Committing To End Racism and A Button Best Suited for the Back Drawer

15.09.06

August 06, 2015

A few days ago I mentioned today is dedicated as “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism” by the African American Methodist (AME) community. I figure confession and repentance does not amount to a hill of beans if commitment does not equate to action.

To end racism folk must gather a diverse community together and think action through clearly. Done well, misses still occur. One reason is while the people who live and work within racist institutions (think all US institutions) may want to end racism, the institution does not. Instead, institutions prefer diversity work to anti-racism work. For no matter how diverse, an institution becomes, as long as the people hold the historical mindset of the institution, structural change does not occur and the institution remains as it is. Therefore, while many US institutions have become diverse their engagement in anti-racist work is at a minimum.

This is why “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism” is too likely to be a moment in time, at worst, and a day of supporting diversity at best. A hard pill to swallow, but playing diversity off as anti-racism is what the institutional church does well. A “for instance” of how anti-racist work gets the institutional backseat might be helpful at this juncture.

My attention has been drawn to the “Ask Me Why You Matter to Me” campaign of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As I looked over their website I found aspects of this movement I believe helpful. What gets in the way of taking it seriously though is the slogan chosen for the campaign reeks of institutional diversity rather than anti-racism.

Ask Me Why You Matter to Me sounds like an institutional “All Lives Matter” response to “#BlackLivesMatter.” One problem is the slogan does not give due to the harshness of the lives lived in a systemically racist society—For the mass number of racialized incarcerated people, Why You Matter to Me does not mean freedom. Another is the work and action is not mine but yours. You, people of color, American Indians, and indigenous people are to ask me why you matter. In the meantime, I can join my people (who very well may be diverse) for a book study or to watch a film.

What I can’t get over with this slogan is the idea of me wearing a Ask Me Why You Matter to Me button. Imagine me, white, straight, and male walking up to most any non-white male person with this button on my lapel. And let’s make this easy. Continue reading “Committing To End Racism and A Button Best Suited for the Back Drawer”

Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism?

15.09.04

August 04, 2015

The folk of the African American Methodist (AME) community are dedicating this Sunday “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism.” Others (congregations, pastors, and Sunday morning preachers/speakers), are being asked to speak up, write up, and liturgy up alongside.

If 1960’s civil rights and power movements prove anything it is a country cannot legislate racism away. While housing, schools, health, and jobs are better for some, much is not and for many there is little discernable change. Though legislation can put a dent in systemic racism, real change comes about by putting an end to traits racism has embedded in the way people think, live, and act. The end of racism comes with the embodying of anti-oppression values—values which are yet to become normal in US schools, churches, businesses, and politics. This systemic reality is what makes the AME call so hard. Being raised in the US means all US people embody the roots of racism: white, black, brown, young, middle-aged, old. Moving toward an identity of anti-oppression and working to end racism is to know I am the hurt, I am the problem, and I am the solution.

This Sunday’s call is Wisdom shouting at the gates of the city; it is a call to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, heritage, or sexual orientation. It is a call to know I, you, we, the people, have one aspect or another of racism embedded in our being and it is tearing at our health, our wellbeing, and our relationship. For the hope of a day when our children’s children will know health, wellbeing, and good relationship we are called to confess racism.

There has been a fair amount of talking on the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) in this space. If the DoD speaks anything, it speaks to the subjugation of landscapes. The base of this subjugation is the extraction of landscapes resources. These resources are the landscapes soul, water, minerals, timber, wind, soil, and people. US Chattel slavery of 1830, farmworker slavery of 2015, Oak Flat copper, Ferguson, Canadian Tar Sands, coal removal, and Surinam mining are historical and current instances of US people, all US people, benefiting from one aspect or another of racism. The people are called to know the benefits they accrue from racist copper, natural gas, coal, gold, and food, and to repent.

Sunday is more than a call to recognize the racist reality folk live and benefit from, it is more than a time of regret and sorrowfulness, it is a call to change. Moving beyond confession and repentance is about engaging, acting where we can, and supporting the actions of our neighbor. Continue reading “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism?”

Ending Racial Disparity Calls for Non-Traditional Congregations

15.08.16

August 12, 2015

This last week Sojourners magazine gave us Jenna Barnett’s interview—A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Faith in Ferguson—with Leah Gunning Francis, a professor at Eden Theological Seminary professor. The article centered on professor Francis’ thoughts on racial disparities and the real “Ferguson Effect.”

When asked, What role should the church play in current racial justice movements?, Professor Francis said,

In my observation there are congregations that are taking seriously their roles in seeking to be agents of change in the movements for racial justice, but the church writ-large, is not. At some point we need to move beyond statements and posture to actually engaging in these matters in life-transforming ways. One good first step toward this is to open the constructive conversation about race in congregations.

Important in this statement is recognizing some congregations are serious about systemic change in favor of racial justice. However, this desire to engage and to act for racial justice is absent for most Christian congregations (“church writ-large”).

Barnett goes on to ask, What church did racial justice well this year? Professor Frances responded saying,

Compton Heights Christian Church is a modest size Disciples of Christ church in St. Louis. Maybe 25 percent of the church are people of color… They reimagined what it means to be a safe sanctuary…[by opening] their sanctuary doors as places of training, gathering, cooking—and equally important—as places of prayer.

The article gives gristle for a number of conversations. Two come to mind. First is the consideration of how inadequate the church is in conversing the issue of racial justice. One example of this struggle is the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who in 1998 approved an Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation initiative. This initiative called the church to practice faithfulness with regard to the elimination of racism, which exists in all manifestations of the church, to discern the presence and nature of racism as sin, to develop strategies to eradicate it, and to work toward racial reconciliation. Good stuff, but as a whole not the stuff Disciple congregations want to jump in the middle of. As a result, the office of Reconciliation Ministry (whose ministry is to implement a conversation on racial justice) has struggled since it conception due to a lack of financial resources. Continue reading “Ending Racial Disparity Calls for Non-Traditional Congregations”

Generational Food Justice

15.08.02

 August 02, 2015
[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

This is supposed to be humane? I thought to myself when David Bell took me to the cattle auction for the first time. He wanted to take me the first week I arrived so I could handle it better once we brought workgroups. I’m glad he did so too because I was on the point of tears.

Cows, bulls, steers, heifers, all corralled into small spaces, running into each other, stumbling over one another. The cowboys and girls on their horses chased after them with paddles, flags, and whips to move the animals along. One cowboy even yelled, “Hey! You son of a bitch. Hey!” over the desperate mooing as he tried to force an extremely frightened steer into a corral.

One beautiful, brown steer with a white face met my gaze with tired eyes as he struggled to maintain his footing against the many other, larger cattle around him. He didn’t fight back or try to escape. He had clearly been there all day and gotten used to the circumstances. Perhaps he had even been there before. His calmness told me it was indeed humane.

The paddles, whips, or flags weren’t hitting them; instead, they were only surprised by the sound made by the instruments. They had some space to move. They were fed and kept healthy until they were sold. The animals freaking out the most were the ones who probably hadn’t had a day of stress in their lives, who were raised on pastures with their families. Plus, it’s understandable for the cowboys and girls to get frustrated every once in a while, but most of them were patient with the animals. The place really could have been a lot worse. In fact, many of cattle would later go to worse places, to factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where they would spend the rest of their lives standing in a pile of their own shit. They would get even less exercise, they would get fatter, and they would sell for more.

Suddenly, I cried the tears I had been fighting, feeling helpless. As a vegetarian, I know I don’t support the CAFOs or factory farms, but people who do surround me. Plus it’s more than just cows, or even pigs and chickens. It’s all food. Continue reading “Generational Food Justice”

Justice Arrives Through the Voices of the Fearless

15.07.26

July 26, 2015

I watched as folk went to the microphones and spoke. Over a few days, they spoke on a number of issues and resolutions at the assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Many who spoke were pastors or folk who held some role of publicly speaking in the Church. Many were eloquent. Many others like myself were passable in getting across their thoughts. There were others though, who were fearless.

The fearless were the folk who are not pastors, who are not professionals, but rather folk who stand at the edge and outside the rooms and places of Church power. To hear another pastor or church leader is to listen to so many passionate, God called, Pharisees and Sadducees (don’t hear this as a bad thing, but rather folk whose life is fully embedded in the church). The others though, the folk who listen to those folk, who hold great opinions, but seldom publicly speak, well they are the fearless, the heroes.

The voice of the non-pastor matters because too many who find themselves in the places of church power (those Pharisees and Sadducees), who first came to their work because of their prophetic voice, now find themselves navigating the space between the prophetic and the “how to keep the greatest number of people united and conversing with one another,” or “how to keep my job—or how to keep doing the work I believe I am called to.” These are folk who can use a bit of extra care and one more prayer.

It matters greatly there are the folk who stand at the edge and in places outside of power, who fearlessly raise their voice. When these folk arrive at such assemblies, with a sense of wonder and hope, a want to listen others, who have no intent to raise their voice, but who do when a matter of justice or injustice twists a gut, the assembled people experience a moment of fearlessness. (Fearless does not mean the speaker is not terrified or on the edge of panic, but rather they speak their truth while remaining in that space of horror.) Continue reading “Justice Arrives Through the Voices of the Fearless”

God is in the Flies

15.07.19

July 19, 2015
[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

When I first arrived at JustLiving Farm/Yakama Christian Mission this summer, I was determined to prove I was more than just a city girl. So to detox from city life, I sat down on a bench and willed myself to connect with nature.

There were stunning mountain ridges that sat patiently for my acknowledgement. The wind danced with the grass, the tree branches, and the flowers, expecting a high score from me for the performance. The crickets chirped, the sprinklers sang, and the cows mooed in a well-rehearsed musical composition. Together, shades of blue met green, spurts of red, and pink, creating a canvas unlike any I had ever seen. As I watched, the fresh scent of grass kissing flowers introduced itself to my nose. The wind danced with my hair then and I suddenly realized that everything I experienced expected me to sigh one word: “breathtaking.”

But I couldn’t and here’s why.

Butterflies waved as they passed by, merely implying their greeting, but not the flies. The ants continued their workday below me, too busy to chat, but not the flies. Unlike the butterflies, simply gliding to their destination didn’t satisfy the flies. Instead, they anxiously zipped here and there, unaware of how to fill the extra time. They weren’t as busy as the ants either, so they constantly buzzed their anxiety to each other, their choices in conversation local always near my ears.

As a result, the more I tried to enjoy time away from my iPhone, laptop, Netflix, and kindle, the more I struggled against one fly in particular. It must have realized what I was trying to do and found it hilarious. It didn’t think I could truly unplug from my gadgets and connect to nature. It laughed at even the thought of it – buzz, ha, buzz, ha! Continue reading “God is in the Flies”

Pope Francis’ Bolivian Apology: A Call to Conversation or A Religious Appeasement?

July 12, 2015

Many hoped Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, would take a path leading to a new voice from the Church. I don’t know if we are hearing a new voice, yet, but at least the voice we are hearing calls for deeper conversations.

While visiting Bolivia this last Thursday, Pope Francis apologized to Americans whose ancient heritage is the American landscape. The apology was for the Church’s support and involvement in the colonization of the Americas. Though not a direct apology for his predecessor’s support of the genocidal Doctrine of Discovery, the apology is a first step.

The Pope’s apology calls for an interesting conversation during the coming months. For just prior to Pope Francis’ arrival in the US this fall, church structure is in place to canonize Father Junipero Serra on September 23. Pope Francis is concluding a path begun in 1988 when Pope John Paul II beatified Fr Serra.

While many folk may not know Fr Serra, most Californian’s who attended school in California do. Few born and raised Californians did not draw or construct a Mission while in school. For me it was the Mission San Fernando Rey de España located an hour south or so from my elementary school. Mission San Fernando was but one of the twenty-one missions dotting the California coast from San Diego (San Diego de Alcalá, 1769) to Sonoma (San Francisco Solano, 1823). The credit of developing a mission infrastructure where missions were located one days ride from one another goes to Fr Serra. Known for his intellect, the development of the string of missions, and the conversion of California Indians, the church and the state has held Fr Serra in good regard. California Indians, whose ancestors provided the labor to build the missions have, let’s say, a different take. Continue reading “Pope Francis’ Bolivian Apology: A Call to Conversation or A Religious Appeasement?”