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racism

Social Issues

stomping on eggshells: on white fragility and speaking up

It’s been two weeks since the election, and I’ve been struggling to find something to say. Somehow life has to keep moving, we have to keep going … but it’s difficult to come here and continue reviewing Redeeming Love when it feels like the entire world is going up in flames. On the other hand I don’t want to continue re-iterating what you’re likely seeing through the rest of your social media/blogging channels, and as important as it is for us to be aware of the steps Trump is taking, I don’t want to merely add to the noise.

I went to a march and protest in DC the Saturday after the election. We started at a candlelight vigil, singing 70s-era protest songs and “Hallelujah,” and it was amazing to be with thousands of people who were grieving as much as I was. Then, thousands more of us marched to the Trump hotel– the one he’s asking foreign dignitaries and diplomats to stay in when they come to Washington– and shouted “Islamaphobia is not America” and “My Body My Choice” and “Black Lives Matter.” That whole experience was cathartic, and I plan on taking more actions in the future as they are necessary. I also attended the local county meeting of the Democratic party last night, and I’m going to become involved with organizing on that level. I can’t sit on my hands and watch the world burn. I encourage all of you to take whatever action you can, whatever it is.

Which brings me to the topic of today, which is part criticism, part education, and part encouragement for my fellow social justice advocates and progressives. In speaking with people over the past two weeks about ways to get involved and stand up for vulnerable people– especially Muslims and people of color– I’ve been seeing a common theme. It’s certainly not new, and it’s something I’ve struggled with until relatively recently. People with privilege– white, straight, male, Christian, etc– frequently want to do what’s right, but they feel like they’re “walking on eggshells.” They want to be an ally, but they don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Many of us feel anxiety or nervousness about racial issues in particular.

I would like to gently and lovingly and directly say that this feeling of “walking on eggshells” is based in a lie, and one we believe because our privilege has made us incredibly arrogant. I don’t say this to be mean or harsh, but because I believe it’s the truth, and one I had to learn for myself sometimes painfully.

To be bluntly honest, I started this blog because I was bored. I’m fortunate now to have a job that only asks me to work twice a week, but three years ago I didn’t have that. I was stuck at home, working on periodic freelance editing contracts and watching TV the rest of the time. After a few months I started writing a blog … and now I’m here. I’m an activist, a professional writer, I’ve been interviewed for multiple BBC radio shows, for the Washington Post and Marie Claire, gave a talk at the Gay Christian Network, and now I’m being published at major feminist websites and helping to organize state politics.

I didn’t intend to become a feminist activist. I almost literally stumbled into it on accident because I started talking about my personal experiences with fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism… and now I’m considered an expert in my field. It’s weird, and mind-boggling. Coming to this the way I did meant that there were more than a few rough patches. I had no choice but to learn as I went, and it was not always sunshine and rainbows.

For a long time I was so incredibly nervous about messing it all up. When you’re first thrown into social justice, it can be incredibly overwhelming. It’s so hard to catch up and learn all the ropes. Is it trans or trans*? African-American or black? What is a polite way to engage with a hypervisible black woman on twitter? How do I find resources? How can I figure out who’s credible and who isn’t? It’s a lot.

Getting started did make me feel like I was walking around on eggshells. When there is that much to try to absorb all at once, how do you even begin without being afraid you’re going to make a mistake?

Here’s where the lie and the arrogance come in: we think it’s possible to avoid making mistakes.

I believed for a long time that I could do enough research and get enough education and listen hard enough to the right people for long enough and that would mean I was ready to be a “social justice warrior” and work for all the causes I believed in. If I worked hard enough at it, I could say everything I wanted to say without any blunders or missteps. I wanted to be a good ally. I wanted to be a part of Jesus’ mission to liberate the oppressed and set the captive free, and I certainly didn’t want to hurt anyone while doing it.

I was so incredibly arrogant to think that was even remotely possible. I was blind to just how much my whiteness could affect me– that my whiteness would affect me. And not only did I believe the arrogant lie that a white person could avoid making any mistakes when talking about racial justice, I was also prioritizing my own fear over doing what was right. I was terrified of being “called out” if I did or said something wrong … so, sometimes, I didn’t do anything. Instead of speaking up, I’d let my anxiety about screwing up keep me silent.

That was my white privilege in action… or inaction, really.

We can’t let our pride get in the way of taking steps, of using our voice and our privilege on the behalf of the oppressed. We have to be humble enough to know that we will fuck up. It is inevitable. We will say something racist. We will say something homophobic, or transphobic, or biphobic, or sexist. We have to be willing to speak up anyway, but we have to do so while practicing humility and listening. It would be just as wrong to let our fervor carry us away from the marginalized we’re supposed to be fighting for, which has happened time and time again in progressive circles. We can’t shield ourselves from criticism– either through saying nothing, or refusing to see when we said something wrong.

I think what this all comes down to is that I’m asking us to be bold. To set aside our white fragility and get to necessary work of fighting for justice and equality for everyone– even when we’re uncomfortable, even when we make mistakes.

Photo by Jorge Andrade
Theology

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, revised

[content note: violence, racism, transphobia, misogyny]

There was once a young black man, traveling alone. It had been a long, hot, grueling day and he was eager to be home. As the hour grew late he decided to take a shortcut home through a neighborhood. There, he saw a group of men armed with clubs and guns, and he felt his heart begin to race. He told himself to stay calm, to look respectful. It didn’t do any good. He saw them start to run toward him– he put his arms in the air, but when they didn’t stop, he threw himself on the ground and prayed.

No one answered his prayer as they viciously beat him. No one came when he felt his bones begin to snap. Finally, they left him alone, in the middle of the road, and spread tape around his prone, dying body.

POLICE LINE — DO NOT CROSS, it said.

He could hear voices as people began to gather, could hear them over the pounding in his ears as his heart struggled to beat.

“He does have a wide nose. You can see it, plain as day.”

“Probably stole those skittles, anyway.”

“I heard he stands on the corner and sells cigarettes.”

“Actually, I heard it was CDs.”

He could feel their stares. He could feel it when they crossed to the other side of the street to pass by him.

***

There was once a trans woman trying to move through her day without attracting any attention. She hadn’t eaten anything, or had anything to drink, since she’d left her house that morning but it had been long enough where that didn’t matter. She had to stop at the grocery store, there wasn’t anything left to cook for her family that night, but her bladder was about to burst. She stared at the door to the ladies room, nervous but trying not to be. Finally, taking a breath and bracing herself, she slipped into the bathroom and hurried into the closest stall, heedless to how clean it was or if the toilet was clogged.

She didn’t notice the man watching her enter the bathroom. Didn’t see his hands clench into fists, or rage spark in his eyes.

Exiting the stall, she kept her eyes down and her body as small as she could make it. As she reached for the towel to dry her hands, an arm stopped her. Terrified, her stomach dropping into her feet, she met his eyes in the mirror. It was the last thing she saw before he started beating her.

Minutes later, she realized she was on the floor. Everything hurt, but she could hear voices.

“I tried to tell you about those predators.”

“It’s so sick. Gender confusion is ruining our culture.”

“Pervert. Rapist.”

What hurt even worse was the silence as they left her behind, bleeding and broken.

***

There was once a woman at a college party. It was the biggest kegger of the year, and she was out to enjoy the night with her friends– the last night she’d probably get to spend with most of them. After this it was graduation and job searching and moving away and adulthood. She didn’t want to think about it. Tonight she wanted to be carefree one last time.

She spent the night on the dance floor, had a couple drinks. After a few hours she settled onto a couch between two of her friends, but wanted one more beer before calling it a night. As she was about to get up to get it, one of her best friends offered to get it for her. Grateful, since she was tired from dancing and her shoes were killing her, she handed him her cup.

A little while later, she started feeling awful. Maybe three had been too much– but that didn’t seem right. She didn’t normally get this drunk off just three beers. Dizzy and sick, she turned to her best friend and asked him to take her home.

She doesn’t remember anything after that when she wakes up. Nauseated, she can taste bile. Slowly she realizes she’s freezing. Her dress is torn to pieces and with a horrified shock she realizes her panties are gone. What in the world happened to me? Opening her eyes, she nearly shrieks at the cockroach on the ground next to her face. Why am I behind a dumpster?

That’s when she hears the voices.

Slut. Whore.”

“He has such a bright future ahead of him.”

“Did you hear he was a swimmer?”

“Wait. Isn’t he on the football team?”

“At any rate, she shouldn’t have been drinking. What did she expect would happen?”

Each word is a knife in her heart. The sound that sinks the deepest, into her bones, is the sound of them leaving.

***

But the people who we see as a Samaritan– Syrian refugees. The #BlackLivesMatter movement. Gay Pride. Trans men and women.– the people we despise, the people who make us uncomfortable, who disrupt our otherwise “pleasant society” … as they travel, they come to where the black man lies in the road, where the trans woman is crumpled up in a bathroom, where a woman lies torn and bleeding behind a dumpster, and their hearts are stirred to compassion.

They bandage their wounds, they offer their help. They give them shelter, a space to heal and to be safe.

Jesus turns to us and asks “Which of these was a neighbor?”

The expert in the law, a man who has dozens of Bible verses at his fingertips, who goes to church every Sunday, who tithes from every paycheck and serves in the bus ministry, replies: “The ones who had mercy, who were kind.”

With a prayer that we will finally, finally, understand, Jesus whispers “Go and do thou likewise.”

Artwork by Jan Wignants
Social Issues

what I’ve been into: spring 2016 edition

I’m coming down with some sort of stomach bug today, so I’m doing a fluffy post. Back on Defeating the Dragons, I used a few WordPress plugin features that let me feature blogs and articles I found interesting, but I don’t have access to those plugins anymore and I haven’t found a replacement I like yet. So I’ll hit you up with some of the things I’ve found interesting and helpful recently — and, importantly, if you could let me know if you’ve seen most or all of it already. That way I know whether linking y’all to things is helpful or just a waste of time.

Books

Fiction

I haven’t been doing that much fiction reading lately, but I wanted to talk about one I just finished. I’ve been reading through the Honor Harrington series –there’s a huge galaxy of characters, so Weber has written a few spin-offs from the main series, and Crown of Slaves is, so far, the best of those that I’ve read.

One thing about Crown of Slaves: I wasn’t initially interested in reading it because my favorite thing about the Honor Harrington books is that they’re about an amazing woman. The back cover for Crown of Slaves only mentions three men, leading one to think those are the main characters. They’re not. Zilwicki’s character disappears a few chapters in, Victor Cachet’s storyline is really about his love interest, not him (and it’s told largely through her POV), and Jeremy X (yes, a reference to Malcolm X) doesn’t even show up until the last few pages.

The book is really about Berry Zilwicki, Ruth Winton, and Thandi Palane– all women. There’s so many women in this book it’s amazing. Berry’s character is especially interesting because it takes things that are stereotypically feminine and makes them incredibly powerful for the plot of the book. The one downside is that Crown of Slaves introduces the first LGBT character I’ve seen in the Honorverse– a bisexual woman– and she’s … ugh. She’s awful. Shallow and manipulative and greedy and and blah. Not the villain, thank God, but still.

Non-Fiction

I’ve mentioned this a few times, but my small group is reading Mark, and the parables have been giving us some trouble. Not reading them the same way we’ve always read them and interpreting the same way … well, it’s like being in a rut. So, of course, my solution was books.

Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi is written by Amy-Jill Levine, who is a Jewish woman and an expert scholar in New Testament studies. I cannot overstate how important a Judaic understanding of the Bible has helped me immensely in my faith– both in trying to understand the culture biblical writers were speaking from, and in seeing this sacred book as something human as well as divine.

Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary by Marcus Borg. Apparently Borg is a big name in progressive Christianity, but I’m actually fairly new to that sphere so this is the first book I’ve read by him. Bart Ehrman in Jesus, Interrupted challenged me quite a bit by asking me to see Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet which … both reframes and recolors the way you read Jesus’ teachings. I’d never thought of Jesus as a political figure until I encountered Ehrman and Borg, and that’s been an interesting journey.

Articles

What I Learned From Dating Women Who Have Been Raped” by Emma Lindsay is an excellent discussion of sexual coercion. Best quote:

A man wants gratification at my expense, but he tries to convince me that he cares about me so I won’t bail. He sees that I am suffering, I know he sees that I am suffering, but if we talk about it he will pretend he didn’t know. He will keep up the pretense that I matter to him so I will not cut off his access to my body.

The Sugar Sphinx” by Hilton Als. I read this when it came out two years ago, but I return to it occasionally because it is just such a good examination of the continued oppression black people face.

Do Multicultural Churches Reinforce Racism?” by Daniel José Camacho. Salient quote:

Astonishingly, multicultural churches have been better at making people of color approximate white attitudes and perspectives on race than challenging Whiteness itself … Like popular reconciliation paradigms, multicultural paradigms mistake racial separation and lack of diversity as the heart of racism when these, in fact, are symptoms.

Against Humanism” by Megan Garber, is the best breakdown I’ve read of why using “humanist” or “egalitarian” instead of Feminist is a problem.

Against Selflessness” by Ozy at Thing of Things. This post was the background to my thinking on abnegation in my review of I Kissed Dating Goodbye on Monday. Also, Thing of Things is a really, really interesting blog.

Trump is Gaslighting America” by Nicole Hemmer. I read this piece the day after I’d argued that Trump’s behavior is a lot like an abuser’s and got called “ridiculous” and told I was “over-reacting.” So, that was very validating.

Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem” at Latining. She is specifically a tabletop gamer, but I think this discussion can (and should) be more broadly applied to geek and gaming cultures in general.

I’m Not Your Token” by Toni Bell. Salient quote:

As I’ve worked to dismantle my own internalized racism and the ways that I privilege whiteness, I’ve learned to resist being “othered” through the use of language. So when someone says, “Oh, they did that to you because you’re black,” I quickly correct them with, “No, they did that because they are bigots.” This often shocks people. I can see the panic in their eyes. Sometimes, their eyes dart about. If there are lot of people, they may get quiet.

TV

The second season of Daredevil was utterly magnificent. The combination of gothic elements, religious imagery and themes, and comic book superheroes is my jam. It was more gruesome than the first season, but not too much so– and unlike most gratuitous violence, the violence in Daredevil absolutely served the story’s purpose.

We’re also re-watching The West Wing, because politics this year suck. I’ve always been heavily invested in the political process– one of the things that hasn’t changed at all since becoming progressive/liberal– and this electoral cycle is driving me batty. I’ve been a voting adult for three presidential elections now and I know, factually, that it’s been at least as bad, perhaps worse, in our history– even recent history … but that doesn’t help. Because Trump. And Cruz. Ugh.

Anyway, Handsome termed The West Wing my “happy Democrat show” the first time we watched it, and I’m enjoying it even more the second time around. The first time, I identified strongly with Sam. This time, though … I’m totally Josh. So, if you’ve seen The West Wing, who do you think you’d be? If you haven’t seen The West Wing— what have you been doing with your life?

***

So, that’s me. What have you been watching and reading?

Photo by Brian Donovan
Social Issues

my sin is not just my own: systemic injustice and communal repentance

I didn’t understand repentance until I became a liberal.

I’d been raised a Christian, had heard sermons calling for me to repent of my sin every other week, but until I’d abandoned conservatism I never grasped the grotesque beauty and compelling horror of true repentance.

As a child and teenager I thought of repentance in strictly personal, and individual, terms– and mostly in the context of that first salvific event when I was eleven. I’d been really sorry for my sin, for all the times I’d gotten mad at my sister or disobeyed my parents, and that was that, honestly. Oh, I’d continue to be haunted for all the other sins I’d commit for the next fifteen years, but it was all so self-centered. There was some obligatory guilt about hurting people’s feelings, of course, but any time I “repented” it was to assure myself I wasn’t going to burn in hell because Jesus had already forgiven me, or I was trying to make sure I woudln’t be struck down when I took communion.

I viewed sin and repentance this way because individualism is at the heart of conservative evangelicalism. They have a personal relationship with Jesus, not a silly communal religion. They believe in personal responsibility. They eschew concepts like “it takes a village” and– where I grew up– heaped disdain on other cultures that prioritized community over the needs of the individual. This bleeds into the political of course, birthing ideas like “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and “the self-made man.”

This is one of the ways I believe that evangelicalism is culturally American more than it is culturally Christian. My country is thoroughly saturated by the notion that we individually contribute to societies, that we have individual rights and freedoms. Conversely, most of us believe to our core that things like racism, misogyny, and homophobia are individual problems. If someone cracks a racist joke, no one needs to bother correcting him, because being racist is his problem, not theirs.

Which is why I didn’t truly understand what repentance means until I became a liberal and started reading things by people like Audre Lorde and bell hooks. When I encountered “without justice there can be no love” and “without community there is no liberation,” it finally clicked. I am a member of a system. That system is built on white supremacy and misogyny, and it’s not self-perpetuating. It’s continued by us communally, subconsciously, unconsciously, and actively participating in it. It’s the water we swim in.

It’s hard fighting this current. But every moment when we’re not fighting it, when we let that joke or comment slide, or when we hold onto our purses just a little bit tighter, or when we frown in disapproval at the “urban” teenager … we embrace the whole abusive system that keeps us all in place. For many of us, that system is capable of giving us power when we capitulate to it. I could embrace ageism and start babbling about those entitled millennials who don’t have a decent work ethic– I’d be amply rewarded for it with articles in GQ. I could write long screeds against feminism and be hailed a hero on Return of the Kings. I could start lecturing on complementarianism and be welcomed by John Piper with open arms. I could send out a racist tweet and get “FINALLY someone says it” from a few hundred people.

That is what we have to repent of. We must “turn from evil, and turn to do good.” We must repent of our lust for power, control, stability, and earthly rewards. And, we must do it together. I can fight against systemic injustice individually– as we all should– but one voice crying in the wilderness can only accomplish so much.

All through the Old Testament the prophets called for Israel and Judah– as nations— to repent. The prophets profoundly understood something we’ve lost. They knew that while there are a few righteous men scattered about the countryside, sin is a matter of culture as much as it is a matter of the heart. Greed lives in the bellies of all of us, as does the desire to feel like we earned the power and position we have, that we have a right to it. The prophets knew better, and tried to tell us so. And Paul tried to tell us again:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts …

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus … For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do …

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

~from Ephesians 2 and 6

But, I think, that communal repentance might be too much for many of our churches. I could not even begin to imagine the pastor of my last traditional church leading us in a congregation-wide confession of our sins. We built and sustain the beast together, but saying the words:

“We confess the sin of racism and the hatred toward people of color we have created”

or

“We repent of the violence against women we have caused with our words, beliefs, and inaction”

… seems incomprehensible for any of the churches I’ve attended.

It shouldn’t be that way. Confession is good for the soul, and it shouldn’t be limited to a private accountability partner. Forgive us, for we have sinned should be a principle part of each service, and it should be accompanied by the public commitment to turn away from evil and toward doing good.

Artwork by Dani Kelley (<– pssst, you can buy today’s header on a shirt!)
Theology

“Radical” review: 61-84

Interestingly, David starts off this chapter with another horrifying story.

In it, he relates how a pastor of a church he was speaking at responded to his to ministry in inner-city New Orleans and impoverished areas overseas:

David, I think it’s great you are going to those places. But if you ask me, I would just as soon God annihilate all those people and send them to hell. (62)

On this one example, David and I are in complete agreement. I would say “what the fuck is this shit,” but David is considerably more indirect than I am. He simply says “Wow” (63). After that reaction, though, our views of the situation diverge … as one would probably expect at this point in my Radical review. David looks at this pastor’s antagonistic and violent attitude toward global missions and argues that every Christian is commanded by the Great Commission to be a global missionary, because it says “to all nations.”

I look at that pastor’s violent approach to inner city communities and developing nations as one drenched with white supremacy and an uncritical adoption of American imperialism, colonization, and exceptionalism, along with a core-deep belief in capitalism as a moral system.

The problem is, David shares some of those problems.

He sees Christianity as an American export.

This perspective is, depending, both right and wrong. David has inherited a view of Christianity that’s very much entrenched in the western European articulation of it. All of that is exacerbated by British and American missionary movements and the indelible affect they’ve had on how American Christianity views itself. I don’t know about your experience, but in mine there’s nothing more pious than reading missionary biographies.

What those biographies failed to convey to anyone I knew was that American and British missionary efforts frequently went hand-in-hand with colonization. Many missionaries were more focused on westernizing people than they were in converting them (Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is an excellent depiction of this that pissed me off the first time I read it, back when I was still a fundamentalist). There are echoes of that in other situations, too– America and Canada have a sordid past with essentially kidnapping First Nation children and abusively forcing our culture onto them. This oppressive act was frequently justified to white people as “Christianizing” them (for a horrifying look into that point of view, there’s Janette Oke’s Drums of Change).

In another sense, modern American evangelicals are still engaged in the same exact thing. If you’d like to know more about that, God Loves Uganda (which you can stream on Netflix) talks about how our evangelical leaders have spent a lot of time and money trying to make countries like Uganda just as homophobic as us. For more on that, I highly recommend this piece by Bisi Alimi.

But, in a very serious sense, he’s also wrong. From his point of view, the United States doesn’t count as a mission field (“having a heart for the United States” is a “smoke screen” for lazy people, 75)– and woven all through chapter four is this concept that we need to think “globally” about the Gospel which, according to him, means taking our version of Christianity to other countries.

What he fails to recognize is that many other nations have deep Christian roots– but they don’t look like American Christianity, so he dismisses them. For example, there are Kurdish Christians with a religious tradition reaching back to the fifth century. Then there’s Jordan, which has one of the oldest Christian communities anywhere in the world, but were one of the targets of the Christian crusades. Ethiopian Christian history stretches back centuries– to long before they built a monastery in the sixth century.

When people like David conceptualize “the Christian tradition,” they’re most likely not including the traditions of Jordan, Ethiopia, Turkey, or India. They don’t look like American evangelicals, so they’re dismissed as “not actually followers of Christ” (76).

His view of “developing” nations is racist.

This chapter is not the first time this has come up– in every chapter up to now he’s spent a great deal of time making sure we understand how woebegone and beggared other countries are. People living in garbage pits, people without access to clean water, people who struggle to find food.

Except many people in American don’t have clean water. Ten people have died in Flint because of poisoned water, and many children there will grow up with permanent brain damage. But it’s not just Flint– St. Joseph has had unclean water for almost a decade (along with many other counties all over the South). Many children go hungry on snow days because the only place they can get breakfast or lunch is at school. America is the seventh wealthiest nation, but we’re barely capable of providing adequate healthcare to our population– more women die from pregnancy and childbirth in America than in any other developed nation.

David has this concept of evangelicalism being beset by concerns with “first world problems” like padded pews and projectors, but is blinded by American exceptionalism and a shallow, “single-story” view of Africa and Asia (which, just to be clear, are continents, not countries. Looking at you, Jen Hatmaker, with your “African” this and your “African” that). America, while wealthy, isn’t that spectacular, and other nations aren’t all shanty towns and open sewage. Just do an image search for Abuja or Vientiane or Ulaanbaatar.

He sees wealth as God’s blessing, and therefore as a reflection of God’s glory.

The principle argument of this chapter is that God created everything in order to glorify himself. People worshiping God is the “final, ultimate, all-consuming, glorious, guaranteed, overwhelmingly global purpose of God in Scripture. This is the great why of God.” He exists to be glorified, we exist to glorify. End of story. Then we get a letter from a church member who had recently come back from a short-term missions trip to Guatemala, which he uses to conclude the chapter:

After spending a week around precious childen who eat a small cup of porridge a day, the question I have come back to Birmingham asking God is why he has blessed me when others have so little. And this is what God has shown me:

“I have blessed you for my glory. Not so you will have a comfortable life with a big house and a nice car. Not so you can spend lots of money on vacations, education, or clothing. Those aren’t bad things, but I’ve blessed you so that the nations will know me and see my glory.”

… That is why God has given me income and education and resources. God saves me so that that nations will know him. He blesses me so that all the earth will see his glory! (84)

“Blessings” is a shorthand in evangelicalism for “money.” God gave this woman money instead of children who are starving because giving her money glorifies him. She had the money to go to Guatemala on a likely ineffective and ultimately harmful short-term trip and that means God was glorified dontcha know!

Yeah. Sure. That makes sense.

The problem is that David has spent this entire chapter quite literally railing against the concept that some people are “called” to be missionaries while those who aren’t are supposed to do what they can to financially support the missionary effort. And then he concludes his chapter with someone basically doing exactly that.

I’m confused.

Theology

see, here is water

If you grew up going to Sunday school, you’re probably at least a little bit familiar with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. I’ve never been entirely sure why, but this story, which appears in Acts 8, has always been one of my favorites. I’ve always been fascinated by everything about it, especially since it reads almost like a sci-fi/fantasy story.

An angel comes and tells Philip to stand by a certain road at a certain time, and when he sees a chariot the Holy Spirit instructs him to approach it. He does, and in the following conversation converts him to Christianity and baptizes him. At that moment, Philip is transported to Azotus and continues preaching. In the Bible I used growing up, I had “beam me up, Scotty!” written in the margins. Anytime this passage was used in a sermon, I used to daydream about the Eunuch returning home (to probably somewhere in Sudan) and telling everyone about what had happened, including Queen Amanitare.

My view of this story was simplistic, shaped by the conventions of the people who first told it to me. It was a traditional missionary story, told in the same way that I heard other stories like “The God who Made my Thumbs” or the journeys of David Livingstone. We gawked at this story about Philip teaching the black man just like we gawked at pictures missionaries would bring back from Kenya or Japan. All these things reinforced stereotypes I had about “unreached people groups”– in an attempt to provoke my empathy I was taught to see non-Western nations as backwards, dirty, savage, war-torn, hungry, poverty-stricken, and in desperate need of Christian Missions (aside: please take same time to look at the #TheAfricatheMediaNeverShowsYou tag on twitter).

But, thanks to my need to re-think and re-imagine the Bible stories I’ve been imbibing since I was a child, I was struck by something interesting in this passage:

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” and he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

I’ve been thinking about this story fairly consistently ever since I first heard about the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson. Since that time we’ve seen more protests, more killings, more violence, a massacre, and now eight black churches that have been burned down. I remain hopeful that in the midst of all this terror and pain that Christian America will finally wrestle with the long-entrenched sins of racism and white supremacy, but in all this time I have been disappointed by a typical Christian response.

They’ve called for patience, for love, for forgiveness, for mercy.

They’ve demanded that black people silence the cries of their suffering.

They’ve said that they will not listen as long as any black person is not submissive and compliant.

And while they say that, I think of the Ethiopian Eunuch and the way he interacted with Philip. He listened to Philip’s explanation, and then he acted. He chose, for himself, what he wanted to do with this information, and then says “what can stand in the way of my being baptized?

In our church tradition, baptism has always been and will ever be about identity. When we baptize our children or our new converts, we are proclaiming to everyone that this person is one of us, that they belong. They are as much a part of us as we are a part of them, united in one catholic church.

When the Eunuch– a queer man, a black man– says “what can stand in the way of my being baptized?” he is forcing all of us to acknowledge the truth: he is one of us. He is our equal. He is as much a beloved child of God as any straight white man. He deserves the same love, grace, and compassion as any other Christian, and he claimed the right to it.

Rachel Held Evans said something about this story in Searching for Sunday that stood out to me:

At another time in his life, Philip might have pointed to the eunuch’s ethnicity, or his anatomy, or his inability to gain access to the ceremonial baths that made a person clean. But instead, with no additional conversation between the travelers, the chariot lumbered to a halt and Philip baptized the eunuch in the first body of water the two could find …

Philip got out of God’s way. He remembered that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in. Nothing could prevent the eunuch from being baptized, for the mountains of obstruction had been plowed down, the rocky hills made smooth, and God had cleared a path. There was holy water everywhere. (39)

Christians are still doing what God told Peter to stop: we set up insurmountable roadblocks and maintain them with fierce hatred and misplaced loyalty. We tell black people, queer people, exactly when and exactly how we will accept them. We will not love you until you do everything I think black people should be doing. We will not listen to you until you match the completely imaginary version of Martin Luther King Jr. I have in my head. We will not bestow our sacraments upon you until you do as your are told. Deny who you are. Deny your community. Deny who you love.

But the Ethiopian Eunuch didn’t stop for any of that. He ordered the chariot to stop, he got out, and he stood by the water until Philip baptized him.

Today, it’s men getting tear gas away from the children the police had thrown it at.

Today, it’s Bree Newsome climbing a flag pole and taking down a symbol of hatred and bigotry.

Today, it’s a woman marrying her partner of 72 years.

Today, it’s Isasi-Diaz teaching that everyday struggles are a source for theology.

We need to listen to the people who are saying what can stand in our way? and finally admit that the answer is nothing.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis
Theology

The Prophecy of Amos, Revised

Note: what appears in this post isn’t intended to be a translation– it’s a reaction to the words of Amos as I read them in English in the NIV, ESV, King James, and the Message. It’s an interpretation based on trying to find modern meaning and truth in an ancient text. Also, I am aware of the problems of taking passages that apply to ancient Israel and forcing them onto modern-day America.

~~~~~~~~~

Amos 2 : 6-8

This is what God says:

For your sins I will not turn back my wrath.
You sell the innocent for middle-class comfort and
ignore the needs of our immigrants for tomatoes you don’t want to pick.
You climb your corporate ladders on the backs of minorities
And claim that Ferguson and Baltimore “isn’t about race.”

Father and son sexualize and objectify every woman they see
Taught by a culture that says “no means yes and yes means anal
And so you profane my holy name.
You go to church wearing clothes made by sweat shop workers
And drink coffee grown and picked by enslaved children.

Amos 3 : 9-10

Assemble yourselves in the mountains of Afganistan
See the great unrest and the oppression that your interventions have caused.
You gave them weapons to help you,
but then you turned on them and destroyed their government.
You do not know how to do right.
You store up in your bases and forts and air stations all the military might that
Going to war and “preserving our foreign interests” have given you.

Amos 5 : 21-27

I hate, I despise your Passion Conferences
I cannot stand your church services.
Even though you gather the offering every Sunday
I will not accept it.
Though you have “fellowship hour” before Sunday school,
I will have no regard for it.
Away with the noise of Casting Crowns and Third Day!
I will not listen to the music of your electric guitars.

But let justice roll on like the river,
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!

Did you bring me your offerings
Ever since the Great Awakening?
You have lifted up the Shrine of your Constitution
The Pedestal of the American Flag
You say the pledge to the Christian Flag–
All of which you have made for yourselves.

Therefore I will make the Almighty Dollar less than the Euro
And destroy the industrial-military-congressional complex
says the Lord, whose name is God.

Amos 6 : 3-7

Go to Canada and look at it;
go from there and to Great Britain
Compare: how many women die in childbirth there?
How many rapists are punished?
You ignore the evils justified by “national security”
And terrorize Pakistan with UAVs and bombs.

You assemble your Ikea furniture
and lounge on Ethan Allen
You dine on lambs shipped from New Zealand
And feast on veal and filet mignon.

Your hipsters strum away on their guitars
And you Christian-ize “Take me to Church” and “Hallelujah.”
And wear T-shirts that parody Facebook and Coca-Cola for your pride.
Your youth groups chug gallons of milk for a contest
And you teach girls to obsess over “modest is hottest.”

But you do not grieve over the black and brown children gunned down by police
And their sisters, handcuffed, who have to watch them die.
Therefore you will go into exile: your lock-ins and potlucks will end.

Amos 9 : 11-15

When I end all of this,
I will restore the communities destroyed by urban programs and gentrification
I will repair the decayed walls of those who live in assisted housing.
I will build it as it should have always been
So that the poor, marginalized, and oppressed can be given what was stolen
Stolen by slave owners and plantations and white privilege.

The days are coming
When corrupt farming conglomerates are overtaken by the migrant workers
And CEOs by the burger-flippers.

New wine will drip from the mountains
And flow from the hills
And I will bring my black and brown and LGBTQ children the justice I require.
They will be given the opportunities cishet white men have always had
They will earn a living wage.

I will plant them in their own land,
Never again to be uprooted.

Says the Lord your God.

Artwork by John Jude Palancar
Social Issues

safe spaces or echo chambers?

[content note for discussions of violent racism]

I’ve been paying close attention to the conversation my country is having about the realities of racism in police action for four months, ever since Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. Thankfully, the discussion has expanded beyond just Ferguson and I am hopeful that this could be a lasting, substantial movement. I’m going to attend the Justice for All March, and if any of you are within the Washington D.C. area and can make it Saturday morning, I urge you to come and be a part of this. I believe it will be a significant moment.

However, since August, I’ve had to avoid conversations about Ferguson, police action, and racism in my private life. I’ve hidden and unfriended so many people on Facebook over the last few months and I still can’t get away from it. Last week a friend of mine commented on an article a friend of hers had posted about Ferguson, and curious, I went to see what she’d said.

Right above her comment was a picture of a semi-truck that was covered in what was obviously supposed to be blood; the caption was “I drove through Ferguson. Didn’t notice any problems.”

I thought I was going to throw up.

And now, scrolling through my Facebook feed makes me nervous. If something even hints at being about rape or racism or sexism I steer far, far away from it; and I also know that I’m not the only person doing this. I’m not the only person who has to mentally steel herself before checking social media, who spends half of the day flinching.

I’ve talked about my desire to create safe spaces for myself in my personal and online spaces and have been accused, more than once, of trying to build myself an echo chamber, and since I talked about one of the dangers of echo chambers last week, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about the difference between safe spaces and echo chambers.

One of the things I want all of you to know is that you do not have to tolerate the presence of assholes in your life just for the sake of “trying to keep an open mind” or avoiding the idea of an echo chamber. If you are in a Facebook discussion with a friend, peer, colleague, or relative, you are not obligated to continue a “discussion” you find unpleasant, and you don’t have to have anything specific to point to in order to have a valid reason for abandoning it. “This is making me upset” is the only reason you need, and you do not owe it to anyone to explain that.

Another thing that’s important to understand is that you don’t have to constantly be engaging with people who viciously disagree with you in order to avoid being in an echo chamber. When I feel mentally prepared, I go and look for articles written from a perspective I disagree with. I read things from Breitbart, and Fox News, and The Blaze, and Christianity Today, because I think it is valuable to at least be aware of what those sorts of people are saying—but I only do that when I am in the mood.

You don’t have to douse your life in perspectives you find distasteful or disagreeable. Being conscientiously aware is possible without having to face it every single time you log in to Facebook.

I am also selective about the sorts of conservative friends that I have a dialog with. I am still friends with many conservatives—online and off—and I enjoy talking to them about things because we are capable of having an actual conversation that doesn’t devolve into Bible references and invectives. There’s a difference between talking with my staunchly pro-life college professor and the man who posted that picture of the blood-spattered semi. One conversation could be productive, even insightful: the other is guaranteed to be a trainwreck-level nightmare.

And lastly, from my personal experience of running a blog, I think it’s pretty much impossible to build an echo chamber unless you intentionally and systematically go about cutting yourself off from every single source of information and every single person who doesn’t totally agree with you. I have a lot of very progressive, very liberal, very feminist, very queer friends, and a few months ago I got into a discussion with one about whether or not Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” contributed to rape culture. She said it didn’t, I said it did.

That sort of thing happens a lot. From the interactions I’ve had with many of you, most of you are here because you enjoy the sorts of things I say or the way I say them or something—but that doesn’t mean you agree with me about every single thing I write always. I love that. I go out on a limb with some of the things that I write—writing them in such a way as to inspire discussion. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it when it happens.

Just the other day, a commenter pointed out something that she thought I’ve been doing wrong in the way I’ve handled Grace’s participation in Real Marriage, and after reading her comment, I agreed with her and committed to not doing that thing anymore.

So, even if all of the people you talk to in your real life and online agree with you on several basic principles, you’re still probably not in an echo chamber.

Which begs the question: when are we in echo chambers?

Personally, I feel that I’m shutting myself up in an echo chamber when I start seeing the people I disagree with as inhuman—and that is a struggle some days. Yesterday Matt Walsh posted a … I don’t even know how to describe that thing he put out on the internet. It was the post of refuse, the post of filth, the post of putrescence. Rubbish, Filth. Slime. Muck.

Anyway, when a man writes something like that and flings it out into the void, it does make me wonder if he is an actual human being with a heart—and that’s wrong. I think what Walsh does is monstrous, but he is still a human being created with the image dei and beloved by God.

As hard as that is for me to imagine.

Walsh is an extreme example, but when we reduce those who disagree with us to “opponents” or “conservatives” or “liberals”—when we take the position that this one thing that I disagree with you about right now is all you are, we are doing something wrong.

Photo by Brian Smithson
Social Issues

returning to Ferguson

Riot police clear demonstrators from a street in Ferguson

It’s been over a month since police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown.

The peaceful protests that Ferguson officials over-reacted to with horrific abuses of our Constitutional freedoms and what was to me unimaginable police brutality are still ongoing. The people of Micheal’s community are calling for nothing extraordinary: for the Missouri governor to appoint a special prosecutor, and for Darren Wilson to be arrested. Not tried, not convicted, just arrested, as any other man would have been if he’d shot an unarmed teenager in broad daylight in front of multiple eye-witnesses. But instead, it’s been over a month since Darren Wilson disappeared on vacation.

There was intense national interest for a week, maybe two, but the people who initially cared so much are fading away, the initial passion evaporating. I understand why– that first week, I was enraged, and it is impossible to sustain that sort of reaction for very long. Today, when I think about the Brown family and the torture the Ferguson community has experienced for decades, all I can do is grieve, but grief is not enough.

For the last month, I’ve been working on compiling this list of officer-involved shootings. I’ve called and asked my state and federal representatives to sponsor a bill that would require all police forces in the United States (or in my state) to report their officer-involved shootings to a single government body, and for that body to create a public record with all pertinent demographic data, especially race. I would ask that all of you do the same.

It’s also necessary for people like me– and by that I mean white people– to shut the fuck up and listen to black people when they talk about their experiences with the police. To pay attention to stories like Chaumtoli Huq’s, a lawyer, who was arrested because she was waiting for her husband and children outside of a restaurant while they used the bathroom. Or Chris Lollie’s, who was arrested because he was sitting on a bench waiting for his children to get out of school. I don’t care how outrageous you think it sounds, or how difficult it is for you to believe them because you’ve “never seen it” or “it’s never happened to you.” You shut the fuck up and listen.

I want to be a part of the reason why this never ever happens in my country ever again. It will keep happening, and it will be a long time before it stops, but it will never end as long as people like me are only angry once every few years and then we get tired and we start to forget, to stop caring.

We have to take an extremely hard look at ourselves and the things we say– the things we say when we’re hanging out with friends, and something like Ferguson comes up. I know it’s hard, fellow white people, but we absolutely have to stop saying things like “well, being a police officer is an extremely dangerous job. They have to be able to protect themselves” because yes, it’s dangerous but it’s four times more dangerous to be an unarmed black man standing across from a police officer with a gun. We have to ask ourselves what we sound like when our first reaction to a child being slaughtered in his own neighborhood by a police officer is “well, Andy must have done something threatening– and police officers can’t afford to wait” (hint: we sound like privileged racist assholes). It breaks my heart that almost every single conversation I’m in about the intersection of racism and police brutality the reaction I get from white people is a mix of “meh” and “what else do you expect?”

We have to love our neighbor. This sort of love is exhausting, I know, and you’re going to feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder uphill, and once you start noticing the ways that racism bleeds into every single aspect of our lives you’re going to want to scream and take it all back. Looking outside the white-privilege bubble is hard. Taking the blinders off is going to be overwhelming, and it’s going to make you cry over and over again.

You’re going to feel shame for all of the racist things you’ve said and done, and every once in a while you’re going to remember another way you’ve unwittingly been the person from “shit white girls say,” and you’re going to cringe and desperately wish you could retroactively slap your hand over your mouth or do a full-on body tackle before you ask your black colleague if you can touch her hair.

You’ll be on facebook, and a friend you actually care about is going to share the most racist thing you’ve seen about Ferguson– and, by that point you’ve been on twitter and comment sections, and you thought it couldn’t get any worse– and she’s going to post it with “THIS” and a bunch of your other friends are going to like it and say things like “oh, this is exactly right” and “finally, someone who makes some SENSE!” and you aren’t going to know what to do. And you’re going to keep being racist, because you’re a white person in a system designed around maintaining your privilege.

But then, one day, you’re going to see a black man in the metro asking other riders for “just one dollar” because he has almost nothing left on his fare card and he can’t get home, and pulling out a $10 will be nothing to you anymore because you’ll remember that one time you didn’t have enough cash on you to pay a toll in West Virginia and it was a black woman who overheard you crying on the phone with your mother and she gave you the $16 you needed to pay the next four tolls and you’ll see a person who needs help instead of a wasteful, do-nothing black man who should get a job you’d been taught by racism to see.

It’ll take you a very long time, but you’ll start figuring out how to stop being racist, and start seeing all the small things you can do every single day to help those oppressed by it. It’s the only way to stop Ferguson from ever happening again.

Feminism, Social Issues

Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" video has some problems

If you haven’t seen Taylor Swift’s new music video “Shake it Off,” I’ve embedded it above. I don’t think you need to watch it for my commentary to make sense, and there’s no reason to listen to the song since I won’t be critiquing the lyrics extensively– so, if you really don’t like Taylor Swift as an artist, feel free to skip it.

Before we get started, I need to admit to some bias: I’m not a Taylor Swift fan. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid her ever since she released “You Belong to Me,” which practically screamed I’m not one of those girls. She also believe[s/d] that the definition of feminism is “women who are against men and also want everything without working for it.

Because of all that, I was happy to hear this:

I go on too many dates
But I can’t make them stay
At least that’s what people say
But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright

Taylor Swift, unfortunately, has faced a lot of slut-shaming for her supposedly “high number” of relationships– I googled, and apparently that number is six. In my personal life, I’ve been in serious long-term committed relationships twice, have had short-term relationships twice, and have been out on a few dates with one other person, bringing my “number” to five. I’m pretty sure six relationships is pretty normal, which makes me a little baffled why she’s drawn so much criticism. Anyway, I’m delighted that she’s confronted this perception of her head-on.

There’s a few other things going on in the video that I think are positive– I appreciate that she’s not taking herself too seriously, and my overall impression is that it’s supposed to be fun and lighthearted.

However, I want y’all to notice something:

taylor swift ballerinataylor swift contemporarytaylor swift cheerleader

Now, this:

taylor swift stereotaylor swift hip hop

I just want to ask you some questions: which set of costuming decisions could be taken seriously, and which ones are a joke? Which set of clothing, makeup, and other styling decisions are overblown and ridiculous exaggerations of a particular culture? And of these two sets, which are typically associated with black culture in America?

Mm-hmm.

But, we have to move on.

taylor swift ballerinas white

taylor swift hip hop black

Question round #2!

In which picture can you see the women’s faces? Which picture is Taylor Swift not in? In the course of the music video, we only get to see one woman’s face in the booty-shaking-leapard-print-blinged-out segment, and she’s possibly white, maybe Hispanic. I couldn’t tell, and I think that was probably intentional, since the woman they chose was “racially ambiguous.”

Ok, next:

Here’s photoset A:

taylor swift ballerina leapingtaylor swift contemporary leaping

taylor swift gymnast leapingtaylor swift pop lock

And photoset B:

taylor swift booty shaking

Which set demonstrates stunning beauty, grace, athleticism, and breathtaking physical abilities? And which one limits an entire dance style, one filled with a rich cultural heritage with a complex, developed style, to a single move that Miley Cyrus appropriated last year? Which one is, again, associated with black culture, and which ones are considered serious art forms or have entire Olympic events organized around its existence?

And then there’s this:

taylor swift white guy hip hop

That last one is the one that frustrates me the most. There’s whole sections of the video dedicated to breakdancing, which is a style of dance that was created in New York by black people and Puerto Ricans in the 70s. Since I became utterly obsessed with dancing when I was in college, I’ve thought of traditionally black styles as . . . well, they’re beyond description, and I love all of them. Krumping, in particular, is my favorite, but I also think that hip-hop is pretty spectacular, as well. But here, in this video, the person shown doing the most breakdancing is a white guy. They show a black man breakdancing for a few half-seconds, but this white dude gets maybe 10 seconds total through the whole video, doing a bunch of really impressive moves, while I think the black man is only shown doing not even a full rotation of a headspin.

But here’s the icing on the cake:

taylor swift staring

This shot comes at the end of a segment when Taylor has been crawling under and through the legs of twerking black women, and she’s turning and staring at their rear ends the entire time, then comes out on the other side and laughs.

Okie.

If it’s not obvious by now, I think this music video is incredibly racist. What I noticed were the following:

  • the video erases the existence and individuality of black women
  • When black women are shown in the racist and stereotypical identifiers of “black culture,” they are nothing more than sex objects. The other black women in the video who are depicted as gymnasts, cheerleaders, and contemporary dancers escape this. That is horrifically racist, and is part of the larger culture that makes black women’s bodies inherently and overtly sexual. The promise of this video is that black women, you can escape being sexually objectified as long as you conform to white/suburban/European standards. It is respectability politics in a music video.
  • it portrays traditionally white/European art forms as serious, beautiful, athletic, stunning, and difficult; but traditionally black art forms are shown as laughable, overtly sexual, and reduces the style to a single movement: “booty shaking.”
  • The one form of black dance shown in the video is almost completely taken over (appropriated) by white people.
  • White expressions of fashion and style are credible and treated as aesthetically pleasing; black styles are painted in caricature, are exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness, and the intended result seems to be amusement, not appreciation.

If you are a person of color and noticed something else, or you’d like to add (or correct!) something here, please feel free. I very much would appreciation your voices and thoughts in the comments.

I think we also need to have a conversation about cultural appropriation. I’m still educating myself on what that is and how to identify it when I see it happen, so I’d appreciate all of you sharing your thoughts on that aspect of what’s happening in the video. For example, I know that the fact that Taylor Swift has dressed up in these “costumes” is problematic because of the appropriation element, but I’m not informed enough to fully articulate why that is.

Anyway, I didn’t want this to go without comment: too often white feminists are completely silent when a white female artist does something like this (Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, anyone?), and I didn’t want that to happen again. If I see any good articles written by women of color about this, I’ll link them at the bottom here.

UPDATE 9/12/2014: This post is now almost a month old, and the comments are becoming repetitive, with the same racist arguments being presented multiple times. Since the discussion is no longer moving forward, I am closing the comment section on this post.