Blackface + time + change = redemption?

“When a politician’s positions on current issues already raise questions about racism, then evidence of racism in his or her past ought to have increased significance.”

Ralph Northam
Ralph Northam, elected Virginia governor in 2017
“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” That was Abraham Lincoln in 1858 during a debate with Stephen Douglas.

Seven years later, he evolved, wanting to allow black soldiers – such as my ancestors – who had fought so bravely in the Civil War the ballot. Had he lived, who knows how much he may have changed, with Frederick Douglass whispering in his ear.

The notion here is rather obvious: people change. In The Mosque Across the Street – a video shown at the FOCUS churches service I attended this month – we see one Christian parishioner at a Memphis church weep as he realizes that HE was the problem in dealing with the new Muslim neighbors.

Jeff, a Facebook friend, wrote this recently: “Bob Zellner was a civil rights hero, a white organizer of SNCC. His father was a Klansman until he went to Europe in the 1930s, met up with a group of Southern Gospel singers and traveled with them. He wrote to his wife that at some point, he ‘forgot they were black,’ and he realized how foolish and awful he had been. When he got home he resigned from the Klan, traveled the South as an anti-Klan preacher… and his wife took his Klan uniforms and made much needed shirts out of them for the kids.”

As the very first line of his Oyez bio reads, “Hugo LaFayette Black refused to let his past dictate his future.” The Alabaman joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1923, but quit two years later. As an old poli sci major could tell you, Black was sworn in as an Associate Justice in 1937, and served for 34 years, supporting many groundbreaking civil rights cases.

People change. And we WANT and EXPECT people to do so. I’ve read a number of stories from white people, especially during this Black History Month, about how they, or those around them, were radically changed by interaction with people of different backgrounds.

One fellow from my former hometown wrote: “I changed from the young guy growing up in a backward community that still appears to show the same racist, bigoted attitude. Becoming educated, and allowing others to point out most of my misconceptions helped.”

So I am having some difficulty – OK, a LOT of difficulty – judging people solely based on how they dressed up in costumes – even racist, offensive costumes – decades ago. It does not necessarily make that person a bigot for life.

If people who were ACTUAL members of the Ku Klux Klan can be redeemed, some indiscretions of the past, even blackface – which must have been the state hobby among white Virginians at some point – can be contextualized.

What we need is some sort of formula based on the severity of the offense, the recency of the offense, the level of contrition, and most importantly, their current comportment. As a guy I know wrote: “I think that this needs to be decided by the group that he has offended, not white liberals.”

To that end, the subhead of this article from a couple weeks ago intrigued me: As Calls Mount for Ralph Northam to Resign, Some Virginians Mull a Second Chance. “Seems the average black voter in VA has conflicting feelings about all this. Maybe because they have seen a lot worse?

Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel had to quit recently. He wore blackface to make fun of victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I have no sympathy, and he needed to go.

As the Weekly Sift guy notes: “When a politician’s positions on current issues already raise questions about racism, then evidence of racism in his or her past ought to have increased significance.”

As a practical matter, I believe this is also true:

“I worry that we’re playing into Trump’s hands when we drum Ralph Northam out of the Democratic Party. As I interpret it, Trump’s message to wavering whites and men and anti-gay straights goes something like this:
“‘You’re never going to be pure enough to satisfy the liberals. So you might as well wear your MAGA hat and fly your Confederate flag, because no matter what you do, there’s never going to be a place for you on the other side'”.

Nation of Change recommends that Ralph Northam immediately resigns when the “lord of racism in the here and now” goes. THAT is a workable plan.

Go ‘outside the camp’ to the marginalized

FOCUS volunteers also sacrifice their time to do advocacy.

Hebrews 13.16I took on this assignment to write something for the FOCUS Churches of Albany’s Advent devotional. This was my submitted copy, which may or may not be what shows up.

Text: Hebrews 13:7-17. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
As Christ was killed outside the city gate, let us also go ‘outside the camp’ to the marginalized and risk “the abuse he endured.”
In gratitude, “let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God…”

Quite a few of my friends are apathetic or even antagonistic towards the church. I totally get that. I’d been there myself some years ago.

My friends often see some elements of the church favoring those who have, the insiders. “Send money” so the pastor can have a bigger house, a better plane. I actually heard one of these guys say that if Jesus had come to earth in the 21st century, rather than the first, he’d be riding around in the newest and fanciest airbus.

That’s not the Jesus I’m seeing in this passage. He is instead a sacrificial Lord. While He is learned enough to swap scripture with the scribes and elders, he’s spending most of His time tending to the marginalized.

I’ve been a member of a FOCUS church since 1984. What inspires me about service to others is that doesn’t end at the sanctuary door. It goes “outside the camp” (v. 13), meeting the needs of the broader community.

Jesus commands us to feed the hungry, and FOCUS does that with food pantries, a breakfast club, and other services. “Do not forget to do good and to share with others.” (v. 16)

But FOCUS volunteers also sacrifice their time to do advocacy, trying to address the root causes that require a food pantry that was designed as a temporary activity to be in place for nearly five decades.

Just as Jesus brought people together to express God’s will, occasionally turning over a table or two, FOCUS mobilizes “individuals and other community organizations to work for systemic and structural change to address issues including poverty, social and racial injustice.”

Prayer: When people come to Advent services, they see the lighted candles and hear the familiar hymns. May they also see the love in our hearts that comes from caring for others, even those ragged people outside the door, per the example of Jesus.
***
Yes, There is a War on Christianity

L is for Lent

Every time Jesus mentioned the equivalent of a church tradition, the Torah, he qualified it with something like this: “The scriptures say thus and so, but I say…”

christianLeftI realize it’s rather late in the season of Lent. But I’m endlessly fascinated with it. Much of my favorite music is associated with the season.

Why DO we give up something for Lent?

Today we know Lent as a season of conversion: we acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God.

A piece someone wrote recently – I no longer remember who – has stayed with me:

I have a question for my friends who are giving up something for Lent: chocolate, Facebook, etc. I used to give up sweets etc. too. It just occurred to me, though, that instead of “giving up” something, if we all did MORE random acts of kindness (being extra kind or extra considerate, holding doors, letting people pull ahead of us, etc.), the world would be really great for those 40 days.

And who knows, maybe it would continue beyond that. And I think God would like that a whole lot more. I know the reasoning is to deprive ourselves. What if we deprived ourselves of being selfish or snippy or judgmental? Just a thought. I’m going to go eat chocolate now.

My church has expanded the season to Lentecost, from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, to agree to take on service activities, such as our Author/Illustrator Day in April with a local school, the home repair & rebuilding program, and the FOCUS Breakfast Program, among several choices. Here is the FOCUS Churches Lenten reflections, created by forty men and women from the community of partner congregations, of which my church is one; I’m sure it’ll still apply AFTER Easter as well.

The religion page in the Huffington Post features a good read, WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? Do You Really Want to Know? It begins:

Once upon a time, a mother made her son a wristband. On it was written: WWJD? This, of course stood for: “What Would Jesus Do?” She instructed her son to look at the wristband before making decisions on how to live his Christian life.

A week later she was shocked to see that her son had become friends with prostitutes, was hanging out with ‘sinners’ — even buying people who were already drunk yet another round of beers!

I was also taken by a piece in Salon. Despite its probably polarizing title, Why conservative Christians would have hated Jesus, and some finger-wagging narrative, it did have some points that I could buy into:

Every time Jesus mentioned the equivalent of a church tradition, the Torah, he qualified it with something like this: “The scriptures say thus and so, but I say…” Jesus undermined the scriptures and religious tradition in favor of empathy. Every time Jesus undermined the scriptures (Jewish “church tradition”) it was to err on the side of co-suffering love… Every time Pope Francis sides with those the Church casts out he is closer to Jesus…

Perhaps what we need to give up is some of our rigidity about what God looks like.
***
Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian. “I’m not scared that non-believers will make me feel like an outcast. I’m scared that Christians will.”

ABC Wednesday – Round 16

Lenten reflections from the FOCUS churches of Albany, NY

Lent offers us a landscape that calls us to look at our lives from a different perspective, to perceive what is essential and what is unnecessary.

The Reverend Debra Jameson, Director of Community Ministry for the FOCUS Churches of Albany, writes:

The season of Lent beckons us to see what we are clinging to. These days draw us into a wilderness in which we can more readily see what we have shaped our daily lives around: habits, practices, possessions, commitments, conflicts, relationships—all the stuff that we give ourselves to in a way that sometimes becomes more instinctual than intentional.

The FOCUS Lenten reflections have been created by forty men and women from the community of partner congregations. I am always moved by the depths of these contributions.

Much as Jesus went into the desert to pray and fast for forty days, Lent offers us a landscape that calls us to look at our lives from a different perspective, to perceive what is essential and what is unnecessary.

Read the online FOCUS Lenten Reflections here.

A long Super Bowl Sunday, Philip Seymour Hoffman edition

Interesting that the first comment I got about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was “If it is true, it’s sad.”

philipseymourhoffmanMy church belongs to this entity called FOCUS, which, among other things, runs a food pantry. Periodically, there is a joint service of the congregations. Usually, I miss the one in early February, because I’m away at a MidWinter’s party Saturday night out of town. But the Wife had an all-day meeting on Saturday, and that rather put the kibosh on that. It was a good service, but it was LONG: at least 100 minutes.

Then the reception afterward. The service was at Trinity United Methodist, my church from 1982 to 2000, so it was interesting being there again. I could tell the visitors where the bathrooms were – they hadn’t moved. I recognized no one from when I was in the choir there.

The Daughter had a rehearsal all afternoon at our church for the Lion King performance in four weeks. I slipped off to the library to use the computer, where I saw fellow Times Union blogger Chuck Miller working on this piece.

It was there that I first learned on Facebook that the actor, and former upstate (Rochester area) kid, Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead, news which I passed along. It is interesting that the first comment I got was “If it is true, it’s sad.” So much misinformation IS online, but I had checked four sources before passing it along.

I have seen LOTS of his films. I didn’t always love the movie, but always appreciate his efforts, and I was bummed. I thought he was one of the best actors of his generation, and at the age of 46, should have had a number of better pictures ahead. I so regret that his demons had gotten the best of him. The LA Times helpfully noted that he was found dead in his apartment with a needle in his arm.

I saw him in all of these movies:
Leap of Faith (1992)
Scent of a Woman (1992)
Nobody’s Fool (1994) – a small role as a cop
Boogie Nights (1997)
Next Stop Wonderland (1998)
Patch Adams (1998)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
State and Main (2000)
Almost Famous (2000) – I bought him as Lester Bangs
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Capote (2005) – great as the title character
The Savages (2007) – possibly my favorite of his films, as Laura Linney’s sibling
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) – that film got better the moment he was on screen
Synecdoche, New York (2008) – an unorthodox film about the arts in upstate NY described well here. Watch the funeral monologue.
Doubt (2008) – believable as a priest
Moneyball (2011) – convincing as Art Howe of the Oakland A’s

Plus a role on Law & Order in 1991 that I certainly must have seen, and a voice character on the children’s cartoon Arthur, which I KNOW I saw. The New York Times had a GREAT article about him, and CNN has a recent brief interview with him

Know who else died this weekend? Anna Gordy Gaye, Berry Gordy’s sister, and Marvin Gaye’s ex-wife, who was the subject of Marvin’s bizarre Here, My Dear album.

I get home, start watching the Super Bowl stuff right at 6 p.m. Eastern, 30 minutes before the game. But the game was a blowout by 12 seconds into the third quarter. (Those of you who do not appreciate the Big Game obviously have never heard Andy Griffith’s analysis of the sport from sixty years ago.)

Many of the ads – some of which are HERE – didn’t really stick to my brain, except the Radio Shack and one of the Doritos ads, but that could have been fatigue.

I do recall seeing Bob Dylan plugging American-made vehicles, which didn’t bother me as much as it did some folks. I love the Muppets, yet feel ambivalent at best about THEIR appearance in a car ad. There was a Masarati ad or two for which I did not understand the reason why I would want the car.

I’d already seen the Budweiser Heroes ad and the Cheerios Gracie ad. I shouldn’t have been, but I was, oblivious to the backlash the Coca-Cola America the Beautiful ad would generate.

Right after linebacker Malcolm Smith was selected as game MVP, I fell asleep, waking up in the middle of a comedy called Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so it was time for bed.

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