On Listening While White

I believe that the first call upon those of us who are white is to listen – with humility, without condemning – to the expression of black rage in this moment.

None of us knows what it is like to be black in America.

Not a one of us.

There is much work to be done to address the terrible inequities that give rise to that rage.

We will do that work better if we begin by listening before we speak and before we act.

None of us does that perfectly, but all of us can keep doing it better.

We also can do a better job of listening to the fact that black people are made not only of righteous rage, but also of creativity, joy, love, connection, and meaning.

In other words, black folks are fully human, created in God’s image.

Understanding that is critical work in resisting the impulse toward dehumanization as well.

Here are three organizations doing vital work on the ground in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Freedom Fund
Black Visions Collective
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Supporting such efforts in a tangible way is also really important right now.

If you do not have access to a range of black voices to inform your listening, message me and I will share links to some of the public voices that I listen to and learn from.

There is much more work to be done, but the very first work we must do today is not cause more harm.

Amen

Sleeping Gods, Sleeping Demons

I pledge allegiance
to the economy

to the Economy
that hides
behind the flag

of any given
nation

like the
stars and
bars

Oh. Wait.

like the
stars and
stripes

like somehow we
care for people
and rocks and
birds
and trees and
corn and
bread
instead of

for the Dow
for the dollar

for what does,
by chance,
that flag stand for?

I pledge allegiance
to the shred
of privilege

I might find here in
the land of
the free
market.

I pledge allegiance
to the proper
wealth of the
high and mighty
who bought low
and sold high

brought low,
sold high

and who sold
out

the rest
who live
and breathe
and matter.

White Supremacy as a Demon

My kind of theology doesn’t talk much about demons.

I am much more comfortable with an intellectual analysis of problematic systems. I tend to carefully examine all of the constituent historical pieces that, put together, cause such prevalent harm in our society – and I can rationally explain how each of us is bound up in those systems, for some by choice and for many of us unwillingly, but inescapably.

But in reading this morning about the terrible killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was targeted for #joggingwhileblack in Brunswick, GA . . .

and in thinking about how the federal government is ready to dismantle the COVID task force now that it’s clear that the virus’s primary class of victims are black and brown (or elderly or imprisoned or disabled or otherwise considered disposable in a profit-focused society) . . .

and seeing the video of a black woman slammed to the floor in a local Walmart for non-compliance with a mask ordinance (yes, by a black officer – but we are well aware that the system weaponizes people of color against one another) (and yes, people should absolutely be wearing masks, but non-compliance is widespread and the escalation captured in that video cannot be the answer) . . .

it sits on my heart that white supremacy is a demon.

It is our country’s dearest demon.

It is pervasive and powerful, but it does not have to be.

The problem is that we are much more inclined to exercise it than exorcise it.

As a nation – and as individual agents of white supremacy – we owe due repentance as an active material and spiritual practice.

We have to commit – and indefatigably re-commit – to exorcising white supremacy from our own souls, from our relationships with one another, and from our systems of governance, commerce, and culture.

To do otherwise is to assent to the flourishing of evil – and while I know there are people who gleefully traffic in venality – no one I know – none of you out there reading this – wants to be a perpetrator of evil. I know I don’t.

White supremacy is a demon. It’s a demon when it’s polite and subtle. It’s a demon when it’s seductively comforting. It’s a demon when it’s happily bloody from terrible enacted violence.

White supremacy is a demon.

It’s our demon.

Amen

Life and Death and Neoliberal Capitalism

If you don’t believe in good government and the critical importance of the common good, you will not govern well.

Nor will you promote efforts focused on widespread well-being.

Hardened neoliberal capitalism has been the dominant cultural narrative of power for the last 40 years and the ascendant reactionary force for at least the last 75 years. (note: rooted in LONG-standing cultural and economic forces that trace back much, much further – but I can only do so much here in this post)

At best hardened neoliberal capitalism will not support – and at worst it will crush, co-opt, or privatize for the economic benefit of the (very) few:

– independent, deep-thinking, careful researching, publicly accountable forms of media

– genuinely public services for the greater good, including transit, healthcare, education, housing, food access, and educational institutions like museums and libraries

– public regulation designed to ensure that people with great power do not exploit the rest of us for profit, including regulation of healthcare, airlines, pollution of air, soil, ground- and surface water, finance sectors, ecosystem conservation and destruction, workplace safety, and access to and safety of basic utilities.

– independent institutions that build non-transactional relationships, such as (some) religious communities (*and if you ever want to understand why I lean so heavily into the importance of churches, we can have lovely conversation about this particular point over coffee one day), community organizing, non-exclusive connection based on proximity (such as the best examples of friendship and neighborliness), revolutionary social movements of any form, and a broader cultural understanding of the manifest reality of our interdependence.

– creative expression, psychological insight, and human engagement that cannot be monetized – or that at least deconstructs and resists that form of reductionism.

– ideological or material care for diverse, vulnerable human lives that do not embody the potential for profit.

I’m certain I’ve missed something – and you can let me know if you think of it.

This is not a blanket endorsement of a non-accountable public sector. History is rife with examples of public sector power that has been abused and public sector money that has been exploited for personal enrichment.

Power is a dangerous drug.

Higher education using public funding of student loans to erect fancy bureaucratic castles of prestige and consumer appeal on the backs of debt-burdened students is one good example.

The creation of a financial-bottom-line driven healthcare system, bloated by the manipulation of public sector payments to drive profits, is another.

Collusion with the profit-driven mechanisms of perpetual war is another example still.

YET all that takes place within a deterministic (NOT free) neoliberal capitalism framework of culture and economics.

If we want to come out of this difficult time having made real progress, then we must reject the idolatry of this very particular, contextually-driven cultural-economic system.

It convincingly presents itself as the natural order of things.

It is not.

It is a poisonous human construction sold to us as freedom.

The toxic forces that perpetuate this system are already visibly hard at work.

If we don’t want more of the same, – only worse – we TOGETHER have to demand fundamental challenges and changes to the system.

That STARTS with understanding the nature of that system.

That’s my point here.

Then there is more work to be done.

I do not know exactly what the alternative looks like but I am certain that we can collectively figure it out – if we choose to.

I think we can be sure of some its necessary components, but this post is long enough that I’ll save that for another one.

So for now I’ll stop with the critical analysis of the moment and say

Amen

a #coronaclypse lament

In the Clifton Strengths Finder , my greatest gift is Connectedness.

For those not familiar with the Clifton measure, Connectedness measures faith in the inter-connectedness of all things and dedication to seeing and building patterns of relationship among people.

It’s funny in some ways, in that the next 4 of my personal gifts are all aspects of strategic thinking. Cumulatively, that weights strategic thinking as my strongest quality.

(the first paywall first gives you the top 5, though I’ve done the whole 34 – it reveals what those who know me well would likely expect)

There’s no shortage of room for strategic thinking in this moment.

And connection (in the right dose for any given person – I see you and respect you, my introvert friends) – is part of what we need most right now.

Yet the constraints of contemporary life were already making it harder, especially in its non-transactional-economics-driven guises – and now we have this moment. And we have the ways in which the grim forces of this moment threaten to further constrain (and capitalize upon) our spirits.

Having left my indispensable pocket notebook on my desk during my weekly mail check visit a couple of days ago and finding myself lost without it, I walked the couple of miles to the church and back this afternoon.

I am lucky, in that doing so allowed me the opportunity to wave to neighbors I know and those I don’t and serendipitously to a number of friends.

The distance among us, however necessary and appropriate, felt wrenching today – and made all the more so by how dependent our vitally important cyber-connections are on the tools of surveillance capitalism.

I was already tired of ‘promoting things’ — really important, meaningful things – and of navigating the ethics of promoting important things so that they are not buried in the noise of neoliberal capitalist marketing – or reliant upon toxic methodologies even for good ends.

And it’s harder now – and worse now – and we have little idea of how it will turn out or how to figure out a way to do it any better, try as we might.

These moments of cultural connection pale in some ways in relation to the life and death exigencies of COVID suffering – and I would not in a million years detract from our attention to those needs.

But this is the stuff of meaningful living – and it makes me sad right now.

There is of course always hope and faith and always work to be done – and I have the former in ample supply and the latter as a disposition.

I am just taking a moment for lament, as one part of this era’s season of griefs.

I both appreciate and further grieve that our collective mournings are part of what connects us at this time.

Amen

The Internet and Private Space

As I was working on the wording of last Sunday’s sermon the other day, I stumbled over some wording that stirred up my thinking about one of the complexities of this moment. 

As I was writing, I tossed out the comment “in public on the internet.” 

I left the phrase in my sermon because it fit in contrast to “in public in person” for conveying the intent of a relatively minor point.

Yet I knew even then that it was problematic. 

Because there is no public space on the internet.  

Every online space is also a product, a personally or organizationally branded and controlled transactional, manipulated invention. 

There are people and organizations that offer opn spaces, but ultimately such a space still belongs to the entity that curates or moderates it,  that constructs it or pays for its domain name and server space. 

As with all things, there are trade offs. 

Online spaces are more accessible than physical ones for a range of folks and a range of reasons. 

That is good.

At the same time, they are less accessible to others. 

That is not good. 

And beyond the question of accessibility, they are still privately controlled. They produce and are a product of the ongoing erosion of public space, the wholesale dominance of an enacted ideology of privatization. 

Some of us are deeply disturbed by hardened postmodern neoliberal capitalism’s commodification of all things, its reduction of all matters of life to economic transactionalism. 

A shift of activity from physical spaces to online ones inescapably intensifies the process of privatization. 

I don’t see how it cannot, at least not under contemporary paradigms of privatized internet space. 

And of course I’m participating in one right here. 

Before all this started, I had begun studying Shosana Zuboff’s work on surveillance capitalism – and also begun trying, if not to extricate myself and the church from it – because I’m not sure that’s even possible – at least to develop alternative ways of communication and representation as well. 

But in the urgency of this moment, I’ve had to set that aside and lean fully into efficient, broad-reaching, monetized privately controlled internet spaces – like this one and like Google’s suite of products – for the purposes of conversation, substantive work, and meaningful connection beyond the walls of my household. 

I simply don’t have the resources of time, energy, money, and knowledge to do otherwise and still get all the necessary (or at least a significant portion of the necessary) things done. 

Even beyond those exigencies, I’m increasingly aware of how our cultural worldview and expectations – perhaps even our ways of understanding knowledge-making and being – are being shaped by our reliance on and seduction by such pervasive privatized methods and mediums/media. 

It can be democratic in certain ways, but in all things it is entirely reliant on the money and control mechanisms of the private market. 

I am SURE there are folks working in this field, likely even in analyzing and theorizing cultural production in the COVID era – and it may be that Zuboff has more to say about this in particular and I just haven’t gotten there. 

So this is still an evolving thought on my part – and I need to do more lit search to properly situate it. 

But I want to go ahead and set it out there because it’s important as a touchstone of understanding about how we are forming and being formed by powerful forces motivated by particular agendas (some of which are good in my opinion and some not – but it’s critical to recognize them as private agendas operating in privatized spaces no matter what). 

I welcome thoughts and feedback, as well as references to work by others in this area.