Sunday, August 20, 2017

Charlottesville Reflections: Ancient Thoughts about Equality, Relationship and Community

Add An officer patrols in front of a recent KKK rally in Charlottesville, Va. Jill Mumie 

There’s an uncomfortable verse in the Bible that says,

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”—Luke 14:26

The literal meaning of this verse is “If you want to follow Jesus, you must hate people, especially your own family (not to mention yourself)."

But the original meaning was probably more like, “If you want to follow Jesus, your love for Jesus should be so great all other ‘loves’ diminish to hatred in comparison.”

A verse in the biblical book of Galatians deserves the same treatment.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” –Galatians 3:28

Taken literally, this verse sounds like “All distinctions totally disappear ‘in Christ Jesus.’ We can’t tell men from women; we can’t see ethnic differences, and we can’t discern the difference between a worker and their supervisor. Everyone is exactly the same.”

But the original meaning was probably more along the lines of “Equality, relationship and community ‘in Christ’ diminish the distinctions among those groups.” The differences don’t disappear, they simply hold different meaning.

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, two stances concern me. The first is the one that disturbs many Americans: that stance that says some Americans are inherently superior to others. That view flies directly in the face of this Galatians passage.

The second disturbing stance is the one that says, “There is only one race: the human race.” Semantics around the word “race” aside, this view is unhelpful in the current conversation. It is supported by that misguided, literal reading of Galatians 3:28.

In my TEDxAntioch talk, I make the statement “Race is not real, but race does matter.” I support my assertion about race’s non-existence with scientific discoveries about the nature of “race.” We could substitute misreadings of biblical passages to make the same case. But in either situation, the non-existence of race is irrelevant because “race” continues to exist in our lived realities. Charlottesville proves as much.

Race continues to matter in American society. And we continue to have opportunities to enter into the discomfort to address the difficulties. We need only the will.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Post-Election Blues, Vintage 2008

Like others, I have been accused of over-reacting to the Presidential election results. Some have tried to call me back to 2008 and 2012 to be reminded of how I then was telling people “Get over it! You lost; accept it! Stop whining. You need to chill!" 

I don’t remember expressing those sentiments, but my memory sucks. Fortunately I have an actual record written days after the 2008 election. I don’t think I actually published this anywhere. But here it is.

For the record, the extended conversation I report below took place in our small Baptist church’s only adult Sunday School class the Sunday after the election. I was the teacher, as I had been for the past 10 years. I was also the white congregation’s only black member. Here is my record from that week in 2008:

“I am sad. I have been wondering about my friends who did not vote for Barack Obama. How were they feeling about the outcome of the election?

Some of my McCain supporter friends have rejoiced with me because of our friendship or because of the historical significance. At church one person changed her perspective just because she learned that I once knew and now trust the President-elect. She started to see the President-elect differently even though she did not vote for him. Another sister expressed that she was both “excited and a little fearful.” Another McCain supporter called me to say that she is open to whatever is coming and that she hopes I’m right about how this President will serve the US.

I expected these sorts of responses. I also expected disappointment, maybe bordering on despair or despondency. I have felt this myself after many an election when my candidate (Republican, Democrat or independent) has not won.

I wasn’t expecting the reaction I got from another group of Christian friends. Against Laura’s advice I decided to ask this group: “Regardless of how you voted, how are you feeling about the outcome of the election?"

These people have known about my high school friendship with Barack Obama since before he announced his candidacy. They have also known about my passionate support for him, although as a group we haven’t directly discussed politics.

When I asked the question, Laura answered immediately. Others were more reluctant, but just as I was about to move into Bible Study, people started speaking up. There were a few moments of insight or compassion or possible hope, but this was not the tenor of the conversation. When they finally spoke, they started expressing great anger and intense cynicism.

One person, having heard Oprah say, “Hope won,” replied, “No, hate won!” Other people characterized the President–elect as a heartless baby killer. The “socialist” label came up. One person said he was surprised that Obama apologized to Nancy Reagan for an off-handed séance comment. He said that the apology showed humility, something he hadn’t seen from Obama the whole campaign(!). Some were angry that 97% of black people voted for him (ignoring the fact that this is roughly the same percentage of blacks who support ANY Democratic candidate). Several people said that it didn't really matter who we voted for or who won since God is the one who determines the leaders of the nations, but they were not happy with the outcome.

Someone eventually asked me about my feelings. They said they could tell that I felt hopeful. I told them that I also felt proud, partly because here is our first black President--and he's not just any black guy. He's a man of ability and integrity. I was proud partly because he was my friend, partly because he was from Hawaii like me, but mostly because it is the first time I was truly excited about what this President could do for America. I also said that I feel disappointed that my brothers and sisters are feeling this kind of anger and cynicism at the prospect of their brother in the Lord becoming President. One very intelligent, godly man said, "What's George Bush, chopped liver?" I refrained from reminding him that George Bush wasn't in this election.

Not wanting to get defensive, I did say that they (the whole class) were misinformed about Obama’s abortion sentiments. When someone came back at me with the horrors of abortion, I reminded them that I am pro-life. I am in agreement with them on abortion. I do not agree with them regarding Barack Obama's abortion sentiments.

I eventually reminded them that a President is not a king. He does not have all authority. And he has only 4-8 years to do whatever he plans to do. They all plan to "support" him because they are loyal Americans and because Christians are supposed to support their leaders. I told them that I am praying that the new President will earn their respect.

It saddens me to see the President-elect through the eyes of these brothers and sisters. They see him as lacking humility. They believe that he wants to see babies die, that he promotes decadence, and that he is a socialist. And they are afraid of what he wants to do to America.

Some of them were cynical--intensely cynical. They said they were initially afraid, but were reminded that God chooses who the leaders are. The cynical ones were questioning whether voting matters and whether who is elected matters.

I saw an anger and almost hatred that I've never seen in these my beloved brothers and sisters. Despite the surprise, I had invited it. And while it was not pleasant, I don't regret the question.”

Monday, September 29, 2014

We Are NOT Post Racial

Here's a preview of my October 18 TEDxAntioch talk. There are still spaces left to attend if you live in the Nashville area!

Monday, December 02, 2013

20 Things That Are NOT the News

Apart from my newswriting class in 8th grade at Wahiawa Intermediate School, I have not studied journalism. So I don’t claim to be an expert in this area. But I am bothered by some discourse these days that pretends to be news. So according to me, here is some stuff that is NOT the news.

1. The headline is not the news.

2. That ticker at the bottom of the screen is not the news.

3. If you saw it on Comedy Central, it was not the news.

4. If you saw it on a number of other networks (which I won’t name because I’m more interested in generating light than heat), it quite likely wasn’t the news.

5. Speculation is not the news.

6. Insinuation is not the news.

7. Conjecture is not the news.

8. Name-calling is not the news.

9. Wondering aloud is not the news.

10. Predicting doom is not the news.

11. “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge” is not the news.

12. Trying to look confused while reading the story usually renders it “not the news.”

13. Commentary, talk radio, and talk TV are mostly not the news.

14. Popular opinion polls are often not the news.

15. Polls of already like-minded people are not the news.

16. Anything in the comments section is not the news (unless it’s a link to the actual news).

17. Relating what some public figure did NOT do is hardly ever the news.

18. Relating what some public figure did NOT say is not the news.

19. Except in the case of an unsolved crime or a missing person, if the story ends with, “No word on whether…,” it probably isn’t the news.

20. This piece is opinion; it too is not the news.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How Horror Movies Begin

We bought the bed and breakfast Groupon a few months ago before the time change. We weren’t thinking of how early the days get dark in November. The Groupon restricted our one-night stay to begin on a Sunday - Thursday. We chose a Thursday night, leaving town after work.

We were due to arrive at Natchez Hills B&B between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. I had printed out a map and directions, but we figured we’d rely mainly upon the Google Maps navigator.

Laura programmed her iPhone for directions from my office to the B&B address in Hampshire, TN. Accompanied by the comforting voice of GPS Lady and by our own musical mixtapes of anniversaries past, we enjoyed the drive, even after getting stuck in inexplicable traffic outside of Columbia.

It was a straight shot down I-65 until we got to Columbia, where we picked up US 412. We traveled through town and into more rural areas. And then it was dark. And there were windy roads. And GPS Lady said, “ In a quarter mile, turn right on Taylor Store Road…turn left on Love Branch Road…turn right on Southpoint.   

And then more windy roads. Laura said, “Well this is in the boonies.” “Yeah,” I said, calmly and wisely.  I’m the wise one because I trust GPS Lady. More windy roads. And Laura said, “But there aren’t any signs…of any kind.” “Yeah.” And there was silence.

I’m sure that at this point, GPS Lady meant to break the silence with, “I’m sorry, folks; I got nothin’. I’m as lost as you are.” But she didn't. 

Finally our headlights shone upon a sign; it read “Pleasant Union Cemetery.” And GPS Lady said with all confidence, “You have reached your destination.”

Cue suspenseful music.

* * *

Rather than panicking, we resorted to laughing. I think that’s the proper response when you feel like you're in a horror movie. Looking at the iPhone, we saw that GPS Lady was right; we had reached the destination listed. But it wasn’t the destination Laura programmed in. Somehow the address changed….to a cemetery.

We re-programmed, and GPS Lady apparently got her bearings. In about 30 minutes, she led us to what seemed to be the right place. Unlit dark-colored signs, when discovered, helped us. And although the long driveway brought back that eerie feeling, we arrived at a row of cabins and what appeared to be a big house.

We got out of the car and knocked on the door of the house. No answer. We tried the door, and it was unlocked, so we went in. We waited a few seconds, and then Laura began, “Hello?! Hello?! Okay someone’s coming…I think. Hello?! Did you hear that? Hello?!”

I finally looked up the phone number for the place and called the reservation desk. We learned later that Melissa, my contact, was in Georgia, not right around the corner. She told us which cabin we were to stay in. She said that it should be unlocked.

We found the little building in the dark and eventually entered. Just then, the phone rang. It was Melissa. “I just wanted to make sure you were at the right bed and breakfast. Sometimes people make a wrong turn and end up at another place. Are you sure you’re in the right cabin?”
“Um, I guess I'm pretty sure…”

Cue music.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

After the Break-Up

I still can’t find any clear documentation of the day that Laura dumped me. We had known each other for 10 years, and we had dated for three. In conversations, we had touched on potential marriage some day. We tried to explore, to anticipate, to assess the potential challenges of remarriage, parenting and step-parenting, and race. In addition, we each had our peculiar quirks and foibles. We had been talking. And then she broke up with me.

Last week I stumbled upon a document that narrowed down the dump date.  It had to be before September 15, 1994. Upon further investigation, I could see that Dump Day was sometime in mid to late August of that year. By early September, I was down in the lowlands of self-pity (I have the journals to prove it). I also knew that my own selfishness had brought on this breakup. At that point I could have related to the author (thanks Jeff) of “I Didn't Love My Wife When We Got Married.”

And then in my wallowing—and praying, can’t discount the praying—I discovered a hopeful possibility. My specific memory is unclear, but I am guessing that an answering machine message reminded me that we had scheduled a counseling session for September 16. When we made the appointment, we were still a couple, but clearly wanting help for our relationship. So just before the appointment date, using the pretense of that counseling session, I called Laura. 

Tony: I got a message to remind us that we have a counseling appointment on Friday. I just wanted to know what you wanted to do about it.

Laura: I don’t know why you’re asking. We’re broken up, and you don’t want to marry me, so what would be the point?

Tony: I do want to marry you.

Laura: What?

Tony: I do want to marry you.

Laura: Well, I want to marry you, too.

Tony: You do?

Laura: Yes.

We kept the counseling appointment, and barely two months later (after a slightly less lame second proposal), we were married.

And now we begin our 20th year of marriage. It has not been all smooth sailing. But, although I loved Laura when we got married, I love her more now. I hope I love her better.