Race-less Gospel

A race-less life is a Christ- filled life.

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Make it stop

stm512f83bf7e2ff20130228I am devastated by the news of the execution of two New York City police officers, Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, at the hands of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who later was found dead of an apparent suicide.  What are we doing?  How did we get here?  Why is this even a potential response to our concerns about police brutality?

Yes, I say, “we” because how have we talked about the issues surrounding the deaths of unarmed African American children and men?  How have we defined justice if not “eye for an eye?”  How many will we punish?  How many buildings will have to burn?  How many businesses will have to be impacted?  How many people will have to die before we feel that justice has been served?

While persons are wondering what to tell “our boys,” I am wondering what message we are sending to all the children who are watching us as citizens, all wearing one uniform or another.  We need to talk to each other before guns are drawn, before protest signs are needed.  Before we pull anyone over, we should know their name and their story.  Before our feet hit the pavement in protest, we should have been sitting in each other’s homes, businesses and places of worship.  Instead of going back into our corners, back into our communities, back into the comfort of our stereotypes, we should have formed friendships, genuine cross- cultural relationships.  Tomorrow is too late; we have to start right now.

We have to make this stop.  It is not just about telling children to respect the law and follow orders.  Because we have seen that even when they do, the results can still be deadly.  Police don’t need better or more training; they need better relationships with the people that they feel called to serve.  And the people need to know that these police officers are somebody’s boy too and when they are killed while just doing their job, what are we to tell their boy?

Lord, please, make it stop.  Amen.

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The Salvation of Whiteness: “If my son were white”

BLightskinThe mothers of four African American unarmed children and men killed by police officers or those aspiring to be one came together to talk with Anderson Cooper on CNN.  It’s the first time the women have been in the same room though all of them are suffering from a similar loss, that of a child, a son.

Their son’s deaths have galvanized a nation and reignited a conversation on race, civil rights and human rights.  But, there is one part of the interview that is troubling for me.  These grieving mothers argue that if their sons were white that the outcome would have been different.  I understand the argument, that racial prejudice informed the actions of the officers and neighborhood watch member; but for me, it seems to blame the deceased for the actions of the police officers and neighborhood patrolman.  It suggests, at least to me, that whiteness could have saved them.

I don’t think so.  I think the officers and patrolman who chose to shoot to kill, if they were motivated by conscious or unconscious racism, prejudice and/or stereotypes, need to be held accountable for their actions.  And suggesting that the outcome would have been different had their son’s appearance been different misses the point.  It suggests that the behavior of the police officer is predicated upon how a person looks to them; it is dependent upon the social construct and identity of race, which we already know is biased, hierarchical, inherently flawed and self- serving.

If their sons did not look human, did not look like American citizens, did not look like members of a community, did not look like someone’s child, son, father or husband, then this is what we should be discussing.  It is not that African Americans or those who socially identify as black look like criminals; it is that persons in authority believe that they are criminals because of the long and distorted history of racial identity formation in the United States, because of the historically hypocritical nature of the law when applied to African Americans and European Americans, because it supports and legitimizes the a belief in “the Negro problem,” because the laws in America from the beginning have been twisted and contorted to conform to racial ideology, making whiteness power, truth and right.

But, whiteness is not the solution, especially since their sons could not have been white and should not have to be in order to be innocent until proven guilty.  Whiteness is not the cure since this socially constructed identity has done more harm than good with its claims of supremacy and the right to rule the earth and dominate others.  Whiteness will not save us and to raise it up as a messiah is absurd.  Whiteness is the problem too.

Those young men would be alive today if we did not believe in race, if we did not support its prejudices through the passage of laws and practices that enforce these laws, if we did not subscribe to stereotypes no matter how much we believe that they are true, if America had not been founded upon the dehumanization of African Americans and the deification of European Americans, if we did not believe in the sin and salvation of skin.

No, whiteness could not have saved them just as our skin cannot save us from the judgment of God.  Race is not involved in the process of sanctification or salvation; it does not set us apart and it does not set us free.  That’s two different salvations; race is another god, an idol and I simply will not bow to it.  Only Christ can save us.

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When the law is not on your side

While I support the law and its enforcement, I do not believe that police officers are above it.  This video of Mr. Levar Jones being shot in the hip by South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert is beyond disturbing and something deeper is troubling me.  It keeps happening.

Sure, there are those who will say that it is a small number and compare it to some larger number based on an incomparable situation.  Still, the scenario is not new, the outcome more often deadly with only the police officer living to tell the story.  While persons from the African American community are asking what they should tell their sons with regard to their interactions with law enforcement, I think that police officers need to be asking themselves, “What am I telling myself when I raise my service weapon at an unarmed American citizen and is it true?”

I think that there are persons who will view this video and ask, “What is the point of following the law, of following the orders of a police officer, of doing the right thing if you are going to be presumed guilty and punished?  What is the point of following the law if we don’t all follow the same law?”  Lawless police officers create lawlessness too.

I suggest that there be some real conversations at police stations in every city about the stereotypes that inform us, about the prejudices that we practice, about the racism that we ascribe to.  I suggest that there be some laws put in place that protect citizens from police officers.  Nobody’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes; so, I suggest that there be a separate entity that evaluates reports of police misconduct.  If not, then take off the uniform, put the gun down and leave your badge at the counter with the receptionist.  If you cannot protect and serve everyone the same, then you are not protecting and serving anyone at all.

I am praying for all of those who have been wounded by the actions of police officers who jumped the gun and the families of those who were killed though unarmed… and maybe even following orders.  Levar has lived to tell the story but others have not.


Police brutality and the unjust judge


“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city, there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city, there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’  For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.  And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'”

~ Luke 18.1-8, NRSV

This morning, I am thinking of how race makes us unjust judges, that our prejudices can be so strong that we neither fear God nor have respect for people, that we don’t know that we are wrong and that there are right- behaving people of all cultures, that while we pass laws and enforce them, that we seek justice but we are not justice, we are not the law and certainly not above it, that we all need the law and are subject to it: both police officer and citizen.

This morning, I thought, “What if God is the widow, pleading with us to be an answered prayer for the people of Ferguson, of New York City, of Beavercreek, of Cleveland?”  Many of us feel called to judge or are in a position to judge but we are not just, whether we wear badges or not.  We do not uphold the law or respect it; yet, we make demands of it when one of our members crosses the line or breaks a law that we really believe in.  And there are those of us who still want to exact our own justice– even after the grand jury’s verdicts in several of the cases mentioned.

But, we can’t be just judges because we don’t know when to stop punishing.  We don’t know how to stop needing to exact pain when we have been hurt.  We don’t know the difference between justice and revenge.

We can’t be just judges because we are blinded by our own racial devotion, co-opted by our own histories and traditions of prejudice and stereotype.  We really don’t see persons a part from these lenses and it throws off our scales of justice.  So, let’s very slowly, put the guns and the protest signs down.

Jesus’ parable reminds us that if we feel as if we are the widow today, as police officer or citizen, that there is a Higher Court.  And if we do not mind waiting on God, then God will certainly answer– but it will be His decision not ours.  He is always just and the Judge of us all.


Advent: Until He Comes

403104_10150656087736796_14395121795_11380542_920334209_nWe don’t mind waiting on the latest and greatest technology.  We don’t mind standing in long lines for an item on sale, for a good deal.  We don’t mind playing the waiting game on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  But, Sundays are treated a little bit differently.  We don’t have time to wait for God, to wait on God.  If He does not come between 11 a.m. and noon, then we’re leaving.

Advent is all about waiting but we wait for One that we know is coming and God’s salvation is more than a good deal.  But, when we don’t know how long, we can get tired of waiting, lose hope, begin to question and to doubt. We can start to believe that waiting is pointless, useless even. We stop looking, listening, praying. We lose the expectation.  We can also lose faith.

Still, anticipation breeds excitement and with it, expectation.  When we know what we are waiting for, we begin to create the experience, to practice the feelings, to rehearse the moment when the wait will be over.  We can be encouraged by the mere thought of it.  And we know Who we are waiting for.

Many persons have speculated as to his appearance but we really don’t know what Jesus looks like.  Yes, he was a Jew and we can imagine his features based on the Jewish people of today.  But, John tells us that “the Word became flesh,” which means that the Word is not flesh (John 1.14).

John also tells us that God is Spirit (John 4.24).  God is Breath, Wind even and we cannot see either.  It is not a knowledge based on what we see or even what we know.  It comes whether we see it or not.  And “the wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it goes” (John 3.8).  We are not in charge of the Wind; we cannot tell it what to do.  We don’t know its comings or goings.

Well then, how can we know when God will return?  We cannot. Jesus said, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither angels of heaven, nor the Son but only the Father” (Matthew 24.36).  Perhaps, it is no consolation to know that Jesus does not have the schedule because he is with God.  He is God (John 1.1).  But, we too are with God.

Life is a waiting room.  We do not walk the floors of this life alone.  We are not pacing but following in the footsteps of Christ.  May this truth bring us peace until He comes.  Amen.



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Howard Thurman’s ‘The Work of Christmas’


Christian contemplative, pastor, theologian, mystic and my personal favorite, graduate of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, my alma mater, the Reverend Dr. Howard Thurman offers these words and this sacred work done after Christmas, after we have changed seasons and the music has changed in local department stores and shopping malls, when the commercials change to honor the Reverend Dr. King, to celebrate love or St. Patrick.  We must continue the work of Christmas and here’s our to- do list:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

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Before you were formed


“Before I formed you  in the womb I knew you…”

~ Jeremiah 1.5, NRSV

I had a rigorous and thought- provoking conversation with a friend and mentor in ministry yesterday.  Over a couple of Peruvian dishes, we debated our positions on race.  But, after awhile, I decided to just listen and when I did, I really heard him.  He saw no real problem with race, loved being a member of  one and thought that if I were successful at ridding the world of race, we, humans, would just find another way to categorize ourselves.  Race was just a scapegoat that we were using to sin.  It’s a good point, an interesting perspective and not one that I haven’t heard before.

But, he also said some other things that got me to thinking.  He said that God saw me as a racial person, that God would use me based on my social position in a racial category, that God even asked persons of particular races to forgive, for example, more than others because of their social position.  He, of course, equated race with gender, that God saw me as black like God saw me as a woman.  I disagree with all of the above.

Why I disagree is as simple as the scripture mentioned above.  God knew me before.  That’s what the prophet Jeremiah says when sharing his call narrative.

Before my parents or their parents or their parents were born, God knew me.  Before my parents met or their first date, before generational blessings and curses, before my time and their history, God knew me.  God knew me before the positive pregnancy test and the sonogram, before I had a first or last name, before weight and measurements were taken, before I was placed in my mother’s arms or cuddled by my father.  God knew me before I had my father’s strong work ethic or my mother’s eyes, before fingers or toes could be counted, before a gender could be determined or a racial category assigned.  I am pre- racial.

And God did the forming.  So, God was even before sperm met egg.  My parents’ genetic codes did not even determine who I would become.  This is how God can gift us in ways that do not fit our upbringing, that do not match our cultural exposure, that go against our experiences.  Because there is an Image that is far greater, that must be impressed upon us before any other.

This is why God knows us so well.  This is why God’s knowing of us surpasses our economic, physical, political and social conditions.  It is because God knew us before and if God knew us before, then God is certainly more equipped to tell us what we will be once we are born.

I would never give the social construct of race and its stereotypes such credit.  They don’t know me so well.


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