Monday, December 28, 2015

What if Tamir's face looked like this...

Tamir Rice was guilty of a capital crime: He did not look like my child. And because of that, he is no more.

Tamir Rice and my son could have been classmates. They could have been friends. They could have been brothers.

Tamir Rice and my youngest son, were born 76 days apart in the summer of 2002.  On November 22, 2014, both of them were playing -- my son playing indoor soccer at Vetta and Tamir playing by himself in a city park.

Today, my son is alive. Tamir is dead.

In the year and a half after Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, I have learned how much we white people like to talk about "the facts of the case." How we like to pretend each incident stands alone and completely unrelated to any other. How we dispassionately can pick any shooting apart and rationalize any behavior because we know it will never be our child lying in the street. How we can let our own implicit bias and irrational fear of people of color help us create justification even for killing unarmed children -- because we know the face will never be the one we tuck into bed at night.

When the news came today that officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback were not going to be indicted for shooting and killing Tamir within seconds after their cruiser out of nowhere sped into the park, screeched to a stop mere feet from him (something that would terrify anyone -- 12 years old or not), I wish I could say I was surprised, but I was not.

Nor will I be surprised when the apologists for Officers Loehmann and Garmback use the same tired arguments that have been used time and time and time again. When we are asked to believe that the "facts of the case" did not support even sending this case to trial -- despite incontrovertible video evidence to the contrary.

But there are some other "facts of the case" we need to consider.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that it is open season on your child in this country. That police can kill your children with impunity. That our irrational fear as white people is more important than your child's life.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that all people are not created equal in this nation. That our Constitutional valuing of someone who was black as 3/5 of a person isn't as much in our history as we tell ourselves.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that not only do we not care about your child getting a decent education, having decent recreational facilities or adequate health care, that just being black continues to be considered a capital crime.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that her life, his life, and your life do not matter, period.

And the final fact of the case -- if Tamir's face looked like my son's -- then his parents would have had the chance to spend this afternoon the way I did ... watching the new Star Wars movie with my 13-year old son.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Based on this passage from Matthew 2, it commemorates the slaughter of innocent and unarmed children by the state:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

The slaughter continues, and Rachel is still inconsolable.

This afternoon, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of pain and rage from people who could have been Tamir's mother, father, sister, brother, classmate or cousin. From people who have seen too many of their children, sisters and brothers die at the hands of the state. And one word appears more often than the rest:


In the nearly 17 months since Michael Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson, I have been amazed at the strength and resilience of those who have been out in the streets protesting police violence. They have not been peaceful -- nor should they have been -- but with incredibly few exceptions they have been nonviolent. Despite every reason to let their pain and rage boil over -- to say "an eye for an eye" and to give back what they have gotten -- instead they have reached back to the best of the tradition of civil disobedience, blocking streets and shutting down stores, disrupting events and stopping traffic.

As the names continue to roll on the necrology -- Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Laquan MacDonald -- they remain steadfast in their commitment, though God knows how. And our response as white St. Louis has been nothing less than shameful. We whine that we are "tired of the protests" ... not recognizing that if our children were subjected to what Tamir, Michael, Sandra, Jamar and Laquan have been, we would be burning down buildings and demanding Congressional investigations. Not recognizing that we are blessed to have some of the most incredible leaders of a generation right here in our midst.

I hear their anger. I hear their pain. I hear their frustration. I hear their exhaustion.

But do we make changes? Do we make an effort to be with them in their pain? Do we at least acknowledge that the pain and the rage and the frustration have merit? Do we say, "My God, I can't believe this has been allowed to happen for so long, we're going to do something about this right now?"

No. We make plans to build a football stadium. That is our answer.

And in this Christmas season, in this season where we celebrate God becoming human in the most vulnerable of children, we have to ask: Where is the church??

Because if we as the church have nothing to say about it. If we as a church continue to let the litany of names roll on, then we are the Church of Herod, the Church of Empire, and we blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ.

If we as the church are not leading the way demanding change and supporting those who are putting their lives on the line in protest for it, then we are merely a chaplaincy for the comfortable and should close our doors.

If we as the church are not standing with the parents in shrouded in mourning and the children shaking in fear. If we as the church care more about respectability and keeping our pledgers happy and giving than following the Christ who bids us take up our cross and head toward Jerusalem, then the church has already died and all that is left is to hold the funeral.

And particularly if we as the white church are not putting our own child's face over Tamir's, and Sandra's, and Laquan's and Michael's -- if we are not even trying to imagine the fear and the agony and the rage -- then we are missing the entire point of the incarnation, where God emptied the divine self into the most vulnerable of children even to the point of suffering the same execution by the state that those holy innocents did just after he was born.

There is wailing and loud lamentation in Ramah this night. Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.

Tamir Rice is one of Rachel's children. And he was guilty of a capital crime: He did not look like my child. And because of that, he is no more.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Choosing foolishness

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18

Six checks of $30,599.25 each going in the mail today --
the final disbursements from the
Rebuild the Churches campaign
Following Jesus is a life of foolishness. A life that causes the world to point and stare at us, as Bill Hicks would say, "like a dog that was just shown a card trick."

There's some crazy, foolish stuff going on at Christ Church Cathedral today.

This morning, we are mailing checks totaling more than $180,000 to six churches that burned in the south in the wake of the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

This evening, our Chapter will wrestle with a budget more than $200,000 in deficit and what that means for the future of Christ Church Cathedral.

On days like today, I have never been prouder to be part of the Christ Church Cathedral community. Because we are raising foolishness to an art form.

The checks we send out today close out the Rebuild the Churches campaign that saw more than 3,000 individuals and 200 congregations of many faiths give more than $730,000. With the help of wonderful partners like Rabbi Susan Talve and her assistant, Jen Fishering, activist Ashley Yates and the Rev. Karen Anderson, (and our own Annette Carr and office volunteers!) we showed that what hate burns, love rebuilds.

It has not been lost on us (and certainly not to the people in the congregation who have brought it up to me!) that we could certainly use this money ourselves. Some have even questioned us spending the energy and time doing this ... wouldn't it be better spent trying to ensure our own future? Our own survival?

But that is not the way of Christ.

Throughout this fall, Jesus has been speaking to us through the Gospel of Mark ... and over and over again, he has laid a simple choice before us:

Concentrate on your own survival or concentrate on following Jesus.

Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.

Go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me.

Survival or Faithfulness.

We must choose.

We cannot do both.

Someone once said that the difference between false faith and true faith is that false faith says, "Do not worry; that which you fear will not happen to you," and true faith says, "Do not fear, that which you fear may well happen to you, but it is nothing to fear.”

That following Jesus is called "the way of the cross" tells us surely enough that this is no prosperity Gospel. Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness is not a test that will lead to survival if we pass. Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness means we might survive and we might not ... but whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. And we trust that if there is death, resurrection will always follow.

That which we fear may well happen to us, but it is nothing to fear.

Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness means the only way we fail is if we fall back in fear. Because success is not determined by how much money we raise or how many people are in our chairs -- but by how deeply we "have the same mind in us as Christ Jesus," emptying ourselves out of love for the life of the world.

As long as we love. As long as we give. As long as we step out in faith and not back in fear, we cannot fail.

But we're bound to look pretty foolish in the process. People are bound to point and stare and shake their heads and say:

"What kind of a business raises $730,000 for other businesses when it's running a $210,000 deficit itself?"

"What kind of a business raises money to move two people out of homelessness into housing for a year when it's not even sure how it's going to keep it's own doors open?"

"What kind of a business stands in the street with young people crying for freedom when public opinion is telling them to sit down and shut up?"

"What kind of business would embrace such foolishness with joy?"

The church. The Body of Christ. That's who.

Paul continues in his letter to the church in Corinth:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

I am proud to be the dean of this church of fools. I am grateful for other bands of fools like Central Reform Congregation and Ward Chapel AME for traveling with us. I am deeply moved by the courage of our Chapter and congregation stepping out in faith and not falling back in fear -- and wrestling honestly when we struggle with which is which.

And I am grateful beyond measure for Jesus Christ, who gives us the way of the cross as the way of life. If we are to boast, let us boast in that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"I stand in solidarity." ... "Oh really?"


Solidarity is a word that has a new and deeper meaning for me today than it did 16 months ago.

Sixteen months ago, solidarity was an idea. It was a sense of common purpose. Of agreement. Of "I'm on your side."

Solidarity was something I said. A word used in letters to the editor, Facebook posts and sermons.

I stand in solidarity with _______.

Solidarity was expressing support without risking anything except perhaps the passing ire of those who disagreed with me.

Solidarity was just a word.

Sixteen months ago, Michael Brown was killed and lay in the street for four and a half hours. And a group of young people stood up together and said: "No more."

And I said, "I stand in solidarity with you."

And they said: "Oh really?"

They said: "You can't just say: 'I stand in solidarity.' You have to actually stand in solidarity."

"Stand in the street with us."

"Stand facing the police in their riot gear."

"Stand facing the tear gas and the rubber bullets and the pepper spray."

"Stand and march with us and don't be afraid of our anger, don't be afraid of our pain."

"Stand and care less about your own feelings and more about ours."

"Stand and listen to our stories and believe them."

"Stand and let everyone see you standing with us."

"Stand and don't tell us what to say or how to feel or what to do."

"Stand and respect our leadership. Stand and respect our authority."

"That's solidarity."

"That's family."

"That's love."

And so I did. Or at least I tried to. I didn't always. But I tried to.

And I am learning that solidarity is so much more than just a word.

I am learning that solidarity is being willing to stand in front of someone when they are under attack because you love them so much an injury to them is an injury to you.

I am learning that solidarity is what God did when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" -- that it was physical and messy and risky and scary.

I am learning that solidarity not only means standing up but it means sitting down or turning away is nothing less than betrayal.

I am learning that solidarity is more than just a word -- it its about deep relationship. It is about family. It is about love.

This week, in the wake of the massacre in San Bernadino and the evil statements by Donald Trump, I have had many opportunities to sign statements of solidarity.

"I stand in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters."

It would be the easiest thing to do to sign those statements. To make those Facebook posts and tweets. To preach that sermon.

But every time I start to, I hear the voices of Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton and Derrick Robinson and Traci Blackmon and Starsky Wilson and so many others. I hear them say:

"Solidarity? Oh really?"

And I am convicted that I have not earned the right to use that word.

I am convicted that I have not "stood in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers," and to say so would be a betrayal of that word and what it has come to mean to me. A betrayal of all who truly have stood and now stand in solidarity with the Muslim community.

I am convicted that I have lived in St. Louis for nearly 20 years and I though I have acquaintances who are Muslim, I have never taken the time truly to listen to their experience and believe it. I have never given up power and privilege for them. I have never risked one thing out of love for them.

These words: Solidarity. Family. They mean something different to me now. And so while I absolutely stand against the demonization of Muslims and the evil that is spewing from Donald Trump's mouth and the support and silence coming from so many of his supporters, I cannot in good conscience say I stand in solidarity with my sisters and brothers who are Muslim because I have not.

I cannot in good conscience pretend to have a level of relationship I do not, to stand where I have never stood.

Not yet.

But I want to.

So that is my commitment. Not to sign a "statement of solidarity" but to seek out deep relationship ... relationships of "fictive kinship" (as Amy Hunter has taught me), relationships where I hope to find ways I can listen and believe and risk and trust and give away power and privilege. Relationships where I hope people will be as graceful and giving to me as Brittany, Alexis, and so many others have been to me in the past -- trusting me enough to invite me into solidarity that is so much more than a word.

I am tired of statements. Statements do not move me to change oppressive status quos. Statements do not call me into the thin places of risk, the ways of the cross. Statements absolve my conscience and do little else.

So I am not making a statement, I am stating a desire. And I'm asking any who are reading this to hold me accountable to it and, if these words resonate with you, to join me in it.

Not to say: "I stand in solidarity" but to actively seek to do it.

And to expect in the process to be changed forever.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

In Jesus' name: WHY?

In Jesus’ name: WHY?

At least 14 people dead in another mass shooting.

I am tired of providing resources for families to talk about this to kids.

I am tired of posting things on Facebook that like-minded people “like.”

I am tired of saying “never again” and “enough” and “this has to stop NOW.”

I am tired of praying for the victims, the families and the shooters.

I am tired of all these things and many, many more. Because they do absolutely no good. Because I have done all these things before and we all know that in a matter of days or, at best, weeks, the next news alert will pop up with a different place, a different name, a different body count and the same words:

“Shooting.” “Gunman.” “Massacre.”

One of the reminders I write on the top of my notepad at the beginning of ever meeting is this:

“Can you ask a question instead of making a statement?”

That’s because questions begin conversations and statements end them.

And I have one question this night:

In Jesus’ name: WHY?

Can someone please explain to me in Jesus’ name, why we defend gun ownership like it is a sacrament? Can someone give me a Gospel argument why weapons that are specifically designed to maim and kill human beings should be allowed to exist.

I’m not looking for a constitutional argument. I’m not looking for a statistical argument. I’m looking for an argument from the Christian faith. Because even though the percentage is declining, more than 70% of Americans still join me in identifying as followers of Jesus Christ . Identify as people who, in some form or another, “promise to follow and obey him as Lord.”

I read my Bible every day. I pray every day. I ask Jesus to grant me sips from the vast reservoirs of wisdom that continue to elude me, to challenge my prejudices, and even to hit me with the holy 2x4 if needed to shape me more into his image. And in my 47 years, I have never read, heard, sensed or had revealed to me my savior asking me to arm myself or to guard the rights of others to arm themselves. I have never heard him praising the virtue of killing or wounding even in self-defense. I have never heard him ask for anything to be pried out of his cold, dead hands save the love of the world for which he died.

But there are clearly sisters and brothers in the faith who have heard differently. And so I genuinely want to know: How do you reconcile gun ownership, gun usage, the nearly unlimited access to guns including those specifically designed not just to kill individuals but mass groups of people with turning your life over to the Prince of Peace? Why do you so vigorously defend the right to bear arms?

In Jesus’ name: WHY?

There are plenty of areas in my life that I freely admit my hypocrisy. I rail against homelessness but have a spare bedroom in my house that lies empty most nights. I rail against the sad state of public education while using my wealth and privilege to send my kids to John Burroughs and Crossroads. But I will not try to defend these things as virtue or claim that Jesus smiles on them – only that Jesus still loves me in spite of my failings.

But I simply don’t see how followers of Jesus can hold a cross in one hand and a handgun in the other and not see the contradiction. And perhaps I am missing something. Perhaps there is some wisdom of Christ that remains beyond me. And so if you are reading this and you are one of those faithful who believes that discipleship of Jesus Christ is compatible with gun ownership and use, please explain to me…

In Jesus’ name: WHY?

If I am wrong and you can hold the cross in one hand and a handgun in another, I really want to know.

But if I’m right and you can’t.

If I’m right and – like me with homelessness and education – we agree that it is sin but because of our weakness we fall short … can we as the 70% of this nation that follows Jesus join with other like-minded people in the other 30% and at least say we will work together to try to be more faithful? To try to reduce the number of guns and our access to them? To try to stop the killing?

If I’m right and Jesus is weeping right now not only in San Bernadino, but over the bullet-ridden body of a child somewhere whose death was deemed so inconsequential we didn’t hear of it, and also over the man stocking his home arsenal in fear of his fellow human beings …

If I’m right and we are truly breaking the heart of Christ with our idolatrous worship of the second amendment…

If I’m right and we are allowing ourselves to have our steps determined not by the Son of God but by a gun lobby making billions selling power to people of color and poverty and fear to people of wealth and privilege…

If I’m right and there is no answer to the question:

In Jesus’ name, WHY?

Then we either need to get to work disarming our society … or stop saying we come in Jesus' name.