Archive for the ‘race relations’ Category

I’m in the process of redesigning this blog and working more intentionally on branding, so I haven’t been posting. But I couldn’t let this moment past. You can see the post below as a kind of follow-up to a brief post I did several years ago.

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Rochelle and I saw ‘The Help’ this weekend with another couple from church. They are wonderful people and gave me the book last year. Since the wife of the other couple, like me, is from the south, she thought I would resonate with the book, and in many ways I did.

 I was born in Jackson, MS, as were my parents and grandparents. Both of my grandmothers were maids in Jackson, working for multiple white families. ‘The Help’ nails the look of Jackson and its cultural and racial ethos  – both in the 60’s and today. From my read – visiting hundreds of times over my lifetime – Jackson remains two cities; one white, one black. Speak with contemporary Jacksonians, white and black, and you’ll get a completely different picture of the city, just like you do in ‘The Help’. The whites in the movie don’t see a racial problem in Jackson while it’s painfully obvious to blacks.

It’s been interesting to see the response of my white friends to ‘The Help’ (and I have tons of them and I love all of you). What has startled me is the amazement by which they look at the racial division in the 60’s. The white characters in ‘The Help’ are largely unlikeable. They want separate bathrooms, believe in separate stations in life, and mindlessly go along with the status quo; a status quo which occupies a social position of separate and unequal and the theological position that God did not create all people in his own image. When we see it in Mississippi in the 60’s we look back and marvel with confused awe and disgust. Some of us even think, “How could people be that way?” But many of us don’t think that most Sunday mornings when we sit in our segregated churches.

Our senses get offended when someone like Hilly Holbrook speaks of segregated bathrooms because “niggers carry different diseases than us”. But that’s hardly a concern at most congregations I know. There’s no fear of black butts on white toilets because there are no black butts in the building. If you don’t believe me, what’s the racial make-up of your congregation. I bet most of them are OVERWHELMINGLY homogeneous. As a matter of fact, that’s how the church-growth experts tell us is the best way to grow a church.

Once, in college, I sat in a ministry class and listened to a young white woman explain that segregated churches are better because different ethnicities like different worship styles.

Seriously?

It would seem that the apostle Paul didn’t consider the powerful importance of “worship styles” when he said that Jesus Himself was our peace and had destroyed the the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between us (Eph. 2:14). Apparently, even the church is  inventing mythical reasons to keep the races separate. Shockingly, this is antithetical to the message of the New Testament, wherein one of the central questions is bringing Jews and Gentiles together as one under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Just this last week on Twitter, someone referenced seeing ‘The Help’ and asked, “I wonder what our kids will look back at and be embarassed?” I submit, it will be the same thing…at least if they’re better Christians than we are. Jesus Himself prays that all his disciples be one (John 17), and Paul works for it throughout his entire ministry, yet it is the least talked about issue in the church. We get all in a bunch about things we can’t do anything about; real important things like millennial debates, and hardly lift a finger to do what was critical to Jesus and Paul, bringing people from different backgrounds together to become one.

The difficult and deadly work of ending Jim Crow and segregation in the south was undertaken by courageous men and women, who under the banner of Christ, sought to end a wicked, demeaning system of life. Yet it was the white churches in the South who were last to the party. In fact, they openly defended the status quo, rebuked Martin Luther King, Jr., and called to uphold segregation and second-class citizenship. These churches and their leaders saw nothing wrong with segregation, with white, blacks, Latinos and anybody else all worshipping separately, though supposedly to the same God.

Some churches still do this.

Some churches maintain racists systems in the David Duke kinda way. But the majority maintain it by not caring at all, not working to end it, not standing up for others and by  sitting on their hands…in the theatre.

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I’m very stoked, pumped, excited, and animated to be heading to Rochester College this May 16-18 for “Streaming: Biblical Conversations From the Missional Frontier”. Streaming is an in-depth exploration about the adventure of ministry. It  will focus on the book of James and will offer ministers and church leaders biblical resources to help them lead God’s people in a missional era. Mark Love – the churches of Christ missional yoda and peculiarly dedicated Bob Dylan fan, has put together, along with JoPa Productions, an awesome line-up of missional thinkers.

The featured speakers will be Scot McKnight and Miroslav Volf! Wow!!

Many of you already know Scot McKnight. He’s a Christian blogosphere rockstar (if there can be such a thing), has written a first rate book on how to read scripture and is not afraid to call John Piper’s questions of whether or not “Jesus preached Paul’s gospel” stupid, well “irritating!” His newest book is One.Life.

Perhaps less people know Miroslav Volf, but you should. Volf is as first-rate as first-rate gets when it comes to theology, and his book Exclusion and Embrace is a modern-day classic when it comes to race, identity and reconciliation. His newest release, Allah: A Christian Response is supposed to be excellent as well.

Just those two guys make Streaming worth the mere $189 for the registration. Plus, other incredible folks you’ll want to be around will be there. People like me, Jack Reese, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt.

I hope you’ll join me this May in Michigan.

People question my insistence that preachers should ditch their points. Points, I have argued, are planted and buried with story, whispers and the inspiring word. People don’t need or want step-by-step directions and we’re not interested in the points. Do you need proof? Just think about the last time you read a “User License Agreement” on a computer program. Oh, wait, you didn’t read it. The reason is simple, you want to get on to engagement. Engagement rarely comes in 1…2…3. Below is perhaps the greatest proof ever.

I’ve been thinking for a while about what to do with this space. I took an extended break because blogging had changed so much in the past 6 years, since I began. When I started there was no Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare or other means of social networking. Blogging itself was in it’s infancy and a blog like mine covered subject matter from theology to my daughter’s ballet classes. Blogs don’t do that anymore. They’re much more narrow.

So what am I to do?

Honestly, I still don’t know. But I am going to return to writing more often. Randy and Donny at Marketing Twins have offered some good suggestions, and I may follow.

At any rate, my intent is to narrow my focus to three areas: preaching, leadership, and the ministry of reconciliation — with an occasional book review. These are areas in which I am learning a great deal very rapidly and want to test new ideas, processes and theories and/or areas where I feel I have a unique lens. Hopefully, you’ll find it useful, add it to your Google Reader or drop by to read and comment a few times a week.

I want to reconnect with those readers and friends who were so faithful to The Palmer Perspective in our heyday.

Jackson MemorialFor some reason, I feel compelled to write a few words about celebrity and humanity with Michael Jackson’s memorial hanging as the backdrop. It should be said at the outset that I have always been a Michael Jackson fan, though a conflicted one.

If MJ were still alive and had a CD coming out next week, would I buy it? Yes.

If MJ asked if my kids could spend the night at Neverland Ranch? No!

I believe people are innocent until proven guilty, but I also trust the old adage; Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Multiple accusations, an “adult alarm” outside the bedroom, it’s all a little odd. Nevertheless, a family has lost a brother, parents lost their son, and, worst, three children are without a father. And that, almost any way you slice it, is a tragedy.

What struck me as most odd about the Michael Jackson Memorial was the obvious lack of authenticity. Not that the people who participated did not care about Jackson or his death, but rather that the majority of them are routinely compelled to protect their public persona and during this “performance” were, at best, concerned with maintaining that persona. Moments of the memorial seemed, not so much as stagecraft, as it did an opportunity for the advancement of some participant’s personal brand. Today celebrities were asked to do what they are never asked to do, never rewarded for, and what might possibly be the farthest thing from their minds – put someone else first!

The rhetorical low-point had to be Usher. The sunglass donning singer proclaimed, “Michael meant a lot to all of us, especially me.” Did you hear that? “Especially” him! Usher, in one sentence, demonstrates why so many people felt that network and cable news coverage of Jackson’s death was untoward. Most folks feel that celebrity is the ultimate landing ground for self-centered, shallow, silicone living. Celebrities are disconnected from reality and obsessed with all the wrong things. And truthfully, there are enough Paris Hiltons and Perez Hiltons to prove the case. So when Usher, for whatever reasons, placed his grief over and above that of Jacksons’ parents, siblings and children, everything we suspect about celebrity is proved to be true. Also, Mariah Carey was clothed barely a step up from her normal state of undress, and Berry Gordy’s 2-minute ad for Motown Records didn’t help either. Throughout so much of the memorial, I felt that I was witness to the Grammys or some other such production. Celebs wearing sunglasses in the darkened Staples Centre, Corey Feldman dressed as the King of Pop; at times I thought I was watching Live Aid or a VH1 Special.

Thankfully, Brook Shields and Paris Jackson broke through the pretention and made

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Michael Jackson what he always wanted to be; one of us. Brooke Shields spoke admirably and ably about her and Michael’s shared grief of lost innocence. She talked about his humor and playfulness. When Brooke spoke, Michael was human and he was her friend. Her tears were not of the Made-For-TV variety. She sidestepped Al Sharpton’s tirade against the media – as if something he said could’ve changed anything. And made the opportunist, Sheila Jackson Lee, look foolish, grandstanding with a House Resolution on her hip. And Brooke did it all by expressing what so few people could seem to conjure up today: Humanity! What Sharpton tried to do by shouting and Lee attempted with laws, Brooke Shields did by simply being a friend who cared. In that moment, it wasn’t about celebrity – hers or his – but it was about a friendship and relationship of caring. Don’t believe anyone cares about you, if they can’t tell a story about being with you that demonstrates that care.

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

And of course, there was sweet Paris Jackson simply saying she had the “best daddy in the world.” If your heart didn’t break when you heard this little girl, then you simply don’t have one. This girl, of whom the media has openly and harshly questioned whether or not her dad is her dad, ended the discussion. If you, like me, have little girls, you found that tears easily stream when you hear a little girl missing her daddy. Right there, among all the crudeness, crassness, silliness and shallowness of the celebrity culture, a little girl reminded us that music didn’t lose its greatest performer, the world didn’t lose a generous humanitarian, and concert promoters didn’t lose a meal ticket – three little children lost their daddy.

And they never cared how many CD’s or tickets he sold!

I so wish that some of the people who stood behind microphones today would have set their celebrity and/or political personas aside, been human, and let these kids say goodbye to their daddy. There are three more orphans in the world and not any of them needs someone to moonwalk.

Regardless of what you think of Michael Jackson, I suspect you’ll agree with me on one thing: We don’t need any more celebrities, but could use an injection of true humanity.

The true tragedy of Michael Jackson isn’t his truncated childhood, the unproven allegations, the abuse he took at the hands of his father, but that Jackson spent his life groping, blinded by the spotlight, for a genuine human experience, yet even in his death, so many of his “friends” couldn’t give it to him.

Richard and Mildred Loving

Richard and Mildred Loving

We’re in a season of celebrating at my house. The reason? Rochelle and I decided a few weeks ago that life was too short not to live with great joy! Plus, we realized that there is much to celebrate in life (and my mom bought me a sweet grill). One of our upcoming celebrations will be Loving Day!

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving began dating when Mildred was just 11 years old and Richard was 17. In the early years of their marriage, Mildred and Richard were arrested several times together. The reason? Mildred was black and Richard was white. And in 1958 it was illegal for them to be married in the state of Virginia. Apparently, Virginia has not always been for lovers.

Threatened with years of imprisonment, the Loving’s changed history when they challenged the Constitutionality of Virginia’s marriage laws and in 1967 won the day when the Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. From that day forward, every state, including those in the south, which had laws forbidding it, were required to recognize interracial marriage.

Mildred lived a quiet life after Richard’s death in a car wreck in 1975. Not one for the spotlight, Mildred said of her life, “I never wanted to be a hero, just a bride. It wasn’t my doing, it was God’s work.”

Each June 12th, couples across America celebrate “Loving Day” which celebrates the legalization of interracial marriage.

So for marriages like mine and kids with mocha colored skin and long, curly hair I say to Mildred and Richard, “Thank you for Loving.”

Well, since we have been surveying African-American literature this week, I thought I would post James Baldwin’s My Dungeon Shook. Baldwin penned this letter to his nephew — also named James — on the occasion of America’s 100th birthday. This piece is beautiful, with some of the most poignant phrases in all of literature. 

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Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well-meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not very far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. (I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, “No! This is not true! How bitter you are!” but I am writing this letter to you, to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born, for I was there. Your countrymen were not there, and haven’t made it yet. Your grandmother was also there, and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocents check with her. She isn’t hard to find. Your countrymen don’t know that she exists, either, though she has been working for them all their lives.)

Well, you were born, here you came, something like fifteen years ago; and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavyhearted, yet they were not. For here you were, Big James, named for me you were a big baby, I was not here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “You exaggerate’ ” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine-but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration, There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don’t be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.”

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.

Your uncle,

James