Peacemaking and Peacekeeping

As I reflect back on my weekend and what I’ve come to learn in my faith tradition, peacemaking is not peacekeeping.

Peacekeeping is easy. It costs nothing. It requires only a head nod, keeping one’s mouth shut, a preservation of the status quo, flexible knees, propped-up feet, and a heart unwilling to change. But peacemaking is costly. It requires deep thought, innovation, creativity within community, an open mouth, steady knees, ready feet, and a heart willing to change and forgive.

Peacemaking is the act of disrupting injustices and a stubborn refusal to let hate win. Peacekeeping is the act of complicity to injustice and a stubborn refusal to let love liberate us all.

The reality of the moment is we can’t have both.

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The Cheap Seats

There will come a time when I must join with others and live the protest I march. Integrity will demand that I live the sermon I preach and the social media posts I write. It won’t be perfect. It surely won’t be enough. But it will be something. It will be more than a momentary effort or meaningful word in a status. It will be an embodied commitment to faithful presence and active participation. 

By God’s grace, faithfulness must be my witness. 

The same is true for all of us. 

Anyone can sit in the cheap seats. It takes courage and grit to step into the arena. If you do expect to get your hind-parts kicked.

When that happens expect to hear from the ones sitting in the cheap seats. Discern their words humbly and wisely with those beside you in the arena. But don’t forget they chose the cheap seats. You chose the arena. Stay put and do the work, the gritty, costly, weary, hard, beautiful work. And don’t do it alone. 

Faithfulness will be your witness and God’s faithfulness will be your strength.

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That’s My Christ

I thank God for a Christ who gives not only first and second chances, but sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and well, “70 x 7” chances. I thank God for a Christ whose love transforms me over time. I thank God for a Christ whose blood-stained brow and nail-pierced hands tell me that I’m never beyond the reach of God’s grace. I thank God who even when I’m terribly distraught and choose to cope with it in adverse or sinful ways, He beckons me and welcomes me home.

That’s my God. That’s my Christ.

It was brother George Floyd’s Christ too.

Anyone is welcome to Christ’s table. We don’t get to choose who sits there. When you come to the Table, transformation begins. We don’t get to choose what another person’s transformation looks like. When you leave the Table, you join with others on the same road of discipleship. We don’t get to choose who walks that road. And when you fall, you get back up and press on, resting in the good news that we are called to faithfulness, not perfection.

For some this will always be the scandal of the gospel. For others it will always be the beauty of the gospel.

Justice isn’t complete until Jesus is Lord of it. All can find liberation when Jesus is King–the oppressed and the oppressor. Repentance is embraced, injustices are dismantled, and reconciliation begins because as love leads the way.

Sounds nice, I know.

There are those who claim to be Christian who don’t really believe this. At least not yet. You can see it in their words and actions. But I choose to believe it is possible. I’ll stay joined with others who believe the same and together we will work as if it is, and let the evidence of our actions be our witness. I hope you’ll find others who really believe it and do the same.

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The Backstory

To every story there is a backstory. Nothing happens out of thin air. Not divorces. Not disease. Not eviction. Not animosities. Not divisions. Not riots. Every story has a backstory and can be understood better when the backstory is known. Almost always, backstories are long but they are critical. Please, consider this backstory.

Think about how social, cultural, and familial systems work and form people. Then, think about how society and civic life in the U.S. was constructed while enslaving Black and Brown skinned people and did so for 246 years. Then, remember that of the first twelve US Presidents the only two who did not own slaves during their lifetime were John Adams and his son John Quincy. Then, think about how after chattel slavery was outlawed, for 89 additional years “freed” Black and Brown skinned citizens were welcomed into a segregated society that promised form of equality without equity to white citizens. Then, think about how cities, interstates, industry, politics, economics, justice, religious, and various other systems were built brick upon brick, layer upon layer, generation upon generation, on a system that dehumanized, devalued and demeaned Black and Brown citizens. Then, think about how significant legislation like FDR’s New Deal was passed at a time when Black and Brown skinned people lacked equity, and how housing policy, workforce development and educational enhancement programs, and the like, neglected Black and Brown skinned citizens.1

Think about how in 1954 the US began loosening the laws that segregated Black and Brown skinned citizens but lacked the power to loosen the sociological, psychological, and familial systems that kept them segregated in the hearts and minds of White citizens, along with the White-dominated institutions. Think about Redlining (click here too), Jim Crow, voting rights, education rights, and the like.

Think about how the passage of a single law or set of laws cannot effectively undo 335 years of political, economic, religious, justice, and familial systems, structures, and ideology. Societies do not work that way (for all the Christians think of Israel and Judah). Then, remember how laws were passed again and again, from the Thirteenth Amendment to Jim Crow, to criminalize Black and Brown skinned citizens for not being White like me.

Then, remember that the only demographic of human being living in these United States that’s never needed a law to pass in order to attain a new measure of freedom afforded by the U.S. Constitution is White, Anglo, heterosexual men. Even White Anglo women needed new laws for fuller freedom. Even indentured servants and immigrant slaves who were not categorized as Black needed new laws for freedoms (but when they were freed in accordance to Virginia law they were granted 50 acres of land by their plantation owners, but not African Americans, effectively establishing a permanent economic underclass).2 Then, think how the “We” and the “People” in the “We the People” functionally meant only White Anglo heterosexual men. Then, think about how every law and institution built upon that framework set the stage for the creation of all social, economic, and religious systems that were designed to uphold that specific demographic above all others.3

Now add to that the backstory of how trauma works (in epigenetics, trauma-organized family systems, and both developmental and complex trauma).

We are a country whose foundation was laid upon a protest that led to loss of people and property. “Give me liberty or give me death!” We are a country whose foundation was laid upon the political, economic, and religious systems that formed a racialized cultural system upholding White citizens and oppressing Black and Brown citizens. This tilled the soil upon which the roots of our nation’s laws, structures, and institutions grew deep. All of this organized the beliefs, values, and relational systems formed by every man, woman and child, regardless of race or ethnicity.

So what do people who have lived under the realities of this long dehumanizing narrative to do? What do they do when their everyday experience and the policies and leaders that govern them are long on promise but short on delivery? Whether you see what they see, which is a problem for sure, what are they to do when they kneel during the national anthem with hand over heart in peaceful protest but are called names and told it isn’t acceptable because they disrespect a national symbol? What are they to do when they develop a movement and hashtag of #BlackLivesMatter trying to highlight their vulnerability but are countered with “What about me or them? They matter too!” (No one finds it strange that the same people saying this are the ones protesting government buildings fully armed over wanting to get a haircut).

What are they to do when White people are fond of quoting their leaders like Dr. King but have no idea whatsoever what Dr. King would say about what we see now? More so, what are they to do when Christians call out for peace when the Scriptures tell us to beware of those who say “peace, peace” when there is no peace?

So please, ask me what I think we White Christians can do. But don’t ask if you want to argue. I’m beyond that. Let’s put our hands and feet to our words.

There needs to be organized efforts of anti-racism peacemaking movements–actions of change based upon embodied advocacy and witness. There needs to be solidarity and sharing in the suffering rather than qualifying or rationalizing the suffering. We need to look in our neighborhoods and cities and start doing work. We need to open up our imaginations with a bold and prophetic witness that builds priestly bridges where shared experiences can be found, and where the reign of Christ can be made tangible in the dismantling of the systems of injustice that still shape us. We can do it.

We must.

1 Following the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, liberated slaves began dispersing throughout the United States, yet residential integration—not segregation—declined quickly and steadily well into the mid-twentieth century thanks to localized racial zoning ordinances. Starting with the Great Depression of the 1930s and lasting into the 1950s, the country experienced a critical housing shortage, leaving only affluent Americans able to afford housing. During the shortage, working-class and middle-class white and black families suffered, with multiple family units often forced to cram into a single small apartment.  In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the New Deal, a series of relief programs, job programs, labor rights bills and housing programs aimed at providing aid to struggling Americans. Unfortunately, many of the programs facilitated by New Deal agencies followed racialized practices. For example, job training camps for jobless youth often excluded black applicants in favor of white applicants, while “segregationists made sure that farmers and domestics—Blacks’ primary vocations—were excluded from the [New Deal’s] new job benefits, like minimum wage, social security, unemployment insurance, and unionizing rights.” The New Deal created the nation’s first public housing for civilian citizens. Given the cultural reality of segregation, race determined the program’s design, including the construction of separate housing for African Americans. This included separate buildings in some mixed-race developments and the total exclusion of African Americans from many other developments across the U.S. During FDR’s time in office, the appointed head of the Public Works Administration (PWA), the agency tasked with alleviating the housing shortage and creating new housing construction jobs, created the “neighborhood composition rule.” This rule mandated that new housing projects must reflect the existing racial composition of the neighborhood in which they were located. New projects in predominately white communities could only house white tenants, those in African American communities could house only African American tenants, and projects in existing integrated communities could house either. See  Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: a Forgotten History of how our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017), 18-20, 39-40. See also Kendi, 337.

2  Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning (New York: Nation Books, 2016): 54, 68. Kendi records, “By the early eighteenth century, every Virginian county had a militia of landless Whites ‘ready in case of any sudden eruption of Indians or insurrection of Negroes.’ Poor Whites had risen into their lowly place in slave society—the armed defenders of planters.” (54)

3 Culture can be understood as “a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols” or “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.” See  Clifford Gertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1973), 89. Culture is an always changing, always moving stream of interaction of beliefs and practices between people. It is a way of life that precedes us, exists long after us, and while we are living, involves and shapes us through its embedded narratives, language, rituals and conventional norms—a cultural system. Sociologists Peter Berger suggest that the formation of cultural systems can be understood in three-step process: externalization, institutionalization and internalization. The cultural system formation process starts with externalization, which begins when individuals come together to form a community. Each individual contributes a set of implicit and explicit values, life experiences, and expectations to the larger group. Over time, a collective group identity forms, whether subconsciously or consciously. Institutionalization, the next step in the cultural formation process, occurs once group identity develops into a mutually shared set of values and expectations that create an interplay between discourse, habitualization, and boundaried social practices. As part of the institutionalization process, the group builds collective memories upon shared experiences, stories, definitions, languages, and expectations, and it constructs plausibility structures to produce a communal narrative based upon conscious norms, rituals, and explicit behaviors. The group also begins to forge trusting interpersonal relationships, resulting in social capital. At this point, the cultural system takes on a life of its own, having the potential to evolve beyond the original set of values and expectations and multiply into new movements and mechanisms. Finally, the last step in the process – internalization – happens when the institution has the capacity to influence those who are a part of the community. The plausibility structures that establish ways of being and doing life within the community get habitualized into a politic—a governed way of life. At this point, a communal narrative is formed that possesses a certain amount of power and authority over the life of each member. The created system is now the basis for the orientation of each individual member’s identity, producing a script by which the members live and understand reality, including the ongoing formation of ideas and beliefs. Ideas and beliefs relate to reality in two ways: either as the facts of reality or as a reaction to reality. When ideas and beliefs take on more of the characteristics of the latter, emotions like hate, anxiety, fear or desire can easily influence the ideas and beliefs to generate a distorted psychology of ideological thought. Therefore, ideology can be understood as being socially determined and primarily influenced by perceived antagonisms that arise from civic life. When a preferred way of life is threatened, ideological thought is formed in response to serve as a “mask or weapon” in the struggle for advantage and power or as a “symptom and remedy” to correct and stabilize an unstable cultural system. See Robert C. Linthicum states, “It is widely suggested that the systems that order the life of a city are economic, political, and religious.” City of God: City of Satan: A Biblical Theology of the Urban Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), p 47. See also  Peter Berger, The Scared Canopy: Elements of A Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Random House, 1967), 4-19. For a more detailed examination of Berger’s proposal, see Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (New York: Random House, 1966) and James S. Coleman, “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital,” American Journal of Sociology Vol. 94, Supplement: Organizations and Institutions: Sociological and Economic Approaches to the Analysis of Social Structure (1988), pp. S95-S120.

UPDATED May 31 to add what this Timeline of Protests from The Root.

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Tears Have a Way of Washing the Blindness from Our Eyes

Oscar Romero said, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

I think I know what he means. 

Tuesday night my son cried over George Floyd. He cried over the Ahmaud Arbery. 

I told him it was okay to weep. I told him that after weeping he needs to pray. Then, I told him he will need to be ready to do the work of being faithful to God and call injustice what it is. I told him, “I need you to know these stories son, because I need you to know what white supremacy looks like when you see it.”

Every time Ian cries the blindness is washed from his eyes. That’s what I think Oscar Romero means.

There is a time for crying and praying. But there is a time for speaking and working, advocating and dismantling. For Christians I think it is a time to reckon with the fact that when Jesus liberated the cosmos from the reign of sin and death he also meant the liberation from the principalities and powers, systems and structures that perpetuate it. Feeling the weight of concern about a person’s pressed-down soul while not feeling the weight of concern about the dehumanizing realities surrounding a person’s pressed-down body is to proclaim a disembodied, unattached gospel. 

It is the same gospel William Perkins (1558–1602), a Cambridge professor who garnered great influence in British Puritanism, wrote in his published text Ordering a Familie, “Though the servant in regard of faith and the inner man be equal to his master, in regard of the outward man . . . the mast is above the servant.”1 He believed that Africans and other dark-skinned people have equal souls but unequal bodies, an important (albeit abhorrent) distinction that he used to defend the master/slave relationship as being mutually beneficial.

Perkins got his gospel from somewhere too, but that’s too much to share here. Just know that it is the same gospel handed down to other Puritan preachers like John Cotton (1585–1652) and Richard Mather (1596–1669), grandfather to Cotton Mather, who would carry Perkins’ human anthropology onward, using it to justify the evangelization of Africans without challenging the morality of slavery.2 This and other theological frameworks (The Curse [of Ham] Theory, etc) set the standard by which the Christian gospel was taught throughout the colonies extending to today.3

What is left is a gospel concerned about souls, but not bodies. It results in a white-washed gospel (framed in the Middle Ages) that results in a disembodied gospel and discipleship disinterested in what is just and aligns with the practical neighbor-to-neighbor implications of the gospel. It allows us to twist what it means to love neighbors as ourselves because bodies aren’t really a part of ‘self.’ Whatever happens on earth is a temporal earthly affair, so let’s just focus on ‘the things of heaven’ and get on with it. Never mind the justice of God that rolls down like an unfailing stream from heaven. We preach boldly and work hard to free a man’s soul while holding down his body with our knees pressed into his neck. And many can’t see it.

So I told my son that it is good to cry. It is good to pray. But it is also good to put our feet and hands to our prayers and with clear eyes, do the work of justice. Because as Christians our gospel summons us to it.

1 Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning (New York: Nation Books, 2016), 33.

2 Kendi, 33. See also Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 22-23.

3 Benjamin Braude, “The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and Geographical Identities in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, “William and Mary Quarterly LIV (January 1997):103 – 142. Bernard Lewis and William McKee Evans argue that the curse of Ham from Genesis 9;18-28, also known as the Curse Theory, placed his descendants to perpetual bondage because of his treatment of Noah in Genesis was a belief held by Islamic peoples and influenced Christianity’s readings of the text. Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, (New York 1990), 44-45, 55; William McKee Evans, “From the Land of Canaan to the Land of Guinea,” American Historical Review 85 (1980): 15-43. It must also be noted that a few medieval Muslim writers such as Ibn Khaldun and Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, proposed the view that Noah’s curse on Ham’s descendants included blackness and slavery. There are some who propose that the Jewish tradition lays the foundation for such a view, namely in the Talmud and Midrash. However, David H. Aaron argues that this is unfounded as no significant documentation has been presented to verify such claim. See also s work, “Early Rabbinic Exegesis on Noah’s Son Ham and the So-Called ‘Hamitic Myth’.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63, no. 4 (1995): 721-59. The Hamitic Curse appears to be either of Islamic (Asian) or Christian (European) origin. The Curse Theory, had long been an accepted theological frame from which black-skinned people were seen. Eutychius, an Alexandrian Melkite patriarch, (d. 940) wrote, “Cursed be Ham and may he be a servant to his brothers… He himself and his descendants, who are the Egyptians, the Negroes, the Ethiopians and (it is said) the Barbari.” See Patrologiae Cursus Completus Graeca, ed. J.P. Migne (Paris, 1857 –66), Pococke‘s (1658–59) translation of the Annales, 111.917B (sec. 41-43)7) Ishodad of Merv, the Syrian Christian bishop of Hedhatha, (9th century) says, “When Noah cursed Canaan—instantly, by the force of the curse. . .his face and entire body became black [ukmotha]. This is the black color which has persisted in his descendants.” See C. Van Den Eynde, Corpus scriptorium Christianorum orientalium 156, Scriptores Syri 75(Louvain, 1955), p. 139. Ibn al-Tayyib, an Arabic Christian scholar, Baghdad, (d. 1043) asserts, “The curse of Noah affected the posterity of Canaan who were killed by Joshua son of Nun. At the moment of the curse, Canaan‘s body became black and the blackness spread out among them.” See Joannes C.J. Sanders, Commentaire sur la Genèse, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium274-275, Scriptores Arabici 24-25 (Louvain, 1967), 1:56 (text), 2:52-55 (translation). Bar Hebraeus, a Syrian Christian scholar, (1226–86) writes, “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and showed [it] to his two brothers, That is…that Canaan was cursed and not Ham, and with the very curse he became black and the blackness was transmitted to his descendants… And he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’” See Sprengling and Graham, Barhebraeus‘ Scholia on the Old Testament, pp. 40 – 41, to Gen 9:22. It became used as a justification for serfdom during the medieval era. Honorius Augustodunensis (c. 1100) was the first on record to propose a caste system associating Ham with serfdom. He wrote that serfs were descended from Ham, nobles from Japheth, and free men from Shem. This became widely promoted in Europe. At the height of the medieval era, it was a significant trend to interpret Genesis that the serfs were also the descendants of Ham were serfs. As serfdom began to decrease the interpretation that serfs were descendants of Ham did as well. But it paved the way for further interpretation.

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