It’s so much easier to throw rocks than it is to govern. Congresswoman Karen Bass, current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Colossians 4
Pray: Gracious God, teach me how to be a transforming presence whenever I express myself. Amen
I’m struck with the graciousness of the women who were, over the past few months, vetted for the opportunity to run for the office of vice president of the United States.
The story of Biden’s selection first broke with the news that Congresswoman Karen Bass had been notified that she was not chosen. Then the news came of others who had received a courtesy call informing them that they were not the pick. Shortly thereafter the big news came: Senator Kamala Harris of California was now the first woman of color chosen to appear on a major party presidential ticket.
It has been fun to get to know the ten or so women who were considered over a period of months. Being a bit of a news junkie and podcast enthusiast, I took in a lot of stories about the group: Tammy Duckworth, Susan Rice, Elizabeth Warren, Val Demings, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham. I’m amazed by the grace and strength of these leaders.
I feel like I know these women; and I wish it were true. What is true is that I’m more hopeful about the future of public service knowing that collaborative, emotionally healthy women are rising into leadership positions in our day.
One of the biggest challenges we face in the arena of public discourse is staying true to our values while discussing social issues and religious beliefs. Social media has become so toxic and filled with false information—intended to harm and mislead. The problem is so bad that regulations and warning labels are emerging to protect vulnerable people from manipulative messaging. Many of us also dread the toxic arguing that happens with relatives and colleagues.
Dr. Brené Brown created the Engaged Feedback Checklist as a tool to determine if you are in the right headspace to engage in political conversations.
In honor of the women who were willing to serve, and have modeled gracious speech under fire, I recommend Brown’s checklist as a spiritual practice for us all.
We are losing the giants of the Civil Rights Movement so quickly. My only encouragement in this moment, is that it’s our turn. And after the global uprising that Black + queer + women just led us through, I’m sad but not devastated. It’s our turn to change the world. Austin Channing Brown, author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
Wisdom is vindicated by all her children. Jesus from Matthew 7
If you’re like me the best things you do these days are small actions– like wearing a mask when you’re around other people or praying for parents and educators.
This weekend, I’ve been reminded of what can happen when determined people put their lives on the line to change the world.
The documentary was released two weeks before the Georgia congressman and civil rights leader’s death on July 17. If you’ve enjoyed the eulogies and remembrances, you will love seeing the actual footage of young Lewis marching and leading through the American South in the 1960’s.
You will feel a glimmer of hope, because Lewis had huge hopes that the next generation will complete the work God began in the American civil rights movement.
I love how Austin Channing Brown put it in a Facebook post: We are losing the giants of the Civil Rights Movement so quickly. My only encouragement in this moment, is that it’s our turn. And after the global uprising that Black + queer + women just led us through, I’m sad but not devastated. It’s our turn to change the world.
I have four daughters and two sons-in-law– six Millennials and counting. I can’t wait for Austin Channing Brown and my Millennials and a throng of wholehearted young adults to rise up and change the world.
Get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet until a revolution is complete. We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution. John Lewis
Never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. John Lewis
Christ, who began good work in you, will complete your transformation, day by day and era by era. The Apostle Paul
Today we grieve the loss of a great American hero: Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress.
He was a giant of the Civil Rights Movement whose righteousness, faith and courage God used in the moral transformation of this nation. John Lewis was bodily present in the most death-defying scenes of the movement—facing down discrimination at lunch counters, on burning busses and beneath the batons of troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis’s skull was crushed on Bloody Sunday; yet, he marched on to complete the revolution. He served in Congress until his death—revered by colleagues across party lines.
John Lewis never stopped fighting for liberty and justice for all—all ethnicities, all genders, all sexual orientations, all economic capacities. “Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people,” he proclaimed during the March on Washington 57 years ago. Only a week before he died of pancreatic cancer, Congressman Lewis bodily visited peaceful protests in American hamlets to witness the next generation of revolutionaries pour into the streets to join in the work of liberty and justice for ALL.
Lewis lived and taught the spiritual principle of redemptive suffering saying, “[There is] something in the very essence of anguish that is liberating, cleansing, redemptive… [Suffering] touches and changes those around us as well. It opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves, a force that is right and moral, the force of righteous truth that is at the basis of human conscience.”
He believed that the secret to the non-violent life is the capacity to forgive.
Now, John Lewis asks US to march on and complete the revolution that he and King and others began in the middle of twentieth century; and if we do so, and if we prevail, it will be as the Apostle Paul observes: God who began the good work of the Civil Rights Movement through the redemptive suffering of prophets and warriors like John Lewis is sure to complete the work through the redemptive self-sacrifice of the next generation.
Lewis’s language around the Civil Rights Movement was shocking to some. By age 23 he was unapologetically clear, “Get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet until a revolution is complete. We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution.”
May Congressman John Lewis, who began this good work for humanity, be eternally blessed. May your family and soul friends be comforted and encouraged. May the next generation finish your work in the power of the Living Christ, who is alive IN every person. Amen
The American dream reminds us—and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day—that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. July 4th Sermon, 1965
It was 1976 when all the fifth graders in the Thompson School District came together for a gigantic Bi-Centennial music program. Our music teachers organized it, we rehearsed for months and we performed it in the Loveland High Gymnasium for parents and the Loveland community.
I loved that program—a montage of pop and patriotic songs ending with Let There be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me. Parents were crying, teachers were beaming, and every child was singing.
I remember one particular song, Freedom Isn’t Free. I remember the lesson of the song: That we live in the land of the free and home of the brave because people have given their lives in war to keep our country free. I was happy. I was proud to be an American and a Lovelander. I was glad for our shared Independence story and the music of the moment.
The years have flown by, and every time I celebrate our independence on July 4th, I have those same feelings. Gratitude, safety, joy and a bond with my family, friends and neighbors. I am grateful for whatever measure of peace and tranquility does exist in America and for those who lay down their lives to preserve this American life we love.
But over the years my way of understanding the gift of American freedom has changed. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become aware that not all Americans are safe and free—and that we cannot be a free country until everyone is free. In the past decade I’ve learned about mass incarceration of black men as a means of modern-day slavery, stand your ground laws in white neighborhoods as means of modern-day lynching and racial inequality as our American brand of a caste system.
Today we stand in the current of a new racial justice movement, and my growing awareness is in full bloom. My curiosity about the depths of racism and the urgency of this moment is on fire. I can’t stop thinking about this moment.
And so, this July 4th is different for me—a mix of sadness and hope.
Andrea Young, the A.C.L.U. director is the daughter of Andrew Young, Atlanta Mayor, UN ambassador and civil rights giant. When asked if there is reason to hope that this moment could accomplish what the Civil Rights Movement could not, she said, “Nobody has believed more in the promise and mythology of America than blacks. We have believed all people were created equal and fought over generations for the truth of the statement. The fact I am here means I am descended from people who, even enslaved, did not give up hope. To do so now would be a betrayal.”
Andrea Young’s statement reminds me of Rev. MLK Jr.’s sermon, The American Dream. (This is not his I Have a Dream Speech.) This is a sermon King delivered on Sunday July 4, 1965 to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Read it this weekend and notice the brilliance.
King has left us with much inspiration, and it is never easy to choose a favorite passage, so allow me to share a sampling.
He begins by reciting the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable rights, that among these are the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a DREAM. It’s a great DREAM.
King continues: The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say, ‘some men’; it says ‘all men.’ It doesn’t say ‘all white men’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes black men. It does not say ‘all Gentiles’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes Jews. It doesn’t say ‘all Protestants’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes Catholics. It doesn’t even say ‘all theists and believers’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes humanists and agnostics.
He continues: Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us—and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day—that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.
The point of Rev. King’s sermon is that the dream is brilliant, but we are trashing our own dream by oppressing and excluding God’s black children.
He explains the way out of our nightmare and into the light: And so if the American dream is to be a reality, we must work to make it a reality and realize the urgency of the moment. And we must say now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to get rid of segregation and discrimination. Now is the time to make Georgia a better state. Now is the time to make the United States a better nation. (Yes) We must live with that, and we must believe that.
And to close the sermon he addresses his enemies: One day we will win our freedom, but we will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory. Oh yes, love is the way. (Yes) Love is the only absolute.
And so for me, Saturday, July 4, 2020 will not be the Independence Day of my youth. It will be a New Independence Day—a day to adopt a beginner’s mind and celebrate the long road to freedom America has yet to choose.
Be safe and happy. Pray for the real American Dream to be true for all God’s children, and don’t forget to bring your mask and wash your hands!
This evening’s drop of hope and spiritual direction comes from my colleagues at the Love Mercy, Do Justice ministry initiative in Chicago:
On June 19, 1865 (over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln), enslaved Africans in Texas finally received word that they had been emancipated. The celebration of their freedom became what is known to us today as “Juneteenth” (a mash-up of the words June and nineteenth).
Jemar Tisby says, “Freedom has always come with an asterisk in America,” and perhaps this year more than any in recent history, we feel that asterisk. We acknowledge and grieve the paradox in today’s celebration of freedom – a freedom that has been underscored by unfulfilled promise; a freedom that has looked different for some than it has for others.
In the early days of celebrating Juneteenth, the day was spent by bringing families and communities together for a time of prayer and thanksgiving. So this evening, gather your family and pray for the brokenness in our nation. Enter into a time of thanksgiving for the freedom we have both as citizens of this nation and as the children of God. And perhaps read or sing these words of James Weldon Johnson’s song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the anthem which has become known as the African American National Anthem:
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us Facing the rising sun of our new day begun Let us march on ’til victory is won
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. Psalm 85
We don’t get to choose the scene of our own sacrifice. Oswald Chambers
Oswald Chambers spoke a hard truth in his classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest: “We don’t get to choose the scene of our own sacrifice.”
I’d like to venture an interpretation and application of Chambers’ claim as it relates to the issue of police reform and Black Lives Matter.
I know many white people are struggling to reconcile their growing commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement with their appreciation and concern for the police. Bear with me, and I will walk us to a piece of spiritual wisdom that might help with this tension.
First the meaning of Chambers’ statement: Chambers was suggesting that people enjoy laying down their lives for certain causes. Sometimes a person or group feels called to a hard task and is willing to suffer greatly to complete the task or succeed at some mission or noble vocation. And sometimes our sacrificial streak aligns perfectly with our opportunities to complete the mission we we have in mind; but, quite often it does not. Quite often, while we have a hankering to lay down our lives for one thing, Life/God lead us to a frightening scene of painful sacrifice, which is not of our own choosing and beyond imagination.
We see this dynamic in the life of Christ Jesus, during a conversation with the Father the night before his crucifixion. Jesus asked the Father to “let this cup pass from me.” Brutal lynching was not something Jesus was looking for—even to save the world. Rather, this type of death came to Jesus in a most unwelcome way. We don’t get to choose the scene of our own sacrifice.
There is a hard scene of sacrifice (or “cup”) which has come to the community of law enforcement in this nation. Few people want to see the whole law enforcement community drinking a “cup” of criticism, blame, defunding or dismantling. People care about the police. As a result, many people are afraid to stand on the rock of racial righteousness and proclaim “black lives matter” for fear of harming the institution of law enforcement and/or disheartening the officers who have chosen this sacrificial career.
But we don’t get to choose the scene of our own sacrifice—not even the police. Enslaved Africans didn’t get to choose then and the police force doesn’t get to choose now. There will be a dreadful swim through dark waters.
This is a strange moment for white America—one we have been avoiding for centuries.
The path to racial righteousness and societal wholeness will lead us into sacrifice beyond imagination. There are no rails of fairness within this ordeal to ensure that only racially violent officers are criticized. All officers will be part of this reckoning. All precincts will sacrifice. And Americans who stand up for black lives will suffer alongside. I’ve never met a person or group who wants to go through the valley of the shadow in order to be healed and whole.
Wholeness is not about being right. Wholeness is not perfection. Wholeness is process. We each must choose our own imperfect path to wholeness. If you choose to join an imperfect movement called Black Lives Matter, it does not mean you’ve chosen against the police. Anyone who tells you that is playing you.
Here are three spiritual practices that will be part of our journey to wholeness.
Practice activism and enter the arena of racial justice— accepting that there will be pain for the police and everyone who has enjoyed police protection over the centuries. It’s not your job to spare everyone’s feelings. You can’t.
Practice empathy. We’ve all be in a position where we were handed a “cup” of punishment for the sin of someone else. Jesus was. How can you draw on your painful experience and extend understanding and compassion to the police as they face the inevitable pain of reckoning and reform.
Practice non-judgment. Show mercy to our black siblings who have been asking for our mercy for centuries. Show mercy to the police who are being led to an unwelcome scene of painful sacrifice.
And look up! Read Psalm 85 and anticipate the peace, love and righteousness that flow from the heart of God to God’s faithful children.
We will have change when ALL Americans come to realize this is a problem and black lives DO matter. Jeh Johnson, former secretary of Homeland Security
Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Jesus, from Matthew 5
God of mercy and wisdom, help us surrender our pride and humbly receive advice and direction from those we have wounded and those who know the path we all must walk to healing. Amen
This morning, Fareed Zakaria discussed the problem of racial injustice with the former secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson. Zakaria asked Johnson, What advice would you give us at this critical moment?
Jeh Johnson began with a legendary leadership story. In March of 1965 in the wake of Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a white southerner, went before a joint session of Congress and proclaimed: We shall overcome.
When LBJ embraced the words of the Civil Rights Movement his influence became a factor in turning the tide for civil rights legislation.
Jeh Johnson proposes that the most powerful thing anyone can do today is embrace the grievance of black America and use our respective influence to call others to join in the embrace. If parents, pastors and presidents today went to the podium and embraced the grievance then many more would see and believe that black lives really do matter.
Jeh Johnson said, “A starting point for leadership is to acknowledge the grievance and the validity of the grievance. There are more specific solutions, but it starts with leaders embracing the grievance and teaching others to do the same.”
Johnson’s advice aligns with Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: When you have harmed your neighbor, embrace your neighbor’s grievance early in the ordeal– before the moment of judgment, sentencing and no return.
When asked about how he feels personally about racial injustice in America, Johnson suggested a better question. How does America feel? How does the soccer mom in Oklahoma feel? How does the church elder in California feel? How does your state representative feel? How does our superintendent of schools feel? How do the Rotarians feel? How does the City Council feel? How do your friends feel?
How do you personally feel about the way our black siblings are treated in the streets, the courts, the classroom, the prisons and on the corporate ladder?
As Johnson notes: Minneapolis is not a black problem. It is an American problem. Equality before the law is as American as the flag. We will have change when ALL Americans come to realize this is a problem and black lives DO matter.
I am grateful for the community of Christ followers that I call friends and family. I know how you would answer the questions posed by Jeh Johnson. Please join me in prayerfully considering our answers; and may our actions align until together we turn the tide.
I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 11 & 36; Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8.
Lord of Creation, create in me a dynamic and resilient heart of flesh. And may my own well-being, and my concern for all your children, be a True Prayer that accomplishes much good. Amen
Brené Brown says that we belong to one another. This universal reality can be forgotten, but it can never be lost. Her research in recent years has confirmed to the world that there is an uncomfortable, life-supporting link between vulnerability and courage.
Dr. Brown has made famous a saying: Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart. The moment I heard the saying and read the full quote by Roshi Joan Halifax, I thought of the voice of God who speaks: I will give all my children One, soft heart. Though you are fractured and hurting, I will replace your broken chards-of-heart with a Whole one–strong, soft, wise, hopeful and full of faith.
All scripture speaks of this vision. When the Apostle Paul wrote about creation groaning and waiting for redemption, I wonder if this is what we he meant– for the heart of stone to become a heart of flesh. These passages and themes are really about the universal healing of creation and can be applied at the individual and communal level any time the user chooses. Our redemption is an ongoing process and God only knows when it will feel finished to us. This renovation of creatures and communities is God’s purpose; and it shall be so.
Remember: The good that God has begun in you will be completed through the Spirit of the Living Christ working in you.
This post is not aimed at racism, protests and violence. Such horrors can only be healed at the level of cause. My reflections pertain to this community and our emotional health and well-being. Never underestimate the healing power of your own humanity-in-Christ and your prayers for the well-being of your neighbors and the whole world.
Be safe. And be a healing presence wherever you are. I happen to be visiting my Dad in Salmon Idaho, looking out the window at the continental divide. Had a good, long, steep hike this morning.
I am pretty adamant about not being a participant in my own dehumanization. Christian Cooper, birdwatcher. New Yorker. black man
Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12
Lord of Love and Justice make us honest enough to tell the truth about racial terror and courageous enough to step into the waters of racial justice. Amen
Last week, a black male birdwatcher in Central Park asked a white female dog walker to observe the leash law in the brambles. Instead of honoring the law and her neighbor, she called 911 and told the dispatcher: A black man is threatening me in the brambles; send the police. Christian Cooper calmly lifted his phone and video recorded her little shit fit. His sister posted the video on the internet and it went viral.
When asked why he stood firm, Mr. Cooper said, I am pretty adamant about not being a participant in my own dehumanization.
Christian Cooper held on to his humanity as well his neighbor’s and lived to tell about it. The attempt on George Floyd’s humanity ended differently. His body was crushed under the knee of an armed bully. Mr. Floyd was unable to escape the terror of a public lynching.
Friends, like it or not, we are inextricably connected to one another. If we don’t stand up to racial terror, we are complicit– and we have become participants in our own dehumanization and the dehumanization of our siblings of color, worldwide.
We have a problem:
We live in a culture that favors its privileged children in every way imaginable. As a result, most white Americans lack some of the discipline needed to become fully responsible adults. Instead of responsibility, we blindly engage in self-protective and indulgent patterns, which act as an opiate—numbing our personal and collective conscience. We are literally swimming in an ocean of unconscious self-interest. Unconsciousness is why white Europeans and Americans enslaved Africans in the first place. Unconsciousness permits the terror of mass incarceration (modern day slavery) and police brutality (modern day lynching) to happen in 2020.
There is Hope
There is a passage in Hebrews Chapter 12 that applies to this situation. The word discipline is used at least nine times. The writer uses the image of a parent disciplining a child. In ancient families, the role of parent was to discipline a child so that the child could grow up to be a responsible member of the family. The Old Testament prophet Amos describes how unaware, religious adults come to “trample on the poor” with unjust economic policy and corrupt judicial process. (Sound familiar for our time? Have you seen the movie Just Mercy?) In Amos’s time, these practices catered to the privileged at the expense of the vulnerable.
In the face of such exploitation, prophets like Amos, Jesus, Nelson Mandela, MLK and Malcolm X name the evil and call the children of God back to responsibility. “Seek the Lord, seek good, hate evil, love good, establish justice.” These are the works of good neighbors everywhere.
The time is now. Americans of all faiths are in a season of discipline by which God is summoning us away from the self-service that furthers racial oppression, and in many situations, racial terror. This problem is more than 500 years old with new permutations and combinations emerging every generation. The call to grow up goes way beyond private character and all the way to public practice.
If we are lucky, we modern culprits will grow up to be like the tax collector in Jesus’s parable: aware of our own sin and hopeful that the LORD of mercy will forgive us and heal us.
Will we put our armor (privilege) down and stand up to racial oppression and terror with true power– our human vulnerability (most effectively exercised by acts of compassion and truth)? Or will we hide behind the lame armor of blaming and scapegoating various individuals, institutions, neighbors of color, non-church-goers, rioters and arsonists?
Each person must ask: What does the LORD require of ME? How will I stand firm in my vulnerability?
Some things I’ve decided to do out of simple discipline: Go all in for #blacklivesmatter. As a Christian pastor, I sometimes stay quiet about subjects that might alienate a parishioner. No more. #blacklivesmatter. PERIOD.
I’m going to re-read and re-watch a whole library of works written and scripted by black leaders and theologians over time. I’ll share the bibliography and watch list with you here in the coming days.
I don’t really care what religion you are. Being a Christian does not make you a conscious person. Many people outside my faith are awake and active and working for justice. Our siblings of color need us all to work together.
ROUTINE can itself be a means of creation. Rob Hoerburger
May God strengthen you with power deep inside. The Apostle Paul
God of all comfort and joy, give me eyes to see how your Spirit is working in the routines of my daily life. Amen
My Grandmother spent half her life a farmer, the other half a townsperson with showstopping gardens. She was also a cook who put out large and delicious spreads for holidays and family picnics. People always wondered how she and her sisters could create such beautiful home places and feed such crowds.
Grandma B. survived the Big Thompson Flood of 1976. Her home in the canyon was only a few hundred feet from the river. I was 11 at the time and spent the rest of the summer living with her to keep her company and help with chores. In the aftermath of the flood we had no electricity, no running water, no road into town for months. My mom and uncle trucked our groceries and drinking water over high country ranch roads south of the canyon.
That summer I learned the secret of Grandma’s creativity and contentment—ROUTINE.
Every day we got up with the sun, hauled water, tended gardens, baked, did laundry, ate breakfast and lunch, prepped dinner, had tea and sweets, read, fired up the cookstove, cooked, ate, washed dishes, took a walk, lit kerosene lamps, got ready for bed and slept like logs.
Grandma B. was not one you would label a “creative.” She had no “career.” Her talents were gardening and home-keeping, and her secret weapon was routine. We live in a world that often pits creativity against routine. But the summer I lived with Grandma, I learned how our creativity depends on it.
When it was my turn to be a grown up, I established my own routines: Morning reading, coffee, exercise, laundry, packed-lunch, dinner prep, evening news… When there were little ones: waking, feeding, playing, napping, bathing and bedtime. At work: morning creative projects followed by meetings and afternoon admin.
Sometimes I wonder how my routines are hindering, rather than enhancing, creativity.
Now that I’m living in the land of quarantine like all of you, I’m renewing my appreciation for the creative power of routine. Rob Hoerburger writes: Routine can itself be a means of creation. Routines, like all acts of creation, [are] essentially acts of faith.
What routines are a means of creation for you?
How have your routines changed or been strengthened during the pandemic? Which routines get boring? When do you notice a lack of joy or peace? Is there a routine that might give you comfort and stability?
Sleep tight, and don’t forget the sleep enhancing properties of a healthy bedtime routine!