Saturday, July 04, 2015

The clash of ecclesial and national identities on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a day of conflicted emotions, thoughts, and experiences.  Personally, being a citizen of the United States has been beneficial, and deeply influences my approach and view of the world.  Also, the ideals of this day do move me and offer hope and do also offer hope to many. Yet, I know that to a large degree this is true for me because I'm white and male.  For people of color and certainly African Americans access to the freedom and ideals of personal development and independence at best offered and allowed intermittently.  Also, I know from stories handed down in my family about the experience of immigration that even for Swedes and Germans, access to the benefits of these ideas comes at the price of submission and conformity.

There is a totalitarianism to our offer of freedom.  Only certain types of diversity are allowed.  A free people must be a uniform people who all share the same values.  Our culture wars are over what sets of values we all must conform to in order to be a truly free people, where we may have our individual expressions as long as they are morally acceptable to the majority.

Yet, I have the freedom to speak this dissenting and questioning voice.  This is the contradiction.  There are intense pressures especially on this day to only speak of our imaginary best self as the United States.  As if some how the declaration of independence and certain limited (limited in the sense that all human endeavor is incomplete unsatisfactory and flawed, by virtue of our inability to truly encompass existence) achievements in democracy and freedom (of which I'm a beneficiary, and one slated due to gender and race to benefit the most.), can cover the multitude of terrorism, atrocities and expansion that has stolen wealth and land from those deemed unsuited to possess what we wanted and felt we need to expand our interpretation of freedom.

But also part of the conformity is that I'm only supposed to love this nation and this culture, or at least supposed to love and think the U.S. is the best. the problem is that the truth is I don't think this, nor do I feel it in the depth of my soul.  The reality is that the French flag and images of the French landscape and cities and culture evoke the same feelings of patriotism and love of a people and land as the American flag and images of our cities and landscapes.  It is odd that two years as a child living in a country can have such an enduring and deep effect upon on one. Yet, this is the emotional truth.  But it also shows me that the emotion has little do with whether it is true that France or the U.S. are in fact great nations, or worthy of my pride and joy.  We confuse our love of country with its deserving of that love.  As if it's values are the best or the most universal or the truest.  Those are all mistakes, or my equal love and patriotism for France and the U.S. is wrong. Yet, no matter how much I know about the flaws of both countries, their imperialist and terrorizing activities in the past and present, makes one difference to the emotions associated with the symbols of these two Nation States. Patriotic feeling has little or nothing to do with actuality and has more to do with being identified with something larger than oneself to which you give your love.
This is even more disturbing for one who takes seriously that the affirmation Jesus is Lord means that I have accepted that all earthly political and national loyalties are made relative by the God who is the source of all existence, who oddly enough is joined to that existence through one historical biological human being Jesus of Nazareth.  This Oppressed and Crucified One is the God of the universe.  All the good any nation believes in or wishes to be is a mere shadow of the goodness to which I'm called as one devoted to Jesus Christ.  And  this One renders all achievements of Powers and Governments and Nations States wanting and at base violent and bound to the Power of Death. My love for these powers only binds me to death and a sense that the limits of biology and arbitrary human boundaries are the final truth.  In Christ I'm offered freedom from death and the petty human boundaries and values that pretend to be universal, and yet bind me to death.

What ever good there is in being French or American, it is at best merely poor copy and reflection of the truly good.  It is an imperfect, relative, and limited good.  The U.S. is neither a Christian nation nor any sort of light to the nations, or example of freedom and democracy for all.  In fact as one who affirms God to be the light of nations, and Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, to be the light of the world, any suggestion that a particular nation or people, is such a light, is a heresy.  To affirm it is to betray my faith.

So my joy today is within limits.  A thankfulness for relative values and relative freedom. But in Christ I must renounce it, turn aside and say my true home and citizenship is in a realm that cares little for the boundaries and the mythologies of the Powers, and Governments and Nations and peoples.  That seeks to follow a way that slowly frees us  from our petty loves that we may find ourselves overwhelmed for a love for all that isn't generic that somehow impossibly loves each person in their interconnected person-hood, ultimately found in their relation to God no longer bound by limited and relative values democracy, or freedom or any human mythology or fable.

This conviction is hard to maintain on this Independence Day in which I'm to ignore American injustices and celebrate the ideal of the U.S. that has never been actual or real except in very limited and always at the price of others freedoms, and even at times maintained through the death of others deemed less deserving of life and freedom.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Racism, Slavery, and Confederate Battle Flag

While I agree with the call to take down the Confederate Battle Flag flying over a confederate memorial in the capital of South Carolina, I've seen something around this call that disturbs me: identifying the Confederacy as a "Racist state" implying that the Union was not also racist.  Such an implication is a whitewashing (pun intended) the historical realities of the United States and thus our present.  Some at this moment want to attempt to exorcise racist hatred and violence by claiming the Confederacy was the repository of all racism in the United States.  We want to move the Confederacy to history museums (and by implication, pretend racism is in the past).  The Northern states and the Union weren't less racist they were just racists that ceased to believe in the economic and social benefits of enslaving blacks.

This article lists a number of statues of Confederates (Many who also served in U.S. congress) whom the article calls racists. Yet while the Civil war was fought over slavery, it wasn't that the North had repented of its racism and the south stubbornly clung to it. rather it was simply to versions of the same racist system, one that still is in existence up and until this moment, even with a Black president.

I'm not defending states flying the Confederate battle flag and given that among the things the Confederacy stands for it was among the last defenders of enslavement of Africans. So, that it represents oppression of Blacks is simply the reality of the secession of the Southern states to form the Confederacy. But to suggest that some how the Confederacy is the sum total of the repository of racism as the only racist State because of its defense of slavery equates racism with slavery.  That is a dangerous equation.

Enslavement of Africans is only one aspect of the systemic racism of the United States.  Also, even as the northern states outlawed slavery, the economy of the United States continued to benefit from slavery. Another aspect of the racist economic and political system of removal from their land and genocide of Native Americans.  To this day across this country Native Americans are on tracts of land the White American Government didn't find useful.

In truth many of the people we honor in our country are racists. Presidents of the United States owned slaves.  Congress and the Presidency had up and until the Civil Rights Movement both tacitly and actively endorsed racist policies and benefited economically from them.

The racism we are still facing, still exists in part because it is much larger than (though it includes) the Confederate battle flag, and the hate filled and racist attitudes of a Roof .  Roof and that the Confederate Battle flag has been flying in Southern State capitals, is only the tip of the iceberg.

The larger reality of racism isn't something we can put in the Confederacy, then apologize for slavery and then attempt to move on as if that erases the racist economy and politics that allowed for our imperial expansion from east coast to the west coast and created much of the wealth we take for granted, including the land all of us live on.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Imprecatory Psalms, Caitlyn Jenner, and the Woman Caught in Adultery

Came across this video via Daily Kos (the full hour long sermon/teaching is here.)  I don't recommend following either links.   But you may need to follow the links to understand my meaning in this post.  But if you can make sense of what I say you will avoid some unpleasantness.

The video is of a pastor preaching on prayer. He is some type of Baptist in Arizona (It's good to remember that Baptists are a diverse lot, so please don't see this pastor as representative, check out Anglobaptist and Justin Thornburgh for a very different sort).  The Daily Kos post focuses on the end of the hour long teaching, where the Pastor is finishing up talking about imprecatory prayer  of which a number of Psalms are an example, in which the psalmist prays against enemies or the wicked, praying for God to be victorious, even praying for the death of "wicked" and "enemies".  Eugene Peterson in his book on the Psalms see these prayers as Biblical examples of expressions of human emotions in the midst of conflict and or of the oppressed for oppressors.  Desire for deliverance in the face of evil and those who perpetuate it.  Peterson finds in these imprecatory prayers examples that we can be angry even to the point of desiring another's death in the face of God. However, Peterson sees these prayers as moving towards other goals, We can pray these (and there may be circumstances where the removal of the wicked an oppressor, or those who work grave injustice in the name of law and order) yet there isn't' the expectation that we should pray these sorts of prayers.  Pastor  Anderson in the last nine minutes of this sermon has a very different take. there is a should,  and not can.  The Psalms doesn't lead us to express our anger against oppression and injustice but to pray against people we see as irredeemably evil. Daily Kos picks this up not because the pastor says that we should pray for the death of serial killers and abusers of Children (which he also says) but because he targets Caitlyn Jenner as deserving his hate and prayer for her to die following  his understanding of the example of the Psalmist.

Eugene Peterson doesn't interpret wicked or enemies in a moralistic way and sees imprectotory prayer to be more revealing of our human propensity to hate than revelation of the heart of God. Steve Anderson in this sermon is the exact reverse of Peterson's interpretation, he interprets wicked and enemies both moralistically and as revealing the heart of God.  This is why he turns his words against Caitlyn Jenner she is morally repugnant and in part due to her public persona a danger to morality.  For Anderson there are just some people who are beyond the pale.  What Peterson takes as contextual (though we don't always know the context) Anderson takes as law.  In some sense it is his duty to pray against those who corrupt the youth (yes I used that deliberately). Anderson's god is the maintainer of the order as he sees it, specifically the order of sex, gender and sexuality, as well as I'd guess the political status quo, police and any authority. This god is one who supports values of love of family, country and "brotherhood", above all else.

Here we have two very different readings of imprecatory psalms and what they teach us about ourselves and God. For Peterson in these Psalms we find that we can be human before God and express our deep anger against unfairness, oppression and those who oppress and commit injustice and commit injustices against us. Even that we can pray before God for deliverance from these wicked who oppress and commit injustice, and oppress us. Yet, expression of our anger and our desire that those who are wicked should cease in there injustice and oppression if necessary through their demise, doesn't mean that is what God desires for them.  In fact, a psalm even says that God doesn't desire the death of the wicked.    Anderson, by reading examples of expressions of frustration anger even hatred before God, is turned into that we should express these things and should desire that certain wicked people should perish and go to hell (something not in view for the Psalms). For Peterson the Bible is about our relationship with God, thus the Psalms show us how to be in relationship to God even with our more negative feelings, for Anderson the Bible is all about telling us what to do and how to do it, thus prayers of deep intimate relationship with God such that we can truly bear our soul before God becomes a rule for how to ask God for things so that we can be sure we are doing it correctly.

Lastly,  Anderson rhetorically enacts the story of the woman caught in adultery.  Including his assumption that Jesus would agree with him on his desire for Caitlyn Jenner to die and to be stoned to death.  So convinced he is of his own righteous judgment of Jenner that he can't hear Jesus (whom he supposedly follows), not of Anderson's imagination, say he who is without sin cast the first stone" and "I do not condemn you, go and sin no more."  Even if Anderson were correct about Jenner's sin (which I don't think is the case), Jesus Christ stands and says  "If you can claim to be without sin pray for her death."  There's probably a great deal the Jenner has done wrong and things from which she needs to repent, even so Jesus Christ stands inviting us into repentance refusing death as the solution to sin.  And Jesus stands and tells the self -righteous like Anderson to remember their own sins before calling another person "reprobate".  Sure there are wicked people who it seems deserve to die, those who have enslaved and profited form enslavement of others, those who benefit from the economic exploitation of the poor (I in small ways am in that category).  But if Anderson would stop a minute and remember that James (which he quotes a number of times in this hour long sermon) says that true religion is the care for the outcast the vulnerable and the poor (widow and orphan), he may be less certain of his righteousness and righteous judgement.  Were Anderson to stop and actually here and know Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity, he'd realize that he too is the wicked and reprobate participating in a system that benefits from exploitation and has yet to deal truly with its enslavement of Africans and continual oppression of African-Americans.  And that is to say that Pastor Steve Anderson whether he realizes it or not is preaching a White Gospel that was used to justify slavery and segregation and thus has little to do with the God he claims to follow.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Priestly Goth, Goth Androgyny, and Gender Queer

Once years ago, my friend Robyn asked me about my pastoral and sub-culture identity and how they fit together. Robyn asked "would you consider yourself a goth priest or a priestly goth?" I couldn't answer right away. Robyn has a way of asking a question that opens up a moment for exploring what, on one's own, one wouldn’t have thought needed examination.  As the title of this blog and much of my presence on the internet shows I eventually came back with the answer priestly goth.: the church and my call and sacramental role qualified yet was informed by my goth identity, my goth identity didn't qualify and ground my pastoral role.  Robyn also was at the root of another piece to the puzzle of my identity: through Robyn I first came across the term gender queer and first met those who so identified.  One birthday dinner for Robyn, my wife, Kate, and I came in our goth regalia (it was a celebration); Kate in pink hair and teased and in black and pink (possibly a ruffed skirt), I in skirt, platform boots and fishnets (I was probably also wearing makeup and my nails may have been painted).  Friends of Robyn came who identified as gender queer. At some point in the course of the evening Kate and I were asked "Do you identify as gender queer?"  We looked at each other, both shrugged and answered "No, we identify as goth."  There was laughter, and the conversation moved on to other things. Kate and I were taken back that our presentation as goth drew the question about our being gender queer. Though, as I thought about it for myself, part of what drew me to the goth scene was the place of androgyny within the goth subculture.

This story begins with goth and gender queer because the dance floor in a goth club has been (still is) a space where I simply can be myself, no questions or labels asked.  Though it wasn't the only spaces where I could be.  My marriage to Kate has been a space where I have (as the above anecdote shows) been able to explore goth androgyny in terms of fashion.  What the question about identifying as gender queer began in me was exploring what it was about goth identity that appealed to me beyond my sense of melancholy and eclectic aesthetic.  I began to ask what my attraction to androgyny might mean for my gender identity and sexual orientation.

I suppose that exploration began long before, as Kate and I dated and then were engaged: during that time we talked about re-inventing heterosexuality.  We would talk together about men we found attractive. In one conversation about male movie stars, I explained to her why Russel Crowe was attractive (Kate couldn't understand why he was seen as attractive).  As Kate went to fashion school and then began designing and costuming she first encouraged me to wear skirts and eventually made me skirts and kilts. Also, I didn't mind shopping with Kate.  We could talk about men, makeup, and fashion.

As things moved toward our engagement, I told my parents we were thinking marriage, my mom told me that she and dad had always wondered if I was gay and that they were glad I had found someone.  I had suspected that my parents thought this, but they had never attempted to discourage those things in me that made them suspect I was gay, nor feel ashamed for being who I was. My parents weren't/aren't LGBTQ allies by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, decisions they made around my own gender expression and identity and emerging sexuality as I grew up, set them apart from their peers and fellow Christians. I'd even say that my parents came to value what also concerned them: For instance my mom would recognized not only my artistic bent and sense of aesthetics, she would also ask me if the colors of a piece of clothing matched something she already had. Mom, also bragged about her son’s interest in fashion (which neither of my parents cared much about as adults, though apparently my father did as a teenager, wearing a zoot suit and bracelet, as he told my mom once when she remarked on a bracelet I was wearing).  As a child I liked to play with dolls and tended not to be interested in sports, and often wanted to play with the girls rather than with the boys.  My parents defended these traits to others and not only showed no overt reaction in my presence, but largely insulated me from the criticism of adults.  Like the dance floor of the goth club, my parents created a space for me to be who I was (more or less, though somehow I knew asking to wear a skirt or tights would have gone over like a lead balloon).

The down side of this is that while my gender identity has never been decidedly male or masculine and sexual orientation more bi then straight or gay, in relation to my parents, I had very little need to articulate what all this internal experience was or might be.  Of course the nomenclature of “bi” and “gender queer” wasn’t available to me growing up.  I first encountered the concept and nomenclature of bi-sexuality in college. For these and other reasons labels are difficult for me to claim or own.  However, not engaging these labels and concepts isn't good or helpful, either.

This is what I've come to as I worked all this out from that question of the relationship between goth androgyny and gender queer.  As I reflected on that question I realized that I have always been attracted to both men and women (more women than men).  If I must use a label here, I'd say that I'm bi-sexual. Though, I don't feel a strong connection to that identity, in part I suppose because I've made my commitment and vow to Kate, a woman, and I intend to keep that vow. Yet, that vow created a space to come to admit my bi-sexuality.  This means that  “bi” does articulate that I do currently find certain types of men sexually attractive, but it is also only about possibility that wasn't and won't be.  In high school and college, If men I was attracted to were in my social circle, I generally turned that crush into an intense or close friendship (that didn't always work out).  This wasn't that different than my relationship with women, I dated few women other than Kate and tended to prefer friendship to romantic involvement.  The difference was that friendships with men I was attracted to weren't going to go anywhere sexually or romantically it wasn't possible to marry a man (as I understood things), and with women with whom I was friends, it was possible it could turn romantic and sexual, I could marry a woman.  Not having thought of myself as bi, it puzzled me why men would often hit on me at the goth club (more often than women), now I see that those men probably were picking up on what I wasn't admitting to myself, and had no means to admit to myself.

Even so sexual orientation is only part of my story, and this connects with androgyny and gender queer.  I find this aspect of myself trickier with regards to labels and language we currently use.  Though looking back on being asked if I identified as gender queer, the person asking the question wasn't entirely wrong to read the markers of goth as having kinship with gender queer.

I've long had a conflictual relationship with masculinity and male gender expression. This has a long history in my life. On the lighter side of things, I have a deep and primordial dislike for the suit. I'm told that as a toddler it was always a struggle for my parents to get me into the hand-me-down toddler suits on Sundays for church.  For some reason though I would grudgingly wear them if I could choose which suit I was to wear that Sunday, as far as I know no one thought to offer dresses or skirts as an option. I have no memory of this and only know it through family stories.  What I do remember is from about 4 or 5 wishing I could wear tights and skirts. (frilly dresses, and ruffles never interested me, I didn't really long to be a princess.)  I was interested in women's clothes and I helped mom pick out her cloths on shopping trips.  I would consult her on what colors looked good on her and what would match other items in her closet at home.  This was more than about clothing, clothing was an expression of something more.  I also, preferred to play with girls.  I remember that at times it wouldn't matter that I was a boy, but invariably I would be excluded. It would be announced that boys were now not welcome, and they went off to do girl things.  I didn't think I was really a girl or felt my male sex and anatomy wasn't who I was, I just felt it didn't define me fully.  I didn't always relate to those who were of my same sex, and felt more comfortable among those with whom I didn't share the same genitals.  I suppose one could say that I'm male who strongly identifies with the feminine.  I relate to Eddie Izzard's bit on the sexuality of the Transvestite as “male lesbian…" and "…Running , jumping , climbing up trees and putting on makeup while you’re up there." (Unlike Eddie Izzard I don't have "tit envy"). Gender queer and androgyny comes closest because I feel I'm a mix with slightly more emphasis on the male and masculine ( I do like my beard). In terms of fashion and physical presentation I feel most at home when marker of masculine and feminine mix together, perhaps with women's fashion trumping men's fashion.  This lines up with my sexual orientation which is a mixture of attractions.  

The labels available to me, still don’t wear well, and seem ill fitting.  However, I hate personality tests, whether Meyers-Briggs or Enneagram, etc.: the results of these tests never feel completely true or fitting for my internal experience.  So, it's perhaps not surprising that when it comes to my sexuality and gender identity that this sense that general categories and labels are ill fitting, also holds true.  Gender Queer with various sexual attractions may work. Though, if you ask “Do you identify as gender queer?” I might still answer "No, I identify as goth.", a priestly goth (how and where this all fits into faith, spirituality, and being a pastor must wait for another post).

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Fit? Tellign my family's disruptive story of faith

Micah Bales Letter to Post-Evangelicals struck a chord with me, though I don't quite feel the need to address post-Evangelicals.  What I connect with is having a family and personal faith story that doesn't quite fit neatly into the categories of American Christianity.

The source of this difference as I read Bales blog post is around decisions his parents made around class, race and homosexuality.  These decisions set themselves off from both Modernist and Fundamentlist understanding of Christian faith.  My parents also made similar choices and decisions around these questions (this post will mostly deal with class and race, how my parents navigated homosexuality and human sexuality will be addressed in a separate post), though in a less dramatic fashion and with less decisive conflict, yet the choices and decisions my parents made and where they allowed themselves to go and be taken in the course of my childhood and youth, meant the faith I received had a radical tinge.

The first decision my parents made that set this other path for myself, was their decision to get married.  My mother and father met only shortly after he and his first wife had been divorced.  In the late 60's in the Christian circles my parents existed in divorce and remarriage was viewed as sin. The plain meaning of Jesus's own statements on this are quite clear. My mother tells the story of having returned home for Christmas and discussing possibly marrying my father with her mother. My grandmother was opposed to the possibility, as I recall my grandfather wasn't excited but was willing to leave it to his daughter to decide what was right.  The night before my mom was to return to Chicago my grandmother told her that if she went ahead with the relationship and married my father she would be in sin and that my grandmother could not condone the marriage to a divorced man, it was adultery (after all Jesus says so.)  My mom prepared to return to Chicago to tell my dad she would not marry him and call of their relationship.  The next morning my grandmother told my mom she had been praying the night before and God spoke to her and said that she should not oppose the marriage.  As I understand it that didn't settle it for my parents but through wrestling with Scripture their hearts and consulting Evangelical Covenant pastors whom they respected, they decided it was good for them to be married (Their struggles and the mixed ramifications of divorce and remarriage are another story and not all for me to tell.)  So began the adventure of my childhood.

As I came around and for the first two years of my life, ours was a suburban and solidly middle class life.  We went to church and were involved in a Covenant Church, my father owned his own Tool and Die business that was relatively successful, and my mother quit teaching when I was born.  My parents felt a call to something more and specifically my father felt called to return to school, and to go to seminary (feeling called to work in churches as a director of Christian Education).  My father sold his business, and they sold our house and went to a Mennonite Brethren college and seminary (Fresno Pacific College and Seminary) in California near where my grandparents had a farm, and we went and lived with my mother parents while Dad went to school full time and helped out on the farm.

As he completed his degree and began to apply for positions of Director of Christian education, few churches would consider him as a divorce, and even those who would offer an interview, the divorce stood in the way except for churches where he wasn't interested in serving.  So he returned to tool and die and manufacturing. Which lead us to France.

In France we chose to attend a international (many who were international students at the university) and multicultural congregation that was a missionary congregation lead by a Baptist missionary couple, in Bordeaux.  Our worship was in French but we worshiped not only with French but expats like ourselves from other countries, mainly African is my recollection. This, like so many of my parents choices weren't presented to us as choices. Even as I write this I have difficulty crediting anything special about this. However, because of this congregation we joined, France for me wasn't simply being acculturated in French culture (my sister and I went to French schools, and it wasn't long before my mother would sometimes overhear passer's by wonder what that American woman was doing with those French children), but in a different culture I encountered as equals those who weren't European or White.  I met and they were friends of my parents people from India Africa and the Middle East who back in the states were people to whom we sent missionaries.  In this congregation they were leaders and even from families who had been Christian for several generations, like my own family.

Returning from France my family chose to live in a house that was near the wrong part of the country, an unincorporated town called new London where many poor, White,and Latino (mostly Mexicans) lived.   Again my parents made little of this decision, and even down played it, the house was what we could afford and we new the landlord and his extended family.  I was never told to avoid certain people, and made friends with the children whom I went to school and  wholived in new London, I had them over to our place, and even brought some of my friends who didn't go to church to our Covenant church. Unfortunately , a significant minority of that congregation made it clear that those people (poor Whites) weren't welcome and were even possibly a bad influence upon me (so I learned from my parents later) but it was clear to me that my friends weren't entirely welcome and they felt it too.

When I was Twelve in the middle of the year, we moved to Los Angeles (Carson, a city neighboring on Compton, in Los Angeles county).  Again my parents gave rational for their choice as being largely economic and pragmatic, a house in a Whiter and more middle class part of L.A. county wouldn't have been as nice or as large.  I went to a large school (from a country school made up of White and Hispanic) to a school with variety of ethnicities.  I was befriended by Samoans. As White, I was in the minority.  We went the closest Covenant church that was in a Wealthy part of the South Bay, but because after we visited the church my sister and I wanted to be part of that church.  So, our church experience was majority white still, though, significantly my parents were friends with the few people of color that did attend the church.

Just before my sophomore year of high school we needed to move and we were in a better financial place, and could have moved into predominantly White parts of the South Bay, but we ended up renting a house in one of the first deliberately integrated housing developments to be built in L.A. county (by the 1980's that had been many years ago), so by my parents choice, we continued to live in racially and ethnically diverse context. When my parents were able to buy a place during my Jr year of high school they bought a house in that same neighborhood.  Our next door neighbors were African American and we got to know them fairly well, but on Sunday we'd drive to our predominantly White church and they'd drive to their African American church.  One of my best friends in in High School was Black, we didn't live near each other he rode a bus to school, I walked. We never went to each other's churches, but distance wasn't the only reason. Because of the choices my parents made, I experienced the divisions within American Christianity through being socially and economically close to people of color, but experiencing the divide on Sunday morning. My parents never questioned this, after all it was how they knew American Christianity to be. My Grandfather pastored a German congregation in Chicago, other Europeans weren't even members.  In the 1970's and 1980's the Covenant was becoming more ethically diverse, but my mother's experience wasn't of worshiping with other white people but other Swedes in the Covenant Church, but due to my parents choices this way things were was dissonant, and remains so.

Because of my parent's choices and sense of calling and following Christ, Church and Christian faith had little if anything with enclave of sameness and safety.  Thanks to their decisions and lack of fear, thanks to their faith and willingness to follow God in even the mundane and practical, I have long been with and known personally those others fear, or have kept at arms length.  I have also seen how Christians can reject and exclude, and my parents allowed me to experience the pain and helplessness surrounding that exclusion.  Thanks to their decisions and choices while White, my formative experiences weren't only of a White and privileged world.  My faith was able to form in a much more diverse and complex and multicultural environment than many a White evangelical, where the experience of the other is on mission trips. But it was all so very normal, that even to this day I have difficulty seeing just how those choices make a difference, except when I seem not to fit into the categories of White American Christianity.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Beauty will Save the World"- Racism, State Violence, and Art (orthodox heresies)

Participating in the Glenwood Ave. Arts Fest did seem to make the Dostoyevsky quote come to life. As I sat on my perch in the window of Gallery B1e painting icons next to the Lifeline Theater performance stage I witnessed a steady stream of diverse humanity enjoying music and art (if you haven't been to priestly goth, I've posted pictures from the weekend there).  It may have just been me but it felt like both respite from the turmoil and resistance to the systemic causes of injustice and turmoil, in Ferguson, Iraq and Palestine (and many other places, that aren't prominent in the news and on Twitter).  I had been the past few weeks I've been focused on preparing for the festival and focused on being in my studio, just as injustices and conflicts long fomenting under the surface came to awareness through conflict and violence.  I felt it was important to let others act while I focused on the festival and art, and what I saw at the fest was not only hopeful, but a pocket of  resistance as a diversity of artist, performers, and festival goers came together peacefully in the presence of beauty.

For me he role of art in  addressingthe realities of injustice and racism playing themselves out in Ferguson, MO, is shown in part by remembering, that as Melech E. M. Thomas tweeted on Monday, NWA was rapping about the treatment of young African-American men by police in Fuck Tha Police back in 1988, and  in the early 1990's,  KRS-one as well (I posted the video at the end of this blog post from Friday).   These both highlight the role of the drug war and the targeting of African-American males in that war.  On top of the drug war we then got the War on Terror and the greater militarization of the police. (though, it has always seemed to me that police are a form of military, or rather they are one arm of the coercive and violent powers of the State)  For me NWA and KRS-one raise the question can reform of the system eradicate injustice and racism from the States exercise of its coercive and violent powers?

This post, The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail, by Christena Cleveland raises so many questions: For me the images tell of the depth of the problem of racism in this country.  We stopped literal lynchings, but not the structures and attitudes that perpetuate themselves.  the authors question of seeing the cross and the image of God in the image of young African-American men throwing Molotov cocktails, seeks for (white) Christians to not only see the rage as a response to suffering and oppression, but to identify with the humanity of those in that image.  What it doesn't address though is that part of what stops the needed identification is the identities we cling to that our other than Christ: namely the attempt to identify with the Nation-State perpetuating the injustice and the Christ at the same time with equal allegiance.  The failure to see the humanity of the other is seeing the system and the State as the only legitimate power. Something more radical, less certain and cruciform is required of the privileged, the renunciation of the powers that have granted them the privilege.

So, I wonder about the role the Nation-State itself in perpetuating racism, and thus the continuing privileging of those deemed white.  Is the liberal-democratic Nation-State really the solution?  And if it isn't what is there to be done, outside of continual resistance and subversion of the system?  Perhaps that's all we can really hope for from the powers and the system to watchfully keep their perpetuation of injustice in check?  Art and beauty may keep us awake and sane for this continual watchfulness in the face of the powers.

The questions of nation-state and liberal-democratic states, ties in to the necessity of coercive power and violence being wielded by the state through police and military and the rise of IS in Syria and Iraq as well as touches upon the conflict between in palestine between palestinians and Israelis.  After all the map of much of the world and certainly the middle east was drawn by the Western Imperialist powers and then sanction first by the league of Nations and then ratified again by the United Nations. There's nothing particularly just or righteous, natural or necessary about the boundaries of current Nation States, in fact all of them are at some point in their past drawn with blood and oppression.

This shouldn't in my view lead to apathy but it should lead us to see the limits reform injustice out of the systems of this world. It should lead us to the distrust of state and government and systems of politics. Or at least to question the degree to which reforming the system is possible. We simply can't trust any system we create to be just. Justice doesn't simply happen, even if we somehow managed created a system with a completely blank slate, whole cloth with all the right ideals and practices.  Or at least I believe watchfulness would be called for, systems accumulate power and seek to perpetuate themselves, that selfishness and desire for self-preservation is corrupting.

Making things beautiful can be a form of resistance, and a refusal to accept injustice and oppression (please here the emphasis on can, again very little is truly necessary in the world we humans create and respond to).  I also think the church as the Body of Christ, not Christians submitted to racial or national identities and powers, is a place of beauty that can be an opening for this resistance and subversion, through beauty. (again can, not is, or always will be or guaranteed to be even if its members submit to other powers and identities)

The above are challenges and questions. I hope they invoke further question in the midst of action.  Stuff I'm wrestling with and seeking to work out, some of the outworkings of this may find their way to a post over on priestly goth.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Good Cop/Bad Cop? Ferguson, State Violence, and Pax Americana

  As I write this some calm is returning to Ferguson, Missouri.  The State Troopers of the Highway Patrol were given jurisdiction and an Africa-American commander walked with the protestors.   This is a good thing.  The contrast is stark, almost too stark.  The trope of “Good Cop, Bad Cop” comes to mind.  The show of force and coercive power of the state had been shown, now the state can show its understanding and its tolerant side.  This is perhaps cynical.

  I don’t know what it’s like in Missouri, but when living in California, the California Highway Patrol were the police one would rather deal with if one had to deal with the police (at least if you were White and alternative).   City and county police, or sheriffs quite another story.

   Even after such a measured show of police presence, all the same  issues of state violence and coercion and race are still very much alive. I wonder will this needed measured and peaceful response by police give space for us to reflect, speak and ask the deeper questions, and make the needful observations?   I’m not so sure.  I think many whites will look and see the actions of Ferguson  Saint Louis County police’s response as the exception, and see the Highway Patrol response as what police are all about.  The Highway Patrol of Missouri enacted the White expectation of police and the coercive and violent power of the state and its agents.  The police are the good guys, sometimes you get a bad apple but the issue isn't with police or policing itself.

  As some have pointed out, many people (white people?) are suddenly aware of the militarization of police and shocked by police brutality.  I was dismayed by the killing of Michael Brown (and the other Black men who have been killed by police in the last few weeks) and the ensuing police response, but not shocked.  While, it is a good thing that the state chose to pull back from its violence and tactics of coercion and force, this act brings things back into equilibrium.  I’m not sure equilibrium is the place of change and transformation.  Rather, what it brings is the possibility of scapegoating individual police officers and possibly the entire police force of Ferguson Missouri for patterns of behavior that are systemic and not individual and personal. 

   If as we say Racism isn't about individual attitudes alone:  Such that in some sense I can be a racist without necessarily harboring conscious antagonistic feelings against a black person.  If so then even if the police officer who shot Michael Brown, has racists attitudes and feelings, his actions aren't solely the consequence of those personal attitudes.  As an agent of the state and the system of policing his actions are part and parcel of that system.   We (Whites, especially, possibly only Whites) need to admit that the system we trust and look to for solutions is Racist, whether or not the individual personal actors within in it are racist.  Ferguson isn't an isolated incident. 

  Though, I believe there is a danger even if we link the various incidents of racial profiling (the singling out, the targeting, and the killing of African-American men, not to mention mass-incarceration), but see these as merely the aberrant acts of individual actors or police departments.  The danger is that we won’t be critical enough of the system of state coercive power itself, and its role in maintaining a racist and classist system.  If we fail to make the systemic connection, we will be content with simply going after the individuals or individual departments that in exercising their coercive and violent mandate, egregiously violate peoples civil liberties and rights.  This piecemeal approach tends to only bring justice after the fact of injustice, it does not address the minor ways this coercive power is used to maintain the system and its order.

  In Chicago I see this system at work every day. I see it as I and my neighbors watch carefully the presence of the police in our neighborhood.  Why when I come upon police questioning and apprehending individuals, usually people of color, usually young African American men.  I slow down I watch.  I seek to catch the eye of at least one police officer.  Interestingly enough if I’m wearing my clerical collar, I may get a “Father”, and while they are aware of my gaze the stance often softens (I hope this raises all sorts of questions for the reader).  But if I look more alternative Punk and goth, my gaze is met with hostility and aggressiveness, and I'm usually told to move along, if I’ve managed the courage to actually stop and watch. I admit I haven't had the courage to test what would happen if I didn't do as instructed. I know as White that if I do as instructed I can avoid incident. I also, know this is a privilege of being White.  Generally, even in my collar I don't have much more courage than to simply walk a little slower and watch the whole time as I'm passing the incident.  Though, even as a White clergyman(gender is also at work here) I see that my watchful gaze isn't welcome.

    While I think important the above remark and observation is too limited.

   Although, overwhelming, the parallels and visual resonances with what we see on Youtube and television, and read about on Twitter from other parts of the world, aren’t coincidental. (though I can't help but see most of the comparisons as racist themselves, since the comparison seems to be drawn to reinforce the idea that this only happens elsewhere and not here in America).  This coincidence isn't because of some conspiracy theory, but because the system at work in Ferguson is at work in Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and the Ukraine.  It’s not always the same actors, nor the same people controlling the events, but what we see in all of this is our trust in violent and coercive power some of it “legitimate” (i.e. A recognized Nation-State, by the U.N and the United States) some of it “illegitimate” (whom we call “terrorists”).

   As I see it, Ferguson can allow us to see the interrelatedness of Racism, Classism, coercive (necessary) power of the State, and the crumbling Pax Americana.  Or we can accept the trope of good cop/bad cop, and believe if the State just charges and prosecutes the right individuals justice will have prevailed. And then we can all go back to business as usual.  In either case I will continue to watch with suspicion police in action, which is literally the least I can do.

Thanks to an acquaintance of mine for reminding me of this song and video: Sound of da police by KRS-one.