Thursday, April 15, 2021

"We gave you strict orders not to teach his name!"

Today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles,  5, 27-33 made me think about who we are listening to and who gets to speak. (Bolding is mine) 

 When they had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.

Reflecting on this a little bit, I thought about the council as a representation of white supremacy. Not necessarily the KKK or stereotypical version of that, but the quieter, less obvious white supremacy that I and so many other people who look like me benefit from. The white supremacy that whispers, "He should have just complied with the police" or says they're "just joking" when dabbling in racial stereotypes.

Recently, the Iowa statehouse voted to end "divisive" training on issues like implicit bias or diversity training. Former President Trump signed a similar executive order during his term. I've attended a number of diversity training sessions, seminars, and discussions. Are they all of the same quality? No. But did I regret going to them? Not at all. Even though the Apostles were spreading the good news, the council got so angry that they wanted to kill them! And sadly, this is still happening 2000+ years later: People still literally want to kill the messengers

What will it take for us to let our guard down and repent? How do we listen to the Holy Spirit and not the human council? 

May we allow the flowers of grace and forgiveness to flourish, instead of the bitter fruits of defensiveness and anger.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Vanity Legislation, Baseball, and John 3:16

We're in the middle of the most high-profile trial over a police killing ever, Minnesota just saw another black man killed "mistakenly" by another policeman, all the while COVID-19 is still a thing, and Josh Hawley, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz want to retaliate against baseball? The three of them held a press conference today about removing their anti-trust legislation.

This is all in response to Major League Baseball—a corporation acting in the free market— moving the All-Star game out of Georgia due to voting laws that would disenfranchise minorities.

I'm not going to examine the ins and outs of the law or the baseball trust exemption, but the Gospel readings today, John 3:16-21 (Coincidentally, a sign held up at many baseball games) stood out to me, specifically, verse 19.  

And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.

That third line stuck with me "but people preferred darkness to light." In the midst of so much trauma and turmoil in our country, these three men chose vanity, attention, and retaliation over actually helping people. This trait isn't unique to these three men or their party. And I know at times I have preferred vanity to all these other good qualities of the Holy Spirit. 

These three are wealthy, privileged, well-educated men who have the ability and power to change the world, and yet they made this decision. Our politics, faith, and communal life are worse off because of it. 

George Floyd had no money, no privilege, and not much of an education. He had his struggles and I'm not going to pretend he was an angel, but this anecdote from a special section of the Star Tribune on him stuck out with me. (The whole thing is worth a read.) 

When Smith and other volunteers arranged for homeless people to have their blood pressure checked, get haircuts or go out to eat, Floyd was usually there to help out.

Even though his life was full of darkness, I think Floyd strived to find those glimmers of light.  

But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.


Monday, April 12, 2021

Doubting Thomas's and Racism


I’ve been thinking a lot about pain this past week, especially after this week’s Gospel reading.

After yet another shooting of a black man in the Twin Cities compounds the trauma already at high levels due to the Derek Chauvin trial, I thought about the Gospel reading this week which described “Doubting” Thomas and how he reacted to rumors that Jesus was actually alive.

Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.  

I’ve seen too many takes - and so many of them from white people - who treated George Floyd’s killing, and now Daunte Wright, and the news so many other deaths of black men, women, and children like Thomas did to a resurrected Jesus. They did not believe. 

They did not believe in the existence of racism. They did not believe that there could have been an alternate situation where a person did not have to end up dead. They did not believe in the secondary trauma affecting people with different colored skin. 

A few years ago during a discussion about something current events related, a former teacher told me, “We have your pain is not valid because it’s not my pain crisis" in this country. When I was growing up, I thought my pain was unique. As I grew older, I learned it wasn’t. We all have issues and pain. Friends who I thought had ‘normal’ childhoods talked to me about the pain and challenges they faced growing up. We are all broken in places.  

I don’t know a ton of Black people, but I feel like I know enough to say that being Black in America comes with a certain number of challenges, painfulness, and trauma just due to skin color. Much of which is invisible to white people. We didn’t grow up with being on guard when we see a cop car. We didn’t grow up being followed in stores for being suspicious. We didn’t grow up with the racism of low expectations. And since so many of us didn’t see it growing up, we “will not believe.” 

This isn’t to say that one person’s pain is more important or others. This isn’t a diatribe against policing. I’m not trying to be ‘woke.’ I am stating what my faith is calling me to do. And for those of you whose first reaction is “What about…” I will preemptively respond with the first words Jesus told Thomas, “Peace be with you.” 

In a recent marriage enrichment class I took with my wife, we learned about three responses to when our spouse brings up something up, turn against, turn away, and turn towards. Turn against is where we become defensive, which leads to conflict. Turn away is when we become apathetic or ignore the problem. And turn towards is when we put in our full selves towards the issue and we approach it with a full heart and willingness to engage. We, white people especially, need to turn towards the problem of racism. 

I believe this needs to be stated clearly: there are systems in place that are causing significant trauma and fatal harm to black and brown citizens of this country. And so many of us need to quit acting like Thomas and believe it.