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Thursday, July 9th, 2015

The Confederate flag

Not just a symbol of heritage but a symbol of white supremacy and racial terror. You cannot dress this up. I grew up in a place where the Confederate flag was draped in the back window of pick-up trucks driven by white men with their rifles also in the back window visible for all to see. The visibility was purposeful. Both were meant to intimidate Black citizens. The message being sent by those white men was that they were willing to fight for the way of life and the privileges that their color had favored them with since the beginning of America. Even if it meant killing every Black person who stood in their way. Congressman John Lewis spoke in the halls of Congress today and he said in part that as he was marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that he saw law enforcement with the symbol of the Confederate flag painted on the side of their helmets. Those law enforcement people had no regard for those who were marching across that bridge to fight for their Constitutional right to vote. You may recall that these officials charged with the duty of upholding the law would engage in a vicious reign of terror and attack upon innocent men, women and children. The killer of the 9  African-American people at Mother Emmanuel AME Church understood the meaning of that flag. He heard its message loud and clear and he set out to reign down terror on a people and on a community that he considered to be beneath him and a threat to his very being as a “white person.”author-photo

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Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

A Nation going Backwards

I’m listening to the election returns tonight. These are the mid-term election results. And it looks as if the Republicans will win big as has been projected in a number of quarters.  The exit polls are telling us that voters are fed up with Washington, and yet they are deciding to elect people who will give us more of the same gridlock that we have witnessed over the last 6 years because those in the senate in particular have been so consumed with blocking anything that President Obama put forth. They have played the politics of obstruction and they have perfected it. It has been interesting to watch and listen to the political ads here in southern Illinois where we recently moved. Every Republican running for office has started out their campaign saying in essence “vote for me because I do not support President Obama.” And as I have been following campaigns across the country Republicans have used that line and they have effectively used it by painting the President as someone to be feared, someone who is taking the country in the wrong direction and who has made America lose standing in the world. It does not matter whether what they are spouting is true, but that they convince people to accept the lie as truth.  And I am not just amazed but dumbfounded that there are so many people who are willing to believe and follow the lie. What has been so remarkable to me throughout history is how patient African-Americans have been in terms of giving whites the benefit of the doubt, of believing the best about them. But at some point our patience will wear thin. I think all that Blacks have ever asked of whites is for whites to meet us half way in terms of trying to reach a point of racial reconciliation and whites have always been reluctant to do that. The results of these mid-term elections was not just a referendum on the Obama Presidency, but a referendum on race in America and the unwillingness of white America to let go of the one thing that has given them power and kept them in power. This is what is so ugly and disappointing to me. And it is the ugliness that we are not speaking about.

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Friday, September 12th, 2014

Not given honor by his own country.

I heard this when I was listening to a local African-American radio station about President Obama being denied entrance to play golf on Labor Day. I was coming in on the tale end of this talk show so I wasn’t sure if I really heard what I heard. When I got home I decided to google the story and sure enough I did not mishear. The president was  denied not by one but three country clubs in some place in New York State. Their defense-they did not want to inconvenience their wealthy guests. This is the President of the United States of America, the leader of one of the most powerful Nations in the world and these country clubs are not willing to make exceptions. The story begs the obvious question from my perspective. But there would be those at each of those places who would argue that race was not a factor. They will make their case over at Fox and they will find some support there. I simply ask had the person sitting in the oval office been any body else whose skin was not Black I guarantee that they would have gotten a totally different response. In fact those country clubs would have been falling all over themselves to find a way to make room on that Labor Day to accommodate the leader of the free world. Here is the larger issue for me as I recall all of the slights, the insults, the disrespect that have been shown this President since he has been in office beginning with congressman Pete Wilson calling the President a liar during a State of the Union Address. Each of these instances underscore the sheer hatred in some quarters of White America toward this President and if this is how they feel about the President what must their feelings and attitudes be toward everyday African-American citizens. I wonder what must have been going through the President’s mind on that Labor Day, I wonder what was the conversation like in the privacy of their space in the White House between he and Michelle, I wonder what must his prayer to God was like on that night as I do each and every time he has to deal with those kind of insults that have nothing to do with any policy difference but based solely on his race, on the color of his skin.

 

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Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Giving thanks for those who do not confuse greatness with wealth

In the month of February we celebrate the contributions of African-descent people to America. We do so with the awareness that many of the contributions happened in spite of the hardships that often beset them primarily because of the hue of their skin. A couple of years ago I watched the NAACP’s Image Awards. Two giants took the stage one was the presenter, Sidney Poitier and the other was the recipient of the Spingarn Medal of Achievement, Harry Bellafonte who was recognized not just for his craft and artistry but for his undying commitment to human and civil rights. In his speech he would call attention to the violence that happens nightly in communities of color all across urban America. “If we are honest,” he would say, “We have to acknowledge that the violence that happens in our streets is rich with the blood of our children and our leaders for the most part are mute.” Mr. Bellafonte was a radical warrior in the fight for racial justice and he continues to be that warrior. Today we need radical voices not bound by the etiquette of institutional or political niceness. We need entertainers today to follow the examples of Harry Bellafonte, Eartha Kitt, and Sidney Poitier. Freedom does not come because we simply desire it. It comes because courageous men and women demand it, push for it, fight nobly for it. They recognize that the cost of such freedom is high but they have decided that record sales or movie sales or super stardom is less important than the fight for human dignity. The cost of that dignity comes with a price but it is a cost that they were willing to pay. I find it rather sad that so many of our entertainers are so silent in the face of the glaring injustices that are just as real now as they were 40-50-60 years ago. It seems that they have forgotten that the successes that they enjoy today and the great wealth that now comes their way is due to the steadfastness of men and women who came before them. Their sacrifices, their unwillingness to bend or give in to those who would stand in the way of what they knew to be God given rights. In so many ways we are living in a nightmare today that is far greater in some respects than the darkness of the racial hostilities and barriers of the past. More men in our communities are in prison, more people in our community are in poverty, the rate of our children dying in infancy is comparable to some third world countries. The dream that Dr. King articulated in 1963 never materialized for a huge population of African-Americans. And we are more fragmented now than we were in the 1960′s and because we are we are much less organized. And for

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Thursday, August 7th, 2014

THE STATE OF OUR AFFAIRS

I often watch the news talk shows Morning Joe and New Day. This morning on Morning Joe I heard a Washington Post columnist say that Americans were depressed. The conversation and the comment/observation from this columnist was reflecting a new poll regarding how Americans viewed the performance of President Obama and the Congress. The President’s approval rating was at 40 percent while for congress it was at 14 percent. People were more disappointed with Republican lawmakers than they were with Democrats. But this notion of Americans as depressed is intriguing. I think he may be onto something. His observation points I think to a malaise that has roots in a spiritual emptiness. And yet you will never hear an indepth spiritual discussion from any of the morning talking heads. The American public has become by and large a consumerist culture. Our lives are not only driven by advertisers but we have fallen into the trap that convinces us that our lives are less than what they should be without the latest gadget even if it means spending money that we don’t have just to have it or in some cases steal from others to get that thing which will end and leave us even more empty. We want quick results for things that may not yield quick results. We vote for leaders who promise what they often cannot deliver. Because life is far more complex than the reality t.v. shows which is never reality. Even religion has taken a consumerist approach to faith and the churches that have the largest memberships are those where the theology promises to lift us from poverty and put us on easy street. But God nor faith works that way. If it did we wouldn’t see the majority of people in the world living in such abject poverty. Jesus talks about not being anxious. Anxiety is the result of putting our faith in transitory and fleeting things. It is impossible to hold onto things that simply will not last including this world. The moment that we are born into this world we begin to die. The prophet Isaiah makes the fragileness of life even more plain when he says, “The people are nothing but grass, their love is as fragile as wildflowers. The grass withers and the wildflowers fade, if God so much as puffs at them. Aren’t these people just so much grass? The grass withers and the wildflowers fade, but our God’s Word stands firm and forever.” ( Isaiah 40:8). Any conversation that does not give serious thought to God who gives meaning to all things. For in the end we are more than the stuff that fill our closets, more than the designer labels. More than the brand name shoes or the luxury cars. Political kingdoms rise and fall but God alone is sovereign and He alone is just. God is eternal. He will not change. He is the one who steadies us in the shifting times. There is a reality that is larger than the reality we face day in and day out. The reality we see at this moment that can be frightening and is frightening as we look at these multiple crisises that is happening throughout the world but faith invites us to cast our eyes to this eternal hope that will not fade and that will not disappoint. There is a perfect peace here even as this world seems to be falling apart. In the hope and in the certainty of this faith we can live with courage as well as peace even more determined to live fighting to make this world a more just, humane and compassionate place.

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Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Remembering When

My wife and I just returned from a family reunion in East St. Louis, Il. East St. Louis has a reputation and it is not a good one. But when I hear the negative things many of them spoken by people who have never set foot in the city those negative comments are reflective of statistics that are cold, hollow and in some cases true. But the cold, hard statistics no matter how factual they may be do not capture the entire story. They do not reveal the other half of the story which is that there are good and decent, hardworking and caring people who reside there. And were it not for these people the city would have fallen off the map a long time ago. As we were sitting in church this past Sunday my sister-in-law stood to make a report about the recent relay for life campaign that happens every year to wage the fight against cancer and to celebrate the survivors of this deadly disease. She had my attention immediately because my beloved wife is a cancer survivor. She went on to say that the team from East St. Louis and her church, Truelight Baptist raised more than some of the surrounding and more economically vibrant suburban communities to be exact a little over $53,000 dollars. Good, decent, hardworking, and caring people made this happen and they do it every year. Good decent and hard working people who have great love for the city and who keep doing the right things because they believe that right will eventually overcome all wrong. When good people give up, when they stop caring we allow rot to set in and that can happen in any community. East St. Louis has its share of challenges drugs, violence, political corruption and poverty but if this city is to turn around it will be because of an indomitable spirit displayed by the countless numbers of people that I see and have seen over the last 39 years who refuse to be intimidated by the negative story, who refuse to give up. They continue to teach their children to reach for the stars but never forget to give back to the place that gave you your beginning. We heard that message loud and clear as we gathered as a family-a family that has deep roots in East St. Louis-a city that has produced Doctors of Medicine and Doctors of Education, teachers, social workers, policemen and just ordinary, hardworking men and women who know the value of work as well as the value of giving back. To my way of thinking these will be the folk who will allow East St. Louis to rise again. I may not see it in my life time but I am confident that there is a resurrection in the city’s future.

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Friday, July 25th, 2014

Our children are in the line of fire

My wife and I live in Milwaukee. We raised our children here. All of whom are now adults and who are making their way in the world. Milwaukee is really a tale of two cities. Entertainment, jobs, a great lake, great restaurants, great summer festivals and generally a city that works well for a good number of people but if you are African-American and especially an African-American male it is not such a great place. Unemployment  in the African-American community is higher; for African-American males it is well over 50percent. The poverty rate in the city is one of the highest in the nation. The Black infant mortality rate in Milwaukee is one of the highest in the nation. And Milwaukee has garnered the reputation of being the most segregated city in the nation with all of the challenges that this reality bring with it. We have lived in the city for 27 years and over time factories have moved, good paying jobs have moved, Malls have closed and hospitals that serve a primarily poor and Black and Brown constituencies have closed their doors. These realities have caused a deeper pain and there is no doubt that this pain has contributed to the escalating violence that that has gripped so many communities all across urban America. There is a powerful book that I read some years ago and that I go back and re-read from time to time. It was written by Howard Thurman and entitled: JESUS and the Disinherited. The reality of poverty which really is oppression creates fear, despair and anger for people who live in this place of systematic violence but he says that we can never give in to these emotions. An easy thing to say but a far greater thing to do if it is left entirely to human will. I think what policy makers, sociologist and politicians don’t ever take into account is how much hopelessness and despair are a part of the equation as a result of years and years of living in a place of poverty. Hopelessness leads to violence and hopelessness is a spiritual issue. A piece of the solution in dealing with the horrendous acts of violence that we are seeing in larger and larger numbers must have a spiritual component in whatever way that needs to manifest itself but for me it means that faith communities that are located in these communities where the violence is happening cannot remain on the sidelines or remain only a one day a week church. The Gospels say that when Jesus saw the crowds hapless and helpless(dis-inherited) like sheep without a shepherd he was moved to compassion and his compassion led him to act on their behalf. He fed them but his feeding was not only a physical one there was more. He made people well and that wellness was about making people whole. Just as compassion brought him to where the broken-hearted and the disinherited lived. The church must be out in the street engaging them with a Gospel that is real and that speaks to real needs because that Gospel and that Jesus is still able to bind up wounds and set captives free. As I write today there is a cloud cover; the air is pregnant with moisture  it is symbolic I think given the tremendous pain that this community has suffered over these last couple of months. Little Sierra Guyton was buried a couple of days ago after two months of a long battle to recover from a gun shot to the head. She was 10 years of age. Last night gunfire rang out again and two children 10 and 11 years of age were wounded. The shooter fired his weapon in front of the seven children who were passengers in the car that he was driving. Rain will come at some point today after a long, hard and painful night of violence. God has been watching and God continues to watch. And He weeps and as the rain touches the earth and touches us we will rise refreshed with a renewed strength and will to get back in the trenches to bring healing and hope to those who are so desperate for both.

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Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Leaving my Religion on a shelf

You may be acquainted with the phrase, “Putting ones religion on a shelf,” it is the one time that you are allowed by human reasoning to put someone in their place if they have stepped out of bounds or crossed a line that they should not have crossed. The saying reminds of a Sunday after church when I stopped at a fast food place to get something cold to drink. I was still wearing my clerical collar and I was certain that everyone who saw me identified me as a pastor or someone who was religious. As I pulled off the lot and got in the turn lane to make a left turn, the car that had been sitting next to me sped ahead and turned in front of me. Had I not been paying close attention to what was going on I’m pretty certain that there would have been an accident. But I immediately reacted internally. I  could feel my blood pressure rise as well as my anger but as I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror-there was that collar to remind me of who I was and what I represented so whatever it was I thought of saying that day quickly left me. Yet even without the collar there is this sign that is not visible with the naked eye and so people who looked at you would not know who you were in terms of your religious or spiritual orientation. I have to tell you that there are people who really do get under my skin and none more than the Sarah Palin’s and the Rush Limbaugh’s  of the world. To the point where it is just difficult to even look at them. And there are times when I feel like suspending my faith and just chewing them up and spitting them out. But here is the deal at least in my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus under no circumstances is it ever possible or permissible to put your religion on a shelf until you have let off some steam, or put somebody in their place, or put somebody down because it makes you feel good. For anyone who thinks that they can do this and do it at the drop of a hat I would wonder about the depth of their faith. When I read some of the words of Jesus I am not always comfortable with them because they call into question the sometimes questionable behavior that we fall back on if we could. There would be some people that we would exclude from our circle of relationships and the first people would be those that are hard to deal with, hard to take because of their racial stances, or because of party affiliation.  When my sin-colored instincts kick in and I am ready to throw people like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh under the bus I am always challenged by the Words of Jesus in Matthew 5 where he talks about loving one’s enemies. I may always have difficulty with the words that come out of  Palin’s and Limbaugh’s mouths but to live with the light of Jesus in your heart and to let that light shine even brighter and hotter when ugliness is at its height says that I must never forget that these folks are also children of God and so our goal must be never to deface them to the degree that they cease to be human to us.  I don’t want to take Jesus and put him on a shelf for the sake of my convenience and where I have done it I pray God’s forgiveness. I don’t want to pull Jesus off even for a little bit. I want to be more and more like him. I want to love like him because it is in that love where I am the most human and it is that love that allows me to see the humanity of others even those who would speak ill of us.

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Monday, July 21st, 2014

Speaking Truth

This is not a post that is anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. It is about speaking truth. And as the bombs and missiles continue to fall in this ancient and historic land killing innocent people on both sides of this conflict, especially children it is time for truth telling. The prophets in Hebrew Scripture were known as truth tellers. They were not on anybody’s payroll. They stood outside of the political dynamics of the power brokers. They were called and anointed by God to declare a Word from the Sovereign and Holy God. One of those prophets was Jeremiah who was known as the weeping prophet because he faced resistance and opposition not just from the powerful but from members of his own family because the word that he spoke was a harsh word of judgment against a nation that inflicted great wounds upon people who were the most vulnerable and they failed to do justice. Jeremiah is the second major prophet. He is recognized as such by each major religious community. I read today a passage, actually two verses from the 8th chapter of this prophetic book. “My people are crushed. I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Jeremiah 8:21-22

I have no argument with the assertion that the Jews have a right to live in a land free of hostility, free of threat but I would also affirm the natural corollary and that is that the Palestinians also deserve to live in a land free of hostility and free of threat. The violence and the deaths that have resulted from this violence is abhorrent. I’m thinking of the faces of the parents, the mothers in particular who have had to bury their children because of the hostility that exists between these two groups who fill this sacred space and the hatred that continues to spark the violence. But what is the source of the violence-the hatred? This is the question. And it is the question that we don’t want to entertain for fear that we are going to offend one of America’s strongest allies in this part of the world. Jeremiah speaks about a wound and the wound is injustice. The injustice in this case is the failure of  Israel to extend full justice to the Palestinians. When I visited Israel in 2009 on what was a religious pilgrimage of sorts there were some things that I saw that made me uncomfortable. When I saw that wall in Bethlehem built to separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem I was troubled by that. I heard a Palestinian Doctor who told me of having to display his passport as he went through checkpoints set up by Israel for no other reason than he was Palestinian. The stronger Nation has the greater responsibility I would argue to find ways to bring everyone to the table. The stronger Nation has the greater responsibility to examine itself to see where it has either caused the wound or contributed to the deepening of the wound. Bombs and missiles will not bring peace. They will only create more pain and the greater suffering will  be born by the children who are the innocent victims in all of this.

“My people are crushed. I am crushed. I mourn and horror grips me.”

For every person watching this nightmare unfold in the place of Jesus’ birth, in a land that is the birth place of Judaism, Islam and Christianity there is horror that grips us as the land is saturated with the blood of the innocent who have been cut down before they even begin to live. And as the prophet Jeremiah makes clear by his words God is watching this and the suffering that is being inflicted by His people and upon His people is a suffering that is felt by God.

“Is there no Balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my people?”

This is the question. Do we have the courage to engage the question in order to bring not just a ceasefire but to dispense justice in the land so that each people who live on the land are honored and treated with dignity and respect.

 

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Saturday, July 19th, 2014

People are people

When I went away to college I did not have a very favorable impression of many white people. And that’s probably putting it mildly. Having grown up in the state of Mississippi during the 1950′s as an African-American in the volatility of Jim Crow segregation I had good reasons for the feelings that I carried. But college took me out of my comfort zone, I mean way out of my comfort zone. I had decided on attending Concordia College in Austin, Texas. At the time Concordia, Austin was a 2 year institution. It was affiliated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod which was the church I had practically grown up in. I had no idea that there were any other colleges that bore the name, Concordia but I would soon learn that there were about 16 schools with that name, all of them LCMS with the exception of one which was affiliated with the American Lutheran Church(ELCA). And as luck or fate or God would have it I ended up at the ALC school which was way up in northern Minnesota. I would learn later that my application to the school in Austin probably never made it and got sent to Concordia, Moorhead and they simply processed it. Early on I came to believe that my ending up at the wrong college was no accident. In the 4 years that I spent there my world was expanded immensely. I would travel extensively throughout the plain states as a result of having been a part of a Gospel singing group that was sponsored by the college. I would meet whites who were nothing like the whites I had experienced growing up. Some of them would become life long friends and it was because of this accidental happening that I had to come to terms with this hatred and anger towards whites that I was carrying around on the inside and that I thought I had every right to carry. The Bible tells us that God created one humanity and that is true. We may be born into different circumstances, shaped and influenced by those circumstances but at the core of it all we share a common humanity. We all love, we all want for the goodness in life. We all desire to be treated with dignity and to live as free human beings. If our skin is pricked we bleed and the blood whether it comes from black skin or white skin is red. I spent 4 years in a place that I did not choose that first year, but came back to every year until I graduated. They were 4 good years. I learned a great deal in those 4 years academically but more importantly, I learned a lot about others and about myself. No one can live filled with hatred-no one and live as a human being. I was able to find some healing because I was able to let go of some of the pain of being discriminated against and I was able to forgive some of the people who were the perpetrators. Hatred wounds us deeply and if you choose to carry that hatred you will never be able to live and thrive as a human being.

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Thursday, July 17th, 2014

A Time to Act as Americans

Today, a plane was hit by missile fire and went down. 295 people lost their lives.

The tension in Israel between the Israeli’s and the Palestinians continues to escalate.

The children from Central America continue to cross the southern borders into the U.S. to escape the violence, the gangs and the threat of death that is the reality within their own countries.

I’m praying that we as a Nation will rise to our better angels to address each of these challenges and many more with the strength, courage and compassion that has been the hallmark of America when we have risen to the better angels within us. Today, especially calls for prayers, and the prayers are not partisan but they are the prayers of a people, of a nation that has been moved by the pain of war and the loss that results from that war, they are the prayers of a people whose hearts have been broken by the children who have become casualties. Tonight especially, we pray for the families of these 295 people on that plane who probably never knew what hit them. Console them in their anguish. Bring our own leaders together to sit down and reason together. Give us a thirst for unity and for a vision of America that is free of rancor and animosity.

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Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Hatred never sees a Human Face

4 Palestinian children were playing on a beach in Gaza. They had played there many time before. They were cousins. But on this day their playing on the beach would turn into a massacre as an Israeli missile landed turning their fun excursion into a death field. Thousands of immigrants coming across our U.S. southern borders many of them children being sent by their parents to what they imagine as a life better than what they are living with in their own lands. This issue feels close to home to me as an African-American as I watch in dismay some of the crowds who have gathered to voice their opposition to these individuals very presence. I hear the ugliness coming from their lips. I see it in their eyes. I hear it in their voices. The very image conjures up another time in America when our own citizens were demanding a better life, a better education. So they demanded entrance into all white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. These weren’t immigrants coming across any border. They were already here. We were U.S. citizens but we were black. On the day that 9 Black students showed up to walk through the doors of Central 400 Whites showed up to protest their opposition. 100 National guardsmen were there to keep the crowd in check but the situation would soon get out of hand. As I have watched stories of that day what I remember are the twisted and contorted faces of Whites who were willing to die to keep their schools and their world white. The picture was ugly, the words were ugly. The day was ugly. And it is that ugliness that has been once again etched into our brain as we watch all of this unfold on our southern border.

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Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

The Voices of the Tea Party are not New

James Eastland was a United States Senator from the state of Mississippi. He was a Democrat. He was a segregationist. He was a racist who insisted that the mixing of the races was a sin. It was against the laws of God and the laws of nature. When the Supreme Court struck down the doctrine of separate but equal in the historic 1954 land mark decision, Brown v. Board of Education, he said of that decision, “The Constitution of the United States of America was destroyed.” And speaking to white Mississippians he said, “You are not obliged to obey the decisions of any court which are plainly fraudulent, sociological considerations.”  Today, we are hearing in the voices of the Tea Party a reincarnation of people like James Eastland. And while they maybe a little more polished than Eastland their stripes are just as hate colored and hate-filled. It still amazes me how whites who are so strongly passionate about upholding the Constitution and upholding the law are so willing to make exceptions  when the law and the Constitution seeks to extend justice and fairness to those who have been traditionally excluded from the mix.

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Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

An Inner Resolve

When I think about our history as an African-American people it is amazing to me that we did not simply perish under the weight of the hatred that was directed our way.  And we did not perish. There was a strength and a resilience that I refer to here in this writing as an inner resolve. But that inner resolve was very much connected to a faith in a God of liberation and justice.

It was this strength that allowed us to not only survive but in many instances to thrive and to live above the humiliating circumstances of racial oppression. Somewhere along the way we lost that strength and resilience. The faith that was good enough, deep enough and powerful enough for our foreparents and ancestors we have traded for a quick, easy and superficial bag of tricks that are not able to withstand the social, economic and political malaise that now plague us.

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Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

This violence touches us all

We are 7 months into a new year and already in Milwaukee we are approaching 300 people being wounded through gun-violence. In one weekend in Chicago 82 individuals were wounded from gun violence and 14 of those individuals died. A young 10 year old girl, Sierra Guyton has caught our hearts and filled our prayers and emotions for the last two months, having been shot in the head by two men who began firing at each other over some slight. I could not help but be drawn to a story in the Milwaukee Journal that was describing a vigil being held by the community in memory of Sierra. A 55 year old man who grew up in the neighborhood of Clarke Street School and who along the way had had his share of problems with the judicial system who came back for that vigil. He sat on the porch with a 90 year old woman who was the mainstay in the community. She knew him as did everyone in the community. She was an elder who was respected by the community. Mr. G. would sit on this woman’s porch holding her hand as both of them were trying to make sense of what had happened to us as a people and as a community. The writer of the article would offer a very powerful reflection: “Bullets fly through Mr. G’s world. Wounding, killing, wrecking. He is almost use to it. People and things get hit. But children, and old people, it is just wrong.” And yet we must not get used to this violence, not the kind of violence that leave our children dead in our streets or on our playgrounds. To turn a deaf ear or a blind eye makes us complicit in this travesty. We must take the blinders off and stand up, organize and take our neighborhoods and our streets back so that the children that we send out to play can do so in safety. A precious daughter has been taken from the Guyton family tonight. We pray for them as they cope with the hardest challenge that they will ever have to deal with. We pray for ourselves that we will find the resolve to hold on to what makes us human and will not allow anyone who is bent on acting less than human take our humanity from us or destroy our sense of freedom, safety and well-being.

 

 

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Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

When will the violence end?

Today, a mother and a father are thinking about something they should not be thinking about. They are making plans to bury their 10 year old daughter who was shot in the head two months ago while she was playing on the playground of a nearby school. She was caught in the crossfire of two men who had no regard for those children that day. They were only concerned with settling a score over something that in the larger scheme of things was foolish. Sierra Guyton paid the price for the senseless violence that would erupt on that fateful day in May. The men responsible for the shooting and who will now be charged for her death sit behind bars. But Sierra will no longer be around. Her laughter, her joy, her energy will no longer fill the house or the lives of the mother and father who loved her. This shooting has touched a nerve in the community and in the city. Every act of violence that results in someone dying is simply unacceptable. It must be unacceptable to all of us. Every act of violence that results in the loss of someone’s life is personal. And while we grieve with Sierra’s parents I hope that this death will stir us from our apathy and our complacency around gun violence. I hope that this death will embolden us to become politically active-politically involved in campaigns for tighter gun control legislation. But we need to get guns off of our streets periods and out of our emotional system. If we continue to think of ourselves as a civilized people why do we need guns at all? That is not just my question. It is the question that the parents of Sierra Guyton is asking and will be asking for a very long time. And if we have any compassion for these grieving parents the best support that we can offer them and the greatest tribute in memory of Sierra that we could offer is to press our representatives to put stronger teeth in our gun laws.

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Monday, July 14th, 2014

President Obama labeled the worst of modern Presidents.

I don’t put a lot of stock in polls generally but aside from this latest poll. I want someone to tell me whose polls numbers wouldn’t be low given the barrage of negative press especially coming from White conservative media from the very moment that he stepped into the role of President. The first African-American President in the history of the Nation mind you and for some White Americans it was an unacceptable proposition and it still is. On the night of Mr. Obama’s inaugural balls in 2009 we learned that key Republican leaders were meeting to put together a strategy of derailing this Presidency. They have not given up. You can say, well every President has faced opposition and that may be the case, but no President has faced such a level of animosity and animus that borders not just on disrespect but in my mind treason. I heard a White media person say on a National news program this morning that the Republicans keep accusing the President of not governing. Not true, he said. The fact is that the President has tried to work with his Republican colleagues many times but they have refused to work with him at every turn. It is not the President that fails in the governing category but a Republican congress. Finally, lets just be real about this. The constant bashing of this President is about color. It is about race. It is about America’s peculiar sin that White Americans want to pretend is all in the past. It is about White leadership many of whom who grew up during a time like I did where White politics were openly shaped and determined by race and while times may have changed some folks are still wedded to those old racist attitudes that Blacks are incapable of leading on such a high level. Now until folks are ready to have a serious debate about these things I have no interest in these polls that are fueled by a dislike of this President because his skin color is different from any person before him who has served in this office.

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Thursday, April 17th, 2014

POST TRAUMATIC SLAVE SYNDROME

I watched a very interesting DVD with a fellow pastor entitled: ‘Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.” by Dr. Joy DeGruy, a social scientist. I found the title a fascinating concept but an equally compelling and reasonable one. She suggests that slavery was so horrific and horrible that it traumatized the slave just like the trauma suffered by soldiers coming home from war and who have seen or who have inflicted horrific acts of violence upon the enemy. She would argue that the psychological impact of this historic wound of slavery is just as real as the psychological impact of soldiers returning from battle and yet unlike soldiers those who have been victimized by slavery and the subsequent generations have never benefited from any psychological or emotional help. Dr. DeGruy would contend that to understand the anger, depression, rage and violence that is happening today in the African-American community one need only to recognize the powerful impact of slavery. This is residual stuff-residual behavior that we ought to take seriously. This is deep stuff because slavery in America was tied to the color of one’s skin. Skin color was the predominant factor and the primary determinant in defining one’s humanity and one’s intelligence. If you were Black you were seen as inferior in every way to some one who was White. And yet this ugly stain that has caused such pain to a people has never been officially and publicly owned. I wonder what would be the results of a National Truth and Reconciliation Process in America similar to the one in South Africa in the aftermath of Apartheid, where the descendants of slaves and their children are able to confront the descendants of slavemasters and their children and tell them what it has meant to live as Black in America not with the desire to seek pity but to elicit justice. I have no great illusion that we will ever get to such a place because White America is in such denial about racism.

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Thursday, April 17th, 2014

THE WORST SLAVERY IS OF THE MIND

I am a Pastor who happens to be African-American. I grew up in a Nation that was never quite sure if my people were fully human. When the African slaves were brought to this land in chains they met a Christianity that tried to convinced them that God was on the side of the slave-holders. The Africans would eventually reject this brand of Christianity. They would latch on to the story of the Exodus. It was their story. They found comfort in this God who was interested in their liberation-their freedom.  Exodus 14 is interesting. It reveals something about the oppressors as well as the oppressed. In this chapter the Israelites have begun the journey to freedom but Pharaoh realizes what he has done by setting them free. These slaves have been the source of Egypt’s greatness. They built a civilization and Pharaoh is not about to let them get away that easily so he sends an army after them to recapture and bring them back. The oppressor never relinquishes power or control easily. Freeing the Israelites was not in the Pharaoh’s best interest. They had a good thing going for 431 years. But I want to highlight the attitude of the oppressed, an attitude that is shaped from years of living as a captive and where your humanity or lack thereof is defined by the people who own you.

The text says: “As they saw the Egyptians on their heels they cried out to Moses, what have you done to us? Have you brought us out to the desert to die? At least in Egypt we had a roof over our head and food to eat.? This response reflects a deeper slavery-far greater than being bound by chains. It would suggest that the oppressor has accomplished what oppression is meant to accomplish at the outset and that is to enslave the mind-to convince the slave that he/she really is a slave and is meant to be a slave. Total liberation is not just about breaking physical shackles but freeing the mind.

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Thursday, April 17th, 2014

THE CHILDREN ARE NOT WELL.

There is a greeting that is used by the Masai people of Africa- Kasserian Ingera. which means the children are well. Two days ago the headlines read in the Chicago Tribune, 36 people shot within the last 36 hours. In recent weeks in the city of Milwaukee a 2 year old and a 4 year old were shot accidently by random gunfire. This kind of violence is happening in urban communities around the country with many of the victims being young teenagers which conveys a reality in America that is far different that this Masai greeting. The children are not well. Many of our children today live with the fear that they will not live to see their 13th or 14th birthday because they live in neighborhoods where violence is a daily or nightly occurrence. The children are not well and this in a Nation where we say we value children or do we only value the children whose skin is not black or brown?

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