Protest Lessons: Youth on the Loop

It’s curious for a pacifist to read the headlines that link my activities with violence.

To be sure, I’ve become accustomed to the violence of the police. In yesterday’s earlier march we, a totally peaceful group, approached the Ferguson police station’s front door (in broad daylight) and were met with police in riot gear. Police shaking their batons at me, bringing out the dogs and the pepper spray, attempting to intimidate with state sponsored violence – this is common place. Tragically common.

Last night was very different and very important.

The protestors (as a group, a family, trained and dedicated) had not even arrived on the Delmar Loop when the police were executing a capricious curfew ordinance. It’s rumored that the action was a response to a (single) fight somewhere on the multi-block strip. Maybe so. What I witnessed as we happened onto the scene for our unrelated (or not so) gathering was a racially specific sweep. The kids that were being rounded up and removed were chatting with one another happily, shopping at the convenience store, and causing no harm whatsoever. Nor were they accused of doing anything wrong. They were being evicted solely (we were told) because of their age.

Of course there were others not evicted. It’s the not even hidden in plain sight truth. Young people who were dressed a certain way, holding certain skin privilege, and/or hanging out with others that had privilege were NOT evicted. Not only were they evicted, the violence with which they were removed (having committed NO CRIME) was unconscionable. Dogs, handcuffs, taken to the station, terror.

What happened next is sadly predicable and gratefully no one was seriously hurt.

Photo from

The protest which would have been slight suddenly grew. Protestors weary from the events earlier in the day came out. Youth that had been evicted returned through the side streets and joined the protestors. Middle aged white folk enjoying their dinners left their tables and went to the streets. The streets belong to the people and the people took them back.

Enough is enough.

And apparently some of the kids (not from the protest group) did have a fight, apparently one had a gun. Let me be clear: no one wants kids to fight, no one wants kids to have revolvers. But for either of these tragedies to be the headline only undergirds the compounded tragedy that the mainstream media are missing the story entirely. What the youth need is not more violence (state or otherwise), they need respect, justice, and a safe place to gather.

Violence begets violence. If we insist on state sponsored violence, the results are predictable.

Photo from
Photo from

Leaving Church: Praying with My Feet

Enjoying the early morning quiet of a Sunday morning in an empty nest, I am aware of sadness for the losses. The gift of life’s second half is perspective, the curse is the pile of losses that make possible the view. My journey may have more or less than yours, but all of us have stories to tell.

In this sacred space, with the sound of my dear one sleeping, the birds singing of coming spring, and warm coffee with milk, I am also aware of healing as life unfolds on a path quite unexpected. Despite our best laments, the sun rises and time marches on. It’s been more than two years since I left the church, and I realize that grief has been replaced by wistfulness. After a quarter century of Sundays dominating the week, I savor this moment of quiet and take note of that which no longer catches my breath.

Curious is the role of justice work, indeed civil disobedience, that preceded my time in seminary and has come back into my daily routines. Throughout my seminary days, I fancied that my call was to prophetic witness and in my ordination even chose the text from Luke’s gospel quoting Isaiah. But almost immediately I became a servant of the church, my bread and butter about filling pews, organizing potlucks, making flyers, and meetings.

In my last years in the church, I was passionate about expressing a theological frame that was itself progressive. Often we find socially liberal churches with traditional theology (or the reverse). I suspect this is somewhat inevitable for white folk in America because the texts and traditions that we have adopted were written by and for communities oppressed. There is a dissonance inherent in our reading and a need to do critical (self reflective work) unless we flatten them (read: impose tradition). I was jazzed about working to articulate a theology that was relevant, challenging, and empowering. The path was pretty much unchartered and at points contentious, but worth the effort. And it was great fun, until it wasn’t.

The point of parting is still painful. The words spoken, the letters shared, the allegations levied; these haunt. Cruel, but without which I would not have released my grip. Perhaps I grieve the necessity (my grip) as much as I grieve the series of events themselves.

As I sit on this quiet Sunday morning drinking coffee, the sun now full in the sky, I see the path that is mine today.

Prayer Vigil in Ferguson. Photo by
Prayer Vigil in Ferguson. Photo by

While my gratitude has many layers and covers a wide berth of life experiences, as I ponder that which is sacred this morning I am mindful of all that I’ve seen and heard and felt on the streets in #Ferguson. I’ve learned more of what it means to be white, and the importance of #whitefolkwork if we really care about justice. I’ve met Jesus in any number of incarnations, Black of course, and often queer and usually a woman. As I’ve prayed with my feet, I’ve learned that my words get in the way and I’ve had incredible opportunities to listen. The veil is lifted as the sacred dances in the street.

The early morning light is now gone and the busyness of the day calls. There are lesson plans to gather, laundry to start, and a protest to attend (#BlackBrunch).

Church, like prayer, comes in many forms.


a POTUS miss

As Obama declares that, though we have much to do, race relations are clearly better than they were 50 years ago, I am struck by the two Americas in which we live.

Clearly some aspects have improved, and dramatically, as Obama’s election bears witness. Diversity is in vogue, and everyone (except the hardcore racists) want a sprinkle of diversity in our otherwise white lives. Anecdotes abound about the “hard working” Black man that made it in corporate America, allowing the myth of meritocracy to reign. To be sure there are opportunities that did not exist 50 years ago for some Americans but the systems that privilege white lives (at the expense of others) are perhaps even stronger than they were on Bloody Sunday.

The baseline struggle for a Black child born in America is stunningly unchanged. Poverty is crushing, malnutrition is high and healthcare scarce. While childhood poverty crosses lines of race, our public school resources do not appear to be so color blind. The disparities in funding are immoral and so too the disparities in punishments (suspensions). Given that suspensions literally remove children from the classroom, the loss of education based on race is underscored. To be sure there are children of color at the fancy private schools, like the ones where Obama’s daughters attended, but this is NOT the norm for children of color in America. Our public schools are actually MORE segregated than they were 50 years ago.

While the years since Bloody Sunday brought us our first Black president, these same years also provided a cloak for the “war on drugs” and the “prison industrial complex” and any number of euphemism that have created the #newjimcrow. Not only do we have an incarceration rate that is utterly ridiculous, it is quite literally the highest in the world. Do we really believe that Americans are more dangerous or are we simply more vengeful or (my personal hunch) we’ve become dependent upon the prison-industrial economy. And in this unconscionable system, we fill our prisons with Black and brown skinned boys (who become men behind bars). Not only do we charge and imprison dramatically differently along lines of race, we have also created an elaborate system to ensure that even upon release “convicts” are stripped of economic and civic privileges, denied their human rights.

And, of course, our schools function as a pipeline to the prison system… the whole damn system is guilty as hell.

I have deep respect and true appreciation for our President. But I am equally disappointed in his failure to act at this pivotal place in history. Appealing to the American dream when children are quite literally being gunned down the streets is as morally bankrupt as the revivalist’s promise of an afterlife to the child who is hungry.