We can’t breathe

It’s been my privilege for the past couple of weeks to be a student once again. I’m auditing a course at nearby Houghton College and thanks to this pandemic and social distancing we are using Zoom. Race and American Christianity is the title of the course and our professor is Julian Armand Cook. i love the course and following last Thursday’s lecture I took Dr. Cook’s invitation to visit his church. I couldn’t make it in person but again thanks to the miracle of YouTube I listened to the service for this Sunday. I decided to look around on the church’s YouTube channel and found Julian’s sermon for May 31, 2020 which followed the death of George Floyd. His preaching is powerful and I wanted to share it and invite us all prayer. We are at a pivotal point in time. Thanks Julian for your invitation and your passion. I invite you to listen to the sermon beginning at 40:25 minutes of this video.

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Recommending you read this book

Liberating Tradition: Women’s Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective by Kristina LaCelle-Peterson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an incredibly thorough and well documented book that should be required reading for anyone interested in the role of the Christian church in keeping women from being fully accepted as leaders in society.

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We hold these truths to be self evident

Thus begins the Declaration of Independence that we Americans celebrate on July 4th.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-

Thomas Jefferson

When Jefferson penned these words he was speaking as a free white man. He owned enslaved Africans whom he didn’t consider equals. These black men and women weren’t included nor were their indigenous brothers and sisters of Native Americans ancestry who roamed the North American continent.

Jefferson saw these other Americans as members of separate races and therefore not a part of the self evident truths which he so eloquently wrote about and which we proclaim each year. I’ve come to believe that there are not separate races but one race.

‘The idea of race as a biological construct makes it easy to believe that many of the divisions we see in society are natural. But race, like gender, is socially constructed.”

DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. 15). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

I would have been affronted by such an allegation a few years ago but I have come to see and believe that I live in a culture that privileges me as a white man. Lately our country has become torn apart once again over allegations of police brutality and white supremacy. Protesters proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” have angered millions of Americans who push back with “All Lives Matter.” White folks are blinded to the truth of over four hundred years of oppression. I hope that this year is a clarion call to end the blight of racism and move forward as sisters and brothers of the human race so that we may fulfill the vision of Dr. King.

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” — Martin Luther King Jr.

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All the statues are white

I’m at St. Mary Parish in Arcade, NY for Eucharistic Adoration and I’m facing a statue of St. Joseph. I’ve come here many times but today I’m struck by the flesh tones of the statue. I grew up in this parish. I served Mass here on this altar many times and I never really appreciated that all the depictions of the of the stained glass, statues, paintings and even the crucifix are of a white person. I’m currently enrolled in a class at Houghton College. It’s “Racism and American Protestant Christianity.” One of my classmates shared on our class Moodle site that they had grown up in a segregated community and attended segregated schools. That’s when the scales fell from my eyes. I too grew up in such a community. We weren’t segregated by law but by the fact we had no non-whites in our church or our school. Our church was for white people and we didn’t even know it. We worshipped a white God. Did I ever think of God as anything other than white. No of course not. How could I?

St. Joseph the White Carpenter
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Home Again

This afternoon I returned to Mount Irenaeus for the first time in over three months. It’s been the longest absence in the past twenty plus years of my life. It was Sunday March 8, 2020 when I last walked the grounds here. That Sunday was the first time that we didn’t share a hug at the sign of peace and when we began social distancing. How quickly the pandemic progressed as quickly moved into shelter in place and then life as we knew it began to recede. Today fully three months later I was able to return to one of my favorite haunts as a I walked the Mountain Road.

Three months ago the ground was covered with snow. Today the snow is gone and I was surrounded by green grass and a forest canopy of leaves. There was a quickness in my step as I moved along the trail praying the Franciscan Crown Rosary that I had begun this morning at home in Franklinville. A deer darted out of the woods to my right as I walked this familiar trail that took me eventually to a clearing and the hermitage of La Posada.

Much has changed in three months besides the beautiful flora. We’ve lost over one hundred sixteen thousand of our fellow citizens to the ravages of Covid-19. I’ve emerged from an episode of depression in the early days of the pandemic. There was a time I had given up hope. Despair tugged at me. From early March until now there is one constant and that is the daily recitation of the Franciscan Crown Rosary. The daily rhythm of this mantric prayer sustained me and kept just enough hope in me to press on. There were times when I doubted it was doing any good and questioned my recitation. Along the way I’ve come to believe that there is power in recitation of the prayers and an effect on my world and the world around me that I’m frequently unable to fathom.

Today while I walked along this trail in the woods I thought of the words of Thomas Merton. “My Lord God I do not see the road ahead.” Along the road there has been the deadly pestilence that has not come near me. Globally there have been the ugly horror of racism and and a reaction to it that seems to be bringing change. Just yesterday the United States Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ Americans can not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. That’s a huge win for many folks. In the midst of this pandemic there has been light and hope. For that I’m grateful.

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Are you an antiracist?

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent! A must read for anyone who’s serious about understanding America’s original sin. The author pulls no punches regardless of which side of the color line you are on. He exposes the problem of racism and its roots.

History is clear. Sacrifice, uplift, persuasion, and education have not eradicated, are not eradicating, and will not eradicate racist ideas, let alone racist policies. Power will never self-sacrifice away from its self-interest. Power cannot be persuaded away from its self-interest. Power cannot be educated away from its self-interest. Those who have the power to abolish racial discrimination have not done so thus far, and they will never be persuaded or educated to do so as long as racism benefits them in some way.

Ibram X. Kendi

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By their wounds we are healed

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely incredible book about the crime of racism in America. The book is scholarly and full of references. This is one of the most compelling narratives of the spiritual significance of the sin of racism in America. I highly recommend anyone read this but especially those who claim to be follower of Jesus Christ.

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America’s Original Sin

I’ve been reading James Cone’s, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” It’s a powerful book and one that everyone in the United States ought to read. I thought I knew how much black folks had suffered but I really had a very shallow understanding of the depth and the length of their oppression. I’m not really late to the game. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and as I’ve written previously my father was deeply prejudiced and that colored my view of the world. However I was a fan of Dr. Martin Luther King and I followed his work with interest.

One of the stories in this book that was left out of my worldview then was the story of a young boy who was murdered when I was not quite three years old. The story and my ignorance of it are clear examples of white privilege. I never heard anything of Emmett Till in my schooling.

Because he had whistled at a white woman and reportedly said “bye baby” as he departed from a store on August 24, 1955, Emmett Till was picked up four days later around 2: 00 a.m., beaten beyond recognition, shot in the head, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River, “weighted down with a heavy gin fan.”[ 2]”

— The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book. It’s well written and extremely well documented.

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There must be a better way

Last night a man in Buffalo New York was brutalized by the police. He’s a man with a long history of peacemaking and peaceful protest. He was standing on a sidewalk attempting to peacefully engage police officers when one of them brutally shoved him causing him to lose his balance and fall. As he fell the older gentleman hit his head on the sidewalk and newsreel footage of the incident showed blood running out of his right ear as he lay on the ground. The video was captured by WBFO in Buffalo and in the audio you can hear someone asking for an ambulance for the victim. There is a terse reply that there is an EMT present presumably with the police.

Last week George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police. Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13 in Louisville, another brutal killing that didn’t have to be. She would have been twenty-seven today. All of these are hateful crimes. The officers in Minneapolis have been arrested and charged, two officers in Buffalo have been suspended. No one has been charged in Breonna’s death. The list of killings by law enforcement in the United States is staggering. The first reaction in all of these incidents is retribution and while that might bring temporary relief to the grieving it is not the solution. We can’t break the cycle of violence with more violence. “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” according to Gandhi.

What are the real solutions to all this violence? How can we turn the corner on racism and fear of the other? We need a conversion experience en masse.

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I continue to pray

I was up early this morning and following a shower I dressed and went for a walk. I carry the rosary while I walk and begin each day saying at least one complete Franciscan Crown Rosary. Today I prayed for peace and healing for our torn land. I prayed for our president and other leaders. I prayed for those protesting and those suppressing the protesters. Our country is fractured and it has been for a long time. The problem didn’t begin with the election of Donald Trump nor with Barack Obama. Maybe it began in 1619 when the first Africans were brought to our shores to work on plantations. Maybe it began before then when these men and women were sold into slavery.

Lately the popular refrain is “the killing of Mr. Floyd is terrible but what about the looting.” Most folks can understand the brutality of the murder of Mr. Floyd but they see a disconnect with the looting, arson and other carnage. Some of my social media friends lump the looters and arsonists in with the peaceful protesters. There is ample evidence that the two are not related.

How will this end? Is this the end of the United States? In the past few days there have been disturbing scenes of unidentified riot police in our nation’s capitol. Photos of National Guardsmen standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This is in response to Americans exercising their first amendment rights.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment United States Constitution

Today an eight foot high fence is being erected around the White House. This has never happened before. Not even during the Civil War. The root of the problem lies with fear and ignorance. How can we end the fear and ignorance which spawned the racism and authoritarianism? I’ll keep praying.

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