Mediocre White Men……

Let me build the “surroundings” for you.

This is another incident that happened in the drama that Oprah Winfrey produced called “Queen Sugar.” It is a drama that is written from the standpoint of people of color in Louisiana and the struggles they have. It is surprisingly adept at pulling you into the lives and feelings and reactions of the people involved in it.

And as far as I can tell the story of “Queen Sugar” pulls no punches. It’s pretty adept and raw and painful to watch. But at the same time, it makes you realize that there’s a part of world that is a LOT different than what you are used to. A lot different than your middle class white suburban bubble. A lot different then the middle class suburb I live in. Not all that much different than the lives of some of the people I go to church with – except they probably don’t farm sugar cane.

Anyway, back to the happenings “last night.” There are two main people involved in this part of the story….. Charley – formerly married to a basketball star, recently divorced after finding out that husband was not faithful, moved back from LA to Louisiana when Dad died and left an 800 acre farm to her and her sister and brother. After Charley’s nasty divorce, she and her teenage son became very strong advocates for those who are the poor, the mis-treated, the abused, the poverty stricken. She sets up a free medical clinic for the migrant farm workers and is in the process of running for City Council because the ”power” white family in town is working behind the scenes and forcing black farmers to sell their land so that they can eventually put a highway, a oil refinery and lots of pollution and at the same time essentially wipe their town off the map – at least in regards to the history and family that made the town of St. Joe what it is. Charley was running for City Council to try to stop the Landry family from achieving their goal of essentially wiping out the town. The Landry family had their son, Jacob, running for City Council against Charley. Jacob is pretty much a Daddy’s boy and will do anything his family says. He also has a thing where he reacts very negatively to any woman who tells him what to do. I think it has to do with the way his mother treated (and still does) him.

Jacob confronted Charley a day or two before they were having a town hall meeting as part of the election. In that confrontation, Jacob pushed Charley and told her to withdraw from the election because he’s been told that he has already won the election and there wasn’t any way she would win, so he told her she should “save face” and withdraw from the election.

Her response?

“The arrogance of mediocre white men never ceases to astound me.”

Now do me a favor. Don’t react to that statement yet. Instead, take a few minutes and look at what you know about the people in government, your local government, state government and national government. Based on what you know about them and what you’ve heard about them, does it sound like she might be right?

How does Jacob respond? He does not disagree with her, no he actually says that she’s right. But then he says,

“It’s not arrogance, it’s power.”

Ouch. The obviously mediocre white guy is saying, we’re arrogant, but not because we’re good, it’s because we have power. That’s it.

Ouch.

The power of the mediocre white man shows itself in many ways. It is a huge part of why racism is still an issue.

And I spent 20 years working in an industry that was full of mediocre white men who were arrogant and had the power to determine the make up of cities and neighborhoods and more.

We’ll be talking about that more in the future

Tom

The Scene Beneath Rarely Gets Seen

My son attends a multi cultural urban school in Grand Rapids (shameless plug – www.tphgr.org) and he sings in the Gospel Choir there. Recently, they were invited to sing at the Christmas dinner for one “section” of one of the largest retirement communities in West Michigan. Some of us parents came along as chauffeurs (sounds more important than taxi driver – doesn’t it?)

We got to sit in the back and listen to them. They did a wonderful job and these kids and their love of music and the way Mr. Nate leads them is truly amazing to hear.

But I got to see something more.

As I looked around the room, there were maybe 10 to 12 tables with maybe 10 to 12 people sitting at each one. They were obviously just finishing dinner and enjoying dessert. As The Potter’s House Gospel Choir was introduced, you could see they were looking forward to hearing the choir. Many pushed their chairs back so they could drink their coffee and see and hear the kids better.

Now I’m totally guessing, but I believe that, based on what I saw, that many of the residents expected to see and hear a traditional choir singing traditional Christmas songs.

The PH Gospel Choir is a traditional Choir.

It’s just not the same tradition that the audience was used to.

And that’s where it was really a privilege to not only hear these kids but to see the change in the reactions in the audience. It very quickly went from expecting the traditional “Caucasian” Christmas concert to a sense of curiousity.

“Who are these kids?”

To

“I think I recognize that song”

To

“Oh, I like this.”

To

“This is something special”

To

“These kids are something special.”

To

“God is up to something special at that school.”

Okay, I have to admit I wasn’t the most excited about being a chauffeur to the other side of Grand Rapids wasn’t high on my list of “things to do” on that Monday night.

But I saw a scene that rarely gets seen.

I saw 10 high school students use their God given gifts to share with another generation.

And God made a difference.

And it was good.

TV

It all started….

(This was originally written for the “Reaching Out” newsletter at my church, Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, MI.)

It all started with a bulletin announcement…..
Soul Food Sunday will be held on July 29…….. It sounded like a good thing – some good food, a chance to talk to friends, a little bit of worship, a little bit of wisdom from Pastor Darrell. Yeah, I think I might like this……
We came early. You see, my teenagers are interns at church this summer and they had jobs to do. So, we had plenty of time. I think we showed up 45 minutes early – and for Madison, that’s early!
As I walked in the back door, something strange happened. There were people sitting down at the tables already! They were waiting patiently and were talking to each other and greeting others and all seemed very friendly and happy to be there. Comfortable, yeah, that’s the word – they seemed comfortable. I didn’t recognize any of them.
As it got closer and closer to 5:30, more and more people showed up. The noise level grew but there was something really cool about the noise – it was all upbeat, all positive, all happy to be there. As you looked around, you couldn’t tell who knew each other for a long time and who just met. Who have been members of Madison for years and who was living at Mel Trotter? They all just blended together.
And the people kept coming. And coming. You remember the story in the Bible about the king who threw a party and many of his “friends” were too busy to come? And so he sent his servants out into the “highways and the by-ways” urging anyone and everyone to come. Remember that story? Well, it turns out that Madison Church’s efforts on Wednesday nights brought them in.
And the people kept coming. And coming. And the tables were all filled – no problem, we’ll get more tables out. And those tables were filled – and there was no more room on the floor – no problem – we’ll put tables up on the stage.   
And the people kept coming. “I hope we don’t run out of food,” said one. “I hope we don’t run out of plates,” said another. And we didn’t. And many many people enjoyed good old fashioned soul food – ribs, cornbread, greens, you name it, it was good!
But that was only the beginning. The Gospel choir led us in songs that are still resonating through my subconscious. And then God opened the doors and handed Mrs. Kia (Pastor Darrell’s wife) the microphone. Was it an amazing story? (If I were reading this to you, I’d be asking for “Amens!”). Yes, it was. But it wasn’t amazing because Mrs. Kia is amazing. It was amazing because God is amazing and God uses broken people and tough situations for His purpose. God spoke through His servant and I know that many lives were touched. Many people who might not feel comfortable in a regular church setting came, enjoyed the food but also were touched by God’s hand through it all.
Soul Food Sunday – way more than just a church dinner. It was a coming together of people – the neighbors, the church members, the forgotten ones in the shelters – they were not forgotten. Everyone’s story mattered but none of the stories mattered. We were all there because God loves us – imperfect, screwed up, messed up people that we are.  
And that’s what I had for dinner Sunday night. 

Soul Food.

Tom

Getting Smart

In the previous post, we talked about how it is important to push back against confusion and misunderstanding. We talked about how it’s important to push back against those because if we can clear up confusion and misunderstanding, it’s easier to push back against evil.

Why? Because evil likes to create confusion.

Evil likes to use misunderstanding to hide from the light of day.

Now I want to make it more personal. I don’t want to talk about government policies that are confusing. I don’t want to talk about how the motives behind what so and so does are being misunderstood.

I want to talk about you. I want to talk about me.

I can’t speak for you, maybe you do. I don’t.

Don’t what? I don’t know everything.

Not even close. Actually, so far from close that it’s funny to even think about.

But I know that if I get smarter, I can make more of a difference. If I ask questions, I can learn more. If I read about things, I can learn what is going on.

Most people are more afraid of what they don’t know about than what they do. If they don’t understand what is happening or why, that can create fear. It can create contempt.

I don’t understand your music – so it must be bad music.

I don’t understand your language – so you must be talking nasty about something or someone.

I don’t understand your religion so I don’t like you.

I don’t…….

The list can go on and on and on.

But if I do understand, then I can see you for you, not for what I didn’t understand.

If I do understand, then I can see the reason behind behaviors and not be afraid of the behaviors as evil or hostile.

If I understand your history, then I can appreciate your cultural festivals and respect them and you better.

If I understand the reason behind events in history, then I can see them for the impact they have on you and on me.

Most people are afraid of things that they don’t understand.

Many people will, when they understand things or people or traditions or habits or whatever, respond in a way that furthers communication and relationships.

And that makes the world a better place.

Tom

Tom