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What White Christians can Learn from Get Out

the author

The author

I’ve watched white churches attempt to confront racism in ways their members can digest, whether it be with campaigns or curriculums. So I’d like to add a suggestion. Predominantly white churches who want to confront their racism should watch Get Out.

In Jordan Peele’s horror/thriller, a young black photographer named Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) goes to meet the family of his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams from Girls) for the first time. The audience travels with Chris and Rose to the secluded and expansive home of the rest of the Armitages: Rose’s neurosurgeon father, Dean (Bradley Whitford); Rose’s psychiatrist mother, Missy (Catherine Keener); and Rose’s mixed-martial arts enthusiast brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones).

The Armitages appear to be the average “liberal” white family, but there is an eerie mixture of condescension and forced politeness molded into their kindness that makes Chris uncomfortable from the moment he arrives. When Chris meets the Black housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Black groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson), who are subservient in a way reminiscent of slavery, it’s clear something isn’t right.

Chris eventually finds pictures of Rose with numerous Black men and a picture of Rose with a less hypnotized, more modernly dressed version of Georgina. The photos lead to the big reveal of the terrifying truth about Rose and her family. Rose lures Black men (and Georgina) to her family’s home so her mother can hypnotize them, and her father and brother can then transplant the brains of white people into the bodies of their new Black hosts. The process started with Rose’s grandparents, whose brains were transplanted into the bodies of Walter and Georgina. The brain transplants leave their victims in the “sunken place”: a place in their consciousness where they are passive observers of everything they say or do.

Peele’s “Get Out” is a love letter to the Black community, validating our anxiety about the racism of all liberal white people—an anxiety that is no exception for Black people who work with or worship with liberal white people in predominantly white churches. White church folks invested in anti-racism work understand that unpacking their racism (and the work that comes with it) rests solely on them and not on Black folks.

 

If you’re a white liberal churchgoer watching “Get Out,” here are some takeaways from Get Out that you don’t want to miss: Read more

Young Clergy Women on Marching

On Saturday, January 21, young clergy women participated in the Women’s March on Washington, DC, and in sister marches all over the world. We’ve gathered some of their reflections on these events.

On the visibility of being clergy

  • I intentionally wore my collar to serve as a public witness as a faith leader: I had a conversation with a woman my age who has an advanced degree in Hebrew literature and Scripture, but did not go on to be a rabbi because she didn’t have female role models. She expressed gratitude that I was showing young women today that they, too, may be called to lead faith communities.
  • A reporter interviewed me and another clergywoman, and was surprised to hear that we were pastors. “Wait, you’re Christian, but you’re at this march?” I explained that I was marching because of my faith, not in spite of it: part of my baptismal call is to follow the example of Jesus, serve others, and strive for justice and peace for all.
  • I wore a collar to show that young women clergy exist, and that Christians stand for love and justice. My husband observed that when photographers saw a young woman in a collar, they ran over to snap a picture. It was interesting to notice how young women clergy were “desirable optics” for a reporter’s narrative. I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about that.
  • I had planned to wear my collar, but I start a new job next week at a non-profit that is primarily donor funded, and is supported broadly by churches and synagogues across theological and political spectrums. While I wanted deeply to participate, I also didn’t want my collar to get me on the front page of something and alienate church folks in a new city before I get to know them.
  • I marched beside my mother, also a clergy woman. I wore my collar because the reason why I march is my faith and my role as a faith leader: I was marching for congregation members who are queer and don’t feel comfortable being out at church; for undocumented parishioners who have sought help but come up against roadblocks; for the woman who had an abortion when she learned her much-wanted baby would not live and was in pain.
  • I marched with a group of fellow clergy women wearing matching jackets that said “Nasty Clergy Women.” The comments ranged from “Pray for me sisters!” to “I’m not religious, but that I could get on board with!”

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a child crying

A Message to the Margins: An Election Lamentation and Call to Action

a child crying

Tears

The United States of America has elected Donald Trump its next president. It’s sinking in as I type that.

We (the royal “we”) elected Donald Trump, a beloved child of the Most High God.

We elected a man who has painted immigrants, migrants, and refugees with the broad brushes of “rapist,” “drug dealer,” and “terrorist.” He has used ableist language in his stump speeches. He has generalized African-American communities as “hell.” He has called for Third-Reich-like treatment of Muslims in America. He has bragged about sexually assaulting women, even as a married man. He has called women vile names, insulted their natural bodily processes, and rated them based on how attractive he finds them (or not). He has eschewed the common gesture of transparency to the American people by refusing to release his tax returns. He has incited violence among his supporters by promising to pay their legal fees should they be arrested for assaulting anyone who protests at his rallies. He has been incendiary toward the LGBTQ community, people of color, Muslims, immigrants — you name the community, and he’s insulted them.

He is, again, a beloved child of God.

Yet, instead of categorically rebuking his behavior at the polls, we rewarded it: with the presidency. Read more

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Anti-Racism Edition

6654679597_3f8dbb67ef_zDear Askie,

I love my congregation, but I’m starting to think I might have to close my Facebook account. I have a few congregants whose postings are driving me crazy! We do disagree politically (I’m more liberal, they’re more conservative), but I think it goes beyond that. I often see them posting racist and Islamophobic things that I find really offensive. I’ve seen vitriolic posts criticizing the #blacklivesmatter movement, things about kicking all Muslims out of the country, and “jokes” based on racial stereotypes, with the comment “I’m sure someone will try to accuse me of racism, but you’ve got to admit this is just funny!” It makes me see red, Askie, and I want to do something about it, but I’m not sure what. So far I haven’t engaged. What’s a pastor to do?

-Anti-Racist Pastor

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An Interview with Margaret Aymer


The Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer was keynote speaker at the Text in Context conference, hosted by The Young Clergy WomMargaret Aymeren Project this July in Austin, Texas. She taught for many years at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia, before becoming Associate Professor of New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Professor Aymer is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). “Our Cloud of Witnesses” editor Diana Carroll sat down with her during the conference to learn more about her life and ministry.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced in your ministry?

Some of the challenges have included things like working in places where I was not making a lot of money and not having the money to participate more broadly in the life of the church. The first few times I was asked to preach in a conference after I was ordained, I actually had to have them buy me the ticket, because I could not afford to buy a ticket and have them reimburse me.

It was challenging teaching in a seminary in which one of the six seminaries didn’t recognize my ordination, because I was female. Read more

The Day Both Everything and Nothing Changed

A sign made by members of Emanuel AME invites others to join them in the work of forgiveness.

A sign made by members of Emanuel AME invites others to join them in the work of forgiveness.

Until June 17, 2015, I had the privilege of referring to Charleston, South Carolina as: the charming city in which I met my husband, the enchanting city in which shrimp ‘n’ grits and sweet tea grace most restaurant menus, the Southern city in which my sister grows summer squash. If you, my YCW sisters, were planning a trip to Charleston, I would urge you to snag a spot on a wooden swing at Waterfront Park and to stay put until the sun sets and the stars glisten over the water. I’d give you a map of cast-iron gates older than your great-grandmother, restaurants serving buttered biscuits the size of cantaloupes, and a rainbow row of Victorian houses lined up on the harbor. I’d point out the Spanish moss that hangs like Dali’s surrealist clocks from thick, gnarled tree branches. I’d encourage you to take a sabbath, to do some self-care in the form of dancing barefoot to the grace notes of a live jazz band in the town square.

But on June 17, 2015, everything changed. Read more

#Baltimore: Reflections from a White, Feminist, Queer Freedom Fighter

Protesters in Baltimore

Protesters in Baltimore

I didn’t give it a second thought. Of course I would join my co-pastors and other folks from the Slate Project* in marching for justice for Freddie Gray. It was Saturday April 25th. People had been peacefully marching in protest throughout Baltimore all week. I was glad to have this opportunity to join them, to finally show up and move my feet and stand in solidarity with a movement that I believe in.

Social justice activism has been an important part of my faith since I was first introduced to liberation theology in college. In seminary, when I studied the social gospel and the civil rights movement, my theology became even more firmly rooted in the notion that Jesus came to set all people free from all forms of oppression. This is what I preach from the pulpit. This is what I teach in my parishes. But the experience of picking up a sign and marching with hundreds of other people to embody this gospel message would be a way to show what I believe with my life.

I considered my role in this movement to be an “ally.” I have been involved in the movement for equal civil rights for the LGBTQ community, but I am a part of that community. I am not a member of the black community. The experience of marching in Baltimore felt different and posed different challenges. Marching together with many different groups – each with its own agenda, ideology, and purpose in being there – was complicated. Sure, everyone would say, “At the end of the day we are all here for the same reason,” and then something about justice for Freddie Gray and an end to the systematic oppression of black people (if not in so many words). It felt good to be united together under those goals. But as we moved together down the streets of Baltimore, there were times I could not bring myself to join the voice of the crowd. “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray!” I thought to myself, “Will I? Will I fight for Freddie Gray?” “All night, all day, we will nonviolently resist for Freddie Gray!” just does not have the same ring to it. I began to wonder about how it would actually play out, to have all these different groups coming together. Could we unite around a common mission? Could we put aside our differences and stand together as one, while still authentically being who we were and not giving up our identities?

I wondered about my role in this struggle. On Monday night, as reports came in that police were facing off with protesters at Penn & North, I had several thoughts. “I should go,” I thought. “I should see if any of my pastor friends want to go and try to diffuse the escalation.” But I wondered if my presence—a young, white woman in a collar—would actually have that effect. The clergy who showed up and stood between the police and protesters were African American men. They were able to walk into that space and immediately receive the needed respect, authority, and assumption of shared experience to be accepted by the protestors, most of whom were also African American men, and by the predominantly male police force.

It became painfully obvious that I did not have already established relationships with the people or the clergy in the African American communities that were on the ground in this movement. I went to meetings. In some, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of sexism, particularly in the attitudes of the male clergy. I showed up to partner in the fight against oppression based on race. I did not expect those leading the fight to turn around and then discriminate against another group of people based on gender.

Later in the week, I went to meetings held by the newly formed Baltimore United and led by folks from Fellowship of Reconciliation. These meetings were smaller and much more diverse. The folks running these meetings did not hold up one or two particular leaders. They did not name men as the only “warriors” fit to be on the “front lines.” These meetings were run by men, women, queer, cis, young and old. At these meetings, it was clear we were all in this together. These were my people.

At one of these meetings, the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a fellow with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, said that they don’t need white folks to show up and be allies. Allies can duck in and out of the movement, because this is not their struggle. He said, “We don’t need allies. We need freedom fighters.” That is when I decided to stop considering myself an ally. This fight must be my fight. These children must be our children. This struggle must be our struggle. We must be one people, fighting for all our freedom.

We do not have the luxury to focus on one kind of oppression at a time. Sexism; heterosexism; racism; ageism; discrimination based on socioeconomic status, education, background, or criminal history – they are all interrelated. God calls us all to work for the liberation of all God’s people. Each of us has a role to play. I know that because of who I am, there are roles I can play in this movement and roles I cannot play. This is true for all of us. And this is the beauty of the diversity that God has created. We are not meant to play all the same roles; we are not meant to do all the same things. We are meant to discover our callings in relationship with one another and then help each other become the people God has created us to be.

We also must celebrate and lift up each role and not overly exalt any one person or group, nor denigrate any one person or group. This movement in Baltimore is made up of networks of hundreds of leaders and many, many people, who all are doing important and necessary work. We must discern together what our roles are and then play them boldly and with courage. For as we already know, God can and will use us all to transform the world.

 

Tired Shoulders

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My shoulders are tired this afternoon. Most of that is soreness from doing hair yesterday. All of yesterday: 10 hours of washing, conditioning, putting in product, brushing, combing, parting, twisting. 10 hours from which my daughter emerged with a beautiful head full of dark brown twists. Gorgeous. She is funny. She is smart. She is beautiful and I love her.

She is my daughter. It’s me or my husband who comfort her after bad dreams, dose out the ibuprofen in the midst of a horrible cold, or drive to dance lessons. We are the ones who remind her to pick up her room, to put the dishes into the dishwasher, to finish packing up her back pack. At first glance, we may not look like her parents, but we are. I am not a person of color. I am, in my colleague Rev. Michael Russell’s words, “a person of white.” We are a multi-racial family. We are not alone: 15% of the United States today are part of multi-racial families. That’s about 21 million folks.

I have sat at a kitchen table with a good friend, laughing, telling stories, and watching and listening as my friend reminds her teenage son about how to interact with the police should he be stopped for “DWB” (driving while black). “I know, Mom, ” he says, “I know: you’ve told me.” She reminds him that she loves him. I have sat there, hearing this conversation, and for the first time realizing this could be my conversation with my children in a few years.

I do not claim my daughter’s color, race, heritage or African culture. I do not know what it feels like to live in her skin. We try to walk in two worlds and some days, neither works very well. I need to make an effort to put myself in rooms with folks who look like my daughter. Our neighborhood is mostly white folks. Summer camp and dance classes are mostly African American folks. We go for swim lessons in the town where there is a mix of folks, instead of at the all white pool down the block. When we go out for breakfast, we choose the pancake place that’s a little further away and a little bit more expensive because we know most of the folks who have chosen that place are African American. We are intentional about movies, books, art, play dates, and friends who are white, African American and biracial. We choose not to patronize businesses where there are only white folks serving and being served. I read theroot.com, blackpressusa.com, and the Black Voices page on Huffington Post more than I read the local news websites. We forge real friendships with folks who look like us and with folks who look nothing like us. It means difficult conversations are part of each week. It means race is the topic at dinner. It takes effort and energy and focus. And some days I don’t do it because I’m tired. And that is part of my white privilege: to choose to be tired. My daughter never has that choice.

When I walk into a room as a pastor, I have the option of telling or not telling that I am part of a multi-racial family. I almost always tell. Sometimes I know it may not be safe for me or my family if I tell. Sometimes I find myself more comfortable in a room full of brown skinned folks than in a room of peachy skinned folks (our family phrase), especially if the topic is schools or gun control. My daughter reminds me, “Mom you don’t have to talk to all the brown skinned folks you know.” I can count on one hand the times brown skinned folks have been rude to us. I have stopped counting the number of times peachy skinned folks have given us the look of disapproval or said hurtful things about how our family looks and what they assume to be true of us.

I’ve experienced real racism directed at my family, racism that generates my own anger and hurt and fear. I will not ignore racism or brush it off. I have real problems with people describing a room as “dark” when what they reallly mean is “a lot of black folks in there.” I will not laugh when someone apologizes for a racist comment. Instead, I say “thanks for your apology.” I am done with white folks being hurt, sad, or appalled at racism.

I don’t know all the facts of Michael Brown’s killing earlier this month in Ferguson, Missouri. I do know enough to be frightened for my children. I know enough accounts of corrupt police behavior that I am not surprised, but I also know enough Chicago police officers to know that not all police do bad things in the name of the law.

My shoulders will be sore from doing my daughter’s hair for a few days. Jesus must have known sore shoulders too, weighed down by people mistreating each other because they saw difference. Maybe that’s why he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I know I am not alone on this journey. I know my shoulders will often be tired, but my prayer is that it’s from spending all day doing hair making my daughter feel beautiful, and not because I’m weighed down, wondering if someone didn’t play with my daughter at the park because of the beautiful cocoa brown of her skin.

I don’t have all the answers but I know one thing: we’re meant to take our regular, everyday lives and put them in God’s hands.

As Jesus followers, we’re not meant to get so used to the ways things are that we believe that’s the way they will always be. Go to places you’ve never been, where you might be uncomfortable. Introduce yourself to people you’ve not met. God created these differences, and they are good. God can bring out the best in us, and sometimes we have to remind each other of that.

(Image from here.)

A Review of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort

kim-kort-coverIt’s not every day you get to read a seminal, formative work in a still-emerging field of theology.  But that is exactly what Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort is.  If you ever find yourself agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun,” pick up Making Paper Cranes and see if you can still say that when you are finished.

 

It’s not that feminist theology is brand new.  And while it is relatively new on the scene, this isn’t the first volume of theology written from an Asian American perspective.  It’s not even the first book to combine the two.

 

Kim-Kort’s work is formative and important to the entire world of theology because the way she pinpoints where her experience and the work of God intersect models the way all of us might undertake embodied theology—theology with meat on its bones. In this way her theology is neither a majority theology or a minority theology—it simply is authentic theology for a Korean American Presbyterian young woman in dialogue with all of the traditions in which she happens to be rooted.  As such, it is a model of how all of us might undertake similar theological pursuits authentic to each one of us as children of God.

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