10 Thoughts on #RachelDolezal

10 Thoughts on #RachelDolezal
I’m a learner at heart. I love searching for understanding and clarity, regardless of what the subject or circumstance is. I’m also a teacher. I try my best to take whatever I’ve learned and pass that on to others for our mutual benefit. Each One, Teach One. That being so, I offer these thoughts to the public conversation related to Rachel Dolezal. Honestly, my thoughts have less to do with Ms. Dolezal and more to do with the broader spheres of race, ethnicity, and culture. Check them out and let me know what you think!
  1. This is a strange, complex story. (no explanation needed)
  2. The NAACP, since its inception in the early 1900’s, has always been a multicultural organization, composed of people of diverse backgrounds. As they reminded us via Fridays’ Statement, “One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.” One does not need to be black to be a member or a leader in the NAACP.
  3. Ms. Dolezal did not have to be black to lead this NAACP chapter, teach Africana Studies, attend Howard University, marry a black man, etc. Her reasons seem to extend beyond the community that she served and into some deep personal issues with her own family.
  4. There appears to be a series of other substantial lies by Ms. Dolezal that further complicate this story and point to larger issues of integrity for her.
  5. Rachel Dolezal, like all of us, has a past that helps to shape/influence her present actions. I do not judge her for whatever past pain she has experienced. In fact, I pray that she can begin to address that pain, as opposed to continuing to live into what appears to be a completely false identity.
  6. Race is a social construct with very little biological basis for the way that race has been handled, especially in the U.S. Acknowledging that is very different from saying race and racial hierarchies don’t exist. It’s also very different from asserting that race is so fluid that it can be picked up and laid down whenever one wants to. In America, there is a very real historical and cultural legacy that has existed and still exists today as a result of the social construct that is race. As a dark-skinned black man, I don’t have the option of moving to another city and beginning again as a white man.  The fact that Rachel Dolezal could live for 10 years as a black woman, moving in and out of countless spaces representing herself that way, is the very essence of privilege.
  7. Historically, being Black was the designation reserved for anyone with even one drop of African blood in them. Are we now to believe that blackness is assigned to anyone who appreciates or appropriates something related to African-American culture? Does it work that way with all racial identification?
  8. There are countless people in our society who are born into one ethnic group, but for any number of reasons, identify more closely with or develop a great appreciation for another group. There may be some of that at play here, but Rachel Dolezal takes it to a different, and arguably more dishonest level, by actually pretending that she was Black.
  9. We need a better understanding of the ways that race has impacted and continues to impact our society. The push that I’ve heard from many people to “stop talking about race” seems ridiculous because it has not been paired with any attempt to tear down the system of racial hierarchy that still clearly exists in this country. The idea that talking about race is what keeps racism going is outrageous.
  10. African-American Studies and Africana Studies programs should be much more than dumping grounds for athletes in our colleges and universities. Our community benefits when we’re better educated about our history and culture, as well as the dynamics of race, gender, class, etc. In having a number of conversations over the last few weeks, be it talking about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner or Rachel Dolezal, I’ve been reminded that there is still much misunderstanding in our community, even among college-educated friends. It appears there is still a huge void that a refocused and repurposed NAACP and organizations like it could help fill.

So, those are some of my thoughts. There’s always more to learn and I hope you’re on the journey with me. Drop me a comment below…I’ d love to hear some of your thoughts. 

Grace & Peace!

Blackness

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Pax Romana & Our Violent Peace

Pax Romana & Our Violent Peace
On Sunday, I had a chance to hear a powerful message by my pastor, Dr. Dennis R. Edwards. In our 3rd Advent message, on the topic of PEACE, Pastor Dennis made a reference to the way in which the Roman Empire boasted about its peace (Pax Romana). In his reference, he challenged this false idea of peace, in large part because it was maintained by violently squelching any one who disturbed or dared to challenge it. This was especially true for the folks stuck at the bottom of society.  Crucifixion was one of many torturous methods of control utilized by the Roman Empire, and this was the end that Jesus met.

The image that I most often think of when it comes to the Roman Empire is called the Appian Way, where it’s believed that more than 6,000 slaves were crucified after a revolt in 73 B.C.  It is said that they were left to hang, suffer, and die along the roadside as a statement to the rest of the empire. Their bodies lined the Appian Way for more than 130 miles. Yes, 130 miles.

 
appian
 
Fast forward to today.  One could argue, as many have, that America is an empire in the truest sense of the term. Depending on your station in life, that may or may not be a bad thing. Political viewpoints aside, I pose this question: How should a follower of Jesus view an empire?
 
As you’re deciding, take a look at the photo below. It visualizes a weird juxtaposition from #Ferguson.
 
Fegurson - Pax Romana
 
 The brightly lit sign reads, “Season’s Greetings,” and it is especially well contrasted against the jet black skies and black riot gear of the Ferguson Police. Oh, the irony! Deeper than just the image, can anyone see the correlation between the violent peace of Pax Romana and the vicious nature of the American system of law & order?
  •  If the Roman Empire’s tactics are now seen as barbaric, why are so many Christians ok with what’s happening right before our eyes?
  • If Jesus was victimized by the Roman Empire, where do we see Jesus in today’s system of law & order?
  • Would Jesus take a place of privilege today or would he suffer with and on behalf of those who suffer at the hands of the system?
 Think about it…
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Silence Says Something

Silence Says Something

Note: Back in April 2014, I wrote this post as a part of an online series on Race and Justice for Transform Minnesota, a local, evangelical organization here in Minneapolis. Since that time, several things have happened that have deepened my resolve to call for cross-cultural dialogue among Christians:

  1. Death of Eric Garner – On July 17th, a 43-year old New York man died after being placed in a prohibited chokehold by police as they tried to question and arrest him. In video of the incident, you can hear Garner screaming that he couldn’t breathe. The incident is under investigation.
  2. Creating Options Together Conference – CRU Inner City, a Christian organization with partners in nearly every urban center in the country, hosted a week-long conference designed to practically equip leaders to minister in urban areas.  It was a great week that provided a glimmer of hope in the midst of evangelical culture.  
  3. Death of John Crawford – On August 5th, a 22-year old Ohio man was shot and killed by police in a Wal-Mart store while holding a toy gun, a BB/Pellet gun that he had picked up in the store.  Witnesses report that Crawford screamed, “It’s a toy,” just before being shot by police. His death has been ruled a homicide and is under investigation. 
  4. Death of Mike Brown – On August 9th, an unarmed 18-year old Missouri teen was shot multiple times and killed by police.  The incident is under investigation and details really are unclear.  The incident, however, has set off several days of protests and confrontations between police and residents. 

Each of these events has impacted me in its own way, and they leave me more determined than ever to keep sharing this message. Grace & Peace! 

——-

I love communication. I feel it is one of the greatest abilities given to humanity. Be it the cry of an infant, the excited squeal of a group of teenage girls at the mall, the cheerful banter of a family over a meal, even the sobbing that accompanies the loss of a loved one—I can’t imagine what life would be like without the gift of communication.

“In a loud, painful public discourse, white evangelicals have been largely silent, absent and evasive. Why is that?”

The things that we say—our spoken words—are probably the most recognizable form of communication, but many people would agree that everything about us communicates something: our facial expressions, outfits, posture, choice of friends or spending habits. They all communicate something about who we are, what we value, where we are headed.

Even with all of that being true, there is an aspect of communication that we often misunderstand or overlook altogether. I’m referring to silence. Silence communicates.

When I think about the nearly 13 years since I met my wife during our college years and the eight years that I’ve served in vocational ministry in Minneapolis, I’ve had to become a much better communicator. Being married and being a pastor have taught me to listen for words, to watch for nonverbal cues, and to pay attention to moments of silence.

I’ve become acutely aware of the ways in which silence can be just as effective an indicator of a person or group’s thoughts, feelings, values and intentions as a mouthful of words. At times, silence conveys a message that causes one to have great hope. At other times, silence is deafening, harmful and cowardly.

“Unfortunately, there has been an undeniable silence among white evangelical Christians.”

Let me explain one example of the latter.

Jordan Davis is a name the average American probably had never heard before 2012 and probably had forgotten again until last month. That’s understandable, though. Jordan was a regular young man from Florida. His life was not in any way remarkable or noteworthy. He lived the life one would expect of a teenage boy: full of music, sports and time with his friends.

What separates Jordan’s story from that of the vast majority of other American teens is that in November 2012, he had an encounter with an armed adult at a Florida gas station. At the end of that encounter, Jordan Davis lay in the back of a friend’s SUV with two gunshot wounds in his legs and another that had ripped through his liver, lungs and aorta.

Jordan died that night and his shooter drove away, returned to his hotel and had a drink before falling asleep. The shooter was later arrested, but not until he and his fiancé had driven 130 miles the next day back to their home.

Fast forward to February 2014. Just months after handing out a not guilty verdict in the murder of another young black Florida teen named Trayvon Martin, the state sat on the brink of another pivotal legal decision in the trial of Jordan’s killer. Despite the testimony of Jordan’s three friends who were also in the vehicle that night and the damaging testimony of his own fiancé, Jordan’s killer was found not guilty of first-degree murder.

In a strange legal ruling, the jury convicted the shooter on the charge of attempted murder for firing 9-10 shots into the vehicle, but did not convict him of first-degree murder when three of those bullets found their target. The public outrage was immediate and fierce. Unfortunately, it was mostly divided along racial lines.

In the weeks since the verdict, there has been a lot communicated by men and women who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. There have been calls for boycotts of the state of Florida, appeals to the moral conscience of our entire nation, prayer for the safety and protection of our children and much more. Cries for God’s justice have echoed from pulpits, pews, prayer benches and street corners.

Unfortunately, there has been an undeniable silence among white evangelical Christians. In a loud, painful public discourse, white evangelicals have been largely silent, absent and evasive. Why is that?

I believe there are a few reasons, some understandable, others a bit more difficult to excuse. Here’s my best estimation of why many white evangelicals chose silence in this and other cases of racial injustice:

Fear

Many white evangelicals realize that confronting racial injustice is dirty, messy work. The terrain is full of land mines and any misunderstanding—any comment taken out of context, any assumption made—can potentially “set things off.” I’ve seen situations where well-meaning friends have been accused of being prejudiced, ignorant, even racist. For many, that possibility is enough to keep them quiet, even when biblical justice calls for them to do otherwise.

Perceived Lack of Skills

Similar to the previous reason, many white evangelicals don’t believe they have the right skills to navigate this type of situation. They believe they lack the right words or the necessary experiences. Being silent often seems less treacherous.

Distance

Some white evangelicals are so emotionally disconnected from the likes of a Jordan Davis that they really have no reference point in which to identify. The idea of their teenage children leaving home and losing their life at the hand of some troubled adult just isn’t a reality for them. They remain quiet, often while harboring thoughts like, There must be more to the story. Stuff like this doesn’t just happen. Social distance makes it difficult for us to identify with those in other stages of life.

Unresolved Guilt

Finally, many white evangelicals remain silent about racial injustice because in order to address situations like the Jordan Davis case, we would have to address the historic, systemic roots of racism and injustice based on race in this country, including in the American church. Unresolved guilt, even for Bible-believing Christians is a struggle.

One of the underlying reasons that evangelicals are more committed to international missions than they are to missional living at home is that in order to do the hard work of justice in America, it would require us to acknowledge the deep, dark legacy of racism and racial injustice that haunts the American church. It’s easier to do compassion work on the other side of the globe than it is to let justice roll down our own streets.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood well the complexities of balancing the call to follow Christ with the challenge to fight injustice. In fact, his work to eradicate racial injustice was fueled by his love of God and his proper understanding of the Imago Dei. In 1956, Dr. King said: “There are not gradations in the image of God. Every man, from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that.”

I join Dr. King in pointing us toward a day when every human life is equally valued in our churches, our communities and given equal protection by our justice system. Even more so, I look with eagerness to the day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, freeing us from all vestiges of sin, death and hatred.

Until then, let us not give in to any impulse that would keep us silent! Until then, let us refuse to be silenced by fear, ability, distance or guilt!

Silence

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Dealing with Discouragement In Ministry

Dealing with Discouragement In Ministry

Have you ever been discouraged?  Unless you have some serious antisocial tendencies, I’d guess that you have been discouraged at one point or another in your life.  For those of us who serve in ministry, discouragement is very real and present danger.  The very nature of our work makes us more susceptible to discouragement because we are often so heavily invested in the lives of others.  The average person can go out of their way to live insulated lives, shielded and protected from “mess,” but not us.  The very nature of our calling seems to demand that we give others access to our lives, while at the same time wading into the murky waters of their lives.  Can you imagine a pastor who refused to care about others? How about a minister who openly expressed her lack of concern for the condition of those around her? Wouldn’t she risk being called a sociopath?  Nobody wants to be called a sociopath…so we dive in! Loving, trusting, forgiving, all the while believing that this is the God-honoring thing to do!

Discouragement comes in when even your most sacrificial efforts fall flat, and the expectations that you had of something or someone bite you in the butt.  It happens to every minister that I’ve ever known…that’s not the point.  The issue that I’d like to wrestle with is the proper Christian response to discouragement.  Do we curl into a ball, lick our wounds, and whine?  Worst than that, do we lash out at those responsible?  Both of these are pretty damaging responses that will ultimately do more harm than good.  How, then, do you deal with discouragement in ministry?

Josh Griffin, one of my favorite youth pastors/bloggers shared some thoughts that I’d like to pass along.  You can read the full article here, but here’s my recap with some personal thoughts:

  1. Identify the Source of the Discouragement – What is the perceived root of the discouragement and what is its real cause?  It could be deeper than any isolated incident.  Discouragement can show up after “mountaintop experiences” as someone seeks to bring you back to earth, set you straight, or  “read you,” as my people sometimes say; however, in most cases, I’ve been able to trace my own bouts with discouragement to something deeper than an incident.  The truth is that I like to be liked.  I like and respect people, and I expect them to like and respect me back.  When that does not happen, I’m often caught off guard.  I’ve come to accept that the majority of the discouragement that I deal with in my life comes out of misguided expectations of others and some insecurity on my part.  Being so, each period of discouragement that I face is now seen as a chance to confront my own issues, as well as the issues of others that may be involved.  
  2. Employ the Appropriate Response – Even in discouragement, I am accountable for my response.  My response will say volumes about who I believe God to be and who I am in God.  In every encounter, I have the option to be either the crazy person driven by carnal emotions or I can bear witness to the Spirit’s power to overcome my fallen nature.  In my discouragement, I have learned to cry out to God who encourages my heart, grants me wisdom and strength through His Word, and sends me back into the game.
  3. Search the Criticism for Truth and Grow From It – If God can speak through a donkey, surely he can use the harsh words of another human being to reveal truth to us.  In the course of facing the discouragement, take the time to search for God’s voice in the criticism.  Is there something tucked away behind the ugly words that could help you become a better leader/minister/pastor?  Be courageous enough to sit in the criticism and mine for nuggets that might be valuable to your future.  It may be uncomfortable, even humbling, but it can help produce a better you in the end.

Discouragement is not new.  Discouragement will be with us for as long as we live.  Jesus knew this and told his disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble.”   That has not changed for the modern believer.  The encouragement, though, is that Jesus also said in that same breath, “But take heart! I have overcome the world!”  Although discouragement is real and painful, we find encouragement in knowing that Jesus is victorious over discouragement in the same way that He is victorious over sin, death, and the grave.  In Christ, our grief becomes joy.

To know and believe this is the key to dealing with any and all discouragement!

Grief 2 Joy

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5 Reasons Being a Dad to a Toddler is Great

5 Reasons Being a Dad to a Toddler is Great

Go Gamecocks!!!

I had so much fun celebrating Father’s Day that I forgot to post anything.  Don’t judge me.  Here’s a little something…somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but rooted in truth.  I love being a dad, and I especially love being the dad to a toddler.  There are countless benefits to this elite fraternity…here are just a few:
  1. You’re guaranteed that at least one person will be happy to see you when you get home.
  2. The idea of seeing a little version of yourself walking around is the best feeling in the world! It feeds that little area of healthy narcissism that we all have!
  3. You have an excuse to watch cartoons, play with bubbles, and eat Goldfish!
  4. Even when they mess up, it’s still funny.  Flashback to the first time they went fishing in the toilet. 

Attempts at humor aside, the best part of being a dad to a toddler is simple: You get the chance everyday to speak into their lives and see it have a positive impact on them.  They are looking for your affirmation.  Your voice is a source of comfort, peace, and protection for them.  They are looking for your boundaries, and those boundaries shape them for years to come.

As men, we seem to always be in search of a battle to fight, a challenge to conquer.  Well, know this: there is no greater challenge for a Godly man than to love his wife and father his children!  There’s no higher calling.  It seems that Mothers will always be more loved and celebrated (another post for another day), but a father’s presence, a father’s protection, and a father’s voice are absolutely vital to a child’s well-being and development!

Father’s day is gone, but let’s celebrate fathers everyday…cartoons, bubbles, and Goldfish for everybody!!!

What are your thoughts???

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