Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Welcome the party, pal!" -- on the House of Bishops' Word to the Church

“Welcome to the party, pal!” – John McClane

There’s a scene in Die Hard where terrorists have taken over the top floor of a LA high rise and are holding a bunch of people hostage. John McClane (Bruce Willis), has been in the thick of what has been going on and trying to get anyone else outside the building to notice.

A single police officer drives up way down below, takes a cursory look around and is about to drive off – completely ignorant of the crisis -- when McClane realizes he has to do something crazy to get his attention. So he takes the body of one of the terrorists he has killed, throws it out the window and it lands on the hood of the officer’s car. Instantly, the officer knows all is not well – especially when the terrorists open fire on the police car. (Check out the scene clip below, but, you know, trigger warning)

Two seconds before, he was ignorant of the horrors going on inside the building. Now he is not only aware, the horrors are all around him.

And McClane, in wonderful Bruce Willis fashion, yells down at him:

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

Welcome to the party, pal! That’s how I feel about the Episcopal House of Bishops' “Word to the Church” that came out yesterday.

It’s a great letter. (Click here to read it)

It names the crucifixion of Jesus as state terrorism.

It talks about how we are still “living under the shadow of the lynching tree” and about how we “seek to secure our own safety and security at the expense of others.”

I agree with pretty much everything in this word – except the tense our bishops use throughout.

They talk about a developing situation.

They talk about “violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric.”

That “Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society."

That “the current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege.”

Like all this is somehow something new.

Like this somehow hasn’t happened yet, but we fear it might.

Like violent forces, people turning against their neighbors and us worshipping a false idol of power and privilege hasn’t been happening all along – just because some of us are only now beginning to notice. Just because it is only now happening at rallies for a major party’s frontrunner for president. Just because it is only now CNN Breaking News.

Welcome to the party, pal!

As pastor Traci Blackmon says, “Trump isn’t the tree, he’s the fruit.” And he and what is happening around him is just the latest fruit of a tree that has roots older than our Republic itself.

Our bishops have wonderfully said:

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

Welcome to the party, pal!

We have a national economy founded on the stealing of black bodies from Africa and having productivity tortured out of them in forced labor camps.[1] An economy that has been sustained by successive re-workings of that system in sharecropping, Jim Crow, the denial of key wealth escalators (the GI Bill, social security, FHA home loans, among others) and the discrimination of redlining/restrictive covenants to people of color[2],  and finally the school to prison pipeline. [3]

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.

We have a system of policing where, as Professor John A. Powell says, “the role of the police is to contain the black community, to keep white people safe from the black community.” (watch the video above)

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.

We have a political system that has embodied and sustained white supremacy – grounded in a founding document that designates black men as only 3/5 human and women as not recognizably human at all.

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.

Our bishops write:

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

Fantastic! Seriously. That is awesome. 

Welcome to the party, pal!

I honestly don’t say this in ridicule. I say this in thanksgiving. I say this as someone who is just starting to come to the party myself. I say this as someone who has spent most of my life benefitting from these systems and not bothering to seek out the truths behind them and perfectly happy to remain blissfully unaware that my safety and wealth exist through the sacrifice of the hopes and safety of others.

As the young leaders of the movement for black lives told me when I finally showed up in the street:

“You’ve been in your churches praying. We’ve been out here dying.”

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

I applaud the House of Bishops for their word. And I hope they – and all of us -- recognize the power of what they are saying. I hope they – and all of us – recognize  the radical, rooted nature of what they are calling us to and committing themselves to as our leaders.

They close their word by saying:

“We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.”

How we – the Bishops and us all – read this call will determine whether this word will be us truly coming to the party or whether we will once again in our power and privilege drive off in safety leaving the carnage to continue. 

Will we read this as a call to pray – not just on our knees but with our hands, with our voices, with our power, our privilege, and with our feet – for true reconciliation?

If we read this call as one for that kind of radical, rooted-in-Jesus “spirit of reconciliation” and not just as one more way to “be in our churches praying while ‘they’ are out there dying,” then this is a word that could change the church. This is a word that could change the world. This is a word that could truly lead us more deeply into the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ -- who is the source of those true selves we pray we will not betray.

Yes, the violence and rhetoric in this political season are disturbing. But it is the fruit, not the tree. It is the crazy thing that has finally gotten our attention to what has been going on all along.

Jesus is standing, as Jesus always does, with those most on the margins … those most oppressed … those most ridiculed … those most targeted.  And as some of our eyes are being opened not just to what is happening now but what has been going on all along, Jesus is shouting down at those of us who have remained blissfully unaware below:

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

How will we respond?

[1] For more on this, read The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist (

[2] For more on this, read and watch White Like Me by Tim Wise (transcript here -


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