race

Black Witness

Black Witness 1280 720 Corey Leak

Our blog last week has the highest views of any of the posts on our site. I was surprised by the response and attention that post received. Many of you who read it were so kind with your words, and to be honest, I was a little uncomfortable after sharing it. While it is my truth and my story, I still felt uneasy with how many people were reading my diary essentially. Perhaps that’s what people meant when they applauded me for being “courageous.” The funny thing about that is, every time someone said that I got scared that they knew something I didn’t about the risks of sharing my story. As I reflect on what the tension I felt after sharing was, I have concluded that what I felt was the weight of black witness.

By now you’re probably aware of the drama unfolding with Empire start Jussie Smollett. He is a gay black man who shared “his truth” with the world. It turns out that his story is complicated at best and a lie at worst. The internet has already made its decision.

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Image result for jussie smollett lying king meme

Image result for jussie smollett lying king meme

Who knows what happened. Since Donald Trump introduced the idea of “fake news” to us, we’ve been left questioning everything we hear. Regardless of what the truth is in Smollett’s case, I believe it’s safe to say that his original truth wasn’t honest. He bore false witness to black trauma. He was heralded as a sympathetic and heroic example of what black people, especially gay blacks, endure in America daily. In the end, Jussie received misapplied goodwill, and those that supported him and claimed this incident an example of “Trump’s America” have to dial all of that back. People who supported Jussie got duped, and that sucks. It doesn’t suck because those people feel betrayed or embarrassed for supporting a made up story, or because the image of a talented, young, black man is now tarnished. It sucks for a much more significant reason. Jussie’s narrative threatens to delegitimize the stories of black witnesses both now and in the future.

Bearing black witness is hard. It comes with a burden of proof that often causes victims of racial trauma to consider the weight too heavy to carry. We may never hear many people’s stories of racism out of fear the repercussions that befall black people for speaking up. Black witnesses do not receive the benefit of the doubt. I’ve watched people demonize black victims of blatant racism in the face of glaring video evidence of hatred. Some people resist the idea that racism is a serious issue. They object every time a witness shares their testimony about the racism they experienced. Some of them attempt to debunk claims of racism to defend their political persuasion, and others oppose to avoid the weight of guilt that accompanies white identity in the face of racism.

The resistance to black witness is given a gift whenever there is outrage over a false racism testimony or a black witness who joins them in fighting back black advocacy. This week I heard the perfect storm for suppressing black witnesses to racism when I turned on my radio.

I was furious listening to a Larry Elder use the Smollett case as a springboard into trying to delegitimize Black Lives Matter and other forms of black advocacy. It’s tragic that black folks like Larry and Candace Owens often echo the testimony of anti-black witnesses. They enable people who seek escape from the realities of racism to opt out of wrestling with their own bias and complicity in systemic racism. When Larry Elder’s black witness says racism isn’t a significant issue and Jussie Smollett bears false witness, what do we do with the witnesses drawing attention to inconspicuous racism in society?

We keep listening. No one black witness speaks for the entirety of the black experience. However, one witness can shine a light on their experience, and when they do, we should listen. When their witness doesn’t align with our perspective, we can find ourselves agitated. We are unnerved because the new testimony opposes the story we wanted to believe. We wanted to believe the people we thought were the bad guys are indeed evil, and the good guys right. We want our world to be neat in that way. We don’t want to face the reality that we may have been loud and outspoken for the wrong team.

I made myself listen to Larry Elder that day. I hated every bit of what he said, and I stand by why I believe his words are dangerous to other black witnesses who join the chorus of countless other black folks who have a contrasting experience from his outlying perspective. However, he is a black witness, and I have to listen to him because being a black witness is hard. He did provide me with the opportunity to look inward, and juxtapose his views and experience with my own. Larry’s witness doesn’t negate mine, and neither does Jussie’s. A person who is concerned with the goodwill of humanity has space in their consciousness for all witnesses without losing their awareness of justice and injustice.

A good friend of mine once said:

There is a bass note in all of the issues that we face today. the unfortunate reality is that most of us are only in tune with the drums, the singer, or the keys. We listen to voices that we are used to and support us and though that isn’t always a bad thing, it causes us to stay shallow, comfortable, and unscathed by the fragility of our broken system. We need to learn to listen for the bass note. To tune our ears to hear the music that we aren’t accustomed to listening to.

That bass note is the sound of black witness. Can you hear it?

Dear Corey (An Open Letter to My Former Self)

Dear Corey (An Open Letter to My Former Self) 6000 4000 Corey Leak

Dear Former Self,

Your non-threatening demeanor and disposition created great opportunities for you in White Evangelical churches. They loved that you could sing and play guitar with just enough soul to give them credit for hiring a POC, but not so much that it was uncomfortable for the majority white audience that sat in the seats. You learned so much as a man and a leader because of the spaces you led in.

When you worked at churches, you and the white folks that hired you, celebrated what it meant to have a black man leading within the church. You thought that the optics were important. After all, diversity is the buzzword of the modern church. They all knew that black skin added value to the church daily requiring zero effort. You are black, and every day you went to work, you were doing a huge part of your job. Up top! That’s a hustle! It opened the door for you to work for churches and provide a decent living for the family. You did what you had to do.

Everything was great! You laughed at the same cliche black jokes. “You’re the token black.” “We figured you’d be late.” “Is that your girl’s real hair?” All cannon fodder for humor that the white folks and you thought would help you relate to each other. You even initiated some of the fun to try and amuse your colleagues with your wit and self-deprecation. You kind of thought you were subtly reinforcing the authentic biases that lied beneath the surface of that humor, but also thought they were just jokes. You thought laughing and making those jokes helped you fit in, and for some of them, I agreed. For others, I believed you were complicit in the defamation of our blackness. I felt like our ancestors were somehow disrespected, but you never wanted to think about that too much. You didn’t feel like we could object without becoming a problem for our white partners in ministry. I wasn’t sure, but I went along with the plan. However, humor wasn’t the only area where you didn’t feel we could object.

I remember how many times they used you to do their dirty work. You were asked to have tough conversations with black volunteers or board members about things the white leaders you worked for were too scared to talk about themselves. You found a way to justify their neocolonialism and jumped into a fight that didn’t belong to you to keep your job. Once I started to come alive, I felt uneasy with a lot of what was said and done, but you never wanted anyone to know I was at work with you. You felt like I was the angry side that no one needed to see. How about the time the pastor snapped at you in a room full of people with a tone only your mom and dad had used towards you? I was ready to educate him, but you held me back. You tried to convince me that there was a greater good in being quiet. You felt like you needed to keep a good relationship with the white men who lead you. You believed that your black skin with a leaders salary and title was a giant step for them, and neither of us wanted to put the wife and kids in jeopardy. As examples of racism in culture became more vivid, I could no longer hold my peace, but you still had a job. We agreed I’d be quiet work as long as I got to speak my mind in public through social media and other public forums.

I think we both recognized that what happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castille was heartbreaking. I don’t remember which one of us wept most about what happened, but I do remember it was becoming harder and harder to not see privilege, systemic racism, and bias all around us. But, again, we still had to feed the family. It was emotionally taxing for both of us to suppress feelings of anxiety, anger, disappointment, and frustration for fear of playing the “black card.” Maybe that anxiety is why it was so important that I find an outlet for my truth.

I started to speak up about injustice. I used #blacklivesmatter on social media. Then I realized just how many people had never met me before. How many “I didn’t know you were so black” comments did you get? You laughed. I snarled. You didn’t want to be labeled, miss out on opportunities, or lose your job. I wanted to tell the truth, and I was growing more and more dissatisfied with holding my tongue in the face of systemic racist structures.  You believed there was no place for a “pro-black” message within the gospel. I wasn’t sure either. After all, neither of us had heard very many sermons about racial justice. We had only heard that we are all one race, and encouraged not to see color.

Even in the absence of theology, I felt I had to speak up. Eventually, we found common ground in theology, and everything changed.

You were no longer the godly version and I the angry black version. We found that the New Testament is full of language that encourages diversity and unity. Jesus and Paul both warned about supremacy. Injustice has always been something God opposes, and it’s always been an evil that humans shouldn’t tolerate. Justice is not a curse word, but a word that can just as easily be substituted for righteousness.  In our theological wrestling, we found our voice. The duplicity we thought we needed to keep the peace is now a burden to us. It was cumbersome to try and be two different people. You had to learn to accept me and trust that I wasn’t an evil to despise, but truth to embrace. The world needed me to speak out about injustices as much as it needed you to sing Well Done.

I wish I could tell you that you were wrong about the white folks you were afraid would reject you if they ever met me. You weren’t. Many of those people you were worried about have bailed. You have lost some friends, and some people who once seemed to be fond of you don’t reach out anymore, but life is lived better from a sense of genuine self than from a safe place of oppressed apprehension.

I use my voice freely now.  I write about justice, faith, and culture, and I bear witness to the black experience. I’m contending for a better world, and there are quite a few white leaders who have embraced the message and me. There is opposition and people mislabeling this gospel as political rhetoric, but I live in the peace that comes from knowing that God is with me.

 

Do You See What I See?

Do You See What I See? 968 645 Corey Leak

Last week I watched people come to the defense of the white Catholic school boys from Covington High School with the kind of veracity that a parent has for their children. By now I don’t need to re-hash what happened with the original incident. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know what happened. These kids went from America’s new KKK to perfect little angels who were victimized by the evil leftist media. They’re probably neither. I don’t condone the death threats they’ve allegedly received nor the “Black Hebrew Israelites” treatment of them. (Lord help us all with those clowns.) Something unjust happened during this exchange, and none of us know exactly what. However, that hasn’t stopped us from taking sides.

Often people object to singular passion about social injustices with “what about…” or “did you say the same when…”. These statements are usually nothing more than red herrings and evidence that there is no objection to the validity of what is being said or done to oppose injustice.

It’s impossible to be genuinely passionate about every social ill that plagues our world. One of my best friends will often say “I can’t keep up” in response to the latest polarizing current event. It’s not realistic for us to expect everyone to share all of the same burdens or even be aware of how a particular social malady affects certain groups of people. It is, however, reasonable to expect cultural sensitivity and consistency with how we protest evil and defend justice.

It’s human nature to defend our own. However, how do we define “our own”? Is it by race, gender, or religion? Most of us would like to believe we determine whom we support or defend by reasonable means, but the truth is we are victims of bias in most cases. What we were taught as children, what our holy book or tradition says along with many other outside factors shape what we believe and feed us our perspectives.

None of us are as noble as we may believe we are. Righteous causes by themselves don’t make us righteous people. In today’s world of instant and pervasive media, we can find support for whatever bias we hold dear. I’ve had people share links on my FB page of articles and videos that showed “definitively” that the boys from Covington High were victims of hatred. I’ve been lead to pages that had comments like “That Indian isn’t even a real veteran. He made it up”. The person sharing the link likely overlooked that offensive racist quib because the overall message of the page kept their view of things warm and comfortable. Like it or not, we may all be more tribal than we’d care to admit and day after day we are finding ways to confirm our bias through media whether we know it or not.

I find it interesting that when we’ve witnessed video of the outright murder of black and brown boys by police, some of the same people so outspoken in defense of these Catholic school boys are silent or condemning. I’m not asking people who are outspoken or outraged about abortion to also be outspoken about racism. I’m questioning why people who are unreserved about how we as a society should treat our youth aren’t consistent about that cause. Why were Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and Tamir Rice, all guilty offenders, but Nick Sandmann is just an innocent kid who was victimized by the media? I didn’t see Botham Jean, the worship leader shot and killed in his own home, defended with the same zeal as these boys.

I’ll admit that this is a frustration to me in part because I am a black man. I try to be objective in the way I view stories that unfold in front of me, but I’m human. I’m subject to bias, proof-narratives, and emotional reactions. For all of us, instincts kick in before we have a chance to engage reason or virtue. That’s not evil. That’s human. We need to resist the urge we have to make villains out of people who see the world differently than we do. It’s difficult, and there are people, as Alfred once told Bruce Wayne…

What’s important is that we recognize that the keywords in the phrase “my world view”  are “my” and “view.”

This week as you scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the rest, take a moment to see how many people are confirming the view that you own. When you do come across someone who owns a different view than you, instead of bringing your view to them, ask them to bring their view to you. The more we can hold onto someone else’s perspective, the better we will become at responding to the ache of humanity rather than building a case for the bais we own.

The New White Moderate

The New White Moderate 805 535 Corey Leak

In Dr. King’s breathtaking “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he lamented the posture of white clergy towards the Negro liberation movement in Alabama. White people felt like the protests lead by Civil Rights leaders were unwise and ill-timed. If you’ve never read the letter, I highly recommend you do. If you’ve read it before, might I suggest you take another look at it as we approach MLK Day on Monday?

Dr. King highlighted one group of people, in particular, with which he had grown more and more frustrated. He said this group of people were more of a threat to the full liberation of black people than any white supremacist hate group. He was more disturbed by these people than even the Ku Klux Klan.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Being an advocate for social change today doesn’t require what it once did. Marches and sit-ins are no longer the only way to show that you support the cause of black people demanded equality. As a result, the new white moderate can hide in plain sight. They can hide because of all the access to wokeness social media gives us.

We live in an era where social media allows the new white moderates to borrow the wokeness of people deeply committed to social change by clicking the re-tweet or share buttons. 

The new white moderate is a white person who believes in white privilege, white fragility, implicit bias, and the overall inequity that exists within the American social structure. They read, watch, and listen to today’s thought leaders on race. NWM recognize racism when they see it. Many of them possess a heightened sensitivity to racism and can often see racism in comments or actions that appear void of malicious or racist intent. They are secretly discontent with the lack of diversity at their jobs, churches, or in their communities.

Today’s moderate is different than the moderates that sat on the sidelines of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Those white moderates were blind to privilege, implicit bias, and fragility. They didn’t have access to the menagerie of woke content that saturates the internet today. In today’s world, NWM have become well versed in the language, trends, and stories that boost their understanding of the issues that keep black and brown people from standing on equal footing with white people in America.

Moderates then and now hold some beliefs that prevent them from engaging in the minority struggle for equality. These ideologies hold their wokeness at bay and blind them to their lack of allying and advocacy. Chief among these ideas is the belief that Time will fix it.

I worked for an organization that was reluctant to take even the smallest steps forward in the dialog about racial inclusion and equality because the timing needed to be just right. I agree that the schedule for having a dialog about race, justice, and equity should be well-timed, well thought out, and well executed. The problem with the new white moderate is that the “right time” they are waiting for seems to be measured by the white fragility watch.

The time for dialog about racism is almost never right now.

I’ve heard white moderates say that a solution to racism is to “wait for old racist white people to die off.”. I’ll echo the words of Dr. King.

Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

In this past three years, my children have come home from high school and middle school with stories of 12 to 17-year-old students who use terms like nigger and coon. If we are to continue to wait for time to emerge as the long-awaited Messiah for racial justice, we are at least another generation away from seeing the change that many of us are so eagerly awaiting.

There is no way forward for the new white moderate or any of us that won’t cost us. No path of little resistance exists for people wanting to commit to significant efforts of change. Time will not jump into the fight and win the battle for us.

The new white moderate is a fifth-year senior in the aware stage of white wokeness. They are more progressive than those that are in denial about the effects of racism on our society but pose no threat to the systems and structures that keep racism in place. They aren’t willing to go public with their objections to the evils of racism for fear of what it could cost them financially or socially. NWM are comfortable in the privilege they so readily admit is an ugly stain on the fabric of our Nation. That privilege allows them to evade feeling any sense of urgency for change. It’s not their fight, but here’s hoping that one day it will be.

4 Reasons Your Church Should Acknowledge MLK Day

4 Reasons Your Church Should Acknowledge MLK Day 1280 720 Corey Leak

MLK Day is a federal holiday. It is a day set aside to remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s a day that has been met with resistance since it was proposed as a holiday in 1968. It took until 2000 for the holiday to be recognized as a federal holiday by every state in America. Utah is the last state to accept it.

Churches have been even slower to acknowledge MLK Day as a holiday worth mentioning during Sunday gatherings. Many churches in America that recognize Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Valentines Day and Halloween have failed to recognize this federal holiday that was established to help us remember that all men are created equal. Perhaps many clergies don’t recognize the opportunity MLK weekend creates for sharing the gospel or perhaps it’s deemed a holiday for only black churches to celebrate. Whatever the reason, not taking time out to significantly honor the memory of Dr. King is a missed opportunity. Here are 4 reasons clergy should make significant space in the weekend programming for remembering Dr. King.

1. Dr. King was a pastor. 

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MLK Day is a federal holiday that pauses the Nation to remember a man of the cloth and the work he did. People of all ethnicities, creeds, religions, and beliefs remember a Christian pastor’s message to America that all human beings are God’s children and equal. Every year black and non-black clergy have the opportunity to reaffirm that message and the pastor who preached it. Dr. King is in the great cloud of witnesses watching us who are still here carrying the message of liberation and freedom forward. He is a brother to ever faith leader who sacrifices, leads and gives of themselves for their congregants.

2. It deeply matters to the black people attending your church.

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I recently heard a story from a friend who took over a church a few years ago. In the first year of being a lead pastor, they asked the production team to make sure there was a moment in service to acknowledge Dr. King. The church had never done it before. After the first weekend service where they did it, a black woman came up to my friend with tears in her eyes and said: “For the first time in ten years this feels like my church.”

In multi-cultural or predominantly white congregations black people are often sacrificing the cultural experiences of their communities in order to belong to such churches. There are a number of reasons black folks chose not to attend a “black church” such as proximity, relationships, seeking more structured programming or teaching style. Whatever the reason they chose to attend churches where they are the minority, they are still aware each and every week that they are the minority. Hearing the lead pastor affirm the importance of equality from the stage can go a long way toward making black folks feel like they belong.

3. The work is not done.

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I don’t think I need to tell anyone reading this that reconciliation is an ongoing issue. There is still so much work to be done for us to truly be reconciled to one another. Racism is pervasive and difficult to recognize because of its pervasiveness. The more we take time as communities of faith to wrestle with principles of inclusion and unity, the more we will see areas we need to repent, change and grow. Serious work takes serious time to do. MLK Day is a natural opportunity to stand on the shoulders of people who have gone before us in that work. We can take a fresh look at the sermons preached by Dr. King and evaluate ourselves to see how well we’re doing at loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

4. Jesus preached the same message.

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If you read about Jesus from the gospel writer Luke’s perspective you will find a significant emphasis put on the liberation of the poor and oppressed people of the world. From Mary’s Song, Jesus reading of Isaiah in Luke 4, to the Sermon on the Mount, you find a message of good news to the poor and oppressed. The work of the Messiah was to liberate the people of Israel from the things that held them captive. We tend to reduce this message to merely spiritual concerns in our Western reading of scripture, but for the people living during the time of Jesus and the people reading his story in the first century, the expectation was that there would be physical liberation as well. Luke records Jesus saying “blessed are the hungry for they will be filled”. Luke doesn’t write “Hunger and thirst for righteousness” as Matthew does. He also doesn’t record Jesus saying “in spirit” after Jesus says “blessed are the poor”.

Jesus was concerned with social issues that affected human beings on earth not just in heaven. It’s that message that Dr. King picked up and preached to us over 50 years ago. When a preacher examines the words of Dr. King and shares them with their congregation, they are not sharing a message that is other than the gospel but announcing that the Kingdom of God is indeed here and now.

 

For some of you that have done videos, slides, or special songs in the past, I’d challenge you to consider taking a step further and devoting all or part of your sermon to sharing something significant about Dr. King.

Having worked for several larger churches I know that most times teaching calendars and sermon series are planned months in advance. If you’re a part of a church leadership team that hasn’t planned for MLK weekend, I understand it can be difficult to pivot last minute. To those of you wrestling with that tension after reading this, I’ll offer two suggestions.

  1. Plan for it next year. Add MLK Day to your teaching calendar so that you don’t miss the opportunity again.
  2. Consider pivoting this week. Chances are you’ve pivoted before with less notice. Your team survived and you likely didn’t regret making the last minute change.

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If We’re Being Honest (Part 2)

If We’re Being Honest (Part 2) 800 450 Corey Leak

I’ve been a Christian for 35 years and have worked in churches for the past 20 years. I’m a Christian, and as a Christian, I think there is one more topic we should be more honest about.

Jesus

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There is not “Christian” without Christ aka Jesus. Following Jesus is what every Christian signed up for. We spend time in church, prayer, worship and Bible reading trying to become more like Jesus. We want to be conformed into the image of Jesus which is admirable and virtuous. I was a teenager when the WWJD movement began. Remember the bracelets? I thought anyone who wore one HAD to be a Christian. The bracelets and the movement itself were a tool to remind us before doing or saying anything to ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?”. Great question. The answer is probably more complicated than we think, however, and here’s why.

The default image of Jesus has been white, cisgendered, heterosexual, married, patriotic and male. That’s the image we’ve been lead to believe is the standard for a follower of Christ. It’s no wonder the overwhelming majority of Evangelical Churches in America are lead by pastors and boards that reflect that image. Think about how Evangelicals traditionally vote. What makes Evangelicals take to social media to share their outrage?

Image result for colin kaepernick

Can you imagine what we would think of a faith leader like Jesus in our context today that wasn’t married? We Christians tend to assume that a person, especially a man, who isn’t married by a certain age has something wrong with them or they’re hiding something about themselves. That forces an extra layer of social expectation for being like Jesus.

Most of what is taught about this historically Jewish rabbi is filtered through a lens that is white, American and male. Which means, that if you’re an American citizen of color, an immigrant or a woman, you have work to do to find yourself conforming to Christ’s image. If your transgender or gay, you’re out of luck.

Based on what we know from the birth narratives in the Bible, Jesus was born to Jewish parents who spent a few years as immigrants in Africa. According to historical accounts of his adult life from the Bible, he never dated, married or had a romantic relationship with another human being. He healed sick people, walked on water, miraculously multiplied small meals to feed thousands, gave his life as a ransom for all and then resurrected from the dead according to scriptures.  He never pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. His language on marriage was pretty clearly in support of heterosexual marriage as normative, and he was mum on slavery.

If we’re being honest, having Jesus as a role model isn’t simple. It’s complicated. It’s not as cut and dry as we might like to believe. Based on just what I describe above (which left out chunks of his life) I couldn’t name a person I’ve ever met who is truly like Jesus. So, what does it mean to imitate or be conformed to his image? How can we answer the question WWJD? How can we live in our culture and act like he would if he were born in our time? How can we be like Jesus if we don’t do and say all the things he did?

Love.

Jesus told those closest to him that the way people would know that they were indeed like him was by love.  Any expression of Christian faith that isn’t loving isn’t Christian at all. A faith in Jesus that is exclusive, self-centered, homogeneous, sexist, xenophobic or homophobic is not faith in the Jesus of history or scripture, but faith in America’s default Jesus birthed from patriotism and supremacy. The story of Jesus from birth to resurrection is one of liberation, love, and inclusion. And, if we are going to be conformed to an image or imitate his legendary exploits and ideas, we should consider what THAT Jesus would do when we ask ourselves WWJD.

We encourage sharing by clicking on any of the sharable tabs below. Feel free to leave a comment below as well. Thanks for reading.

 

Can you Imagine?

Can you Imagine? 1024 651 Corey Leak

There is a scenario that Jesus shared once that has been called “The Friend of Midnight”. Luke (Bible writer) records the story in chapter 11 of his book if you want to read it for yourself. The story follows the “Lord’s Prayer” and is followed by the ask, seek, knock instructions about prayer that most Christians are pretty familiar with. Because of where the statement is situated in Luke’s writing, this is primarily talked about in the context of prayer, and rightfully so. There is, however, something significant to be gleaned about hospitality upon taking a closer look at the words Jesus shared.

It’s likely that if you read this story today, it begins with the phrase “suppose one of you…”. Just about every version of the Bible reads it that way. A better reading would probably be something like “can you imagine…”. Then as now, what follows a phrase like that is something extremely out of the ordinary or unthinkable. Jesus told a lot of parables that began that way. The phrase is intended to elicit a natural response of “No, I can’t imagine that”.

As American readers, it’s important that we do not project our way of living into this story or we put ourselves in jeopardy of missing the point. It doesn’t help us to imagine ourselves going to a friend’s at midnight asking for food to feed our friends who showed up unannounced in the wee hours of the morning. Our culture is very different. We don’t live in a culture characterized by honor as these people did.

In essences Jesus said: “Can you imagine going to a friends house at midnight, asking them to help you show hospitality to a guest, and having them say no because their door is locked and their kids are sleep?” The natural response for us as Americans is “Umm… Yea, I totally can. I’m not getting up at midnight to make food for YOUR friends who showed up to YOUR house.”

However, no first century Jew hearing or reading this story would have been able to imagine that a person would NOT get up and help the friend at their door. It would be unheard of for a person living in a culture characterized by hospitality and honor to turn away a friend who was in need regardless of the hour.

For years I read this thinking that the audacity this story is bringing to light is from the person on the outside of the door, but in a culture of honor, the audacity is with the person on the inside of the door.

 

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Who’s audacious at our borders right now? People who have walked thousands of miles to seek refuge, women and children seeking a better life for their family, or the people firing tear gas and pellets at them? I suppose the answer to that question depends on the value you place on honor.

I’ve been asked a couple times now what I would do with a stranger at my door. Would I just let anybody come into my house with my wife and my children? The question has been posed to me to suggest that I’m being hypocritical for criticizing the way we have treated and talked about this “migrant caravan”. I can tell you that for several months we’ve had a man with what we can only assume is a mental health disorder come and stand across the street from our house and hurl racial slurs at the four houses on our street. I’ve never once thrown anything at him, yelled back out my window or acted aggressively toward him. I only recently even called the police because after praying for him, I felt like he needed help and possibly to be reunited with his family. I’ve woken up mad, scared, and disturbed by this man a few times, but he’s a human being and deserves honor based on that alone. It’s audacious of him to yell obscenities at our house after midnight, but it’s perhaps more audacious of me to disregard his humanity because his illness inconveniences me.

But, that’s really beside the point. I don’t believe the discussion about how a Nation treats migrants should be reduced to an argument about how all of us treat our private residencies. The issue isn’t whether you or I invite strangers into our home, though I would hope that we would be willing to help a stranger in need rather than harming them or ignoring them. The point is that we as a Nation should honor human beings simply because they are human beings, and not treat them as pests. When you can see an image like the one above and your first thoughts are something about legal entry, MS13, rape or murder, then you have lost a sense of humanity. Some have claimed this image and others like it are left-wing manipulations designed to tug on the heartstrings of liberal snowflakes. I actually wish that was true. I’d rather believe that the media would sink to those levels than believe that we are capable of treating any human beings in such a calloused way. It’s also concerning that it seems that the only people with heart strings to tug on are liberal snow flakes.

Can you imagine a world where people can see an image of suffering human beings and their first inclination is to defend a position or political party? Unfortunately, I can.  

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6 Things I Tell People Before They Start Talking About Race

6 Things I Tell People Before They Start Talking About Race 710 250 Corey Leak

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, you’ll hear race at the center of conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports talk radio, the nightly news, social media or your favorite television show. Everyone is talking about race. If you or someone you know has been reluctant to engage in the conversation, here are some things you should know:

1. It’s not as scary as it seems.

Polarizing conversations are hard, and few conversations are more polarizing than dialog along racial lines. Racial discussion is driven by people on the extreme outer edges, and for that reason can appear scarier than it actually is. Reasonable people can engage in tough talks without stooping to personal attacks or harmful rhetoric.

2. Listen. 

None of us get to interpret someone else’s experience for them, but I’ve witnessed people try over and over again. I once heard it said that: a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument. Approaching issues of race from a solely statistical point of view dishonors the human experience at the core of the conversation. When a person shares their story about how their race has impacted their lives, our job is to listen.

3. Don’t try to “win”.

It seems like some people jump into important conversations to win an argument or prove how intelligent they are. That type of approach isn’t helpful when engaging in a discourse aimed at healing. If my goal is to help, then I have little time for going back and forth with someone intent on proving that they are right.  No one wins a shouting match, so don’t bother trying.

4. Know when to walk away.

If you are a person trying to move us forward as a society, then it’s important to recognize that not everyone has that same agenda. There is a difference between an ignorant fool and an arrogant fool. The former is open to dialog and growth. The latter is looking to validate their own bias.

5. Play the long game. 

The race conversation has been around for thousands of years, so don’t approach it from the naive prospective that your experiences, ideas, questions, or data will have an overnight affect. When we adjust to the reality that every generation has a responsibility to chip away at hatred and injustice, we have more peace and a greater sense of resolve. We could be the generation to end racism, but only time will tell.

6. Privilege affects your lens

None of us can do anything about our history. We can’t change the family we were born into, the ethnicity we were born a part of or the path our parents put us on. We bring all of that to the conversations we have. If I enter a race conversation from a place of privilege, it will affect what I say and how I say it. White people talking about issues of race are without question speaking from a place of privilege. It’s not something to be sorry for or feel guilty over. Neither of those sentiments are actually helpful. It is helpful to recognize that a privileged lens blinds you to what it feels like to be a minority, which makes #2 your most valuable take away.

 

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I’m with Kap, Eric and Nike

I’m with Kap, Eric and Nike 720 480 Corey Leak

Polarization doesn’t sell. I was once told by a pastor of a mega-church that avoiding polarization is one of the ways you grow and maintain a large church. We’ve seen NFL owners collude to keep Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid off NFL teams because anti-racism doesn’t sell. They have done their best to rid the league of the demonstration Colin and Eric started to bring attention to police brutality and racial inequality. It’s standard practice for major brands and organizations to avoid polarizing topics, ideas, or people in order to protect the bottom line. Then there’s Nike.

I’ve always been a fan of Nike’s marketing campaigns. They’re always creative and intriguing to watch. Nike is one of the only brands that drive us to youtube to re-watch their adds. They have consistently promoted unity and allowed athletes to use their platform to share important messages with the world. No message is more important to the world today than equality. This week Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of the 30th anniversary of the company’s just do it campaign. I applaud Nike and Colin for bringing attention to the sacrifice required for change to happen. I applaud Eric and Colin for not just talking about sacrifice, but making it. In doing so, they join a long line of historic icons.

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Each of these brave trail blazers were criticizedin their time for their demonstrations and words. Only in hind sight do we have the salience to understand how virtuous their cause was. Today we recognize pioneers like Dr. King with a National holiday. We have parades, take off work and remember the man who pushed the gospel of equality in an era that vehemently rejected it and him. Americans almost universally recognize Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks as transcendent heroes even though both were found guilty of breaking the law. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus and Mandela spent almost 3 decades in prison for his resistance to State sanctioned injustice. They spoke out and demonstrated. People were outraged at the things they said and their demonstrations. Sound familiar?

It should. This is Colin and Eric’s story. They have spoken out and demonstrated. People have been outraged by their actions. They’ve both been ostracized and denied the opportunity to continue promising careers as professional football players because they have had the guts to speak truth to power. They have been audacious enough to demonstrate during the National Anthem. They protest during a time that has upset the sensibilities of racist Nationalist and people who wish they would “find another way to protest” – much like the white men on the bus Rosa refused to get up for. Rarely is social change convenient. It’s uncomfortable and the demonstrations that propel us forward to change are supposed to disturb us. We are suppose to begin to ask ourselves if the society we live in is as just as it can be. When the answer is no, the virtuous response is to act. When we are made aware that we can do better – be better – live better together – we should just do it.   

During the opening statements of Nelson Mandela’s trial, he said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” That is what commitment to change sounds like. That is the kind of righteous stance we should be teaching our children to have. My wife and I proudly hold Eric and Colin as role models for our children. Sorry Charles.

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Role models are people who inspire us to be our best selves. They are people willing to sacrifice time, money or personal gain for a cause that is bigger than themselves. My wife and I want to raise children who are willing to stand in the courage of their convictions even when it’s unpopular to do so. That is what Nike, Colin and Eric have given us the opportunity to do. We can use their example to teach our children to believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.

What are you willing to sacrifice everything for?

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Angry. Black. Man.

Angry. Black. Man. 1280 537 Corey Leak

 

What makes you angry? Take a second and think about the last time you were truly mad about something or mad at someone. Maybe it was today when someone cut you off on the freeway, or something you watched or read in the media. Here’s a deeper question. What triggered your anger? Perhaps when you were cut off on the freeway you felt some sense of loss or inadequacy. Maybe when you watched the news you felt afraid of what is happening in the world you live in and that lead to anger.

Most of us don’t need to dig too deep to find justification for our own anger. We are the protagonist in our life story, and all our actions/reactions are completely reasonable and understandable to us. What if while venting about the jackass that cut you off,  you were vilified for being angry and how you expressed it? Would that make you even more angry?

Black people in America have good reasons to be angry yet are often demonized for expressing it. James Baldwin once said: “To be negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time”. Put another way, being a socially conscious black American is the equivalent of being cut off nearly every time you’re on the freeway. Carrying the weight of black witness is a heavy burden. When a black person goes to work, they are carrying the weight of their ancestors, family, and community with them. When a black person is late, they are shouldering social stigma as well as the potential blow to their own professional image. Socially aware black folks wake up every day to the stone cold reality that they will likely see or experience profiling, negative stereotypes or prohibition.

Take for example one of my wife’s recent trips to the Target down the street from our house. She was purchasing a small back pack for our daughter along with a few other items and decided to use the self-checkout lane. While she was standing in line, a Target employee approached her and asked her in front of everyone to see inside the bag. She claimed she needed to check for a sensor (no, our Target doesn’t sell Gucci or Louis Vuitton). After rummaging through the bag like a kid on Halloween looking for red Starbursts, and of course finding no sensor, she walked away. My wife was left standing in a store she goes to weekly feeling the embarrassment of being profiled as a petty thief.

In a way, my wife’s experience is emblematic of the black experience in America. It seems as if we are left “holding the bag” after suffering humiliation or worse from people who still question the validity of our humanity. Travon Martin’s mother was left holding the bag. Philando Castile’s girlfriend and kids were left holding the bag, as were the families of Stephon ClarkKalief Browder and 12 year old Tamir Rice. These are a few of the human beings whose lives were cut short due to injustice. Their families have had to mourn for them and move on without the satisfaction of having society hold the guilty parties accountable for taking their lives. Can you imagine that?  How would it feel to have your family member’s murder be classified as just by a jury? Would you feel angry? Would you protest? Would you support a movement that spread the message that their lives mattered?

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Being angry is a basic huMan right. It’s something we all feel. No law or religion prohibits anger. Suppressing it is to suppress a natural part of our humanity, and can have long term affects on our physical, mental, and emotional health as well as our relationships. As a society we encourage outrage at injustice, bad food service or unfair workplace situations. We often applaud people who in full on fury stand up for themselves or others. However, for some reason there is a shame associated with being an angry black man or woman which leads to black people being apprehensive to express their rage over inequitable treatment that naturally elicits strong emotion.

I’ve had conversations with black people who have felt strongly about things happening in their community, but felt like because of the organizations they work for, they were not allowed to express them. Well meaning people have cautioned me against coming across as angry due to the adverse affect it can have on career advancement. Some of those same people support a President that seems to get angrier with every tweet. Black anger seems to be demonized, feared and escaped when it should be empathized with.

Our proximity to injustice can determine how strongly we feel emotions over it. Perhaps we don’t feel anger, hurt, sadness or troubled by the unjust things that happen to other people around us because we have distanced ourselves from their plight. It’s more comfortable to create distance from the person suffering injustice than to roll our sleeves up and address the systemic problems that caused the inequity to begin with. The further we remove ourselves from the pain of others, the more heartless and judgmental we become to the way they respond to their pain. Anger is a natural response from a community that has been oppressed and stifled throughout it’s history in America, and every one of us should not only allow space for that anger, but join in with outrage of our own.

If I’ve written this blog as well as I hope I have, you’ve experienced some emotion as you’ve read it. Did you feel anger when you read what happened to my wife? Were you emotional when I reminded you that a 12 year old boy lost his life for playing with a toy gun? Those are natural human emotions that you should feel. To quote Saint Thomas Aquinas: “If you can live amidst injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.”  

 

 

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