On Racism and Repentance

I took a month-long break to enjoy the end of summer, then came back yesterday with my first Tiny Letter installment in a month. Though I don't generally repost the content in full here, today I am. We're at a crossroads, a point of decision. This piece represents an invitation, especially to my white friends. Come along?


On the White Racists

It’s been a few days since the powder keg blew at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. The images made the internet rounds late Friday night, images of White Racists (some say "Nationalists," but proper nouns have their purpose), unhooded but holding tiki torches. They gathered in Emancipation Park around a statue of Robert E. Lee, and they chanted slogans like, "Blood and soil!" and "One people, one nation, end immigration!"

They were ivory skinned. They were lamplit. They were up to no good. They were fueled by demonic lusts.

Saturday, the violence erupted, and by now, you’ve no doubt seen the footage. A Dodge Charger driven by a neo-Nazi mowed down counter protestors as if they were only blades of grass. A black man was beaten by another group of White Racists in a parking garage. You may have seen; you may have seen; you may have seen. The images were unrelenting.

All this violence came because some caucasians with a demonic ideology and a social media platform decided to reassert their power. Make no mistake, they wanted one thing: Make America White Again. They wanted to reassert their manifest destiny, to regain control of a country that was never theirs in the first place. These small men sought to justify, maybe even revere the land grab from the Native Americans, the years of slavery, of Jim Crow, of mass incarceration, of redlining.

The presidential response was anything but presidential. After a series of milk-toast tweets ignoring the racial component of Charlottesville and the passage of two days, President Trump spoke to the press and read a well-crafted statement in which he finally condemned racism. Then, yesterday afternoon, President Trump addressed reporters the way he so often does—with the grandstanding bluster of a bully. Answering the questions of the news media he's deemed fake with gesticulating hands and a sour expression, he refused to speak clearly about race violence. He blamed the violence on both sides. He equivocated, said not all the people marching with the White Racists were bad people. And then, in the coup de gras of statements, he justified the protests, giving this slippery slope argument:

"[T]hose people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

It’s troubling, really, how he's playing The Great Bait and Switch, muddling the questions with something less than junior-high logic. I suppose this is the art of the deal. But what's more troubling is how many of my friends, both online and in my local context, say the same things.

"We shouldn't erase history," they say.

"Removing statues won't change a thing," they say.

"Where does it stop?" they say.

These are the wrong questions when it comes to rooting out the sin of racism. Particularly, with respect to the question of removing icons of racisms and slavery, "Where do we stop?" is a small-minded query. The right question is this: "Where do we start?"

Where Do We Start? 

Today, I'd like to offer a few starting places for folks like me, by which I mean those of us who are white people of faith.

Start by opening your ears to the voices of your African American neighbors who've been warning us for years about the systemic racism in the world around us. They've told us to root it out, to eradicate it. They've warned us, said if we don't, that racism will form and foment and become something more overt. To my brothers and sisters of color, let me be clear: You were right.

Start by confessing your own complicity. For example: it’s taken me too long to speak out against the monument to the Confederate soldiers in my own community, to call for its removal.

Start by opening your imagination to the meaning of the First Commandment, "I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me." For example: let's be clear and say that we've worshipped too long at the altar of the god of racist supremacy and power for too long. And even if we haven't worshipped at those altars, haven't we turned a blind eye to that worship? Let's tear down the icons, the statues. Let's grind them to dust in our gristmills.

Start with true repentance. For example: let’s sit in the dust of those crumbled icons, those lamentable statues, maybe don a little sackcloth while we’re out it. Let’s mourn the ways the demonic religion of racism runs so thick in our family blood, the ways its DNA shows itself in the demonstrations in places like Charlottesville.

Start with peaceful but firm action. For example: let’s call the President to repentance. Let’s teach him how to say the easy thing: "tear down the high places, the altars where we’ve too long worshipped evil." And if he won't, let's call him to accountability.

If you are practitioner of faith--particularly a person like me, white--it’s time to consider your response. You can sit quietly, yes. You can justify and equivocate if you’d like. You can unsubscribe from my newsletter, too; you can avoid confrontation. These will be the easy options. There is another option, though, one which incarnates the way of Jesus.





Be baptized with the tears of your repentance.

And rising from that baptism, act as God’s living sacrament, the embodiment of grace for the sake of your neighbor. Act as his agent.



1. Give an honest listen to this poem by the rapper Propaganda. Reflect and write how it makes you feel. Reflect and write how it might make your black neighbor feel.

2. Listen to this song by Jason Isbell. Have you ever entertained a racist joke by "one of the guys," even if you've cringed while you did?

3. Listen to this interview with Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi member who's changed his ways. What lessons can you learn from his story?



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The Dead End of Democracy

Trigger Warning: This is an overtly political piece, a piece about America, freedom, and the dead end of democracy. If you're prone to fits of violence over political issues, feel free to move along.


It's Independence Week, the week we celebrate our nation's birth. It's a festive week, a week to wallow in and indulge our freedoms--the freedom to grill meat, launch miniature missiles made in China, and overeat Aunt Maude's famous apple pie. Freedom--ain't it grand?

It's an American tradition, this annual celebration. It's Democracy's birthday, an unabashed celebration of our freedoms of speech, assembly, and commercial enterprise. We light the candles on the cake of our free press, free elections, and free government provisions. We open the presents of the free market. Freedom, freedom, freedom--it's the only thing that unifies us these days.

Yet, with all these freedoms, it seems our version of democracy has taken an ugly turn. It's become more polarized, more vitriolic, perhaps more violent than ever. Yesterday, our President used his own freedoms to take the spotlight off the great history and tradition of our country; he used his freedoms to turn the spotlight toward himself. (Could anything be more American?) He kicked off this Independence week with a tweet that portrayed him as some sort of hero beating down the free press. It was an indefensible GIF.

Of course, the President is free to tweet this sort of violent propaganda (tweeting isn't directly proscribed by the Constitution, see). [tweetherder text="What good is freedom without the constraints of character, wisdom, and civility @realdonaldtrump?"]What good is freedom, though, without the constraints of character, wisdom, and civility?[/tweetherder] How beautiful is the exercise of freedom if it induces some loon with an assault rifle (owned pursuant to his Second Amendment freedoms) to act on the President's propaganda, to take aim at a reporter or two? When freedom slashes the jugular of common decency and social norms, when it lets civility bleed out on the kitchen floor, when it mocks death, freedom is an ugly thing.

The greatest freedom enjoyed by any citizen in any democracy is the freedom to constrain his own personal freedoms. The freedom to act in ways that serve and protect our neighbors, to restrain our speech for the sake of civil discourse, to govern our behavior to create liberty and justice for all (even the press)--these are the freedoms exercised by true statesmen. When we indulge every freedom, when we elevate personal agendas (or Twitter rants) over the collective good, when we wallow in self-indulgence, we undercut the foundational principles of our country's democracy; we show ourselves to be anything but statesmen.

It's Independence week, and I'm thinking about modern America. I'm afraid we've reached a dead end in this great experiment in democracy. It's the dead end born of a freedom our founding father's never contemplated--the freedom to wallow in our own narcissism. And if you're prone to think this is an unfounded conclusion, allow me to offer this exhibit into evidence: the Twitter feed of President Donald J. Trump.


Do you like the content here or in my Tiny Letter? Then I'd like to invite you to join my Patreon community. What is Patreon? It's a way for you, the reader, to become a patron, a person supporting the arts (my art to be precise), and receive behind the scenes content in return. Visit my Patreon page for more information. And, if you enjoy this website and haven't yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, feel free to sign up below.

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Collective Failure and a Drunk President

I've explored failure this week, the ways our recognition of it and honesty with it can instruct, refine, and guide. It's a lesson I've learned from experience, from years of floundering in a failing faith and drinking away the pain. This season of alcohol dependency was an acute season of failure, and the smell of that failure--the juniper of the gin, the oak in the whiskey--lingers. It reminds me that my doubts were only resolved by walking through the failure and into the healing of true inner sobriety. Our personal failures provide a unique opportunity, I suppose. Don't our collective failures provide the same sort of opportunity?

Months ago, our country found itself drunk on self-importance and self-interest, on single-issue politics, on reactionary rage. So many put aside their civil scruples (81% of evangelical Christians, in fact), closed their moral compasses and voted for a new sort of mix-it-up, social media, reality television, kingpin president. Drunk on his promises, they excused his past failures--misogynism, xenophobia, jingoism, a history of racism--failures from which he never learned. And so, as President of the United States (an office deserving of dignity), Donald Trump continues to repeat the brash mistakes of his past. Yesterday, he engaged in the petty slander he's come to be known for, attacking the appearance of yet another female cable news anchor.

There can be no denying it--President Trump is drunk on vengeance and rage. [tweetherder]Vengeance and rage are coming from his Twitter stream, from his ears, from his eyes, from his wherever.[/tweetherder] These demons have blinded him to his failures, have kept him from the emotional and moral maturity expected of a president. You can mark my word; this will be his undoing.

Our collective failure as people of faith, our inability to see past our own self-interest for the good of our country has led to the sorts of indignities we see coming from the White House. And though we cannot make the President of the United States sober up, though we cannot make him learn from his own mistakes, we can tend to our own sobriety. We can confess the drunkenness that resulted in him becoming the Chief Executive.

Failures are an opportunity to recollect, to refine, to course correct. If this is true--and I think it is--our country has not seen a more opportune time to recollect, refine, and course-correct in my lifetime. Our failure is our drunkenness. It's time to sober up.


Do you like the content here or in my Tiny Letter? Then I'd like to invite you to join my Patreon community. What is Patreon? It's a way for you, the reader, to become a patron, a person supporting the arts (my art to be precise), and receive behind the scenes content in return. Visit my Patreon page for more information. And, if you enjoy this website and haven't yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, feel free to sign up below.

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Photo by Michael Vaden; licensed under Creative Commons via Flickr.

A Tiny Explanation (On Politics and the Soul)

"What I have learned over this last year is that the state of our politics is about the state of our souls. Politics is causing great spiritual harm in Americans lives because Americans are going to politics to have their spiritual needs met. This is the meaning of rising polarization. This is the cause of politics’ burdens on our spirit. Politics does a very poor job of meeting spiritual needs, but politicians will pretend they can do it if it will get your vote." ~Michael Wear



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The People v. Donald Trump

In the coffee shop, a fellow asked, "if we stopped giving him so much attention, don't you think he'd go away?" It was an honest question, one made two weeks before Donald Trump picked up Alabama, Arkansas (my home state), Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, and perhaps Missouri. It was the question before the wave of violent clashes at Trump rallies, before the cancellation of his Chicago stop due to escalating fears of riots. (Trump won Illinois despite the cancellation of his rally.) [tweetherder text="He is not going away. Mull this over for a minute."]He's not going away. Mull this over for a minute.[/tweetherder]

The New York billionaire uses words like mallets--heavy, pounding--beats his opponents into submission, encourages his supporters to resort to bare knuckles and cheap shots. And aren't his supporters ready for it? Aren't we all? Aren't we the throbbing mass of mixed martial arts spectators? Don't we love a good brawl? Don't We The People believe that all good things--all things American--come through blood, sweat, and tears? And when's the last time we saw blood in politics? Bring on the blood.

The people--who are they? Media outlets speak of Middle Class Whites, the great throngs of the disenfranchised. The Mexicans take White jobs. The Blacks take White tax dollars. The Muslims take White babies, White airplanes, our gleaming Twin by-god Towers. These people, says the media, are potential energy, spilt gas waiting for a lit match. Donald Trump is the sulfur striking the side of the box. He's the spark.

See him, this strongman who stokes the fire he's lit. And when the fire has done the damage, who then throws the ball toward the surviving hornets' nest just to see what might happen? ("Why did you throw the ball toward the hornets' nest," the responsible adults asks the petulant child. "To see what might happen when the hornets stirred themselves up," he says, beaming.)

But this is what men like Mr. Trump know (men of power, one might say): fear and violence move people to action. Hollow, vague promises of power are actionable. The people stand behind his violent rants, because the people--the violent, MMA, WWE, Jean-Claude Van Damme people--have violence flowing out of their ears. And knowing this, Mr. Trump prods the violence to action. About not becoming the Republican nominee for the World's highest office, he says, "I think you would see problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen. I really do. I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen." (Source)

He shrugs his shoulders. "Hey, I'm not telling them to riot, but who can stop the people?"

The people, he says. Invokes. Nudges. Gigs. Directs.

The Trump steamroller barrels across the country, grinds its dissenters into powder. Roll, baby roll; grind the bones of the establishment, the immigrants, the refugees, the minorities, the jobless, the silent protestors, the non-people into chalk. See the winds of change that would blow the chalk away. [tweetherder]This is the political brand of Donald J. Trump; he wants you to believe his people are The People.[/tweetherder]

The People--who are they? They are the Latino man providing for his family, giving his pound of flesh to the United States Government, his blood sweat and tears for baby formula and rubber nipples. They are the Black boy in Ferguson, or Baltimore, or Whereverville, the one hoping for a small business in the hand instead of a bullet to the back. They are the Muslim refugee, the one seeking asylum from otherworld dictators (this refugee, trapped between too many dictators). They are the middle class white man typing on the keyboard, asking The People (yes, The People) to please keep shining the light on the demons of fear, the demons of violence, the demons behind both the symptoms and the causes. Shine the light on the problem of men who might foment fear for personal gain, for power, for the lesser kingdoms of men.

The People--we are better than this. And if we are not, God save The People.


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Photo by Michael Vaden; licensed under Creative Commons via Flickr.