Category: Racism

Words Matter, Especially a President’s

This article was published on Sunday, January 21, 2018, by the Bristol Herald Courier

The late Neil Postman, the author of “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” once pointed out that BHC Logo“How we talk is how we think.” Of course, that idea wasn’t original with Postman. Jesus himself pointed this out when he said, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.”

In essence, words matter because they reveal things about us as human beings.

According to the Bristol Herald Courier and other news outlets, people all over the country are outraged. It is unconscionable, they declare, that a president of the United States should ever publically refer to some African countries – or any country – as “sh*thole” countries.

In fact, a number of people are bristling that he would use such inappropriate language because it is not only unbecoming and unpresidential, it is offensive and it is sure to alienate the people of those countries.

Then there are those who defend Trump, even hail him as a genius. They see nothing wrong what with Trump said and even go so far as to applaud his transparency. They like Trump’s tough language and stance when it comes to immigration and his responses to other world leaders; it is, according to some, the sort of John Wayne-ish rhetoric that America has been missing for a long time; it will put us on the road to becoming great again.

Trump’s comments reveal something about him not just as a president but as a person as well.

For one thing, his comments show a lack of understanding regarding the office of president; while he holds the office, it isn’t just his office. Trump is there to represent all Americans, and not simply the ones he likes or agrees with.

I suppose that has been one of the toughest transitions for him. After all, for decades his entire world has revolved around his interests; but as president of the United States, he can no longer simply think of his aims, his goals, his ideas. He needs to weigh what he says against that call and obligation to represent the United States and not simply himself.

Like it or not, he represents all of us and what he says carries a lot of weight. I suppose that’s why a lot of people are upset because the things he has said of late does not represent them. Imagine if someone who is supposed to represent your interests was saying things that you completely disagreed with but they kept saying it with no regard to you at all.

But that’s not the only issue here, or even perhaps the most important one. Words matter because they reveal something about us as human beings; the things we say often tell more about what is truly in our hearts than the actions that we take.

A lot of what President Trump has said over the past year was in step with the things he did as a reality TV star. Many of us simply took it in stride, considering it as some bluster. But this latest comment reveals more about what is going on inside his heart and mind than anything else he’s said so far.

What the president of the United States has to say about poor and impoverished nations matters. For decades, this country has been known for its humanitarian efforts – which frankly goes in stride with something from the book of Proverbs: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

But that isn’t what Trump seemed to be saying the other day when he cast entire countries and people into the sewer.

What does that sort of comment reveal about what he truly believes about these people? Does he really think that those nations are “sh*thole countries” or was he just blustering? What are we to think when someone with such power says something so horrible about people who have been the victims of tyranny and injustice for decades? Does it represent us well? What could he have been thinking? Who was he representing in that moment?

There are a lot of people in this region who support President Trump. There are others who are resigned to the fact that he is our president and others who loathe him. No matter your position, his comment reveals something about him as a person that is disturbing. It is something we need to bear in mind because his words tell us something about the man himself.

 

This article was published on Sunday, January 21, 2018, by the Bristol Herald Courier

Advertisements

Charlottesville’s reminder of a need for dialogue | Opinion | heraldcourier.com

Did you know that Bristol, Tennessee, has a few Confederate monuments in East Hill Cemetery? That makes sense, given the fact that Bristol served as a hospital during the Civil

Source: Charlottesville’s reminder of a need for dialogue | Opinion | heraldcourier.com

Captive

 

hands boundOver the last week news outlets have buzzed with the fallout surrounding the “alleged” racists comments of Clipper’s owner, Donald Sterling. Everyone from former NBA players and coaches to the President have contributed to the discussion. Even non-profits who have benefitted from Sterling’s wealth are weighing in – some returning his donations and others refusing to receive any further money from him. Sterling’s alleged remarks have left some wondering how this sort of thing could still be with us in 2014 after all we know how horrible racism and bigotry are. We have seen how it can lead to violence and that it also shows up in apathy and neglect. What we may miss, however, is just how captive we may personally be to racism and bigotry.


john perkins 2John Perkins understands how racism and bigotry enslaves humanity perhaps better than most people. Perkins experienced the violence of racism first hand – with the murder of his brother and welcoming justicehis own brutal beating at the hands of law enforcement in his Mississippi hometown. However, as Perkins lay recovering from near death he realized that if he returned the hatred that is inherent in racism he would be captive. He realized that racism and bigotry cuts across the intent of the Gospel. On recovering, Perkins continued the work that he had done earlier but he also began the work of reconciliation. He realized something incredibly important which is at the core of his life work. In the book, Welcoming Justice, John Perkins wrote, “No one ever put a chain on another human being without tying the other end to himself. We know this. But it can be hard for white folks to see how race continues to hold them captive.”

Is it difficult for white people to see how race holds them captive? Is it difficult for you to admit, to acknowledge racism and bigotry in your own life?

Here is an exercise that might be beneficial (or perhaps not).

  • If you are white, does it bother you that an African-American in Mississippi said this about white people? Why?
  • If you are African America does it make you feel good that Perkins says this about white people? Why?
  • If you are neither white nor African-American, how does this statement strike you?
  • When was the last time you heard someone say, “I’m not a racist but…?” Who said it? Why did they feel comfortable saying that to you?
  • When was the last time you heard someone say, “I don’t have a problem with gay people but…?” Did it come from your lips? Who said it? Why did they feel comfortable saying that to you? Or why did you feel comfortable saying it?
  • Would you rather not have certain “types” of people for neighbors? (I once had people react because they didn’t like the idea of living next to a pastor and his family).
  • Does race influence where you eat, shop for groceries, drive, live, or send your kids to school?
  • Does it influence where you worship?
  • Last week a man was sharing with me about where his kids would have to go to school if he didn’t send them to private school. He actually said, “it is a little dark over there – if you know what I mean.” Seeing my reaction he quickly followed up with, “I’m not racist but…” as if that would cover him. How would you have reacted? What would you have said? (I’ve wondered why he felt comfortable saying that to me).

Perkins is spot on and perhaps the Sterling debacle highlights how race and bigotry continue to hold people captive. Here we are in 2014, we have made all these advances in regards to equality and yet it is still with us. Why? Because racism and bigotry do not live in bans, fines, policies, legislation and even in electing an African-American President. Racism and bigotry live in the fertile soil of the human heart where they are planted, take root, bear fruit and harvested. Perhaps we need to ask what is within our hearts.

Perkins could have returned to his bitterness and anger after being beaten. It was certainly an option. It was as much a part of his heart as yours or mine. Instead he went the opposite direction. How?

John Perkins is not the hero of his story. Perkins points to one who triumphed thru him. In the New Testament Gospel of Luke, Jesus, we are told, entered a synagogue and a scroll, from the Prophet Isaiah, was given to him to read. He unrolled the scroll and found what we know as Isaiah 61. He read these words, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

As a Christian, it is the image of “liberty to the captive…those who are oppressed” which captures my imagination, especially as it relates to racism and bigotry. It was Jesus that helped turn Perkins away from the captivity of racism. It was Jesus that transformed his life and heart and keeps transforming it.  And yet, as much as I would like to say that racism and bigotry do not exist within a Christian context I can’t without lying. Sunday morningsslavery_hands_chain are often called “the last segregated hour.” Church folk do not always do what Jesus would have them do.

Nevertheless, I believe, as Perkins states so well, that Jesus “came to drive a wedge in the status quo and create space where new life can happen.” That is one thing that Jesus does – he pushes against even the hidden places of the human heart – the places where the seeds of racism and bigotry are planted – and brings good things to bear. It starts with something difficult – admitting, at least to God and ourselves – that we simply do not love all cultures and all people.

Perhaps when we are ready to admit some things about our hearts, the way we believe and think, then we can look to Jesus – even if you are not a Christian – and see how he interacted with people. Look at where Jesus traveled (Samaria), whom he engaged (prostitutes, tax-collectors, rich, poor, religious and self-righteous). Take a look at Jesus’ life and see how it differs from the way we make decisions about where we go, shop, eat, live, and especially the way we treat other people who are very different from us (Jesus, after all, was very different from the people interacted with). Perhaps Jesus will help us see the ways we are held captive by racism and bigotry. Perhaps he will help us the way he helped John Perkins – who in turn has brought good to bear in so many places. Perhaps Jesus will help you and I to become more aware of the ways that we are held captive to race and bigotry.

iron-shackles-~-u11832210

 

Resources:

  1. http://www.jvmpf.org/
  2. Marsh, C. and J. Perkins (2009). Welcoming justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community. Downers Grove, Ill., IVP Books.
  3. https://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/24114-some-nonprofits-keep-donald-sterling-s-money-others-send-it-back.html
  4. http://www.esvbible.org/Luke%204/
  5. http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2008/dec/17/radical-faith-the-revolution-of-john-perkins/
  6. http://www.esvbible.org/John%204/
  7. http://www.esvbible.org/John%203/