Monday, December 29, 2014

Discussing Segregation, Racism, and Lynching in America (responses invited)

I’m writing a research paper based on James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, a book that inevitably evokes an emotional response. It’s always been the case for me that in the face of papers, feelings take up the space in my mind and writing seems nearly impossible to begin. I think the feelings and emotion have to be expressed, the energy used. It swirls in my mind, and if all I am seeing is “research,” and “rubrics,” and “thesis statements,” words, thoughts, and inspiration have no where to go. So, without further ado:

The Cross and the Lynching Tree is difficult material. It requires response. Cone tells the story of the violent and barbaric lynchings of African Americans in our country’s recent past. White people performed these lynchings and across America refused to allow African Americans the property, liberties, and political rights reserved for whites. To protect the “purity of the white race,” crimes were fabricated, justifying black men and women being hung on trees. A white man from Florida spoke these words: “The people of the South don’t think any more of killing the black fellows then you would think of killing a flea.”

Lynchings were a public affair, posted in newspapers and spread all over the white South. On some occasions, thousands would attend, and souvenirs of black people’s severed fingers and ears, even genitals were kept by whites as expressions of pride.

In 1955, a 14-year-old, Emmet Louis “Bo” Till, was kidnapped, for reportedly whistling and saying “bye baby” to a white woman. He was “beaten beyond recognition, shot in the head, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River.”


A friend told me recently that her grandmother referred to a group of black men from a story in her past, as “Niggers… that’s just what they were called.”

In April, one of my parents’ friends called President Obama a “nig”; he had voted, for the first time ever, in the last presidential election. Just like the white mobs, and proud lynchers, he seeks to preserve the white race that is in power.

About 8 years ago, my grandmother referred to African Americans as “negroes.”

And, a relative of mine flies a confederate flag in his front yard.


Racism is not always overt but this does not mean it does not exist in us. This is not a point on which to ruminate and to spend time feeling guilty for (though that is a common response for whites). Rather, for those who have been harmed, for those who’s families have been torn apart and continue to be because of systemic racism and hate, for these may we grieve.

The author of The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone, is a professor at Union Seminary in New York. He founded African American Liberation Theology, and insists that white theology recognize the oppression and suffering black Americans have endured- “Just as the Germans should never forget the Holocaust, Americans should never forget slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree?” Cone’s theological work challenges white theologians with the question, “Can American Christians see the reality of Jesus’ cross without seeing it as the lynching tree?”

It is only recently that I have identified my own racism. I have thought my voice would be unwanted because I am the face of the perpetrator. But, silence was the failure of white politicians and church leaders in the times of lynching. Fighting racism and oppression in our society is not just for those oppressed, but it is also for whites- being honest with ourselves. Beyond that, we may find opportunity to enjoy and learn from those who we would otherwise miss out on. So, I start here.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Compassion Begets Compassion

Compassion Begets Compassion. I believe this. And, it takes faith to believe when compassion is silent or seems hidden. But I've experienced it. As space is given to my emotions- my hurt, my anger, even to my happiness and hope, begotten is more space, begotten is more kindness, begotten is more hope.

This is both a common and uncommon idea:
I've seen it reflected in traditions of mediation, being just as you are in the present moment.
I've also seen it refused entirely by tireless striving for morality and in other settings for feelings of success. There is no room for slowing down, there is no room for being ok and good and right just there, just then.

But I see people in this country and our fast paced society looking to meditation, looking to self help books and therapists, looking both outside of ourselves and within, for peace. I am thankful for this, and I desire for more support and opportunity around this idea and experience of compassion, for all of us and for myself.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Words

I LONG long long to put words on pages and spill over into peoples' minds

I long long long to be heard, I confess.

I long long long to have no regard for negative opinion and subjective judgment. "Have your judgment", I'd like to say and yet I stay silent. But not forever. I won't stay silent forever.


Monday, July 4, 2011

An Excuse to Make No Conclusions

I have a lot of thoughts about America today. wanna hear?


From American girls, to Asian girls in America, to black females and males too. Black, from Jamaica, but also from Zimbabwe and Nigeria. American music, well what is that? It’s hip hop today. It's Paul Mccartney. It was Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland, or wait was that movies? Yes. It was. America is sailing, and it is speed boats, it’s kayaking here, wakeboarding here and elsewhere. My America is different from yours. So what’s the content of this day? It was founded on something, and today it’s quite different. Some people think there’s a big problem with how holiday’s have evolved in our country. But maybe you like the excuses to get tipsy and make small talk.


Independence is different for this person and that person, and maybe more alike for the two hanging out in this city, or that rural community. I can’t say I have any sort of pure perspective on America’s foundation of independence. I don’t know that it’s helpful to expect that.


Free to me, is wearing my skin without fear. Holding my head up without looking behind me to see another’s fist of anger. Free to me is the Fourth of July. And, it’s something new. It’s a beer with my friends just to have something in common. Free is watching american TV when I’m down and feeling out of luck. Free to me, sometimes is cleaning my car so that I can feel good in it. Free to me, is forgetting, and dreaming, imagining. Free to me, is today apart from tomorrow and yesterday. It’s for you and for me and for him and her and them. Free is group and individual. It’s categorized and uncategorizable. You’re free. A free people. A free being. Go be set free. Further free. Cuz furthermore is never ending.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nouwen Again

page 14 of The Return of the Prodigal Son
my rendition:
The days since moving to Seattle have not been easy. There has been much inner struggle, and there has been mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. Nothing, absolutely nothing, had about it the quality of having arrived. However, the move from Maryland to Seattle proved to be but one little step from bystander to participant, from desiring to living desire, from teacher about love to being loved as the beloved. I really did not have an inkling of how difficult the journey would be. I did not realize how deeply rooted my resistance was and how agonizing it would be to come to my senses, fall on my knees, and let my tears flow freely. I did not realize how hard it would be to become truly part of the great even that was the return of the prodigal daughter.
Each little step toward the center seemed like an impossible demand, a demand requiring me to let go one more time from wanting to be in control, to give up one more time the desire to predict life, to die one more time to the fear of not knowing where it all will lead, and to surrender one more time to a love that knows no commandment to love that knows no limits. And still, I knew that I would never be able to live the great commandment to love without allowing myself to be loved without conditions or prerequisites. The journey from teaching and trying to live out love, to allowing myself to be loved proved much longer than I realized.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Retelling a Story

I just began a book called The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. This is the beginning of his prologue and I've taken the opportunity to rewrite it for me because of how connected I feel to it.

"When I first saw the Prodigal Son, I had just finished an exhausting six-week lecturing trip through the United States, calling Christian communities to do anything they possibly could to prevent violence and war in Central America. I was dead tired, so much so that I could barely walk. I was anxious, lonely, restless, and very needy. During the trip I had felt like a strong fighter for justice and peace, able to face the dark world without fear. But after it was all over I felt like a vulnerable little child who wanted to crawl onto its mother's lap and cry. As soon as the cheering or cursing crowds were gone, I experienced a devastating loneliness and could easily have surrendered myself to the seductive voices that promised emotional and physical rest.

It was in this condition that I first encountered Rembrandt's Prodigal Son on the door of Simone's [a friend's] office. My heart leapt when I saw it. After my long self-exposing journey, the tender embrace of father and son expressed everything I desired at that moment. I was, indeed, the son exhausted from long travels; I wanted to be embraced; I was looking for a home where I could feel safe. The son-come-home was all I was and all that I wanted to be. For so long I had been going from place to place: confronting, beseeching, admonishing, and consoling. Now I desired only to rest safely in a place where I could feel a sense of belonging, a place where I could feel at home."




When I first saw the "prodigal son" (hope), I had just finished an exhausting six-week personal and relational challenge between the state of Washington and of Maryland, calling close relatives and a few friends to do anything possible to love and to be loved, to fight for hope and a better world, even if just for their own hearts. I was dead tired, so much so that I could barely walk. I was anxious, lonely, restless, and very needy. During the journey I had felt like a strong fighter for justice and peace, able to face the dark world without fear. But after it was all over I felt like a vulnerable child who wanted to crawl into her mother's lap and cry...

It was in this condition that I first encountered "the prodigal son" (hope again) on the doors of heaven and of life. My heart leapt when I saw it. After my long self-exposing journey, the tender embrace of father and son expressed everything I desired at that moment. I was, indeed, the son exhausted from long travels; I wanted to be embraced; I was looking for a home where I could feel safe. The son-come-home was all I was and all that I wanted to be. For so long I had been going from place to place: confronting, beseeching, admonishing, and consoling. Now I desired only to rest safely in a place where I could feel a sense of belonging, a place where I could feel at home.

And this is where it doesn't exactly line up with Nouwen's version! :

I took the semester off from classes and hadn't been around for a couple months but with great longing to be a part of something still, I walked into the graduate school building asking that such a thing could be true. I made jokes and lived freely with friends for the first few hours of the day. With a loved one, at CJ's Eatery, I literally had my soul fed. Back in the school library I listened to the spirit through that friend and another. I remembered the loving relationship I have with one of my roommates, and I stayed happy for an extended few hours. I told stories and listened to stories. I told lessons and listened to lessons. I heard love. I heard kindness. I heard gifting and holiness. Not to mention, I spent over an hour at Golden Gardens relaxedly enjoying my friend, Terry.

A story of belonging has begun and absent not of pain and anxiety, I fall forward to be caught in grace and in the hands of friends. Hallelujah. Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fearing the Bible

Back in a place where the Bible feels complicated and dare I say 'oppressive'? But I'm in this line of thinking that God is love.

Not when I read Paul, not when I hear the way some people use the text.

And, I am confident that something is seriously lacking in the way that literalists read and use the Bible. We are blinded by so many factors and the biggest for this day is a culture defined by moral absolutes and false optimism. We're moving on, and for good reason. Science is no longer the answer (though, yes it is still very helpful). There's a rise in spiritualism, a decline in idealism, and if you haven't figured this out in your individual life already, things are not always as they seem. Life isn't working itself out and man is not the center of the universe.

So what do I do with the text then? Throw it out?
On some days, maybe it is just better to stay away.
Sometimes I think it's possible to honor the text, to honor how it was written and the cultural influences of the time. Sometimes I think we cheapen the text to fit our own desires for it. And, sometimes our best stab at it is to admit that it's difficult and we don't know what to do with it.

I know some really great exegetes of the text, people who listen, discern, test. I am very grateful for them. For now I'll join them, learn from them, and hopefully become open to the work of the spirit in the holy scriptures.