Racism alive and well in the age of Trump

I’m Re blogging a post from June of 2015. Well before the age of this man who has rekindled our nativism, our fear and the racism that never goes away. It never goes away because it continues to lurk just below the surface of each of us who are white. Many will disagree vehemently with that statement, but the truth is there for all. The law enforcers who treat blacks differently and throw them onto the ground or shoot an unarmed black man on a cell phone. The members of a golf course who call the police when they see two black women on the course. Turns out the women were members, merely on a walk on the course. Then there is the white college student who sees a black young woman who is asleep in the lounge of the dorm. She calls campus security and they find out the black woman was also a student. It happens every day in the lives of people of color. It is demeaning on so many levels, for as we are now being given permission to be racists from the highest office in the land, we merely have to scratch it a little and it comes spewing forth from inside our fearful selves. It, of course, demeans the person of color who has to go through it and it demeans us who inflict our racism on others for it is not what we are created to be.

I as I did in June of 2015 I repost again for yes it’s still true and I am a racist.

“John, look at how you are sitting? What are you doing?” It was with those words that I was prophetically told that I was indeed a racist, someone who was from the dominant culture and power structure was suddenly thrust into a world that I didn’t expect to see. Let me give you a bit of context. The place was a bar, see Bob Ahern I do have these incredible bar experiences, it was in Queens, New York and it was the day before I was to get onto a plane and fly to South Africa. I should tell you it was 1985. I was part of a mission trip to that troubled land to gain information, travel the country and see for ourselves what the dominant white culture was doing to the blacks in their own country, it was to be a time when we came back and tried to galvanize a country that was being led by a conservative president who liked doing business with South Africa.

That night I was filled with my own sense of purpose and feeling pretty good about myself. Just three years out of seminary, newly elected leader of a World Mission Committee for the Eastern District, American Lutheran Church, I was proud to be going, proud to soon to able to say, “I have seen oppression and we need to speak out against it.” I had all the marks of white privilege and sadly didn’t even know it.

I was blessed that night though. I was enlightened that, while it was a good thing to be going to South Africa. It was, more important to find out what I was, rather than tell others about what I was going to experience. You see, my good friend, Pastor Stephen Marsh, who was and still is an African-American pastor in the ELCA, then LCA, was with me this night. He took me out to that bar, something we had done many times before in Columbus, Ohio at Seminary. Most of the time we went to places in German Village or some place near the Seminary, the Leipzig House was one I remember. We went there with a mixed crowd, well mixed in that Steve was there and probably one of one or two African-American classmates were also in the crowd. This time it would be different, this place of good liquid refreshment was in a neighborhood that Steve served so well at that time. I suddenly realized that I was the only white person in the bar, which should have been okay, but it wasn’t. It  seems that I was the one who suddenly felt more than a little uncomfortable. Steve could see it and he called me out and said the words printed above. Why? Well, because I was sitting there straight-backed against a wall, facing all those other people, not with open arms welcoming conversation and getting to know some people Steve knew, but with my arms tightly folded against my body. It was then that my eyes were opened and I knew it was true. I only had played at being enlightened, but actually was just hiding my true self too well.

So I discovered that night, thanks to Steve, that I am a racist. Now perhaps you might say I am being hard on myself since I had named my sin and confessed it as you will. But I don’t think so. I believe it still hangs with me. The events of the past few weeks have moved me to think again, to confess again, to acknowledge again that I still participate in that white privileged culture. I am and always will be a racist. I won’t be burning any churches down or calling for repeal of affirmative action programs, but I still am one. If I don’t examine myself and my motives often I suspect I will always be finding excuses for my occasional uncomfortable feelings when I am in the minority.

You see for me I was more than just uncomfortable that night, I was afraid. I who was filled with the indignation of a middle class white male at what South Africa was doing to their blacks that I didn’t know we were and still are doing it to our African-American brothers and sisters in this country and I was part of the doing of it too. Fear does that to us, doesn’t it. It makes us circle the wagons, in this case encircle my arms, to try and be safe at any cost. My luck and blessing that night was I was with someone who called me to a better understanding of who I was, a more honest understanding of myself.

When Steve and I and our friends would go out in Columbus, I never detected any of that from him. He never had his arms folded, stiff backed against a wall. He found a way to adapt, to be a part of, to accept his own differences from us and us from him. He who has every right to be afraid of white people did not give into fear. He chose love instead. It was out of love that he spoke to me that night. He was and is the better human being than I am. I thank him for his courage and honesty even after all these years.

I am glad I went to South Africa that year, I even got to meet Bishop Desmond Tutu while there, I talked to him and received communion from this joyous man. I was able to tell two white Americans, who if they weren’t CIA they were something even more secret, that they were, wrong for advocating more not less constructive engagement, actually I said, after they had made their pitch. “I grew up in a small town in Washington State and where I come from we call what you just said as Bull Shit!”  I am most glad though that I went into that bar with Steve before I had even left and experienced the power of a prophetic and spirit filled word that continues to be with me now 20 years later.

Yes I am a racist and I daily ask God to transform me from being a fearful, white privileged older male to something brand new, someone who truly does believe and act like all are welcome. I believe God sent Steve into my life so that I could continue to wrestle with the Lord. I need those voices and memories more than I would like to admit, but am glad they are there still.


Allegiance Pledging

Good thoughts.

Take Off Your Shoes

The Pledge of Allegiance has been in the news a lot lately. People are arguing over whether or not the Democrats are being disrespectful by not reciting the pledge in session, or whether they are simply exercising their rights. Students have been reprimanded for not reciting it; other students are told they need not recite it, but they do need to stand.

Frances Bellamy, the ordained minister who originally wrote the pledge in 1892, did not include the words “Under God” in the original, and at that time, the posture children were taught to use when they recited it looked like the photo at the top of this post. Fortunately, that posture was soon abandoned for today’s more humble stance, standing, hand over one’s heart.

Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance hoping it would be recited by students in any country, which is why the original read, “I pledge allegiance…

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Justice & Joy

A wonderful sermon that is filled with peace and joy and courage from all who took part in this day of great joy!

Take Off Your Shoes

(Sermon from Nov. 19, 2017, King of Kings Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan)

The headwaiter called the groom 10 and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.” –John 2, The Wedding at Cana, Common English Bible

New Things. New Beginnings. A New way to express who we are, as we work together through changes that have come upon us as if in a wind-tunnel. The news in our lives as a community, as a country and individually have come on so hard and fast in the last year that at times, it takes our breath away. Every day it seems we have to accommodate something new. We even have a name for this phenomenon: the New Normal.

We have new people with us today. We did not have long to anticipate…

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Hijacking Trumped

Some valid points from a friend. Thanks for your continued courage Marie.

Take Off Your Shoes

I was reading a story from the BBC News, about the unholy alliance between the United States President and “Evangelicals.” You can read the storyhere.If I was not a member of a mainstream Protestant church, or if I had not ever been introduced to the concept of Evangelical, I might avoid anyone who links that word to their faith.

Evangelical comes from the Greek word meaning “Good News.” It was originally used to describe the act of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed; in writing and in speaking; in working for justice, in serving one another in the way that Jesus modeled while walking the earth.

As a pastor in the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America], one of the largest Christian denominations, with about 4 million members across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it is deeply disturbing toread…

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Living through now

Take Off Your Shoes

A therapist I know told me last week that THE distinctive feature of stress in the United States right now, the thing she has not seen in her many years of practice, is the way the results of the 2016 election have divided families, friendships, and marriages. She said, “we have lived through tough times before. Many of them. Many equally if not more difficult than this time. What we haven’t seen before is the pain being so great that it divides relationships, even in families, across the entire country.

I’ve thought about this a lot. It hits quite close to home for me. And I think if I had to distill the sense that I feel and that others seem to lament it is a constant feeling of Betrayal.

When one sees the current administration in Washington as not just incompetent, but frighteningly vengeful, angry, and irrational. Also impulsive…

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“She Persisted!”

The following is from my sermon today. It felt that it had to be said, for if the Canaanite woman could persist so shall we all.

Jesus is in the middle of a profound conversation with people who are trying to get their heads around what can defile us, what causes us to sin? Is it an outward thing or an inward thing? He is no doubt having a back and forth with the Pharisee’s who have followed him out of Jewish territory into Gentile territory to have this conversation. What matters for Jesus is what is in the heart, which makes all the difference in the world.

Then there comes a voice, a shouting voice from beyond the crowds, it is a desperate voice, a woman’s voice that is echoing around them all now. She is insistent on being heard and she has no other alternative, no other choice but to raise her voice up in despair and some slim reason to hope for a chance for life, not her life though. No, she comes on behalf of another, she comes because her daughter is sick beyond describing and this unnamed and unknown Canaanite woman needs help from this Jewish healer who has come into her territory and she like all mothers will try anything on behalf of their children. People are becoming aware of the voice. It is getting closer and closer and louder and louder, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Then it gets even louder, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” Now the disciples are upset, they have been through enough already, can’t he just get rid of this woman who has no claim on Jesus, no right to ask for help, for she is not only not Jewish and a gentile, she is descended from the people who have lived in that land for longer than the Israelites! Please, the disciples say, just send her away, get rid of her!

And here is where it all goes off the rails, we expect Jesus to react the way he always has, he will heal her daughter right away. He will do it and say some pithy thing that they and we don’t get and have to ask about later when they won’t look so stupid. Yet, Jesus doesn’t do that at all. In fact his behavior is difficult and hard for us to understand, we will contort ourselves into some weird ideas about he is just pretending, he already knew he was going to heal her. But the text doesn’t say that. He basically parrots back good orthodox 1st century Jewish thought about Gentiles. They were dogs. Not cute dogs that you hold in your lap, but dogs that are wild and dangerous. Jesus isn’t going to do anything to help.

But, this woman will not stop. She will continue to push and shove and ask for justice, ask for healing of not herself, but her little girl. She like so many other women who are desperate just kept coming and coming and she just persisted, yes she persisted and would not stop. It is then that his world changed. He has his universe expand as you will. He sees at this point that his message isn’t just for the lost sheep of Israel. It is for the whole world. Jesus comes to a new understanding of his own words, words like love your enemy, pray for them and those who persecute you. He remembers that all are created in the image of God.

This is true of us and Jesus as we live in our world today. According to a guy by the name of Einstein the universe is expanding, this has been confirmed by the telescopes and other devices we have placed into space. What we are finding out is that it is ever expanding and that means that it is getting bigger and bigger.

I think that is what happened to Jesus at this point. His universe expanded, he learned something new from this desperate woman. And so he acts, so he heals because she persisted! Jesus changes his mind. Just like God does throughout the Hebrew Bible, in Exodus and in Isiah we hear the stories of God changing. This is what is happening to Jesus. God is in partnership with God’s creation. Otherwise why would we pray? He wants to hear from us and he is affected by us and us by him. He is trying to lead us to a new understanding here.

Jesus changes his mind, for to not do so would have meant he was just like those Pharisee’s who had followed him, unwilling or unable at this time to change. The rules were set, you had to follow them outwardly for sure, but what about the outsider, what about the foreigners, and didn’t God care for them? Jesus really wouldn’t be worth following if he didn’t come to understand this persistent woman.

This story reminds us of two very important things that are woven together in the scriptures, love and justice. Our first lesson is absolutely clear on it. Jesus is also very clear on it too in his parables and his encounters with people. Love and Justice are for all people. And it is time to say to this country that this is where it is at! No more excuses, no more saying, “why can’t they get over it?” No more division of the races from Jewish to Canaanite to Gentile to White Americans against Black Americans. The racist crap has to die. We have to come to grips with it. The events in Charlottesville demand a response from the church. Our elected leaders need to hear that there is no false equivalency between one side and the other.

My father enlisted in the army in 1942, he was of German descent, but he went off to fight his cousins who were being led by the Nazis. Luckily he never had to fire his gun at another human being, but many of his friends did, many of the men I knew growing up went out knowing that what they were fighting against was evil pure and simple. If you think there are sides in this discussion then you have already decided that you are on the wrong side. 

Amos says; let justice roll like the mighty waters of a rushing steam. Yes, justice for those who have suffered under a system that was built upon the backs of slaves, free labor, upon the share croppers who never could get out of the debt to their plantation owners, Jim Crow laws that kept them from voting, schools that were segregated and still are in terms of resources. Yes it is time to get a voice. It is time to hear the cries for love and justice. It is time for people like you and me to get our voices up along with our arms and our legs too. It is time to repent!

It is time for us to expand our universe. It is time for us to hear the pleas of our fellow human beings. They came here not with hope, but in chains. Their chains, their demons, have been with them now for 400 years. We enslaved, tortured, Jim Crowed, terrorized, ghettoized and dismissed them for too long. For too long we have had to add names to the list of those killed for the rights of others. I don’t want to add any more. I want Heather Heyer the 32 year old woman who was killed by those Nazis and White Supremacists to be the last one who has to die. I want us to hear the cries of that persistent woman, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!”

Our understanding of God’s love has expanded so much in the years of my ministry. We are now a church that believes in inclusion for all. We are a church who has said yes to the refugees, we have said yes to those people of color, we have ordained women and now LGBTQ can also serve God in this church. We are a church that can grow in our own understanding of what has been done to people of color in this country. We understand that slavery and the continued human bondage after the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement was deeply sinful. We understand that it continues to be our sin, our Original Sin. We as the ELCA have stepped up, there were Lutherans standing in Charlottesville and they were standing across from men dressed in combat gear along with loaded guns that spat at them and derided them, just as Jesus was spat upon on the way to the cross. What happened to Heather Heyer could have happened to them. They sang “This Little Light of Mine,” along with Christians of many denominations, Hindus and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. They stood singing as hate was rained down upon them. They were lifting up a prayer, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” They persisted! Now it is our turn, so I ask you, will you stand for love and justice? Will you stand up for what is right? Will you persist?






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From Millionaire to Medicaid

A friend from Holden posted this. Food for thought for our country.

Every New Season

SCAN0004 With official escort, John (in wheelchair under the red shade umbrella) leads a parade across the mile-long Grand Coulee Dam spillway

If my late husband could’ve written his memoir, the title might have been “From Millionaire to Medicaid in One Not-so-easy Stroke.” Some twenty percent of U.S. citizens access health care through Medicaid, the government program for the elderly, disabled and poor. John certainly never expected to be one of them. He was a successful, small-town newspaper publisher when he was paralyzed by a brain stem stroke at age 61. Diagnosed with “Locked-In Syndrome,” John’s fully functioning brain was locked inside a body that could not move, speak or eat.

He required skilled and vigilant care 24/7. He was fed through a stomach tube. A tracheotomy tube protected his airways. He communicated by blinking his eyes, using a simple alphabet code. We were determined that he would live at home…

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