The Only Way Forward Is Justice

The following are some factors that are contributing to the uprising we are seeing across the country, beginning with the specific and moving to the more general and systemic:

1. Any non-police officer would have been arrested for probable cause immediately after authorities saw the tape of the murder of George Floyd.

2. Minneapolis police contributed to the escalation of violence by using tear gas and excessive force during the first day of protests that were mainly peaceful.

3. The County Attorney in Minneapolis made a statement in a press conference on Thursday that “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.” This was like throwing gasoline on a fire after the whole world watched George Floyd be murdered right before their eyes.

4. President Trump called the persons protesting George Floyd’s death “THUGS” and repeated and glorified the violent rhetoric of an extremely racist 1960s Miami police chief, tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” thus pouring more gasoline on the fire of unrest.

5. As a country we had just witnessed the fact that the only reason arrests were made in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is because the video of his killing was made public – a video that local authorities had in their possession for two months before it became public.

6. The crimes we see against persons of color by police are just the tip of the iceberg. They have been occurring throughout our country’s entire history, and we are only seeing it more clearly now because of cellphones, but it has always been there terrorizing persons of color.

7. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has made it as clear as ever that there are gross inequities and injustices in our society as persons of color experience illness, death, and other negative consequences of the pandemic at a much higher rate.

8. We have never come to terms with the fact that our country was built on genocide, slavery, centuries of racism, and racist terrorism; with systemic racism permeating almost every aspect of our society to this day.

9. When there is no justice, we cannot expect for there to be peace. For centuries, we have prioritized order over justice to protect the status quo of white privilege and white supremacy. When the voice of the oppressed is ignored and the vulnerable are marginalized, we cannot expect the social fabric to hold together.

10. We have the worst leader at one of the most difficult and challenging times in our history. He has spent his whole presidency dividing us against one another, enacting racist and xenophobic policies, separating families of color, putting children in cages, turning away refugees, and scapegoating others rather than working to bring us together as a community. We cannot be surprised that these deep divisions and injustices are manifesting themselves in violent ways.

The only way out of our quagmire is to address the systemic injustice and racism that continue to oppress persons of color in our society. It is the only way to a peaceful future with justice – the only way.

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A Pandemic Parable

A woman went down to the grocery store where she had to work as a cashier during the pandemic to support her family. She encountered persons who did not respect the risk that her job posed to her, who stripped her of her dignity, mocked her for wearing a mask, and left her each day in danger of possible death.

Now it just so happened that an evangelical Christian was going down the same checkout lane, and when he saw the woman at the register, he crossed over too close to the woman inside the distance of 6 feet while not wearing a mask and said to her “it’s too bad you have to wear that silly mask so I can’t see your pretty smile.” He paid for his groceries, spraying droplets on the credit card reader as he spoke, and went on his way.

Likewise, an evangelical minister came by that same checkout lane, saw the woman cashier, and crossing inside the distance of 6 feet and also not wearing a mask invited the woman to come to his church next Sunday because unlike so many other churches that continued to have online services, his church decided to reopen a few weeks ago. He paid for his groceries, spraying droplets on the credit card reader as he spoke, and went on his way.

A Muslim woman with a head covering and a mask, who was also shopping in the store, came to where the woman cashier was. But when she saw her and the way the people in front of her had treated the woman, she was moved with compassion. The Muslim woman stayed at least 6 feet away from the cashier, thanked her for her help, and wiped the credit card reader with disinfectant after using it. Then she noticed that the mask the woman cashier was using was rather tattered and did not fit her well, so she placed the groceries in her basket and told the cashier that she had something in her car for her. In the next few minutes, the Muslim woman returned into the store with box of new masks and gave them to the cashier, thanking her again for her help in allowing her to come and purchase food for her family.

What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the woman?

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Pandemic Beatitudes

Blessed are the mask wearers, for they help keep persons of sacred worth from dying alone and scared, separated from family and friends.

Blessed are those who care for the sick and comfort the dying, for they are the presence of Beloved Community.

Blessed are those who mourn the dead rather than minimize their death, for they will retain their humanity.

Blessed are the scientists searching for treatments and vaccines, for they are bearers of hope.

Blessed are the food providers for those who can and cannot pay, for they are sustainers of life.

Blessed are those who keep their distance, for they allow our beloved ones to remain close.

Blessed are those who refuse to profit unjustly from the pandemic, for they bear witness to justice and common decency.

Blessed are employers who keep workers safe, for they value life over profit.

Blessed are leaders who make compassionate decisions based upon knowledge and evidence, for they forge a wise path.

Blessed are the truth tellers, for they provide the best information possible to keep all of us safe.

Blessed are those who do not use the pandemic to divide us, for they work for the common good of all.

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Wearing Masks: The Tale of Two COVID19 Graphics

Propaganda 101 – Here is a little lesson about propaganda that can be seen in what I will call “The Tale of Two COVID19 Graphics.”

Let’s say you are starting out with the goal of wanting to convince people that the CDC and people like Dr. Fauci are lying to us about how bad COVID19 is because you either want to convince people or you want to be convinced yourself that it is okay to lift the COVID19 restrictions and fully open up our economy.

You can’t just say the CDC and Dr. Fauci are lying; you have to provide “evidence” that makes it appear they are lying about one or more things related to COVID19 so you can get people to believe the CDC and Dr. Fauci are lying about other things related to COVID19. Once you convince people to think the CDC and Fauci are lying about a few things, it is relatively easy through propaganda to persuade people to think they are lying about everything and that their guidance for how to respond to COVID19 ought to be ignored.

Graphic #1

Take a look at the first of the two graphics provided as an example of how this works. I noticed this graphic on the social media profile of someone I know who has been incessantly making the argument that we need to open everything back up, quickly develop herd immunity, and take back our lives and our economy. The first graphic shows that COVID19 is smaller than the pores in almost any protective mask we could wear, so the intended take-away of the graphic is that we should conclude that masks could not possibly be effective in slowing the spread of the virus.

The first graphic is basically being used to convey that if the CDC and Fauci are lying to us about the effectiveness of masks, then they might be and probably are lying to us about many other things, so let’s liberate the states and free America from these lying bureaucratic technocrats who want to control us and take away our freedoms and livelihoods. See how it works? If you are only seeing the first picture, and you are already prone to want to believe that the virus is a political hoax or some power grab by the government, this graphic can be very compelling.

But here is the deal; the graphic, while conveying bits of true information in and of itself, is being used to perpetuate a lie that masks are ineffective in curbing the spread of the virus. See the second graphic and notice what purposely is left off the propagandized version.

Graphic #2

Although it may be the case that the virus itself is smaller than the pores of the masks, it is also true that the virus mostly travels on droplets from breathing, talking, coughing, or sneezing that are larger than the pores in the mask; so the masks actually do have a positive effect in keeping fewer droplets conveying the virus from getting into the environment, and the N95 masks actually do have a positive impact, especially when combined with other precautions, on protecting our health workers and others in high risk frontline positions. The CDC and Fauci are telling the truth, and if we understand they are telling us the truth about this, then we become more open to realize that they are telling us the truth about other aspects of this virus and how we should be responding to it.

But the propagandists who want you to believe that our response to the virus has been a “success story” and who want to get “the economy rocking again by July” don’t want you to believe the CDC and Fauci. They want you to believe that masks are basically worthless and that the people telling you otherwise cannot be trusted. That is why they show you half the story with Graphic #1 and don’t show you the more complete story of Graphic #2. They are lying to you. It is understandable that many want to believe this lie, but it does not change the fact that it is a lie – a very dangerous and deadly lie.

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50th Anniversary Earth Day Message

Readings for the day from Genesis 1: 26-31; Leviticus 25:8-13; and I Timothy 6: 7-10. (Common English Bible)

Video of service here.

It is a privilege to be able to bring an Earth Day message to the Mayflower UCC community. This past week, on April 22nd, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day in 1970 occurred during a time when there was hope that we as a society were beginning to make significant progress in moving towards greater environmental responsibility.

On that first Earth Day in 1970, it is estimated that 20 million people in the United States took to the streets to protest what the industrial revolution had done to the environment and to call for a new way of living on our planet which is our only home. That first Earth Day is often seen as the birth of the modern environmental movement.  A few months later in December of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. The Clean Air Act was passed that same year of 1970, and just two years later in 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed. In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was signed into law. In fact there was so much positive environmental legislation passed and signed into law in the early 1970s that the Nixon Administration might be known today as the Ecological Presidency had there not been a little incident called Watergate.

That first Earth Day, full of so much hope and followed by so many legislative successes could have been and should have been the beginning of an environmental reformation of human society. It could have been and should have been that moment of national and global repentance from our ways of environmental destruction, and it should have led to a transformation of our social, economic, and political systems to foster a new sustainable way of relating to the world.

After the Clean Air Act was passed, our skies became less smoggy; after the Clean Water Act was passed, the days of rivers literally catching on fire were behind us; and after the Endangered Species Act was passed, critical habitat for endangered wildlife was now protected by law. With these successes, the environmental movement was poised to address other critical environmental concerns like deforestation and overconsumption of resources that stressed the carrying capacity of the planet, and in the late 1980s the environmental movement began to mobilize to address the global threat of climate change.

So all of this begs the question – what happened, what went wrong? Why have we lost over 50% of wildlife since that first Earth Day 50 years ago? Why have extinction rates increased to the point where species are becoming extinct at least 100 times faster than they would without human activity? Why are we slashing and burning down rainforests? Why have we weakened our clean air and clean water standards? Why are we rolling back environmental regulations across the board for industrial activity? Why have we ignored climate change for so long that it has become a climate crisis that is now well on the way to climate chaos? Why have so many Christians and Christian churches been so absent from the critical work of ecological responsibility, and why are so many persons who identify as Christians often supportive of policies and persons that are so damaging to the environment? 

One simple answer to these questions of “what went wrong?” relates to something we have been warned about within our Christian tradition – the love of money. Unfortunately, even though some significant progress was made in the years following that first Earth Day fifty years ago, it was also the case that many industrial interests pushed back against the new environmental regulations and sought to diminish the environmental movement and its accomplishments. Unfortunately, there were literally trillions of dollars to be made from industries and activities that are detrimental to the well-being of the natural world, and when there are trillions of dollars to be made, you can rest assured that many persons will organize and do all within their power to get their piece of the multi-trillion dollar pie.

Under the banner of freedom, free enterprise, and capitalism and often mixed with Christian language and symbols; there has been a very effective movement to undermine responsible care for the environment over the past fifty years. Billions of dollars have been spent to push back and lobby against the environmental movement, environmental legislation, and environmental regulations to insure that industries could continue to pursue activities that give them their piece of the multi-trillion dollar pie. The result has been continued extinction of wildlife, continued deforestation, continued environmental deregulation, and continued climate change hurling us towards climate chaos. Our situation is simply unsustainable for people and for much of the rest of life on the planet.

And if our ecological crisis were not bad enough, now we face a global pandemic, which makes it difficult to even think about the ecological challenges that we are currently facing. In the middle of a global pandemic, it is more than understandable that we long for things to get back to normal. Normal is not this, and almost anything is better than this; but if all we do is get back to normal, are we really getting where we need to be? Isn’t it the case that normal is both unjust and unsustainable. Normal is what has created the crisis that our human community and ecological community are now facing.  

I don’t want to get back to the normal of environmental racism, medical bankruptcies, and employer based healthcare that can be lost as fast as the spread of a pandemic.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of extreme income inequality, unequal access to healthcare and education that perpetuates generational poverty, and a criminal justice system that enslaves people of color behind walls of systemic injustice.

I don’t want to get back to the normal in which essential workers are paid unlivable wages and forced to work two or three jobs to avoid living on the streets.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of growing white nationalism, family separations, kids in cages, exploitation of migrant workers, and walls of racism.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of unsustainable overconsumption, torture chambers of concentrated animal feed operations, and climate crisis denial hurling us towards climate chaos that threatens so much life on earth.

If normal is all we can get back to as we work through this pandemic, then we simply perpetuate a world in which the most vulnerable among us and the planet itself continue to suffer, and we miss the opportunity to bring regeneration to our human and ecological communities.

The systems and structures that make so many people of color and other persons who don’t have adequate access to economic opportunity and quality healthcare to be much more vulnerable to this virus must be transformed if there is to be anything approaching resurrection from these days of death.

I want us all to get through this pandemic with the least amount of suffering and death, but I don’t want to get back to the normal that perpetuates the open and festering wound of systemic inequality and injustice in our communities. I don’t want to get back to the normal of continuing the sixth great extinction on our planet. I don’t want to get back to the normal of creating an unlivable climate for generations to come. I don’t want to get back to the normal of losing another 50% of wildlife over the next fifty years. I don’t want to get back to the normal of allowing corporations to make trillions of dollars off of the devastation of our planet.

Perhaps now fifty years after the first Earth Day, we can begin to see clearly that wanting to get back to that kind of normal should not be accepted as being normal. As members of the Christian tradition and members of all humanity, perhaps we can all agree that what has been considered normal has not shown the love that we are called to have for our neighbors, nor has it shown the love we are all called to have for God’s very good creation. I pray that we will not simply get back to normal, but that we might find the courage and creativity to bring a new day of Jubilee and justice for both people and the planet as a whole. Amen.

(Dedicated to Mary Elizabeth Moore in honor of the occasion of her retirement as Dean of Boston University School of Theology. She has been a transformative dean, helping BUSTH stay true to its heritage as the School of the Prophets, and she has done so much to bring healing to the world.)

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Getting Back to Normal?

As we face a global pandemic, it is more than understandable that we long for things to get back to normal. Normal is not this, and almost anything is better than this; but if all we do is get back to normal, are we really getting where we need to be?

I don’t want to get back to the normal of environmental racism, medical bankruptcies, and employer based healthcare that can be lost as fast as the spread of a pandemic.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of extreme income inequality, unequal access to healthcare and education that perpetuates generational poverty, and a criminal justice system that enslaves people of color behind walls of systemic injustice.

I don’t want to get back to the normal in which essential workers are paid unlivable wages and forced to work two or three jobs to avoid living on the streets.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of growing white nationalism, family separations, kids in cages, exploitation of migrant workers, and walls of racism.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of unsustainable overconsumption, torture chambers of concentrated animal feed operations, and climate crisis denial hurling us towards climate chaos that threatens so much life on earth.

If normal is all we can get back to as we work through this pandemic, then we simply perpetuate a world in which the most vulnerable among us continue to suffer, and we miss the opportunity to bring regeneration to our human and ecological communities.

The systems and structures that make so many people of color and other persons who don’t have adequate access to economic opportunity and quality healthcare to be much more vulnerable to this virus must be transformed if there is to be anything approaching resurrection from these days of death.

I want us all to get through this pandemic with the least amount of suffering and death, but I don’t want to get back to the normal that perpetuates the open and festering wound of systemic inequality and injustice in our communities. Wanting to get back to that kind of normal should not be accepted as being normal.

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Celebrating the Empty Tomb with an Empty Church

A pandemic has never been prayed away. It is not the result of human sin. It can only be fought by changes in our behavior and science, and we know that until our scientists develop treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19 that our behavioral changes must include washing our hands, not touching our faces, staying at home, not gathering in groups outside of our immediate family units, and venturing out only for essential errands. We must do all of these things and more to flatten the curve in relation to the spread of the virus so that our healthcare workers and systems are not stretched beyond their limits. Hundreds of thousands of lives, perhaps millions of lives over time, are in the balance.

We are social animals. We are persons-in-community. We are meant to be together and to interact with one another. What we are being asked to do to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 does not come naturally for us. Sheltering in place is a sacrifice – a personal, social, economic, and spiritual sacrifice; but it is a sacrifice that we must make if we are save to the lives of our neighbors from this horrific virus.

In the United States, we have a disturbing situation in some states in which churches are being designated as “essential services” and allowed to be exempt from the prohibitions on holding gatherings. A small minority of churches are making the tragic decision to continue meeting together in person in spite of the warnings coming from our public health experts. Perhaps in some cases it is a combination of scientific illiteracy coupled with confusion caused by some of our leaders’ early downplaying of the crisis and their “aspirational” remarks about churches being open again by Easter. Perhaps in other cases, it is an example of the greed of ministers who believe that without persons in the pews, there will be less money in the offering plate. Whatever the reasons may be, continued gatherings in churches during a global pandemic are a danger to us all.

The reality is that we are not loving our neighbors if our churches are still meeting in person; and if we are not loving our neighbor, we are not loving God. Packing our churches, even on Easter, would be the absolute worst way to witness to the love of Jesus this year. If on Easter morning 2020 we have packed churches, I envision that on Easter afternoon 2020 Jesus will weep. For Easter and many Sundays to come, loving our neighbor means celebrating the empty tomb with an empty church. Right now the empty church is a symbol of hope and resurrection for our world.

During this extremely challenging time, love must practice the paradox that to be truly present for one another we must be physically distant from one another. If we cannot show that we are capable of surviving having empty sanctuaries for a period of time to help save each other from COVID-19, then we don’t deserve to have full sanctuaries when the dangers of the virus have passed. I pray that we will have enough love for each other to change our behavior for the sake of all of our neighbors until it is once again safe to gather together hand in hand.

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