Once More Into the Flames

If you follow me on TwitterFacebook, or on my blog at brokenbeatnik.com or brokenbeatnik.medium.com, I’m going to give Substack a try. I welcome your support, but for now I’ll post for free until I figure out what commitments I’m willing to make to my readers. I’ll import some of my old posts there and start posting new things there as well. 

If you enjoy what I write then come on along with me. See you on the journey!

Find me at reforged.substack.com.

A Far Future Reflection On The Plague

“Wow, that early 21st Century plague was wild. I guess they didn’t know what we know now.”

“They didn’t have some of the tools we have, but they knew most of what we knew.”

“So why did they let so many people suffer?”

“A few reasons. They were very concerned about money.”

“Money? Like the made up barter proxy stuff?”

“Yeah. Some of them would hoard massive amounts of it, like more than they could spend in a thousand lifetimes, while other people didn’t have enough to eat.”

“That’s sad! Why did. . . “

“It wasn’t just about money. They were worried that people staying home would mess up how much money the hoarders could make, so they were willing to sacrifice some vulnerable people to prevent that from happening. But they also were concerned about freedom.”

“Huh? How are you free when you could just get sick at any time? I mean, you’d go into temporary residence at a medical facility, so not a big deal. . . “

“Well. . . “


“They didn’t cover everyone’s health care back then, so you would go into their medical facilities, their ‘hospitals’, and then you’d pay a lot of money. Some people lost all their money from going into them.”

“That’s awful. All that risk, no vaccines. . . “

“No, they had vaccines. But some people thought that the money hoarders were trying to control their minds using the vaccines. Others thought it was a sterilization project. In fairness, people had done those kinds of things not too long ago, but still, there was no evidence. Still others thought getting vaccinated made you _more_ contagious, or getting sick made you stronger, even though the disease mutated like a cold, and we now know acquired immunity is idiosyncratic and doesn’t guarantee comprehensive immunity.”

”I know they’d had vaccines for a couple hundred years by then. That’s nuts. So, no vaccines, no medical facilities helping, what else could they have done?”

”Wearing air filtering masks became popular, and was at least somewhat effective, as not all the masks were the same. But some of the freedom cults got really angry about the masks and protested, and made their governments stop requiring masks.”

”Like the masks we had to wear during the Bad Summers when the pollution got crazy? So people had masks that could stop them from getting sick, and they didn’t wear them. No vaccines, no medical facilities, no masks. They were out of luck, huh?”

“No, there was one other thing. Ventilation. They could have opened windows, run filters, made sure more fresh air circulated in buildings and did more things outdoors.”

“What? You’re telling me that all someone had to do was open a window, and they wouldn’t even do that? No disrespect, but it just sounds. . . primitive.”

“Try not to judge them too harshly; people will look at us one day and think the same. This is something we have seen happen a lot when humans are on the verge of a point of enlightenment. It’s scary to come into the light, and it hurts your eyes. So some people prefer to just stay in the dark where it’s dangerous but familiar.”

Christian Considerations Around The Topic Of Abortion

TW: ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, death

Many churches will be jubilant today. This message is for devout Christians who are celebrating. We are going to talk about what happens when wanted pregnancies end in abortion.

There are no surprises in what I’m about to say, but Christian soldiers, I need you to hear this and pay attention. I need you to share this and decide how you will protect unborn life and still protect women, fully-realized, fully-developed image bearers of God. If you truly care about life and not just control, I need you to decide what you will tell the politicians in your state to set as policy to achieve what you sincerely believe are Godly aims meant to preserve life.

Please stay with me. I’m not going to make a case for why you should change what you believe. I am only interested in you advocating for policy that is scientifically sound and that will preserve women’s lives as well as potential babies. I say potential because whether we think it is alive or has a soul or not, a lot can happen between conception and a birth.

Non-Christians or pro-choice Christians: I will not be making arguments around women’s rights to bodily autonomy here, as those aren’t motivating to this audience. Please don’t take me as saying those rights don’t exist in my opinion.

Men, I need you to pay double attention. We don’t know enough about women’s bodies full stop, and even less if we are in churches telling us that women don’t have any right to lead men. The creator of the universe created science, and there are rules for how things work that weren’t specified in detail by prophetic nomads in the desert thousands of years ago, yet still accurately describe how the world works.

Women, forgive me and correct me if I get anything wrong. My intent is to clear common misconceptions driving the conversation among regular people, not to mansplain pregnancy to Christian women who know their own bodies.

What Is Abortion?

First, I want you to know what abortion means. Abortion refers to any procedure that removes an embryo or fetus from a woman. It does not specify whether the procedure was elective or medically necessary. It does not specify whether the fetus or embryo are viable or not. I’m going to talk about some common cases that require abortion that will be prohibited under the new state laws besides the usual “rape and incest” clauses some of you seem to grudgingly accept.


Miscarriages happen between 15-25% of the time a woman becomes pregnant, mostly in the first trimester. There are a number of reasons they can happen, but commonly it is due to fetal/embryonic non-viability. A woman’s body will usually expel the fetus or embryo along with the gestational material. At six weeks, the fetus is the size of a grain of rice. At the end of the first trimester, it’s about the size of a plum. So the experience is traumatic, because most miscarriages actually noticed as such rather than as a heavy period are wanted pregnancies, but we’re not talking about something that would be experienced like a birth.

Sometimes, the woman’s body does not expel the non-viable material. And sometimes, the miscarriage is after the first trimester, where the fetus has developed further before dying. In these cases, the primary way to remove the material is by dilation and curettage, opening the cervix and removing the material directly from the uterus. This is what people typically think of as an abortion. Other ways can include the use of drugs like misopristol that will induce the shedding of the material, and these are also considered abortion.

You’ve seen me use a lot of terms here, and I want to be clear. The fetus or embryo in the cases I’m describing is dead tissue. It has not developed to viability and will not develop further. There is no chance it will become a baby. And if the woman is not shedding, the result of this dead tissue in the body will be sepsis or death of a woman.

In states trying to criminalize every actor involved with an abortion, doctors simply will not perform these procedures and take the risk of being accused of illegal activity. Those women who cannot leave their state will risk sepsis and death. And those who can risk prosecution if it is ever found out that they did.

Complete banning of abortion prohibits the removal of dead tissue that will never become a baby and that can endanger a woman’s life. Complete banning of abortion adds to the burden of women who wanted pregnancies but had them end through no fault of their own.

Ectopic Pregnancy

About 1-2% of fertilized eggs lodge in the Fallopian tube or elsewhere outside the uterus. This number can double for assisted reproduction, where children are again always the goal. It is effectively impossible for an embryo to develop to term outside the uterus. It can, however, grow, but the prognosis is damage to the woman’s organs and death. At the minimum, waiting until the situation is an emergency puts the woman’s fertility at risk, even if her survival prognosis is good. The treatments for ectopic pregnancy are surgical or procedural removal of the embryo or fetus, which is also classified as abortion.

Complete banning of abortion means that every ectopic pregnancy is a death sentence. The US maternal mortality rate is 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. This would push that number as high as 1,000 deaths per 100,000. Somebody check my math here, but a complete, nationwide ban on abortion when one percent of pregnancies end in a life-threatening condition should mean 40 times the number of women would die. In practice, it would be lower, but only because those with means would go to other countries and those without would rely on underground medical care. Even this would result in more complications and more loss of fertility. The death rate goes up either way.


Abortion procedures are a part of women’s health care. Women who wanted their children very much sometimes need abortions. The policy being advocated for by conservative Christians and their favorite politicians will deny that health care.

The pro-life Christian’s goal in this as I understand it is to prevent elective abortion, to prevent a baby that could be born from being killed before it can be born. You have two choices:
A ) Advocate for policy that allows women to get health care in the above cases I mentioned, knowing that some elective abortions will slip through.
B ) Advocate for the current policy prescriptions completely banning abortion procedures, knowing that more women who carry wanted pregnancies will die.

Ultimately, this is your dilemma. You cannot choose to eliminate legal abortion completely and preserve the lives of born women who are here, because this is not a moral problem caused by promiscuity or some other sexual sin. I focused on purpose on wanted pregnancies that end in a requirement for abortion.

Please think about this, and advocate for women’s lives, too.


I posted this to my Facebook after five months away from regular posting, moderating conversations of topics of the day, and debate. It was work I was proud of but had to leave for my own well-being.

You know, I miss talking to y’all about difficult things.

But I don’t regret leaving this medium.

Look around. This is exhausting. And it’s happening faster and faster. Drastic pay cuts in the face of inflation and record profits. Another old racist Senator with incredible power representing a state of people being held hostage for centuries saying that Black women are by definition unqualified. A state who invests in police instead of people reaping the whirlwind of broken infrastructure. Deaths greater than our generational moment of terror, 9-11, happening daily, and received as inevitable. Behind it all, the specter of climate change on the horizon.

And the bipartisan response is generally not serious. Let’s take our salary in crypto. Let’s get some more cops. Let’s send “lethal aid” to a country when our own lethal aid is more often used against protesters than actual terrorists.

I remain long-term hopeful. But I see no reason why we will avoid tremendous pain on the way. Our desire to remain moderate and to use fault finding across the spectrum (both-sides-ism) to lull us into inaction is going to kill us. For the majority of us, this is not a literal death, though I cannot emphasize enough that for the most vulnerable among us, financially, medically, socially, psychologically, it may be. But there’s a fantasy of what America could be, a multicolored cosplay like the set of Hamilton. There’s a set of ideas that were better than the men who created them. They didn’t have the imagination to apply them to non-white people, to women, to LGBTQ+ folks, to the disabled, to the landless and impoverished.

We do.

There are those among us who see our wild profit and excess, beyond what we could possibly need, and imagine how we could lift the floor, just a bit. Not so that those who contribute nothing live like kings, but just so that no human being has to live like a feral animal in a wasteland, especially while others live in ways that would make kings of old jealous. More fundamentally, we want to lift the floor so that the right to survive becomes unconditional and not based on your “contribution” to what we perceive as valuable from moment to moment.

We are held back only by our selfishness, by a kind of Stockholm syndrome that makes us identify with billionaires launching cars or themselves into space for fun instead of with neighbors who are working 70 hours to barely make rent while we work a hard 40 to do the same. We are in a cycle of generational abuse, where our groveling for tips and scraps that we were forced to do in the absence of a proper wage, our payment of onerous loans to get the next rung of the ladder opened to us, becomes normal. From this broken lens, letting people simply survive without immense struggle seems like the problem. They should suffer like we did. Was our suffering just? It had to be! Otherwise, what meaning did it have? And the thought that our struggle was meaningless, for the whims and desires of a few hoarders and parasitic entities and not for God’s glory or some grander purpose, is too painful to contemplate.

We have the imagination to fix this. And if we fail to radically reinvent some of our ways that we cling to in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, those who come after will ask a question that will be the source of speculation, debate, and the basis of entire academic careers.

“They had everything. Ten times everything. They had so much potential.

How could they fail so miserably to hold their society together?”

even when we win

It is better for children to raise fists in square-capped joy,
to breathe salt air and ponder the unending horizon,
to dance like big folks, then double over with laughter.

It is better for love to accrete in beating hearts,
an aspiring star. It is better
for parents’ eyes to mist with salt tears
as they ponder the unending horizon from a wooden pew.

It is better for small hands to lift triumphantly,
safe in their parents’ grip. It is better for uncles
to dispense secrets of life in between sips,
for aunts to chart courses through narrow straits
in sacred circles of wisdom.

It is better to sit slowly, with creaking bones,
to watch children play. To gather them around your feet,
and tell them harrowing tales of near-disaster,
how you thought you’d never get away,
how there was mercy,
how you might not be here today.

It is better for long, dirty toenails
to be clipped and cleaned as soon as you get home.
To sit on the front porch while shadows lengthen,
to let the soil return to the soil,
to give something else a chance to grow.

-C. G. Brown
25 November 2021

After Another Verdict

“God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who hast by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.”

While you’re at it God, can you remove some of the thorns on this path?
Can you lift our weary and hopeless hearts?
Can you strike down the things and the people that block the light over, and over again?
Can you give us sweet manna for the journey through this deserted wasteland, to nourish us, and clear the bitterness from our mouths?

Dear neighbor.
Stop smugly crowing about the legal system being correct, even if you feel it’s only technically correct and not spiritually so. 
Stop and listen to your neighbors, either next door or for many of us, not so far away as the crow flies on its way to guide yet another Black soul, or any soul that loves Black people enough to fight for them, to the next place, too early. 

In the streets we don’t see the imaginary terror groups you have conjured out of weary people who just want to matter.
We see people weeping silently to themselves, quietly lamenting to each other and through their tiny digital megaphones, crying out to God for something to change.
We see a straight line between young white men killing with impunity in 2021 and young white men killing with impunity when my father was a child, and when my grandfather was a child, and back and back to the bloody water route that fed the sharks and ate the souls of European men who hadn’t quite figured out that they were white yet. Men who filled the hole left behind by their inhumanity with the imagined substance of whiteness.

Watch, neighbor. 
Watch as more young men become bold and unafraid to kill people who threaten the imagined power of whiteness. 
Watch as your representatives redraw the lines so your hollow scolding about voting is rendered meaningless. 
Watch as we wearily raise our eyes and said “We told you.”

This verdict is not the story.
The thousands upon thousands jailed, bankrupted, and ruined over the mere accusation of property crimes is the story.
The police who we are told protect people, but on a good day protect property and on a bad day protect this imagined substance of whiteness are the story.
The women and others who defended themselves and were met with imprisonment if they were lucky and death at the hands of legally exonerated men are the story.
The 66 years of fragile democracy we have experienced in nearly 250 years of existence, and its eminent demise through gerrymandering, emboldening, and incrementalism by those who purport to save us is the story.

The country that has functioned in this way from the beginning is the story.

It probably won’t be big and bright and terrible enough for you to see it, neighbor, not from where you sit. I look from where I sit and if I wanted to, I could ignore much of it myself. I could pretend that none of these things are real, and do not affect me, and there’s a good chance I’d get away with it.

But one day, I’d forget myself, and I’d get indignant with an official whose salary is paid in part by my taxes. And I’d learn, as my friends have, as my cousins have, that they have very clear instructions that they do not work for me.

If I were lucky on that day, I would eventually make it home.

You’ll see it, neighbor, when the elections stop making a difference at all. When even the candidates you find distasteful sail to victory. When the statistics don’t change and race is still a strong predictor of outcomes.

And you’ll have to reason with yourself. You’ll wonder why those people can’t overcome adversity like you did. You’ll look at your legitimate slings and arrows, and think, “If I could make it, anybody could.” You’ll never see the thousand invisible hands that buoyed you, and watching someone drown in what looks like the same circumstance as you is just. . . distasteful and unfortunate.

You’ll say that either something is deeply wrong in our nation, or something is deeply wrong with those people.

I know which one you will choose. I’ve seen you choose it again and again.

I’ve seen you try, I grant. You demand proof. You want the hard evidence. And yet any evidence that draws on history, that points to things that are happening even now in our corporate, legal, and political systems, is never enough. And now, neighbor, your neighbors want to ban even that. They give factual history a dangerous sounding, elitist sounding name. And before you know it, a woman who is younger than my father, who marched into a school building as a child while angry people, some your age, some maybe your parents’ age, jeered and threw things, and who wrote a book about it finds her book on the ban list. You don’t think your children should hear this living woman’s story, because it might make them feel bad.

This God that we say we both serve told me to love you. This God did not qualify it. This God did not tell me, “love them unless they commit a crime.”, or “love them until they cheat at politics.”, or “love them until they kill someone you love.” This God told me to love you, neighbor.

So I’m going to once again love you enough to tell you the truth.

Frankly, though, it’s becoming harder for me to give a damn if you listen.

This God also told me to love myself, to see myself as something precious and worthy because I’m imbued with God’s image and spirit.

So goodbye, neighbor. I’ll see you out there.

Just keep your weapon holstered. 
Keep your ready-to-call-the authorities voice holstered. 
Keep your scolding and lack of empathy holstered. 

Just wave, and move along, unless you’re ready to do something different and realize the shining bit of promise that’s embedded under all the dross, evil dreams, and evil deeds our society is built on. 

While you eat your lotus and dream, neighbor, we will remember for you.

While you chase insubstantial crowns and wave ethereal scepters at all you survey, we will dream prophetic dreams for you.

We will survive this.

You’ll see how beautiful we are — 
and be ashamed.

On The Mainline

Photo by Roman Ska from Pexels

Jesus on the Mainline, tell him what you want
you got to call him up and tell him what you want

The Staple Singers

My wife, reflecting on both the miraculous and the “merely” wonderful healing experiences she has witnessed, observed that the types of prayer the people who experienced these healings engaged in varied wildly from person to person. They didn’t always pray for healing, or to know God more, or for any of the traditional things modern Christians are told to pray for to endure hardship and to receive blessings.

I had separately observed the previous week that I was starting to think that prayer itself was less about worship and more about connection. This is why some monotheists pray to saints or to ancestors and do not consider that the same as worshipping them as deities. It’s about connection.

During the period in my adult life where I was deeply involved in a church, I did get some good things out of it. Community. Accountability. Discipline. But I never really developed a “prayer life”. In the tradition I was in, what I’ll call the “Abba Father” prayer style was popular. There were not rules per se, but there were expected patterns:

  • Say “Father”, “Daddy”, or “Father God” a lot
  • Start with gratitude for what God has done in your individual life
  • Continue by abasing yourself as a person might before a king and acknowledging God’s sovereignty
  • Make your request as a supplicant
  • End with gratitude for whatever God will decide to do
  • Amen

Different leaders had different variants on this, but this was more or less the pattern that was most popular.

In contrast, I never really prayed in this way, because it didn’t feel authentic to how I experienced my relationship with God. God for me is simultaneously an intimately close being that cares a lot about my pain and challenges, and a wholly other, vast being for whom traditional monarchic worship doesn’t feel quite right. I have described myself over the past year as leaning into the “mystery” and “weirdness” of God, and that feels more correct. I still haven’t figured out how that translates into a regular discipline, but the style of prayer I have developed is what I call the “Hey God” style. It’s still being refined, but it looks something like:

  • Say “Hey!” to God. For me, that’s “Hey God”, (as in “hello”, not as in “I need your attention”) but for others it may be something else
  • Sometimes I ask how God is doing. (I told you I’m leaning into weirdness.) I have been touched in a very childlike way by sermons I’ve heard in the past encouraging prayer that describe God almost like an empty nesting mom hoping to hear from her kids. And so I sometimes imagine God finds it nice when someone cares about how God is doing.
  • I talk about what I’m worried about.
  • I ask for help or support.
  • I say, “Thank you for listening.”
  • Amen

My primary other form of prayer is enjoyment of the world. Sometimes I will be skiing, or walking in a city full of people, or lifted high on good energy from people that care about me around me, and I take a moment to experience gratitude. I think that’s prayer, too; it’s recognition of both the good thing and the source of the good thing.

I am not encouraging anyone to adopt my styles of prayer. I don’t even know if they’re valid. The point isn’t that there is a better or worse prayer technique. The point is that if we seek connection with God, we should actually do things that connect us rather than follow rules and patterns that make us feel more distant, abased, and small.

My mother had to have an unexpected surgery recently. She found a doctor that could do the procedure in a safer and less invasive way, but it was serious, even though her prognosis was good. I talked to God about it, and asked for help and protection for her. And then I talked to my grandma.

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, died earlier this year as a centenarian. She lived a long, faithful life and has at least 4 generations of living progeny who she actively influenced. She was truly a matriarch and a model for the people in our family. And in that moment, I asked her, “Hey Grandma, could you please look out for your baby girl? Thank you.”

Most of the faith experiences I have had taught me that praying to anyone except God is idolatrous or blasphemous. One of the many things taken from the enslaved people brought to the Americas was their connection to their ancestors. And as the Catholic Church split in Europe, the intercession of the saints was increasingly forgotten in many of the newer Protestant traditions. The reasons for this are probably book-length subjects, but probably had to do at least partly with who European Christians had to become to justify the colonization of the world. People who have no connection to their ancestors, only to a distant God-king that tells them that they are the chosen ones, lose spiritual accountability and perspective beyond their own lifetimes. They neither answer to and learn from their ancestors, nor feel the responsibility to future generations of eventually becoming an ancestor. In the US, we preserved a weak form of ancestor worship in the mythology of the Founding Fathers, but they were specific, often problematic men that few of us feel a direct connection to from our own family stories. Even with them, we continually re-interpret and adapt their complex and sometimes conflicting reasoning as simple, received texts handed down from a new Mount Sinai.

Some of the syncretic religions that emerged did not have this problem. The Afro-Caribbean manifestations of Christianity preserved ancestor worship, and kept African ritual and ancestral reverence alongside church attendance and Christian practices. In Mexico and in parts of the US that were once Mexico, the Day of the Dead, popularized in the American imagination most recently through the movie Coco, is a day when families embrace full connection with those family members who have left this plane of existence. I have some limited experience with Santeria, the fusion of Ifa, the Yoruba religion of Nigeria, with Catholicism, including a visit with a babalawo (high priest). And his recommendation to me when I sought his counsel? Go to church and thank God. He meant a Christian church, because for him, there was no conflict between his practices and those of the priests in the local Christian church.

Modern fundamentalist Christianity thinks of these practices as Satanic. Usually, when modern fundamentalists call something Satanic, they typically mean “not from the specific allowed set of traditions and practices we have approved”. There’s again, another book-length conversation about whether some forms of Christianity are actually bitheistic, with a stronger Greater God and a weaker but still quite powerful “god of this world”, an adversary who arrays forces against humanity that we are ill-equipped to resist.

(As an aside, I looked up the phrase “god of this world” found in 2 Corinthians 4:4, and while many translations refer to that concept as “Satan” explicitly, the literal translation actually just says “the god of this age”, which could be interpreted as a specific being or as a mindset or ideology. This is important as we consider the relatively recent trend of Biblical literalism, where ancient texts are translated in a particular way, held up against modern understanding, and deemed to be specifically speaking into our moment and experience rather than primarily into the moment and experience for which they were written.)

I do believe in spiritual malevolent forces, just as I believe people on the material plane have great capacity for evil. However, I do not see my own family members’ energy as a work of an adversary plotting my eternal downfall. And besides, where is the energy to name the explicit perversion of Christianity to support chattel slavery or white supremacist terror as Satanic? The same people will call it “wrong” and “bad” when pressed, but will name teaching what science observes as “lies from the pit of Hell”.

To understand how problematic the above teachings are, imagine something that we can all agree is bad, like sacrifice of live children, let’s say 3 year olds, via fire. This was probably a thing in the land where the ancient Hebrews of the Torah lived, and was explicitly called out as something followers of YHWH should not do. Take a look at Leviticus 18:21, King James Version:

“And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.”

Now, imagine that for several hundred years, your church advocated that this passage in fact said:

“And thou shalt let thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, lest thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.”

Now, imagine after thousands or even millions of children were sacrificed, that went out of fashion and was no longer allowed, and the full text was restored, but the church did not acknowledge or repent loudly and fully of it. That’s basically where we are.

Isaiah 5:20 says:

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

When I look at how so many modern fundamentalist Christians land on unloving, inflexible, and historically inaccurate sides of the issues of our day again and again, I can’t help but ask, “are you calling evil good and good evil?”

I’m sure they have the same question for me.

Anyway, my mother’s healing, while not miraculous, is going as well as it can possibly medically be expected to, and I’m grateful. I thanked God for her healing. And I also thanked my Grandma for her support. She’s not a deity. But I do believe her energy and wisdom, along with that of our other ancestors, continues to be available to us if we choose to ask for it. I can’t know whether she had anything to do with it. But it’s nice to think that even after leaving this plane, she shared the love she gave us throughout her life and used it to help things along a bit.

I did look up recommendations from both Afro-Caribbean traditions and hoodoo, the under-discussed form of African-European religious syncretism practiced anywhere in the US enslaved people were held, for how to better connect with one’s ancestors. I’m not ready to build a mantel or altar, with photos, candles, water, and gifts. I’m less concerned with breaking the norms I was taught and more concerned with attracting spiritual energy I’m not ready to process. But my grandmother and my uncle who passed a few years ago are people that I’ve started to talk with from time to time. Perhaps, with time, I’ll learn to talk to others. And perhaps in the process, I’ll gain some additional understanding of the God that set this whole thing up.

Critical Race Theory – A Primer For Bridge Builders

This document was originally written as a content post for the Be The Bridge Facebook Group in support of the Be The Bridge (BTB) racial reconciliation initiative. This unpacking of Dr. Uju Anya’s description of Critical Race Theory may be generally useful, so I’ve reposted it here.

Hey BTB friends, it’s time to talk about Critical Race Theory. Before you groan and grab your heads and roll your eyes, let’s establish a couple of baselines. 

First, Be The Bridge’s official statement on CRT can be found here: 

Executive Summary

Full Document

If you are concerned about how CRT impacts the organization, our full statement on it is articulated in that document.

Second, while we encourage dialogue about how CRT is or is not helpful for bridge building, we’ll ask that the conversation stay focused on the validity and applicability of the tenets to the work we have set before us, and that we don’t drift into arguing about their compatibility with the Gospel. There is no actual dialogue between CRT and the Gospel; CRT does not require the presence or absence of a religious framework for the model to hold. CRT’s accuracy or inaccuracy has no effect on what we at BTB would describe as your charge as Bridge Builders under the Gospel. 

Finally, yes, it’s called a theory, and we all learned in sixth grade science that a theory is by definition unproven, right? Not exactly. It’s more accurate to say that it’s a model that can be used to describe how things work. The fitness of a model is determined by how accurately it can predict outcomes in a system, not in whether it has found some objective truth. Newton’s theories weren’t “wrong”; they were an accurate enough model of how things work that we still use his equations to describe basic physics today, even though we know that they don’t accurately describe what happens on the quantum level.

Dr. Uju Anya lays out in clear language an overview of CRT in a Twitter thread that she posted, and which I’ve included images of at the bottom. I am using her definitions from said thread as a basis for this, and unpacking them a bit more in the context of bridge building. If your bridge building conversations are being derailed by accusations of CRT, this thread may be a useful place to begin dialogue.

Dr. Anya lays out six tenets of CRT, all of which are often misunderstood and used to discredit the theory. The primary misunderstanding about CRT comes from a radically individualistic view of society. Each tenet describes an aggregate set of societal trends and effects that are broadly demonstrably true, but may not apply to every individual in every situation. In what I like to call the “righteous man in Sodom” fallacy, the single cases where the theory does not hold as strongly are held up to discredit the larger societal effect. This is similar to stating that the lake is warm because you’re standing in a warm shallow in the sunlight, while the majority of the lake is being chilled by ambient temperatures, its own depth, and shade from trees prevents sunlight through. The lake is still cold, even if your spot is warm. Let’s look closer.

Observational Tenets

The first three tenets are what I would call “observational tenets”. They posit things about what’s happening in the world around us without passing judgment on them or making recommendations about what should be different. As we state in our position statement on CRT: “It is important to remember that these academic scholars are not inventing behaviors, but giving name to behaviors that are already in existence.”


Racism is deeply embedded in our thinking and institutions, such that we see any resulting unfair advantages as natural and unchangeable. 

It’s important to read this correctly. It is not saying that these advantages are natural or immutable, it’s saying that our society, in aggregate, treats them as if they are. We see years of unequal outcomes while operating in a culture of silence about racism, and we lose sight of the racist policy and thinking that produces those outcomes. This thinking produces books like The Bell Curve, written in the early 1990s, which asserts a correlation between natural intelligence and racial origin.


Equal treatment under the law is a myth, which means that meritocracy and colorblindness, the necessary ingredients, are as well.

This is frequently misunderstood as implying explicit and pervasive racist stances are being held at every level of the system, making it impossible for each individual Black person to catch a break. The evidence of fairness at any single point is used as a counterpoint, absolving the system of wrongdoing. In reality, this manifests in things like home appraisals being different based on whether the appraiser knows the race of the homeowner (still happening in 2021) or in people with names that correlate to a racial identity getting called for fewer job interviews despite qualifications.


Whiteness is a commodity that provides benefits to those that possess it. 

This is frequently misunderstood as “everyone with white skin doesn’t have any problem and society treats them all like royalty.” It’s much more accurate to look at the fungibility of whiteness into protection, authority, and financial benefit, and the malleability of whiteness. Italians and Eastern Europeans were not always considered white. Anyone who is multiracial and is sometimes coded differently depending on the environment can also tell you about this difference and the things they have heard when people thought they were safe to discuss them. 

Positional Tenets

The second three tenets are what I would call “positional tenets”. These are arguments that I think the theory is making about how these power dynamics are affecting us and how the world around us can be changed.


POC can only advance in US institutions or society when whatever benefits them also benefits white people. 

This is usually not addressed in the discourse because POC’s lack of advancement is written off as a series of personal failures rather than an inability to overcome a series of systemic barriers. An example of interest convergence in our society currently would be the expansive safety net measures COVID introduced around unemployment insurance. Decades of persistent Black unemployment, underemployment, and unequal pay did not inspire a desire for a better safety net, but when COVID put millions of white workers at risk, the country acted swiftly to put in measures that helped them and happened to help others in the process. The converse is also true: popular support for safety net programs on the whole has declined since the 60s in a direct correlation to the allowance of Black people into the workforce, and the anti-mask/return-to-normal sentiment spiked as the COVID numbers started to come in and POC seemed to be the most affected.


We should listen to and center POC voices as legitimate alternatives to dominant voices that are usually white, male, and financially well off. 

This belief simply reflects the old maxim that the winners of history tell stories in their favor. Counternarrative asserts that we can only get a complete story by allowing multiple perspectives to weigh in and centering the ones that are not naturally amplified. However, this encouragement to find alternative voices is often weaponized, and dominant voices will find POC voices to lift and amplify that reinforce their narrative as a means of fighting the counternarrative of the majority. 


Multiple axes of power (race, gender, orientation, physical capability, neurotypicality, etc.) work together to produce different outcomes for different people from the same policies. 

As such, a policy to help women get more representation in management, for instance, doesn’t impact all women in the same way. White women who resemble the people who white men know and engage with may get unconscious support, while racial stereotyping may hold POC women back while being accused of not meeting supposedly objective criteria. This is often misunderstood as an “Oppression Olympics” scoreboard of privilege that is impossible to reconcile. 

However, we as bridge builders in particular should understand it as an opportunity to build empathy. For example, I can use my maleness and how it’s shaped my thinking to help me understand how whiteness could shape a white person’s thinking in our society. 

That’s it. That’s all the main parts of the theory. There’s one other thing I would like to cover, however, and that’s how white supremacy through the years has itself affirmed the observational tenets of CRT. Look at the things we’ve all learned about when studying race in America, from the language in the Declaration of Independence to the legal opinions that affirmed the non-humanity or non-citizenship of POC to redlining and deliberate thwarting of laws and treaties to favor white people or harm POC. Take this statement from Abraham Lincoln:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and Black races.”


This reinforces endemic racism, asserts that there should be no meritocracy or equal treatment, and defines whiteness as a commodity that gives certain rights and privileges, all in one sentence. Prior to 1965, people were pretty clear in their belief in racial difference and white superiority. The language about individual or local cultural defects was only introduced once language of natural racial traits went out of fashion. The CRT model accurately predicts this behavior, though you’d have to go deeper to get into how racism evolved after 1965 to adapt to changing moral and ethical trends. So any time you see a trend happening that someone asserts has an intersection with a power issue like race or gender, you can look at how it plays out up against the tenets above and see whether the model would predict the given result.

You can ask anyone who is critical of CRT in your circles to define it. If they can’t, you can share Dr. Anya’s commentary with them and ask them which parts they disagree with. If you are not presented with vague claims of socialism or anti-Christian rhetoric, the most likely complaint will be around its lack of accommodation for the individual. The refusal to process systemic injustice is one of the barriers you may be familiar with in your work thus far anyway. But just like I don’t need to understand quantum effects of time dilation to predict how long it will take you to drive to my house, whatever model we use doesn’t need to explain what’s happening to every atomic individual of a society to identify trends that should be of concern that we can address as a society.

Whether you agree or disagree with CRT as a model, it’s undeniable that many in the church and on the current political right have held it up as an insurmountable barrier to bridge building. I hope this post and Dr. Anya’s commentary in particular helps you feel better informed about CRT and able to assess to what degree the model is useful both in navigating this society and building bridges.

Original Thread

Voter Security or Suppression? A Closer Look at the New Laws in Georgia and Elsewhere

There is much consternation about the recent voter laws passed in Georgia and being evaluated in other states. Why are people so upset about a simple ID law? Doesn’t it make sense to verify that the person in the booth is authorized to cast the vote? And how is requiring identification racist?

In order to understand the discontent around voting laws, like many acts of policy or protest in America, the policy must be placed in the appropriate context. Before we get into that history, we must first define election fraud. The term as currently being discussed typically refers to people illegally voting multiple times or voting when they are ineligible, something we should more accurately refer to as “voter fraud”. This is contrasted with after-ballot tampering, miscounting, or tactics that prevent people from being able to vote in the first place, which is all conducted by agents of the state and reflected in most of our voting history in America. When we dispute the charges of election fraud currently being leveled by the Republicans who are pushing nationwide for stricter voting laws, we are specifically disputing the question of whether voters are acting illegally and not the states that count the votes. 

The story for Black voting in the United States starts at the end of the Civil War with the 14th and 15th Amendments. Having abolished slavery except for prisoners with the 13th, the United States Congress went on to ratify the 14th Amendment, which gave Black people citizenship, and the 15th Amendment, which made preventing voting based on race, color, or former slave status illegal. (It was still illegal for women to vote.) In the South, Black people made up nearly half the population in several states, and so a number of states sent Black legislators to the state houses and to DC.

In Georgia, 33 Black legislators were duly elected in 1868. They were subsequently expelled by white supremacists, with some of them being attacked or killed. The newly formed KKK backed the move with a terror campaign where a number of Black Georgians were killed. This subversion of the legal electoral process led to Georgia being kicked back out of the Union, and it was not readmitted for nearly two years. The Confederate remnant in the Democratic Party managed to re-secure control and engaged in an orchestrated terror campaign similar to what happened in other states in the South to eventually disenfranchise Black voters by the 1890s. The politically dominant Democratic Party even went so far as to have White-only primaries. 

Jim Crow kept most Black people out of the voting booth until the 1960s. Poll taxes were in place from 1877 to 1945. All-white primaries were banned in 1946. However, literacy tests and “tests of personal character” were also common, with the passing determined by the voting registrar in the county, nearly guaranteed to be white. Regardless of federal and state laws, local registrars did what they wished, and the state would generally look upon malfeasance with a wink and a nod. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was crafted to target the aggressive voter suppression in the Deep South and affected specific states, and finally allowed Black people to safely vote, at least in urban areas where terror or intimidation tactics could not be as easily applied. 

Thanks in part to the Voting Rights Act, the ideological home of Southern conservatism switched over the next 30 years from the Democratic to the Republican Party. In 2005, after Republicans took control of the legislature and the governor’s seat from Democrats, they passed a law reducing the number of valid forms of ID one could vote with and making provisions for no-excuse absentee ballots, with the knowledge that the absentee ballots would skew rural, white, and Republican. Democrats at the time made some of the same arguments Republicans are making now, indicating fear of fraud, though not alleging that fraud had occurred. Republicans continued to win statewide elections for the next 15 years, and there were no suggestions to change the law. While there did not appear to be malfeasance in the counting of the absentee ballots, catering to the demographic they hoped to obtain seemed to work. Along the way, Georgia also chose electronic systems that came under fire for glitches and possible tampering that favored Republicans.

Stacey Abrams, through her efforts with the organization she founded, the New Georgia Project, registered nearly a million voters over 6 years — 200,000 before the 2018 governor’s race, and 800,000 more after. Those voters were disproportionately historically disenfranchised and disengaged Black voters. Despite this, in 2018 she lost the governor’s race to Brian Kemp, who in his capacity as secretary of state presided over the election as well as being a candidate. The election itself was plagued by allegations of miscounts and problems with the equipment. In the end, the voter registration efforts paid off for Democrats as newly engaged voters who skewed Democrat voted in the election, giving Georgia 2 new senators and giving the Democratic presidential candidate the state’s electoral votes. 

In the wake of the closely contested 2020 election and runoffs, Republicans asserted foul play and again moved to change the laws. The same absentee ballots that were valid 15 years prior were now allegedly sources of substantial fraud. Despite lack of substantial proof, anecdotal allegations and unfounded claims won much of the day in the public discourse. A Republican-dominated state legislature adjusted the voting laws and made several changes. The most notable changes were:

-The state can now intervene and take over county election boards

-The secretary of state can no longer preside over the state electoral board, replaced instead with a person chosen by the legislature

These changes determine who gets to count votes in the large urban counties in Atlanta where there is a significant enough Black population to sway the statewide result. They also ensure that even if a secretary of state is elected from a different party than the legislature, they will not have sufficient influence to determine how the state sets election policies and rules within the laws drawn. A number of other provisions were put in place, including the infamous food and water provision, requiring copies of ID, and restricting absentee ballot drop-off to poll hours.

Restrictions like limiting drop-off to poll hours are intended to make it harder to vote. Georgia gained notoriety as well for uneven distribution of polling equipment, producing hours-long lines in many predominantly Black districts while other districts breezed voters through. The laws are specifically designed to create more hurdles to voting under the guise of solving a problem with voter fraud that has repeatedly been proven not to exist. (The Heritage Foundation alleges over 1300 instances of voter fraud but they appear to be looking at over 2 decades of data nationwide and do not seem to distinguish between malicious intent and people who made honest mistakes.) But why?

Just as the Voting Rights Act was able to target the South without saying “the South” by looking at the percentage of registered voters due to successful suppression during Jim Crow, these new measures are targeting Black voters without saying “Black voters”. There are a number of ways to validate that a person is authorized to cast a vote. We could make state IDs free, and in this digital age, even make them easy to get via manned mobile stations. We could allow voting on Sunday (the new Georgia law makes that optional for counties to disallow, targeting Black churches’ “Souls to the Polls” efforts). We could mandate that any county polling place with the equipment make complimentary photocopies of ID. None of that is being done. 

The economic damage of centuries of enslavement followed by nearly a century of racial terror and disenfranchisement means we see Black people disproportionately represented in jobs that make less money and have less flexibility. Our “essential workers” may not be able to get out of their jobs during election hours. Federal law mandates 2 hours of time off (not necessarily paid) to vote, but in an at will state where you can be fired for any non-protected reason, do you take the chance? Even if you get the time, if you are reliant on public transit, it may be too inconvenient to get to your polling place.

Yes, these hurdles are surmountable. Yes, a sufficiently motivated person can still vote in person, albeit with an hours-long wait time in some areas. However, we should ask ourselves why we are putting up hurdles in the first place if they have been proven to not protect us from anything. When we again lay the list of actions and expected outcomes against a nation that has a long history of racialized policy decisions, the results become problematic, and we’re faced with the choice to either mitigate the racialization or avoid it in the first place by choosing policies that are just and maximize access without compromising security.

Our nation deserves secure elections. And we deserve sufficient access to the tools required to secure them, and sufficient resources to run elections in such a way as to avoid hours-long waits to exercise the fundamental right of a democracy. 


Additional Reading:






Lil Nas X and “Where The Devil Reside”

Silhouette of man with wings standing on a hill. The sun is rising or setting directly over his head.
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels

Lil Nas X recently released a video for his song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” that features him in a CGI garden making out with a serpent and later giving the devil a lap dance. He followed this up by releasing a custom-modified set of sneakers with a Satanic theme and even one drop of human blood in the air pocket mixed with the red dye. Naturally, large parts of the Christian community are up in arms.

I am a product of the particular form of Christianity practiced here, so I won’t assert that I was completely comfortable watching Lil Nas X cavort with demonic-looking figures. But art isn’t supposed to necessarily be comfortable. (If your initial response to that is “but that’s not art”, I’ll gently remind you that while not every expression is art, the range is probably broader than what any one person would accept.) I did notice two things though.

First, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mainstream music video where a man sexualizes himself the way a woman might be expected to for the benefit of men the way we’ve seen in countless videos. That alone was interesting, and for the LGBTQ+ community, possibly groundbreaking. We’ll set aside for the moment the question of whether that sexualization is a good thing, and focus on the fact that it is bringing other sexual identities out of the shadows. (It’s also possible that not being a member of that community and being at an age where I’m rapidly entering the lawn-guarding stage of my music appreciation career, I am not aware of other work that’s been done.) Second, I didn’t realize his real first name was Montero. Singing an eponymous song while literally wrestling with his demons sheds a whole new light on the meaning and intention behind the work.

Hell has a checkered story. The Bible doesn’t talk about Hell as we know it. Jesus in the original untranslated text talks about Gehenna, which was a valley in Jerusalem that was considered to be cursed because ancient kings of Judah sacrificed children by fire there. Rabbinic literature talks about it as a kind of purgatory, but one’s stay there is seen as temporary. Other faiths’ concepts, such as the Greeks’ Tartarus, a place of torment that corresponded to one’s sins in life, later influenced Christian conceptions of what Hell is. Gnostic beliefs about the separation of the spirit and the body, also influenced by Greek philosophy, fed the frequently taught notion that the body and the world the body lives in is corrupted. The word Hell itself comes from the Anglo-Saxons that were converted several hundred years after the life of Christ. And the medieval artistic imagination completed the vision as we see it: a burning, desolate realm, where a goatlike humanoid supervises while legions of abominations roam free and torture the souls of the wicked.

American Christians are also very afraid of Satan. Satan comes from Semitic language roots as a word for “adversary”. Theologically, depending on one’s reading of the Bible, he’s both the one who is the prosecutor arguing before God why you should be locked away in Hell and the undercover police officer setting you up to commit the crime. Americans have a particularly literalist interpretation of Biblical text, and as such tend to believe in a personified being. There have been times when I’ve referred to some of the more fundamentalist practices of Christianity as “devil worship” because they spend more time in practice expressing their fear of what the devil is doing or what will do next than their faith in God. The Gnostic-influenced dualism ascribes nearly as much power to the devil as to God, making him god-like in his reach and capability. In their eschatology, God will ultimately prevail, but only after a pitched and difficult battle.

Many of the more conservative forms of American Christianity continue to look at our “fallen world” and see evidence of the devil’s work throughout. They are deeply concerned that the mainstream society and culture, as it grows increasingly tolerant and expresses broader points of view, will at least turn its eye away from God altogether and at most explicitly worship God’s adversary, granting him more power. To maintain the purity of the Church, many small-c churches have forgotten how to love people as they are and create a welcoming refuge from the fallen world. Instead, they construct an ever-increasingly-complex set of rules and practices, and in order to be a part of the community, your beliefs must line up just so. Otherwise, while you may attend and even volunteer your talents in service to the body, you will not be fully allowed to participate in the life of the church, lest you lead others astray. I experienced some of this in previous churches due to my willingness to even hold explicit uncertainty rather than accept literal interpretations of Scripture. LGBTQ+ parishioners have experienced it all the more.

The stereotypical conservative position is portrayed as “gay bad, stay away until you decide to live the way God intended.” I have attended churches with a more nuanced position, but still one that in practice did not let people fully participate in the life of the church without choosing celibacy and singleness. If they do choose that, they’ll then still often be pressured to find a heterosexual partner and marry, as official leadership and unofficial authority is primarily only available to married men, and to women only indirectly through their husbands. There’s a whole separate thing about how celibacy and singleness should be first-class concepts in the church regardless of one’s identity and orientation, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

All this context is the place from which Lil Nas X is drawing this song. He grew up outside of Atlanta, the son of a gospel singer. He tried to “pray his gay away” and couldn’t. I do not know the exact church framework he grew up in, but it stands to reason based on his documented handling of coming to terms with his sexuality that he grew up in a conservative Christian context that saw no place for him as he was. His supporters, and many LGBTQ+ people that I have seen express opinions on it see it clearly as him embracing the things about himself that his upbringing told him would send him to Hell. Some gay people who were raised in a conservative Christian context struggle with the imagery as well, but hold the tension and understand the message.

Let’s get back to the latest Satanic panic. American Christians are concerned about the devil, or as many call him due to some choice lines from Paul, the god of this world, taking over the mainstream culture and ruling over all except the small remnant who choose to profess Christ. Videos like this to them are just evidence of attempting to corrupt the children directly, normalizing worship of the devil and practice of evil. Variants of these ideas are informing cult practices like QAnon that have infested white evangelical spaces.

in my experience though, I have only met 3 kinds of people Christians would call “devil-worshippers”:

  1. People who practice pre-Christian faiths (with a partial exception made for Judaism) in as close to their original form as possible
  2. People who practice reconstituted faith systems drawing from pre-Christian beliefs like Wicca or Thelema
  3. People who don’t believe in anything and who are trolling Christians (the Satanic Temple is a good example of this)

I’ve had personal relationships with people in all three categories. None of these people are plotting to take down the Christian God or corrupt God’s followers for the benefit of their own deity or pleasure. Evangelism is not a universal religious practice, and they are not seeking converts either. Only the most militant atheists, who ironically are often backlashing against a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, are concerned about ending belief because of the great harm they’ve seen believers do to each other. Most atheists and believers in other deities or systems just want to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit.

My own afterlife theology is evolving. I don’t know exactly what happens after this, though I think the Hell we constructed out of burning trash heaps and medieval visions isn’t how it works. I am also not sure I believe in an incarnate adversary-in-chief, though I have experienced spiritual warfare firsthand and know there are malevolent forces out there beyond our scientific understanding.

What I do know is that our church that is so deeply concerned with the devil has so much molestation and abuse of all kinds in it, either in the homes of parishioners or in the offices of leaders, that it’s not even considered a stop-everything moment when yet another leader or priest or counselor or parent is exposed for what my friend rightly calls “spiritual murder”. I have seen churches manipulate and emotionally abuse people as well, causing great damage and distress, and driving people away from a faith whose only face for them is the church leadership. And let’s not even get started on the horrors of genocide, slavery, segregation, and colonization that were justified by twisted forms of faith that have still not fully been unwound.

I remember watching an episode of “College Hill” of all things, a reality show where Black college students live together in a house with the expected ensuing drama, and during a trip to the woods where everyone bonded, one girl talked about how she was molested weekly downstairs at the church while service was going on upstairs. And while she was supported and received sympathy, no one even saw that as surprising or remarkable. No one went to the church with pitchforks and torches. It’s just the way things happen, so watch your kids and good luck. The problem is so endemic among Catholic priests that it’s become a distasteful joke. Even our secular religion of sports is now showing itself to be a center of abuse from the same coaches that pray with young athletes on the field.

I do not believe that there is something fundamental about Christianity as a system that causes this. I think, and the world shows, that this is a universal human capability. Part of the ability to choose between good and evil is the ability to choose evil, and in that regard, we need no devil to tempt us. The power is its own temptation. I do believe that fundamentalist praxis that brooks no dissent, no understanding of metaphor, and no reflection, and that forgets the core revolutionary charter that Jesus set out, opens us up to calling, as Isaiah 5:20 says, “evil good, and good evil”. The repression of fundamentalism allows no escape for our evil urges, no way to put them in disinfecting sunlight, so they sit inside, fester, and grow.

Despite the fact that it’s not Christianity itself that is broken, but its practice here, we are not excused from the duty to change the practice where we can. We are not excused from welcoming our neighbor as they are without qualification. We are not excused from protecting the vulnerable and casting down the haughty and those who would abuse their sacred responsibilities. Something is broken in a faith practice that shakes its fist at a young man dancing on another man in red makeup while it sits mute, shame-faced, and silent while children are broken and women are murdered both spiritually and literally for the warped desires of men.

Lil Nas X is mocking a practice of faith that failed him and finding freedom in that. We need not celebrate it if we don’t personally connect with it, but we have nothing to fear from it either. The onus is on those who believe to create a practice of faith that is so full of love and justice that there is nothing to mock.