Monthly Archives: April 2012

The ‘Us and Them’ Syndrome…

While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him out of Israel; the people also wept bitterly. 2 Shecaniah son of Jehiel, of the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra, saying, We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. 3 So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 Take action, for it is your duty, and we are with you; be strong, and do it. 5 Then Ezra stood up and made the leading priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear that they would do as had been said. So they swore. (Ezra 10:1-5, NRSV)

One year ago this week, the nation observes the 1st anniversary of the most infamous revenge killing in the history of the country, the death of Al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was widely considered the mastermind behind the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington D C and the crash of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. The nation launched two wars with 11 years of conflict in Afghanistan.

I recall most vividly watching the news on May 1st evening to see many young college folks at local colleges and universities headed to the White House and national monuments to shout and ‘celebrate’ bin Laden’s death. All the social media sites were lit up like Christmas trees and a Presidential statement was delivered to the nation late that evening. Most striking to me, was my own feelings. I had (and still have) mixed emotions about the events of that night and even the death of bin Laden.

I am dazed at my oscillation from relief to disgust to fascination at the society’s relationship to this news. Like most Americans, I am relieved that a singular threat of known terrorist leadership can no longer be a threat in the same way. But I am also saddened at the disease of denigration that so often characterizes our perception of the enemy. In the days, weeks and months after the carnage of September 11th, Americans rallied together for support and communal strength and that is wonderful. Americans also begin to foment real and seething anger at the enemy (which initially was Al Qaeda and bin Laden, but quickly morphed to include all of Islam). Communal bonding was gave way to fear and xenophobia, and justice quickly transformed into revenge. As those feelings came to the surface, an ugly tradition in human experience began to rear its head.

We as Americans, (and more broadly humanity in general), have a dual mindset of national bonding while at the same time, fomenting deep fear and exclusionary beliefs. Throughout human history, strong and positive nationalist movements very quickly have turned into dangerous and destabilizing xenophobia. It leads to the syndrome: The belief ‘in us degenerates into a denial of the God ‘in them’. Let me say it this way: Whenever we as human beings characterize the adversaries in life, we have a strong tendency to denigrate their person-hood. We deny their humanity and vilify them. This is and always should be a disconcerting approach to our enemies.

 

The text above is deeply problematic because it exposes the ethno-nationalism that existed in the post-exilic nation of Israel. After having gone through exile and the confusing and disorienting chaos of the loss of Jerusalem and the Temple, the people gather to rebuild and be restored under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. The text portrays the people who returned as looking to assign blame for the state of the ‘fallen’ experience with God. Nationalism always needs a scapegoat; a ‘other’ to be upset with and cast blame for the present state of things. In the text, the leaders and elders decide that it is the foreign women in their midst. Had the men not married these “foreign women” then they would “not have sinned”. The chauvinism and arrogance of the passage is disturbing by itself. Add to that the xenophobic way in which they deal with the remedy for the problem is even more worrisome.

 

 The text reveals our human instinct to assign blame and concern always for the “stranger” or “foreigner” who has found their way into our midst. Never mind that we often invite them and want to celebrate diversity in our communities. The moment that we feel threatened or outraged is the moment that the ‘other’ gets dehumanized and vilified to our elevation and celebration. It means that immigrants that have been the backbone of our societal fabric for more than two centuries now are ONLY portrayed as job-stealing, baby-having, crime-spreading “leaches” on the American way of life. (See how easy it is to deny humanity to another? The language gives it away, every time!)

 After September 11, 2001, we as a nation fell victim to the same instinct to dehumanization and undignified behavior. It started with an exploration of terrorism and Al Qaeda. It moved to language about Muslims, Mosque, and Arabs. It spread to anyone profiled to not be “American”. Eventually it became an all-encompassing and pervasive use of nondescript pronouns (them, they, those) appear and lead to a rejection of any portrayals of normalcy in the life of those communities. (See TLC All-American Muslim controversy). The result is a total denial of the humanity of “them” and a limiting of what it means to “be human” or be American or be anything in order to place blame, cast judgment or to use toward an intended end.

The “foreigners” become all those who we don’t want to be US. They are the people who “reject the nation” and “undermine ITS values”. Our problems and our concerns are rooted in the “foreign” problem and if we could just get rid of them, then we can and will prosper. The text implies this in a cursory reading and we have seen many national policies throughout history portray this as truth. The fact is that the Bible itself argues multiple perspectives with regards to the reasons for exile. Some say it was because of unfaithfulness to Torah (to include violating the prohibition on intermarriage), while most prophets argue the larger violation of justice, obedience and faithfulness to the ritualistic worship traditions. The point is that an “us and them” theology/ideology is never the cure-all. It always leads to a narrowing US and a more expansive THEM.

Sure, all of our neighbors are not like us. They don’t eat what we eat or look like we look. Some or our neighbors don’t like us. A few of our neighbors are actually against us. But they are still human. They have families and friends. They attend weddings and funerals. While they may not eat what we eat or look like we look, they do eat food and look more like us than not. They are US and WE are THEY. We don’t have to agree for this to be true. It is an ontological fact. It is what it means to live as a human BE-ING.

Our differences don’t make us enemies, our policies and perspectives and ideologies do. We further our own objectives and they further theirs; that’s life on the playground just as much as life on the world stage. Those differences do not in any way diminish the humanity of the one(s) who we stand at odds with. Difference does not equate to diminishment. Any other attempt and distinguishing values and virtues without context is an attempt at finding an excuse to make them less than we.

Celebrating the death of any human being is in itself inhumane. Those who participate in that celebration call into question their own humanity and not that of the deceased. Its time for us to do better in the scope of human history. Seeking the humanity even in your enemy is the God principle in all of humanity. It is what makes us a reflection of God’s wonderful creation: To agree to be human if disagreeing with everything else. If all humanity would pursue this goal, then perhaps we move one step closer to a vision of truth.

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‘Sharing is’………Divine

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)

I have two daughters. One is five months old and the other who is a thirty-year old trapped in a three-year old body. Both of them have passionate and assertive personalities that are true to their genetic heritage. (Translation: they get their stubbornness and bossiness from mommy and daddy!)My three-year old in particular is highly intelligent and fiercely independent; both of which are qualities that my wife and I want to nurture and contextualize as she grows up. Yet, we face the problem that all parents of siblings face around this age….sharing.

For two years, my eldest was the only thing that mattered and we doted on her as any loving and excited parents do with their first child. Gifts from friends and family were always centered on her and she quickly grew into a child that would expect attention, even if she didn’t want it. Last year’s birth of her sister meant all of the status quo had to change. While she has understood and adapted well to the presence of her sister, my wife and I have noticed an interesting phenomenon with ‘Boobie’ (my nickname for her).

As my second child gets older, she becomes more active and engaging with the world (especially to include her sister). Many times we give our second child the toys Boobie received as a baby. Boobie never much played with the toys and in many cases was totally unimpressed for much of her life with the toys she received as a baby. Her sister on the other hand, is the opposite. Totally enamored and mesmerized with the blinking, music, singing dancing toys that so traumatizes the aural memory that you can hear them in your sleep! It has been recently that Boobie has now wanted all the toys that her sister finds fascinating. Once her sister’s interest is peaked, here comes Boobie claiming the toy for herself and often pouting over its usage by her sister.

On one level, I find this behavior annoying and as any parent should do, my wife and I use those moments as opportunities to teach Boobie the importance of sharing with her sister. Often the lesson does not sink in right away, but we trust that we are laying a good foundation that will bear fruit (Pray y’all!) But the theologian in me finds a much deeper principle at work that is reflective in the human-divine relationship.

So often in life sharing does not appear normative to the human experience. Sure communities, families and friends share food, dwellings and other necessities that benefit the whole, but those acts are built on relational understanding. Sharing in its basic sense is the act of apportioning in such a way as to benefit the parties who are sharing. It doesn’t require a preexisting relationship and truthfully shouldn’t. Sharing however, has been relegated in our society to tax-deductible charitable giving and the consequence of last resort when there are not enough resources to satisfy each individual present. To each his/her own; you get yours and I’ll get mine, THE END!

This norm is not always explicitly taught by parents nor is it something that we seek to nurture in society. In fact, I am not sure where it originates. We didn’t teach our daughter that the toys she received were hers alone. In fact, we teach her that everything she has is ours, on loan until such a time she can pay us back!!! LOL. A pastor friend of mine told the story:

A man watched his two children playing in the mall one day. As they ran back and forth playing tag he marveled in the wonder of child’s play and the innocence therein. Suddenly the older sibling stopped to play with a small toy that she just happened upon. Upon discovering the toy, her younger brother also wanted to play with the toy…together. To which his sister pushed him away saying, “No IT’S MINE!”

It is clear to me in both raising my children and pastoring congregations that sharing is a reflection of the divine moving in the world. For some reason, (some call it sin, others call it human frailty, and others still call it instinct), children and their larger counterparts seem to fail when it comes to giving from their abundance. I believe the text above reminds us of the power of the divine in community to move us to give and to share. The text from the book of Acts displays the power of sharing providing the move of the Holy Spirit through the people. It takes an effort to move from your storehouses that which benefits you and can benefit another. In fact, it is Divine effort that accomplishes such a feat. This text shows that Have-nots have because the Haves felt to give. Such is the power of sharing as a divine initiative. O what a different world this might be if just the Christians decided to share!!

The church is the place where sharing should be the modus operandi and the hallmark of the people of God. Yet so many congregations keep their buildings, food and fellowship to only the people they have relationships with (i.e members and family). Our consumerist culture dictates that we get what we want and the scraps are for the late comers and the “lazy folks”. One political argument this election season says:

‘Don’t demean me because I got all of this prosperity. I don’t have to share and I don’t want to!’

The world’s most prosperous nation and arguably the most Protestant-Christian-centered nation (the USA) also has the highest rate of hoarding per person in the world. If there is already so much access to ‘stuff’ in the US, than why do we need to stock up just for our usage? It takes the move of the divine in our lives to move us to be concerned about our neighbor in such a way to give for their sake. I know, we should do that instinctively to better all who are involved, but history tells us that we don’t.

The old adage is true, “sharing is caring”, but is not reflective of just our caring. Sharing is revealing the power of the God who cares for all of us through relationship. We share because we want someone to share with us. News FLASH: Someone has already shared with us! We share because God shared(s). God shares, so we share. Sharing IS caring, but it is also a vision of truth…

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A War not Worth Fighting…

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ (Matthew 28:1-10 NRSV)

As a father of two girls, husband to a very well-educated and gifted United Methodist pastor, and son who was raised by a multitude of women, I am deeply appreciative of the women in my life. Women in my family and in all aspects of my life have contributed (and continue to contribute) to my identity and engagement in the world. More to the point, I learned how to be a better man and father by valuing and seeking to understand the women in my life. Indeed the value of over half of our society is immeasurable as women are, in many cases, the central backbones of our families and national framework.

In light of this simple but inescapable truth, I am confused by the new caricature of politics as being a “war on women”.  The comments of political pundits and social critics are nearly always caricatured in someone to vilify the ‘other side’. That contextual point notwithstanding, the events of the last year or so in legislative and political politics have been framed as an attempt to set the country back to the 1940’s and 50’s cultural attitude toward women. Legislation around reproductive rights (or the restriction thereof), social and family policies and comments deriding stay-at-home mothers are all cast by the media as being part of the salvos in the battle for the woman vote and the role of women in our electorate.

This ‘war’ (for some reason this country is insatiable when it comes to fighting wars [war on drugs, war on poverty, war on obesity, etc.]), is a media contrived and conceived war. This ‘war’ is an election year farce that seeks to juxtaposition the political parties for votes of the majority sex. Latching on to gender roles as an election issue is cheap and lazy politics. It also affirms the reality of many of our patriarchal societies. But it’s not new. Male dominated societies have never credibly appreciated women as co-laborers in life. (I can say this based on the simple fact that very often, women were not even at the table for the discussions that impacted them the most!)Here’s the brutal truth: The role of women in our society has never been recognized or accepted as equal.

The text from above is indicative of what is present in all four canonical gospels. The canonical Gospels report that women are the first to arrive at the tomb. Each of the gospels mentions women as being the central conveyors of the message that Jesus is not dead but alive. More specifically, the Gospels all agree that Mary Magdalene is the one that encounters the risen Christ (if not conveys the message directly to the other disciples). I use this text to point out the idiotic contradiction in the Christian tradition that has been passed down for centuries. Many Christian traditions barred women from service in either ordained ministry or leadership of any kind in the church. Piecing together various scriptures of the New Testament epistles, keepers of this vain orthodoxy argue a biblical rejection of women in leadership. Roman Catholics and some others have theology that puts priests as an exemplar toward Christ and therefore women cannot serve in leadership either.

Only in the past 80 years has the Christian church begun to properly challenge itself and ask the critical questions of dominate influences of patriarchy on religious practice. In those instances where the church wrestles with the truth, the church has expanded its view and reach and added to its credibility. Sadly, the failure of the Christian church to properly deal with its compromised theology in other situations means it has no credibility in standing on the moral authority of its witness. It is hypocritical and arrogant when it attempts to speak about women’s issues (or any other issues) and can’t get ‘its own house in order’.

To me, these sexists’ theological stances are not supported by the witnesses at the tomb and take semantic hoops and loops to justify in scripture. However, this is what happens when patriarchy dominates the discussions of society. Whether it happens in cultural, social, economic, or theological realms, the furtherance of male dominance and control means that we ignore the reality of life as balance in order to further dominate and demean one another. We bar women from leadership even though most churches in the United States are actively comprised of more women than men (to the tune of 2 to 1, in some cases). We champion “women’s rights” while at the same time, devaluing Employees Paid Parental Leave Act and other laws that honor the role of motherhood in our society. We fight over reproductive choices and rights to life, but ignore the plight of millions of working mothers who struggle to care for the children who didn’t ask to be aborted or born. We pay them less for the same job, and ask questions of their motivations, ability and performance that we take for granted when men do much less. We’ve always done it and we are guilty of fighting for a cause that has become insidious.

These fights will continue until we are held accountable to our participation in the system. To that I say, thank you Ashley Judd. Her poignant and scathing critique of patriarchy is the kind of commentary that makes us all better and changes the conversation from a political moment to an ontological question. In other words, her comments make us better human beings if we listen.  When commentators, media figures and fans begin to ask questions of her appearance with no basis for inquiry, she exposed ALL of our participation in the ‘war on women’.

Oppressive systems are only sustained when they recede into the background and are hidden in secrecy. What Ms. Judd has done, provides an example for all of us in ending the millennia long wars on women. Truce and peace in this war is the vision of truth for all of us…

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A Rote Victory…

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, NRSV)

It’s the day after Easter. We have spent the last month and half identifying with the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus during the season of Lent. The last week of this journey is the most intense and reflective of the entire journey toward the cross. This week is the entire Christian faith encapsulated. The Christian seasons have their meaning. The two most prominent, Advent and Lent are considered the most widely celebrated and deeply meaningful. Advent is characterized by innocence and expectation whereas Holy Week is filled with contradiction and conundrums. Advent has the promise and hope of God’s new movement in the world, while Holy Week is an emotional roller coaster with twist and turns that can challenge the faithful. Advent is significant but Holy Week is necessary. This is not a chicken or egg scenario: For it is the cross and resurrection of Jesus that inspires the narratives of the Gospels (which result in the telling of his miraculous birth).

The centrality of Holy Week to the Christian narrative warrants this week’s posting. Participating in the various services of Holy Week as a pastor and worship leader, I nearly always observe the same pattern in the way congregants connect with the story. From Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, there are as many as five different worship services that are offered to give opportunity for congregant’s theological exploration of the themes of the week. (Many churches have offered nightly services and as many as four or five services on Good Friday alone!) My experience of this week in several different settings observes Christians who either reluctantly participate in the worship for the week (often living in the midst of the theological tension) or more often, they are disengaged Christians who do not participate in the services during the week but are present at sunrise service to celebrate the resurrection.

Sure, an argument can be made that you can attend on Sundays and get the gaps in the story filled and be satisfied. You could say that weeknight services are not practical to the situation of many congregants and worshipers given their busy schedules. All true, but all those considerations do not account for my struggle with the failure of the average Christian to journey in wrestling with the contradictions, complexities and failures of Holy Week. Either in the privacy of the own ‘prayer closets’ or in communities of faith.

 

The purpose of Holy Week is to lead the faithful symbolically in the last week of the Jesus. The days of this week have themes and  counter narratives that are intentionally at odds with one another. The week begins triumphantly and excitedly with Palm Sunday and the coming king into Jerusalem. It moves to an intimate scene of bonding and humility with Maundy Thursday’s foot washing and meal. The counter narratives of both these days are just a prominent. Palm Sunday has a hypocritically character as the entire city crowns a king who they do not know and would come to challenge everything they hold dear. Maundy Thursday is intimate and humble but ends with betrayal and disintegration. The narrative and counter-narrative run parallel with equal emphasis through the week and collide on Good Friday.

Both in name and in theme, Good Friday embodies the central contradiction of the Christian faith. How can the day in which an innocent man dies, be considered a ‘good’ day? A day filled with violence, destruction and disappointment is declared ‘good’. This is the central day and truth of the Christian religion and many Christians are unwilling to live in the tension of this day (let alone the entire week). This failure of comprehension exposes an existential thread in our society that unravels the fabric of our faith as American Christians. The thread is reflective of our unwillingness to think or be challenged in the various aspects of our lives; especially in our faith. Many Christians do not attend worship, nor do they engage in the paradoxes of Holy Week, because it forces us to deal with unanswerable questions. Holy week presses the exposure and examination of the oppressive systems of power and fear that are just a present today as they were two thousand years ago. I can only assume that we are just as willing to be blind to the suffering of two thousand years ago, because it justifies our blindness now.

Let me give you an example from contemporary experience…

I attended a Good Friday service one Holy Week. It was initially conducted in the style of any Protestant Good Friday service. Solemn and deeply reflective (mournful at times) the prayers, hymns and overall worship conveyed a central truth that Jesus, an innocent man, died an undignified and unwarranted death on a cross. The preacher got up and preached a message of victory, hope and prosperity. The sermon was not at all connected with the significance of the moment and instead of wrestling with the theological tension that death, disappointment and dying mean in the Christian experience, they chose to simply…..shout.

This failure  of faithful wrestling extends to Resurrection Sunday morning. The celebrations and excitement of Christ’s resurrection can only be appreciated by the depth and sorrow of the Friday of his death. Many Christian communities do not even observe a Good Friday service. Let me just say here that Protestant Christians celebrate the resurrection every single Sunday. For every Sunday is a recognition of the resurrection and what it means for the people of faith. So if churches celebrate the resurrection every Sunday, why are we not willing to take one week to wrestling with its meaning? Or even one day to mourn the death of Jesus? How can you know the goodness of resurrection if you are not willing to know the depth and pain of death on a cross? What does it say sociologically and theologically about the church when it is so willing to only celebrate the victory and never reflect on the price of the battle? It leads to triumphalism and a lopsided perspective of the cross…

Living in the tension is something that we in our modern sensibilities and privileges don’t believe is necessary. If we can choose not to suffer, then we don’t. We live in fortresses built upon foundations of ignorance that we defend at all costs. Thinking and being challenged in our thinking is what makes societies great and filled with ingenuity. Wrestling with challenging existential truths like suffering, forgiveness and death means we are forced with how those truths manifest in our lives. When that challenge is absent, we no longer centered for moments of discord and disappointment that so often characterize life.

This absence of critical and reflective thinking leads to the development of people that do not identify with the suffering of others. Non-reflective people can  blame the poor and oppressed for the struggles the impoverished experience, all the while hoarding the privilege that keeps poverty and oppression alive. It leads to the rise of a church that spends it days fighting over doctrine and who to keep out instead of ‘rolling the stone’ away to open the doors to infinite possibility. A church whose wealth and maintenance becomes the chief priority of governance over the need for ministry that changes lives. If you aren’t willing to include pain in your theology, then you can’t have it in your ontology.

If anyone is familiar with disappointment and failure; if anyone knows what it means to suffer and have heartbreak, it is Jesus. Paul’s admonition here seeks to get us to wrestle with the paradox of the Christian faith: Christ suffers death to sin so we do not. The glorification to which the later part of this famous hymn of Paul speaks cannot be understood without the first verses in context. In other words, it is Christ’s humility, suffering and death that leads to the glorification. You do not have the glorification without first having humility, suffering, humiliation and death ‘even on a cross’. If we really believed this credo (understanding is another animal),  then we should at least live through all of Holy Week in order to proclaim “He Is Lord”. Knowing the price of salvation and the path toward resurrection is the vision of truth for all who are called to live in the Way. 

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Neighborly Consequences…

My brothers and sisters,* do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?* For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, Have a seat here, please, while to the one who is poor you say, Stand there, or, Sit at my feet,* have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.* Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? (James 2:1-7,  NRSV)

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 sent ripples and shock waves throughout the world and caused wonderful feelings of progress to spread through America. For many, it signaled a willingness on the part of many Americans to put long-held prejudicial and racial stereotypes aside to elect an American of African descent to the highest office in the land. Statements like, “not in my lifetime” and “never thought I’d see the day”, rang all through neighborhoods and households as a real sense of pride and confidence was shared by all Americans, Republican and Democrat alike.

What was, for many, a moment of progress and unity offered for others, a sign of a deeper truth. For this group, Barack Obama’s election revealed a post racialism in American society. Specifically, race, racial stereotyping and prejudicial treatment based on race was no longer the pervasive and pernicious problem that so defined this country since its founding. Most of those cultural commentators making these claims were in traditional media institutions (and many of whom, not all though, were quite frankly…white) that wanted to explore an angle of progress and exploit the euphoria the country was feeling.

Commentators and journalists alike spent many hours reflecting on the excitement, motivation and view of the populace toward their new president and want it signaled for the country. While I believe establishment media figures meant well, the problem with the media’s approach was that it explored the story from the ending it wanted to portray- post racialism in America. It wanted to prove that the 2008 election wasn’t about race (and to a certain extent it wasn’t, and that is to be celebrated). Yet, most Americans of first generation immigrant and specifically African-American heritage did not view President Obama’s election as the ground shifting force on racial relations even though his election was historic. Absent from the post racialism discussion was (and is) the view of the historical victims of race and racial discrimination.

James, the writer of the letter to the “church in dispersion” gives a strong word of inclusivity and equality in this second chapter. His admonishment  centers on how we view our neighbor. More relevantly, he reminds us to be faithful to the commandment of loving our neighbor. He posits the question, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” His words are an indictment to our present day post racialism, for they provide for us a standard that must be used in our society. It isn’t the election of a Black President that makes us post racial, it is the failure to make distinctions of any kind amongst one another that signals God’s equality in society.

The measure of relational fairness and equality is found by asking the one who was wronged in the relationship. James says as much when he says, “has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (Not the poor in spirit as some interpret). As long as there are people who feel threatened by black men in ‘hoodies’ (or suits for that matter) we are not post racial. As long as money entitles you to health care or any ‘preferential’ treatment, we are not equal. As long as women are still legislated over instead of empowered to be legislatively or otherwise, we are not post anything. The events of the past month have signaled that the media was and is wrong about post racialism in America. We have not gotten past our proclivities toward separations and elitism. We are not a post-sexual, post-racial, classless, egalitarian society yet. I still say yet, because they are still possibilities in America…..for now at least.

Let me also be clear when I say that the mandate for James in the letter is what is in your heart when facing your neighbor. It is one’s morality (belief system) and not one’s ethic (how beliefs are lived out) that James offers as the standard. Not what you say you do but what you believe that God examines as truth in your life. I have heard several commentators on the Trayvon Martin case as well as the Supreme Court Affordable Care Act deliberations talk about the fairness and moral effects of mandating health care or arresting someone who may be covered by “Floridian self-defense”. In light of James’s argument, the legality and constitutionality are irrelevant. Morality and Love (both of which I believe our government and society lack) mean healthcare is available to all and that NO ONE should have legal cover to take another human being’s life merely on suspicious grounds. Where is the consistency of the Religious Right and where is the command to love thy neighbor being expressed and exercised??

Post racialism is possible for us as Americans, but embracing this vision of truth means changing how we treat our neighbors. Until then, no election can measure our readiness for that day…

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