WWJD?

Yesterday, I went in search of this meme that I remembered seeing on Facebook some months ago.

WWJD Temple MemeJohn’s account of Jesus “cleansing” the Temple” is the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday. Not only is this spin on WWJD? hilarious, it prompts us to reconsider the tame, saccharine image of Jesus so often portrayed in popular culture. This Jesus challenges systems in direct, uncomfortable ways.  Funny captions that spark serious questions are how social media memes function at their best.

My Google image search also revealed this meme, which I had never seen before.

no_dinner_for_obama_croppedI clicked on it to make sure I was reading the thumbnail correctly. Sadly, I was.

This meme appears to have circulated on social media in 2012 in an attempt to persuade Cardinal Timothy Nolan to uninvite President Obama from the annual Alfred E. Smith Dinner, where the President and Mitt Romney were scheduled to speak. Presumably, the meme’s creators disagree with various aspects of the President’s politics and felt the Cardinal’s invitation amounted to a blessing of his policies (never mind the dinner’s long-standing tradition as a forum for both Presidential candidates in election years).

Whatever the partisan politics of the moment might have been, this meme is as abhorrent as the WWJD meme is provocative. The idea that faithful Christians don’t eat or otherwise associate with those who aren’t also faithful Christians is about as Christian as Obama is Muslim. (Jesus had a slightly different take on the subject). It flows from a mindset that says: if you believe differently from us (or we think you believe differently from us), then you are the enemy. You must be isolated and ultimately defeated.

Such rationale is nothing new. It is the basic syllogism of fundamentalists in every religious, ideological, and political camp. Southern Baptists succumbed to it in the 1980s and -90s. The poles of both the Republican and Democratic Parties are rife with it today. Theofascist groups such as ISIS and the Taliban embody its most extreme forms.

Tragically, it is also a mindset now infecting elements of the US criminal justice system. The Justice Department’s investigative report on the August shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson has confirmed the infection many have long suspected. Like a parasitic worm, a fundamentalist rationale has wrapped itself around the entrails of the Ferguson police department as well as local courts. The report’s findings include:

“Blacks make up 67 percent of the population in Ferguson. But they make up 85 percent of people subject to vehicle stops and 93 percent of those arrested. Blacks are twice as likely to be searched as whites, but less likely to have drugs or weapons. 88 percent of times in which Ferguson police used force it was against blacks and all 14 cases of police dog bites involved blacks.”

“Blacks were 68 percent less likely to have cases dismissed by Ferguson municipal judges and disproportionately likely to be subject to arrest warrants. From October 2012 to October 2014, 96 percent of people arrested in traffic stops solely for an outstanding warrant were black.

“Blacks accounted for 95 percent of jaywalking charges, 94 percent of failure-to-comply charges and 92 percent of all disturbing-the-peace charges.”

The Justice Department also uncovered damning emails from within the Ferguson police department. Again, the mindset is the same as the Alfred Smith Dinner protest meme, but the content too extreme to be circulated in the media.

One [email] says Obama will not be president for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” Another says a black woman in New Orleans was admitted to a hospital to end her pregnancy and then got a check two weeks later from ‘Crime Stoppers.’ “

These are the patterns and communications of a system that believes African-Americans are the enemy, and they must be isolated and defeated.

Reading the Ferguson report is nauseating, but we need to recognize the infection for what it is and take this twisted system on – head on.  Awareness of such a fundamentalist mindset is the first step in treating the parasite and reversing its effects. Healing will take time, and require a medicinal cocktail of procedural overhauls, training improvements, and changes of heart. This last piece of the prescription will be the most difficult. Ironically, the Alfred E. Smith protest meme provides a path for affecting such changes of heart – not unlike a spiritual form of penicillin.

We need to break bread with those who are different from us.

To break bread with someone is to invite them into relationship with you. When we eat together, we talk. When we talk, we get to know one another. The space around a table is intimate space, and sharing food is an essential component of hospitality.

Jesus understood that, which is why it’s really not the least bit surprising to find a Table at the center of the Christian faith narrative. He may have overturned some tables in the Temple, but Jesus gathered His disciples around a Table on the night He was betrayed. He offered them bread and wine. In so doing, He offered His very Self. That simple meal constituted a new covenant with each of them – different though they were. Even His betrayer was included. Re-enacting this meal, sharing in the bread and the cup together, is still how Christians of different races, ages, sexes, economic backgrounds, education levels, and theological persuasions find (and demonstrate) unity with each other in Christ.

In Bishopville, SC, another kind of meal is specifically bringing black and white football players together across a deep gulf of historic racial division. Click here to read the article from the Washington Post.

Southern Football and Race Relations in the SouthBishopville is no racial utopia; many of its problems and issues are identical with those in Ferguson and elsewhere.  But Bishopville’s mindset is the antithesis of Ferguson. This small southern town is making strides through consistent effort and intentional practice that is as simple as having boys from different backgrounds who share a common interest in football sit down and share a common table as well.

As we continue to digest the Ferguson report and grapple with its findings and implications, may Bishopville serve as an example – not only that things can be different, but how.

WWJD?

Giving Thanks

Gratitude is a gift. It’s a gift to God, as we offer Him honor and praise for the blessings in our lives.  It’s also a gift to ourselves. Taking the time to think about and name specific things for which we are thankful helps us to be more aware of the small but significant blessings all around us.  That awareness serves as a useful counterbalance to the stress and struggles of life that so often weigh us down.  I spent some time on Thanksgiving Day reflecting on what I’m thankful for.  Below is a list of 28 things I named on the 28th of November, 2013 – in no particular order.

1. My wife, Kristen, and all the love an inspiration she brings to my life.  I would not have known or discovered many of the things on this list apart from her.
2. My daughter, Mary, and her creative, loving energy.
2. My daughter, Emma, and her happy, artistic presence.
4. Shel Silverstein: his drawings and poems fascinated me as a child.  They now fascinate my children.  Bed-time reading wouldn’t be nearly as fun without him.
5. Curry: the spice(s) of life. I don’t know how I went half my life without this aromatic bliss (with a kick).
6. Hummus: it’s so tasty and so good for you.  And it goes great with everything from carrots to potato chips.
7. COFFEE: staving off the zombie apocalypse every morning at 6:00am.
8. Ben and Sheila Thomason (aka Mom and Dad): the home I come from, the opportunities they have afforded me, and the love and support that still helps keep me afloat.
9. The members of First Baptist Church of Hyattsville who continue to teach me about praise, thanksgiving, faith, and generosity.
10. Electricity: just think for a moment about all the things you *couldn’t* do without it.
11. Chipotle: dinner plan B, for when we don’t have time for plan A.
12. Five Guys Burgers and Fries: ’cause sometimes you just need a burger.
13. The screw cap on the top of milk cartons: genius.  Whoever invented that, you are the (wo)man!
14. The fact that when I want milk, I reach into the fridge rather than reaching for a stool and a bucket.
15. All my profs at UNC-G, UGA, and the McAfee School of Theology: I’m ashamed of how much I’ve forgotten from your classes; but what has stuck with me is all that you taught me that can’t be found in a book.
16. All my friends from UNC-G, UGA, and McAfee
17. Facebook: you’re crazy, but you help me keep up with nos. 15 and 16 and so many others.
18. My house: it drives me crazy, but I’m thankful for its shelter and comfort and the memories my family is making there.
19. Hot water in my house: especially in November.
20. A toilet in my house: 2.5 billion people on this planet do not have access to one.
21. Tennis: so fun and so challenging.  I’ve loved it since I first picked up a racket in the 11th grade.
22. Wii tennis: for virtually allowing me to be the caliber player I’d like to be on the actual tennis court.
23. Gummy vitamins: you’re on par with the screw-cap on the milk carton.
24. Better Batter: if you do gluten free, you understand.
25. Breakfast for Dinner: a weekend family tradition (pancakes, bacon/sausage, baked beans, scrambled eggs, and togetherness)
26. Cholula sauce: so tasty on scrambled eggs, Chipotle, Five Guys, and so many other things.
27. Garbage men: what a stinky mess our neighborhoods would be without you.
28. All those who names and responsibilities are unknown to me but who make my life more comfortable and more convenient because of what you do for little pay and even less appreciation.  My blog posts such as Maconomics; I’m Tired, Too; and Renewing Our Strength are dedicated to you and to helping you become more known, appreciated, and fairly compensated.
Happy Thanksgiving!
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