When Terror, Not Just Fear, Is All You Can Feel (Theology in the Aftermath of the Death of Sandra Bland)

 

Shall we sit with these tweets for a moment

A 7-year-old is terrified that she won’t be able to save her mother in the situation of her mother having an encounter with the police. And in the reverse (what we usually talk about), her mother is terrified that she won’t be able to protect her daughter in the situation that the daughter having an encounter with the police (and after McKinney, that terror is even more present).

ok my liberal religious friends….what’s our theology that stands up in the face of continuing trauma and stress? [we might get to the “post” in PTSD, but that’s not happening anytime soon]

Don’t give me the usual platitudes. Tell me how you are dealing with those in your midst that are living this every day.

When talking about #BlackLivesMatter, how ofter do you mention the women whose lives have been taken by an agent of the state? [there’s a new name to that list…Ralkina Jones]

7-year-olds are worried about how to protect their mothers in encounters with police. Mothers are worried about how to keep their children alive in case they encounter the police.

Liberal religion better have a response to this otherwise it will irrelevant in the “new” religious landscape.

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody

I’ve been trying to write what I feel about the case of Sandra Bland and in all honesty, I’m just exhausted. And mute.

There really are no words. (actually, there are a lot of words, but none of them are really appropriate for me to say until I am no longer pissed-off instead of just angry)

So…..if I die in police custody….there are 3 things I ask for….

1. Please make sure that my parents are ok–physically. And make sure they stay that way.

2. Stop Rosemary from killing somebody.

3. Know that whatever the police tell you about my mental state, it is only going to be part of the story. There is no way I would give law enforcement the satisfaction of taking my own life with them anywhere near around me.

 

Langston Hughes asked the question, “what happens to a dream deferred?” With all that’s happened in the past year, maybe the question be, “was there ever a dream?”

Taking Down the Confederate Flag and the ‘Charleston 9′ Families Forgiving That Racist Terrorist Are NOT the Same Types of Grace

Peter Boullata wrote an amazing post a few days ago about the families of the Charleston 9 and their act of forgiving the racist terrorist who killed their family members. Go. Read it. Now. But I’ve been very struck by how the conversation around taking down the Confederate flag and how South Carolina legislators are connecting these things.

Time and again, some South Carolina legislator (and the Governor) would say that the impetus for them to take the flag down and off of the capitol grounds was the families forgiving the racist terrorist; not the deaths of the Charleston 9 themselves (lest we forget that Rev. Pinckney’s casket had to process under that flag twice, and it–unlike the American and South Carolina state flags–was never lowered to half-staff) .

It makes me wonder what would have happened if the families of the Charleston 9 hadn’t forgiven the racist terrorist as fast as they did. Would the flag be coming down?

Taking down the Confederate flag is NOT the same type of grace that was shown by the families of the Charleston 9. And points to yet another example of African Americans being expected to show an extraordinary amount of compassion over outrageous acts and getting very little in return.

Don’t get me wrong…I am truly glad that the Confederate flag is coming down from the South Carolina capitol grounds. But let’s get this straight; it should have never been there in the first place. It was placed on the capitol dome as an act of defiance during the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. So to me this is not an act of grace. Or if it is, it is very cheap grace. And if you listened to the debate in the South Carolina House yesterday, it was gruelling and ugly.

At some point, the U.S. is going to have to recon with slavery the way that Germany has to (and continues to) recon with Nazism. Does it have the ability to do that? I don’t know.

I do know that what happened yesterday (and today) in South Carolina in no way compares to what the families of the Charleston 9 did. And that line of thinking needs to stop.

The Care and Feeding of Black Children’s Souls, pt. 2

In his keynote address during Ministry Days Rob Hardies said (I’m paraphrasing) “I want Unitarian Universalism to be as open to my son as it was to me.” [if the UUMA is smart, they would put that keynote up on YouTube]

I didn’t get the chance to talk to Rob afterwards, and what I would have told him would have been very much Debbie Downer-ish.

I think it’s time for Unitarian Universalism (and Unitarian Universalists) to face a uncomfortable truth. That, unlike with LGBTQ issues, UUism and UUs have no sense of urgency about race issues because, for the most part, black (and brown) children are not a part of most UU families. Most UUs don’t live in non-majority white communities and the number of truly integrated UU congregations can be counted on–maybe–both hands. [and please, no comments that I’m being hard on UUs. I did not say that UUs think that racial justice is not important, I said there was no sense of urgency about it; mainly because in the lives of most UUs racial justice is an esoteric exercise.]

I’ve been ruminating over President Obama’s eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney since I heard it. Mostly I’ve been thinking about the part where he talks about the black church and what it does for black children. And it connects to something another UU minister said about his black son while at GA. He said that he wouldn’t want his son to come back to a UU church because it’s not safe for him (not exact words, but you get the point).

Can UU churches be safe places for black (and brown) children when most UU churches are disconnected from the places where most black people live/work/go to school/play? Is there a way to make UU churches more safe for black (and brown) children in the way that UU churches are more safe for LGBTQ children?

Why Was the UUA’s Sustainable Ministry Summit in St. Louis?

So I’ve been thinking about the Sustainable Ministry summit that happened here in St. Louis during this last week. And one thought keeps staying at the forefront of my mind…..

Why the he** was this summit in St. Louis?

Reading through the twitter-feed it looks like this summit could have taken place in Boston at 24 (especially since there is all this talk of the UUA being in financial straits). Other than the local ministers who did a worship service for the participants, there doesn’t seem to have been any local input.

There was no “field trip” to Ferguson.

There was no talk to the local clergy like Rev. Traci Blackmon or Rev. Starsky Wilson or Rev. Osagyefo Sekou or Rabbi Susan Talve about how they are doing the balance of internal congregational work and being in the community and money. (I’m guessing that any of these people would have loved to talk about that, if not all of them)

The consultant was not local; and on top of that was not a UU. (any particular reason Rev. Ron Robinson–who is doing exactly a “new ministry” that is so talked about–couldn’t have been asked to speak?)

So let’s take a minute to look at this……the UUA comes to St. Louis less than a year after things get set off here; within a month of the #BlackLivesMatter banner being stolen from First Unitarian-St. Louis’ fence facing a major city street; and within days of peaceful protestors being tased by St. Louis city police officers while the chief looked on.

Can the UUA talk about sustainable ministry when it ignores what is happening on the ground in the place where they decide to have this summit?

So I’ll ask again….why the he** was this summit in St. Louis?

This is not to begrudge the conversation/focus of the summit. It is something valuable. Yet I’m thoroughly confused by the place aspect of it. Why come to St. Louis and not talk about what’s going on here?

Would #BlackLivesMatter to Unitarian Universalists Without the Protests? (GA Query #1)

[those of you familiar with Quaker practice know what I mean by query. for those of you with less Quaker experience, queries are questions that members are asked to consider during their silent worship period. if they are being used during a monthly meeting, they are typically concerning subjects that will be coming before the meeting]

Now that we are about 3 weeks away from the start of General Assembly, I thought I would pose some queries that are related to my activities during GA.

So query #1……

Would #BlackLivesMatter to Unitarian Universalists without the protests?

(don’t give me your knee-jerk reaction to the question, really think about it)

Here’s why I ask…
Before the “county brown” [St. Louis County police] decided to mess with reporters here in Ferguson, most Unitarian Universalists had virtually ignored the extrajudicial killings of African Americans by those in law enforcement and the treatment of communities of color by law enforcement in general. One doesn’t have to look at too many of these cases to see the almost universal silence from our end of the liberal religion spectrum.

Having been around Unitarian Universalism for more than a few days, I’ve seen and heard UU talk about issues of law enforcement/criminal justice and race that would make Calvin feel proud.

Then Ferguson happens. (and NYC and Cleveland and Baltimore and N. Charleston and…)

The Pew Study Shows that Demography Is Destiny (or, Why UUism Must Change or Die)

So I’ve been listening to all of the talk about the Pew Religion Survey results with bemused exasperation. Because, as usual, the discussion misses the real news.

The real news….the growth of the “unaffiliated”/”nones” is racially/ethnically/culturally connected.

Yes…white Christianity (of all stripes) is on the decline. But so is the white proportion of the general population. Why is this news?

The Pew report shows that while there is a marked (statistically significant) decline in religious affiliation amongst white millennials and a corresponding rise in the number of nones/unaffiliated, there is not the same corresponding decline and rise amongst millennials of color.

ta-da.

If religious organizations that have been primarily white want to have any relevance going forward, those organizations must face the reality that demography is destiny. In other words, they must change or die.

UUism is not alone in this need for change, but it might be the most resistant to it.

Mother’s Day In The Wake of Ferguson-Cleveland-New York-Baltimore

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C. issued a press release that started with the following lede:

In the wake of the violent deaths of black men and boys in encounters with police across the country, and in response to the unrest these deaths have engendered, churches across the Episcopal Diocese of Washington are dedicating Mother’s Day to “mothers who live with the daily fear of losing their children to violence and the children themselves,” said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde.

This got me to thinking: how many UU churches would do that? Would the UUA encourage congregations to do something like that and offer resources to support that?

 

What “Normal” Is Baltimore Supposed To Get Back To?

Back in August, people kept talking about how Ferguson (and St. Louis more broadly) needed to “heal.” That same talk has been mentioned in regards to Baltimore.

The other thing that keeps getting talked about in all the recent cases of police brutality is “getting back to normal.”

What does that mean? What normal is Baltimore (or Ferguson or Cleveland or New York or…..) supposed to get back to?

We can’t go back to a normal where Freddie Gray is alive. So what normal is there?

The normal where communities of color suffer huge injustices and white America is willfully blind to it?

The normal where police can patrol communities of color with impunity?

The normal where politicians spout platitudes about dealing with the deep divisions/inequities yet continue to do nothing?

What normal is Baltimore supposed to go back to?

“When They Pull A Gun, You Can’t Pull A Resume” (Freddie Gray and Frames)

There’s a narrative that is solidifying about what caused Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore two weeks ago. Not the medical causes (the Medical Examiner has said that the medical cause of death is blunt force trauma), but the circumstances/environment surrounding it.

The narrative that’s floating around is this: West Baltimore killed him. Or more precisely, West Baltimore being a high-poverty neighborhood is the ultimate underlying issue in Freddie Gray’s death.

This narrative is a cop-out.

A little over a week ago, Charles Blow said at the Othering and Belonging conference, “when they pull a gun, you can’t pull a resume.”

Yes, there are issues when it comes to how law enforcement treats communities considered poor. No doubt about that. But, as Charles Blow reminds us, law enforcement doesn’t really see class when they are pulling out their guns/batons/tasers/etc.

Freddie Gray did not die because parts of West Baltimore have high concentrations of poverty. Freddie Gray died because he made the mistake of making “eye contact” with a police officer and ran. That’s it. He died because making “eye contact” while black is enough to cause “reasonable suspicion”.

So while there is a need to talk about all the other issues that plague West Baltimore and other places like it, let’s not use those other issues as a way to avoid the fact that policing in this country is racialized and has been from the start.

“When they pull a gun, you can’t pull a resume.” From Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to Tamir Rice, law enforcement has looked at black bodies as something that needed more control than others and should always be looked at with suspicion, no matter what action they are taking. Until that is recognized/acknowledged, there will continue to be more Freddie Grays.