June 9, 2020
My fellow children of God,
It’s a Tuesday night and I am exhausted. After writing my sermon for tomorrow’s filming, I spent a good portion of the day debriefing the conversation we had with Rev. Garth Gilliam and Dr. Larry Hygh, Jr. last Thursday evening on ZOOM. I also spend time with United Methodist colleagues in an initial conversation on next steps in our current season of civil and racial unrest. Several conclusions stand out to me:
- Each and every one of us needs to do the work of educating ourselves and doing the important self-examination regarding the unconscious biases, attitudes, and ways we participate in systems rooted in racism. Nobody else carries this responsibility; it belongs to you and it belongs to me. As a result, I have included a list of links to articles, resources, and books at the bottom of this letter.
- We need to listen for the sake of understanding. We tend to listen in order to formulate our response, which means we are not seeking understanding: we are planning defense and attack. As a result, our conversations become an adversarial process that seeks dominance over other human beings, over situations, and over issues. When we operate in this manner, we forgo opportunities to grow and deny the humanity of the person we converse with.
- As your pastor, I can’t force you to enter in uncomfortable processes; I can only invite you into those spaces I am willing to occupy myself. So I have started the process of my own work and invite you to join me on Thursday nights at 7:00PM on ZOOM from the comfort of your own homes. Pour yourself a favorite beverage (no questions asked) and join in the difficult and uncomfortable process of growing.
I assume that none of us think that racism is a good thing. I assume that none of us think that the color of a person’s skin or their culture or their country of origin makes them any less valuable or human in the eyes of God. Yet honest reflection to the deeper questions will only bring to the surface patterns, behaviors, assumptions, and vocabulary rooted in the system of racism which helped this country assume its position of power in the world.
This week we will be discussing an article you can find here: FOR OUR WHITE FRIENDS DESIRING TO BE ALLIES (Sojourners Magazine). This will be our next step in being a part of God’s unfolding work, and I am praying that you will join me.
Links to Articles and Resources:
1619 Project (NY Times)
White Supremacy Culture (From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001)
White Anti-Racism: Living the Legacy (Teaching Tolerance)
What Is White Privilege, Really? (Teaching Tolerance)
Books about Racism and Social Justice for Students (Common Sense Media)
How to Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi
Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
Piecing Me Together, by Renee Watson
So You Want to Talk about Race, Ijeoma Oluo
Invisible Man by Ralp Ellison
Native Son by Richard Wright
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Do the Right Thing (1989, directed by Spike Lee)
Fruitvale Station (2013 by Ryan Coogler)
Get Out (2017, directed by Jordan Peele)
I Am Not Your Negro (2017, directed by Raoul Peck)
In the Heat of the Night (1967, directed by Norman Jewison)
Just Mercy (2019, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton)
The Glass Shield (1994, directed by Charles Burnett)
The Hate You Give (2018, directed by George Tillman Jr.)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, directed by Alan J. Pakula)
To Sleep With Anger (1990, directed by Charles Burnett)
May 31, 2020
My Friends & Family,
This has been the worst week in a terrible year for our country. We passed the 100,000 mark for Covid19 deaths. An unarmed black man died under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis, MN, illustrating once again that privilege is doled out in our country based upon the color of your skin. This action has given rise to protests across the country…and in these protests; we have seen opportunists take advantage of righteous anger and peaceful protests, filling our televisions with images of looting and arson.
Here is what I am going to say as a pastor: we have got to be better. The prophet Micah, incensed by Israel’s religious leaders’ and government’s refusal to look after the poor and operate the country according to God’s purposes and ways, says that God isn’t interested in their prayers or sacrifices…what God desires and requires is “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
We cannot simply pray for our country. We cannot simply pray against injustice. We cannot simply pray against racism. God requires more. C.S. Lewis once said he didn’t pray to change God; he prayed so that God would change him. These are the kinds of prayers we need now: that God would change us; that God would open our eyes to our own prejudices and blind spots that we all have; and that God would grant us the wisdom and discernment and the courage to speak truth and to act in ways which mirror a certain Jewish prophet and teacher named Jesus and that we would do on earth as it is in heaven, just like we regularly pray.
I have never seen us as divided as a country and a society as we are right now. I confess that I am someone who struggles with conflict: I almost always seek peace, consensus and the middle ground. Unfortunately, we no longer live in a country where there is a clear middle ground when it comes to race and the commonwealth. I believe that the call of Christ bids us to stand in opposition of any form of racism or xenophobia. Any assumption or devaluing of a person based upon the color of their skin or the culture they come from is spit in the face of the God who created all things and proclaimed it “good.”
This Thursday’s Zoom meeting will be a discussion of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church as well as consideration of how the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit demands we move out into the world as a source of healing, reconciliation, and recreation for God’s purposes.
*an insightful op-ed by Kareem Abdul Jabbar can be found at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge?fbclid=IwAR0mxzwsUUlKnEXBiHHuqxLYbfaPN02XgrKOVAVbmlDQ4whSijkT414gzEU
May 27, 2020
My Church Family,
Yesterday Governor Newsom and Mayor Garcetti gave churches the go-ahead to open for services provided they do so with proper precautions. However, let me be clear: our church will not be holding in person worship this Sunday. Worship will again be offered online for this Pentecost Sunday.
Let me explain: I, like I’m sure many of you, received this news with a bit of surprise, a little bit of uneasiness, and a prayerful gratitude that we are on our way towards a time when we can resume in person worship. However, the list of necessary precautions is a long list and we will not be ready this weekend. Furthermore, I am painfully aware that the things we hold most dear in worship are the highest risk behaviors and activities for Covid-19 transmission. There would be no hugs, no handshakes, no smiles, and no singing. People over sixty years-of-age would be encouraged to remain at home. Make no mistake: returning to in-person worship will not be a matter of “back-to-normal.”
As your pastor, as much as I long to worship in the sanctuary with you, I am extremely concerned about the safety and welfare of each and every one of you. As a result, I am not prepared to venture forth a date for us reconvening in-person worship at this moment. I am in conversation with the Bishop and the District Superintendent about denominational guidelines and with church leadership for what our next step will be. Soon we will share a target date, so we can all plan accordingly; yet even setting a date is arbitrary in these fluid times.
In the meantime, please stay tuned…more is coming soon. Until then, be well, stay safe, and keep the faith.
Here are a few links regarding re-opening churches for your perusal: