Assumptions and Book Titles

“It is nice to find someone who agrees with me.” This was the second comment my seat-mate made within a minute of sitting next to me on the plane. Her first comment was a question, “What are you reading?” Without verbally responding I held up the spline of my book, it read “White Rage.” In general I avoid airplane conversations. I was hoping she would take a quick glance and focus on her iPad. Instead she reached across the aisle, tapped her husband’s arm, and said, “Look at what he is reading.” For a second time I raised my book spine. This is when the second comment came. At this point I was starting to get confused. The full title of the book is The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide – White Rage. Carol Anderson, the author, carefully and thoroughly revisits the history of the United States, particularly as it relates to race. She makes a convincing argument that every racial advancement from Reconstruction to the present is met with an equally powerful white rage designed to circumvent and keep people of color in “their place.”

It was interesting to find myself in a conversation with this couple that assumed I was another white man fed up with all the whining by people of color and Black Lives Matter. It slowly downed on me that the spine of my book could be understood in multiple ways! I had a moment of wanting to correct their assumption about my choice of reading material. In the end I chose to just let the conversation play out.

It was fascinating to listen in on an unedited conversation about how people of color just need to get with the program. After a short time I was saved by the safety announcement. This allowed me to put my headphones on and focus on reading for the rest of the flight.

I have continued to reflect on this encounter. Why does there seem to be such a lack of empathy or understanding by white folks for anyone who is different or who challenges our assumptions? The daily protests around our country advocating for Black Lives Matter or by our First Nation brothers and sisters in Standing Rock, ND against the building of a pipeline through sacred lands should be a cause for pause and reflection.

We need to find ways to move beyond the assumptions and values of the white privileged class. Reading the Bible only through the lens of northern European white theologians has done the church great harm. It has colored, more often than not negatively, our understanding of Jesus, the Church, and our role in society.

Five years ago I made a commitment to read three theologian authors of color for every white theologian. This has proven to be a valuable decision. It has helped me to gain a wider understanding of who Jesus is and our role as believers in the world.


In a normal year I like to watch the news and I especially like the political round tables. Lately I have found myself switching channels. Debates seem to be less about ideas and more about bullying. A few weeks ago I watched a debate between some Republican and Democratic pundits. I was intrigued by the Republican who attended a United Church of Christ congregation known for being very progressive. Before long I was both disappointed and sucked in. This man was railing against his church. The Sunday before his pastor had said something about white people being racist, simply because they are white. This is not an unusual claim and from my perspective is also correct. Whenever I am in conversations where this is brought up the room either gets deftly silent or a slow defensive anger begins to grow. Either way the white men and women in the room do not react well to be called “racist.” Their responses to this take a number of approaches. There is the, “I judge people by how they treat me, not their skin color.” Or the, “I have never said a racist thing in my life.” There is also the friend approach, “I have friends of color, they have never called be racist.” My personal favorite, “I voted for Obama.” If you have been in one of these discussions chances are you could add many more responses. The point to all these responses has something to do with never having joined a hate group or used racist language. From a certain perspective they have move to a place beyond racism.

As I have thought about that pundit and reflected about conversations I have been part of, I wonder if what many white people are lacking is empathy. According to Google, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  More often than not privilege and power becomes a barrier to empathy.

White privilege affords me the freedom to only understand my world, my context, my feelings, my Christian values, and my responses. And all of these “my’s” get to be considered the standard of how everyone else should respond.

So when a person, particularly a person in power, says “I don’t judge people until I know their character,” that says something about privilege. It assumes that the other person will treat me with enough respect so that I don’t have to run in fear. My brothers and sisters of color do not have this privilege. All too often they are judged simply because of the color of their skin.

As a white person I get all the privileges of being white. My world view is the standard. My Christian faith is correct. My freedoms are the first to be preserved. Living in this world means that I benefit from structures designed to make my life better at the cost of making things more difficult for people of color. This is racist.

Changing this system, working towards a world where people are judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin will take a whole lot of work. A good first step is recognizing that “Black Lives Matter.”

Where will I stand?

It seems to me that a new line was crossed last week. First, two public encounters with police were caught on video resulting in two dead African American men. Then in Dallas, five police officers were gunned down. If your social media feed is anything like mine, it blew up. Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. For each hashtag there are leaders of faith who claim their perspective is the right perspective, the Christian perspective.

As a person of faith myself, I want to know where we go from here. Standing on the sidelines and just hoping this will blow over does not seem live a viable or moral option. People are dying, and this needs to stop.

I wanted to write something last week. All I could do was stare at a blank screen.

When I read John 3:16, I discover a God who cares about all people. Jesus was sent for the world. In Philippians 2 there is a song about Jesus emptying himself of all his divinity, taking on the very nature of a servant, and dying on the cross. When asked to describe pure religion, James said it had something to do with how we care for the powerless. When Jesus was spoke to his followers about violence he talked about turning the other cheek as a creative non-violent way of resisting the power structures. This was a cornerstone strategy of the civil rights movement as led by Martin Luther King, Jr. When Jesus stood before Pilate and the religious leaders facing and receiving violence, he never lost his cool, never returned violence for violence. On the cross Jesus offered forgiveness to his executioners and an invitation to a fellow cross-mate.

I look at Jesus and try to imagine how he would respond. I see a person who loved without exception. This same Jesus knew that the only way to measure our commitment to all lives had something to do with how we treated the powerless and disenfranchised among us. Quite simply this is the heart’s cry of Black Lives Matter and all the movements that proceeded it.

This I why I choose, as I believe all people of faith and good conscious should, to stand with Black Lives Matter. It not about valuing one person over the other. Rather standing with Black Lives Matter is the most radical and Christ-like way we can demonstrate a commitment to the intrinsic value of all lives.

Lives that matter

Black lives matter Police lives matter

All lives matter

A person would have to have their head in the sand to not have heard these.  Social media is full of one liners and thoughtful essays, expressing opinions, sharing painful stories, or expressing outrage relating to these statements.

I am particularly fascinated by those who are outraged by the idea anyone would dare to value one particular group over another.  This critique is generally directed towards the Black Lives Matter movement.  From what I can tell all the other “lives matter” statements are simply a reaction to Black Lives Matter.

If I am honest I have to admit that I have occasionally reacted.  Doesn’t my life matter?  I have been reflecting on this lately.  Where is this coming from?  At one level it is a simple gut reaction to anything that would appear to reduce my value, importance, or wisdom.  Quite honestly this has been part of my DNA for as long as I can remember.

I was born into a world where men were men and women fell into two categories.  The first were mothers whose primary responsibility was to look after the home front.  The second were single women who, if they had to work only worked temporarily, were waiting for God’s chosen man to come and rescue them.  Then they could fulfill their home front duties!

I must admit that my perspective on women changed slowly.  Partly because admitting that women were my equal meant more competition in the work place and more importantly it disrupted my understanding of what it was to be a man.  I liked the idea of being the stronger sex, the more intelligent partner, and the leader.

Part of my journey toward gender equality meant admitting that female lives mattered.  They mattered in all the ways that my life mattered – in terms of calling, leadership ability, work life, parenting, education, ministry, and anything else I may have forgotten.  This journey towards equality required changes in my behavior towards, beliefs about, and understanding of gender roles.  Equality also meant mutuality and respect in all areas of life, from the domestic to the professional.

When we admit that a life matters, particularly a life that is different, whether that be race, culture, religion, gender, or orientation, we are saying the other is created in the very image and likeness of God.  We are saying they have worth and value.  We are saying that they are called to lead, even “us.”  We are saying that they have all the rights, responsibilities, and value that I have.

The problem with moving from something particular, like Black lives, to something general (like all lives) or powerful (like police lives) is that we marginalize the truth.  The world I grew up in restricted women to the home by denying and minimizing their created value.  We have denied and minimized the value of Black lives.  This is sin.  As such it must be confronted, particularly by people of faith.  It must be confronted at the individual level.  More importantly it must be confronted at a structural level.

As we journey towards this new world of respect and mutuality the narrative will begin to change.  The negative stereotype of color will begin to fade.  Black lives will matter in ways that are real and measurable.  When a young man gets stopped for speeding, he will know it was because he was speeding, not because of the color of his skin.  We are not there yet, but with intentionality, honest reflection, and confession it is possible for us to get there.


I have been thinking about change lately.  What does it take to do or see things differently? A few weeks ago I was visiting with a pastor.  The conversation turned towards change.  Specifically how does a church change?  Even simple things like changing where someone sits or what time the service begins is almost an impossible task.  If given a choice most want things to stay the same.  After all, change is stressful and the status quo is predictable.

Near the end of our conversation my friend talked about the DNA of institutions, organizations, and churches.  All of these groups are created with a particular DNA, and even if all the founders are no longer around the DNA of the groups continues.  These founding structures, policies, and traditions provide stability.  This stability creates a culture that new members must adjust to.  In churches this manifests publically with a particular style of worship, preaching, and pot-lucks.  At an unspoken level the organizational DNA creates litmus tests for who can and cannot be in leadership.  Again all of this creates stability, predictability, and tradition.

Nothing stays the same forever.  Being able to adapt and change is critical to survival.  Change is one of those things that will happen.  It can be healthy or unhealthy; slow or quick; forced or chosen.  Regardless, change will happen.

How change happens is an issue that impacts all of us.

How do we help churches to open themselves to new traditions and let go of old ways of doing things?  For many in the church the faith traditions that have been developed over time have been valuable, enriching, and formative.  Can we allow something new to emerge that will be valuable, enriching, and formative to a new generation of church goers?

Lately many of us have been confronted with the Black Lives Matter movement.  Some people of privilege respond with “all lives matter.”  I suspect that much of this response exists to lessen the sting of the injustice that this movement is confronting.  Black Lives Matter has never been a about the lack of value in the lives of other people, including the police and my children.  It is a movement that asks us to change, to change how we see and value the lives of our black brothers and sisters.  To value them as much as we value the lives of our own family members and the people called to protect us on a daily basis.

The ability to change, whether that is how we worship or how we view those who are different is what makes us human.  Change is what leads to compassion and empathy.  Change is what can make the world a better place.

I am tired of people of faith who use Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever…” as an excuse not to change their world view.  More of us need to spend time reflecting on what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:9, “For we know only in part…”  As we learn to own this, we will find the courage to change, to make the world a better place.

Another version

Yesterday I woke up to the news of another shooting.  According to the reporter a deranged man had stabbed his mother and then was shot and killed by the police.  Since these stories have become commonplace, I quickly forgot, went out from my run, had breakfast, and hurried to the office for a meeting.  During the meeting I left my phone on the desk.  By the time the meeting was finished there was an urgent message.  “Glenn, did you listen to the news this morning?  It was Paul Castaway; he was the man who was shot.”  Officially the victim’s name had still not been confirmed, but unofficially his friends had confirmed everything.  By early afternoon the news media had caught up and officially confirmed that Paul was dead.  Within hours, the official version of the shooting and what others are saying are not the same. Even with conflicting versions of the story I worry that what people are going to remember is that Paul was a deranged person of no real consequence.  Ultimately his death would not be a great loss.

Paul does not deserve to be defined by a single story or event.

I first came to know Paul during the summer of 1995.  He was a member of the West-Side Drug Free Youth Team.  Anyone who participated in DOOR in the mid 1990’s would have heard Paul’s story.  He grew up in a home where alcohol and drug abuse was common.  As a member of the youth team, Paul was determined to break the cycle.  Every Friday Paul came and spoke to groups about his desire to end this particular cycle of abuse.

During Paul’s senior year in high school he and nine other classmates when on a trip to California.  It was one of the ways La Academia, an alternative school and ministry of the Denver Inner City Parish, celebrated high school graduation.   I was asked to be a chaperon.  For 10 days Paul and I roomed together.  During that trip I got to know other versions of Paul.  He was someone who liked to have fun; teasing and pranks where common, never from a spirit of meanness.  It was Paul’s way of saying he liked someone. One of the highlights of this trip was our day at Disneyland.  It was the year that the Indiana Jones ride opened.  We stood in line for over an hour, 10 high school seniors and me. The other chaperon had no interest in upsetting his stomach!  During the seating process the person in charge of the ride tried to direct me to the next car.  It was Paul who said, “Oh that white guy, he’s with us.”  It was Paul, an 18 year-old, Native American Westsider, who reached across all kinds of cultural and social divides and chose to include me in his world.

By the early 2000’s Paul and I began to lose touch.  Graduation took Paul out of my day-to-day world and my job began to shift from a Denver to a more National focus. Occasionally I would hear something.  The news wasn’t always good; breaking the cycle of alcohol abuse became overwhelming.  Paul started drinking and eventually ended up living on the street.  I remember seeing him at a Denver Inner City Parish event in the mid 2000’s.  His youthful mischievous eyes had been replaced with a hollow defeated eyes.  He still knew how to be a friend and still wanted to break the cycle.

More recently Paul became a father.  He loved his son, but his fight with alcohol meant that he didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with him.  I can’t help but wonder, what is it going to be like knowing you father was killed by the police?  Will the police reach out to him?  How will this boy overcome his demons?

I wasn’t there Monday morning when the chain of events that led to Paul’s death occurred.  I do know that Paul was much more than a person with a knife.  He was someone who knew his demons and tried hard to get past them.  Like most of us his story is one filled with both success and failure.  I suspect that there are many former DOOR participants who are better people for having heard Paul’s story.

Paul was also a person who knew how to reach across racial and cultural divides.  Yes, he made fun of me for being white and Canadian, but he also sat with me on the Indiana Jones ride.

Paul was also a dad who loved his child.

This week I have been reminded in a very personal way that this epidemic of devaluing, particularly of men of color, needs to stop.  Choosing to take a life, whether you are standing your ground or as a peace officer, needs to be eliminated from the list of options.  All of us are more than a bad moment and none of us deserve to be sentenced to death, especially when there are other options.

Is it possible for us to get to a place where the cost of taking lives is simply too high?


The other week I attended the Justice Conference in Chicago.  Quite honestly I wasn’t expecting much.  I had signed up months prior and forgotten why. But I had paid the registration fee, so I went.  What I thought was going to be a forgetful conference ended up being more of a revival for my soul. Justice is one of those biblical concepts that has been used to instill fear.  As a young child I remember going forward at a revival meeting because I didn’t want to face an angry God.  After all, I stole cookies from the downstairs refrigerator and that act was punishable by eternity in hell!  I could deal with my mother’s wooden spoon, but I had no idea how to deal with a God who was a strange and twisted version of Santa Claus, keeping a naughty list that would seal my doom.

As I got older, my understanding of justice began to expand.  I heard Tony Campolo’s sermon about 30,000 children dying every day from preventable issues.  Doing something about this was connected to both justice and my faith.

I have always struggled to get past idea that justice is mostly punitive.  When someone does something wrong, they get caught and pay the price for doing wrong.  This is the idea behind Toby Keith’s anthem, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”: “Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, It’s the American way.”  Our enemy did us wrong and justice demands that we reign down terror.

This twisted and misinformed understanding of justice is not healthy.  It has given permission to value some lives less than others.  In the USA we have seen this in the way that black lives are devalued.

When we see justice primarily through the lens of punishment, we completely miss the biblical idea of justice.  The opening speaker at the Justice Conference was Dr. Cornel West. In his address he suggested that justice is what love looks like in public.  Justice has something to do with not only believing but living and acting as if every person, even your enemy, is created in the very image and likeness of God.

A just world is not so much about who is getting punished, but believing that everyone has worth.  It’s not just about reposting “black lives matter” but working towards a society and culture that lives and acts in such a way.  It will mean reexamining our prison industrial complex, rethinking how we fund the public school systems, and calling law enforcement officials to greater accountability.  Justice means moving church out of the building and into the street.