“…sanctuary in a church…”

I read two things today that might be related. From CNN:

The leaders of the white nationalist and so-called “alt-right” movement — all of whom vehemently oppose multiculturalism and share the belief in the supremacy of the white race and Western civilization — publicly backed Trump during his campaign for his hardline positions on Mexican immigration, Muslims, and refugee resettlement. Trump has at times disavowed their support. Bannon’s hiring, they say, is a signal that Trump will follow through on some of his more controversial policy positions.

“I think that’s excellent,” former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke told CNN’s KFile. “I think that anyone that helps complete the program and the policies that President-elect Trump has developed during the campaign is a very good thing, obviously. So it’s good to see that he’s sticking to the issues and the ideas that he proposed as a candidate. Now he’s president-elect and he’s sticking to it and he’s reaffirming those issues.”

From Lex Visigothorum (400-500 CE):

No one shall dare to remove, by force, any person who has sought sanctuary in a church unless said person should attempt to defend himself with arms.

When I Knew

On election night last week I drove down to Mount Greenwood on the far south side of the city. The neighborhood is mostly Irish-Catholic and was the site of a recent police shooting. I went because I knew that a group of mostly Black protestors were gathering in response to the shooting. I needed to bear witness. What I saw and heard made my head spin: hundreds of the neighborhood’s residents screaming at the few Black protestors; slurs and stereotypes hurled with abandon; wink-and-nod interactions between police and neighbors; white teenagers and children mesmerized by the entire scene, phones held high to record the chaos before walking the block or so back to their homes.

This is when I knew Donald Trump could be the next president. Not because each of his voters is so openly hostile to African American people, but because a country that accepts the reasonableness of this horrifying scene will find little about this man that is unreasonable enough to keep him from the highest office in the land.

Advent: Hope

Advent has become one of the most important seasons of the year for me. My recognition of this ancient Christian season – beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – was born out of my frustration with the hyper-consumerism associated with the holidays. The discovery, as one who’d not grown up with an awareness of the church calendar, was a means to reclaim the weeks leading up to Christmas as a time for reflection and practices that prepared me to celebrates Christ’s birth.

More recently I’ve come to rely on the themes of waiting that are a part of Advent. These weeks remind me of those like Mary, who anticipated the long-awaited arrival of the Messiah. Each year I’m reminded that Christians are also a waiting people, longing for the day of our Savior’s return when all is made well and new, when justice and mercy are expressed with a perfection beyond our comprehension.

michael-washingtonI have found certain Advent devotionals to be helpful during the season, so I was thrilled when my very good friend Michael Washington decided to turn a series of beautiful Advent reflections into his first book. Hope: Meditations Before, During and After Advent is a gift for the church, especially in these days where hope can seem hard to grasp.

Michael’s book is unique among the devotionals focusing on Advent with which I’m acquainted. First, he chooses to focus solely on the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. He moves slowly and meditatively through these verses, often lingering for a few entries on one verse. Second, he includes 90 reflections with the assumption that the reader may begin before Advent or end a few weeks after. I’ll make another suggestion: Given the shortness of these meditations, it would be easy to read one in the morning and another before bed. Or a third could be added at midday. Third, Michael chooses to be brief in each mediation. This economy doesn’t hinder the depth or insight of the mediations, but it does make the book exceedingly accessible, including for those who have no experience with Advent.

I’ll say a final thing to commend the book to you. Michael is a good writer and an even better observer of the human experience, particularly as it stumbles about the encounter with God. What he considers in these pages reveals this gift and  because of it we are better prepared for Advent and to the longed-for event to which the season points.

Chief Wahoo and Repentance

An offensive mascot demands more than critique.

Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians, is a racist depiction of Native Americans that never should have been used by the baseball team and certainly can’t be justified in 2016. There’s nothing complicated about this. The decision to keep the mascot (and, I would argue, the team’s name) is indefensible and made even more obviously offensive by the current desecration of Native American land in North Dakota.

During the World Series my social media feeds have been full of commentary in this vein. Well and good. But some of this critique has veered into familiar territory, where the critique itself absolves the critic. I’ve seen this critique expressed with sentiments by sports fans along the lines of, I could never be a fan of Cleveland because of their mascot.  I get the instinct – especially by a white person – to distance oneself from such blatant racism, but this move only gives the critic the appearance of purity. It’s a good thing to point out Chief Wahoo’s offensiveness, particularly to those who’ve somehow missed this painfully obvious fact. But this can’t be where we stop.

Consider the other team in the World Series. The owners of the Chicago Cubs support the Republican nominee for president and have contributed to his campaign. The team’s recent success is bound to expedite the gentrification that radiates from Wrigley Field, displacing those who can’t afford rising rents and property taxes. In a relatively direct way, a fan who buys tickets or merchandise is connected to a presidential candidate whose racism and sexism has been well-documented and to a neighborhood dynamic that impacts poor and working class people.

None of this is to say that people – and I’m thinking about Christians particularly – can’t root for the Cubs. (White Sox fans will debate this point.) It is, however, to question what we identify ourselves with – or distance ourselves from – as evidence that we are with it, that we’re not like those culturally insensitive, backward, racist people. Not being an Indians fan doesn’t place me above those who are. In fact, focusing only on a racially offensive mascot (politician, celebrity, pastor, etc.) can end up distracting me from the more subtle but no less destructive racial injustices associated with my own team (neighborhood, school, organization, etc.).

Granted, if I lived in Cleveland it’d be hard to get excited about their baseball team as long as they keep the name and that terrible mascot. But as a Christian, the injustice associated with that particular team deserves more than critique, it also requires personal reflection about how the logic that makes sense of Chief Wahoo has lodged itself within my own heart and mind as well.

OK, back to the game. And despite my south side pride… Go Cubs, Go!

 

“…the aching absence of a truly aching Christian intellectual community…”

The Christian ImaginationBlack Atlantic Christianity comes into being with this painful  truth. The Christianity it works with is necessary, powerful, and living but not very appealing. It lacks appeal because, enamored of the power and beauty of whiteness, this Christianity presents itself to no one but itself and tragically invites “nonwhite” peoples to do the same. An intellectual life formed in so unappealing a setting becomes crushingly insular… I am not dismissing the important parental legacy of Christianity in nurturing key intellectuals of the modern West, and especially intellectuals of the Black Atlantic. But we must not allow this legacy to blind us to the aching absence of a truly Christian intellectual community at the heart of church life in this world. Such a Christian community would reflect in its work the incarnate reality of the Son who has joined the divine life to our lives and invites us to deep abiding intellectual joining, not only of ideas but of problems, not only of concepts but of concerns, not only beliefs and practices but of common life, and all of it of the multitude of many tongues.

-Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race

Jennings captures something so innate to Western Christianity that it is mostly invisible, namely that its rootedness in whiteness leads to an intellectual life that is not particularly Christian. Consider, for example, current white Christian engagement with the Republican presidential nominee. On one side are the supporters who are blind to the threat this man poses to many within the diverse Christian family. On the other side are those who cannot imagine any scenario in which a Christian could support the nominee and yet whose opposition has little physical contact with the lives and concerns of Black and Brown Christians.

Jennings hints at an alternative in which white Christianity redirects its gaze and the seat of its authorities to “non-white” communities and concerns. There is a common life available but the conversion will be a kind of death for those whose experience of God was birthed in the insularity of whiteness.

“…the first time I saw a picture of white Jesus…”

All of our movies, the music we listened to, the books we read, the food that we ate—everything was a representation of Black American people and culture. I think that the first time I saw a picture of white Jesus was at a friend’s house; I remember thinking he was an entertainer or model, with his big blue eyes and blonde hair. At our house, a large picture of Martin Luther King Jr. was framed and hung up as if he were a member of the family, and I think the first time I used the word “handsome” was in reference to a print of Marvin Gaye we kept near the living room table.

– Jasmine Sanders, “Home on the State Street Corridor.” This entire essay is beautiful, a reflection on a part of the south side that looms large despite its demolition years ago.