Tag Archives: racism

“I am a man”

In 1879, Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca people successfully argued that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law” with the right of habeas corpus. The result of case, held in a U.S. District Court in Omaha, meant that Chief Standing Bear became the first Native American judicially granted civil rights under U.S. law. 

Nebraska recently unveiled a statue of Chief Standing Bear in the U.S. Capitol. A recent story about the statue and Standing Bear in The Washington Post story quotes Standing Bear’s affirmation of common humanity during his trial:

On the second day, Chief Standing Bear was called to testify, becoming the first Native American to do so. He raised his right hand and, through an interpreter, said: “My hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. The same god made us both. I am a man.”

“I am a man.” – Sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennesse.

“Ain’t I a woman,” – Sojourner Truth.

“I am a person. I am a human being.” – Countless people in countless situations.

Again and again, people have had to make that assertion as they struggle for civil rights and human rights in the face of oppression, discrimination, and prejudice.  The struggle continues today. It is shared across all social identities as structures grant privilege to some but  not to all. Key to creating and maintaining that privilege is denying the humanity of other people. When will we ever learn that everyone – everyone – is a human being entitled to basic human rights? When will we ever learn to treat one another with respect and love?

For Chief Standing Bear and Sojourner Truth and the sanitation workers of Memphis, may we renew our efforts to eviscerate, in the word of the CoInspire Conference, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, and all systems of privilege and oppression.

Learn more about Chief Standing Bear:

The Trial of Standing Bear – a PBS film

Chief Standing Bear: The Trail Ahead

The Story of Chief Standing Bear (.pdf)

“I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, National Park

Throwing off Cloaks or Be Like Bart

Mark 10:46-52
28 October 2018
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. Mark Koenig

46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 49Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.51Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ 52Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. 

IMG-8424Bartimaeus – the son of honor. Once could see. Lost his sight. Encountered Jesus. The crowd tried to keep him away. Jesus called Bartimaeus to him. The man who was blind threw off his cloak and went to Jesus. After a conversation, Jesus healed him. He regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. Remember Bartimaeus who threw off his cloak. We will come back to him.

Events of the week rocked my world.

People make up a significant part of our worlds. Family. Friends. Members of Christ’s body. They touch and enrich us.

Values make up a significant part of our worlds. Faith in Jesus Christ. The principles which guide us.  The practices by which we act.

Places make up a significant part of our worlds. Places we have lived. Places we have visited. Places that shape and form us and give us meaning. In the words of Archibald Graham, the one-time baseball player who found his true calling as a doctor in small-town Minnesota in the movie Field of Dreams, “This is my most special place in all the world. Once a place touches you like that, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.

People. Values. Places. Events rocked all three of those parts of my life this week.

People. On Wednesday my brother’s father-in-law had died. Charles Wilt – Chuck as we all called him – had been ill for a while, but still his death was a bit unexpected. He worked for state of Pennsylvania on water safety. I saw him at every family gathering. He was a kind, gentle, thoughtful man with one flaw. He liked Notre Dame football. He was buried yesterday wearing Notre Dame socks. It was a blessing to know him.

Values. Today we mark Reformation Sunday. We Presbyterians trace our roots in the Reformed tradition to John Calvin.

John Calvin followed Jesus and knew that Jesus was a refugee. Fearing what Herod might do, Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus to Egypt for safety (Matthew 2:13-15). Calvin was French, he left his home and went to Switzerland where he eventually found a leadership role among the followers of Jesus in Geneva.

These itinerant experiences of our ancestors have made welcome an important value for my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus and to be in ministry. The separation of families at our border grieves me. What impact does that have on the parents and children involved? What does that say about us as a nation that such separations have happened and continue?

Many responses to the people coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador and other countries grieve me. People are leaving their homes and making a perilous journey to what they perceive as greater safety. “These individuals are largely asylum seekers, families of people who are seeking safety. How we react to them says a lot about how we value them as human beings,” said Teresa Waggener, immigration attorney for the PC(USA)’s Office of Immigration Issues. How we react to them says even more about who we are as human beings. For whatever reason they flee their homes, they all have rights under international law. They all have a claim on us as people made in the image of God. What does it say about us as a nation that our leaders encourage us to respond with fear rather than to love?

By training, Calvin was an attorney. He believed that God is God, as I heard in a sermon last week. God is God. And God is God of all of life. We follow Jesus in all our living. Every part. That includes our public life – our life together – the ways in which policies are made and implemented. Calvin referred to the office of “civil magistrate” – the authorities – as the “most sacred, and by far the most honourable, of all stations in mortal life.

While I have never had the desire to be a civil magistrate or to run for public office, I have long understood advocacy as part of my calling as a follower of Jesus and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian church. This involves communicating with elected officials and supporting positions on issues. It does not involve publicly supporting any individual candidates. I will encourage you to vote. I will never say vote for a specific individual. But I will say vote.

My heart broke in June 2017 when a gunman opened fire on Republican congress people as they practiced on a baseball field. My heart broke this week as I learned that pipe bombs described by the FBI as “potentially destructive devices” were mailed to people across the country. The recipients include Democratic public officials, former government employees, and a funder of progressive candidates and causes. Any political violence – in whatever form, be it overt or subtle – tears at my values and rips at our society.

Places. On Wednesday, Mr. Maurice Stallard and Ms. Vickie Jones were killed at a Kroger grocery store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. Race played a role in the killings. Mr. Stallard and Ms. Jones were African-American. The shooter is white. He tried to enter an African-American Baptist Church before going to the Kroger. I lived in Jeffersontown for six years when I worked in Louisville. My go-to grocery store was the Kroger on Taylorsville Road where Mr. Stallard and Vickie Jones were killed.

Yesterday, a shooting took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania. 11 people are reported to have been killed and 4 police officers and two others wounded. The gunman reportedly made anti-Semitic remarks during the shooting. In addition, his social media account indicates his anti-Semitism. It is also reported he expressed criticism of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) for its work with immigrants and refugees. The link between HIAS and the Tree of Life remains unclear; one report indicates the synagogue recently hosted a HIAS event.

I noted that the names of those killed at the Tree of Life had been released shortly before our service but I had not been able to find them. Clerk of Session Lisa Sisenwein did so during the service and I read the names:

Squirrel Hill is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh. It’s Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. He lived there. A Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers was not a member of a congregation. But he was an active participant in Sixth Presbyterian Church, located about  a 10-minute walk from the synagogue. On Saturday evening, Sixth Presbyterian Church hosted an interfaith prayer vigil with neighbors – neighbors – of all faiths and no faith. While I never actually lived in Pittsburgh, I spent most of my early life in Western Pennsylvania – within the orbit of Pittsburgh. It remains one of my “most special places.” When pushed to name a place as home, I reference Pittsburgh.

Events of the past week rocked the people, values, and places of my world. Perhaps these or other events rocked your world.

What do we do? What do we who follow Jesus do in times such as these?

We grieve.  We weep.  We rail and rant and rave.  Sometimes we grieve hard.

IMG-8432We pray. We light candles. We make music and sing songs, even when they are cold and broken Hallelujahs. As another Leonard, Bernstein in this case, once said, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

We remember.

We remember that, as challenging as life becomes, God is God and God is with us. God never promises to make life go the way we would like. God never promises a life free of pain and struggle. What God promises is God’s presence. In all things. Whatever life brings.  God holds us . . . strengthens us to rebuild . . . frees us to care for one another . . . inspires us to work for new beginnings . . . God loves us . . . God leads us to new life.

We remember Jesus. Jesus knew the sorrow and pain of this life. He lived under the oppression of the Roman Empire He encountered sickness and hunger. His earthly life ended in arrest, torture, and execution. And his closest friends? His followers? One betrayed him. One denied him. Others fled from him. Only the women remained.

But, God raised Jesus from death to life overcoming the power of sin and death. In so doing, God affirmed Jesus’ life and witness that we are made for each other. We are made to be loved. We are made to be love.

We remember the followers of Jesus. The disciples through the centuries. Those who took in the spirit of Bartimaeus, I told you he would be back. We remember the people who heard the call of Jesus and jumped up and threw off their cloaks and followed him.

This seems a particularly appropriate day to remember Jesus’ followers. Today we celebrate 147 years of witness and ministry by that part of Christ’s body known as the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone. We stand in the long tradition of followers of Jesus. Particularly, we stand in the tradition of those good folk who threw off their cloaks and followed Jesus in Queens. Some are long gone, and we follow in their footsteps. Others sit in the pews around us. We remember that today. And we give thanks that we do not have to work alone.

Because after we grieve and after we remember, we have work to do. As Rabbi Rick Jacobs said, the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, and other attacks on places of worship and acts of hate, reveal that “the fabric holding our nation together is fraying. It is our task to ensure that it does not come apart.” We have work to do.

We need to challenge speech that is hateful or that incites violence when we hear it expressed. Words do not pull the trigger on guns. Words do not build explosive devices. But words create an atmosphere in which some people think it is OK to build and send bombs and shoot guns. Pastor Gregory Bentley reminds us that “Words create worlds. The power of life and death is in the tongue. Choose life and speak life!” When we hear words that express hate or stoke violence, we need to find ways to respond. We can tell the President and other public servants to stop the hate. We can stand up to bullies. We can refuse to laugh at jokes or comments that demean or degrade.

We need to recognize that all people are made in God’s image. All people are precious to God. Anti-Semitism, white supremacy, patriarchy, nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia and other prejudices and systems that divide us and that say some have people have more value than others, cannot go unconfronted. When we find ourselves in gatherings where someone says something racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic or otherwise hateful, those of us who hear can no longer look at each other uncomfortably. This has to end. We – I – have to find the courage to disrupt such thinking whether it is our living room or on the Internet or at public events. We must also work to dismantle the systems build on such lies. The Rev. William Barber tweeted “I am reminded of what Dr. King said after four little girls were murdered in an Alabama church: ‘we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer.’

We need to learn about the issues we face. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has created a resource about addressing gun violence. We could do a study about that if we wanted to do so. Our Presbyterian Office of Public Witness and Office of Immigration have made available resources to help us learn about the people fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. A few copies of those resources are on the table in Fellman Hall. We can make more. Various organizations including the Presbyterian Church can help us address racism. More Light Presbyterians and others provide insight and support for overcoming the oppression of our LGBTQ siblings.

We can welcome each other. We can share our condolences and support with our Jewish friends. Or we can make the effort to make Jewish friends.

We can give. I made a small contribution to Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue, a fund started by Muslims in Pittsburgh to help with the expenses faced by families who had a loved one killed or wounded in the shooting. I am happy to tell anyone who might like to consider making such a gift. I know that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is in conversation with Pittsburgh Presbytery and may provide opportunities for giving. But there is something immensely satisfying to me to be a Christian contributing to a fund organized by Muslims to reach out to a Jewish community in the aftermath of religious violence that can strike any faith community.

We can reach out to our African-American friends. We can reach across the wondrous diversity that God creates and build the community for which God creates us, for which Jesus redeems us, and for which the Holy Spirit inspires us. To adapt a statement by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush of Auburn Seminary, this is time for “people of all faiths [and no faith] to come together, reject the hate and work for the future of our nation where there is no supremacy by any one group, and all are welcome, there is equity for all and that the tree of life bears fruit for all.”

To do that, we double down on love. It might be tempting to withdraw from the world around us. To try to create insulated pockets of safety. To circle the wagons and hunker down. To make it through life as individuals. Safe and secure.

But Jesus revealed that God does not make us for isolation. God does not make us to live as individuals. God does not make us for safety and security. Jesus revealed that God makes us for relationships. God makes us for love.

And as Lin-Manuel Miranda, speaking as he received a Tony award about twenty-four hours after the horrific slaughter of members of the LGBTQ community at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando:

When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.

In the face of difficult days and troubling events that shake our worlds, we have the opportunity to be like Bart. To hear the call of Jesus and throw off our cloaks and with hearts shattered in pieces and tears streaming down our faces and voices cracking with emotion and knees knocking with fear, to love one another, to love everyone as disciples of Jesus. To love fiercely. To love graciously. To love, by the grace of God, as well as we are able. May it be so. Amen.

 

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Family, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Friends, Gun Violence, Human Rights, Louisville, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

40 Days of Moral Action launches a multi-year movement

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival begins a Season of Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action to launch a multi-year movement to address the intersecting issues of systemic racism, systemic poverty, the war economy/militarism, ecological devastation, and the distorted moral narrative. Here’s a graphic that provides an overview. Links follow.

PoorPeople'sCampaign

Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
Kairos: The Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice
Repairers of the Breach
Poor People’s Campaign Facebook Page
New York State Poor People’s Campaign

 

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Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy

It is past time to join the chorus of many inside and outside of the church crying out in the face of racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and any form of human hierarchy—conscious or unconscious—that diminishes the inherent dignity of those whom God created. We can no longer be silent. We cannot and will not retreat. We believe the good news of Jesus Christ is freedom to those held captive by bigotry, hatred and fear; liberating oppressed and oppressor alike.

2017-09-10 (2)A wide array of Christian faith leaders from across the United States have issued a Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy. This statement calls  for a return to the liberating work of the Gospel and a rejection of racism and colonization and suggests action steps: listen, lament, repent, and re-imagine.

In the face of white privilege, white normalcy, white supremacy, and white nationalism, the Declaration offers an alternative vision, rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. The Declaration notes that:

The churc\\\h has always stumbled toward the promise of scripture. At times it has done well. Other times it has suffered under the weight of white nationalism.

The crafters of the Declaration write and act in the hope that followers of Jesus will reject hatred and violence and work to disrupt racism and work to renew both the Church and our society.

Check out the Declaration. As it states, if you hear God’s Spirit speaking, consider signing the Declaration and joining in the suggested actions and work. If you do not, pay no further attention.

See you along the Trail.

 

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In response to the killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

From my friends who have commented on the act of terror that involved the killing of nine people, nine of God’s children, nine of my brothers and sisters, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, I share, with permission, some words that touched me:

This is outrageous – this white terrorist murderer said “you’re raping our women and taking over our country and you gotta go” before killing 9 African Americans, and Fox is trying to spin this as the nutty right wing “Christian persecution” complex that somehow this is part of the war on people with traditional values. This was racial hatred – our own particular American sickness. The white shooter has not been portrayed as a “thug”, or even a terrorist, even though he has a mug shot and was arrested twice in the last 3 months. “We do know we’ll never understand what motivates someone to do this” (Governor Nikki Haley) Yes, we do understand what motivates him – he told them – racial hatred. And a white terrorist, according to the media, must have some sort of mental illness, or bad childhood, some reason to explain his actions, other than that he was raised in the US, where racial hatred is taught and not addressed and is so rampant that our media give this white kid all kinds of white privilege.
– Patrick Evans

What happened in Charleston was not random or senseless. It was an act of domestic terrorism fueled by ever present white supremacy. Church, let’s not live in denial.
– Christine Hong

Senseless (adj.): A word that forever needs to be extracted from our political and national vocabulary, especially after instances of mass violence. We can make sense of the horrific murders of nine black South Carolinians gathering for Bible study– and it starts with confronting a culture which idolizes guns and violence and refuses to acknowledge white supremacy.
– Kyle Cristofolo

Recent events are almost incomprehensible. From the precious lives lost, to how it happened, to the fact that these acts of hate happen way too often, to the policies that allow them to happen, to the hatred and bigotry that undergird the violence. Wish this wasn’t true. RIP, our fellow humans, brothers and sisters, and neighbors. It seems almost trite to say that we send thoughts and prayers to the impacted community…right? But maybe we do that, in combination with holding onto conviction and hope for a better tomorrow, that we have the courage and will for justice to co-construct better and more peaceful communities and country.
– Ester Sihite

And finally, my own words:

I grieve for my brothers and sisters, unknown to me in person yet my family nonetheless, who were killed in Emanuel AME Church. I rage against the racial hatred and anger that apparently resulted in the killing of God’s precious children. I ache at this bloody reminder of the power of the system of racism to shape our behavior. I hear a call, again, still, to work with my sisters and brothers more creatively and effectively to dismantle racism and to build community and to address gun violence. And I pray for the grace and courage and faith and hope to respond.

With thanks for my friends.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Friends, Gun Violence

17 March – each year, every year

I speak for no others,
only for myself.
For me, this day has
nothing to do with
green beer or
green rivers or
green clothing,
this day has nothing to do with
pinching me or kissing me;
my bad jokes aside,
this day has nothing to do even with Jameson.
Today is a day
to remember oppression
to honor resistance
to recognize that, despite the efforts of
systems of race and racialization
to separate us,
struggles for dignity and justice,
freedom and equality,
human rights and humanity
are inseparably linked:
none of us are free until all of us are free.
for that reason, in that spirit, and in my own fashion,
I mark this day, and each 17th of March.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Fitzgerald, from County Cork, on my mother’s side.

See you along the Trail!

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Always broken

The system is broken.

I have heard that often following the decisions of grand juries not to indict in the cases of the killing of Michael Brown and the killing of Eric Garner.

The system is broken.

Unless the speaker means she/he is just realizing that for people of color, women, immigrants, members of the LGBTQIA community, and many others, the system has always been broken, I strongly disagree with that statement.

The system was built on the institution of chattel slavery. And when that institution ended, it was replaced by Jim Crow laws that legalized segregation. And when those laws were overturned, institutionalized racism remained, expressing itself today in the New Jim Crow that results in “millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then denied rights, rights won in the struggle, and relegated to a permanent second-class status.

The system was built on indentured servitude.

The system was built on the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the theft of their resources.

The system was built on the theft of the land of Latinos/Latinas.

The system was built by controlling who could enter the country. And then providing a welcome that grudginly accepted labor but only slowly and incompletely accepted humanity.

The system was built on the view that women and children were property of men to care for, perhaps, but also to dominate and abuse and violate.

The system was built on driving people who did not fit the cisgender, heterosexual norm into closets.

The system was built to privilege a few at the expense of the many.

The system is broken. The system has always been broken.

The vision of a system that provides justice and equality for all has long been with us, perhaps always been with us. It judges and challenges the status quo. Since the beginning, there have been people who have been caught by the vision and have challenged the system, who have worked to remake it. Through their efforts, progress has occurred. I give thanks for them. I give thanks for where we have come. But significant work remains to create a system that provides justice and equality for all.

The system is broken. It has always been broken.

God grant me grace and courage to support and join those who seek to remake it.

See you along the Trail.

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