Friday, August 18, 2017

Time to Get Real about Racism

It's good that we now universally get that "racism" is a bad thing (which is why even racists deny that they are). But racism is more than acting out publicly, saying deliberately unkind things, or having conscious hostility toward people of color. 

By accident of birth I am Caucasian. In this country that affords me some unearned privileges that people of color cannot necessarily take for granted. I am unlikely to be stopped for no reason. If stopped, I am unlikely to be harassed or threatened. At 50, I will never have the indignity of being called "boy" or asked to show a driver's license even if I am walking somewhere. Rarely on an elevator will I notice women clutching their purses tighter because of my presence. I've never had to wonder if walking in a hoodie in certain neighborhoods would cost me my life. If I were to miraculously become president, I wouldn't have my very citizenship called into question, and if I did, the person who led such a mean spirited campaign against my Americanness would certainly not wind up being the next president! And, I won't have to hear people telling me to get over the centuries of injustice that continues to inject racist assumptions into our daily lives. 

I try to be aware. Educated. Sensitive. I really want to be a good person. And still, I find myself using language sometimes that suggests whiteness is normative or my experience is universal. That's racism. It isn't conscious or intentional, but on some level I depend on the safety that simply looking white affords me. There are other perils in my life, but I will never be targeted by the systems of power for the color of my skin. That means that racism has infected me also. It means I have more work to do. 

It's not enough to not use pejorative language about the "Other" or to have a friend or two who doesn't look like you. It's not enough to have a racially mixed family or attend a fairly diverse church or have a family or two on the block who looks or sounds different from you. It isn't enough to say racism is bad or to pray for peace or unity when racial tensions explode somewhere. It isn't enough to say "we should be Americans first" or "we're all part of the one human family." 

If we think Nazis include "Good people" or that the murdered are as culpable as the murderers in acts of domestic terrorism, or that protesting white supremacy is as bad as white supremacy, or if we are bored or unconcerned with reminders of Native American genocide, of Brown families being torn apart by draconian deportation policies, with our history of denying Japanese Americans liberty simply because of their ancestry, or with the heartbreaking stories of Jim Crow whose attitudes plague our country still, or if we are completely unaware or intentionally ignorant about the realities of white privilege, or if we are untroubled by white supremacists in government or if we are silent when government leaders of any party refuse to condemn white supremacists and their actions (without adding false equivalencies between them and their victims), then we are not free of racism and we have work to do. 


It's probably a good sign that no one wants to be thought of as a racist. It will be better when no one wants to BE a racist. That may not be possible, but the goal is worthy nevertheless. And yes, white friends, neighbors, and family...WE are responsible for enjoying unearned privilege without trying to make society more fair, and we are responsible for not doing enough to confront and combat racism in our midst and in our hearts. Not owning that responsibility is also racist. Let's do better. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When Business Ethics "Trump" Religion

CEOs leaving the Trump corporate advisory board to protest racism and authoritarianism prompted him to disband the committee entirely. However, so far not a single evangelical has left his religious advisory board in protest. How/when did big business leaders become more ethical than religious leaders? How embarrassing for those of us who are persons of faith!
The religious right has long worshiped their fears and prejudices and tried to tell us they were principles, values, and devotion...but now, I wonder if they honestly believe their own hype. Has this unrepentant, unreflective, racist, xenophobic, mendacious, sexual predator really become the cultic symbol and savior for christian fundamentalism? And if so, whatever have they done with the justice seeking, compassionate, healing, radically inclusive Jesus?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Removing Hate Symbols Isn't Erasing History

Removing Hate Symbols Is Not Erasing History
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

I get it...If we grew up in Hot Springs or Augusta or Mobile or New Orleans or Richmond or Memphis...there are things about our home towns we love; and, we don't want to think of our heritage as being cruel or unenlightened (but, no one's story is all nobility, wisdom, and grace). We love our crawfish and our cornbread dressing and our collard greens and our fried okra. We love our gardens and relatively mild winters (very mild in south Florida). We are proud of Vanderbilt, Tulane, Prairie View, Southern, Emory, Rice, William and Mary, and UNC-Chapel Hill. We enjoy the fact that log cabins, grand mansions, and manufactured homes all exist within the same family. We find a Blanche DuBois or Julia Sugarbaker accent to be musical and pleasant to our ears. Some of us like duck, squirrel, and deer hunting (not me, but many do). We may even take pride in the fact that 3 of the last 7 US presidents {Carter (Georgia), Clinton (Arkansas), and Bush 2 (Texas)} all came from our neck of the woods. And as much as we get to take pride in all of that, the truth remains that slavery, treasonous secession, Jim Crow, and vile racist attitudes left over and passed down from that era are also our legacy and inheritance.

Battle flags that have become the banner of every white supremacist organization and statues of Confederate generals are not just "history" to be remembered. They are painful reminders of the worst of our frailties and failings. They hurt people. They remind people that our history includes not viewing all people as fully human, and some evil residue from that time has not been washed from our collective consciousness yet. These monuments aren't gumbo, blue grass, and sun belt football...they are a tableaux of hate, oppression, and injustice. Maybe we can be proud of what's good about the South without needing to feature or revere what was never good.

These symbols of oppression become even more toxic when defended by those who claim to follow the prince of peace, a homeless born child and refugee who grew up in an occupied territory and who was executed in the manner of a run away slave. When followers of Jesus turn a blind eye to symbols of oppression, it taints our religion as well as our culture.

Our feelings may be complex, but let us be open to those who feel unsafe, unwanted, and whose history of oppression are effectively swept aside by statues that honor a time when our ancestors wrongly believed that some humans could be owned. And let us also know that some of these monuments were erected in the 20th century as a nod to segregation, another unfortunate chapter in our national history.

Monuments honoring those who fought for slavery and for treasonous secession are an attempt to rewrite history. Taking them down won't erase history, it will allow for a fuller telling of the whole story.

If we think we need reminders of an evil past, let's put them in text books and museums, not in public squares to insult the descendants of the victims of that past. The mere fact that such monuments are now revered by present day nazis is reason enough to move them from our Southern sunshine.

Yes we have an unfortunate past...let's not build shrines to it in public squares. Confederate idols must go the way of the golden calf. And then, we can celebrate our healing and evolution Southern style...with New Orleans jazz and Memphis blues, with Kentucky bourbon and Texas beer, with Carolina barbecue and sweet iced tea, with Florida stone crabs and deep fried hush puppies. Let's be clear about what is historically worth celebrating, and what is not.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Charlottesville: A Pastoral Statement

Charlottesville: A Pastoral Statement

Dear People of Faith,
The sight of torch wielding white nationalists last night in Virginia must surely disturb and sicken all people of conscience and character. All people of courage and conviction will want to denounce the ugliness that such a spectacle represents.
In addition to our shared outrage at such blatant racist symbolism, let us also realize that such despicable actions are emboldened by dog whistle language that demonizes "the Other", that attacks, vilifies, or seeks to exclude people for how they look, how they identify, how they pray, or who they love. Regardless of who uses this kind of divisive and demeaning language, even if such speakers of spite otherwise share our religious or political affiliations, we must name such language for the vile, vitriolic, verbal venom that it is.
Our nation, our communities, our social media seem too often to ignore or reward the language of racism, the actions of homophobia, the dehumanization of transgender people, the xenophobic threats against immigrants, recycled anti-Semitic code words, and the unfair characterizations of faithful followers of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him). And while we have ignored or fanned the flames of hatred, the peddlers of hate and curators of bigotry have felt it is their time to rise without fear of consequence. President Abraham Lincoln spoke of the better angels of our nature...those angels are fewer or at least less active than we need them to be right now. Let us wake our angels and call them to action!
Today, in Charlottesville, VA, violence has erupted as so often will happen when hate is glorified or left unchecked. Let us wish for healing where the poison of prejudice has flowed too freely, and let us also know that when we turn away from human evil, we are tacitly giving it permission to continue. The xenophobia and homophobia and transphobia and racism we are seeing in public places lately are demonstrations of human evil (or we could say, of soul sickness). We cannot ignore it away; we must call it what it is, and boldly declare in the name of all that we hold to be good and holy that we will not let hate win...we will at very least not allow it to be expressed without challenge.
My dear friends, this is a troubling time and a painful day. This is a day when even God must surely weep.
We can decide and determine that this is also a day of hope, a day when we will choose to recommit to the work of justice and peace for all the children of God, which is to say, for all people.
May hearts that are burdened with fear be healed.
May hearts that are infected with hate be healed.
May hearts that are sluggish with indifference be healed.
And let us pray with Jesus, "Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil."
In the weeks, months, and even years ahead, let's be faithful to worship together, work together, pray together, and even play together so that we can build up a community of justice-love that can offer hope and healing to a hurting world. Such healing is still very much needed.

Yours in shared service,

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How 'Bout We Give Religion a Break?

Here is a mild frustration that I as a person of faith have. If one's psychotherapist doesn't miraculously lead her client to peace of mind and joy of life in 3 sessions, we don't immediately assume the therapist is a fraud. Even if she's no damn good at all, we don't assume psychotherapy is b/s...we just find a new therapist. If our primary care physician prescribes a treatment that doesn't work, we don't throw up our hands and say medical science is a scam...we try another treatment. And as every dieter in the world knows, not one person alive has tried just one diet. We keep trying. So, in a world where perfection is expected of almost no one, and where we seem to intuit, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again," it almost sends me into orbit when religion is presented as a zero/sum game. Prayer didn't work like a genie in a bottle instantly granting a wish? Must be snake oil. An intuitive person who often gives wise counsel gets something wrong once, it was clearly a shell game. Prayers for peace didn't turn every dictator in a 1960s flower child? Religion must be bogus. Why isn't religion, like other social institutions, communities, arts and sciences, something that can be useful without being perfect, helpful without being magical, a good resource without producing microwavable instant miracles? We've all been disappointed when the magic didn't work (whether the magic was a pill, an exercise, a diet, or a prayer)...but somehow, only religion/spirituality can't be forgiven for its lack of omnipotence. As a religious person, this aggravates me...and now you know.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

How I Came to Believe in God

A question was asked on Facebook: "To my friends who claim a faith, how did you come to believe in a deity?"

Of course, many people answered, and as you would expect, the answers varied greatly. Here was my reply:
"Raised in a religious home and culture, a supreme being seemed an a priori fact. That same religion condemned me for my same-gender loving orientation and it's god which condemned me for being gay was apparently unable or unwilling to zap me straight. That led to deep questioning and searching...so for me, it wasn't about coming to believe that there was a deity, but trying to summon the courage to decide if possibly there wasn't one. In my search I came to believe that God is the search for God...the search for meaning, the ways we try to mine the depths of ultimate reality, is what we mean by 'god.' It may or may not be self-aware, but the questions are energizing even if they can't be answered. And anyway, it's become easy for me to accept that all that is makes up a whole, and the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts. To call it 'god' and explore ways to be nurtured and empowered by it is the religious quest, and so, I remain a religious person with more questions than answers but a 'faith' (trust) that we don't need the answers to be alright. We're all on a path and we will all reach whatever there is to reach." (dw)