The Common Good

Diversity

Our Stories To Tell

"We all have a story to tell."

These are the words that will greet my new elementary students as they enter my classroom this year.

I will tell them my story: who I am, what I do, when I was born, where I have lived, why I am a teacher, how I came to our school.

I will tell them this story: When I was their age, I carried a tattered journal, a Papermate pen, and a pocket dictionary everywhere I went. I wrote about the people, places, and things I saw with my eyes, heard with my ears, smelled with my nose, tasted with my tongue, and felt with my hands. I put down on paper the ideas and feelings that were floating around in my head and my heart. I was nerdy (and still am) ... but I was me!

"Will you tell me your story?" I will ask them.

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Reflections from Wild Goose Festival '13

I woke up this morning in a damp sleeping bag to the sound of a rushing river. I heard the laughter of children and could smell bacon being fried in a tent not far from mine. I opened the tent flap and walked outside. As I looked around, I saw dozens of men and women who had also just rolled out of their sleeping bags and RVs to welcome the new day. I saw rainbow flags flying next to signs that read “Who would Jesus Torture?” and “Pro-Peace, Pro-Life, Be Consistent.” 

As I began the short trek from my tent to the shower-house, I was greeted by dozens of people who I had never personally met but felt like I knew intimately. All of us had gathered to encourage and provoke one another to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Over the course of this weekend, dozens of presenters spoke to crowds who listened intently to their dynamic messages of reformation, renewal, redemption, and action. From the testimony of a tattooed Lutheran pastor to the ground-breaking theological theories on non-violence from a highly regarded gay Catholic priest, from the wisdom of one of the founding fathers of the Civil Rights Movement to a quirky live radio show hosted by one of the founders of the Emergent Church movement, hundreds of people from across the country and indeed around the world had converged for this little slice of heaven on earth known as the Wild Goose Festival.

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Moving Backward on Racial Progress

Adaptation is how a bitter and broken South survived its own worst instincts after the war. Progressive pockets emerged in college towns and later in large cities. Hungry for Northern business, the region became less racially polarized. In time, a black man could become mayor of Atlanta and another could become the Episcopal bishop of North Carolina.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of 50 years ago came to seem possible. Distant, yet possible.

But now the dream has receded. The fact of a black president seems to have reopened a pulsing vein of racism. Operating under cover of fiscal austerity, vengeful state politicians are gutting decades of programs that helped the South move forward by helping blacks and Latinos to have a chance.

No more affirmative action, they say; no more dark-skinned citizens flocking to voting stations; no more voting districts shaped by fairness; no more protections from ground-level aggression against people of color.

Once again, as happened in the 19th century, impoverished whites who should be lining up to resist predatory behavior by the moneyed class are being turned against their own best interests by race politics.

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Overcoming Stereotypes

I was in my office on a quiet afternoon when I saw the car pull into the parking lot.

Those of us who work in churches are familiar with people stopping by seeking a bit of financial help. But people stop by churches for lots of reasons. It’s best to wait to see what they want before making assumptions.

As I watched the African-American gentlemen get out of his car, I sighed. My peaceful afternoon was going to be interrupted by yet another request for help. We could do that, but it would take some time. He came into the church and I greeted him.

“Hi, how are you?”

“Fine,” he said. “But I think I’m lost. I’ve got this appointment at a business near here, but I think I missed a turn. Can you help me figure out where it is?”

So why did I assume he was looking for a handout? The only variable was the color of his skin. And in that moment, I realized how quickly I make judgments about people based on stereotypes that lurk within me. And I was grateful that I had kept that stereotype to myself when I greeted the man.

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Sikhs Hopeful on Anniversary of Shooting

One year after a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six worshippers, Sikhs say they are hopeful about the future and even more determined to be better understood.

“The legacy of Oak Creek is not one of bloodshed,” said Valarie Kaur, founding director of the interfaith group Groundswell, a project of Auburn Seminary in N.Y.

“[It’s of] how a community rose to bring people together to heal and to organize for lasting social change,” she told the PBS television program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”

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WATCH: Jim Wallis Talks Trayvon Martin, Race, and Faith

Jim Wallis sat down after the George Zimmerman verdict earlier this month to give his thoughts on race, faith, and truth.

"We live in our different worlds. That's not what we're supposed to do as the body of Christ."

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Pentecost and the Sin of Racism

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Acts 2.12 (NRSV)

Charles Ramsey, the African American male dishwasher who rescued Amanda Berry from captivity preached a transforming sermon when he shared his story about how he helped a Euro American woman in distress escape from 10-years of captivity. Ramsey boldly told the local television news reporter in Cleveland, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.” And later when CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Ramsey, how he felt about being a hero, Ramsey said, “No, no, no. Bro, I’m a Christian, an American. I am just like you. We bleed the same blood …”

Ramsey’s blunt honesty which spoke to the existence of racism and his sincere compassion for humanity was a 21st century mystification; a “radical real lived” theological symbol for the reason, why Christians celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Holy Spirit and the historic beginning of the Christian Church. Biblical scholars teach us on the Day of Pentecost that a strong wind swept through a house where Jesus’ followers gathered days after he was resurrected from the dead. It was in the city of Jerusalem, where Jewish pilgrims gathered to celebrate Shavuot and people from other cultures who spoke diverse languages — believers and non believers of Jesus, heard about God’s powerful works in their native tongues and felt God’s holy presence.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Sprit gave them ability.

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The Voices Project: Offering Perspective to Places of Power

To voice is to give utterance or expression to; declare; proclaim: to voice one's discontent.

There is a question that is usually on the hearts and minds of many if not most people who are living and working in missions or active for justice when they attend events. There is an elephant in the room, a funny feeling in our stomach. The question is, where are the people of color?

"Leroy, where are the black people?" 

My heart always sinks, as I know my friends who lead these events want nothing more than to see more diversity. I have had many conversations and even disagreements about what the answers may be to how to "diversify.” A few years ago I went to New York to visit my friend Gabe Lyons who I have known for quite a few years now. I went to Gabe because he is a friend, but also because he’s a person with experience in gathering people together. I had this desire in my heart to bring people of color together, specifically black folks. Gabe and I talked for an afternoon and I left there believing perhaps it was time for me to gather black leaders together.

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Radical Theology: The New 'White' Religion?

I’ve experienced some strange extremes lately. First, I attended – and spoke at – the Subverting the Norm conference in Springfield, Mo., where we took some time to consider how, if at all, so-called “radical theology” could exist within today’s religious systems. Then I got home and found my latest TIME Magazine, with a cover story titled “The Latino Reformation,” which reveals what most within Protestantism have known for some time: formerly Catholic Latino Christians are dramatically reshaping the face of the American Christian landscape.

Interestingly, there is little-to-no overlap between these two groups – a point which was made clear to me by the fact that there were very few people of color in attendance at Subverting the Norm. One comment, from an African-American woman who was there, was that the very focus of the conference (on academic, esoteric questions of theology and philosophy) assumed the kind of privilege still dominated by middle-class white males. Put another way: while we’re busy navel-gazing and discussing the meaning of Nietzsche’s “death of God,” non-Anglo religious leaders were busy dealing with real-world problems right in front of them.

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