Thursday, June 25, 2015

Racism, Economics, and the Church's Prophetic Task

While largely quite myself, I have followed the news in the US in the last week about the shooting in Charleston. It hit a little harder than usual because of the common table connection of the AME and United Methodist Church. It was felt more closely that these are my people, my tribe, even though I have not ever met them or had the privilege of worshipping with them. 

After I heard the news I kind of braced myself for the expected social media debate to follow about gun control, but I have been honestly surprised about the debate raised in regard to the confederate flag and whether or not it is a symbol of racism. As I have watched both sides of the argument on social media, having a wide range of friends, I have by and large seen people talking past each other as if they are not talking about related subjects. One side is focusing on the racism inherently displayed any time the confederate flag is visible and others about the flag as a symbol of “heritage and not hate” and with a history of standing for economic rights and state sovereignty.  What has failed to be stated by anyone is that we are actually all talking about the same thing and if we continue to fail and put them together in the historical context of the American Civil War than we will also continue to fail to put them together in our many current contexts of conflict, war, and oppression.

This morning I read Ezekiel 27-28 and appropriately enough found this:
Ezekiel 28:16 – “But because of your trade, your oppressive business practices piled up, and you became impure. So I expelled you from God’s mountain.”
Ezekiel 28: 18 – “Because of your corrupt trade, which surpassed your many other sins, you made your sanctuaries impure.”

Of course the American Civil War was about economics and state sovereignty…And it was just as obviously about racism because that the fact of the matter is that the majority of institutionalized racism (which is simply oppression based on ethnicity instead of a different categorization) is based in economics. The above Bible passage talks about Tyre, a port city who became rich through corrupt practices including oppression of others. This oppression and corruption according to Ezekiel is the chief sin, the largest offense. Female Gentile Mutilation (FGM) in my part of the world is largely about the worth of the bride, the money paid to those elders performing the ceremonies, and to make the practice of polygamy easier, which is another practice based in economics. FGM and racism are connected in that they are both oppressive and they were both at different times economically motivated. While people may talk about tribal traditions in the defense of FGM the reality is the it was started because of family economics and has seen a decline in recent years because those economic practices are themselves changing. Racism in pre-American Civil War south is much the same way. The slave trade from Africa to the US, started when the US was still a colony, was economically motivated and racially justified. It was done initially not out of a hatred of Africans, but out of a need of labor. It was however accepted because of an arrogance about racial superiority and it was maintained by sermons, false science, and a lowering of a group of people to a status that was less than humans, numerically defined by the American government at one point in its history as 3/5ths human to be exact. The American Civil War was a war over economics and state sovereignty, but we cannot forget that the economic factor being debated was not industrial versus agriculture or capitalism versus socialism, but rather a justification of keeping human beings enslaved so that an economy could continue uninterrupted and those wealthy individuals in power could continue to stay that way. It was economically motivated racism. That is the problem that many do and should have with the confederate flag. It symbolizes a group of states that at a point in history felt justified in the oppression and dehumanization of hundreds of thousands of human beings because it filled their pocket books AND because these humans were of a different race. Justified enough to go to war.

The challenge today is that while the economic motivations of racism in the US have largely (though not totally) died out the institution still remains. We have allowed the feelings of racial superiority that made permissible the owning of another human being for economic purposes to continue long after the economic reasons have faded. We have allowed them by continuing to lift up the heritage, not as a piece of history where it rightfully belongs, but as an everyday part of life, as a flag flying over (at full mast) a currently operating government building. When we allow the symbols to continue to live on than we are also perpetuating the feelings that accompanied them, long after the economic value that started the whole enterprise has faded.

When you say that the war was over economics and has nothing to do with racism, remember Ezekiel and remember that so many of our biggest sins are perpetuated in favor of our pocket books, from slavery to FGM to Boko Haram to many of our wars in the Middle East. That does not justify the sins or excuse us, but when we continue to see the results of those sins over a hundred years later still haunt our streets, our cities, and our churches it should not call us to defense of those old symbols, but rather repentance, reconciliation, and reformation.  Oppression, conflict, killing, and hate the world over happens for economic reasons. That is not a justification. Money often motivates our most grievous sins as the prophet Ezekiel points out. The question remains that as Christians are we willing to follow the path laid out by our faith? Are we going to repent, reconcile, and transform? Are we going to leave behind the symbols of institutionalized racism and find better ways to celebrate that which is best about our culture instead of some of the worst?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Help Me Celebrate the Big 3-0!!

First of all, for anyone that might be worried, you did not forget my birthday. It is not for another six months, but I feel like I need some time to prepare before I turn 30. I am not sure
why that number looms so big in my head, maybe because of what I had hoped to do in my 20s.

Nevertheless, the reality is that the last decade has been a great blessing to me. I have had the chance to study at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Though most of the truly important lessons, and certainly the most important tests have taken place outside of a classroom. I have had truly amazing opportunities to live my life not just to wade through consecutive days on a calendar. That living has come with its own price and its own challenges, but also its own rewards. Learning a new language and having my life opened to a whole new world. Daring to love a family that was only able to become fully mine five years in. Starting and trying to maintain friendships on multiple continents. Having so many homes, and yet sometimes no home. Being led by faith into a life I never could have imagined all because I dared to think that I can play my small part in turning the world in some direction other than the one it is going in right now. Maybe someday I will manage to get it on its head.

I have been supported by so many amazing people though all of this. When I take the time to pause and consider the type of people I have come in contact with over the last 10 years I am sometimes amazed at how much the good ones outweigh the ones that your mother told you not to talk about. I really do know generous, thoughtful, action oriented, down to earth, stretch for the stars type of people. And best of all they continually reach out to support me, care for me, and remind me that I am God’s child. They really do a better job at it than I probably do for them. I am most importantly impressed with the love I constantly receive from my family, both the ones I see regularly and the ones that are an ocean away. I will never get tired of a child running to greet me and calling me baba, or hugging my wife after another time apart, or relaxing with family during those rare, but treasured visits. I am blessed with people that will support me through anything.

For my 30th birthday I really cannot think of much that I want, certainly nothing that I need other than one thing…to pass on the blessings that I have received. I have had opportunities to grow and test my potential, and I have had people behind me to catch me when I fell. I want to give that same blessing to others. I think I can do that in part, by providing an opportunity to study. Specifically I spent some of today figuring out how to be able to provide students with both a high school education and a college education at the same time so that those who missed their chance the first time around can have a second go.

So here are the numbers…

It just so happens that $1000 can provide a student with a year’s worth of education, including some help with room and board. So by the time I turn 30 at the end of this year I am hoping that I will be able to raise $30,000 and provide 30 years of education to students at Wesley College, a college we are working to open here in Mwanza. Since I don’t have that much money readily available to me this year, I want to invite anyone interested to send me a birthday present or two in the form of money to be designated to fund scholarship students at Wesley College. Being able to pass on the blessings I have received is what I really want this year for my birthday.

If you are interested please let me know and I can get you all the information you need. Love you all and thank you for the blessings that you have already given me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Adoption That Already Happened

I think that this year is going to be a year of hardships, punctuated by highlights. Maybe I will cover some of those in another post, but one of the definite highlights of this year has been the successful adoption of Derrick. It kind of figures that the day we get the call for us to be in court in Mwanza the following day we would both be outside of Mwanza, not together, with Liz flying to the US in less than 48 hours. If you know much about our lives this just kind of fits into it. I was able to contact Derrick’s uncle, the Tarime Social Welfare Officer, and Liz in about 15 minutes and get everyone moving towards Mwanza, including sending money by mobile transfer for transportation for Derrick’s uncle. Personally I was heading 1 ½ hours out from the closest town towards one of our village churches with a 13 person volunteer team. Liz was in Tarime with the GBGM auditor showing him some of our recent projects. Long story short we all made it to Mwanza that night, me spending 3 hours on the back of a small motorcycle, 2 hours in a public shuttle bus, and 4 hours driving in order to do so. But it was all nothing more than a thought because this was the day we have been waiting on.

Liz and I have been married for 7 years and for 5 of those years we have been waiting to make our family legal on paper the way that we felt in our hearts. Derrick is the one that first made us parents, yet is the last one to be able to be recognized as fully ours. During the 5 years that we have been waiting for the adoption process to reach it conclusion we have had two other children, I finished my master’s degree, Liz has almost finished hers, we have had two different jobs, and multiple adventures. 


Yet Derrick’s point of view has really come out in the last year as we started to see true progress, first being approved to foster in April of 2014 and then finally approved as adoptive parents in May of 2015. What has been most touching in this process has been Derrick’s reaction to hearing that we are his foster parents and then his adopted parents. He NEVER once reacted with the idea that we were his parents…

When he heard that we could foster him he was excited that he no longer had to go to boarding school. When the judge said that we were granted the adoption order Derrick got this huge smile on his face and as he walked out the door he turned to Liz and said, “Does this mean I get to go to America?” The fact of the matter is that Derrick never once doubted that he were his parents. He understood in his own way that fostering meant he could live with us and adoption meant that he was now free to travel anywhere we as a family would travel, but never did any of that news ever make his ask if we were his parents. He already knew that, there was never any doubt. Through all of the ups and downs of these last few years we had already, unknowingly accomplished what we decided in our hearts in 2010...we had been a family. 

I wonder sometimes, especially during what is both a joyous and very hard time in our lives, what signs we often wait on in order to recognize that we are God’s children? God knows us as his children. What are we waiting on in order to be able to live with him in our hearts or invite him to travel with us in our lives? And how are we helping others to know that they are fully children of God? No restrictions, no more boarding school, no more staying home while everyone else travels, but fully adopted, faith-filled, children of God.