Celebrating the Tea in Boston Harbor

We love the romantic story about the 100 colonial revolutionaries who snuck aboard ships anchored in Boston Harbor and dumped 90,000 pounds of British tea into the sea (tea worth nearly $1million in today’s currency). “No taxes without representation!” their bold action declared.

Their meaning was clear: “Injustice must be actively resisted!”

Many people today probably don’t know that there was a second Boston tea party and other similar acts of resistance in numerous other harbors in Maryland, New York and South Carolina. The protest against unjust taxation imposed by an over reaching government was popular and widespread.

I’ve been pondering the tradition of civil disobedience these ancestors birthed along with this infant nation so many years ago. Even though their own cultural blinders kept them from seeing other injustices that allowed inequality to be enshrined into our founding documents, still their tea party precedent established a long proud tradition of active resistance that has helped grow this nation toward greater justice.

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Vicious Cycles of Violence

I graduated high school in 1968 and then met the man I would marry during my first year of college in 1969. I often think back about who I was during those years of national tumult and transition. I was so wrapped up in my own personal transitions, I confess I didn’t pay close attention to the turmoil going on in our country. I confess I looked at the riots and assassinations with shock and disapproval, maybe even with a touch of disdain and moral superiority. Then I escaped back into my Southern-White-Christian-Woman bubble and lived my small life—never really seeing the underlying realities of systemic violence that produced the protests and pushback in the first place.

Now, fifty years later, I’m grateful to say I’ve emerged from that bubble and I see with different eyes. Eyes that are opened to a more accurate reality and a heart softened to the pain of the world around me. This honest seeing is painful, but I still choose it over the old blindness that kept me so comfortable. The blinders that made me complicit.

Now, fifty years later, I’m sad to see exact same patterns of disdain and moral superiority demonstrated by too many of my White Christian neighbors in reaction to our current cultural chaos. And I grieve to realize that many of the underlying realities of systemic violence have scarcely changed in all these years.

Violence begets violence and our vicious cycles of violence continue. Which prompts this question in me: Which kinds of violence should we allow and what types of violence should we condemn?

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Mean People and Non-Mean People

Martin Marty is one of my favorite historians and he’s seen lots of differences displayed in numerous religions, various churches, and a wide range of politics over the years.

Our typical differences like: conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, gay or straight, religious or non-religious, Black or Brown or White are not near as significant, Marty has come to believe, as this one crucial difference.

Are people mean or are they not mean?

I’m seeing this one important distinction demonstrated in spades these days. Everywhere we turn, we can find mean conservatives and mean liberals, unkind rich people and unkind poor people, unpleasant people of all colors, shades and belief systems.

At the same time, all around us, we encounter plenty of conservatives who are not mean, lots of liberals who are kind, untold numbers of people who are generous, many non-religious people who are compassionate and quite a few of us religious people who actually try to practice what we preach.

As a matter of fact, I choose to believe that there are more kindhearted people in the world than there are cruel people.

So this awareness brings two thoughts to mind: when I judge other people, will I assign them to the stereotypical boxes of superficial differences or will I go deeper, considering the content of their character?

And further, will I choose kindness in my own thoughts, words, deeds and affiliations?

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The “Change Back” Temptation

As a pastor, I was trained in Systems Theory. In this approach to family counseling, we seek to discern how the various people in a group function in light of how the entire system works: the part and the whole are deeply intertwined.

Systems Theory also prepares counselors to recognize the fearful, knee-jerk “change back” reaction.

  • A woman who has been abused begins to stand up to her abuser.
  • A man who has been drinking or doing drugs gets sober.
  • A teenager who has carried his parents’ emotional toxicity sheds his shame and learns how to become whole and independent.
  • An employee who has been taking responsibility for the problems in the office steps back and lets the boss deal with her own consequences.

Whenever people start changing their own unhealthy patterns, everyone in the system is forced to adjust. What was comfortable and predictable becomes disorienting and distressing. Thus the demand of other people in the system is (all too often): “Change Back!”

I keep processing what has been happening in our American society lately, trying to understand our current cultural turmoil. Here are some insights.

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It’s Our Turn

My mom was a champion toilet paper hoarder. It became a family joke but we all were happy to indulge her. We knew she had lived through the depression and spent some of her earliest years separated from her siblings because the family couldn’t afford to live together; the eight children were divided up and distributed to several relatives’ houses for a while.

Then, as a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, she lived through the shortages and anxieties of World War II. We were happy to buy her some extra packages of toilet paper whenever she asked.

I’ve thought a lot about the lives our parents and grandparents lived, what those experiences were like for them and how such monumental events must have shaped and molded them in deep ways. I’ve been remembering her stories lately, thinking about how much her generation endured during those long, dark years.

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Submitting to Equality: One Women’s Journey

A few weeks before my daughter left for Pepperdine University, we sprawled on my bed, giggling our way through some of my old diaries. I scarcely recognized the twelve-year-old girl who wrote those words; she now seems like a total stranger.

Silly, superficial, and nauseatingly boy-crazy, this Southern-bred, naively arrogant Church of Christ preacher’s daughter embarrasses me, astounds me, intrigues me. Tucked away amid the oohs and aahs and the ups and downs of young love, I found this little aside:

October 3, 1962    Pretty late.

Just finished h.work. There’s been a lot of hubbub about whether or not a certain Negro would get in Ole’ Miss College. Governor went against Federal law twice. Negro got in. 2 people were killed & several wounded. Walter Shirrah went around the earth 6 times. Wow.

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Crying ‘Peace, Peace’ When there is No Peace

All across America, prophets and protesters are challenging us—all of us—because of the ways we have been sweeping our national problems under our societal rug of faux peace.

From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.

Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush…

(Jeremiah 6)

“From the least to the greatest,” much as the Hebrew prophet lamented, too many Americans have been guilty of deceit: outright lying and disinformation, foolhardy rumor mongering and misinformation, deceiving ourselves into believing that things are not really as bad as “they” say, digging in our heels with willful ignorance.

It’s time for a national repentance.

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White Women: At our Best and At our Worst

We White women have been making headlines lately. I’ll start with the embarrassing ones.

Amy Cooper: New York Woman Calls Police on Black Man Who Asked Her to Leash Dog

By now, we’ve all heard the story and maybe seen the video of Amy Cooper and her Cocker Spaniel in Central Park on Memorial Day. Bird watcher Christian Cooper (no relation) asked her to put her dog back on the leash as the park rules required. She refused.

As their conversation continued, Ms. Cooper responded with over the top hysteria while Mr. Cooper recorded their interaction.

Ms. Cooper asked him to stop recording and when he refused, she opened up her own telephone: “I’m going [to call the police] to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

I typed the word “hysteria” above then deleted it then typed it again. I’m sorry to use the word but unfortunately it’s exactly the right word to use here.

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All This Audacious Looting

I almost never watch the evening news, but this week I can’t not watch.

I was particularly fascinated to see the coverage from Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California on Sunday. As several hundred people marched peacefully just a few blocks away, the news team at the Promenade filmed dozens of people looting a high-end, boutique shoe store in broad daylight.

Right before our eyes in real time, people rushed out of the store, their arms piled high with shoe boxes. One man brought his own garbage can, filled it up and dragged it off. It was a “cat and mouse game,” the reporter said; while the police were protecting the protesters, the looters were looting then scattering. By the time the police arrived and arrested several, the store had been mostly emptied of its merchandise.

This audacious looting was happening in plain sight.
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When Pentecost Spirit Blows the Roof Off

When Jesus entered his public ministry, he came with one primary message: “the reign of God is here. The kingdom of God is coming. The presence of God is not out there; it’s here, among you.”

The people who heard that message didn’t really know what to make of it – especially since Jesus’ idea of kingdom, power and privilege was different from their own notions.

In fact, Jesus’ notions of power and privilege were completely upside down and inside out from theirs.

Jesus ate with anyone who sought him out.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus sought out people whom others isolated and taught his followers to do the same.

When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind…

Jesus shepherded the lost sheep, went after the lost coins, embraced the lost sons. Jesus washed feet, broke bread and poured out wine.

Jesus took up his cross and carried it straight into the worst violence the world could muster.

And then, fifty days after the death of Jesus, a small group of disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. Most of these had experienced the Resurrected Christ. Many of them had been present at his ascension.

And now – 50 days later – these disciples were floundering and wondering:

  • What’s real?
  • What’s true?
  • What’s next?

And then the doors of their small lives were blown off their hinges by the wind of Pentecost. The safely shuttered windows of their preconceptions were whooshed wide open.

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