Remarks for the Vigil for Racial Justice, Peace and Reconciliation

Current Affairs / Reconciliation

This evening the Center for Reconciliation held an online candlelight vigil. As board chair I made the opening remarks:

On behalf of the staff and the board of the CfR, I welcome all of you who have joined us for this time of prayer and silent vigil, on this the Eve of Juneteenth, the anniversary of Emancipation and the “effective” end of slavery in the United States, and in the week when we mark the fifth anniversary of the slaughter of innocent people at a Bible Study at Mother AME in Charleston. We are gathered from across the state and around the country to make a witness that our nation still has not lived up to what it claims about itself. All people are not equal in the United States. Black lives matter and the majority in this country have not behaved as if they do. They have not been equal from this nation’s founding and are not equal in the 21st century. We gather to grieve this, we gather to call for change, we gather this evening to commit ourselves to the work of making this nation a more perfect union, fully lamenting how much needs to be done, and how deeply hurtful our history is and has been to the people pushed to the margins by people like me and the communities that formed me.

In my religious tradition, which depends so much on the unbroken witness of the Jewish teachers and prophets, there is the practice of lament. There are times in human experience when we simply despair. Today, in this moment, we despair of a lack of justice, a lack of will to make effective change, and of lives lost to the forces which have corrupted us and are destroying us. We lament, joining our tears with those who have come before us, and those who will in all likelihood come after us. We lament that children are turned against one another by a lie that some are more valuable than others in human eyes. We lament that people die and are dying today because of our desire to have power over others, because of greed and fear and unbridled pride. And yet, I believe though that God has the power and does act to collect our tears, to wash us and renew us through them, and by lament and contrition we can be transformed.

And maybe this, throwing ourselves at God’s feet, repenting of the evil we have done, and which has been done on our behalf, is the most effective response in this moment to the battles that are being waged on the streets of our cities and in our capitals across the world today.

Tonight, the Center for Reconciliation, a program of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island has invited a diverse group of leaders to address us all. We will hear from them and be inspired by them. We will keep silence for 8 min and 46 seconds, a time that is now seared into our collective conscience, the time that passed as George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. We will name the victims of racism and its diabolic consequences and keep those names and their memory before us. We will lament and beseech God, our Higher Power, to move mightily for deliverance of the oppressed, and to change the hearts of stone that are causing sin and death.

The Prophets vs the Cognitive Distorters

Current Affairs

Anne Applebaum, writing in The Atlantic traces how institutions turn aside from one set of values and take up another. It has to do with small changes to the way we perceive what is acceptable behavior, a willingness to go along with a group rather than rocking the boat.

Applebaum describes how this worked in East Germany during the Soviet Occupation:

Why Do Republican Leaders Continue to Enable Trump? – The Atlantic:

In the 1950s, when an insect known as the Colorado potato beetle appeared in Eastern European potato fields, Soviet-backed governments in the region triumphantly claimed that it had been dropped from the sky by American pilots, as a deliberate form of biological sabotage. Posters featuring vicious red-white-and-blue beetles went up all across Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia. No one really believed the charge, including the people making it, as archives have subsequently shown. But that didn’t matter. The point of the posters was not to convince people of a falsehood. The point was to demonstrate the party’s power to proclaim and promulgate a falsehood. Sometimes the point isn’t to make people believe a lie—it’s to make people fear the liar.

These kinds of lies also have a way of building on one another. It takes time to persuade people to abandon their existing value systems. The process usually begins slowly, with small changes. Social scientists who have studied the erosion of values and the growth of corruption inside companies have found, for example, that “people are more likely to accept the unethical behavior of others if the behavior develops gradually (along a slippery slope) rather than occurring abruptly,” according to a 2009 article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. This happens, in part, because most people have a built-in vision of themselves as moral and honest, and that self-image is resistant to change. Once certain behaviors become “normal,” then people stop seeing them as wrong.

She then applies this to the way that the Republican establishment gave turned away from the sorts of things they had lobbied for, small government, limited change, no deficit spending, etc to the present attitudes.

But this has more applications than political science or the current political crisis in America. It’s true in schools, churches and denominations, non-profits, for-profit corporations, fraternal organizations, etc.

The disappointing thing here is that it’s well understood how to pollute a culture yet it’s rarely resisted effectively. 

The word prophet means “the one who sees what is coming”. Perhaps if we listened to the words of the prophets more closely, both the historical prophets and the contemporary ones (and paid less attention to the “court prophets” who support an unjust society) we’d be able to more regularly resist those who would turn us to their purpose.

Statement from the Center for Reconciliation

Current Affairs / Reconciliation

The Center for Reconciliation celebrates the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in all their fullness, beauty,  and complexity, along with all those murdered by white supremacy. We deeply grieve their loss, and we deeply grieve the insidious  persistence of racism and racial violence throughout the fabric of American law, culture, and society. We cannot bring them back from the dead and restore them to their families and friends, but we can raise our voices. 
With this in mind, we call for a lived, present-day commitment to full equality, justice, and love for everyone, including advocacy for the  passage and implementation of anti-racist policies and laws. With full equality, justice, and love, we believe, will come true reconciliation of the human family. To create that world, we must peacefully transform this one, and we stand proudly and immovably  alongside all those working to do so.  
Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd deserve to be honored and mourned as the unique and utterly irreplaceable individuals they were. Their deaths, however, fit into a much greater and deeply disturbing pattern—the pattern, created by the  foundational American institution of race-based chattel slavery, of treating Black lives and Black bodies as criminal, disposable, and  outside of the human family. 
We also feel compelled to address and condemn what occurred in an Audubon-protected area in New York’s Central Park this past week. Two unrelated people—a black man, Christian Cooper, and Amy Cooper, a  white woman—were involved. Thankfully their interactions did not result in anyone’s direct involvement with law enforcement, or worse, with anyone’s death. However, the words and actions of Ms. Cooper of (1) telling Mr. Cooper she was going to call the police on him and (2) actually calling the police and  falsely claiming that he threatened her, speaks volumes to an implicit belief or manifestation of her “white  privilege.”  
Our country has witnessed too many reports of Black men being falsely accused of committing crimes by white people of all genders for a host of unknown reasons. Yet to blame the race and gender of the true victims, Black men, is rooted in a mindset that accepts a fictional narrative of a predisposition to commit crimes. 
Some may find comfort in viewing America as propelled by a quest for freedom for all, from the early days of religious liberty and  onward through the realization of societal, political and economic freedoms. Yet, as history demonstrates, this discourse has existed  throughout the centuries alongside brutal forms of repression, inequity and social dominance rooted in racism.
This pattern has  continually taken on new legal and extralegal forms, including lynching, the laws of the Jim Crow era, de jure and  de facto segregation, and our current crises of mass incarceration of and police brutality against people of color. While the tireless, dangerous, and often unacknowledged work of countless brave individuals has led to progress from both a process and a policy perspective, our country’s failure to honestly address and have a results-driven conversation about racism and racial violence continues to disrupt our realization of a more just and free society.  
We call for a profound recognition of the history and many legacies of race-based slavery—including these deaths—by everyone.  Racially motivated, systemic, and institutional murder and brutality cannot be tolerated, and must be acknowledged and confronted…now. 
The Center for Reconciliation Board and Staff
Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely, chair

Iman Farid Ansari
The Rev. Dr. David A. Ames, vice chair pro tem
The Rev. Patrick Campbell
Edward C. Clifton, Associate Justice (Ret.)
James DeWolf Perry
The Rev. Nathan Humphrey
Ferdinand Jones, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus,  Brown University
Rabbi Sarah E. Mack
Robert P. Naparstek, MD, FACOEM
Joe Wilson, Jr.
Debra Sharpe, Executive Director 
Julia Renaud, Exhibition Manager & Curator

Posted online here.

The Sacramental Interpretation of Scripture & the Renewal of the Church — Earth and Altar

Blogging / Religion

There’s a reconnection with Holy Scripture during this time of quarantine. People are joining to read the Office on Sundays, and clergy and lay people are gathering online to read the Daily Office in record numbers. All that scripture needs to have some sort of interpretive framework.

James Stambaugh, writing on the site “Earth and Altar” delivers. He sets out a proper Barthian style hermeneutic and grounds it in the historical method of interpretation that goes back to the very earliest days of the Church.

There’s a full meal of teaching here – and this paragraph is just a taste:

The Sacramental Interpretation of Scripture & the Renewal of the Church — Earth and Altar:

What we lack is an emphasis on the spiritual food of Scripture.  For too long we have treated Scripture as an archeological dig; an academic exercise that has little or nothing to do with spiritual reality.  Historical-critical dalliances sometimes function as padding to soften any moral claims Scripture makes on us by finding a convenient loophole in the “original intent” of the author or the “context” of the original audience.  It’s like wrapping the Sword of Truth in a pool noodle so no one gets hurt.  In this attempt to buffer ourselves from the discomfort and conviction of reading Scripture seriously, we also buffer ourselves from its healing balm and sacramental power.  For Scripture to nourish us sacramentally we must acknowledge its spiritual claim on us.  This entails recovering a spiritual, sacramental way of reading Scripture that opens us to the experience of God’s grace.  A sacramental reading understands the words of Scripture as outward and visible signs that are transformed by the Holy Spirit to be inward and spiritual grace for us.  The words of God and God’s people recorded in Scripture are sacramentally transformed into the Word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).

Go check out the whole article. When you read the office today, or recite the psalter, see if you can find Jesus in the readings. See if you can find a spiritual insight for you today as well as a greater general meaning as well. Reading this way transforms your engagement with scripture. I speak from my own experience here.

Off ‘ya go! 

Bad theology has turned deadly

Current Affairs / Reconciliation

There are consequences when Christian people try to make accommodation with political power that coerces compliance. In our country right now those consequences are killing black people.

In a difficult to read, but profoundly prophetic piece, William Lamar explains what is happening and lays the blame at the feet of the white evangelical Christians.

William H. Lamar IV: It’s not just the coronavirus — bad theology is killing us | Faith and Leadership:

Political systems require a theological system. Constantine glommed onto Christianity to strengthen Rome. The French, British and Dutch empires all used the signs and symbols of Christianity to plunder and to pillage. Norman Vincent Peale and Billy Graham were largely quiescent in the face of American warmongering abroad and racialized violence at home. (Integrating revivals is hardly enough.)

From what I can see, their purpose was access to power, not its conversion to the ways of Jesus. Even Vladimir Putin deploys the deep, symbolic well of Russian Orthodoxy to strengthen his dictatorial machinations.

The political order that presides over the United States would fall overnight if white evangelicals withdrew their support. But they will not.

The Center for Reconciliation here in Providence, a ministry of the Diocese of Rhode Island is working on responses to the killing of George Floyd and the resulting civil turmoil. There’s much hard work to be done. But it really has to start with a whole lot of us repenting of bad theology and its consequences.