Does Resurrection Got a Ghetto?

It ain’t right but it’s long overdue
We can’t have peace til the n*gg*z get a piece too
I want G’s so you label me a criminal
And if I die, I wonder if heaven got a ghetto

Following the unjust Rodney King verdict and subsequent riots, Tupac Shakur wrote this song that tackled issues dear to many folks at the time, from consumptive capitalism in a land of extreme poverty and extreme wealth to the long historical theft and looting of Black bodies and their resources.

Shakur seems to agree that the sense of ‘justice’ carried out by the riots was not right and destructive, but then he lets his mind wander to another sphere where justice and peace are supposed to reign. He wonders if Black, poor Americans will have a place within this kingdom, or be tossed out there as they have been in the US as well. What color will heaven be, or will all the people of color be subject to the corner, rationed off, denied adequate food, brutalized by the police – made invisible.

White Jesus in White Heaven

White Jesus in White Heaven

 

Here on Earth, tell me what’s a black life worth…
Ask Rodney, LaTasha, and many more
It’s been goin on for years, there’s plenty more
When they ask me, when will the violence cease?
When your troops stop shootin n*gg*z down in the street

I thought about these lyrics more as I consider the losses of life Chicago bears every Spring, when our gangs come out of hiding, when violence paid unto many communities is seen in body tallies. Our news reports on numbers of homicides, most concentrated in poor black and brown neighborhoods like Garfield Park, Lawndale, Englewood, Back of the Yards, and Humboldt Park – very neighborhoods they closed our schools in – but doesn’t include their lives.  The only family they have are reactionary shots. The white and wealthy have obituaries and tributes. Black victims of violence and death are memorialized as “Yet another tragic murder” – as if more of the same.

What will await them in the next life? Will heaven be a continuation: Streets of gold for some; slums and abandoned buildings for others?

Because ghettos are just ghettos. And those who live in them are points on a map to let White middle class people know where the violence is happening and remind them that it’s contained. It’s not coming to their neighborhoods. Comparisons of Chicago to war zones do come. Calls for the military to occupy black and brown neighborhoods do as well. Reinvesting in these neighborhoods, allowing economic opportunity to be resurrected, however, is not an option. Spring is in the air, but when it comes to communities of color in Chicago, White people only think of death.

Even on Easter Sunday.

Oh, Death, be not proud

Death, where is your sting?

The Cross and States of Denial

Content Warning for discussions about DV & erasure.

What do we know about the cross, about suffering, about a God who chose to side with the oppressed and was executed for it? What do we choose to un-know about suffering, about the oppression of black American men, rounded up, imprisoned for petty crimes, denied opportunity, released, denied opportunity, rounded up again? What do we know of women trapped in domestic violence situations and encouraged to stay there by economic, social, and physical forces? What do we know of homosexual, bisexual, or trans runaway teens, violently not welcomed at home, violently not welcomed not at home. What do we know about and yet un-know about how people with learning or cognitive disabilities are scorned, mistreated, abused, robbed?

What do we know of hungry children in a land of plenty, or hungry communities that we extract resources from? For here, we debate over how much food they can eat and in others we talk about our generosity in sponsoring little black and brown individual children, as if we are being magnanimous in either approach when we should talk about restoring to the communities what we have robbed them of, both domestically and abroad.

 

How can Christians contend to understand the suffering of Jesus and yet tell sufferers – either through silence, policies, or through rhetoric and guilt – of all stripes that they need to be content where they are. That their lives are not as important as our comfort.

The claim that we really know where all the black men have gone may inspire considerable doubt. If we know, why do we feign ignorance ? Could it be that most people really don’t know? Is it possible that the roundup, lockdown, and exclusion of black men en masse from the body politic has occurred largely unnoticed? The answer is yes and no.

Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring. Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important book on the subject, States of Denial. The book examines how individuals and institutions—victims, perpetrators, and bystanders—know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They see only what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has been true about slavery, genocide , torture, and every form of systemic oppression.

Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though uncomfortable, truth. Many people “know” and “not-know” the truth about human suffering at the same time. In his words, “Denial may be neither a matter of telling the truth nor intentionally telling a lie. There seem to be states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and don’t know at the same time.”

Today, most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration. For more than three decades, images of black men in handcuffs have been a regular staple of the evening news. We know that large numbers of black men have been locked in cages. In fact, it is precisely because we know that black and brown people are far more likely to be imprisoned that we, as a nation, have not cared too much about it. We tell ourselves they “deserve” their fate, even though we know— and don’t know— that whites are just as likely to commit many crimes, especially drug crimes. We know that people released from prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet we claim not to know that an undercaste exists . We know and we don’t know at the same time.
~ Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, pp. 181-182*

Today we remember a man who rendered unto the poor and marginalized what belongs to the poor and marginalized, one who chose to side with the oppressed against the oppressors. Today, Christians, we dip our bread in the bitter herbs and remember – we know.

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*This quote lifted whole from the comments section on Corey Robin’s blog on Clarence Thomas and Lacanian Silence 

Prosperity & Gospel

Some thoughts about Prosperity Gospel preachers within context of trends I’ve noticed of other Christians – primarily White ones – speaking against them:

  1. The theology of the Prosperity Gospel is one of mammon. So, there, I said it. It worships wealth and accumulations. The God of the Homeless Jesus is replaced by the God of materialistic consumption.
  2. But so is the typical Western, First World Church. The typical white church of means may not be so bold about it, but that’s because they already have the materials and consumption. They don’t talk about it because they’re good in stasis. Many of the loudest critics of the PG preachers themselves already live in abundance that many of the audience members.
  3. Poor people are allowed to have dreams, too. And here’s the gist: We live and breathe the air of capitalist consumerism. This is what we are taught from birth so why are we surprised when poor black and Latino people also find solace in this? Sometimes, hope is all we have, and a drive to bigger and better things energizes those who have felt trampled all our lives. So we blame materialistic rap for this – but we never blame the Capitalist Consumerist Christian Culture that stomps out the poor in the first place. Sometimes, hope is just a survival technique.
  4. We don’t interrogate the White Supremacy narrative that white people get to have the finer things, but get upset when black and brown people desire to have good things.
  5. I think I’d rather go to a church that values and speaks from a position of familiarity with the poor and oppressed than to go to a church that ignores them when it doesn’t look down with disdain on them. Even if that first church has the theology wrong – at least I know I’m where Christ is.
pennybagsandburns

Well, to some it may be a disadvantage…

I’m a strong believer in Christian socialism as an end goal. Every person, being made in the image of God (ie, having a spark of the divine – we are all made out of stars and dust as it were) and being of infinite worth and value should be treated as such – having invaluable, immeasurable worth. I believe we should all prosper. But not in materialistic aspects. Not according to the disposable things and trinckets of Consumer Capitalist Culture. Things like flatter TVs and bigger houses and fancier cars of nicer clothes don’t add any value to our lives. They were made yesterday, worn today, tossed tomorrow. That is a waste of good resources and energy for something that will spend hundreds of years on a trash heap, eating up our scenery and poisoning our air and water for a few minutes of vapid pleasure.

But that a human race can prosper due to adequate housing, meaningful work, fresh food, and good health care coverage is, indeed, good news.

White Christian Indifference in the Age of Black Lynchings

It is frustrating that the White American church – particularly Evangelicalism and post-Evangelicalism – is silent about racial injustice at home. Not just in sermon topics, but particularly in forward-leaning post-Evangelical blogs. The spectre of racism is banished in favor of Christian Celebrity Culture and a very specific form Purity Culture (from a largely White, Middle Class perspective – often ignoring how the same culture affects or views the bodies of black and brown women, for instance). Homophobia is often brought up, but in a pretty narrow category – that of marriage between (usually white, usually cisgender) same sex partners. Other intersections and violences are largely ignored.

I wrote two articles last week about Michael Dunn’s mistrial – or should I say Jordan David‘s mistrial? Because, let’s face it, 21st Century White liberalism is similar to its forbearer, 19th Century White liberalism – a philosophy that believes in the inherent goodness of people and that education can truly change people from bad and barbaric to enlightened and civilized. This is a problem of not being the target of radical, ongoing, and systemic evil. White liberals tend to think that people are overall good and society is nice and the only problem are those dang Republicans. They tend to understand racism as something Paula Deen or that One Hit Wonder/Cat Scratcher/Machine Gun Hunter says. Racism and sexism and classism and other oppressions are Othered – something that we are not responsible for and can’t quite possibly beWe’re good people. They don’t tend to see the deeper issues of racism and other oppressions and how they affect non-white people in a post-Euro-colonized world.*

I would expect White Post-Evangelical Christians to be a bit better, though, in addressing this topic. For we understand sin and evil. We can name it; it’s part of our lexicon. Sin and evil are integral parts of our theology even when we aren’t as focused on it as in our Fundamentalist and Evangelical days. Furthermore, we’re intimately familiar with the story of an innocent man brought up on false charges and made to die for it. Our Christ, our center, our Sweet Jesus was lynched due to the sins of the world as theologian James Cone points out in The Cross and the Lynching Tree*.

What happened to Trayvon Martin and what happened to Jordan Davis and what happened to Renisha McBride are modern-day reenactments of the “strange fruits” from the Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era of the US South. What happened to Emmett Till and Marie Scott and James Chaney happened to Jesus. There is a genealogical tree stretching from Jordan Davis sitting in a car, his body pierced with bullets, and Jesus of Nazareth hanging on a tree, his body pierced with nails.

The violent, ruthless occupying force sentencing Jesus to die for his uprising was the Roman Empire in the first; for Jordan Davis it was White Supremacy.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Jesus was killed for acting out of line – for speaking up against the power structure. For being rebellious. Michael Dunn told police he shot and killed Jordan Davis because Jordan –a black teenager – dared defy his White Man orders. The Roman Empire and its surrogates have been replaced by White Supremacy in these United States. And crucifixions have been replaced by the Lynch Laws of Stand Your Ground.

And White Christians are silent witnesses of modern-day crucifixions. There is an assumption here that, in our own land and through our political and social leaders and in a power structure that benefits us white Christians, somehow we are not responsible. Somehow, we can ignore this…

Emmitt Till’s birthday was last week. Trayvon Martin was shot down two years ago yesterday. What are White Christians doing about this tomorrow? Rarely do we, White Christians, talk about the violence and sin that we are complicit in in our own backyards.

Because there will be deflection about “black-on-black crime”, I offer this from Ta-Nehisi Coates to remind that White Christians are responsible for this travesty too:

Spare us the invocations of “black-on-black crime.” I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought insane. The most mendacious phrase in the American language is “black-on-black crime,” which is uttered as though the same hands that drew red lines around the ghettoes of Chicago are not the same hands that drew red lines around the life of Jordan Davis, as though black people authored North Lawndale and policy does not exist. That which mandates the murder of our Hadiya Pendletons necessarily mandates the murder of Jordan Davis. I will not respect any difference. I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought crazy.

The blood of Jordan Davis is upon us. Take this bread, it is his body. Take this wine- it was poured out for us.

———————————————————-

*For this, we’ll focus on racism.

** My partner-in-crime, h00die_R aka Rod aka Political Jesus, is writing an ongoing series on Cone. You can read the first part here and the second here .re .

Grace Shake UP

Let’s talk about representation and diversity today, shall we?

To hear many Christians talk, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with being homosexual. For a smaller amount, one can maybe even be both homosexual and Christian. You’d also think listening to how they talk that some black people are Christians. Or some dirt poor “working class” folks. A single mother, struggling with her English, someone crazily suggests, can be reached by grace. Even some indigenous people, say the missional crew. Now, here me out. Hell, there’s even some gay dirt poor indigenous Mexicans who are Christians. I mean, probably, right? God is just that intense he’ll save people that are very different from normalized White American Middle Class Straight Christians.

This is what passes for diversity in elements of the White US Christian Church. See how diverse we are? See our magnanimousness? We *allow* these elements to represent us like the handful of students from the Asian/Asian-American/Pacific Islander and the La Raza clubs represent Midsize University on their brochures.

And so Church in the White contextual experience still largely centers the world upon itself and still considers itself the best hope for humanity. But its nominal head don’t want no part. Jesus:

I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.

-          Matthew 25:42-43

If Jesus identifies directly with the oppressed, why do we consider the Christian experience to be primarily the bodies and minds of white, male, cis-, straight, Anglo, wealthy, educated, able-bodied, housed, normalized people?

But Jesus is a homeless Cuban man we call Carlos. He’s got schizophrenia and a drinking problem, cast out in the cold by a shunning community and a family that can’t deal no more. And he may die of hypothermia tonight. Jesus is a black transwoman who is violently ostracized, threatened, and feared by a people that fail to grasp the mere fact of her humanity and beauty. Jesus has been diagnosed with learning disorders and behavioral problems since he first jumped out of his seat out of boredom, a Hot Cheetos diet, and way too much stress for a five year old. At three in the morning, Jesus rolls out of bed and unwraps five dozen corn husks for tamales she sells this morning and every morning on California Avenue. She hopes to sell them all today just in case her oldest son doesn’t find work today. Jesus is hoping no one will bother him from his spot under the Kennedy by-pass at Logan tonight. Jesus got beat up in high school to the point where he attempted suicide.

"Jesus on Wheels" - Holly Northrup via Flickr

“Jesus on Wheels” – Holly Northrup via Flickr

Jesus’ default setting isn’t White. He’s extremely unlikely to be found in a middle class setting. He probably doesn’t know how to set a proper table and he likely doesn’t speak Proper English.

This isn’t metaphorical. This isn’t some white liberal fairy-tale to make us feel all fuzzy wuzzy for Christmas and then go back home and repeat the same patterns of meaningless, benign exploitation. Let us once and forever replace the false White Middle Class Jesus with Black Prisoner Jesus and reorder our lives accordingly. This colonial, exploitative world is hell and needs heaven.

I don’t think White Christians should be asking in the reaches of the imagination if it is possible that people of color can truly come to grace.

I think White Christians need to ask if it’s possible for grace to break in to a Christianity so limited, so fragile, so cruel.

It’s a miracle that God gives White Christians grace. Because God don’t look like us.

Bootstraps & Assets: Three (Post) Evangelical Views on the Poverty of the Poor

In my experience with (Post) Evangelicalism, there are three basic models for dealing with poverty and poor people (though most experience some overlap).

The loudest-  though probably not the most widespread – we can refer to as the Dave Ramsey School of Thought: People in the US are in poverty because they choose to be. They are lazy, bereft of character, are without industry and resourcefulness. Poor people basically deserve to be poor. I mean, they can’t even bother to take one of Dave Ramsey’s $200 Seminars on Saving Money and Becoming a Success by the age of 60™!

The above view is deplorable, despicable and ultimately has no redeemable value whatsoever. It’s a Ponzi Scheme for greedy would-be condo developers – the sorts of people who run around twirling their mustaches while tying up their tenants to the train tracks just because.

But its real deviousness lies with how it views and thus affects poor people. According to the DRSoT, we aren’t fully human – we are leeches, drains on society. We are not survivors, we are here to suck up at the sweet teat of Mama Gubmint and drink more cavity juice from Uncle Sugar. We are not resourceful – except for learning how to extract those sweet liquids of public assistance and we exist merely to be tormentors of good old American Republicans. The effects of this kind of thinking leads to the Tea Party, which leads to a continued Starving Out the Poors aggressive campaign*. These are the people who brag about cutting food stamps; these are the school administrators who take away kids’ lunches in front of their peers because their parents didn’t pay their debts (for a public school). These people inflict real harm into the lives of the poor and inflict damage to Jesus’ Body.

The second model isn’t quite as insidious – in fact, it’s innocuous. And therein lies the problem. For this model is much more widespread than believed. If the first view is that of Rush Limbaugh, this is the view of the common person in (Post) Evangelicalism. And it seems so benign, so well-intentioned. Which makes sense. Most people aren’t villains and have little aspirations of being a Master Capitalist or even a banker.

However, White Evangelicalism is still problematic and these problems can remain with those who leave Evangelicalism and yet have not had the space or resources to fully wrestle with how Evangelicalism and White Privilege make us think about Whiteness, about class struggles, about justice and work. We tend to think of our neighbors, when we do, as decent people and we can move our imaginations a bit to see ourselves in their shoes. We don’t have to know poor people to feel some pity for them and to believe that they may not be the people who directly do their own damage.

And this is where Ruby Payne’s Culture of Poverty rubric comes from. It is exhibited prominently this week in a guest post at Rachel Held Evans. While the author takes pains to remind readers that people in poverty are not the main ones to blame for their own poverty or conditions, she also tips the scales in a way that, frankly, gives me pause. What Culture of Poverty teaches is that poor people are different (read: inferior) to middle class people and must be studied through a framework that is overwhelmingly middle class but lacking in critical theory or social sciences. One can find good truths through observation and being near – but strong assumptions still remain from an outsider perspective and prescriptions are also given from that outsider perspective. There is still a reluctance to grapple with underlying systemic factors that contribute to high- and generational-poverty. 

To be sure, Amanda Opelt has some necessary insight for her (mostly) middle class white American Christian readers.

 I did the math and found that someone working full time at the current minimum wage (assuming they had paid sick days) would only make $15,080 a year.

In most places, that is not enough for a family of two, let alone three, to live on adequately. And that’s assuming paid sick days and a full schedule. And…

But for the low-income women I worked with, their lives were a perpetual house of cards.  They had no resources, no safety nets to keep them from going under.  One step forward, two steps back.

Ms. Opalt outlines – based on experience working in inner city Nashville – the trap that poverty is. Without a system of on-ground, replenishing, available and familiar safety nets (family to loan a few hundred dollars during a pinch; a few thousand in savings just in case) and cushions, poor people often have to rely on payday loans with exorbitant rates (I speak from experience having just missed this appointment due to the saving grace of having a family member in a place to help me pay rent this month), or pay more for upkeep and maintenance of crappy-but-necessary vehicles, or use day-to-day bus passes rather than cheaper monthly passes, or pay fees to restore the gas and lights because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills until tax returns, or stay at motels because of bad credit, or spend precious few dollars on a temporary escape that most middle class people take for granted. These survival mechanisms cost more money than stabler families and individuals have to spend for more stable and superior services.

So Ms. Opelt is correct in pointing this trap out and then giving some all-too-real cases of how this affects real live people. Poverty is like Mordor – you don’t fancy yourself just walking out.

But the sentence preceding this excerpt points to a problem with this worldview, one that many White Americans believe despite its vast ugly untruth reasserting itself on a daily, institutional level.

Abuse, racism, corruption; we all experience these hardships to a varying degree. [emphases mine]

While we may all be familiar to some level – however minute or overwhelming- with abuse and corruption, White people in a post-colonial world are not targets of racism. Something we must always remember: White colonists, elites and slave traders invented and whites of all socioeconomic statuses implemented and operate the social construct of racism. The express purpose of racism is to create and perpetually maintain a permanent underclass and to continue to divide the lower classes to keep us from organizing and revolting.

Racism as it is directed at non-White people is a tool to maintain poverty. Claiming that all people face racism not only  belittles actual, systemic racism that happens to People of Color, but itself furthers the hold of systemic poverty. Which brings us to another criticism of the Culture of Poverty: there is little societal, systemic analysis of the why’s to poverty. Ms. Opelt’s piece highlights this inconsistency by noting that “the playing field is not always level and not everyone was born with bootstraps.” The bootstraps myth is a tape in conservative America about self-reliance – but it’s mostly about neglect of community and social-political responsibility.

Which isn’t to say that Opelt and Culture of Poverty adherents shirk responsibility for the poor on an individual basis. Like Opelt, they tend to be generous and voluntary, working as teachers in underresourced urban and rural schools, as social workers, working for non for profits, helping out in the inner city’s soup kitchen on the weekends. Many tend to put their money where their mouths are – but there is the complication that they look at the field of the work and only see the value of rescuing individual strangers on the road to Emmaus. They refuse to – for socio-theological reasons – acknowledge the existence of systemic evil. And they see social programs of uplift as being naive and intrusive at best, responsible for poverty at worst.

But perhaps the most heart-wrenching aspect of the Culture of Poverty view is how it belittles the lives and communities of poor folk.

What I learned in the inner city is that to be caught in the cycle of generational poverty is to experience a bankruptcy of spirit, a deficit of hope.  It is poverty of education, community, safety, health, and spiritual guidance.

The problem here isn’t so much that poor people are turned into adversaries in this scenario - instead, we are objects to be pitied – emphasis on the objects. We are removed of our own experiences and thoughts and agency. Heck, even our communities and spirituality are labeled “impoverished.” We are infantilized and, in the Culture of Poverty Culture, can’t do anything without White Middle Class America stepping in to rescue us.

While on the face of it, because the Ruby Payne method lacks the antagonism of the Dave Ramsey method, we tend to think of purveyors of this model to be on the side of those in poverty. It is certainly better than the DRM. But, as my friend and unofficial mentor Don Washington likes to say, remember that better is not the same as good. And erasing people’s agency while belittling their communities and spirituality is not good.

Image: Female protester wearing a sign that says, "You are NOT powerless." Black & white imagery

Image: Female protester wearing a sign that says, “You are NOT powerless.” Black & white imagery

To contrast, I think Christian Community Development Association shows a way forward at least for Evangelicals and a more healthy way of connecting with under-resourced communities and people.

CCDA, a coalition of Evangelical churches and community-based NFPs – believes in incarnational ministry and asset-based community development. The idea is that White Middle Class people can come live with poorer neighbors not as leaders but as neighbors. Often divested neighborhoods will have helicopter drops where outsiders will bring in resources regardless of what is happening and needed in the community. Rather, what we need are efforts to address lack of community resources through acknowledging what the community has, what it knows, and what it knows it needs. If White Evangelicals want to make remarks about how impoverished our community relationships are, I’d like them to live as neighbors and see how strong our communities are, how we come together and celebrate with each other and pitch in at times of need. And I’d like them to do this for years and years before they claim to know what we live with.

There are ways to treat poor people as fully human – as beings made in the image of God. Our communities and spirituality aren’t bankrupt – our checking accounts are missing or perilously low.

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*This campaign can and should be defeated, but enough Americans will both have to awaken their conscience to vote against it and demand full equality for all. We need a moral education.

I Am Liberation Theologian and So Can You!

What is theology if not the study of the interaction between God (of some sort) and creation (however one defines that)? So why does the word “theology” seem so intimidating? Why do I tend to think of white male professors with scarves around their necks and glasses and stubbish beards… Wait. That’s me! Okay, but why do I – and probably most of us – have this unending feeling that theology is best left to tenured professors at Divinity Schools and that it’s this abstract, conceptual thing?

God, according to the popular notion of theology within Evangelical circles, is above and beyond us. Thus, according to the Barthians and much evangelicalism as preached, theology largely refines this idea. Y’know, cuz God doesn’t change and since God is removed from time, so is our need to reevaluate theology. Besides, most Christians only need to know a few things about God – and they start with the letters T.U.L.I. and P.

But I don’t follow that as a believer in an incarnational God who enfleshed as an oppressed man and died a rebel’s death. I believe that Jesus was murdered for trying to institute an alternative-Empire within an evil empire (Rome’s) and how that was upsetting to the Powers that Be, whether they be governors or religious/social leaders of his town.

So I don’t see God as static. No, that would mean that God is okay with oppression. And that is not how Jesus appears in the Gospels.

Now, I’m not doing anything new here. I’m not saying things that James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez and a host of other Liberation Theologians haven’t already said better and more in-depth than I am. Yet, I also see myself as a theologian. And I think that anyone who tries to live as a person of faith should see themselves as one as well.

Because theology isn’t separate from the body. It’s not separate from the person or from our experiences. It’s not separate from our world or our policies or our politics (though it SHOULD constantly critique the political structures. Yet for many, it’s almost entirely used to buffer a particular political party). It’s not any of these things because our scriptures and holy texts never were separate from their historical settings and we – as people of faith – cannot neither be.

And while I think there is (or just may be) a necessary place for theology to be at a disconnect from everyday reality and struggle, I believe the best theology is met out in the fields, in the workplaces, in the crossbows of the Empire. I believe the best theology is revealed in praxis – where we practice and dwell and consider and practice and get feedback and dwell and consider and analyze and implement.

And I believe the best theologians are those who theologize in the praxis. For Christians, the best theologians do not ignore but face the suffering. We stand in solidarity with a world full of suffering due to empire-building, capitalism, colonialism, racism, misogyny, tribalism – much of this inspired and codified by our very own religions.

The best theologians learn how to practice their theology in and for creation and stand with a God who stands on the side of the oppressed.

Pre-Crime: Reduced Crime and Increased Criminals

Note: I woke up this morning and had some new thoughts. They’re not unique – in the sense that I’m sure any prison advocate (ie, Michelle Alexander or Prison Culture) has already outlined – and certainly informed and helped to inspire these ideas. As has living in Chicago and in some of the very landscapes I’m describing here. But they’re new to me and I wanted to share.

Since the late 1980′s/early 1990′s, the overall crime rate has been reduced tremendously. As have the murder rates in large cities, to such an effect that the 500+ people killed in Chicago was such a shock. Those numbers would have been low in the early 1990′s, though, even in the early 2000′s since the numbers were decreasing from an all-high of 943 in ’92 (source).

Why have these numbers been decreasing overall? It’s not as if the economy has improved for the working class (who are most often blamed for violent crimes. After all, white collar economic violence is neither recognized as violence nor as a crime in most cases) or the middle class overall. Nor is it that people are better off or just in any ways better than they were 30 years ago (nor, for that matter, are we getting worse as a people). And though there are always various factors that contribute to this decline, the most glaring one is the increased prison population.

And this may or may not be the case. But let’s treat it like it is. Let’s treat it as if there are less crimes because we have fewer “criminals” in the public. There are less “bad people” doing “bad things” (again, notice white collar crime is completely given a free pass here). I mean, it jibes so much with conservative law & order politics – which is a big, fat problem.

Pre-Crime.

Let’s call this a preemptive strike against criminals. Or we can recall the Spielberg 9/11 tech-thriller Minority Report and refer to it as pre-crime (who are the precogs? ALEC seems to be one). It’s also known as the Broken Windows treatment, where the smallest infractions are treated as big crimes in order to clear the streets of the “criminal element.” If you make sure there are no broken windows, the logic goes, the neighborhood pride goes up and it takes better care of itself (except it can’t when its population is restricted and denied access).

Yet this pre-crime approach is not guilty-until-proven innocent. It’s presumption-of-guilt-before-act-of-guilt. And often the most damning fact that proves future guilt is class and color, especially color. Racism is the precogs.

The numbers.

0.7% of the US population is in prison. That may not seem too much, but consider that is 2,266,832 people – roughly the size of Chicago. And these are prisoners – not people being held in a jail. And consider that when we talk of the WHOLE population, we are including seniors and children. Take away those numbers, and the percentage point goes much higher. Nevertheless, it is the highest incarceration rate in the world, with other rich countries coming in at 1/7 – 1/10th the incarceration rate, and even poor, zero-tolerance states like Russia coming in well under the US (source).

Yet, 4.3% of the black male US population is currently in jail or prison (source). Of the nearly 2.1 million males in prison, non-Latino black males make up 841,000 of them (about 2/5 of the prison population). Non-Latino white males make up a significantly smaller 693,800 (about 1/3), although white non-hispanics make up 66% of the entire population (2/3) and black people (including Black Latinos) make up around 13% of the entire US population (1/8th). Latino numbers are also skewed in a fashion somewhat between White and Black numbers with Latinos making up 16% of the population and about 25% of the population. So the numbers are a bit off, and racially suspicious.

War

So this War on Crime is yet another front on the War on People Of Color. Our precogs first-strikes are built on assumptions. And while we aren’t normally honest about what those assumptions are, occasionally the truth strikes out. Occasionally, we have a George Zimmerman. Occasionally, we have a Great Northern City defend accosting young black males while turning up nothing. Occasionally, White supremacy rears its ugly head. Occasionally, we can see it for what it is clearly, out in the open.

This while upper income kids get off scot-free due to access to lawyers, “clean image,” and having the law on their side. The cogs don’t recognize upper-class white people. Meanwhile, the incarcerated (mostly people of color) are exploited for their labor, lose voting rights, and become virtually unemployable.

And while the numbers of reported crimes have diminished, is it worth it?

For all the money and effort spent locking away young men and women of color, is this a wise investment?

What will be the return-on-investment?

No.

No.

Death and destruction.

Even just plainly looking at the numbers – is locking all of these people up good for us in the long or short run? Sure, in the immediate, it may appear to be good for some communities, but absolutely devastating to others. And the ways this out-of-control first-strike is destroying the latter communities means it will have ripple effects on all of the other communities as well.

Prison Culture does not invest but rather divests from communities of color. When we say ‘war,’ this is what we are saying: It ravages and destroys and does not build but is only there for the taking. Only. There. To. Suck. Life. Dry.

In a year when dozens of schools were closed in Chicago and the remaining ones had their budgets cut by 15-20%, our public monies lie in not investing – but in locking up. We say there is no money to put into the small black-owned business. But there is plenty of money to bar black businessmen and women who find few options but to sell illicit materials. Meanwhile white collar businessmen/women are given golden parachutes after committing wide-spread, tumultuous violence on middle- and working-class families.

Precogs don’t recognize that violence. It doesn’t compute.

What needs to be acknowledged is that we have locked up a few possibly incorrectible career criminals at the expense of millions who made a couple mistakes. So the numbers may be down, but we have solved nothing. We are not preventing criminals but creating them.

And we may have locked up the wrong ones.

We’ll Take the Scenic Routes: The Lost Dogs and a #fleshYGod in #PlanetCCM;

Contemporary Christian Music is, like the white Evangelical culture it arose from, very conservative politically, religiously, and socially. Michael W Smith, the Poster Boy for the industry (in more ways than one. I mean, grrrrowl, amirite?) stunted for George W Bush and his wars and policies, after all. More so, the music favored heavenly rewards and solutions and pat answers for really complex personal and spiritual problems while completely ignoring systemic abuses and oppressions. With a few exceptions (Rod covers one here), racism, misogyny,  albeism, war, and poverty were ignored and shame abounded. The effect is that the theology and Jesus they presented was a Static God unconcerned with the lives of real, struggling and marginalized people.

Additionally, CCM was centered in Nashville, where Country is king. No disrespect to the genre that brought us Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn and had a baby with Rhythm & Blues to produce Rock & Roll, but it tends to favor White, conservative, reactionary rule. Even attempts to appropriate rap music into country have landed squarely in White Supremacy – take Kid Rock or “Accidental Racist,” please.

So what happens when you mash a country-leaning supergroup consisting of CCM mainstays? Well, that may depend on who the group is. But if we get Terry Taylor of Daniel Amos, Gene Eugene (RIP) of Adam Again, Derri Daugherty of The Choir, and Mike Roe of the 77s and blend them with a gritty collection of down-earth covers and some of their own throw-offs, we end up with one of the most political albums in all of CCM (at least until Five Iron Frenzy’s more Clash-inspired records and activism surface later in the decade), Scenic Routes.

scenic routes lost dogs

It helps that all the founding members had small but devout and cultish followings. There was a target audience, and the main label decided it wouldn’t be of much use trying to tame these uncouth people. All four were already established producers and songwriters so no go sending CCM’s mainstay songwriters and producers (like Brown Bannister and Wayne Kirkpatrick) to settle them down and return to the mission of mainstream CCM – commercializing White Jesus. The resulting Scenic Routes was different than anything else coming out of NashVegas at the time – and perhaps before or after.

Before the rest of CCM was primping for a hostile takeover of Iraq and within the timeframe that most Americans were pleased with the Shock-and-Awe of the first Iraqi War; in the heart of conservative, war-heavy industry that favors a Republican God; long before the Dixie Chicks caused a sensation by apologizing for GWB, the Lost Dogs released the rambling, bluegrass-lite “Bush Leagues,” dedicated to George Herbert Walker Bush.

I’ll pack you a lunch, clear your desk
It’s going to be hell to clean your mess
All I know is that you gotta go

I don’t know what I think about it
But your bush league days are through
Will you give me a job I doubt it
Here’s a bird in the hand for you

Next time you start a storm
You better get you a mess kit, canteen and uniform
Cause we feel like livin’ so you’ve got to go

Your points of light are almost gone
So here’s your yellow ribbon-burning song

Yeah, you caught that they directly referenced Desert Storm, unemployment, Chicken Hawks, and the faux-inspiring Thousand Points of Light. And managed to give the President of the United States the bird. I know that many within CCM and Country would pretty much say the same for Clinton later and then definitely for Obama, but this was refreshing. And a bit shocking to my mind that not all Christians could be or should be gung-ho conservatives. Or, as “Bullet Train” – a more straightforward blues-rock song – showed, gun-ho conservatives. A tribute to those that have lost their lives due to the US’s gun-obsessed culture, starting with JFK, MLK,  and children who accidentally shoot themselves.

There’s a lot of poor souls on the Bullet Train / but Lord knows they got more room.

How sadly right they were, before Columbine. But it didn’t stop there. Where most of white Christian culture tends to look for responsibility solely in the individual (“It’s the crazy people with the guns that kill people and they could kill with spoons!” they say. Because they don’t think about how damaging and destructive their words are.), the Lost Dogs see the responsibility lies in all of us to end the Bullet Train. At that time, to see a Christian encourage activism, I don’t think it made much sense to me, but it was a part of my destiny and helped to shape the road I’d lead – as did other songs, like Adam Again’s “Walk Between the Raindrops” about systemic oppression and homelessness in a land of means.

For the anti-violence trifecta, the Lost Dogs also wrote and performed “The Fortunate Sons.” Unlike CCR’s angry rager (one of my favorite) against the kids who would soon become presidents and vice presidents but were privileged enough to escape the conflict that killed and maimed so many young and poor, this is a song of lament and profound sorrow about soldiers of a different kind of fortune. “Bang the drum slowly,” the conflicted narrator pleads. It is a song of the sacrificed lamb, the warrior sent to die for the sins of the violent world.

Blood, thunder and fear flowing
I cry when I need you
and march when I’m told where to go
Lessons I know
Is it the way of a soldier to offer his soul?

It is a humanizing tale of a figure alternately hagiographed and demonized in the midst of a conflicting, tragic story – and could be one of Terry Taylor and Gene Eugene’s best, which says a lot from me.

One of the classics the Lost Dogs covered was the Stephen Foster-penned “Hard Times Come Again No More”: “a song, a sigh of the weary… Many days you have lingered around my cabin door.” It’s a song of and by the poor, the suffering. This in a world that largely ignores class struggles and poverty. But this can be imagined in a world where the protagonists have decided to get off of the planes and interstates that the rest of #PlanetCCM travels in and takes the scenic routes through the coal mines, small towns, passing the bullet trains and the doorsteps darkened by sorrow and suffering. It’s the Christian music of a #fleshYGod; an incarnational CCM.

It is with this context that the closing salvo strikes as not as a plea for faux unity or some false notion that the Klanner is just as bad as the lynched, but as a call for all of humanity to breath in the breath of a God who loves humanity, who understands our sufferings, who sides with the oppressed. To travel the scenic routes and recover our humanity.

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes
Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits
Blue collars, white collars, war mongers, peace nicks

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

Breathe deep, indeed.

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Note: The entire Lost Dogs discography and most other music listed here can be streamed on Spotify.

What the Decision on Duck Dynasty Means

When a reality Cops-styled tv show trailed a Special Response Team in Detroit three years ago into a home raid, it both helped to inspire and record a most horrific crime. Anybody who watches Cops and similar so-called reality shows understands the extra swagger that US police officers have when they are being recorded as heroes taking down would-be criminals. As if the danger of the job itself, the authority that the badge declares, and the element of carrying around highly-lethal instruments doesn’t bear enough hyper-testosterone. It’s a job that leaves little margin for error and adding glorifying cameras to the mix erases some of the margin. So the murder of a black seven year old girl in one of the runs was almost inevitable.

SWAT via Wiki

SWAT via Wiki

The way reality television is framed and produced is partly responsible for the death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody familiar with the kind of behavior that reality television endorses, moving from documentary style to sensationalized, staged backstabbing ordeals. Donald Trump can make a fake run for the presidency and open up as a complete racist bigot, demanding that the nation’s first black president prove that he is US-born and pledging that he has many of “the blacks” as friends.  But yet this show – run by a man who belittles black and poor people in public as being intrinsic liars or lazy failures – is still running strong on NBC – the same network that filed Martin Bashir for suggesting one person is full of crap.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, despite the vocal anger and frustration arising from Phil Robertson’s unedited remarks about GLBTQ, Black, and non-Christian people, he and the rest of the Duck Dynasty crew are being reinstated by A&E.

This is where A&E shows where its loyalty lies. It is not with the oppressed. A&E cares little for black people’s rights or the lives of non-straight people (or women, for that matter) if they are fine with not only airing this family but now legitimizing its form of bigotry.

This isn’t about free speech. I hasten to add this isn’t about the Market Place of Ideas – nor is it about opinions. What Phil Robertson expressed are not “opinions” that are “up for debate”. Nor do we need to “dialog” with those that disagree about the basic humanity of people. What Robertson is messing with is the inherent humanity of people that are not white, not straight, not wealthy, not male, and not Christian.*

It’s intensely sad that the vileness of his comments and how they reinforce bigotry throughout the US merely got a blip in the mainstream media. Yet these same comments and Robertson’s right-to-speak-them-unopposed were defended by millions of conservative Christians and Tea Party politicians – former and current governors and presidential runners, at that – Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee as well as celebs like Kid Rock (curious that he can steal from black culture and yet defend a man who calls black people “entitled” and lazy?) and all of the conservative pundits.

Despite what these trolls say, this issue isn’t about Oppression Against Christian Thought (as a Christian, I’m rather offended that my thoughts are supposed to be homophobic and racist). No, the issue is about further justifying and legitimizing brutal attacks and antagonism against LGBTQ people – like this attack and the follow-up by anti-gay residents and police in TennesseeThe issue is about Robertson’s romanticism of an era when the rights of African-Americans to vote and have economic or political say was specifically denied during a time when these very rights are once again being targeted by the Supreme Court, several states, and pro-business lobbying groups like ALEC. Even in attacking homosexuals, he reduced women to their vaginas (and the fact that they’re so much more fun than booties, I guess).**

These are not just opinions. These have implications for the same people Phil Robertson said were happy and content during Jim Crow. Whom he declares lazy and entitled now. Robertson didn’t spread opinions; he spread vicious lies that hurt real people. And White conservative Christians and A&E are okay with that.

As Cocky McSwagsalot, or @MoreAndMore, puts it:

Which means, Black ppl and LGBTQ ppl would probably be wise not to watch any shows on A&E. They’ve made their bed. We’re not their audience.

A&E has made its alliances. It’s heard all the “sides” and decided to side with those who will watch Duck Dynasty over the people hurt by the very hate-spewed platform A&E is giving the Robertson family. White conservative Christians who have been defending Phil Robertson have also shown where their loyalty lies this whole time. They’ve insisted that he is right on homosexuality and that equating homosexuality to bestiality and therefore homosexuals to beasts is biblical (though I’m pretty sure I’ve read that bearing false witness is anti-biblical and not loving of our neighbors).

When confronted with other troubling statements that Robertson has made, these conservatives declare that he may or may not be right about them, but it’s his right to say them (As if anyone is threatening to lock him up in a dungeon like we do our whistle blowers). They say such things because their rights and lives are not on the line. Here, White conservative Christians show where their heart lay – and it’s with their own white and hetero- privilege rather than with those Jesus said to side with.

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*Yes, there is much Class Warfare in Robertson and his clan. Recall his argument about health insurance not being necessary and the fact that Robertson is rich enough to pay medical expenses out of pocket if and when he needs to. He also blamed his racism on the fact that he was poor too.

**Thanks to my FBF Linda for reminding me of this horribleness… Except that I’m reminded of this horribleness.

The War on White Christmas

My Dominican friend remembers Santa being black and bearing gifts. A Twitter friend, Kristen Soo aka @readtooswift, shared that her Asian uncle dressed up as Santa a couple of years ago. I know this flies in the face of convention, of Northern European Christmas myths, and Megyn Kelly, but if my dad could be (though wasn’t) Santa Claus, then why not my friends’ dads – or moms? Or are Santas only for and from white people?

Around Easter of last year, I posted some satirical pictures of Jesus mocking conservatives and American Empire to my Leftcheek and Commie Pinkos Wrote My Bible Facebook pages and someone asked me why Jesus had to be white. I of course answered that he doesn’t, but these were the images that I found. But I knew what this person meant and became more deliberate about finding other representations of Jesus.

My grandmother, a Puerto Rican with mocha-ish skin and tight curls, came to be a devout Evangelical around the age of forty. She kept pictures and representations of Jesus all around her apartment upstairs from me. Looking back, all these paintings and figurines were white, often blonde, often smiling or plaintive or pleading. They never looked like her but like other people from church’s tradition (our particular church was mixed-race, but the leaders were usually white men). Come to think of it, they rarely looked like me – with freckles and an unkempt ‘fro. This was the acceptable Jesus in Anglo churches.

Of course the historical Saint Nicholas and Jesus were not white – certainly not white by conventional Whiteness standards (which tends to favor fair-skinned people from Northern Europe). Nicholas was darker from Turkey with a black father and Jesus, well, from Nazareth (and what good can come out of Nazareth?). Neither would be mistaken for Brad Pitt. Yet, Renaissance-era paintings and millions of commercials and commercialized books and movies later, both are well-recognized within Western culture as being White. That shouldn’t be a problem – myths are adaptable and should change to each culture and tradition.

So when Fox News and the rest of the Right Wing Media Circus gets so defensive that Jesus is White, Santa is White (and kids, don’t you forget it!) and Christmas is the supreme holiday and should be the one and only recognized for this season (There can only be one!), the problem isn’t that what they are saying is intrinsically bad. White people can recognize Santa and Jesus in their own image and Christians can be the most wonderful time of the year for many. The problem is in recognizing those as the primary or only options. When they declare a War on Christmas or the two biggest representations of Christmas (notice that Mary is not included in this picture), they are really promoting the supremacy of a White Christmas for Whiteness.

To solely focus on Christmas dismisses those who have deep depression for various reasons around this time, who remember loss, or face a lack of necessary sunshine, or who struggle with family grievances. But also, what of Hanukkah, Ramadan, Winter Solstice, New Year’s, and/or Kwanzaa in addition to or separate from Christmas? It’s not the only holiday. Nor do any of the holidays need to be celebrated by every one.

black madonna and child

Black Madonna and Child, courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna

Additionally, picturing Jesus as necessarily a white man (or even necessarily a man) is a disservice to the Jesus of the Gospels – where Jesus was an oppressed minority. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the book of Matthew, Jesus says that his followers will serve him directly and take care of him directly when they serve, visit, and care for the hungry, the prisoners, the sick, the homeless.

Who is oppressed today – who does Jesus look like? An unmarried pregnant teen from the rural regions of Palestine? A shanty-town dweller in Cape Town or Rio de Janeiro? A sixteen year old black man in Cook County Jail? An untouchable in India? A single mother with cerebral palsy? A father awaiting deportation back to Juarez? A trans*woman or man pretty much anywhere? Can Jesus be trans*? Can Santa?

I argue for a tapestry of Jesus, Santa, and Christmas that is multi-colored, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, mult-class, multi-ability, intersectional, open and affirming of all sexualities, identities, capabilities and spectrums. Because Jesus, Santa, and the holidays are for the people – and White Christians are such a small – yet unduly influential – percentage of us all.

Prophets of a Misanthropic God – a #fleshYgod post

 The memorable words of T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets come to mind — “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” This goes particularly for toney producers of reality shows, who are unaccustomed to having one of the swamp people emerge from the fens to inform them, denizens of a sophisticated and urbane cosmopolis as they are, that the human body was given just one sex organ and the poochute is not it.

Douglas Wilson.

Perhaps you remember Wilson for rape apologism, writing two books about how awesome slavery was (including for black people – you know, like how pre-Civil Rights Jim Crow was also great for black people according to Duck Commander)  and then tells black people and women that they need to listen to him on sexuality and racial issues. That he would defend a man who compared homosexuality to bestiality and said that black people were happy during Jim Crow but are entitled now should come as no surprise at all.

As my friend h00die_R of Political Jesus says clearly, the kind of God that Wilson, Robertson, and all their defenders worship is a White Supremacist.

That critique needs to stand on its own. After all, while imagining a rape scenario to critique (read: scare) Sarah Moon’s critique of his Rape Apologism, he also imagines rapists should suffer lynchings – more racist dogwhistling keying into the White Supremacist myth that white women need protection primarily from black, virile men in order to keep the races pure.

John Piper recently hosted Wilson and let him blarb for over an hour about how he’s so clearly not racist and how discussions of racism need to be two ways. Douglas Wilson, according to Douglas Wilson, has a lot to teach black people and they need to listen to him. Piper and his The Gospel Coalition still unabashedly support Wilson. And millions of White Christians organize to support Phil Robertson, before and after his racist crap.

It’s probably telling that so many conservative Christians were supporting Duck Dynasty and its “Soft Patriarchy” Christianity since the beginning. The show centers on men doing things that men do – leading, being outdoors, hunting, goofing around. Women, on the other hand, as domesticated backdrops provide an impetus for humor through what is understood to the viewers as nagging.

This is in keeping with the complementarian views of conservative Christianity featuring a Misogynistic God who does not permit women to lead over men, who relegates females to strict supportive (and often silent) roles.

In light of these ways of limiting the role and function of people that are not male, are not straight, are not white, the Robertson family rushes to defend their patros:

[Phil Robertson's] beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.

I wonder what neighbors the Robertson clan have and how they claim to love them if they are gay, black or female – let alone any other intersectionality. This Misanthrope God doesn’t accept people outside his tribe, his people.

Oh My God!

But, rather, I seek to serve an embodied God who became flesh and dwelt among and became the oppressed, the occupied. A God who became a subject of the Roman Empire, who was poor, an ethnic minority who could have sided with the oppressors like the religious and civic leaders in Jerusalem but instead decided to rid the temple of its exclusivist wares and widened the call to serve and love the oppressed and persecuted and hated.