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

Learning the Shape of Loss: #COVIDera Edition

A spot of bleach
blossoming on a
new shirt

an old dog’s
eyes that swell
and shut

the time before
“social” met  “distancing”

Told to stay
home we could
not sleep

Two women
fighting in the
cleaning products
aisle

laughter dropped
by 9% with kindness
trailing as the
market for
contentment
opened down
sharply
overseas

A grievous deficit
of touch

If he’s dying
but not from
coronavirus
does it even
count?

I was
going to . . .
Oh. 

Masking tape
with grungy,
peeling edges
announcing safe Xs
across the
floor

Told to stay
home their
dreams died
a
little 

or more
than a
little

32 different plans,
including for
May 12

Some will
not eat

A thousand
in-person social
rituals
per
day

Time for perfect
poems

scratch that:
Time for perfect
anything

The empty
echo of
hymns
unsung

I couldn’t
visit you

Told to stay
home, they faced
greater dangers
there than
any virus 

it is only
death
after all

Kicking a drunk
man out of
church
because
he can’t
stand
back

Speaking of –
told to stay
home, they
had no
home

Oh no
not her

The brainspace
taken up
by
Zoom knowledge

All sense of what
day it is

A significant part
of our
ever-loving
minds

The memory of
the last time
we went
there
before
this
all
happened.

 

 

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

Easter and the Capitalist Resurrection

Never mind that
you are gasping
for breath
and still
contagious.

Come sunrise
on Resurrection Day,
you will surely see
the (dollar) signs
gathered
round the
idol’s outstretched
grasping
hand

No stone of
conscience
to roll
away

Christ, the
Market is
Risen
today.
Ahhhh
le
lu
YEAH
we are
back in
business

All Hail the
Power of
Preserv’d
Profit as
Elijah and
Moses
would surely
agree.

Lord we lift your
Golden Calf
on high

Up from the
Grave the
Economy
Arose and
We All
Rejoiced

Attacks on the Vulnerable: Transgender Youth and Alabama House Bill 303

Yesterday the Health Committees in the Alabama House and Senate advanced a bill that would prohibit doctors from offering appropriate medical care to transgender children and youth. It would force schools to disclose information shared by transgender children and youth with their parents. It also establishes criminal penalties for those who do not comply.

HB 303 is part of an ongoing national strategy to manipulate public sentiment and public institutions in service of the powerful by targeting the most vulnerable populations in our society.

Like undocumented people and poor black people, transgender youth are a convenient target for boilerplate legislation designed to incite fear across difference, so that those with economic, political, and cultural power can maintain that power.

It’s a formula of lies about freedom and the Gospels intended to prey upon the the capacity of those with power to deploy it against those with less power – and to feel self-righteous about doing so, as any proud bully will do.

In Alabama, this little packet of evil is deceptively named the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act. In truth, like its poison kin aimed at other marginalized people, it will result directly in death and sorrow.

More information about the source of such bills can be found here, here, and here.

The fabric of our nation is woven with one of measure of blood, bone, exploitation, manipulation, and violence and one measure of hope, opportunity, respect, liberty, and blessing.

It’s up to us what we make of it going forward.

Amen

Community-Developed Knowledge

At the end of an article* in the fall issue of the journal n+1, sex worker Lorelei Lee notes:

“This essay could not have been written without community-developed knowledge. Any mistakes are my own, and anything I got right is the result of living, working, and thinking in coalition with hundreds of brilliant people in the sex trades.”

(*that outstanding article, Cash/Consent, is preceded immediately by another insightful piece entitled The Evangelical Mind by non-practicing evangelical Adam Kotsko – and the mere juxtaposition of these two pieces, let alone their thought-provoking content, is a sharp move)

I’ve been reflecting on the notion of community-developed knowledge since I read the piece several days ago.

I’ve always had a thing for epistemology (the mechanisms of knowledge production) – and this concept is right at the edge of what is wise and what is problematic in our world today.

For the most part, we have ceased to grant collective authority of knowledge to central figures – whether those be individuals or institutions.

Diffusing power in this way can be a good thing.

However, in our knowledge processes, we have fallen prey to (a) the market-driven cult of celebrity and (b) an overly uncritical willingness to accept sources that simply reframe what we already believe, regardless of whether they are rigorous or merely speculatively profit- or attention-driven.

I don’t know exactly how Lee defines community-developed knowledge, but I hear the potential for a useful corrective to these problems.

Community-developed knowledge is meaningful when it centers the experiences and expertise of perspectives often excluded from discussions of ‘what is known.’

Community-developed knowledge is generated not by a single human savior source, but by collectively sharing in work, commitment, and respect.

Community-developed knowledge can be geared to reject shallow trade in convenient sound bytes that erase nuance, instead weaving insights gathered over time through living and learning (both formal and informal).

Obviously, it can also go wrong, so that homogenous communities of relative power simply reinforce problematic ‘knowledge’ about others and the world – but that’s an ongoing risk no matter what.

We work with and within the world as it is.

Go Fourth

I cannot celebrate a
country so relentlessly
rich in willful
oblivion concerning the
suffering upon which
it was built
back then

Back then
meaning centuries
decades
yesterday

Back then
meaning
an hour
ago

Today I celebrate instead –

the open hearts of so many
genuine kindness found in passing
radical solidarity with exiles from domination’s favor

the art of rejoicing at beauty
those who give in to the weighty gifts of mutuality
good books

days spent in honest work
the courage of witness in the face of power
friends who think with me

this one ripe peach