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The Mask

Did you know that for what seems like forever, I have had to wear a mask whenever I want to go out of the house? It’s a mask meant to protect me from an invisible disease. Did you know that people in positions of power knew about this disease but chose to deny it, and still do, for reasons unbeknownst to me? I don’t have the disease, but I am 100% certain that this disease is real. And I’m scared. I’m scared all the time. I am constantly checking to make sure that not only do I have my mask on, but I triple check to make sure that my spouse and child have theirs on too. I am obsessing over where they go, what they do, and how long they are gone. I don’t care what anyone says, this disease is real. This thing could kill us if we aren’t careful. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. No one leaves this house without a mask.

I have to say though, the irony of this is that the masks keep us as safe as any mask could in this situation; yet, I hate the things. I actually resent having to wear mine. It restricts my breathing in a way that makes me feel claustrophobic despite being in wide open spaces. It’s almost like I’m losing breath and have to work harder to breathe once I put it on. I long for the day when I can go out and expose my face to the elements and breathe naturally. Without the mask.

Nevertheless, for all intents and purposes, the mask is saving our lives. My life. At least, that’s what the officials tell me. I went out recently and I actually got away with only using half of my mask. No one really said anything, and I felt I had a lucky escape. However, when I looked around there were people with no masks on at all! I couldn’t believe that. In the middle of all of this, that someone would be bold enough to still go around with no mask on to protect themselves is incomprehensible! Most people of a certain age should know better! I mean, I knew I was taking a risk to only utilize half of my mask, but I never would’ve gone out with no mask at all. Now, I will admit that there are times that I forget to put on my mask and it’s not until I get too far from home to turn back that I remember that I am not covered. I normally recite a long list of expletives in my head beating myself up for not remembering to put it on before I left the house. Still, I am pretty crafty and can normally whip up something in a pinch that will do until I get back home. That’s happened to me a few times. It’ll be once I am about to enter an essential place that I get a glimpse of my reflection in the glass and I race back to the car, or somewhere private, and figure out how to cover my bare face so that I can gain access and get what I need. But, not these people. Their faces were exposed for all to see and who knows what diseases they could’ve been carrying?! At some point while I was out, I resigned myself to just wear the mask like I’m supposed to and stop trying to be more comfortable. There were more important things going on around me and soon enough I would be back in my car headed home where I could be free from the mask for at least the remainder of the day.

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when they call you a terrorist book cover - title, authors names on a colorful background

Homegrown Terror: A Review of Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ When They Call You a Terrorist (a Black Lives Matter Memoir)

when they call you a terrorist book cover - title, authors names on a colorful background

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele, with Angela Davis (St. Martin’s Press, 2018)

When I think of my own childhood, I remember playing barefooted in the backyard with my sisters. I remember planting pumpkin seeds beneath our jungle gym, that eventually grew into a reaching vine, stretching for the house. I remember an idyllic, safe childhood. This is not how Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ work, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, describes hers. Her childhood was defined by terror. Love, too, but the terror was most haunting for me as a white person reading this book.

You see, her memories include the normative regularity of her brothers being harassed by the police and arrested. Her memories include being handcuffed in front of her school class at the age of twelve for suspected drug use, even though no drugs were found on her. Her memories include attending a gifted middle school, and befriending the daughter of her slumlord, the very man responsible for the year her family did not have a working refrigerator in their apartment.

Hers was a childhood marked by pain and trauma, yet at the same time, vibrant life and fierce love: the love of siblings who care for each other, the love of a mother who works damn hard to feed her kids, the love of a father who claims her even though she is not biologically his, the non-judgmental love and honesty of her biological father, the love of friends who become family to her. While Khan-Cullors and I both experienced deep love in our childhoods, the contrast between my sheltered childhood and her terrorized childhood is one example of the painful difference between the experience of being a white person and being a person of color in the United States.

Perhaps this painful experience fueled Khan-Cullors’ powerful passion to later become one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, and why her memoir, written with asha bandele, is a heartbreaking and inspiring call to action. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir seamlessly weaves the particularity of Khan-Cullors’ story with sweeping statistics of brutality against people of color.

This accessible tapestry breaks through the lies us white people tell ourselves about our individual responsibility and unquestioned assumptions of the “good” intentions of police officers. In particular, the story of her brother Monte’s struggle with schizoaffective disorder, his torture in prison, and inability to get proper care at home (even after calling 911), is a scathing exposé of the terror Black communities experience daily.

The reader cannot help but notice that the title of the book is a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement being branded as a terrorist movement, even when it is they who are on the receiving end of terror. Khan-Cullors reveals how sheltered we white people are from our own complicity in terror (through raids, murders, prison systems, and the like), and she will not let us ignore or forget this any longer.

Yet, just as her childhood was not only marked by terror but also by love, so this book is more than a stark documentation of terror; it is an inspiring text of hope and survival. It powerfully reveals glimpses of what Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz would name the “kin-dom” of God – a radically inclusive community marked by equity, justice, and peace. Read more

Celebrating the Preacher

“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24

…One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!  O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” Isaiah 30:18-19

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

“Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.” Psalm 106:3

Words from Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech

Advent, 2014

advent

You might be a preacher if …
the refrains in your head
after the non-indictment of Michael Brown’s killer in Ferguson, MO
are
“your brother’s blood is crying out from the ground”
and
“Rachel is weeping for her children.
She refuses to be consoled,
because they are no more.”

You might hear those refrains
intertwined with Ella’s Song
by Sweet Honey in the Rock.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.
Until the killing of black men,
black mother’s sons
is as important as the killing of white men,
white mother’s sons.

O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
was easy to cry out in the first week of Advent.
“Come, Lord Jesus!” is the refrain of the Advent season.
That longing for a world that is not yet here.
A world for which we must keep awake!  Keep alert!

Many of us have been asleep, unaware
of the depth of injustice and systemic racism in our nation.
Others are all too aware –
going to sleep has never been an option.
And still others have no trouble hitting the snooze button
and going back to sleep, time after time after time.

Black lives matter.  We long for a world that is not yet here.
Nine days later, Eric Garner’s killer, in Staten Island, NJ
was not indicted.

It’s Peace Sunday, but all I can think of is
they have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace’
when there is no peace.
People don’t seem to be too clear on what peace means.
Not breaking windows?
“True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force-
tension, confusion or war;
it is the presence of some positive force-
justice, good will and brotherhood.”

Reading the lectionary texts for Advent 3,
I couldn’t help but notice Isaiah’s words,
the same ones Jesus claimed
for his mission statement in the gospel of Luke

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

And the Magnificat! It’s time for action, these texts seem to say.
Yes, we know, the distance between our world and God’s justice is great.
But you knew that. Get to work!
You have a mission.
My feet have been itching to hit the streets, to plant myself,
to take a stand.  But classes and children have intervened.

And then on my very last day of class, the one I didn’t want to go to,
the bespectacled professor says, as we finish our semester on Luke-Acts:
“Luke clearly shows us a two-tiered justice system.
Look at how Paul is treated as a Roman citizen
compared to Jesus, a Galilean peasant.”

The next day found me marching in downtown Oakland, chanting,
“the whole damn system is guilty, guilty!”
We brought the kids.

(Then I had to explain race and racism to my second-grader.
We just moved back to the United States
after almost four years living in Nicaragua.
Yet another cultural difference.
She’s working hard to figure out what skin color and ancestry
have to do with running,
and isn’t clear on which of her classmates are “black.”
“That court was so rude!” she said.
Also, “Wait, Mike Brown wasn’t from a long time ago?”)

But I came back to these texts
after reading a powerful piece
asking White preachers to be aware of their privilege.
And after reading articles and hearing stories about White activists
behaving inappropriately, claiming to speak for black people
or changing “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter.

 And I heard a different message.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

John the Baptist lays it out: “I am not the Messiah

Yes, we White preachers should use our voices
to speak truth about racism even when it’s
uncomfortable.

But that doesn’t make us the ones anointed for such a time as this.
I am not the Messiah.
The leaders of this movement are young and Black.

As a White person,
I benefit from a system that kills Black men, boys, women, and children
as a matter of course.
The whole system is guilty.
And I am a part of that system.
Not the lowly part, or the poor part.
Confronting my own privilege
is harder than turning out for a march.

Two recent police killings of Black men
have brought this refrain to the lips of many:
Black Lives Matter.
Many things about police departments need to change.
But we who have any degree of power,
and receive any measure of security,
are complicit in this system.

Police officers are the foot-soldiers, on the frontlines
of the criminal judicial and penal system.
They did not declare the war.
To the extent they act out of prejudice and fear,
it is because they have been formed by the same racist culture
in which all the rest of us were born.
That prejudice is widely shared.

All of the institutions in our society
still need to learn the lesson:
Black Lives Matter. 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

Photo from here.