Oh say, can you see …


weeping flag

People who protest during the anthem know what the flag stands for. They are fully aware of the meaning of the flag. They are not protesting the flag. They are protesting specific social injustices that exist in this country, which cannot be denied, and which those who protest believe are tragic contradictions of the flag and its meaning. That’s why they take a knee.

It is injustice itself, not the people who protest injustice, that gives disrespect to the flag. Taking a knee should be seen in a prophetic light, as a lamentation of the rude slap given the flag each time injustice is done to the vulnerable and marginalized, whom the flag is supposed to protect. Think of the flag thus wounded, and the protesters bearing witness to the wound.

“Oh say, can you see …”, indeed.


A Sign of Contradiction


national anthem

Racial injustice is a contradiction of the lofty ideals symbolized by our patriotic pre-game rituals. As we participate in these rituals, do we give thought to the contradictions? If we do not, it might be the case that our participation in patriotic rituals lacks sufficient depth. Therefore, we should be grateful to anyone who makes the effort to wrench us from a civic participation that has become all too habitual.

Jesus on Divorce


Jesus’ “hard teaching” on divorce (Mt 5:31-32) is a rebuke of hypocrites and a call of mercy to all:

The Rebuke
In the time of Jesus, when a Jew “put away” his wife with a bill of divorce (remember, only the men were considered observant Jews), he cast her out to the margins of society. Essentially, he made her an adulterer and a prostitute. Not only did Jesus call attention to the extreme injustice of this situation, he delivered this zinger to the hypocritical Jewish male: if you do this to your wife, you make yourself an adulterer. This stinging rebuke, not the prohibition of divorce per se, is what made Jesus’ (male) audience want to kill him.

The Call of Mercy
Like many of the “You have heard … I’m here to tell you …” pairings in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ saying on divorce serves to underscore the absolute impossibility of achieving the level of moral perfection demanded of an all-perfect God. Jesus turns the tables and suggests that since a loving Father would not demand the impossible of his children, perfection is not, after all, what God demands. The Lord demands mercy, which Jesus demonstrates in his every word and deed, including the word recorded at Mt 5:31-32.

DACA and “Law and Order” Christians


I hear from some Christians, including Catholics, that we should not be outraged by the cruel rescission of DACA and the injustice it visits upon over half a million children and young adults who’ve only known America as their home. I’m told by my fellow Christians that we should reserve our outrage for the (alleged) illegality of Obama’s executive action extending DACA. “We’re a nation of laws,” they scold. Well, my bible reminds me that one thing was certain to elicit the outrage of Christ: people who cling zealously and selectively to the letter of the law, while neglecting the weightier matters of the law, such as justice and mercy (cf. Mt 23:23). There’s a word for that: pharisaism.

I understand why these “law and order” Christians might be upset when Pope Francis frames the DACA rescission as anti-family or contrary to pro-life principles. They wish the Pope would see that their goal is not to break up families, but to preserve the unity of DACA families within the “rule of law”. Many such people are sympathetic to the plight of the so-called Dreamers, as I’ve learned in recent conversations.

I would simply ask these Christian conservatives to consider how this rescission is seen and felt by those who are most vulnerable to its potentially dreadful affects, especially when viewed against the backdrop of Trump’s extreme nationalist rhetoric, the virulence of which was the most salient characteristic of the Trump “brand” during the presidential campaign. Remember: “We’re going to get them all out!” That was in reference to the promised deportation of all 11 million undocumented immigrants. Do you really expect the Dreamers to forget that rhetoric? Do you really expect them to trust Trump when he says “You’ve got nothing to worry about”?

The argument is offered that the Dreamers are suffering in a “prison” of “legal limbo”, and Trump’s intention is to free them by respecting the “rule of law”. It might be worth considering that the Dreamers are far less afraid of their current state of “legal limbo”, than they are of the “rule of law”, when the latter conveys the aura of ICE vans and deportation cages.

Coffee with Alex Jones


Alex Jones got coffee thrown in his face while ranting and disturbing the peace in downtown Seattle this week. Jones was haranguing “brainwashed” pedestrians about the MSM’s refusal to call “ISLAMIC terrorism” by name. Frankly, I would love it if Alex Jones approached me on the street with his bullshit theories. Here’s what I’d tell him:

There isn’t an educated person in the world who doesn’t understand there is a connection between the religion of Islam and acts of terror carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam. No one is hiding this information from us. It’s out there in plain sight and everyone gets it. When someone says, “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam”, that’s basically like saying “Shooting abortionists has nothing to do with Christianity”. Saying that sort of thing isn’t to literally deny any connection at all between the religion in question and the (evil) act done the religion’s name. It is precisely to bring into focus what is essential to the religion, and what is a perverse deviation.

The question is, what is the precise nature of this connection between the religion of Islam and Islamic terrorism? This is a complex question and there is no simple answer to it, unless you’re a simpleton. Nothing is gained by shouting “ISLAMIC terrorism” from the rooftops, except to marginalize every Muslim and expose an entire religious community to hate crimes by neo-Nazis and other right-wing goons.

Us and Them


The rain falls on the just and the unjust. In a disaster of this scale, who knows how many ironies might play out unremarked, especially in a place like Texas. A black emergency responder saving a white supremacist from the flood waters in Dickinson? A white racist cop rescuing a black family in the Third Ward? I’ve heard no such stories, but they could happen, given the biblical scope. Catastrophes carry in their wake otherworldly signs. Do such pointers point to the tidy moral that we can all shake hands after the waters recede and pretend Charlottesville never happened? Absolutely not. Still, to even imagine these scenarios is to remind ourselves of the parable of the good Samaritan. There’s nothing like suffering and distress to weaken our resolve to hate our enemy. Trump spoke unconvincingly of our shared humanity, but the truth still convicts, and even a fake president can be forced to speak truth.

“Michael the Black Man”: a Mirror unto Ourselves


Michael the Black ManMichael the Black Man” has made another prominent appearance at a Trump rally, this time in Phoenix, where Trump’s racist dog-whistles were particularly shrill, for dogs with ears to hear. The spectacle of this poor, deluded soul exchanging high-fives with gleeful white Trumpists was a sad and sorry sight. Michael either doesn’t know or doesn’t care the extent to which he is exploited by these people. In either case, he provides cover for white racists, enabling them to say (to themselves as much as to the world), “See, we’re not racists! Trump condemned the KKK! We love black people!”

Uh, huh. Well, instead of “Michael the Black Man”, let’s put in front of these black-loving Trumpists a group of BLM protesters marching against police brutality, or a black person decrying Confederate symbols of white supremacy and black oppression, and you will surely see the Trumpists’ true racist colors blazing forth.

Racism isn’t reducible to explicit support for the KKK. You can abhor Nazism and the Klan, and still be a racist. Are you a racist? If you are a white person (because, make no mistake, this is about white people, not “Michael the Black Man”), take the following test, and be honest with yourself:

  • Do you harbor the feeling that blacks as a group are generally lazy and undeserving?
  • Do you believe there’s something about “black culture” that explains poverty and crime in black neighborhoods?
  • Do you believe white America has made sufficient progress in righting the historical wrongs inflicted on blacks?
  • Do you think there’s too much talk about race, and that blacks should stop complaining and start working, and that black people’s obsession with race is what perpetuates racism?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, don’t ask me what it means. I’m not a social scientist. Ask yourself.

White people are not entirely culpable for harboring racist attitudes and feelings that are so innate as to be almost subconscious. After all, white racism and white supremacy are deeply, inextricably rooted in American culture, which is why the trope of “preserving our culture” is such a white racist dog-whistle. The real moral test is whether you can learn to catch yourself hearing the whistle, and resist it.

Looking at sad and sorry “Michael the Black Man” at that Trumpist rally makes me think of a lyric from the Genesis song, “Supper’s Ready”:

A young figure sits still by a pool
He’s been stamped “Human Bacon” by some butchery tool
He is you

Don’t high-five “Michael the Black Man”. Consider him, as if looking in a mirror.