Token Confessions Entry 3 – Visiting a Place Where You Are “the Only One”

Imagine visiting a place where you are “the only one”. Being “the only one” is not out of the ordinary for you, because it is largely your daily experience. This is your daily experience and so reading certain non-verbal and social cues has become second nature. You have become very adept at reading a room when you are “the only one” because you’ve been doing it since before you could remember. Your intuition in these settings has been finely tuned over years of occupying spaces as “the only one”. You know when your presence is wanted or unwanted, noticed or unnoticed, familiar or a mystery, welcome or suspicious. This time is different though. It’s different because you can tell through the series of non-verbal cues, the hesitation of what to say, how to engage you, that for most in the majority you are “the first one”. The first one they are seeing, meeting, greeting, and engaging in the flesh.
 
Prior to you all of their interactions with people “like you” were limited to crossing paths. Some even admit to this. Perhaps a sporting event, a concert, or some other activity that involves going to “the city” where all kinds of people live and intersect. In the absence of proximity there has not been the opportunity to form relationship with someone “like you”. Therefore what most of those here from the majority know about people “like you” is limited to television, movies, music, history text books, and what they’ve been told by family and the community they’re from about people “like you”. You are familiar with what those sources often display and portray. You know the limitations and narrowness of those sources all too well. Those sources can often be a source of contention with your soul, your being, and the community of those “like you”. They are too often the bane of your existence, because they put people “like you” in a box. The box is too often toxic.
 
You are the first “them” or “they” that they are meeting in a space where you and them are also the same. You have both come for the same reason. So though you are “the only one”, you are also one of many. You knew this going in and you had hoped that what you had in common with everyone else would overshadow what singularly set you apart as “the only one”.
 
For some they are completely unfazed by you being “the only one” or perhaps even “the first one”. For some the fact that you are there for the same reason as them supersedes you being one of “them”. They interact engage and inquire of you the same as they do with everyone else. However, for many… for most in fact… they struggle awkwardly with the most basic of things. How to greet you. How to talk to you. What to say. Your presence as “the only one” overshadows that you are the same because amongst other things you are there for the same reason. You are a mystery that evokes an awkwardness that is not easily veiled. It’s not that they don’t like the “they” or “them” they’ve only ever watched on tv, heard on the radio or read about in history textbooks.
 
It’s as simple as they have never met one of “them” or “they” tclose enough to shake hands, and have a conversation further than ordering food from MacDonalds or paying for gas inside, because in that one city, that one time, where everyone had to prepay, because well it’s not as safe where a lot of “them” live. The fact that you aren’t from one of those places where a lot of “them” live comes as a surprise to the point that you have to keep reiterating that you aren’t from “there”. They’ve been hardwired to assume that everyone like you is from that one city, so you have to keep correcting them and reminding them that you are from somewhere else. Somewhere where you aren’t necessarily “the only one”, but you are in the minority. What makes it even more noticeable is that you have come to this place with two others who are not “one of them”, but are from where you’re from. In fact the three of you have all come together, even though you’re “the only one”. Yet invariably people you meet together, who aren’t use to seeing people “like you”, assume that you must be from that one city that has a lot of “them”, and not from the same place as the other two people you came with. Lastly there are those, just a few but enough to make an impression, that aren’t making the effort (reciprocate) to get to know you, because they already know everything they need to know about people “like you”. They have always been fine with being separate from people “like you”.
 
Your weekend at this place is mostly exhausting and draining. You imagine yourself potentially choosing to be there and how your existence in that space will just been a extension of that weekend visit. If you should choose to do life there, even for a time, you imagine you would perpetually feel exhausted and drained simply for being “the only one” and for many there you would be “the first one”. You are a month from being eighteen. Choosing here would be choosing the first place to be independent you, away from your parents and the support system you’ve had growing up. In that moment you become keenly aware that you are not ready to be, you do not want to be “the only one” here.

[At least that’s what I decided. Are you still imagining what it would’ve been like to be in my shoes? If so how did it make you feel? What would you have done? Thanks for considering and contemplating one of my memories of an experience I had as the “token black guy”.]

What Does the Flag Symbolize?: Thoughts on the NFL National Anthem Controversy and Policy

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting leave and getting away with murder.”

That is the explanation that Colin Kapernick gave to reporters after the third preseason game for the San Francisco 49ers in late August 2016. Fast forward twenty one months later after two full NFL seasons embroiled in a national anthem controversy, the owners have unanimously approved a NFL National Anthem Policy. I’ve read the statement that was given in accordance with the introduction of this new policy. I do appreciate that they acknowledged how unfortunate it was that “on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousand of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.” That being said that false perception was held and often driven by a number of NFL owners themselves.

At the end of the day the NFL owners ultimately care about the bottom line. I do not believe they really get it, and honestly I’m not convinced they really care. After the mid season closed door meetings with some of the players who had become the leaders of this movement within the NFL they concluded that they would support the foundations and charities the players were involved in within their respective communities. That solution falls short of actually addressing the actual concerns of the wider movement the players are lending their voices to within the United States of America as a whole demanding better policing in communities of color and accountability for officers who are wrongfully kill unarmed citizens. They do not care about there being a universal standard of policing and police protocol. They do not care about police officers whose recklessness and clear disregard for their training in deescalation tactics lead to unnecessary and unjust deaths. These are issues that can’t be resolved by getting behind the local Boys & Girls Club.

But ultimately this isn’t simply about the NFL not getting it or not caring. It’s about a large swath of America not getting it, or simply not caring. They do not care about the inequitable policing of black and brown bodies that can get Tamir Rice shot and killed in two seconds flat, but still armed white mass shooters can be taken into custody without incident hours after they’ve gone on a shooting rampage. They have been drip fed the lie of black inferiority, of inherent black savagery all their lives. These lies date back to the foundations of this country when Columbus discovered a resource far more valuable than the gold he was in search of. He found brown bodies, and with the authority bestowed on him by the crown and the church he sought to own them and make them work for him. If they did not comply they were killed. Thus as far as they are concerned the high profile incidences involving people of color who have been killed by police officers in recent years are just another black or brown body in a heap of millions that has been collecting for five hundred years that should have just done what their master told them to do.

It is not NFL owners who sat on the juries or grand juries who either choose to acquit or not indict Officer Yanez, Officer Wilson, Officer Pantaleo, George Zimmerman, or Officer Loehmann. It was our fellow citizens many of whom are likely NFL Fans, play fantasy football, or have a favorite local team. They are Vikings fans. They were Rams fans. They are Giants or Jets fans. They are Browns fans. Jurors decided and much of America approved.

Lost in all the anthem controversy of the past two years is the actual symbolic meaning of the stars and stripes. The American flag itself has been distorted to mean something else, something that was not originally intended. America has either forgotten or simply does not want to be beholden to the great ideals that America aspires to be and thus what the flag represents. When the colonists first marched into the battles of the Revolutionary War with the flag it was not in honor of the troops who were fighting against the crown of Great Britain whom they believed was a tyrant. They carried the flag to remind them what they were fighting for. The ideal they aspired towards as expressed in The Declaration of Independence, “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.” It represents what we aspire to be but have never fully been. The pageantry that was developed around supporting troops during war time dating back the World War II has caused us to forget what the flag was meant to signify. It was quite a convenient revision for a nation that fought a war against fascism whilst rounding up Asian Americans into internment camps and sending black men who were legally discriminated against at home across the ocean to fight for the freedom of white foreigners

Truth be told America has had a very slow and contentious march towards fulfilling that ideal for all of it’s history into the present day. By 1776 it had been nearly 130 years since the courts in Virginia ruled that John Punch “being a negro… shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere”. That of course after the Dutchman and the Scotsman who had fled with John Punch got four additional years added to their servitude. In the sixty years after the Joe Punch Decision Virginia codified a series of court decisions that created a radicalized system of slavery with the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. It effectively embedded white supremacy into law, and the other colonies quickly followed suit. Thus the Declaration of Independence was conceived under the clear auspices of white supremacy. White Supremacy in America has never fully been addressed and dismantled. Thus today we have glaring issues of racial inequality not least of which is the criminal justice system.

If there was ever a time for NFL owners to see the urgency and seriousness of what the players were kneeling for it was during the first weekend of preseason games in early August 2017. Out spoken white supremacists marched through Charlottesville Virginia and protested the removal of statues depicting rebels and traitors of America. Statues of men who believed it was their divine right to rule over men and women of color. Not on their knees, but with torches. Not with silence but with shouts that they will not be replaced. Not in their uniforms of white hoods masking their faces, but in their street clothes and their pale faces in the open. Not with a posture of submission but with gestures of assault and violent confrontation armed with anything that could be used as a weapon.Yet in the midst of weekly news stories of black people having the police called on them for doing everyday ordinary things, and bigots no longer holding their tongue, they’ve made it clear what matters most.. their bottom line of corporate sponsors and white fans who just want their football without the distractions and for the players to simply comply and give them a good game.

Token Confessions Entry 2: My Daughter Doesn’t Think She Looks Like A Princess

Many have a hard time accepting that White Supremacy exists in modern day America beyond the pockets of robe wearing hate groups, tiki torch carrying white nationalists, and other extremists who give the ideology of white supremacy agency. At it’s core the ideology of White Supremacy is not about hatred. It’s about who and what is inherently superior and therefore who and what is inherently inferior.

My seven year old daughter loves nothing more than wearing a pretty dress and being told she is beautiful. She’ll put it on underneath her bathrobe and come skipping up to me or her mother with that larger than life grin on her face, unveil the dress she has adorned herself in and ask the same question, “How do I look?”, hoping to be told she looks beautiful.

Just the other morning this routine unfolded. She first came to me in the den reading the mornings news. I paused for a moment to gaze into the eyes of my daughter and told her in my understated way, “You look beautiful”. She then proceeded to the office to present herself to her mother and ask the same question to which Emma said, “You look like a princess.” At this Isla replied…

“I can’t look like a princess mummy. Princesses don’t have brown skin like me. They have light skin like you mummy, and blonde hair like you.”

Emma was quick to not simply tell Isla that her brown skin doesn’t render her unworthy or unfit of being a princess, but to also go to google. She typed in “black princess” and scrolled through numerous images of princesses with brown skin and dark hair like Isla. One day Isla will truly be able to appreciate and understand how fortunate she is to have HER pale skinned Scottish mummy as HER mother. In the meanwhile she, freshly seven years old, has already received the message.

It is a message that no one told her. No one has had to articulate it to her. She knows little to nothing about racism nor the history of white supremacy in shaping her native land long before she was born. But she has received the message that white is right, and black is well… less than. Inferior.

My daughter’s response to being told she looks like a princess is an example of how white supremacy works in 2018.

No one told her that black is inferior.

No one told her that black isn’t beautiful.

No one told her that white skin or blonde hair is better than brown skin and thick black hair.

But simply by living in this culture and society she has received the message that whiteness is superior, and black is inferior. That white is the image of true beauty, beauty that she will never be able to attain.

No matter how extravagant the dress, it is on brown skin.

No matter how fabulous the hair is styled, it’s thick black and resting on a brown canvas.

And she has been seven years old for a month.

That is how white supremacy works in 2018.

It is so woven into the fabric of our society and culture. It was a core principle and driving factor fueling colonization and European Imperialism. Due to its central role in shaping the world for nearly six hundred years (see the Papal Bull Statement of 1452) it no longer requires personal agency to ensure its ideology, its tenets, its principles are passed on. It is a well oiled machine that has learned to adapt to new times and challenges.

In America we consistently make the mistake of thinking the Emancipation Proclamation abolished the idea of inherent white superiority. It only abolished slavery while leaving the ideology that birthed it intact. Unchecked and unquestioned it has enormous power to shape how we think without us being aware it has taken hold. Even with the recent increase in white nationalism white supremacy is most effective in and insidious in its subtle forms.

Nikolas Cruz Was the Bully: Why #Walkup is the Right Thing at the Wrong Time

The WalkUp idea started with Ryan Petty a father of one of Cruz’s victims. At a press conference he encouraged students to walk up to 14 students and 3 adults and say something nice, and get to know them, instead of walking out of school for seventeen minutes. During that Press conference he also implored state legislators to do three, things all of which echoed the sentiments of the WalkOut protestors. Enhance safety and security of schools. Second, keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk to themselves or others. Finally state leaders must improve mental health resources for at risk youth. These are the very things that many students wrote a letter to congressmen requesting during the seventeen minutes they walked out of their school in solidarity with their peers across the country.

Take the time to read up on the accounts of Nikolas Cruz. This isn’t a story of a bullied kid handing out unmitigated retribution on his tormentors and the silent bystanders. This was a kid described as having developmental issues, and impulse control issues. Students who had tried to strike up conversations reported that he only talked about guns knives and hunting. He was known for posting videos and pictures on social media of him killing animals. The behavioral issues that led to his expulsion included threatening other students and a teacher. Not a teacher who was disciplining him but trying to help him. There was such a concern about his mental state and the threat he posed that he wasn’t even allowed to bring a backpack to school.

He wasn’t a loner because he was weird or different. He was a loner because he was dangerous. Even the most accepting of us would think twice about engaging someone like that. So why are telling kids the best response to this latest school shooting is to #walkup? Even still, at his request, Nikolas and his brother moved in with a friend’s family back in November. Clearly this was a kid who was no stranger to the kindness and generosity of others. Another student interviewed after the shooting said they had been close friends until Nikolas started going after and threatening another of his friends. WalkUp has all the feels of being an anti-bully movement, which has tremendous merit when it’s not being used to redirect civil protest and become little more than victim blaming. Under these circumstances it neglects to see that Nikolas Cruz appears to be the bully long before he became a mass murderer.

I grieve for the obvious brokenness of Nikolas. Surely he was ill-equipped to navigate the loss of both his parents by the age of 18. I simply see no link to justify an anti-bullying be nice movement in response to this because that wasn’t the issue. Especially when so many adults have resorted to bullying tactics in response to the very students who have spoken out after surviving this incident. Students that knew how dangerous he was. Some of whom notified the proper authorities when he posted that he wants to be a “professional school shooter” and nothing was done. I fear WalkUp has become just another example of adults thinking they know best and not listening to young people, particularly those who were there.

Again Cruz found pleasure in torturing and killing animals, which is a clear indicator that his lack of empathy was the issue, not his peers. The same day students were protesting demanding legislative action in the same three areas Mr. Petty spoke of, the WOOFF Act was introduced on the Senate floor in response to a dog dying in an overhead bin of a plane. It was 48 hours after the incident. Next April will be twenty years since Columbine.

I’m all for people loving one another. The core sentiments and principles of “WalkUp” are things I have practiced and preached specifically to youth in seventeen years of student ministry. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand why loving one another is linked to the greatest commandment of loving God. However, extending the hand of friendship and gestures of gratitude will not change the fact that the mentally ill and unstable (an individual who is well short of responsible), can #walkup to a gun retailer and #walkout with a gun.

#Walkout Exposes Greatest Threat to the Safety of Students… Adults

Today across the country High School students will be walking out of school for seventeen minutes to honor and memorialize the seventeen people (14 students and 3 adults) killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting massacre. It is their way of showing solidarity with those whose lives were taken exactly one month ago. It is also their way of protesting against the inaction of our nation’s politicians to enact stricter gun regulations.

As often is the case in our country’s history even the most peaceful and civil form of protest is met with fierce objection and opposition. Some school faculty and administration have threatened to take severe disciplinary action against students who participate in the “National School Walkout”. Some teachers have threatened to fail any student who walks out of their class.

Once again, as we have seen all too recently in other cases, many do not grasp one of the primary functions of peaceful protest or act of civil disobedience. One of the primary functions they serve is to expose the core character of those in power in authority. Those in power and authority are given an opportunity to demonstrate whether they will listen or silence, whether they will apprehend or guide, whether they are tyrants or servants.

Disheartening is a good way to describe the response of some adults in the lead up to this day. Disagreeing with the goals of the movement is one thing. Demonizing students who simply do not want to see another mass shooting in any school is vile and abhorrent behavior, but it is not out of the norm. Most days of the year a popular pass time amongst many adults is shaming teenagers for being self-centered, always on their phones and tablets, obsessed with curating their social media image, addicted to video games, and generally lazy and apathetic towards anything that truly matters. Now that they actually want to do something that shows solidarity with others their pawns actors and just plain spoiled uninformed brats.

If nothing else watching the way many adults have responded so toxically to the idea of students participating in a peaceful civil protest has served as a reminder of why I worked with teenagers for (ironically) 17 years.

I have lost count of how many times I was declared a saint for working with teenagers. Most of the time I found it sad in what it said they thought about teenagers. So many people couldn’t imagine spending so much time investing in students. There are a number of reasons I did it and did it for that long. So many adults think so little of them. I wanted them to know they are loved and accepted as they are while facilitating a community of their peers and other adults where they could flourish and grow. It is the same gift I was given by adults who cared for me and my peers when I was a teenager. It is the gift that so many of my peers were not given, and the absence and void it left still shows in many of them as adults.

Don’t let the divisiveness of the gun debate distract you from the point that students just want to feel safe. Right now they don’t feel safe. School shootings is one thing. The steady barrage of insults, shaming, dehumanizing and general apathy they receive from adults, even when the gun debate has simmered down, needs to stop. A gunman can taking their life is one thing. Adults decimating their soul is another.

Token Confessions Entry 1 – On This the Six Year Anniversary of the Murder of Trayvon Martin

Six years ago today Trayvon Martin was murdered on his way home from the convenience store. His death and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman was the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Today I am reflecting on the past six years of this social movement against anti-Black racism in light of the present gun debate we are having.

Dylan Roof and Nikolas Cruz received more restraint and strict adherence to procedural protocol after killing 26 people between the two of them than…

Tamir Rice
Philando Castile
Alton Sterling
John Crawford III

In all four of those cases (two involving toy guns) I don’t recall any pro-gun advocates or the NRA being alarmed at how quickly these individuals were killed due to them possessing a firearm, and every intermediate step of de-escalation was bypassed in favor of just shooting and killing the individual. What about their…’

Gun Rights

Black victims had their whole lives excavated in order to find cause for victim blaming. Trayvon Martin? Smoked weed, Not just any weed but allegedly chemically enhanced weed that made him aggressive. Moreover, he had recently been suspended from school. Tamir Rice was “large for his age”, and “shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun at a park”, in a city where white men flaunted their right to open carry inside of Target. Mike Brown was equated to wrestling legend Hulk Hogan or a demon, plus he had just stolen cigarillos. Philando should have just done what the officer asked. Eric Garner shouldn’t have questioned why they were messing with him over selling loose cigarettes. Nikolas Cruz and Dylan Roof on the other hand were simply…

Troubled
Suffering from Mental Illness

I’m grateful that the survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas are being given a national platform to air their grievances and concerns instead of tanks, militarized riot police, and tear gas. Moreover, I doubt high schoolers across the country will be met with much more than a suspension if they stage walk outs from school. I wish the same would have opportunity for constructive dialogue before lawmakers would have been given to the teenagers and citizens of…

Baltimore
Ferguson

I agree that there needs to be more resources education and awareness on mental illness. If for no other reason so we can make a distinction between mental illness and toxic unresolved anger that grows and festers if left in isolation. I wish there was a similar push for education of…

Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery not white supremacy
Generational Poverty
The High School to Prison Pipeline
The failure of the Mass Incarceration System

And how all those things have negatively affected communities of color.

I believe most gun owners are responsible law-abiding and knowledgeable about the rights afforded them under the Second Amendment. I understand their suspicion of a slippery slope that would lead to the dismantling of their rights under the second amendment. US prison population went from 350K to over 2 mil. A disproportionate amount of them black and brown largely because of the dismantling of the…

4th Amendment
14th Amendment

But I don’t think they have to worry too much even if gun laws became a little more strict. The origins of the Second Amendment was to defend against the possible invasion of the British trying to take back the continent, and against possible insurrection of the indigenous people’s of America and West African slaves. That’s why there were so many laws prohibiting free black men from bearing arms, because the Second Amendment functionally only defended the right to bear arms for…

Land Owners (colonizers)
White Men

Over 20 million Native Americans were killed leaving only a remnant left to live on reservations, slavery was reshaped into the mass incarceration system whilst America re-segregated itself, and the Brits are welcome as tourists and green card-carrying expats. It’s no wonder the gun debate is so contentious amongst, white America because the only ones they have left to bear arms against is…

One Another

When the murderer is Muslim, America responds with a travel ban. When the murderer is Hispanic, America responds with tougher immigration laws (for those seeking to cross our southern borders) and wants to build a wall. When the murderer is Black, America responds with more police and prisons. When the murderer is White, America responds with…

Thoughts and prayers

It’s Time | Women in Church

C3ED8C30-6BCF-40A0-9424-C87ADE9A5E5DNote from the author: I wrote this post a year ago for a church blog but we decided under the circumstances that it would be best for the women to have the voice exclusively. Hear we are a year later with the Harvey Weinstein revelations and the trending of #MeToo on social media, and I thought it might be a good time to share this on my own blog site.

 

We have had nearly a week to process and digest the very disturbing viral video of Donald Trump describing how he knowingly and intentionally makes unwanted sexual advances against women with impunity. To say that it has triggered massive amounts of trauma developed from lived experiences of women is an understatement. The amount of energy being expended by he and others to defend what he said, or diminish his shocking confession to little more than lewd words, is confounding. All leading to the virtual dam of silence cracking at its foundation as women are telling their stories of unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment assault and rape. History may look back on the release of that video, and see it as a tipping point in so many realms of American society. Hopefully one of the areas of our society in which it will serve as a tipping point and catalyst for long overdue change is the church.

There is so much one could say about the fact that Donald Trump has received not simply endorsements, but moral imperatives from prominent Evangelical Christian leaders and thinkers to Christians to vote for Trump (Jerry Falwell Jr., and James Dobson among them). In essence they are saying, “If you don’t vote for Trump you are sinning against God.” Some have seemingly come to their senses and issued a wholesale revoking of their endorsement of him (Wayne Grudem).

However, I believe this all says less about Trump, and less about the decline of the Religious Right, than it does something else far more significant and in need of change. I believe the past five days says so much more on how we are long over due for women to have a more prominent role, and voice in the local church and evangelical organizations. It is long past time that women truly share in the leadership and authority in the local church and evangelical organizations. It is time for the ceiling of children and women’s ministry and the mission field be removed. It is time for more churches to appoint female deacons and elders. It is time for women to be given the chance to be executive, lead and even teaching pastors.

For too long the church has demeaned the full imago dei of women because Eve listened to the serpent.

For too long we’ve been ignoring the biblical narratives of God elevating women alongside and even in front of men, not simply because there was a void of male leadership but because they were chosen by God and they were the most qualified.

For too long we’ve given women the title of director instead of pastor in fear of offending the old guard.

For too long we’ve stifled the radicalness of Jesus affirming Mary’s choice to shun the kitchen in favor of sitting at the feet of Jesus, not as some star struck groupie but as a disciple. If Jesus believed Mary could learn to do what he does, then what is stopping us from letting them do what he does (Luke 10.38-42)? In reality it shouldn’t even be an issue of giving them permission. If not are we then guilty of ignoring what Jesus says to Martha, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” If Paul believed that a new expansive understanding of how we are to see ourselves in light of the work of Christ included a loosening of conventional gender roles, “there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3.28) have we crafted a subversive gospel message for women to get them saved and keep them in their place?

I don’t say all these things and pose all these questions to sound controversial. I say them because I’m convinced that we weren’t meant to be steeped in centuries long marginalization of women in the name of patriarchy in which the church has been complicit and often taken the lead. Then it wouldn’t be so hard for us in the church to know how to respond to Trump and those who defend his demeaning of women because women who lead alongside men in the church would be right at the forefront of our response (which is why this wasn’t posted when it was originally written because we wanted the reply of women at the forefront). Their voices would be heard from the nursery and from the pulpit. Their unique stories and lived experiences would be shared in first person before communities of men and women of all ages together. It’s not too late though for us to finally begin to model in the church what Paul says in Ephesians of submitting to one another in Christ. But this I am certain, it is long past time for it to happen.