“Did God Really Say?” – The Crucible of Evil

White supremacy is a scourge from the pit of Hell and is Satan’s most effective weapon currently in use on this planet.

I tend to only weakly believe in an incarnate Devil and less in a concrete, fire and brimstone Hell. But I do believe that evil exists both on spiritual and physical planes. And evil has one power: “Did God really say?”

Did God really say love your neighbor as yourself?

Did God really say none are worthy, yet all have reconciliation available?

Did God really say we are all equal?

Did God really say the last shall be first, and the sanctimonious, heartless ones will be pushed to the outside while the humble, kind ones will be exalted?

That question echoes in our weak human minds in a thousand forms. We answer, “Maybe not. Not exactly.” And evil, cooked in that crucible, is made manifest.

We have enabled people like these shooters who killed so many in New Zealand when we have denigrated Muslims, insulted their religion, culture, and humanity. We have enabled them when we allow our leaders to ask “what’s so bad about white supremacy?” We have enabled them when we seek the advancement of Christian dominion instead of an irresistible community of love, too broad and beautiful to be satisfied with one narrow cultural expression.

As Rabbi Heschel said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” If you made choices for economic reasons, or because of court picks, those choices have implications. If you ignore cries for collective justice and paper them over with individual kindness that does not require you to actually become uncomfortable, that ignorance has implications.

Some of us are guilty of supporting evil. But all of us are responsible for creating a world in which it has no quarter. There is plenty of research and thought on how to deconstruct this, if you have the will. Don’t get distracted by your preferred corner of evil to point at. Start where the seat of power is.

Start with white supremacy.

“Future-Present” Tension and Gospel Ambassadorship

American Christians, especially those that identify as evangelical, love to “share the Gospel”. In many small group circles and among friends, weekly check-ins may include a delighted, “I shared the Gospel 3 times this week!” or a dejected “I didn’t share the Gospel with anyone. I need to do better.” We keep a scorecard, like golf, or bowling.

I was reflecting with my friend Dan Crain, a pastor and community leader I’ve co-led a Be The Bridge group with and become good friends with, today about what it means to be a peacemaker on behalf of Christ. I had a revelation in that moment. Those of us who profess Christ in this particularly American way think of ourselves as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, bringing good news to the people of Earth. But this model separates us from the people who we wish to see join us in our understanding of who Christ is. In order to fully understand our purpose, we have to get a bit transcendental. We have to step outside of the present tense and operate with multiple views of time. In this way, we obtain a fraction of the view that a God that lives outside of time has.

Romans 5:6-8 talks about how Christ died for us while we were still weak, while we were still sinners. Christ’s act at one point in time in the past reaches into our present, pulls us out of a present depravity into a future hope of reconciliation of all things. Most of us accept that truth and rejoice. We gleefully report, as Paul did in Galatians 2:20, how “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

But we don’t follow the next step. As we declare ourselves peacemakers and ambassadors, we proclaim we are already citizens of Heaven, and we’re coming to broker a deal with those unfortunates that haven’t filled out their applications yet. To get a complete understanding of this, we must combine our perceptions into a “future-present” view of reality.

The future tense speaks of things that will be. The present tense speaks of things that are, right now. As Christians, we live in the intersection of the present, our flesh with its infirmities, the brokenness of the world we see around us, and the future, a kingdom and family that we will be a part of for eternity. Christ mediates this transcendent breach in the order of time’s arrow and allows some portion of us to live in that future as if it were the present! We get to experience glimpses of the full acceptance of God and the completion of our future hope in our present.

This is undoubtedly good news. However, the part that we miss is that we are also still beings of the present. We are not God’s diplomats, sitting at the table overseeing the reconciliation between some sinful “other” and God. We are the rebellious, haughty party sitting at the other side of the table from our neighbor. We have been wronged, yes, but we have also done much wrong. And we are in need of an external mediator to complete the reconciliation to our neighbor and to receive the wisdom our neighbors have.

When we approach mission or literal evangelism in this way, we carry a humility and an openness that allows us to experience more of the fullness of God. We gain the capacity to learn how to more rightly see God from our neighbor rather than educating them on our narrow and limited glimpse and attempting to snuff out their light or make it shine on our particular frequency. We can meet needs without thinking we are the Provider of Good Things. We can carry the layers of our intersectional identity in the present while neither giving them primacy over our future identity nor diminishing them to irrelevance when they shape so much of how our present is experienced.

We are each carrying different, infinitesimal sparks of that incomprehensible glory, and only by recognizing our true position, as a member of a warring faction that is only now learning to lay down their arms, as a humble creature that has far more to learn than it has to teach, can we share a true Gospel laden with future hope that speaks to a present reality.

Who Gets The Surplus?

Who gets the surplus?

We use raw materials and labor to create additional value out of thin air. The materials are paid for. The labor is compensated. The goods are sold at a profit. A surplus is created.

Let’s assume a typical situation with a person with resources purchasing the raw materials and fronting the labor cost. The person with the resources took a risk and presumably should get something. The person who contributed the labor created the value. Should they get anything beyond compensation for their time?

Let’s say that 50 units of raw materials and 50 units of labor (fully loaded) went into creation of a widget, for 100 total. The widget is sold for 200 units. What should happen?

Capitalism as implemented says that the 100 should go entirely to the provider of capital. Labor has already been paid at a market rate (regardless of whether that constitutes a living wage) and is not owed anything else.

Cooperative socialism says that the inputs and surpluses should be shared by the collective of laborers without regard to what the government dictates. Cooperatives can collectively function as capitalists of a sort in a larger capitalist society. Unions are a prototype of this form.

Democratic socialism says the surplus should go to the society at large, with the people of the society deciding where it will be spent, be that social programs, defense, or whatever. Elements of this already exist in how America has historically been run.

Authoritarian socialism (what most people think of when they hear the term) says the state will take direct ownership of the means of production and apply the surpluses as it sees fit per the direction of unelected leadership.

This question of who should get the surplus is at the heart of our economic debate. If you look at our history and our present, we have no problem redistributing the surplus if we think the recipients are “worthy”. Currently, farmers, the military, and the rich are what our country has decided must be subsidized and funded at any cost.

We could make different choices. We could say that medical providers, teachers, and environmentally sound businesses are worthy. We could say a shorter workweek and more workers at the same price is a more worthwhile goal than reaching theoretical maximum profit. But we don’t, for various reasons.

My fellow small business owners will pipe up and say how they can’t afford to pay more or hire more. That might be true in our current context. But we have to look at the quality of our inputs as well. How much does productivity suffer from the anxiety of living in our current construct? And how much more could you get out of people that would be meaningfully impacted by improved corporate financial results?

I’ve frequently been rebutted with stories of how people got out of difficult situations with hard work. That’s great, and I genuinely applaud you. But if you know better than most how hard it was to claw your way out of poverty, why would you think that crucible is the best way to produce winners? Why is superlativity a requirement just to survive?

Inequality is not inherently problematic. But rising inequality where people working 60+ hours are still poor while others are basically living beyond the event horizon of a cash singularity will not stand indefinitely. History is clear that desperation leads to revolution. We will need to consider changes that will reduce the suffering and desperation in our society if we want something that resembles what we know to continue. And yes, those changes will have to mean benefits for non-white people too, unlike most of the historical benefits and subsidies that created mass affluence in America as practically implemented.

s/o to Professor Richard Wolff for helping clarify my thinking about surpluses.

On Bernie Sanders’ Candidacy – An “Un-Endorsement”

I have not done a point-by-point breakdown of where I stand politically relative to the average American Democratic Socialist. I’m pretty open to a lot of their ideas. I am in favor of the Democratic Socialists’ voices being part of the conversation, and them having a place at the table in the Democratic Party.  I voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary precisely for that reason, though I was fine with voting for Clinton in the general.
But I’m honestly not in favor of Sanders’ candidacy at this time. I know my Sanders-supporting friends will be annoyed, but I have questions for you.
  • Why does he have to be President for you to get what you want changed in this country?
  • How much more powerful could Sanders be as sitting senior senator operating as head of a Socialist party with national reach, or as the head of a movement within the existing Democrats rather than as a drop-in/drop-out candidate that uses the Democrats to advance his brand?
  • What have you done with your local democratic socialist organization to advance your agenda at a city or state level?

There’s a lot more I could say, but after two years serving as a post holder in the Democratic Party, alongside centrists, progressives, and proud democratic socialists, I have significant respect for the workers. Not “the workers of the world unite!” workers (though I’m good with them), but the people who quietly work for the principles they believe in, building constituencies, knocking on doors one at a time, arguing passionately about what direction we want to go at a city, county, and state level.

I think about the black women from South DeKalb who ran our party in the years when no one bothered to show up to meetings (including me). The firebrands who backed their talk with action and ran for office or party leadership or supported those that did. The regular people who had just had enough and committed to knock 20, or 50, or 100 doors, just to make a difference.

Bernie’s Democratic affiliation of convenience spits on that progressive legacy, spits on that work. And it pushes forth the myth that Trump ran on: “I alone can fix it.”

As much as I wish there were, there are no heroes. No one will snap their fingers, or give the perfect speech, or wrestle Congress to the ground bare-chested to get through a dictatorship of the proletariat or a golden age of unity and social equity. What I’ve come to realize, even as I have trouble living it out, is something that my socialist friends should understand better than anyone:

Our heroism and our extraordinary capability lie in our collective effort.

So stop waiting on Bernie Sanders or some other media darling to pick up your rose and flag of solidarity. Get out there and fight for equity where you live. And for your President in 2020, vote for a person who has been a Democrat continuously, one who will advance environmentally responsible and socially equitable policies, one who will move the needle in the direction you want to go. And then do what Sanders did before becoming a Senator; set the example in your city for what your movement can become when done right.

“Democrats are the REAL racists!”

It is so weird and sad how every Republican person who is bought into the “Democrats are the real racists!” storyline shares the same 3 or 4 tidbits of information as if it’s your first time hearing it and as if there’s not reams of historical evidence either debunking or contextualizing it.

I just need to build a Magic 8-Ball like program to help them with their arguments. Sides would include:

  • Robert Byrd
  • Democrats founded the Klan
  • Hillary Said Super-Predator!
  • Get off the plantation!
  • Walk Away
  • Evidence Unclear

I’m under no illusion that the Democratic Party is free of racial bias. It’s an American party. So it’s got racial bias, which is a core part of our country’s identity, sadly, along with some of those lofty visions of freedom and liberty that we also have. However, these arguments about the party’s history are both useless and insulting.

If you’ve found yourself making these arguments, I challenge you to sit with a more interesting question. (All “overall” numbers include the black population so are going to be closer than they would be otherwise). Black people are just shy of 13% of the population. They are the most religiously affiliated racial demographic (87% religious vs 83% overall), the most Christian (79% vs 75% overall), and much more devout on average (79% of religious saying religion is “very important” in their lives vs 56%).

So, if the Republican Party is truly a Christian party, and we make the reasonable assumption that Christianity as practiced by African-Americans is valid, then why is it not attractive to the overwhelming majority of them? Let’s make a further assumption that your average black person is a rational actor, like you. They are equally capable of reason and assessing a situation for what it truly is. Why would a Christian rational actor vote something other than Republican?

The typical reasons we give require us to make black people irrational actors. We are presumably swayed by promises of “free stuff” from Democrats. Our Christianity is infected with social justice that has nothing to do with the Gospel. Like children, we just need to be trained up properly in the way we should go.

What if, instead, the Republican Party wasn’t actually advocating for Christian values? What if the Republican Party refused to consistently confront and expunge neo-Confederates in their ranks, practitioners of an ideology that is explicitly anti-black? What if, instead of needing to walk away from a presumed mental enslavement from a party giving out trinkets but no real advancement, black people are rationally dealing with a “lesser evil” because the Republican Party is offering no credible change in their quality of life and will not acknowledge the shadow that America’s bipartisan history casts into the present?

Now, let’s ask a parallel question. Why would poor white people vote for economic policies that have demonstrably hurt their position? If I were to rely on the same reasoning as used on the “black voting problem”, I would be forced to conclude they are irrational, simple-minded actors, swayed easily by promises of protection from people trying to take their things or their status as the superior group. I’d be forced to conclude their Christianity is infected with a love of money and comfort that has nothing to do with the Gospel. But that wouldn’t be fair, would it?

It’s critical that we give the groups we are trying to win over the respect of assuming they’re no less capable of assessing a situation than we are. If you want me to vote Republican, it’s not enough to show me how the Democrats have failed me or fallen short. You need to show me how the Republicans won’t. And you have to be honest with who the party has decided to be.

The Republicans had 17 choices for what direction they could go in 2016. They chose Trump. Somebody, I don’t know who but I think they were important, said “By their fruits shall you know them.” I’m not passing judgment, I’m just looking at the fruit.

(numbers courtesy of Pew – http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/a-religious-portrait-of-african-americans/)

On The Assault of Jussie Smollett

Because of his fame, the assault of Jussie Smollett is gaining the media attention that women being murdered by gunmen, LGBTQ+ people being harmed daily, and women and girls being abused rampantly have failed to. The assailants called him racial and orientational slurs, used bleach, and put a noose around his neck, while telling him “This is MAGA country.”

The sandhills are soft, warm, and waiting for heads to be stuck into them again. People are accusing him of lying, or saying that the assailants didn’t say those things, or if they did they couldn’t be that bad, or if it was that bad it was still an individual and not the “MAGA Movement’s” fault.

What we must understand is that individual hatred without power is morally abhorrent, but impotent. Only when connected to the permission and the protection of power does hatred become a weapon that can be used to punish the marginalized, those with less power, with impunity.

MAGA, even in its most benign form, harkens to a fictional past where America was better and simpler than it is today. MAGA is a tightly zoomed in lens, focused on a living room in a Levittown home, where a white suburban 1950s family lives a comfortable, worry-free life. It does not zoom out to the real estate office down the street that steered the black family away, to the unmarked Native burial ground, to the urban ghettos for new immigrants from Latinx and Asian countries that would forever be seen as other, to the son sent away from that home for his desire to be with another man and living on the street.

MAGA is a lie. It is a lie based on the greater lie of white supremacy and on the heroic myths that we choose to tell ourselves instead of the brutal facts of history that tend to leave few hands clean.

We must also understand the intersectionality of power. Smollett’s fame and to a lesser extent his maleness and cis-ness will cause this to have more attention. Our society says “sure he’s gay and black, but he is entertaining, so he is valuable.” As we express outrage at this assault, we must also place it into its context.We are witnessing a rebellion of systems of power against an increase in love, compassion, and justice. Men, angry that they no longer have the right to treat women as they please, take up arms and kill them. Racists, angry that they are facing a meritocracy for the first time, attack black colleagues and bystanders. Bigots who believe gay and trans people shouldn’t be suffered to live express their violent sentiments in back alleys and subway stations. And we, too often the complicit masses, look for balance where there is none. We cry ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace.

Let us lament a country that threatens to replace its motto, “E Pluribus Unum” (Out Of Many, One) with “Make America Great Again”, and then let us lift ourselves from the threshing floor and commit to banishing the lies of false history and denied humanity back into the pit of hell.

Meeting Rev. Dr. King For The First Time

This message today is for my Trump supporting friends, or my right-leaning friends who aren’t big fans of Trump but like American conservative policies as currently implemented. I promise it’s not a finger wag or an apologetic to convince you of a different way, at least not from me.
 
I know you love people, and you wish to show no partiality. You don’t like what you call “identity politics”, and you think that like Justice Roberts said, “the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” You say that racism is a heart issue, not a legislative or other kind of issue, and that only by changing hearts and building relationships can we evolve to be a people that do not show partiality. Once we love each other correctly, the systems will take care of themselves, we’ll tear them down together. You believe that America with its mighty armies and unleashing of free market forces is the greatest country on Earth, and that we’ve primarily been a force for good in the world. Mistakes have been made in the details, but our approach was right, basically every time.
 
Most importantly for today, you genuinely respect and honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy. You want to judge by content of character, not color of skin, like King.
 
So today, if the above matches your views on race, please honor Dr. King by reading Letter From A Birmingham Jail. If the above matches your views on America, read his Beyond Vietnam speech that made him hated and marginalized by many. And no matter what, you should read the entire text of his whole I Have A Dream speech that has defined his legacy more than any other for who America thinks it is and who it wants to be.
 
Take in these words from our latter day prophet. Wrestle with them. Rebut if you like; your argument is not with me, but with him. Understand the context in which they were delivered. I Have A Dream was delivered at a march for economic justice. King was in jail to write his letter because he was protesting for better treatment, because he was asserting that Black Lives Matter, too, long before that was a catchphrase. King was well studied in theology and philosophy, and digested and engaged with a rich tradition of ideas that also were critical in our country’s formation.

Instead of quoting King out of context or, as my friend Elizabeth Behrens pointed out in her comments at Be The Bridge Live, focusing on a vision of children of all colors holding hands without being concerned about what happens when the playdate is over, really engage with Rev. Dr. King today.  And once you’ve read who he’s consistently been, in full context, ask yourself what he would have to say about our moment.

Would he agree with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

How might he suggest we deal with immigration?

What would he have to say about the DOJ report on Ferguson, the shootings of unarmed people, and the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore?

What would he have said about Charlottesville?

Would he have stood beside the elder in Washington, singing the peace song between the jeering Hebrew Israelites and the children from the Catholic school who, instead of crucifixes or robes, were draped in the clothing of acolytes of the Church of Trump?

Would he have something to say about the environmental injustice in Flint and other cities?

About global climate issues?

Like any good prophet, I think King has correctives for both sides of the aisle. His convictions do not align neatly with a party affiliation. Let’s listen clearly, and commit that our work to justice will not be restricted to brief prayer and possibly teary reflection without disrupting anything in our segregated, convenient lives. Let’s get into real relationship with people not like us. Let’s believe them when they tell us about their suffering, rather than assuming that, unlike ourselves, they are being influenced by the media and simply need to have their eyes opened so they can rightly know good and evil, like ourselves.

Let’s listen to King this year. Let’s learn from him. And talk to me about it afterward! I’d love to hear how the meeting went.