Category Archives: Race and Violence

When ‘Satan Goes to a Prayer Meeting’

prayer meetingI love prayer. Despite the popularity of social media, status updates and tweets do not compare to sharing a prayer request with God. There is no better connection.

The fact that we can be in direct dialogue with the Divine, a kind of call and response between heaven and earth, amazes me. I delight in the sounds and scenes of prayer, the moans and sighs, the bowing of heads and bending of knees, the folding of hands and quieting of minds. I am grateful for the reverence expressed and the reminder that God is listening out for us.

I appreciate the variety of prayers — contemplative and silent, communal and chatty, spontaneous and written. I love prayer groups and prayer chains. I even write a prayer newsletter for our member churches at the District of Columbia Baptist Convention and a column, Pray-Her, for Smyth & Helwys’s blog. Cheryl Sacks wrote a book, The Prayer-Saturated Church, but I think I am well on my way to becoming a prayer-saturated person.

I spent my formative years in weekly prayer meetings, seated next to my grandmother, Sister Thomas. Attending church was my extracurricular activity and I felt naturally gifted to serve. When I was not in church, I would practice with my cousins. We called it “playing church,” as we would pretend that we were the preacher, a deacon, an usher or one of the mothers of the church. You can guess which one I was.

A mid-week service for blue-collar workers on a nameless country dirt road, it was essential to the community’s emotional, personal, physical, social and spiritual well-being. The church services kept us going and kept our heads up. While it did not have the resources of today’s megachurches with barber shops and beauty salons, gyms and exercise classes, banking centers and conference-style meetings rooms, it still met our needs. Besides, our church membership extended beyond the building as we went shopping and out to dinner together often.

There was nothing perfunctory about the prayer meetings. With no printed program, we left the service’s order up to the Holy Spirit as persons were invited to sing and testify, to tell of the goodness of God made evident in their lives or to share of suffering or testing for which they requested our prayers. Anyone could testify but everyone began with these words: “First giving honor to God who is the head of my life, to the pastor, visitors, saints and friends.”

Now an adult and an associate pastor, I lead our time of prayer. While I write down my prayer, the order is left up to the Holy Spirit. And I still first give honor to God who is the head of my life.

“Satan goes to a prayer meeting” is the title of a sermon by the late Reverend C.L. Franklin. It appears on a sermon collection released in 1994. I was reminded of the title on June 17, 2015, when I learned of the murder of nine church members, including the pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The horrific acts put Charleston, S.C., on the map as authorities tried to locate the suspected killer, Dylann Roof.

In light of this sad reality, I was stunned to hear of this “campaign to eliminate hell.” I didn’t know that it was a goal or an expressed need of America’s Christians: better education, better economy, more jobs and no hell. I suspect that it is the privileged view of those seated in academia’s ivory tower with its socially-engineered greener grass. But it’s foolishness to those whose communities are burning and an unstable perspective. Light and darkness, mountain and valley, salvation and sin, these combinations are the human condition — at least for some of us.

Furthermore, our desire to rework God’s plan so that everyone fits into heaven, to relocate those who have done evil because it makes us feel better about God and ourselves is misplaced. It sounds a bit like Oprah: “You go to heaven and you to heaven.” While we are “the hands and feet of Christ,” our hands don’t balance God’s scales.

Besides, if everyone is a “good person,” then the nails in Christ’s hands are meaningless. That’s not tradition but the gospel and our story, summed up in a popular Sunday school memory verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16).

God’s love requires justice — because sin matters. If not, then what is the hope of the world’s victims, the vulnerable and those deemed valueless? Are they mere scrap people, piled into an overcrowded prison system, crammed into tight, poverty-stricken areas or sold for pleasure in our lust-driven world? What is the good news for those nine praying members?

Evil is real and the Devil does not come in a red jump suit. Though I am not suggesting that Roof or any other person who commits heinous acts is Satan or even beyond the saving grace of God, I am certain that good and bad do not pray well together, that bowed heads should not have bullets in them and that evil is present with all of us (Romans 7.21).

For those who have rightly judged the Church due to hypocrisy, sexual misconduct, spiritual abuse and financial mismanagement, what do we do when the Church is the victim? When we welcome the stranger in love and he turns out to be a hate-spewing enemy? When a church becomes a crime scene and yellow tape covers the stained glass, it’s probably not the best time to talk about the end of hell. But when Satan comes to a prayer meeting, it certainly changes the order of things.

I couldn’t find meaning in their murders then and I cannot come to terms with it now. I suspect that it will take many more prayer meetings.

*This post was featured as an Op- Ed for Baptist News Global and was published on June 9, 2016.

Understanding Race

I am continuing to explore the varied definitions and understandings of race in hopes of getting to the root of our tensions concerning it.  I want to disprove them all.  Ultimately, it is my desire to rid the social construct of its illusions and mystery by pinning it down with concrete descriptors.  It is important to know what race is not so that we can more fully understand who we really are.

Accompanied by the wisdom of Dr. Maya Angelou and others, this video is another resource to aid in such an unpacking of history and hopefully, will aid us in carrying on in our human relationships without it.

 

Bridges

050304_selmamarch_ss09.grid-8x2Today, persons will remember the historic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that occurred fifty years ago on Sunday, March 7, 1965. Already a movie, Selma will be a buzzword and a hash tag.  It will be a trending topic today and perhaps for a couple more after that.

We will wear t- shirts and other memorabilia to capitalize on the event, standing in materialistic support.  We will impress ourselves with catch phrases and slogans that recapture the spirit of the movement.  We will praise the work of history and curse the fate of the next generation’s future less we do something quickly.  We must do it now while we have the momentum and the minds of the people.

Discussion panels will rehash the event and draw comparisons between Selma and Ferguson.  They, along with the viewing audience, will resolve to fight social injustice, to change the laws that oppress us, to change the tenor of the conversation on race.  We will remind ourselves of history’s threat of repetition and vow to do things differently.

Networks will replay the black and white footage in two- hour specials.  Surviving participants will be interviewed.  We will sponsor and attend dinners, give awards and medals and speeches.  President Obama will visit the bridge and make a speech.  Persons will listen and write about it, critique and quote him.

The day will be reenacted and the story redacted as persons put themselves in the shoes of those who were actually there, having still not taken “the inward journey,” to use the words of the mystical preacher Howard Thurman, needed to make the trek. Many people will be talking about that “Bloody Sunday” when Alabama state troopers attacked protesters as they marched peacefully for civil rights.

The bridge will attract a crowd and will receive the red carpet treatment as celebrities will flock to it, wanting to be a part of the celebratory memory, hoping to be upfront and arms locked with those who were there, singing the songs sung, remembering the iconic preacher who paved the way, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  They will want to be apart of remembering a moment that has already passed.

Which makes me wonder about the present moments that we don’t show up for?  What are the Edmund Pettus bridges of today for which leadership is marked absent?  Where should we be marching and for what causes should our foot prayers be offered?  Or, does time have to tell us that this was the bridge that we should have walked across?

And what of our lives?  What ways are we making for others?  How do our lives move people?  What passage does our life provide to others?  Are we bridges or are we standing in the way?

“You people”: How our belief in race makes us self- righteous

330_Llama_churchI get the feeling that oppressed persons have been given the social identity of innocent, that we view oppressed persons as incapable of sinning due to their social condition, that we treat the oppressed as we do the dead and speak well of them out of respect though we know that this is not the whole truth.  Well, let me tell you a story.  We once had a neighbor who lived across the street from us.  He was a young man and was confined a wheelchair.

His caregivers would position him on the porch in the morning and he would call out to his neighbors as they came from their dwellings to assist him in getting down the steps.  “Hey, sir!  You in the brown suit!”

One day, I convinced my husband to walk over and help him.  I felt pity for him.  We helped him get down the steps and an interesting thing happened.  We were both holding his hand but he rubbed mine as to communicate interest.

Now, I was not without a wedding ring or a husband.  This young man had seen us leave our house on countless occasions.  He had the opportunity to see us in the various stages of our marriage to include becoming parents for the first time.

Still, this disabled man who could not walk had crossed the line, sinned against God, my husband and my southern sensibilities.  It was then that I realized that his disability did not prevent him from sinning against me or anyone else.  His disability did not make him perfect as I had foolishly presumed.

Why did I tell you that story?  Because it seems, at least to me, that persons who define themselves as oppressed point the finger at their oppressors as if they are not guilty of anything.  And since they are without sin, they can cast as many stones as they like.  They don’t have to offer grace or mercy because they don’t need it.  “We are oppressed; therefore, we can judge you until Jesus comes back.”

We have made oppressed people perpetual victims whereby they can never be guilty of doing anything wrong.  It is an oppression privilege and another expression of supremacy.  But such a position does not allow for self- examination, mutual accountability or responsibility.  We are so focused on what ‘they’ did wrong that we will not entertain the possibility of our helping to right the relationship.  Because it is not about relationship, is it?  It’s about the punishment and boy, do they deserve it.

Race enables us to exalt ourselves as the wronged or oppressed people.  We are good and even better than them because we did not wrong or oppress them.  We can do no wrong if they have wronged us.  But, this is absurd.

This week while Ferguson burned, I heard persons justify the wrongdoing of looters.  They could break the law because they were oppressed. They had had enough and it was time to send a message.  And it was not wrong because they were (socially colored) “black people.”  I heard this reduction of guilt and innocence from believers as well as unbelievers, laypersons and clergy.

Well, I’ve never been the crowd-pleasing type so there’s no sense in signing up to join one now.  I guess I’ll sit with the sinners.  But, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans3.23).  This means that all are eligible for forgiveness, for a relationship with God, for fellowship with believers, to sit next to you on Sunday.

There are no ‘you people’ in God’s creation except those who exalt themselves as righteous.  Race does not makes us right; only a relationship with Jesus the Christ can do that.

No Indictment: Lessons learned from Ferguson

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Ferguson, Missouri has commanded the attention of many persons across the nation for months now.  Police brutality, even suspected excessive force in cases involving European American police officers and African American suspects, is a sensitive issue in America for many reasons, some of which are founded; others of which are not.  Many persons see this latest case of suspected police brutality as more of the same and they are responding with more of the same: “They” give us no justice so we give them no peace.”

But, I believe that there are those whose appetite has change, who are craving something different in America and desiring to be better than the conditions that we have inherited.  I, along with these brave few, will not pass to the next generation more of the same old hatreds, aggressions and stereotypes.  We’re simply tired of race and racism as usual.

I don’t know much but these past few months, I’ve learned a few things and after hearing the jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, I heard the Teacher even clearer.

Lesson #1:  Anger is easy.  Acceptance is harder.  We have talked for hundreds of years in America about what we have done to each other and blamed race for it.  We have yet to accept who we are because of the ways that we have chosen to love and live with each other.  We have yet to accept that we are all oppressors.

Lesson #2: God’s love is unconditional and so is God’s forgiveness.    We are called and challenged to forgive before all of the facts come in.  It’s only fair since “God loved us while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5.8).  And we forgive before the person even figures out that she or he has wronged us, praying the prayer of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34).

Lesson #3: I have heard again the familiar dismissal of a belief in justice in the quip, “There is no justice. Just us.”  But, it is only just us if we do not involve God in the judicial process.  I’m sorry to inform you but race does not determine justice for God.  It is in cases like the one in Ferguson that we forget our place and find ourselves in the Judge’s seat. Get up.

Lesson #4: It is easier to judge than to understand.  It’s easier to say, “You’re wrong” than to ask, “What’s wrong?”  We really don’t care why they did it.  Yet, without this discussion, we expect them not to do it again.  Ferguson will repeat itself if we continue to say the same things.

Lesson #5: Blame- shifting just moves the burden of responsibility around.  We’re all guilty and no one person or cultural group is guiltier than another.

Lesson #6: You can’t be a crowd pleaser and a Christ follower at the same time.  Christians are called to “walk circumspectly,” prudently (Ephesians 5.15).  This means that sometimes we have to walk away from the group– even when it is unpopular to do so.  We also have to go against the majority, the normative response and repeat after Christ instead of the culture.

Lesson #7:  Keep the faith– not in people but in God.  There is no incident so sweeping as to eclipse our commitment to Christ.  We must not break the commandments of Christ in order to be faithful to our culture or to uphold the traditions of race.  That would be the most detrimental of brutalities.