upholds that white people – more specifically white men – are superior to all people who do not meet their standards of excellence. The affected targets of white supremacist policies and practices are black and brown people, for sure, but also women, Muslims, and Jews, members of the LGBTQIA community, the disabled …the list is actually quite extensive.

We already know that wealthy, Protestant, white male superiority was written into the Constitution; we know that Thomas Jefferson never intended for people to believe that all people were created equal. Our founding document was meant to clear a way for wealthy, white, male landowners to make America white and to keep it white.

That statement is not hyperbole but is supported by America’s own documents and statements of and from American folk heroes. United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a key character in Cohen’s book, was a supporter of eugenics – the discipline which worked to create and maintain a “master race,” which, it decided, included only “Nordic” people.  Holmes, says Cohen, “had suggested years earlier that the best route to societal reform lay in “taking in hand life and trying to build a race.’” (p. 9) In ruling for the constitutionality of the government’s practice of sterilizing people whose existence they thought threatened the goal of creating a master race, words of Holmes showed how the poison of white supremacy permeates even the institution charged with meting out justice when all else fails  when he said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Belief in the supremacy of white people (who were white enough, not “swarthy, as Ben Franklin once complained about the German people)  led people and continues to lead people to believe that some people, because they are “better” than others, are worthy of better treatment, better opportunity and better lives in general. In the 1920s, the eugenics movement was hugely popular. Eugenicists believed that “the unfit,” whom they defined, “threatened to bring down not only the nation but the whole human race.” (p. 2) John D. Rockefeller Jr. and  Alexander Graham Bell were supporters of white supremacist thinking. Members of Congress relied on and celebrated their whiteness; Sen. Ellison DuRant Smith writes Cohen, said: “Thank God we have in America perhaps the largest percentage of any country in the world of the pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock.” (p. 5)

Books were written describing the peril of the existence of white people, including The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, and The Passing of the Great Race. Those books are probably on the bookshelves of many of our politicians who still find it difficult to treat people of color with dignity and respect.

Seen in this light, it is not or should not be surprising that the president of this country is fixated on trying to “fix” America’s “browning” problem by building a wall on our southern border, spouting off all kinds of unkind descriptions of who these people are in his opinion – rapists, drug addicts and criminals in general. Those words gaslight the racist beliefs held by so many people who ascribe to white supremacist doctrine. This country has been fighting against allowing people in this nation who are not white almost since its existence. The Immigration Act of 1924 encouraged people from northern Europe to enter this country while closing or widely limiting the numbers of people allowed to enter who hailed from southern and eastern Europe (they were not “Nordic” enough.) States in this country made laws which allowed the sterilization of people judged to be inferior which resulted in untold numbers of women who they believed fit into the “inferior” category to be segregated – i.e., kept away from men for as long as they were of child-bearing age, or to be forcibly sterilized if they remained integrated into the general society.

The work involved in the American eugenics movement was so renown in establishing white supremacy as the will for the world that the Germans borrowed many of America’s findings, based on faulty science, for the establishment of Nazi policy which resulted in the extermination of at least 6 million Jews. In the language of eugenics, Jewish people were inferior. Their presence was not necessary for the good of the world.

The rampant and rancid expression of racism we see today, spawned and nurtured by the principles of white supremacy, is not new; they are part of the very legacy of America. This president and his cabinet apparently have deep roots in white supremacy. More and more we see brazen expressions of their arrogance based on their race, and we see other white people remaining silent.

This is America.

People keep saying that what we are seeing and hearing is “not who we are” as a country. Megan McCain, the daughter of the late Senator John McCain, said being called “racist” is the worst name anyone can be called. The fact is, however, is that the proponents of white supremacy are standing on the shoulders of people before them who pushed white supremacy as the will of God for this country. White supremacists have long overridden even the concept of the sovereignty of God by deciding that not all of whom God created were worthy of being created.

A friend of mine said recently, “My work is to wipe racism out of this world.” It’s a noble dream, but it appears that white supremacy is a tree with roots far too deep to ever be completely unrooted. White supremacy has robbed our country and this world of being moral when it comes to racism, sexism, and discrimination against others in general. We are bound to know its history and to create strategies which will expose it for what it is while establishing and creating justice for those who white supremacists believe are inferior.

This president and his friends in office are merely following the script put in place by those who came before them.

A candid observation …