Category Archives: personal

Christian privilege

My friend in real life and blogger friend, Rod aka hOOdie_R, has been writing a lot more about white privilege. He’s spoken out regularly and recently even this week “about the history of white supremacy as a worldwide system.” The activism, the confrontation of and dismantling of privilege that is systemic can be tricky, he notes.

“In spite of our activism, we benefit from global economic structures of oppression,” he quotes womanist and relational theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher as saying. And there are layers of benefits from the system and structures, because one finds oneself participating in it and in them. Privilege is relative. Whiteness benefits those who claim it, and those who can ride its coat tails. And so hOOdie_R finds himself, with his own male privilege that he confesses, quoting this woman at length. She finds herself saying with profound humility in her essay, “A Womanist Journey,” these things:

Sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, and ecological destruction are interrelated systems of oppression in womanist understanding…. The masses of black women in the United States work in the lowest paying jobs and struggle to feed their children. They have not benefited from higher education with its economic opportunities. Middle-class womanists in academia, like myself, experience less economic oppression than many poor black women in the United States and abroad. [my emphasis]

I do hope you’ve stayed with me so far. Maybe my title has piqued your interest as I talk at first about hOOdie_R’s writings about white privilege.

I’m writing this post because I’m up at night. I’m up anyways and reading Rachel Held Evans’s latest blog-guest post by Marlena Graves, who self identifies in public as “a Spanish-speaking Hispanic woman.”

Ms. Graves is up at night, kept up. And it’s another self-identity that keeps her up. This is tricky, I must write. Like white privilege, it’s Christian privilege.

Now, let me quickly self identify. You, dear reader, must know where I’m coming from. And do know where you’re reading from.

I’m a cis hetero sexual white male able-bodied homosapien. I find myself most waking moments of most days a theist with trinitarian leanings because I appreciate a kind kind of god if i have to have one, since I have to, and a transcendent one may just be the immanent one who is the kindest sort of homosapien. I could have just used the loaded term “incarnation.” but i like Greek based English more than latin based english, even though I hate the word Christian. (I do appreciate the Bible very much, and yet I confess that others have influenced that very very much, which my blogger friend Suzanne has called “very feminist.”)

Identities fascinate me, especially when they’re self identities. So what are yours? I hate them when they’re systemically imposed. Have any of those?

Well, let’s get to Christian privilege. I think it’s what Ms. Graves is struggling with. Before we get right into what she says keeps her up at night, let me just remind that Ms. Graves is one who finds white male Christian pastors like Mark Driscoll useful individuals to consult as she gives her own Christianity Today advice to Christian women about female masturbation. I am not just trying to shock you, dear reader, with sex. I know it’s a sensationalist sort of thing to do to bring attention to that. And yet do see here how layered and woven together these systems of ideas might just be. Sex is powerful. Whiteness is powerful. Christianity is powerful.

And Ms. Graves struggles as she explains to Christian readers of Rachel Held Evans’s blog why she fasted for families:

There are nights when I lie awake wondering about what sort of Christian I really am.

I mean, there’s the Christian I think I am and then the kind I actually am. When push comes to shove, would I have supported Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy and the subsequent ethnic cleansing that occurred as we made our way from sea to shining sea? Would I have been an abolitionist, actively and publicly standing against slavery and then voicing strong opposition to the eminently wicked Jim Crow laws that ensued after the Civil War? Am I the type who would’ve hidden the Jews during the Holocaust? These nights I wonder if I would’ve labored for civil rights, standing in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. and my other brothers and sisters. Or would I take my cue from those in the church who opposed them?

Notice that Ms. Graves is self identifying as Christian. She’s the sort of Christian blogger who is now an apologist for activism. This allows her to wear her other self identity “hispanic woman,” which is not the one she usually has to wear around Christians. At her own blog she’s “a lover of beauty” and “a justice seeker” and an answer seeker and married to a man and mother to their children and a reader (with 14 favorite authors who are all Christians, save perhaps poet Mary Oliver).

Would she have supported Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy as a Christian? Notice what’s implicit in this question: Christian privilege. There’s no recognition here that somebody like Galagi’na Watie, a Cherokee also named Elias Boudinot, might have been also Christian as he initially vehemently spoke against the removal. But what’s being Christian have to do with this sort of activism. Ms. Graves is not identifying with Mr. Watie aka Mr. Boudinot in any way.

Would she have been an abolitionist and then an opponent of the Jim Crow laws? Clearly she’s not an enslaved person because of her race. Obviously she would not have lost anything being a white hispanic due to the American racist law. Does Christian privilege allow her to be an activist then? The presumption is that Christians have the choice here about whether to act or not. The presumption is that most Christians were not blacks enslaved, or if they were African Americans who were also Christians in the minority, then they had a choice to be happy with the law and a choice not to sing the blues (as the Duck Dynasty patriarch so infamously has insinuated by his “coarse” explanations of his Christian privilege, to which he’s entitled, as a white man in America).

Would she have hidden the Jews? Like Corrie Ten Boom? Like all those who kept the Franks safe as long as they could in the Achterhuis? This is a question for non-Jewish Christians? Like it was for say Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Christian privilege allows this? This sort of opt in or out of social justice? This sort of need to explain one’s own activism, to other Christians, on Christian blogs? As if it’s more about one’s Christian identity than it is about racist horrors against individuals, millions upon millions?

She wonders at night in this nation where there’s a holiday in the first month of every new year to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and his leadership and his activism. Wasn’t he a Christian? Yes, and she acknowledges him so as her brother with “my other brothers and sisters.” King was constantly calling out the white Christians, the white Christian pastors and leaders, who failed to work for the civil rights of all. And yet there is the Christian privilege that asks, that possesses the very privilege to ask, “Or would I take my cue from those in the church who opposed them?”

I’m encouraged by the conversations, by my friends, by Rod aka hOOdie_R to examine my own self. To examine the systems that I identify with or am caught in even caught up in. My privilege requires, to use a Christian phrase, my repentance.

Man. of sorrows

Son, You’re crying like a little girl. Wipe those tears off your face.
– my father, to me

This type of masculinity also denies men natural outlets for emotional turmoil like loss, anger, pain, envy and hatred…. this is one of the reasons why the impulsive response to these types of emotions are physical violence. Men hit when they get angry, hurt, confused, frustrated, they lash out. Society has taught men that lashing out is a perfectly acceptable response to emotion. In fact for a man to cry would men he is prey for other men or has lost his RIGHT to manhood. Any expression of emotion that is not sexual or violent (emotionally or physically) is seen as unmanly. This steals the humanity from men and boys.
Nicci, on the patriarchy and its effect on men and boys

I’m going to use the occasion of my father’s birthday to talk about patriarchy and emotions. (He would have turned 78.) There’s some irony in the fact that he could and would sing in his big loud voice the Christian hymn based on Isaiah 53:3 – “Man of sorrows,” What a name, for the Son of God who came!

This whole notion of a feeling man, an expressive and emotional male, runs counter to my father’s experience and his instruction, his discipline, of me and his other sons.

We see this as far back as Homer’s Iliad. In one of my very favorite passages (Book 16, lines 1-11, 20) –

ὣς οἳ μὲν περὶ νηὸς ἐϋσσέλμοιο μάχοντο:

Πάτροκλος δ᾽ Ἀχιλῆϊ παρίστατο ποιμένι λαῶν
δάκρυα θερμὰ χέων ὥς τε κρήνη μελάνυδρος,
ἥ τε κατ᾽ αἰγίλιπος πέτρης δνοφερὸν χέει ὕδωρ.
5τὸν δὲ ἰδὼν ᾤκτιρε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:
‘τίπτε δεδάκρυσαι Πατρόκλεες, ἠΰτε κούρη
νηπίη, ἥ θ᾽ ἅμα μητρὶ θέουσ᾽ ἀνελέσθαι ἀνώγει
εἱανοῦ ἁπτομένη, καί τ᾽ ἐσσυμένην κατερύκει,
10δακρυόεσσα δέ μιν ποτιδέρκεται, ὄφρ᾽ ἀνέληται:
τῇ ἴκελος Πάτροκλε τέρεν κατὰ δάκρυον εἴβεις.

τὸν δὲ βαρὺ στενάχων προσέφης Πατρόκλεες ἱππεῦ:

Richmond Lattimore’s translation gets that like this –

So they fought on both sides for the sake of the strong-benched vessel.

Meanwhile Patroklos came to the shepherd of the people, Achilleus,
and stood by him and wept warm tears, like a spring dark-running
that down the face of a rock impassable drips its dim water;
and swift-footed brilliant Achilleus looked on him in pity,
and spoke to him aloud and addressed him in winged words: ‘Why then
are you crying like some poor little girl, Patroklos,
who runs after her mother and begs to be picked up and carried,
and clings to her dress, and holds her back when she tries to hurry,
and gazes tearfully into her face, until she is picked up?
You are like such a one, Patroklos, dropping these soft tears.’

Then groaning heavily, Patroklos the rider, you answered:

Scholars who study this text today debate whether Achilles is really showing Patroclos “pity” as in sympathy or is scoffing at and shunning his pathetic behavior. The narrator, regardless, goes on to portray the latter, the mortal man, as full of profound feeling.

The gospel of John has what I call “odd gospel greek” in light of the cliche about real men not showing emotions. (John uses a verb found nowhere else in the gospel and only once also in the gospel of Mark. It’s the verb Homer uses for this man’s tears flowing riverlike, flowing as if from a helpless little run-to-mommy girl.) Very succinctly, as the odd gospel greek has Jesus groaning heavily, the sentence goes like this –

ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς.

Lattimore translates that as follows –

Jesus wept.

Some lessons never get believed, or lived, or taught. Too much is at stake for many men, I’m quite sure. In my father’s last days, especially his two years of battling incurable cancer, he learned and believed for himself the power of tears, laughter, and the sharing of emotions. His last two birthdays on this earth were pretty joyous and emotional happy birthdays. I’m learning to spend my days more fully sharing emotions, whether that’s like a little girl or like a man of sorrows or like a tearful Jesus. I’m grateful that learning does not have to stop. Learning about the Patriarchy and its effects and how to reverse these and to recover from them is so very very very important to me and to mine. I’m happy on this birthday of my father, and I do miss much about him.

Let Trayvon Come Into My Neighborhood, for Such is the Kingdom of God

Only days ago, I heard Christy Coleman Reisner preaching from the gospels that Jesus was indignant. This was not long before I heard that six adults on a jury determined that the adult named George Zimmerman was not guilty of killing the child named Trayvon Martin.

Let me come back to Jesus in this post in a bit.

Last night, I heard Tracy Martin ask, “What is it I can tell my child now?” And Sybrina Fulton, speaking of her other son, added, “I’m very afraid right now, because I have no clue what to tell him. I have no clue if I should tell him to run or walk, if I should tell him to defend himself or just lay there. I have no clue what to tell him.” That was on CNN, an interview with Anderson Cooper. All of this can be (and is being) looked at in terms of law, in terms of rights to stand one’s ground, in terms of race privilege and of racism, in terms of the awful histories and patterns of (young) black men (and women) in America not getting equal justice. It’s important to see Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till and Stephon Watts and Yusef Hawkins and Aiyana Jones. What they all share in common is that they are not here, not in anybody’s neighbor anymore. They are children.

Not many days ago, one of my own children enrolled in a “RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) class” on the college campus where I work. The campus is in our neighborhood. We moved here to be nearer the university, but our next-door-neighbors in our neighborhood we moved from told us, “Your new neighborbood was once zoned against us blacks.” So here we live.

Here we live, in a neighborhood whose people, past and present, have been and are still plagued with questions of law, and of “one’s ground,” and of male sex privilege and of white race privilege. (It’s another story that I’ll have to tell another time about a black guy and a white guy at 2am trying to break in the front door and the backdoor at the same time; when the cops finally showed up, and arrested the two, they told me and these two guys, “Don’t you know this is Texas? Don’t you realize that sometimes the police don’t have to get there soon enough? Don’t you know that happened down the street not long ago here? Don’t yall know the rights of property owners with guns?” It was a word of warning to the two trying to break in our home. It was a word of chiding to me, I felt, for I’d not protected my family and had waited for the police while staying on the phone with the 911 dispatcher.)

As my friends and my neighbors and my co-workers and my family members talk, I think about the theology my family has had and has held on to.

I think more about Christy’s sermon. About the words of the gospels.

About the indignance of Jesus Christ.

My father was a preacher, an evangelical Christian who found himself all-too-often full of indignance. And, in due course, because of how he’d fly off the handle with flashes of anger, abusive rage, I became – when a child – an atheist. I stayed in the closet as an atheist, because of the dangers I knew. (Daddy once spanked me in our neighborhood, in front of all of the neighbors, who had gathered round to see how this white American man would deal with his child who had broken a rule. This was in South Viet Nam, during the war, in a little fishing village, where we lived, where he was bringing, and now ostensibly demonstrating, the gospels.) “I don’t want gods like my daddy’s God in my world,” I said to myself. And I don’t want ever to be a man of indignance. For years, to spite my father (and his God), I tried to be as meek as I as could be. Passivity and pacifism in the extreme seemed much better qualities than my father’s expressed fury, agitation, irritation, displeasure, vexations, and indignance.

Christy’s preaching got me rethinking everything.

There are two words in the the gospels that are key as I mind my language. Two words as I find I’m also “angry tired” with certain theologies. Both words happen to be in the account of the gospel of Mark.

The Greek verb for indignance in the gospel of Mark is ἠγανάκτησεν. Classicist Richmond Lattimore translates this as “vexed” in his English rendering of the New Testament, and other groups of translators turn the phrase into English as, “angry with” and “furious” and “irritated” and “much displeased” and “moved to/ moved with indignation.” That’s one word I’m minding.

The other is a Greek noun: παιδία. This phrase does refer to pre-adults through the teen-age years. Lattimore in his translation of Homer’s works, for example, has “son” or “daughter” for each παιδὶ, when these individuals in the Greek epics are not always “little children.” And even to this very day, Modern Greek speakers use Παιδιά for teens, as for this “Teenagers Club” at a resort.

So here’s how the good news seems to go:

So they brought the kids in this neighborhood to him so he could give them a touch of himself. But his apprentices stood their ground, defending him from them.

When Jesus saw that, he was indignant.

“Let the kids in,” he said. “Don’t keep them out.”

“God’s kingdom belongs to them, and they belong in the Kingdom of God.”

Now that kind of “angry tired” feels more familiar. The categories and words of law and race and sex and class and violence and “stand your ground” are not out of the neighborhood of this gospel.

Christy’s points about children were, she said, the point of Jesus’s indignance.

When children are not allowed in the neighborhood, then neither are the following (which are characteristics of children), she said:

Faith
Unpretentious (not self promoting)
Time
Abandon in obedience, worship

Trayvon was a παιδὶ, only 17 years old, when he was found and followed in a neighborhood in Florida and was killed.

The Kingdom of God was lost that day.

This calls for human indignance (especially when our humanity is clothed in real flesh, whether female or male or black or white or straight or gay or poor or privileged). I think I must allow myself this. Something, someone else, other than who I am calls for it.

5 private prayers

1. Wow, I believe in you and give you thanks for that. What separates natural and supernatural except human beings of disbelief? I just read Faulkner’s and Kumin’s Bear. Wow.

2. So this morning, I sit, my fingers on this keyboard making meaning of it all in a way that another human being’s eyes might make sense of. It’s not just communication in the senses of relevance theory, of one message leaving me and entering another some comprehended as if that message is the salient thing. No, rather, I’m leaving this message here for the eyes of God, who knows me and made these fingers of mine that type out this message of mine. I give you thanks for that.

3. So the scriptures. Which ones, and how much meaning is left here in them as if for me, as if some message to me that I must get and understand and then believe lest I go to hell for lack of that? I thank you for that, and give that to you.

4. It’s true, absolutely so, that coffee from beans in cherries on trees in the ground in various countries of this third rock from the sun have been ground and brewed and that it pours under my grateful nostrils across an equally appreciative tongue where it travels to warm my inner most parts and to speed my blood in an awakening that I might take for granted like I do daily with the holy spirit. The whole creation groaneth. But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. I type on. I thank you for that.

5. I do not know whether my right hand knoweth what my left hand doeth. The Lord’s Prayer is not one of giving thanks but is one of what Aristotle’s twenty-first-century disciples might call epideictic rhetoric, though in private ostensibly, a contrast to giving alms so that one’s own hands literally know what each other is giving and a contrast to loving praying in public like the hypocrites and like the heathen whose doing tzedakah is merely the βατταλογήσητε ὥσπερ οἱ ἐθνικοί, which is funny written in Greek since Matthew’s original readers were not to be readers of such battalogesete hosper hoi ethnikoi according to the preaching of this one Joshua [ יהושוע, Ἰησοῦς ] of the first-century. The miracle, the naturalsupernatural thing, to me anyway, this late in the morning of human history, is how five and five fingers cooperate as two hands in unity, on a keyboard not made for dark mornings, a maybemonsterous thing like a threeinone god who leaves much to mystery in secret privately and just-the-two-of-us. In private we may muse that the prayer starts with one voice plural to Our Father who art in heaven. Upon profound reflection we get the irony of the Lord’s Prayer being a public one. Why not then blog it? Why not write a gospel, by hand, and have him ask a three-in-one Greek-rhetorical question?

Οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον οὐδὲ δοῦλος ὑπὲρ τὸν κύριον αὐτοῦ. ἀρκετὸν τῷ μαθητῇ ἵνα γένηται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ, καὶ ὁ δοῦλος ὡς ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ. εἰ τὸν οἰκοδεσπότην Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐπεκάλεσαν, πόσῳ μᾶλλον τοὺς οἰκιακοὺς αὐτοῦ.

Why not type that the ways David Stern and Willis Barnstone do, without question marks and with exclamation points, the both of them!

A talmid is not greater than his rabbi, a slave is not greater than his master. It is enough for a talmid that he become like his rabbi, and a slave like his master. Now if people have called the head of the house Ba‘al-Zibbul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!

A student is not above the teacher,
nor a slave above the master.
It is enough for the student to be like the teacher
and the slave like the master.
If they call the master of the house Baal Zevul,
lord of the flies,
how much worse will they call the members of
the household!

Which begs the question of whose household am I in, whose lord of whose flies? Whose dog and who’s master and which bear, ask the human William Faulkner and the human Maxine Kumin. After all these years, my first grade teacher who taught me but for one brief semester, my first firstgrade teacher, is a poet and found me on facebook and said one of my posts there reminded her of what Faulkner and what Kumin wrote. How do miracles like that happen? What separates the literal and the poetic literary except human beings of disbelief? Wow, I believe in you and give you thanks for that.