The Poor Still Sit On The Back Row With The Baptists

I’m pretty sure that my Baptists friends (if I still have any), don’t always appreciate my affectionate humor when it comes to them.  However, in my defense, since I am an ordained Baptist preacher (I know, I know), I feel like I can poke fun at the “fan damily” and hold my head high while chewing gum at the same time.

You see in America, Baptists get pegged as being the group that sits as far in back of the church as humanly possible, thus we call them “back-row Baptists”.  Yet the truth is, this is a tendency of American Christianity I think as a whole.  The reason is, that most of us are eternally inoculated to any chance of catching the real stuff of Christianity, so sitting on the back row suits us as the perfect way to get just enough of something churchy without getting the real thing.  It’s safe there, no one is really going to call us out, and we can exit out the back door before the preacher finishes the closing prayer without anyone giving us a passing glance.  It’s like we really do have a cloak of invisibility.  I guess that’s why I decided to sit the poor on the back with us for this short visit to church, because they too hardly get a notice anymore inside of an institution that used to be notorious for championing their cause in the world.

Back In The Day

Now as one can imagine, this is much too broad of a subject to unpack rightly in a blog post.  But hopefully, I can at least chime in on something that I think we should be able to notice readily.

Of course, it’s no secret that the church in its early beginnings was one that attended to the cause of the poor, the widows, the sick and dying; and took in all of the dregs of society the roman world deemed expendable.  In fact, several of the Pauline epistles were written in the context of Paul and others collecting funds to give to the church in Jerusalem for a famine that they were experiencing.  In addition, the book of Acts tells us that the early apostles had to appoint men for outreach to the poor because the need had become so great; and as they took up the quandary of the poor, the watching world took eye-dropping notice, which is documented historically ad nauseum.  In fact, even as the apostle Paul was coming into the faith after his persecution of Christians, biding his time till he would be released to the gentiles in full measure; in the book of Galatians, he reminds us that he was given the “right hand of fellowship” by the other apostles, and was simply asked to “remember the poor”.

And the truth is, the old testament also bleeds care for the poor and the needy, and it’s obvious extension into the new testament adds to the already exhaustive case for it being one of the people of God’s highest priorities in complementarity of taking the good news to those who have not yet had the chance of either accepting or rejecting it’s truth claims.  And yet, if this is the case, one wonders if we are by and large now still known for being those with this task as our chief modus operandi.

Part of the Problem

And of course, you can bet dollars to doughnuts, that the first rebuttal in questioning my brief thesis here are accusations of the church not wanting to be accused of a mere “social gospel” stance, where we give people a sandwich as a cheap substitute for the “good news” as if the two were somehow mutually exclusive.  The truth is, as lines are drawn in the sand, one can’t help but notice the irony, in that the more conservative branch of the church (who actually still believe the scriptures) have a tendency to err on the side of rejecting the social gospel’s implications, as the mainline branch of Christianity (which seems to believe anything the cultural wind now blows up their skirts) seems to be holding up the biblical standard of ministry to the poor as the only thing that now keeps their skin in the Christian game. And as I contemplate this with a watching eye, I wonder how we have come so far as to separate two things that seem to be a part and parcel of the same gosh-darn message.  As a result, I think those looking in at what we’re up to these days are rightfully bewildered.

Equally problematic, is the fact that part of our hesitation in aligning our cause to the poor is due to not wanting to be guilty of helping those who should have been helping themselves all along (we’re almost sure there is a verse that says that somewhere). The equal faulty logic is that of lumping all the poor into the same basket, which causes us to overlook or simply ignore the obvious casualties that living in a capitalistic economy (the best we’ve come up with yet) can leave lying on the ground all around us unawares.   This includes those of us who can no longer continue to adapt and reinvent ourselves vocationally, or who have no support network to help us pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; and as a result, can be left holding up a sign clearly visible on our way to Walmart.  This is not to mention the vast number of poor children and the elderly who are the real tragedies of the never ending story which is simply not accurately told by left or right leaning pundits, and whose book has been shut and simply tossed into the “Obama phone” basket.

The Expediency that Crept In

 O.K. I realize we all know these things, if we are at least honest with ourselves a little longer than a nanosecond, but for those of us who call ourselves Christ’s followers, our reaction should not be so simplistic and superficial.  You see part of the problem is that the church, who was once known as the defender of the true poor caught up in the tailspin of this thing we call life, has turned what was once a calling and apprenticeship to Christ as true followers on a mission, to a career path whose specializations have choked out the remaining month at the end of the money.  And in this current hour of the mass marketization of the franchise of the church and its mavens in tow, what we find is that sometimes 80 to 90% or more goes to the upkeep of the now finely oiled machine.  As a result, very little is left to send true pioneer missionaries to unreached lands, or to help subsist the poor in the household of God (whom we’ll always have with us); or to also reach out and own the cause of the homeless and poor just outside our stain glassed window.  It is of course no secret that with a church on every corner, and some that span the circumference of a city block, the church collectively (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants) could solve the problem of homelessness in mere seconds flat.

At the very least, we could do so among those who failed the “dog eat dog world” of our American experiment, and simply need to buy much needed time to reengage in a world that virtually ignores their true existence on any given day.  To be sure there are multiple variables in this equation for consideration outside the scope of this blog.  However, the fact remains, that while the church by and large will continue to bypass the implications of my brief critique and other voices like it, those we are supposedly called to reach with our “good news” secretly know that we are the last true beacon of hope for those who have no power and no voice, and yet they sit back and wonder why we’ve abdicated our one last true apologetic in this late hour.

Back to Business As Usual

And the truth is, the poor really aren’t on the back row though with the Baptists.  That’s my bad.  Oh, they are there with us, but they are in the front and in the middle, desperate for all the hope they can muster before Monday’s realties settle in like an all too familiar friend.  They are there with their predicament, yet afraid to show their true hand for fear of the waxing generalizations of their circumstances, which is always nothing more than a problem of their own making.  They are also down the street, they’re the neighbors who went and took our neighborhood, and to be sure they are also the basket people walking around and mumbling for perhaps some of your loose change.  They are also the kids with a heap of family dysfunction and yet always broken pocketbooks, and those who can’t even buy a job, much less “get” one that can take them out of the “working poor” status.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch; the back-row stumbles in.  Hush now! For the show is about to begin.

Selah

 

As It Turns Out, Freedom Is Not Actually Free: On Flags, Freedom, and Racism in America

Dedicated to Paul, John and The brother from Another Mother

I typically shy away from hot button issues, first of all because they are “hot”, and secondly, because I mostly only wanted to write about The Narrow Path and the few that find it; and how the one leading us on that path is oftentimes found immeasurably missing in America.  Nonetheless, a friend of mine encouraged me to reconsider after reading my blog from last year titled: https://marknealprince.com/2017/06/09/trump-vs-everyfrickingbody-our-new-mascot-for-sticking-it-to-the-man/  He’s a black man (don’t you hate that we have to make that distinction), who is my brother from another mother, but who happened to think that particular blog struck a cord and was funny, and that I should reconsider writing more along those lines.  So here goes an experiment.  Who knows where the wind will take us, but at the very least, you will get a piece of my mind on the matter for whatever it’s worth.

Oh, and last but not least, this blog is a tribute to my two new friends (Paul and John), who reminded me just yesterday that gentleman can disagree agreeably, and that white boys can talk about the race issue too, and have something equally to say to add to the conversation as long as we are willing also to actively listen.  This is of course something that I did not realize I could do in the public square given my particular shade of melanin.  Thanks Paul and John for the reminder, and for the olive branch to take part.

First of all, my other friend I mentioned truly is a brother from another mother, and he has come to the conclusion that I would make a great black guy, or that perhaps I actually am one and just haven’t come out of the closet yet.  However, I must say that my friend and l and I differ politically, about as far as the Cleveland Browns are from a Super bowl win.  He lives in the Bronx, and probably secretly attends Farrakhan rallies, believes all black conservatives are “Uncle Tom’s”, and though I didn’t know it until I experienced it recently, has a hard time holding back his anger due to some of the racism he has both seen and experienced growing up in this country.  After emphatic listening, I still then chide him on the fact that the left already has his vote without any effort, just for the hair on his neck to raise up a little bitJ.  And after we piss each other off real good, we part with “I Love You Man” and we pray for each other.  And for the record, if I were in a foxhole, he’s exactly who I would want with me without reservation.  You see the thing is, it’s the Christian flag that binds us together and not an American one, yet it has some faint similarities at least in theory that we should talk about.

My Battle Against Racism

I’ve never experienced the kind of racism that many blacks have by a long shot, but I have experienced it nonetheless.  You see I wasn’t raised a racist.  My family didn’t talk about it.  We never heard or used colorful language to describe black people, and quite frankly, in my heart of hearts I’ve always despised those who take part in it. Likewise in my own family, I never spoke of it, never talked about it, walked away from family and friends who participated in it, and starved it’s folly from ever gaining a foothold of any kind! And so primarily the racism I experience is one of looking at my black brothers and sisters with my “I love black people” heart, and them refusing to engage me with eye contact, talking behind my back, and refusing to let me get too close. That’s about the extent of the racism as I have experienced it, and I’m not looking for a trophy, a history month, or my own channel as a result.  But it’s racism just the same.  A fact many of us I believe fail to miss.

In fact, I often talk to my friend and I ask him why we all have to draw identity flags in the first place. Why can’t we as Christians just be for “people” and not black or white?  It seems that’s the first step to fighting it to me.  We stop racism by not being a racist ourselves.  A novel idea I suppose.  He says I just don’t understand, but then as I seek to understand, though I get it, as a Christian with a broken halo I really do believe this is where the rubber meets the road.  I would even be so bold as to say as I have shared with my brother, the fact that years ago when racism was “systemic” (a loaded word for sure), it’s a damn miracle black people didn’t rise up and decrease the surplus white population!  Thank God, they found a leader who knew better and had the secret love sauce, and I pray his message continues to resonate, because I believe it has been long forgotten.  And the fact that black people have used restraint for the most part is a testament to them, yet I really believe it is by and large due to the God that they serve, whom they know is the only one who can cure the sickness that is the individual human heart. You see racism isn’t just found in America.  It’s found in humanity, and it has been so since man first put his foot on the floor.

NFL and the Flag

As I got into a somewhat political conversation on Facebook yesterday (never advisable), I was reminded by some of my new black friends that the racism issue is somehow behind this whole NFL and the flag thing, something I guess us white boys miss.  Though admittedly I think it shouldn’t be about that, I guess I’m starting to see why.  However, there is one thing I’ve learned in my almost 54 years of life sometimes the frickin hard way, and it is that people reject what they don’t understand.  And thus the genius of communication always lies in making sure people have been communicated to properly about what all the fuss is about. Until then, we’re just throwing pearls to swine.

And so my personal perspective is that kneeling on a field doesn’t actually protest anything that accomplishes whatever end game is envisioned.  It’s kind of like trying to get someone to do something you want and then you start talking about his or her mama!  The gloves then come off, and there’s not much anybody can do but pick up the broken men pieces.  Case in point.  Wearing a t-shirt saying, “I can’t breathe” is easy.  Kneeling is also easy and sexy, but it does nothing but tick off the very (majority) of people (right or wrong), who equate Americanism not too awfully shy of the Holy Grail, and of whose flags and blood of their black and white fathers also runs deep into the sinew of their bones.  As a result, I think the strategy misses the mark, and I also refuse to buy into the “systemic” narrative as an overarching belief system. What I do believe however is that there are people who are racist (shocker), and there are systems than can have racism as an overarching demon as it’s marionette, pulling long term belief system strings that now run on autopilot.  When and where those systems are exposed, after peeling back the layers of that complex onion (a rarity), it is at the apex of the matter that protests and communicative voices have their most dramatic effect.  And believe it or not, that core is found in our very constitution that cries out, even when not always practiced, that “All men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”and that “among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  Now to deny that America has been grossly hypocritical in holding up that standard at times would be uncritical (in a Republic, not a democracy), yet it is still those very laws that a wise Atlanta bred and born turned Alabama preacher once used to push a new narrative to replace an old one. And he was descriptive of the biblical dictum, as one who was “wise as a serpent, and gentle as a dove”.  Where may I ask are his descendants?

Now to Really Piss You Off

On a very sensitive note, if I really wanted to piss my friend off, all I needed to say (however guarded and thoughtful) was that I didn’t think Obama was a really great President.  I said I believed that he is a good man, one of the greatest orators of our time, is a faithful husband and father, but quite frankly was a liberal ideologue that did not deliver “hope and change”.  In fact, I believe that by his tone deafness or subtle racist innuendo, he pushed the narrative away from what seemed to white people at least, to be a country having for a couple of decades gone in the right direction, back to where racism was again all up in our grill. He would then get on to me and say, “Mark, what is it about you white boys?  Can’t we have just one damn black President and be proud, when yall have had so many crackers”?  And to that I’d say, “Well, we’ve had a ton of terrible white ones, why can’t you have one bad black one”?  And perhaps we need to be reminded again that the same people that voted Donald Trump into office, were those that voted for the hope and the change twice!  That seemed to tell us that at least individual people and a good majority of the collective whole were starting to look past that dark period of our history and actually vote as thinking people on issues instead of skin color.  However, I’ve been informed that this is now no longer the case across the board.  Perhaps I’ve been sleeping under a rock, or so it seems.

Freedom Is Not Actually Free

The truth of the matter is, that freedom is not actually free; something I’m afraid that we have long disregarded.  It wasn’t free for Martin Luther, for MLK, or for Rosa Parks.  Our founders knew this as well as they risked their own lives from threat of the crown should they have failed.  And so they gave us a Republic and not a democracy, with limited government accept to protect its citizenry, and to uphold laws that would ensure their initial vision, where all men would be given the freedom to equally be able to live as they so wished without oligarchies, dictators or the sole will of majority rule.  And though the experiment was not perfect by a country mile, as an anomaly that it was in terms of nations, it created correctives and checks and balances so that the people would sense when it ran amuck (assuming the people are good), and would challenge the laws that were to be upheld to reform itself, and as such as a nation always reforming.  But in a Republic, we cannot legislate people into being non-racists, as much as you and I might wish that we could.  In fact, this can only be accomplished at around the same time that pigs start to fly, or when politicians want anything more than another vote!  Because you see, individual sin-sick hearts are free also to be bigots, yet all the while you and I are free to ignore and not concede to their intolerance, and equally to collectively call it out when we see it; while in the meantime “refusing” to be the racists looking in our mirrors reflection.

This is a tribute to Paul and John who also believe in my right to disagree, and to my brother from another Mother; and to those who died for our freedom to equally protest the motive and sacrifice they made.  But it is more so a tribute to all my black brothers and sisters, to let you know some of us crackers are really listening, and we hate racist bastards right along with you. But if it’s OK, we’d really like to talk about it with you, and not at you.

Selah

Trump vs. EveryFrickingBody: Our New Mascot for “Sticking It To The Man”!

To be honest, I really didn’t have much I wanted to say today, but then I really did. Nonetheless, I cautioned myself on not doing so. And now here I am doing so and have thus thrown caution to the wind. However, the reason for the betwixt and between is because I mostly focus on writing about spiritual things like how we’re missing the mark in that endeavor, my own struggle with the outworking of it in my own life, the Jesus missing in America, and thus the shape all of the cracked up people like you and I are in. After all, those meanderings can keep a man occupied with a lot to say; at least in my case, and I hope to continue to do so for anyone who actually cares to continue watching me get naked with verbal transparency for your amusement and hopeful catharsis. However, over the last couple of days, as I have watched both the shock value of the enigma that is Donald J. Trump, and the visceral attack of both the left and the right lining up to gut him like a fish in the public square, it has evoked a lot of thoughts and emotions within me that I can’t hold back any longer.

Some of those thoughts are in wondering why in the Hell I ended up reluctantly voting for this bloke in the midnight hour of the election as I wrote about in a previous blog (The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part 1 and 2). Other thoughts focus around perhaps still being bloody well glad that I did, and yet more so about the eruptive emotions deep inside that cause me to almost get to the point where I might even want a Trump bumper sticker and one of those damn hats too! In fact, I’m almost to the point that if the election were held tomorrow, I might actually vote for that crazy genitalia-grabbing commander and chief again–and even volunteer to be his campaign groupie! In fact, I’m pretty sure that the more everyone hates him; it just makes me want love this guy even more. And then I ask myself, why is that? Why is it that so many love to hate this man, and so many others of us, though unsure as to exactly why, love him all the way to heaven and back? Why has he caused this “shock and awe”? And why is it that both the left and the right go to bed at night with orgasmic dreams about his eventual undoing, and who are even willing to forgo the cigarette afterwards?

Well of course by now, some 5 months into his dark horse Presidency, most of us have already theorized as to why. We’ve read no shortage of blogs and articles from our favorite spin doctors, and maybe even a book or two. Others have chosen to strictly force feed ourselves with the steady stream of media overload piping into our phones, computers and TV screens from our favorite left or right leaning news outlets, and have formulated our opinions there. And though I realize we all think we know a little something about it, my contention is that most of us really don’t know “diddly squat”– which of course is a big part of the problem.   But I do think that one thing we should all perhaps agree on by now is that part of “The Trump Factor” is due to (as we’ve heard about relentlessly now) the fact that a large population of America has been forgotten about, laughed at, put down and compartmentalized into a now popular category of “deplorables” resigned to classroom Dunce cap status, with nothing to say that the teacher or the elitist class cares to listen to. And yet the amazing thing is, now all of us who have gotten sick and tired of the way the world has been heading from what they say is our own particular shade of grey glasses, we now have a new mascot: And his name is Donald J. Trump.

And so now, on any given day, as we reminisce about days gone by when we wanted to tell our boss to “take this job and shove it”, or when we wanted to ask questions in that dumb and severely boring company meeting as to why we still do it “this way” and refrained because we didn’t want to upset the applecart or lose our job, we now have a new hero and villain all in one who has come to save the day. And though some might think he’s a fool to do our dirty work, he has nonetheless volunteered to do the job for free.  And so, Donald J. Trump is none other than our “altar ego, who “sticks it to the man” for us when we really can’t afford to. He’s Buddy Love who lives out everything Professor Clump wishes he could do, say and look like. He’s Jerry “Freakin” McGuire who writes his life mission (or a tweet) and sends it out without a thought or repercussion. He’s the imprisoned Andy Dufrane who locks the doors, turns the music up as loud as he can and kicks back in his chair like a boss. He’s the big brother that goes out and kicks the school bullies ass and dares him to ever mess with us again. Or if you will, he’s our John Wick, and he’s pissed off about us killing his dog and stealing his car, and thus; he “is” our Bogeyman n Chief!

And so when people ask me how I could vote for such a man, or why when folks on the left and right both disdain him with vitriolic fervor that knows no bounds, the more I actually like him and want to say, “Thank you sir, can I have another”, I now know why. And the more jokers to the left and jokers to the right say “he’s done”, the more I want to lift him up.  And the more I want my altar ego to wipe the floor with the whole lot of them bitches, and perhaps “drain a swamp” or two while he’s at it. And part of the reason that I feel this way is because of the postmodern conspiracy theorists that run amuck in the American political system and in the culture of which we are apart. Every Tom, Dick and Harriett has an opinion that should be heard regardless of whether it’s true or not, and rather than argue through the vehicle of reason, logic and skillful debate we deconstruct everything into oblivion and instead “lawyer up” or launch ad hominem attacks. Instead, if we can’t win, we just won’t play at all, or perhaps we’ll just burn the damn playhouse down!

Now enter, Donald Trump. Everyone is so sure that he’s the Anti-Christ, or Hitler, or Mephistopheles perhaps; and on and on it goes. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Absent from the discussion is that instead of those things, it’s plausible that he’s actually crazy like a fox, and quite frankly refuses to play the same games we’ve all been playing–win or lose, sink or swim. In fact, if they say po-ta-toe, he says po-ta-to. If they say up, he’s says down. If they say you can’t do that, he says, “Why the Hell not”? And as we sip our non-fat latte’s, eat organic food, and claim to be “in the know” about almost everything, yet we are appalled at steaks eaten well done with ketchup, or disgusted with the lack of etiquette of a tweeter n chief, or someone who quite frankly my dear couldn’t give a good damn what any of us think! And perhaps that is exactly what the Dr. ordered in order to cure our disease that is wasting us away.

And the elitists on both sides hear Trump scraping his nails down the chalkboard on any given day, and the sound is starting to deafen them in more ways than one. And while everyone is fighting and protesting against someone who neither gains or loses sleep regardless, we are oblivious to the fact that our land, our children, our institutions and our world is about to fall off into the freaking sea with California! And on any given day, many might think our toleration of Trump is somewhere between the Scylla and the Charybdis, but never ponder the thought that our big brother might actually be the good guy who’s in town for a short while to stop the bleeding of an American experiment that almost no one who’s truly looking recognizes anymore. A quick history of leadership should awaken us to the fact that one would have to be a narcissist to actually want the job in the first place, and that if we are going to measure our particular brand of character as the sole arbiter of who is fit or not to hold the office, we might ought to look back into our very checkered Presidential history with a keen eye. And for those of us with the dunce cap hat on, and who’ve been drowned in political correctness enough to upchuck a political party, we have grown just deplorable enough to roll the dice in favor of someone who actually wants to do what he’s promised, even though his medicine may taste like milk of magnesia at first; rather than placing our bet again with those who simply want another vote just so they can get reelected and leave their “so-called” legacy. Pardon me, while I vomit and have diarrhea at the same time if you please!

Oh I get that our world now prefers truth as an opinion poll; and like buttholes, everybody’s got one and all but theirs stink real good. But have we now become so sure that our particular community of victims is right about whatever freak flag we’re flying that particular week, that we can no longer see anything that looks like truth even it walked up and slapped us upside the head! Can we not see that the British are coming? Can we not see the smoke on the horizon? Do we not believe that perhaps Chicken Little is right, and the damn sky is actually falling in some form or fashion? Can we not be still and quiet enough to listen or to ponder, or to truly think? Can we not read and search and question to find some beacon of truth? Can we not study the past or look into the future; or better yet; to see our own relativistic dust blowing in the wind?

In my previous blog that I mentioned earlier in my post, I declared that perhaps Trump is nothing more than a speed bump to curtail, but for a moment, the prophetic outworking of the writing that for most of us dunce cap alumni has long been written on the American wall. I’m smart enough to know that he probably won’t be able to save us from oblivion, even though I get a sneaky suspicion we should probably give him a college try. After all, it can’t hurt to roll the dice one more time while we still have a few chips on the table. Of course the truth is, no one who owns the information we gullibly digest each day is bound to let that happen I’m afraid. Meanwhile, if only for a moment however, it sure is nice “Sticking It To the Man”!

Selah