Politics

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Backgrounder: #Pentecost2018 – From #MeToo and #EnoughIsEnough to @pb_curry at the #RoyalWedding

If humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire. – The sermon of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Royal Wedding

(See the video or read the text)

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. – Acts 2

Today in the western church, we celebrate Pentecost. We celebrate that day when the power of Love rested on each of the disciples as a divided tongue of fire. We also celebrate the power of the Spirit resting on Presiding Bishop Curry. God’s Love burst in like tongues of Fire in a world desperately needing to hear it.

With all the horrible news over the past few weeks, the whole wedding, with Bishop Curry preaching and The Kingdom Choir singing “Stand by Me”, was the balm that we all so desperately needed.

In John 20, we read about the disciples huddling in fear on the Sunday of the Resurrection.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"

In many ways, it feels like in recent days we’ve been huddled behind locked doors in fear of the racists, misogynists, and PussyGrabbers. In many ways it felt to me like Bishop Curry was saying #MeToo and #EnoughIsEnough.

At one point, Bishop Curry talked about “some old slaves in America’s antebellum south who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform”. They knew that “If you cannot preach like Peter [and here, I would add, or like Michael] and you cannot pray like Paul [and here I would add or like Archbishop Angaelos and The Reverend Prebendary Rose HudsonWilkin], you just tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all. Oh that’s the balm in Gilead. This way of love is the way of life.” His words were the balm we need right now.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a dream that one day on the green hills of England the children of former slaves and the children of former slave traders will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

A friend of mine put it this way on his Facebook page.

I am filled with gratitude that, in a season when American Christianity is too often represented by preachers who have pledged allegiance to the current administration in Washington, we heard a sermon from an American Christian leader, a wedding homily proclaiming love, not hate, inclusion, not judgment. It fills me with hope. Thank you, Bishop Curry, for showing us what the Jesus movement looks like in the world today.

He, like many of my friends has recently shared what I refer to as “The Barmen Declaration 2018”. If you don’t get the reference, watch the video and then read up about the Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934.

For those who want to know more, I encourage you start by watching Bishop Curry’s video about The Eucharist and about The Jesus Movement.

Finally, if you want to experience this Love, this Fire, get to church. Today, the western church (Protestants and Roman Catholics) celebrates Pentecost. If you miss it, next week, the eastern church (Orthodox) celebrates Eucharist. Not every church will be as beautiful as St. George’s Chapel. Not every church will have a choir as powerful as The Kingdom Choir, not every church will have a preacher as gifted as Bishop Curry; they might not even be fully living into that power of Love that Bishop Curry preached about, but it’s a good place to start.

Come, Holy Sprit, Come.

First Look: Inspired by @rachelheldevans

When the famous German theologian, Karl Barth was asked to summarize the millions of words he had written, he reportedly responded, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” These words come back to me as I finish my second semester of seminary. I have been studying the greatest love story of all time and it isn’t just some academic pursuit, it is a story I am caught up in the middle of.

There is the story of the burning bush and the comment about how the miracle is not that the bush was not consumed, the real miracle was that Moses noticed. In the turmoil of our daily lives, we often don’t notice how God is telling us that he loves us. We get caught up in the drama, the conflict, or simply the academic studies.

Yesterday, I received a reminder in an unexpected way. I received an advance copy of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans.

In between my class assignments, I’ve started reading it. The introduction starts off with personal stories of Evans struggling with what the Bible means in our lives today. She starts off from the perspective of growing up in the Bible belt, going to a conservative Christian college, and struggling with how to make sense of the Bible in our post-modern milieu.

At least a little ways into the introduction, this seems like a really important book for our age. It is important to those trying to figure out their relationship to God and stories about God. It is important to those trying to figure out what Jesus would do and how we should then live. Yet it is perhaps even more important to anyone who is trying to struggle with devastating polarization in American politics today.

Hopefully, over the next few weeks I’ll have the opportunity to write more about this book. I look forward to other people’s comments about the book as well.

Implicit Bias and Racial Reconciliation

Continuing on from my blog post yesterday; a couple weeks ago, I received an email about the Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism’s Framework for Anti-Racism and Racial Reconciliation Training in the Episcopal Church.

I shared about this in my Christian History class and one of the responses summed things up fairly nicely,

Yes, there are a number of initiatives, programs, and efforts across the Episcopal Church to try to frame these discussions, address our past, and think about ways to move forward. Anti-racism training is required of everyone in the ordination process, and many dioceses have their own programs. Part of what Executive Council is trying to do is think about how the church as whole can move forward in these areas.

In my discussions around racism, particularly around racial health disparities, I’ve often run into the idea that various groups have their anti-racism training, their cultural competency training, or other trainings that count as checking off an issue on a list, but perhaps might not really be having as big an impact as desired or necessary.

I thought a lot about this earlier this week when I attended the Connecticut Health Foundation’s conference on the future of health care. Dr David Williams shared a lot of important information in his presentation Making America Healthier for All: What Each of Us Can Do.

He notes that if White America was a country, its life expectancy would be 34th in the list of industrialized countries. Black America would be 96th. In 2012, the infant mortality rate for black Americans was over twice that of white Americans. Recently, a friend shared a link to a New York Times article addressing infant mortality, Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis.

As life expectancy increases, it takes forty years for black Americans to catch up with white Americans. The life expectancy rate for white Americans in 1950 was 69.1 years. It took until 1990 for black Americans to reach that rate.

In a study in Portland Oregon, it took black male pedestrians of similar age and dressed similarly as white pedestrians had to wait 32% longer to cross the street. In 2012, the average wait time to vote for African Americans was 23 minutes. For white Americans it was only 12 minutes. In Connecticut, the county with the highest heart disease death rate for white women was better than the county with the lowest heart disease death rate for black women.

For median household income in the United States, for each dollar a white American household makes, a black American household makes 59 cents. For every dollar of wealth that white Americans have, black Americans have six cents. As an aside, I am not suggesting that wealth is what people should be seeking. I suspect some of the problem is caused not only by too many black Americans not having enough wealth and income to meet daily needs but also by too many white Americans having too much wealth.

I hear a lot of people talking about ‘racial reconciliation’. Is this what we want black people to be reconciled to?

What are the causes of this and how can we address this? One important factor that gets listed as an ‘essential concept’ in the Episcopal framework, but not explored deeply is implicit bias.

During Dr. Williams talk, he mentioned the work Patricia Devine is doing to address implicit bias such as mentioned in this Atlantic article, Is This How Discrimination Ends?. You can see more in a YouTube video, Patricia Devine on Kicking the Prejudice Habit

I’m not sure how much anti-racism trainings address the issue of implicit bias. The ones I’ve participated in don’t seem to address it much. Yet it seems like it needs to be a starting point for anti-racism trainings.

Thoughts?

Poverty, Charity, Exceptionalism, and America's Glory Days

Recently, a friend shared on Facebook a link to a blog post, On Being a Millennial Pastor– Leaders who don’t Remember the Glory Days. The author talks about the glory days when the churches were full. He spoke about many older pastors grieving the passing of that era. He suggests embracing the church we have now and those “who showed up to seminary full of energy, called to serve a church in decline.”

That sounds about right to me, although I might qualify the idea of decline. It might be a church with declining membership but it can still be a church full of vibrancy. It might also be that there is a greater decline happening.

Another article I read recently was a Study By MIT Economist: U.S. Has Regressed To A Third-World Nation For Most Of Its Citizens.

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Mass incarceration – check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

A sharp contrast to this can be found in John Winthrop’s famous sermon entitled "A Model of Christian Charity", sometimes called the City upon a Hill sermon. Winthrop talks about how God “hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor… that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection”.

What made America great and can do so again, is not keeping wages for the poor low and taxes for the rich low. What makes America great is when we are knit together in the bonds of brotherly affection, rich and poor alike, caring for one another

An Op-Ed in the New York Times back in January draws this into sharper focus. In The U.S. Can No Longer Hide From Its Deep Poverty Problem, Angus Deaton notes that 1.7% of Americans live in deep poverty, living on less than $4 a day. That places us in fifth place for the highest percentage of people living in deep poverty in developed countries, with only Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain having a higher percentage.

Some conservatives suggest that the real problem with America is that it has lost its spiritual way. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps we need to return to the vison of America that John Winthrop preached about where the rich truly are concerned for the poor. Likewise, perhaps those longing for the glory days of Christianity in America are right. Yet what we need is not more people sitting in pews on Sunday morning. We need more people trying to live the life of Christ, helping out those around them.

Make #Wakanda Great Again

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable watching people paint their faces and cheer on combatants representing some idealized group of people they identify with. People chanting USA! USA! at a hockey game are vaguely disturbing. Those chanting “blood and soil” are even more frightening. To what can we say the same about those posting Wakanda Forever?

I don’t want to post spoilers to the movie Black Panther, so I’ll keep my comments more general. If you have not seen Black Panther yet, please, go and see it. Ideally, go see it with a diverse group of friends. I’m a white male who has spent a bit of time trying to understand the black experience in America, but my understanding is very limited.

If you have time, read up on the slave trade. Read up on colonialism. Read up on the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. I recommend James Cone’s book, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare. At least in my white male mind, some of the dynamic of Martin and Malcolm is played out beautifully in Black Panther.

If you are really motivated, spend a little time reading up on post-colonial theory.

As you watch the movie, think about the responsibilities that come with privilege. Does T’Challa have privilege? What can white folks learn about wielding privilege from him? Think about reparations. How do we make reparations and seek justice and reconciliation for evils that our previous leaders have done?

After you see the movie speak with some of your black friends about how they see the movie from their experience. Ask the women about the weaponization of hair.

Then, if you find messages of Wakanda Forever appealing, ask yourself, are you saying it in the spirit of Nakia, of Eric Killmonger, or perhaps a little of both. Be prepared to own some ambiguity and think about how you might share Wakandan knowledge.

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