With an election year looming and our energies running hot these days, let’s take a few minutes to talk about civility and how some extra care given to civility in 2020 might look. Civility is not compromising or giving up on our strongly held convictions, but it’s a more productive and honest way of speaking to the issues and ideas which move our politics and public discourse. Our words matter. Our convictions matter. Our neighbors matter. So, civility matters. I’m asking us to commit to a higher level of civility in 2020 in two specific ways…
First Resolution: Let’s not post and share the name-calling mean memes in 2020, or ever. They aren’t fair, usually aren’t too accurate, and they likely hurt someone we love, a friend or family member. Let’s just be done with mean memes. Name-calling is simply the least productive and least accurate way to talk to, with and about people, and accuracy is important. Name-calling generalizes people, usually undercuts their personal value and worth, and it’s a childish way to score a point or make ourselves feel better. We often proudly claim and use titles and political designations like Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Libertarian, and more, and using those titles is ok. But using offensive slurs like dopey, traitor, libtards or deplorables, meant to degrade people and grab a laugh, is when we stray into incivility, stop advancing what we actually hold as political convictions and lose the argument. Really. As soon as we start throwing around names and meanness like that we’re no longer arguing a political point of view, but we’re resorting to bullying tactics and personal attacks to intentionally hurt someone. We’re also possibly hurting someone we love with these ugly names, someone who thinks a bit differently than we do and just got a derisive label slapped on them by our social media post. It’s not a joke, not laughable and not right. Besides, that mean meme is probably not only wildly inaccurate but was made by an internet troll to do exactly what it’s doing: to cloud issues and to wreck your civility and relationships with family and friends. Don’t feed the trolls, my lovely people. Let’s stop the mean memes.
Second Resolution: Let’s speak to people’s actions and words, not evaluations of their character. Ridiculing or attacking people just doesn’t get the job done. We’re taking about de-weaponizing our speech. We have to speak with civility, which means making our point about ideas and issues, while not stooping to attacking personalities and personal attributes. This is admittedly a tough one, but it’s such a powerful habit if we can throw some real energy behind it. Let’s apply this to President Donald Trump and me… I personally cannot abide most all of his rhetoric. I do not approve of his calling people names or attacking them personally. I don’t like his use of Twitter to throw personal attacks at children, public servants and other politicians. I cannot stand all the false statements he makes. And yet, I can say all that without saying “F*%k Trump.” I can also study up on and speak against all his inaccurate and false public statements without saying “he’s a liar” or attacking some aspect his personal appearance with a mean meme. Just point to the facts. We can apply this to any politician. I can say, “I really wish Joe Biden didn’t have so many public gaffs, and I’m actually worried at the thought process and disconnect which leads him to say something like, poor kids are as smart as white kids.“ I don’t have to attack Biden’s character or call him a racist to talk about the systemic racism in America which has encoded ideas like equating poor with non-white and therefore equating white with wealth and intelligence. I can be appalled that he would say such a thing and I can hope he reflects deeply on his way of thinking about the world, all without calling him a racist or needing to demean his character. As someone so completely opposed to our current President on so many issues of economics, environmental protection and civil rights, I do find this a tough task. President Trump’s words and actions are hurting people, or have great potential to hurt people, often people whom I love. Attacking his words and actions instead of him personally helps me stay sane, helps me better present an opposing position (which will hopefully help make a safer world for those threatened people), and honors my commitment to civility.
This is a heavy lift and will demand more from us as participants in our civil discourse and interaction with issues and details. It’s takes way more energy to construct an opposing view on something or to deconstruct a stated view, than just saying “they’re a piece a sh*t” or “they don’t love America.” We cannot allow ourselves to get distracted with name-calling and pettiness when there are simply too many things being said and done which we must strongly and unequivocally oppose. We need to maximize every opportunity to expose the threats and crimes which must be confronted. Civility will help us get more done for more people.
Ok, that’s a lot of writing about only two things I’m asking us to embrace: 1) no more mean memes and name-calling, and 2) speaking to people’s words and actions instead of character assassinations. This is doable, and as crazy as 2020 is bound to get, civility is going to be so needed. Also, there are political ideas which need to be confronted and defeated, for our neighbors’ sake. We’ll accomplish that when we keep our convictions and keep it civil.
I was driving in for worship Sunday morning and thinking about St. Paul’s words from Colossians 3, one of our readings for the day. I was reflecting on the shock and pain of a weekend full of death and injury from more gun violence in our country. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Sunday when I was preaching, so I had to wait and write a blog.
8 But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
The El Paso shooting in particular highlights the growing problem we have with white supremacy in our country. Of course, racism is always there, and the groups who ignorantly fear people of other ethnicities, religions and cultures will always be there, but in today’s U.S.A. we see see them marching safely in our streets, openly propagating their murderous philosophy, and we see their disciples taking action to murder in our shared places of public life.
As Christians, we must stand united to say without any equivocation or hesitation, that there are not very fine people purporting that ideology. Fine people simply do not support racism or white supremacy. White supremacy, hatred of others, fear-driven ignorance and xenophobia are not virtuous or benign. These ideologies foment hate and killing, and drive wedges between us.
St. Paul taught us the theology which debunks white supremacy and hatred, that in Christ, in the knowledge of God, we see that there is no difference in the value, worth or dignity of people, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, culture or socio-economic standing. It is an old way without knowledge of God that allows one human to view another human as a hated enemy because of those differences.
When speaking to the Galatians, St. Pauls points out to them that their baptismal waters wash away that unlearned manner of viewing people as less than valuable, beloved or worthy based on ethnicity, socio-economics or even gender issues. All those things are sublimated under the intrinsic value of a human being.
27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
We are a diverse and amazing species, never to be all alike. St. Paul’s theology does not just include a warning to put aside the hatred, malice and slander that can be engendered by differences, but goes on pushing us to embrace compassion and kindness as a response to difference. We are God’s people and, in seeing Christ within all, we are moved to humility, grace and love.
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
As people of faith we have to stand up and be heard that demonizing language directed toward our neighbors and fellow human beings will no longer be tolerated in the public arena from our leaders. Rhetoric which incites violence and casually laughing at threats of violence have no place in our public discourse. White Christians may not feel particularly threatened by the racist rhetoric and may find it easy to debate and argue the nuanced meanings of tweets and statements, but we cannot stand quietly by while that rhetoric becomes deadly episodes of gun violence against our brown and black neighbors, family and friends.There’s no room for debate when guns are in the hands of white supremacists in our streets.
The shooting in Dayton this weekend points to a more general problem we have with gun violence across the country, and access to weapons of war that have no place in civil life. We need more laws to protect us from those who would show such violent hatred and casual disregard for others. We need fewer guns on the streets and in our public places. We need common sense laws such as we have in place to govern the ownership and use of many other things in civil life which pose a threat to safety: chemicals, vehicles, etc. A peaceful and safer way forward will not be more guns in our public places, but fewer. How do we achieve such a goal? We demand action from our elected representatives and we speak out loudly against the waves of hatred, racism and white supremacy, especially when coming from our highest offices.
This is our official statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and the Washington National Cathedral, demanding better leadership from our President: https://cathedral.org/have-we-no-decency-a-response-to-president-trump.html
This is a long post for me, but we have to keep saying these things aloud, over and over. It is painful to keep confronting this in our own society, but we cannot forget the burden laid on us by our rampant gun violence and the racially motivated mass killings, like we saw just four years ago at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Poway Synagogue shooting in April, or the shooting at Young Israel of Greater Miami last month. Just try keeping up with our gun violence pandemic. We are a broken people, but our leaders in DC refuse to even begin to offer us ways to help us heal, to help us move forward, to bind us up, or to protect us. Giving up and giving in is simply not an option.
A Chilling Historical View of Racism in the US: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/04/adam-serwer-madison-grant-white-nationalism/583258/
With Unite the Right protestors gathering in DC and many more planning to counter protest their messaging, all of us locally are bracing for the insanity, the hate and the possible violence. I’m working today, so I can’t be there to stand against the hate. But in these last few days running up to another rearing of white supremacy’s ugly head I did rework one of my images about our beautiful diversity. ->
The gravitational pull to meet hate with hate and ignorance with ridicule and disgust is strong and difficult to ignore. I appreciated so much this week when our Bishop in DC called us to love, to respond with what is best in humanity and not with violence or more hatred. I have made time this week to listen to the voices that matter, voices which lead me to love, to peace, to something positive.
I can’t be there at Lafayette Square to be seen today, but I still have a responsibility to be heard. We all must be heard. White supremacy is wrong, sinful, ignorant and destructive. Racism is a killing white sin in our society which must be confronted and defeated. These militant white supremacist clowns dressed up with their Confederate patches, racist flags and guns, and their narrative of hate and division, must be rejected with courage, dignity and love at every opportunity. (By the way, DC has said “no guns” to the white supremacists at this protest. Wouldn’t it be nice if what works to keep the President’s house safe would be applied to keep us all safe? hmmmm) We must always fight for liberty, equality and justice… but let us not have fighting in the streets. We need to make sure we elect the women and men who will help us bring the needed change. #midterms We need to have the courage to speak up against division and hate. We have to be heard.
Let’s change the narrative every time someone says we’re losing American culture or white culture or some other racist code phrase. America has never been a culture, but a joining of cultures. America has never been perfect, but a tension filled meeting of diverse people who can very often make beautiful things from our sharing. We have never been red white and blue, but every wonderful shade of human.
I had to go to the MVA yesterday. Yes, the dreaded Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland. It might be the DMV where you live or some other innocuous sounding jumble of letters, but it means the same thing: a little death. My vehicle registration had expired on June 1, and yesterday was June 13, but it had taken me that long to track down all the flags and little things to tidy up before I could renew, to the tune of several hundred dollars. I thought it was all done, and I thought I’d be in and out of there.
I arrived to find that EZPass, the nefarious organization which runs a local crime syndicate called “Tollway” had more outstanding fines for me to pay than their enforcer had told me on the phone last week. I had been told that the $50 I paid last week would get me in the clear, but their mob muscle at the MVA detailed another $650 or so I’d have to pay before I could ever drive legally again on Maryland turf. I posted the Gif here of a collapsing baby on Facebook from a place of inner pain and hopeless I thought could only be visualized by the falling innocence and dejection of an infant who would surely also flop right off the couch and land on their face. #carpetburn Really, this was all too much to take in… so much worse than their only having Diet Pepsi available as the low calorie soda option in the vending machine.
I was upset. I was stunned. I did not have $650 to clear my good name and my Nissan’s registration. Of course, I could have yelled and stamped my feet. I really, really, really wanted to yell and stamp my feet and basically wig the fruit right out of my grits and bacon. But let’s be real for a minute… everything and I mean everything my faith is supposed to be about is about not doing that kind of thing. I am supposed to be forgiving, patient, kind, joyful in distress and expectant of good things, among other things, all of which sound great in sermons and hymns and are really difficult at the MVA. I don’t know what exactly the woman with EZPAss saw in my face, the hopelessness, the patience, or just a face not screaming obscenities at her from a mess of my own making, but she next says these amazing and unexpected words: Have you ever had a one-time waiver?
A one-time waiver? I’ve suddenly got that feeling like Katniss when the salve dropped in on a chiming parachute to heal Pita: hope.
I have not had this thing, tell me more. She goes on to detail that she has the power to give me this waiver and bids me wait a moment while she checks and receives instructions from a small robot overlord on her desk she reverently called “My System.” She smiles and explains that all my many $50+ fines adding up to almost $650 can all be magically changed to $3 fines, but only once in my life. There can be only one. I had not had this done for me ever, so she could do it now, and all my fines and fees and great debt were shrunk to a total of $70.
I like to rant about the MVA. It’s fun to rant on the MVA. But once I cleared things with EZPass, I was out of there in barely more than thirty minutes updating the address on my license and renewing my registration. So as much as ranting might be fun and even funny, I have to be grateful. I have to be thankful. I’m so thankful that EZPass is housed at the MVA and I didn’t have to travel across the state to find them. And I’m glad I didn’t go nuts, because I’m supposed to be nice. I’m grateful for the ease with which things were settled, and for keeping my fruit together. Amen.
I have waited and reflected a bit since my pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine before writing something about the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians. Recent violence in Gaza and the conflicting destructive messaging all around in my social media circles has compelled me to go ahead and get this written out. I want to be clear and I want to be irenic (peace-making) in what I say. I was deeply grieved and affected by what I saw in Palestine. I was moved by the daily plight of Palestinians in the West Bank having to navigate checkpoints and walls in their daily lives. I was moved by the stories of families and communities who were displaced and dispossessed in the late 40’s when Zionist armed forces removed them from their homes and lands and set them adrift. And what I personally saw was just in the West Bank, we aren’t even talking about the world’s largest open-air prison, the Gaza Strip.
As I process what I saw and what I have come to hope for, let me be clear about a few things. I support the right of the State of Israel to exist, I support it as much as I support the existence a Palestinian State. I would support even more a single state which granted full human rights and civil liberties to all the people within it’s borders regardless of race or religion. Sounds down right American, right? This is my left hand most days now, pictured to the right, with my wedding band inscribed in Hebrew and my bracelet bearing the Palestinian flag and the word love. I choose not to hate either people, or to ignore the needs of either people. My desire is for a peaceful, secure home for all the people of that land. I am glad that the State of Israel was created as a solution to the global and historical problem of anti Semitism and existential threat to the Jewish people which culminated in the Holocaust. I am aware of and terribly empathetic to the needs of the that time which moved the international community to sanction and support the creation of the State of Israel. I have no ill will toward Jewish people or Israeli citizens.
Now let me be as clear on the Palestinian people. They are a dispossessed and disenfranchised people, expelled from their homes, some into exile in other countries and some into lives as exiles near or on their own lands. As a group they were forced into this situation by immigrating Jewish families and Zionist forces, at gunpoint, and their plight has been one of the great injustices of our age. Even as the international community has leveraged it’s great moral weight and power to end Apartheid in South Africa, it ironically has ignored the similar plight of the Palestinians and their systematic and nearly complete disenfranchisement under an invading and expanding power.
The State of Israel has not been a shining example of democracy in the Middle East, but along with it’s achievements and progress as a nation and a military power it has systematically destroyed a people, occupied and dehumanized them, and never extended them full citizenship in their own land or anything near equal representation. When speaking of the Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands Henry Seigman (past National Director of the American Jewish Congress) only a decade ago warned us that, “As a result of that ‘achievement,’ one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.” <— source The Palestinian people have been repeatedly removed from their homes and lands to make room for immigrating Jewish families, and with the newest settlement under construction just last year, they are still being displaced and dispossessed, today. That great injustice, met so often with war from without and terrorism from within, has been the foundation of all the death and hopelessness we see, today.
That is what we call a 40,000 foot view, from up in the clouds. Down on earth today we have Israeli settlements, Hamas, the PLO, checkpoints and walls of separation, Zionism, the War of 1967, the Oslo Accords, armed occupation and terrorism. We have a human rights mess of titanic proportions including the most recent demonstrations for the Right of Return in the Gaza Strip and the brutal, lethal military responses of the IDF. There is such an enormous difference in Israel and Palestine today between the Israeli cities and the cities of Palestine, an enormous gap in wealth, stability and hope. You can wine and dine in Haifa, Israel, and struggle to find basic affordable medical care in Nablus, Palestine, on the same day. And yet in both areas we find human beings, families, neighbors, communities seeking a future and deserving one. We must take a longer view to find a way to peace. Solutions are not found in one-sided histories or focus on any one day’s violence.
If you choose to unconditionally support the State of Israel continuing as it has, then you point to Hamas and speak of a sovereign state defending it’s borders. If you choose to unconditionally support the Palestinians, then you ignore the indiscriminate terrorism of Palestinian factions and speak of the State of Israel only as an oppressor and only as an occupier. I am asking that we change this narrative to speak unconditionally of human dignity and equity, and about the needs of the future. The security of the Israeli people is bound to the security of the Palestinian people. Justice and peace for both sides must be founded in an equity of belonging, an equity of civil rights, and an equity of human dignity. We citizens of the United States learned (and are still learning) this lesson in our own country as we deal with the deep and painful legacy and resurgent reality of racism and oppression in our own nation as we are still learning to live together. We eventually joined the international community and helped end Apartheid in South Africa… not by killing the white South Africans, but by demanding equity and taking economic and political steps to stop the oppression. We must do the same for the Palestinians. This is not about killing Jews or destroying the State of Israel, but about ending the oppression upon which it currently has anchored itself. This is about saving the both Palestinian people and the State of Israel, for their future security and peace are inextricably bound.
As we recognize that the State of Israel was established to protect the human dignity of the Jews, we must also as honestly recognize the great human injustice done to the Palestinian people in that establishment. That injustice is the foundation for the narrative of hate, violence, terrorism and displacement which we have witnessed for the past seventy years and this very day. A new foundation must be laid for the future because anything built on that kind of injustice will forever be plagued by the violence, confusion and loss of human dignity we have witnessed. As we work to help change this narrative we must also deal with our culpability as a nation. Our money has financed and backed the Israeli military for decades. We have ignored the injustices done to the Palestinian people. We have rationalized and sided with oppression, and that must change.
Pray for peace. Mourn the dead. Speak for the future. Help change this narrative of violence and conflict to one of restoration and reconciliation. I’d like share some amazing voices I have recently heard met, and from whom I am learning about a future of hope…
Rev. Naim Ateek who recently spoke in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at St. John’s Episcopal Church and said, “The God we believe in loves justice and all people equally.” I agree. He’s an Anglican Priest, a Palestinian, an author, a theologian and no enemy to any human being. His books can found on Amazon right here!
Sabeel is the foundation for peace and dialogue which was established by Rev. Naim Ateek.
FOSNA is the Friends of Sabeel North America and offers ways to be involved with Sabeel and a peaceful way forward in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine.
Jewish Voice for Peace is an amazing Jewish voice for our time! They are a great resource for our peace studies.
I wish I knew an easy, concrete answer to making peace in the Middle East happen today or tomorrow. I don’t think that such an easy answer exists, but I do fully believe that a secure, peaceful and joyful future for both Israel and Palestine does exist. We have to change our thinking and telling of the narrative, and speak and act for that peace. We have to give each other the grace to grapple with these emotionally charged issues and events, and stay committed to arriving on the other side together. We must at all costs avoid the voices of one-sided extremism who call us to violence and to hatred.
On a personal note… I love my many Jewish friends. I love and appreciate our shared religious roots and I abhor the anti Semitism and history of racial discrimination that Jewish people have faced around the world, and sadly often at the hands of my sisters and brothers in Christ. You matter to me. The safety and security of people in the State of Israel matter to me. I also love my Muslim friends, a group which has grown in recent years and months to include Palestinian friends of both Muslim and Christian faiths. Your lives matter to me and the future joy and security of the Palestinian people matter to me. Never think that I fall on one side or the other, but only ever strive to be on the side of human dignity, something that each and every one of us possesses in equal measure by God’s grace. Renouncing oppression, disenfranchisement and violence is our way forward, a way to peace that will never be purchased with rockets, bullets, bombs or walls. The sooner we can help our respective faith communities, social groups and governmental leaders change the narrative, the sooner we can take real steps toward the future that we all need and deserve.
Ok, white people. It’s getting a little embarrassing out here. A string of recent events have caused some of us to scratch our heads and wonder at the audacity of your racism. You do know that when non-white people do stuff you don’t like them doing (like sitting, napping or having a cookout) that your dislike and racism does not criminalize their behavior, yeah? You know that, right? Because when you don’t, that same racism calls the police for no reason and even might put on a uniform and a badge and start assaulting grandmas and learning your life lessons the hard way… and that’s when we have to have a chat. Come on. Going after a grandma?
Wait, it’s not just adults and senior citizens… some white people will shoot at a black teen for asking for directions! We cannot look away. This is a stunning white sin on display, shameless and feeling very entitled. I wonder how many of our gallery of racist rogues linked above were at church, today? How many of them will claim Christ and a Christian life? I know I linked all the above stories, but let’s stop for a moment and say their names: Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, Lolade Siyonbola, Kenzie Smith and Ms. Campbell.
I totally understand the feeling that many white people get when these videos start popping up on Facebook and our news channel of choice, “Hey! That’s not me! I’m not like that! I’m not racist!” I mean, I’m not one of those rifle-toting Swastika-wearing (very fine people) nutters like those we see on TV and the internet! Well, good. But these episodes remind us that in all times and all places people of conscience who have a voice must speak. We all need to speak out in every social platform available to us: white supremacy and racism are wrong. Some may have the uncomfortable job of telling coworkers, friends and family to stop their racists language and behavior around us: don’t back down. Every time we remain silent we further enable racism and violence against our non-white neighbors, friends and family. This is an all-hands-on-deck, white people!
“The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, 11 January 1907 – 23 December 1972
The white sin of racism passed from generation to generation will not stop until white people stop it. We can’t legislate it away. We have to change white culture, white society and white people. No more excuses. Not being racist is not enough. We need a war on racism. We need a war on racism because non-white folks need to sit down sometimes, might become fatigued while studying and need a quick nap, and will surely enjoy cooking out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
“Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us… each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful.”
Colossians 3:10-11 & 15, St. Paul
All of us, white people of faith especially, must be loud and clear in our condemnation and opposition to racism and white supremacy. There is no other way for us to be but loudly, clearly and completely opposed to this historic and tragic sin. Our weapons are love, grace and truth. Say it peacefully and say it civilly. But for the sake of all our beloved non-white friends, family and neighbors: say it!