I am struggling. I am afraid.
As I’ve watched events unfold this week, I’ve struggled to make sense of it all. I’ve struggled to find a way from our world and our lives into the gospel. It’s not that the gospel doesn’t speak to our situation. It most certainly does. it’s that the situation keeps changing and each day brings new horrors, new fears, new challenges. In this week when we observed the 72nd anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we seem to be on the brink of nuclear war—closer to that catastrophe than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. All week, I kept thinking back to what it was like for me as a student in West Germany in 1979-1980; where scars from World War II were still present, and all around were reminders of the threat of catastrophic, nuclear war.
By the end of the week, the president was threatening to go to war with Venezuela.
We learned this week that 2016 was the hottest year in the recorded history of our planet.
This weekend we have witnessed in Charlottesville the hatred and violence unleashed by white supremacists, emboldened by a national culture that seems unwilling to name and reject hate and white supremacy. We have seen a young woman murdered by one of the white supremacist protesters. Views that might have been unthinkable a decade ago have become mainstream, and people who hold those views are embedded at the heart of our political and civic culture. While I was heartened to see the Episcopal bishops of the Diocese of Virginia and other priests, among whom several I know personally, standing witness against that violence and hatred, the reality is that many, too many, white Christians equate Christianity with whiteness, white supremacy, and with American nationalism. These are sins we need to call out and name as evil. While it is easy to point fingers at others, it is important that we examine ourselves, to see where those views are embedded in our selves. Continue reading
I wrote on Wednesday about the rash of shootings and 10 homicides in Madison so far this year. For those interested in the story, I am providing here some updates and additional information.
First, there was another attempted homicide last night.The victim had “non-life threatening injuries.”
There’s a background piece in this week’s Isthmus about the violence and about the conflict among city elected officials and community leaders about how best and most effectively to respond.
Amid all the violence and rancor, there are also signs of hope and success. Selfless Ambition reports on the dramatic changes in one Madison neighborhood over the last few years. One of the city’s poorest communities, the Leopold neighborhood has begun a remarkable transformation. The number of police calls dropped by 25% between 2011 and 2015, thanks to the assignment of a community resource police officer, expanded community programming at the elementary school, and the creation of urban community gardens.
If you want to follow developments in this ongoing story and in the effort to overcome racial disparity in our community, I recommend visiting Madison365 and Selfless Ambition regularly. Both are doing great work!
Sis Robinson, Associate Professor at UW-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has written an essay about her research on five “hyper-liberal” cities: Madison, Evanston, IL, Cambridge, Chapel Hill, and Ann Arbor. Her conclusions:
My research shows that one reason is white people’s separation from the lives of people of color. White professionals in these cities can go entire days without seeing any black or brown people. As a result, they don’t see or hear overt racism in their own daily lives, and it becomes easy to believe that it isn’t actually happening anywhere.
Also, many of us white, liberal-minded people consider ourselves “post-racial,” and accept no responsibility for racism in our community. We understand racial disparity as a systemic issue, but feel powerless to do anything about it.
Indeed, we have also staked our identities on the belief that we live in communities that are open and fair to all. The idea that we need to change the very systems we have been invested in nurturing threatens our very sense of self.
I look forward to reading her book: Networked Voices: Race, Journalism, and Progressive Voices.
Rev. Everett Mitchell gave the the third in our presentations on Building a More Just Community:
The Rev. Jerry Hancock on mass incarceration and Wisconsin’s criminal justice system.
David Couper speaks about reforming police at Grace Church on October 14, 2015
Jamelle Bouie has a piece on Slate in which he reflects on the year since Michael Brown’s death and how it has changed America.
As I read it, I began thinking about how I had been changed by Ferguson. I think it was this photo (shot by Whitney Curtis of the New York Times) that did it:
That photo captures a key dynamic in contemporary America: a militarized police force that apparently regards African-Americans as the enemy to be subjugated by means of any force necessary. It’s a photo of White Supremacy and racism exposed for what it is. It’s a photo of our America, an image I can’t get out of my mind because it reveals all of our hypocrisy as well as the evil at the heart of American culture and history.
I went back through my blog to look at how I’ve addressed racism over the years. It’s quite telling. Before the release of the Race to Equity report that detailed the horrific racial disparities in Madison and Dane County, there’s a smattering of references to racism on my blog. Since Ferguson, it’s probably the dominant topic. I’ve preached about it, written about, participated in demonstrations. I’ve read more about racism in the last year than I had in the decades since taking a course on African-American history in college. Racism and America’s culture of violence will be a major focus of our programming at Grace in the coming year.
Boo goes through the litany of deaths and protests and at the end of his recitation, he points out how politicians, mainstream media, and corporations have been forced to address issues of racism. At the end of it all, he writes:
If Ferguson was an earthquake—a tectonic shift in our arguments over race and racism—then a year later, we’re not just feeling the aftershocks. We’re preparing for the next blow.
Bouie did not mention how Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter have changed American Christianity and I’m looking forward to reading similar retrospectives from theologians and religious commentators.