Brothers in Conversation about race… ( Part 2)

What does it mean to be an (a)merican? It appears that to be an (a)merican, one has to identify with a culture plagued with greed, that infects the lives of all people. It is hard to talk about race without seeing the influence of  greed. An (a)merica’s greed makes it hard for real conversations about race to be effective. As Walter denotes  in Part 1 ,we know there is a problem but it is greed and selfishness that hinders progress. Honestly, it would call for a relinquishing of power in many forms for reconciliation to “stick.” Racism is too complex of an institution and I am not sure if we have mastered the language of reconciliation well enough to provide a solid solution.

The Beautiful Ugly of Racism

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about racism. The inventiveness and genius of the system of racism is ever unfolding. It mutates and redevelops itself as people become more cognizant of its terror. Racism is one of the most complicated terrains I have ever had to navigate through in my life. It hurts and it frustrates in sacred places that society refuses to allow grief. Racism redefines love while reproducing hate. It dismantles any notion of reconciliation because it refuses to admit that there was a separation in the first place.

Racism has become so embedded in the fabric and essence of (a)merica that it now functions as patriotism.

Thus, objection to racist behavior makes one anti-(a)merican and a terrorist. The lived perception is that black people should consider it a privilege to be in (a)merica and willing to endure racism because of this privilege. It would make the presumption that the privilege of being in (a)merica outweighs any racism projected at black, brown and red people.

The beautiful ugly of racism is so manipulative that it fails to adjust its transformative lens, even when it encounters God. This produces a hermeneutic of oppression that discerns racism as media hype with blatant disregard for the “other.” This type of understanding of God soothes the soul of the racist rather than unhinging the lies that have prevailed in a colorblind and passive (a)merica.

A Christian that fails to interpret and oppose racism, in a society, can never be trusted to effectively transmit the Gospel to all.

Drew Hart writes in Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church views Racism,

“Dominant groups are always in danger of thinking that their perspective is synonymous with God’s perspective.”

This failure to critique and question one’s personal thinking stifles the opportunity to be sensitive to the needs of the other. In such a space, racism is acknowledged as adiaphora that is only significant to the black church as an illegitimate excuse to hate whiteness. Racism is a nonessential issue that brings division. Interestingly, in such spaces, racism appears to be the only thing that can be changed, transformed or resolved without any form of deliberation.

It is this type of privilege that embodies racism: this privilege to ignore the trauma that has become the aftermath. Racism provides the dominant culture with free passes to criticize without be criticized. It “thrives of colorblindness, while simultaneously engaging in highly racialized practices,” writes Drew Hart.

My good friend Martin Quick posed a question to me:

I know God does not get glory in racism from Christians, but…how do we respond to racism in a way in which God gets the glory?

I am not sure how to answer that question properly. The privilege that comes with racism presses the black, brown, and red people in (a)merica to be the ones that sacrifice the most. We are being asked to fix a broken system that will allow the people in power, to stay in power, but in some minimal space we obtain some level of equality. That is not justice but lunacy being ambushed by absurdity. I am left exploring that question but he answers with a quote from Dr. Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango:

Sometimes the call to and celebration of unity frightens me. I would rather have justice but maybe one leads to the other but I do not know…

We still wrestle…

Amos 6 by Shea Berbaum

shea-bearbaumShea Berbaum

Amos 6,

1 Tim 6:6-19

Luke 16:19-31



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.


On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, I meet with a group of boys that live near my teaching parish church, St. James, in Lexington. A couple of weeks ago, the vicar and I decided to play a game with the boys to work on teambuilding and communication. We had the five boys line up at this one spot in the hallway and told them that we would give them five dollars each if all of them could travel from one end of the hallway to the other, using pieces of paper like stepping stones because now, the floor was lava. They could not slide on the paper like snow shoes, and if their foot came off of a piece of paper, I would snatch it up. Naturally it took the boys a while to figure out a working strategy, but eventually they started making their way down the hallway and one of them crossed the line, making it to the other side. Their strategy involved having two people go across at a time; one placing the papers on the floor to walk on, the other picking up papers that had already been used so that I wouldn’t take them away. When the first kid made it across, his partner was left with a choice. Cross the line now, or go back for his friends. He chose to cross the line, taking all the papers with him. So, they lost. They had forgotten their friends on the other side, being content to finish without them.

This is what Amos is talking about in our text for today. Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa, is sent by God to prophesy to the kingdom of Israel because they have forgotten their neighbors and were not only content to live without them, but were  oppressing them for their own personal gain. God is a God of justice, and as God’s people they should know better. Instead of grieving for their neighbors who have been left behind, they “lie on beds of ivory, and stretch themselves out on couches. They eat lamb and veal, and sing, and drink wine by the bowl full.” So God sends them into exile.

Amos’ prophetic words speak to us, here, now despite their being written 2,776 years ago. We have heard this same theme in our country not long ago in Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ Letter from Birmingham Jail written in 1963. King writes,

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dr. King urged us 53 years ago not to forget our friends on the other side, and be content to live without them.

I am convicted by the words of Amos and Dr. King. For the past 400 years our country has been content to live without and even make our living off of our brothers and sisters. Slaves built our houses and grew our crops. After a civil war that ended slavery, half of the country created laws that legally oppressed African Americans and robbed them of their constitutional rights. After the battle for Civil Rights, we declared a War on Drugs that has led to the mass incarceration of the poor and people of color. Black men are dying on our streets every day while we stretch ourselves out on couches, sing songs, drink wine by the bowl full and declare that “All lives matter.” When we see a sports star take a stand for justice by refusing to stand for our anthem, we participate in that same lukewarm acceptance that Dr. King write about. We do not grieve for the brothers and sisters that have been left behind, we are content to live without them.

But maybe that is not right. In Luke chapter 4 Jesus quotes Isaiah saying:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

If this is the goal, the end of the game, maybe it is us, we who have forgotten the plight of our brothers and sisters, and we who were content to live without them, we who made our way across the lava floor on pieces of paper, taking them with us as we crossed the finish line… we have been left behind. This is the scene we are given by Jesus in today’s parable. Lazarus, a poor man, sick broken, battered and dying is welcomed to the bosom of Abraham himself while the Rich Man is condemned to torment. Even in death, the rich man cannot see the point of the game. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to fetch some water for him. Abraham responds, “I’m sorry. I can’t. Lazarus, I mean

Michael Brown,

Eric Garner

Freddy Gray,

I mean Fernando Castille

I mean Sandra Bland,

No, I’m sorry,

Terrence Cutcher

Lazarus is at rest here with me. And besides You’re all the way at the other end of the hallway and you took your papers with you.

The Rich man still doesn’t get it. “Send that boy Lazarus to my kin so they he can warn them what it’s like over here on the other side. Abraham says, they have Moses, Amos, and all of the prophets. Let them listen to these. And how many more do we have Church? We have the words of Jesus Christ himself. We have Paul and Timothy and Martin Luther! We have Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B DuBois, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, James Cone, Malcom X and Martin Luther King. And yet we still stretch ourselves out on couches, sing songs, drink wine by the bowl full and forget our friends on the other side, content to live without them.

And yet, despite all of this, God keeps God’s promises. God first promised Abraham and all his descendants that he would be their God and that they would be his people forever, period. At the end of Amos chapter 9, God remembers God’s promise:

I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,

And they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;

They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,

And they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

I will plant them on their land,

And they shall never again be uprooted

Out of the land that I have given them.

In baptism God has entered us into that same promise. The water that covered our heads to cleanse our hearts cannot be unpoured. That oil cross marked on that baby’s head can not be rubbed off. That seal of the cross of Christ is for forever. The promise made to Abraham and his descendants is made to us. God will be our God, and we will be God’s people.

We confess every Sunday that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have not loved God with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We ask God, for the sake of his son, Jesus Christ, to forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in God’s will, and walk in God’s ways, to the glory of God’s holy name. We hear that God forgives us, and has promised to send us his own spirit that will bear fruit in us. Fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. God will not forget us on the other side of the hallway. God is never content to live without us. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Racism is Exhausting…

I woke up this morning as I have for the past two weeks…tired. I have been getting enough sleep, using my CPAP machine and the whole nine but every day I am tired. But, this morning I began to think about what God calls us to do. I began to replay my life and the events in my life that have brought me to this place. While mediating and thinking through these events in my life, I began to unearth how racism has played such a significant part of my life. There is not one day that I live that racism has not impacted me –for all intense purposes “racism has become a god.” It has the sovereign hold upon America. It is so woven into the fabric of society that many do not even recognize it.  Even the well-meaning folks practice racism but remain oblivious to its devices because it is so normal. Folks are guided and led by racism in their entire lives. It fuels them to hate; it forces them to destroy. Racism is their god.

Racism produces intricate, invisible wounds that pillage the beauty of the soul and pimps out hate. It robs me of the ability to identifying joy though I may be in the midst of it. It is an abomination of humanity.

America cannot afford to be a place where racism does not exist. It understands that many of the laws were unjust and built around the concepts of racisms. When such things are in place where do people who bear the blow of racism turn? Well, we have to turn back to the very system that oppressed us in the first place for help. When I have to seek help from the people and systems producing racism, then racism becomes a despicable enterprise that profits off hate.

I am tired. I am tired of saying that Black Lives Matter. I am tired making people feel safe because I am black. I am tired of trying to spare folks feelings because they don’t like the fact that I protest against racism. I am tired of being followed by police. I am tired of being harasses by police. I am tired of being overlooked for jobs. I am tired of being put in jail. I am tired of being accused. I am tired of being told I am wrong because that is not how it should be done. I am tired of feeling unsafe. I am tired of telling my children to be careful around those that should protect and serve.  

It gets exhausting trying to convince people of the obvious…If something matters then you would not get angry when others say that it does. When dissent is present for proclaiming something matters that may equate to the fact that you do not think it does.

Words from Fredrick Robinson

fredrick robinson

Premature talks of reconciliation is a hustle. Indeed, the notion that we can have racial reconciliation before we have justice is illusory. Yes, we can worship and work together, get married, develop friendships, live in the same neighborhoods, love each other individually, and come together to address issues of police brutality, racism and injustice (and we should)—but none of that is RECONCILIATION at a macro level. Genuine reconciliation is IMPOSSIBLE as long as white supremacy is on the throne. As long as black and brown bodies are denigrated and marginalized economically, socially, and politically there can be no reconciliation except of the cheap, self-centered kind. Folks who want to rush to reconciliation do so because they are uncomfortable feeling, seeing and witnessing the anger of the oppressed. They must quiet that righteous rage and quickly assure oppressed people that everything is going to be alright because such anger and vivid examples of injustice threaten their tidy, neat Americanized ideology and expose it as a FRAUD. We must come to grips with the fact that the way America is organized is a sham and that much of our theology aids and abets it. Reconciliation that preserves the privilege of whites is no reconciliation at all.