Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Racism at the Inauguration

The Reverend Joseph Lowery was the man who gave the Benediction at yesterday’s Inauguration. I haven’t seen his prayer get a lick of play in the various media outlets today, although I’m sure that the right wing talk shows will pick it up later today. His last comments in this prayer were – well – a tad racist in my opinion. I’m more than a little disturbed by this for a couple of reasons….first of all, President Obama’s people would have received an advanced copy of the text of Lowery’s prayer, yet they allowed it, and secondly, if a white minister had something half as divisive as Lowery at one of Bush’s inaugural ceremonies, the media outrage and the public outcry would have been incredible. Here’s the text of the last portion of Lowery’s prayer:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.

“When white will embrace what is right”? Wow! The fact that the media is not addressing these comments; that the Obama handlers likely knew what was going to be said, and that the President himself hasn’t and won’t issue a statement on this is phenomenal to me. Frankly I view comments like this as the main reason that racism just won’t die in this country. Throughout the last several months we saw John McCain and his campaign bend over backwards to make sure that they didn’t attack Obama on anything that could be construed as being racially motivated…during the primary season, we saw the race card pulled out against (of all people) President Bill Clinton. And now, will all the warm fuzzies that the entire nation is supposed to be feeling about race….with all the high claims being made about the great gains we’ve made, the last thing we hear at President Obama’s Inauguration is comments that allude to how hard it is to be anything but white and how evil the white man is. Awesome.

The incredible part is that moments before the statements above, Lowery says the following:

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed -- the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economicdisruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

“Unity”. “Fellowship”. “Oneness”. “Solidarity”. I interpret this as a prayer that we all come to see things his way….that the successful in society begin taking care of those who aren’t taking care of themselves…that no more racism is to exist – unless of course you happen to be a black preacher or some other oppressed minority….because then it’s not racism, it’s just “speaking the truth”.

As for the rest of Lowery’s prayer, it smacks of the expectations that many in this country have of a subtle socialistic policy coupled with expectations of some perfect utopia. For instance:

For we know that, Lord, you're able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the leastof these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.
The emboldened line above isn’t all that surprising as Lowery is simply stating in his prayer what President Obama and Vice President Biden have stated publicly over the last couple of months.

I didn’t intend on critiquing Lowery’s entire prayer, so much as I simply wanted to discuss how he ended it. My take on this is that racism in this country won’t die until those who feel their race has been oppressed stop attempting to demonize everyone else. How can some claim that the black man is still being oppressed when we’ve seen black men and women in nearly every high office in this country? “Political correctness” and “tolerance” (in the connotative sense) have so enveloped our society that nobody even wants to have open dialogue about these sorts of things anymore… I have no doubt that some who read this article will come to the conclusion that I’m racist. The odd part is that not only am I not a racist, I’m simply attempting to point out the obvious and blatant racism of a black preacher.

Oh well…..that’s all I’ll say on this subject. It makes me uncomfortable and, at the same time, angry.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Anxiety, stress, and .... "tomorrow"...

The economic woes that the U.S. are experiencing right now is certainly not a big secret. Every domestic newspaper and news channel are covering all the gritty little details and putting forth a steady stream of “doom and gloom”. Words like “depression” are worked into most conversations about the economy with relative ease. Indeed, unemployment is on the rise and, quite frankly, people are a little scared. For most Americans, the global war on terror that has captivated our attention for the bulk of the last seven years is no longer doing so. While we acknowledge its existence, it is generally viewed as a far-away thing....the economy, however, is right here – in our face – threatening to overtake us. It seems like a more ominous force and a more menacing enemy simply because of proximity. This enemy – potential joblessness, homelessness, bankruptcy, lack of job security – is right here, right now….and it’s scary.

I’ve been in the manufacturing world for most of my adult life. Part of life in American manufacturing is that you live in a cycle. So the potential for unemployment is always breathing down your neck, it seems. Those of us who have made careers out of manufacturing have been around massive layoffs, plant closings, consolidations, mergers, and sell-offs. But even with that experience, it’s never fun when you are faced with the reality of…..bad times.

As I’ve watched the news and conversed with friends I’ve made over the years who are in various positions within different manufacturing companies around the country, I’ve seen a lot of speculation, fear, and just pure uneasiness and anxiety. These are frightening times, my friends, and the reality is that they are likely to get worse before they get better. So what are we to do, as Christians? How should we react? What should our conversation with our unrepentant friends be during these times?

My thoughts keep going back to the 6th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel beginning in verse 25 and continuing through verse 34 (ESV):

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Sometimes we Christians are very good at mindlessly and mechanically quoting this passage when times get tough. But while we can quote these verses, I wonder how much time we’ve spent meditating on the truths contained within them? The 34th verse is one of the greatest comments in Scripture regarding the human inclination to borrow trouble! Essentially, Christ says, “Stop worrying about what’s not even happened yet! There’s enough to deal with here and now to be worrying about what tomorrow may or may not bring!” The truth is that God makes a stark promise to us in this small passage…..”Seek me FIRST, and I’ll take care of you”. Friends, this isn’t a promise of comfort, wealth, nice clothing, and shelter….it’s a promise of being sustained by the One who knows what we need…the One who knows us better than we know ourselves….the One who has demonstrated love to us in a way that we will never fully grasp this side of Eternity.

It’s so easy to worry about creature comforts, isn’t it? During the worst of times that I’ve experienced in my lifetime, I’ve always had it pretty good. While I’ve gone without food before, I’ve never gone hungry. While I’ve been without a home before, I’ve never been without shelter. While I’ve been without money before, I’ve never had my basic needs unmet. I praise His name that I haven’t yet had to deal with truly impossibly hard times during my marriage (three-and-a-half month joblessness, notwithstanding). I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know Who holds the future. As trite and cute as that might sound, there is a confidence and peace in that knowledge that surpasses my vocabulary!

So Christian, don’t worry! I’m certainly not advocating that we blindly live in the moment and just plow headlong into every day like nothing bad will ever happen to us, but let’s not be….. “stressed out” about things. Remember, the One who cares for the birds and flowers will certainly take care of His own!