Racism is real.

I have written about it many times–Here on this blog, in sermons, and in my novel “How Great Is The Darkness.”

It is a problem that continues to haunt our society, and my prayers are for healing and reconciliation, justice and peace.

The causes of justice and reconciliation, peace and healing are hindered when the issue is trivialized, or worse yet, mislabeled.

Of course I am referring to Usain Bolt and Ellen DeGeneres. Specifically, I am referring to this picture and tweet that have been causing quite the firestorm.

Screenshot 2016-08-17 09.48.29Disclaimer #1:  I am not a big fan of Ellen DeGeneres. Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts like her, but me, not so much.

Disclaimer #2: I have watched about five minutes of the Olympics. It was fencing. I felt like I’d paid my patriotic obligation and turned the channel to something that interested me far more.





There is no way, in any universe, that what Ellen did was racist. If she doesn’t celebrate Bolt’s incredible achievement then that could be racist–not giving him his due–but this, this is just the way people interact with each other.

But enough already about the facts of this specific circumstance. There are two factors at work here that are detrimental to the fabric of our society. I know that sentence is frightening, but I think it is true.


Factor One: Free Speech

The desired effect people who claim this is racism want is to shut Ellen up. The call on the Twitterverse was not so much for an apology from Ellen, but a call to remove the ‘offensive’ image. The use of terms such as offensive, racist, homophobic, mean-spirited, hate speech, sexist and other labels has grown to have a stifling power on speech.

It is undeniably true that people say racist, offensive, homophobic and other mean things. Yet, if our society is to continue as a free one, people must be free to be jerks. No one has the right to not be offended. You do have the right to change the channel, close the book, walk away, argue the point, or be a moron.

What we have is a kind of new McCarthyism in which certain elites have control of what people can and cannot say. Will we ever learn from our past?


Factor Two: The Real Issues

By focusing upon trivial issues like a Photoshopped picure of an Olympic athlete and entertainer, people vent their anger about racism without addressing the real issues. We have deep problems of violence, unequal access to the law, education disparity, income inequality, little or no access to medical care, a housing gap, not to mention the violence done to people of color by the inequities of the criminal justice system.

But let’s not deal with that. Instead let’s conflagrate a non-issue so we can feel like we’ve done something significant, like Tweet obscenities and calling people names.


The vast majority, probably something like ninety-nine percent of law enforcement officials are amazing and wonderful people.  They put their life on the line every day, try to make the world a better place, and do things that would make most of us wet our pants and go suck our thumbs in the corner.

The problem is that there are some mixed up in there who are not all that amazing.  They are people on power trips, bad tempers, short fuses, and sometimes poor judgment.  Oh, and sometimes they are racists or sexist too.

Apparently Sandra Bland had an encounter with one of these latter kinds of law enforcement officials which tragically led to her eventual death in a county jail cell.  The story is everywhere, but click here for a link to a CNN article.  Below I have included a good video from PBS.

I do not believe her death was intentional or the result of physical abuse.  All the evidence that I have seen indicates she actually did commit suicide and that she had a history of abusing herself and mental distress.  Of course, this needs to be investigated thoroughly by an independent agency (FBI) but the evidence currently seems to point that direction.  Waller County (A large county between Brenham and Houston) is probably liable for not noticing these signs of distress and making certain she got psychological care, as well as liable for leaving her alone in a jail cell with the means, but none of these are malicious, racists, or sexist.

What is malicious and possibly racist or sexists is why she was even in jail in the first place.  The dashcam that has been released is breathtaking.  It is hard for me to believe that a Texas state trooper would do the things I see here.  First, she was pulled over for not signalling a lane change.  Really?  Who gets pulled over for that?  Does anyone here besides me think the real reason might have been she was guilty of driving while black?

Second, we see that the officer is mad because she will not put out her cigarette.  Should she have put the cigarette out?  Probably, but that is not the point.  The point is that smoking a cigarette while driving is not illegal and should not have even been part of the officers discussion with Bland.

Third, the trooper demands that she gets out of the car, and when she resists, he insists that he will “yank” her out of the car and “light her up.”  That is when things really escalated.

It is clear to me that Sandra Bland should never have been arrested.  I do not know what the trooper’s motives were.  Maybe he was having a bad day.  However, people should not be afraid of their police, and police should never be arbitrary with the trust we put in their hands.  What I saw on that dashcam makes me afraid of the police and afraid for my wife or daughter when they drive.  I also see a man who is on a power trip.  He does these things to this woman because he can.  He doesn’t have to.  He shouldn’t.  None of this is a big deal.

But he is a policeman.  He has a gun.  He is a man.  He can make her do what he wants, and that is what he does.  It is an arbitrary display of force that is despicable.  One of the lingering questions in my mind is, how many others?  We know about this one because Bland died.  If she’d not died, we would never know about it.  How many other women, black women, black people, or just people in general have been subjugated to arrest for a lane change violation while smoking a cigarette?  That is the question I want to know the answer to.  Another question I have is why was she still in jail three days later?

Sandra Bland should never have been pulled over.  She certainly should never have been arrested.  She most certainly should not have still been incarcerated three days later.images

Keep in mind, the trooper did not kill Sandra Bland.  She killed herself. But she would have never been in that situation had she never been unjustly arrested, jailed, and isolated in a place far from home.

image from nbcnews.com


Nutcracker on Christmas TreeHeavenly Father, the first thing I’d like to do in my prayer today is to thank you for sending your son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world.  He didn’t have to come, but it was a choice he made, in a divine conspiracy with you and the Holy Spirit to rescue us.  It must have been an act of love and passion, because I can’t think of any reason why the creator of all that is, who lives in perfect trinitarian fellowship, would want to live amongst us.  We are so contaminated with hate, jealousy, pride, violence, greed, lust, and intolerance that it is hard for me to think about how jolting it must have been for you.  Yet in love you chose, in Messiah Jesus, to live as one of us, just as we do–coughing, bleeding, with fatigue, soreness, blisters, sweat and snot.  I don’t pretend to understand how you did it, how you were human and still God, how you were the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as three different persons but one God, but I believe, just as those who have come before me, that you indeed did it.  You lived like us, and you died like us.  Mystery is the only way I can describe it, and love is the only explanation I have for it, so I thank you.

It feels like every Christmas I end up asking you for some of the same things.  The locations change, but the requests are the same.  I ask, O Lord, that you help us find some way of bringing peace in the world.  I ask that wars and strivings cease in far away places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and in Central Africa.  I ask that ISIS, al Qaeda, the LRA and other oppressive militaristic groups be defeated.  I ask that violence end, that peace flourish, and hope erupt.

There are many issues here, though, within the borders of the nation I love that are hard to imagine.  Somehow, Almighty God, show us how to achieve a justice and equitable society in which criminals are punished but the innocent are not unjustly beaten or killed.  We have a severe lack of trust that stems from generations of suspicion, fear, racism, crime, and the politics of division.  Please forgive us of our past and help us make a future so that we never have reason to see protests on the streets of America again.

I have a spiritual request too, Lord God.  I fear that ‘church,’ or what passes for church, has lost its way.  At one extreme it can look like a neurotic control freak trying to tell everyone else what to do.  At the other extreme it often looks like a lethargic glutton who will not get off the couch.  Neither one of these is good.  I pray that you bring a new generation of leadership with the boldness to call us out on our sins of selfishness, and then lead us to a better way.  I love the church, but fear we are on a path of self-destruction.  Save us from ourselves.

Things seem to have gotten a little better, Lord, in the last couple of years, but I know that many people are hungry, economically distressed, unemployed, and broke this Christmas season.  Help those who want jobs to find jobs, bring relief to those who have ended up on the wrong end of the economic field, and allow honest businesses to thrive.  I intercede also for those caught on the struggle of a political border between two nations–one wealthy and one not.  I pray for all immigrants, that they would find what they need.  I ask that our politicians gain the courage to formulate policy that makes sense and which is true to our highest ideals.  How ironic, Lord, that immigration is on my mind as we celebrate the birth of Jesus–who lived as an immigrant during his toddler years.  It is kinda sad, Lord.  Help us to do better, I know we can.

For many people Christmas has become all about family, tradition, and nostalgia.  I reject those as spiritually inadequate for the grandness of the miracle of the incarnation, nevertheless I am grateful for my family, our family traditions, and the memories of those who are no longer with us but who rest in eternity.  I ask that this Christmas be one of joy, laughter, and rich spiritual meaning.  In the name of Jesus I ask, submitting to his divine will and certain that whatever good I imagine or ask for is far less than his desire for peace, hope, goodness, and love in this world.  Amen.


This story is trending today on the interwebs.

A pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. recently took heat for requesting that only white people serve as greeters on Sunday morning.  Some members of Freedom House Church in north Charlotte expressed outrage after receiving an email from their pastor Makeda Pennycooke asking people of color not to serve as greeters at the 9 a.m. services, according to a report in huffingtonpost.com.

Read the whole, brief article here.

Now, here comes the really, really odd part.  When I heard about this I expected three things:  1)  The pastor who did this would be a white man 2) the pastor who did this would be middle aged (50ish).  3)  The pastor who did this was probably Southern Baptist (my tribe).

Pastor Makeda Pennycooke
Racist? Me thinkest not

But no.  I could not have been more wrong (teach me something about assumptions, huh!)  Pastor Makeda Pennycooke is none of those things.   Look at her–a young black woman and her church, as best I can tell from its website, is not a SBC (or whatever the new title we gave ourselves no one uses) church.

Was her email smart?  No. It was not.  But is she a racist?  I adventure to say, no she is not a racist.  My sense on this is that she read one of the many books out there on ‘greeter’ and ‘welcome’ ministries (I have a few of these in my library and they all kind of say the same things) that talk about first impressions and all.  The church is clearly a diverse, ethnically rich congregation (I mean, for crying out loud, the executive pastor is a young black woman!  Look at her!) so I don’t think her motives were racist.

What were her motives?  I don’t know, but probably she is trying to attract more of something.  Maybe the church has seen its white membership decline and she is trying to get some of it back or perhaps as things currently stand there are no white people on the greeter teams and so she wants to maybe balance that a bit.  I don’t know exactly.

What I do know is that she made a mistake and somehow the media (The Huffington Post) jumped on it and now it is a full blow debacle for that congregation.  I feel sorry for her and the lead pastors because I can promise you, from experience, this is not what they want to be dealing with–It is no fun when the news media show up and stick the camera in your face and ask you questions designed to embarrass you and make you look stupid.

Our culture is so hyper-sensitive right now to race issues that we can’t seem to let any of it go.  It is sad that racism is a part of our lives, but I don’t think this woman or this church is racist.  I think she probably just said something the wrong way in an email that went to the wrong people.  We get so transfixed on these types of things that are probably nothing more than miscommunication and we neglect to talk about real racism–the disproportionate number of death row inmates who are people of color, the poverty rate amongst many people of color, discrimination in education and law enforcement and much more.  The real problems in our country are complex but that would be hard to focus on.  It is easier to throw sticks and feel outrage and then stick our head back in the sand.