Friday, August 25, 2017

"The time is always right to do what is right"

It's August 2017. The United States of America is in the grip of divisiveness and hatred. A grip tearing our social fabric. A fabric woven of freedom and fairness for all people as envisioned by our country's founders. A fabric celebrated in our Constitution. The Constitution of the United States of America is a framework intended to sustain us on an evolving path "in order to form a more perfect Union," following the lead of our Declaration of Independence's call for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for everyone.

This month's tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a signal event demanding action to break the grip of those who would deny the recognition, respect, and rights a just world should afford everyone.  

Two United Church of Christ pastors from my hometown of Granby CT offer their calls to action in my blog today. Please read them and follow their lead. Catch the stones we are prone to cast at, or throw in the path of the marginalized, vulnerable, and victimized among us, which prevents them from realizing the recognition, respect, and rights a just world should afford everyone. Every step, a stride short or long, is needed to walk the path ahead. Be a stonecatcher!

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor    

Evil Must Be Confronted
By Rev. Dr. Virginia A. "Ginny" McDaniel, Senior Minister
First Congregational Church, Granby CT

The gathering of white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12 was legal, but it was also deeply evil. Yes, our Bill of Rights guarantees the right to free assembly and free speech. But a rally of heavily armed people who identify as neo-Nazis and white nationalists, people who came from all over the country brandishing clubs and flags and swastikas, needed to be met by demonstrators against their hatred. And the act of an angry young man from Ohio who drove a car into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and injuring scores of others, needs to be named for what it was: terrorism.

For those who identify as Americans, this moment calls for patriotism of the highest order-to actively insist on the equality and dignity of each person. For those who identify as white, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the cancer of racism that has scarred this country since the first Africans were kidnapped and brought to North America almost 400 years ago, and to work to bring healing. For those who identify as people of faith, it is our job to actively pursue how it is we might make the world a better place for all of God's children. 

Many faith traditions call on people to defend the rights of the oppressed and the marginalized. We are reminded to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, offer shelter to the poor, and to welcome the 'stranger,' to stand with the weak, and work to lift up the downtrodden. It doesn't matter what your political affiliation is; these values are the foundation of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and should bring us together. In the words of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "The time is always right to do what is right."

You do not have to be part of a faith community to share these values. We must not remain silent about the violence that is daily perpetrated against religious, ethnic, or sexual minorities. We must not shy away from talking about these issues with our children. We must not be afraid to talk about this evil because some may deem it too political. Our silence will not save us.

These are frightening times. But it's never too late to become part of the solution that creates a positive change in the world.

Pastoral Reflections on Charlottesville, VA 
By Rev. Dennis P. "Denny" Moon, Senior Minister

In the wake of the white supremacy march in Charlottesville, VA, I want to underline what has been said by others:

No matter how many club swinging anti-racist protesters there were at the march, there is no moral equivalence, whatsoever, between them and white supremacists.

The basic assumption of Nazis, the KKK, and the Confederacy, is the inferiority of people of color. The goal of white supremacy is to either exclude people of color from society (by apartheid, reservations, or prison) or to destroy them (by abuse, neglect or execution). The assumption that people of color are less than human suspends the necessity of ethical behavior toward them. Violence is inherent in their views. This is not the case with the anti-racist protesters.

The founders of our nation were ambivalent about white supremacy. 

They wrote “All men(sic) are created equal.” Yet they owned slaves and freely broke treaties with American Indians. As Debby Irving wrote in her book Waking Up White, they were part of a larger historical pattern of “white Europeans invading countries, exploiting resources, and ‘civilizing’ people they considered to be savages, all in an entangled quest to dominate through Christianity and capitalism.”  

Our founder’s hearts were divided. 

This American Ambivalence led, eventually, to the Civil War, after which white supremacy found new systemic expression: Jim Crow laws, lynching below the Mason-Dixon line, outlawing the practice of Native American religion, the practical exclusion of soldiers of color from the G.I. bill, redlining, etc., etc..

We continue to live in the wake of our Original Ambivalence.

While there is ample evidence of ambivalent Christian behavior in history, the assumptions of Christianity are not so. The equitable inclusion of all peoples is the purpose of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.” The oppression of people of color is the purpose of white supremacy. Any white supremacist group that claims Christian identity clearly misunderstands Jesus.

What can be done?

First, read the book “Waking Up White” and join us in our discussion on Oct. 15 at 11:30 a.m. as we try to understand how deeply the idea of white superiority is embedded in our culture and minds. You may not agree with everything in the book but it is a great tool for self reflection.

Second, express your anger among friends. Then, be curious toward those with whom you disagree, inquiring, with specificity, as to the line of logic they use to arrive at their conclusions and the picture of the society that they think their assumptions would create. Think through the connections between your own assumptions and the world you seek to create and be willing to share those ideas. Be curious about your own biases. Test your own assumptions. Disagree respectfully and wonder aloud about why two intelligent people would differ so. Different experiences? Different sources?

Third, do not be afraid. Fear drives white supremacists. The opposite of love is not hatred, it is fear. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:10) Know that the light of God’s love has led you to the path of the inclusion of all peoples: it is the path of Moses, the prophets, Jesus—and Buddha and Mohamed, and Secular Humanists as well. Trust that if your life is taken while walking this path, like Heather Heyer’s in Charlottesville, God rest her memory, that you will have given your life for the highest purpose possible, the oneness of humankind and the effort to have God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

As a follower of Jesus I believe that all supremacy, including divine supremacy--which allows people to use the bible as a brick instead of a bridge--was crucified with Jesus. And, if you have a discussion with a white supremacist, you may want to gently remind them: Jesus was not white.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Rising Voices of Hate: Andrea's Story

Andrea Comer is my friend. Her friends are many. Her reach is far. She lives the legacy of the United States' history of discrimination, segregation, insults, and injustice toward the "other" through her and her family's experiences. It's personal. It matters. It hurts.

This past year I wrote several blog posts about racial and religious discrimination, many of which were prefaced in their titles with "Essential American History." History matters. True and documented history provides important verifiable facts and details. Details leading to context, insight, and, we hope, a true, unvarnished account of the what, why, and how a people, a country, a world got to where they are today -- history ultimately serving as a compass that could point a path to positive change.

Andrea's Op-Ed in The Hartford Courant (August 19, 2017) describes what I suspect is just a small portion of the deeply personal history of someone I respect and admire. Someone who has helped me navigate my understanding of Hartford's social and political issues  -- all of which spill over into the broader context of our country's current reality. The personal histories of our friends, neighbors, newcomers, and those too often unjustly defined as the stranger, the enemy, or the "other" are what help us understand that history is more than a chronicling of what happened. It's about the actions and events, the triumphs and tragedies, the joys and sorrows that led us to the lives we live today. Personal histories define us. Personal histories define the world. Below is a bit of Andrea's history.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Rising Voices Of Those Who Hate The ‘Other’
The Hartford Courant, Saturday, August 19, 2017

My mother’s 83-year-old cousin recalled traveling in the 1930s and ’40s with her Brooklyn family to visit relatives in the South, only to be stopped and harassed by police because of the color of their skin and the car’s New York license plate. While there, my cousin went into town to shop, only to be told she could not try on dresses or hats.

My parents, despite their income and education, were denied the right to buy a house in Westchester County, solely because they were black.

A few years ago, two of my friends and I were ejected from a restaurant in Greenwich Village for demanding equitable treatment. Once outside, the manager, inches from my friend with his spittle spraying her face, called her a nigger.

My daughter, while waitressing at an establishment, after singing happy birthday to one of her customers, was praised with the statement “You coloreds have so much talent.”

I recount these instances as a reminder to myself that I shouldn’t be surprised at last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Va. I shouldn’t. But I was — largely because it was a painful realization that racism has not and perhaps will not ever go away.

The voices of those who hate anyone who is “other” have never been absent. They were muffled perhaps when Barack Obama was president, but that only made them angrier. Once the White House became occupied by someone they perceived as sympathetic to their cause, they no longer felt the need to be silent.

I know there are folks who voted for Donald Trump because they felt he was a better alternative to Hillary Clinton. I believe them when they say they do not ascribe to nationalist beliefs, that they felt the swamp needed to be drained, and the businessman turned reality star turned president was the way to address what they felt needed fixing in this country.

I read “Hillbilly Elegy” in an effort to understand, and to an extent, I did. J.D. Vance’s narrative is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ narrative (“Between the World and Me”) on the other end of the pendulum.

Here’s the problem: When Steve Bannon, who until Friday was the chief strategist in setting your administration’s course, is admittedly and proudly the founder of a platform for the alt-right; when your staff includes a man who spent his high school years bemoaning the presence of Latinos with limited English skills in his midst; when the commander in chief himself has been sued by the federal government for denying people of color access to properties he managed for his father, separating oneself from that narrative is a heavy lift.

And all the Ben Carsons and Omarosa Manigaults in the world cannot undo that.

My grandmother and parents had passed away before Barack Obama was elected. I imagine they would have been proud — even my father, who was a registered Republican.

I think about what they would feel today. I weep for their bravery and conviction in the face of racism and discrimination, only to know just how little progress we have made.

Andrea Comer lives in Hartford.